Rowan splayed his arms out proudly. “Didn’t I say I’d deliver?”
I squeezed his arm. “Nice work, Rowan.”
“All right, then, time for wishes,” Ian announced. “If it worked for Jared, it’ll work for us. Rowan, you found this place, so you go first.”
Rowan strode over to the stump and carefully placed his gum next to a bobby pin. As he set it down, something about his posture changed. Opened up. There was a long, quiet pause, and when he spoke, his voice was quiet and clear. “I wish my mom and dad would let go of each other.”
I suddenly felt like a trespasser, stumbling upon a private moment. Ian and I exchanged a quick glance. Did Rowan need a moment alone? I began edging backward, but Rowan’s voice held me in place.
“My entire life they’ve always fought.” He turned back toward us, his face even. “Bad fights. Even in public. Once we were out to dinner and their fighting got so bad that someone called the guards.” He shuddered lightly. “I was so relieved on New Year’s when they told me they were getting a divorce, because I thought, Finally. It’s over.
“But it isn’t over. They don’t live in the same house anymore, but in some ways they’re just as connected to each other by anger as they were by marriage. And now I’m always in the middle—I can’t get away from it.” He gestured toward the car. “They want me to choose who to live with for the school year. That’s why all my stuff is packed into Clover. I still don’t know which one. Both places sound miserable.”
My heart thickened. “Rowan . . . ,” I started, but I didn’t know where to go from there. Sunlight spilled over him, highlighting all the layers of his sadness. I’d never thought of connection that way—that hatred could be just as binding as love. My chest ached for him.
“I’m so sorry,” Ian said. “I didn’t know you were going through all this. I would have tried to help.”
“You did help; you just didn’t know it.” Rowan dug the toe of his sneaker into the ground. “I needed someone who knew me outside of my family context. And I’m sorry I kept harping on you guys about your arguing—it just kept triggering me. I know your mom can be hard on you, but you look out for each other, and I can tell your family is the real deal.” He looked up, his eyes open and vulnerable. “I just wish I had what you have.”
My feet carried me to him, my arm slipping around his back. “Rowan, you do have us. We’re here with you, and we’ll be here as long as you need us.”
Ian flanked his other side, the three of us looking down at the stump. I carefully set a coin down. “My wish is for Rowan,” I said, measuring my words. “I wish that Rowan will be happy, and that he’ll know he’s not alone.”
“Me too,” Ian said, setting his coin next to mine. “My wish is for Rowan.”
Rowan didn’t thank us. He didn’t have to. Over the past three ridiculous days, Rowan had been carrying us, holding steady through our fights and bitter remarks. This was about thanking him.
Finally, Rowan broke the silence. “I think that helped. Anyone feel like going to Electric Picnic?”
“I guess,” I said nonchalantly, and Ian grinned. “I don’t really have any other plans.”
We were exiting the muddy bank when my phone chimed. Ian stiffened. “Oh, no. Did Walt spill?”
I lifted the screen to my face. It was Olive.
ADDIE, ARE YOU OK? NOW EVERYONE IS
TALKING ABOUT CUBBY AND A PHOTO OF YOU.
No. I froze, willing the letters to rearrange, willing the message to mean something other than what it meant. My breath turned shallow, my hands clammy.
Olive’s “everyone” was bigger than most people’s. She was one of those rare people who managed to fit in with every social group on the high school spectrum, as comfortable with the other soccer players as she was the debate team. If she said everyone, she meant everyone.
Ian’s face flushed as he studied my expression. “Addie, what? Is it Mom?”
I managed to hand him the phone, and his face tightened as he read the text. “Oh, no.”
I cried for a solid twenty-five minutes. The tears just wouldn’t stop coming. Rowan and Ian took turns giving me concerned looks, but I could barely register them.
Everyone knew. Everyone.
Worse, what if everyone had seen?
Ian and Rowan kept trying to ask me if I was okay, but I was inside a bubble, completely separate from them. Finally, Ian put his energy into texting one of his teammates.
“My coach found out, Addie,” he said nervously. He was looking at me like I was something brittle. Breakable. Did he not realize I was already shattered?
“How?” My voice didn’t sound like mine.
“I don’t know how. I didn’t tell him. Not even when he cornered Cubby and me about what the fight was about. But now he’s found out. And . . .”
“And what?” My throat felt stuffed full of cotton. I couldn’t even swallow.
Ian’s knee ricocheted off the seat. “And there’s talk that Cubby will be suspended from the team. Maybe more. It’s still just rumors, but I think that’s how this thing got out.”
This thing that was me. And my heart, and my body, all on display for anyone to throw rocks at. How big was it going to get? How long until Mom found out? Dad? I huddled in the corner of Clover, so miserable that my tears dried up. Both Ian and Rowan tried consoling me, but it was no use. I could already hear the whispers in the hallways. Feel the glances of boys who’d seen more of me than I’d ever show them. Teachers would know. My coaches would know. I wanted to throw up. Especially when my phone started dinging with messages from my teammates, some concerned, some just curious. Did that really happen?
Finally, I silenced my phone and stuffed it under Rowan’s pile. What else could I do?
The closer we got to Stradbally, the tighter my body crunched into a ball. I knew we were just about there when traffic turned bumper-to-bumper and small white arrows directed us to a dirt road lit with fairy lights.
We filed slowly onto the fairgrounds in a long parade of cars, people yelling to one another and music pumping loudly from every car stereo. It reminded me of the high school parking lot every morning before the first bell rang. Home suddenly pressed in on me so tightly that I could barely breathe.
“We made it,” Rowan said, meeting my eyes. His enthusiasm was a solid 98 percent lower than it should have been. Even Ian looked docile, his body remarkably still.
Ian glanced back at me and then pointed to an open field blooming with makeshift shelters—tents, caravans, teepees—all crammed together like one giant circus. “Pretty cool, right?” he asked, his voice soft. “And think, Lina will be here soon. It will all be better then.”
Or worse, I silently added, my stomach twisting. Just a couple of hours ago I’d felt good about telling Lina, but hearing from everyone back home had changed that.
Names of the designated camping sites glinted in the dimming sunlight. They were all accompanied by cartoon drawings of famous people: Oscar Wilde, Janis Joplin, Andy Warhol, and Jimi Hendrix. A man with a bright red vest ushered us into our parking spot, and Ian sprang out, stretching his arms. “I can’t believe we’re finally here.”
“It does seem like it took us a lot longer than three days to get here,” Rowan added. That I had to agree with. The Rainbow’s End Hostel and Inch Beach felt like a lifetime ago.
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