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He shook his head, sending hair into his face. “No, I hate football. All of it.” His eyes met mine. “I hate practice, I hate games, the pep rallies, the banquets, the uniforms . . . I hate how people treat me differently—like I’m special just because I’m good at this one thing. And it’s been this way for so long. Once everyone figured out I was good, it was like someone threw this big football blanket over me—no one could see anything else. Everyone just wanted me to fall into this stereotype, and it just never . . . fit.”

I had never even considered that Ian didn’t like football. Suddenly, it all fell into place: the rush out of practices, the grumpiness before games, how hard he worked to not talk about football when it was all anyone else wanted to talk about. It had been right in front of me all along. “Ian, I had no idea. That must have been . . .”

“Awful?” he said, his eyebrows dropping.

“Awful,” I repeated. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

He shook his head. “I didn’t want to disappoint you. Everyone gets so excited about me playing, and you were always at my games and . . .” He exhaled loudly. “I want to be like you and Archie and Walter. When you’re on the field, it’s like you turn into who you really are. You have so much fun. I’ve never felt that.”

“But you feel that way with writing. And Titletrack,” I said.

“Exactly,” he said. “That’s why this trip was so important to me. I thought that if I could maybe write something really incredible, maybe get it accepted into a large magazine, Mom and Dad would be less upset about my quitting football.”

I pressed my lips together, barely containing my smile. “So you’re saying that you have something you need to tell Mom and Dad?”

He groaned, but a smile pierced his face too. “I know. Don’t bug me about it, okay? I’m getting there.”

“Are you kidding me? I am definitely going to bug you about it. At least as often as you bugged me.”

“There you guys are!” Rowan suddenly appeared next to the bench, startling us. “I had no idea where you went. I ended up asking one of the bartenders, and he told me . . .” He stopped, his eyes drawn to my tearstained cheeks. “Wait, what’s wrong? Did something happen?”

“You could say that.” Rowan had the guidebook in his hand, and seeing it sparked an idea. “Hey, Ian, do you want to do the Cobh homework with us? I actually think it might help you.”

“Good idea,” Rowan said. “I bet you’ll like this one.”

Ian yanked his hair back, securing it with an elastic from his wrist. “I don’t know. Do I have to talk to a tree? Or kiss something?”

I shook my head. “We’re supposed to draw something that didn’t work out the way we hoped it would. Then we’re going to fold our papers into boats and send them out to sea.”

“Hmmm,” Ian said, but from the way his eyes landed on the book, I knew he was interested.

“I was looking for you because I wanted to do the homework before it gets dark. I even asked for paper back at the pub, but all they had were these.” Rowan handed me a stack of old fliers advertising a show by a local violinist.

“Good enough for me.” I handed them each a paper, and then we spread out, sitting on the ground with our drawings in front of us. Mine came easily. It was Cubby and me, walking down the hallway, his arm slung around me, admiring whispers coming from all directions.

The drawing itself was terrible, barely a level above stick figure, but getting it all out shifted something inside. Again, the pain was still there, but some of the weight traveled down through my pencil, solidified into something I could look at. Something I could let go of.

We gathered at the edge of the water, following Guidebook Lady’s instructions for the Anti-Love Boat, and as I set my boat into the water, I let myself imagine for one more second what it would be like if things had gone differently. If Cubby had cared about me the way I’d cared about him. And then I let it go, watching as the waves carried it out to be dissolved by salt.

And when it was gone? Ian and Rowan were still beside me. Solid. It meant more to me than I’d thought it would.

There was a storm in the night, a gentle pattering that infiltrated my dreams and infused the late-morning sky with a bright peachy hue. Before getting out of bed, I rolled onto my back and stared up at the spiderweb cracks in the ceiling, testing out my new feeling of lightness.

The knot was still in my chest, but Ian and I being on the same team made everything seem easier.

I got dressed and then wandered into the boys’ room to see them sprawled out on their beds, Rowan wearing a pink T-shirt depicting a cat riding an orca and Ian poring over his map.

I pointed to Rowan’s shirt. “How many of those do you have?”

“Not nearly enough. And good morning to you, too,” he said, his dimple making me smile.

I pointed to Ian’s map. “One more stop before Electric Picnic?”

He grinned, bouncing off the bed. “Rock of Cashel. I can’t believe the concert is tonight.”

“I can’t believe Lina will be here tonight.” I was still nervous, but now that the tension had eased between Ian and me, telling Lina suddenly felt much more doable.

Rowan lifted his phone. “Connor says we can pick up the car after ten. Anyone want to stop for breakfast first?”

“Me,” Ian and I said in unison.

Miriam had left bright and early to drive to Dublin for a meeting, so after saying good-bye to the staff, we rolled our suitcases down to Main Street, stopping at a cobalt-blue coffee shop with BERTIE’S: FREE TEA WITH EVERY ORDER spelled out across the window in gold stick-on letters. Inside, a small bell jingled overhead, and we ordered eggs and toast from a woman standing behind the counter.

I wanted to watch the ocean for as long as possible, so while we waited for our toast and eggs, I chose a table near the window, wrapping my hands around my hot mug of mint tea.

Outside, tourists streamed past us on the sidewalk, and I watched them absentmindedly, spooning sugar into my cup and tuning out Rowan and Ian’s conversation to think about Lina. I hadn’t seen her in more than three months. What was tonight going to be like? Would we just pick up where we left off? Would we have to get used to each other again?

Our server had just set our plates in front of us when suddenly one of the passersby snapped me out of my peppermint-infused daze. He was tall with wide shoulders, a massive pair of headphones, and an undeniable swagger that reminded me of . . .

“Walter!” I squeaked. He glanced in the window and stopped dead, his gaze on Ian.

“NO.” Ian dropped his spoon into his mug, sending hot water splattering. My instinct was to dive under the booth, but Walter’s glare traveled from Ian straight down to me, and suddenly we were making eye contact. Furious eye contact.

“Is this seriously happening again?” Rowan groaned. “This island is way too small.”

“Who is he?” our server asked, holding a pitcher of water in her hand. Walter pressed his face to the window, his breath steaming up the glass. “Is he dangerous?”

“Moderately,” I muttered, jumping to my feet.

Walter pushed his headphones off and marched for the door, his lips already moving in an angry diatribe that we were privileged to be a part of the second he opened the door. “—two are the worst!” he yelled. “Here I am doing my best to forget that Addie appeared out of nowhere at Blarney Castle, and now you’re here EATING BREAKFAST.”  He roared “eating breakfast” like it was at the top of a list of offenses people could commit against him. Secrets did not look good on Walt.


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