“Do you think Mom knows by now?” I asked, watching the trees whoosh by. “What about now?”
“Addie,” Ian groaned, but a smile hovered just under the tension in his voice. Sometimes, joking was the only way to make it through. Particularly when you were about to get caught for sneaking away on a European road trip and in the process lose the thing you cared about the most. I glanced up at Ian’s tangled hair. Well, maybe soccer didn’t matter the most. But the fact remained, we’d begun the trip with the express hope that our parents would never find out, and now we were hoping to make it just a few more hours so we could go to the concert.
My, how the mighty had fallen.
It helped that Lina and Titletrack were already pinpoints of light on the road ahead. My stomach twisted in anticipation.
“I still say Walter isn’t going to tell on you,” Rowan offered. He was driving a solid twenty kilometers over the speed limit, cutting straight through turns, but now that we were on day three I didn’t even bat an eye. He was actually a very alert driver, and the safe feelings I had around him transferred to being in his car. Ian, on the other hand, was channeling his inner Kermit the Frog, his face a dusky green.
I gestured to Ian. “Better ease up. This one isn’t looking good.”
“I’m fine,” Ian insisted, but then in a rare moment of honesty he backtracked. “Nope, you’re right. Not fine.” He glanced over at Rowan. “I still don’t get what this guidebook stop has to do with Titletrack.”
Rowan beamed. “You’ll see.” Whatever the connection, he was very proud of himself over it. Sunlight kept blasting on and off and through our windows, and every time it hit his face, a constellation of freckles lit up on the bridge of his nose. It was oddly mesmerizing.
Finding the fairy ring was not a terribly straightforward process. Instead of regular directions, Guidebook Lady’s map used landmarks like “rock that looks like David Bowie in 1998” and “barn the color of sin” to guide us. We had to circle around the road a few times and google David Bowie just to get within striking distance.
Finally, we pulled over, crossing the road to a clump of trees that looked incredibly unpromising. By this point, Ian was a bundle of nerves. Pukey nerves. Hopefully, all the U-turns would be worth it.
“What is a fairy ring anyway?” Ian asked, stepping off the road and into the mud.
“Fairy rings are actually ring forts,” Rowan said. “They’re the remains of medieval farms. People used to dig moats and then use the earth to make circular barriers. Their remains are all over Ireland. But for a long time people didn’t know what they were, so they came up with magical explanations.”
I didn’t need any more convincing. “Let’s go.” I marched for the forest like I knew what I was doing. I hesitated for a moment before plunging into the mud. It had the consistency of extra-sloppy peanut butter. My Converse were not going to survive this trip. Ian groaned, sludging his way forward.
Rowan slogged up next to me. “You know what we’re looking for, right? It’s a raised circular wall, either made of stone or—”
“Like that?” I pointed to a rounded bank draped with patches of grass and moss, and we all hurried over.
But finding the fairy ring and getting into the fairy ring were two very different situations. The bank was about five feet tall and reminded me of a vertical Slip ’N Slide.
“How should we . . . ?” Rowan started, but Ian charged up behind us, summiting the ledge in four big steps. “I guess like that.”
“Whoa. What is this place?” Ian shouted once he’d made it over the bank.
“Ian, no yelling!” I said, breaking my own rule. “You’ll make the fairies mad.”
“You think I’m scared of fairies when Mom is out there?” He hesitated, his voice settling reverently. “Seriously, though. What is this place?”
Rowan and I exchanged a look, then hauled ourselves up as quickly as possible. But as usual, Ian had made it look easier than it actually was. I fell backward twice, both times losing my balance and tumbling into the mud.
“Need a little help, Maeve?” I glanced up to see Rowan biting his cheeks.
“Are you laughing?” I demanded.
“No way. I’m much too scared of you for that. I was just standing here wondering if I’ve ever seen anyone fail so badly at climbing a five-foot hill.”
“It’s my shoes. I’m supposed to be riding around Italy on a scooter, not hiking through mud.” I attacked the hill again, this time allowing Rowan to help haul me up.
Once I had my balance I leaned in close. “Okay, tell me the truth: Is this really a Titletrack site, or were you just trying ease Ian’s devastation?”
“It really is.” Rowan was one of those rare people who was even cuter up close. His gray eyes were flecked with blue, and a constellation of freckles danced across his nose, lit up by the sun.
“Guys! Look at this.”
I tore my gaze from Rowan, instantly forgetting about the freckles. All around us, tall, beautiful trees echoed the circle, their branches reaching over to form a protective umbrella over the ring. But it was the light that got me. Sunlight had to filter through so many layers of leaves that by the time it reached the ring, it cast a warm, lucky glow.
If fairies lived anywhere, it had to be here.
Without breaking the silence, Rowan and I slipped carefully down the bank and into the ring. At ground level, everything was a notch or two quieter, the wind moving silkily through the grass. Small, shiny trinkets covered a gray stump in the circle’s center: three gold thimbles, a silver lighter, two pearl-inlaid bobby pins, and a lot of coins.
“Wow,” Rowan whispered quietly. He reached into his pocket, coming up with a handful of coins and a foil-wrapped stick of gum.
Real-life fairies act less as dream granters and more as dream guiders—helping you to figure out what it is your heart truly wants and then nudging you all along the way toward it. So listen closely, pet. You may hear something that surprises you.
I shuffled through my pocket, emerging with a handful of coins left over from paying for our spilled eggs at the coffee shop. I handed one to Ian. “We have to make wishes, and then place these on the stump as an offering.”
“Just like Jared did,” Rowan said triumphantly.
Ian’s eyes grew wide, and not because Rowan’s voice was over the fairy-approved decibels. “Jared came here?”
Rowan nodded, finally letting his smile break loose. “This morning I was reading more about Titletrack’s early days, and I came across this old interview where Jared told a story about stopping at a fairy ring near Cobh. He was actually on his way to Kinsale, which is farther south, but he happened to stop at Au Bohair for lunch, and he met Miriam.”
I bounced happily on my feet. “He stopped to make a wish, and the rest is history. You really think this is the fairy ring he stopped at?”
Rowan shrugged. “I can’t really know, but he said it was close to Cobh, and this is pretty much the only main road from Dublin. And here’s the part I really liked about the story. Instead of wishing to become a famous musician, he said he asked the fairies for ‘the next thing he needed.’ A few hours later he met Miriam, and then the rest was history.”
“Rowan, this is perfect!” Ian yelled, disregarding the fairies’ delicate ears. He pointed to the stump. “This is the real beginning of Titletrack. Right here.”
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