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I climbed out too and numbly followed the guys to the will call booth to pick up my ticket. Inside the gates, my first thought was chaos. The grounds were packed to the brim, people walking and riding and cruising around in some of the strangest outfits I’d ever seen. Lots of face paint and costumes ranging from leather capes to tutus. And music was everywhere, the separate melodies twisting together into a tight braid. Even the guys looked overwhelmed.

Finally, Ian turned to smile at us. “I say we do a big sweep, take it all in, and figure out where Titletrack is playing. Sound good?” He looked at me hopefully. What he was really saying was, Let’s distract Addie.

“Sounds great,” I said, attempting to match the glimmer of hope in his voice. I’d been through a lot to get here; the least I could do was try to enjoy it.

Even with the costumes and overcrowding, Electric Picnic started out fairly normal, with all the usual festival ingredients: stages, food stands, eight billion porta-potties, kids screaming on carnival rides, tarot card readers . . . but the longer we walked, the more I began to feel like I’d stepped into a carnival fun house.

The first truly strange sight we stumbled upon was the sunken bus. A bright red double-decker bus angled into the mud, its bottom half almost completely submerged in a ditch. Next was a human jukebox, an elevator-size structure housing an entire band taking requests. Then a trio of college-age guys ran by wearing muddy sumo wrestler costumes.

“Did that just happen?” Rowan asked, watching them in disbelief. The one in the back wore a glittery tutu fastened around his waist.

“Did that?” Ian asked as a man rode by on a bicycle made out of a piano.

“I feel like I just fell down a rabbit hole,” I said, wishing it were enough to distract me from the phone buzzing in my pocket.

The smell of cinnamon wafted over toward us, and Rowan sniffed the air. “I’m starving. Whatever that is, I want it. Anyone else hungry?”

“Me,” I said, surprising myself. Normally, when I was this upset, I had no appetite, but carnival food did sound good. Plus, my mom claimed that most of life’s struggles could be cured with butter and sugar. I was willing to give it a try.

“You guys go ahead and eat,” Ian offered, pulling his notebook out of his backpack. “I’m going to try to find the stage Titletrack will be performing on. See if I can get some pictures.”

“Want me to get you something?” I asked.

“Nah. Meet you back here,” Ian hollered, taking off, he and his man bun blending in with the herd of music lovers.

Rowan and I wandered the food trucks, finally settling on a waffle truck that put my waffle attempts to shame. I ordered the Chocolate Cloud—a Belgian waffle drizzled with a mixture of white and dark chocolate—and Rowan ordered the Flying Pig, a combination involving bacon, caramel, and fluffy crème fraîche.

Our order took a long time, and when it was finally ready, we posted up at a mostly empty picnic table and ate slowly, in a silence that I was grateful for. Most people would probably try to talk me out of how bad I was feeling, but not Rowan; he just sat next to me, occasionally offering me bites of bacon. By the time our plates were scraped clean, the day was starting to look worn-out, the edges of the sky taking on a gold hue.

I drummed my fingers on the table. “Where is he?”

“Ian?” Rowan asked, licking some crème off his fingers.

“It’s been a while. I thought he’d be back by now.” I squinted into the crowd. The direction he’d gone in was dark and fairly empty, clearly not where Titletrack’s stage would be.

“Probably lost track of time,” Rowan said, leaning in. “I don’t know if you know this about your brother, but he gets pretty excited about things he’s passionate about.”

A snort escaped my nose. “Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

His dimple appeared. “There it is, Maeve.”

“There what is?” I assumed he was pointing out another weird costume, but when I looked up he was studying me.

“Your laugh.” He glanced down, fiddling with his napkin. “Hey, Addie, I know what it’s like to have the world fall down around you. . . .”

He trailed off, and I clutched my fork, hoping he was about to say something like, Your friends will suffer from collective amnesia and no one will even remember the photo, or I’m actually a time traveler come to save you from your past, but instead what he said was, “Today is a bad day, but it won’t always be this bad. I promise.”

I nodded, my eyes fogging up. I knew he was right, of course. Bad things knocked people off their feet all the time, and they got back up and kept moving. But right now I had a mountain in front of me, plus a whole pocketful of texts, and I had no idea how I’d reach the summit.

I shifted at the table, my eyes seconds away from giving the Irish rain a run for its money, but just then Rowan reached over, his hand as warm and comforting as it had been back at Inch Beach. “And what you said back at the fairy ring? About you and Ian standing next to me? That’s true for you, too. I know I can’t fix this, but I am here for you.”

His eyes were earnest behind his glasses, and a pinpoint of calm suddenly dropped into my center, slowly rippling outward. Life could be so unexpected—I was supposed to be eating spaghetti in Italy, yet here I was, finishing up a waffle in the cold drizzle of Ireland, with a new friend I knew I could rely on. “Thanks, Rowan. That means a lot.”

Rowan broke eye contact, his hand leaving mine as he looked over my shoulder. “Ian’s back.”

I stood up quickly, but before I could turn around, a hurricane of curly hair hit me so hard, I almost fell over.

“Lina!” I yelled, and in response she hugged me to the point of asphyxiation, my face planted in her lemon-scented curls. “Lina. I can’t breathe,” I managed.

“Oops. Sorry.” She stumbled backward, and I laughed for no reason other than I was so relieved to see her, I almost couldn’t stand it.

“Lina, you look amazing!” I said. She really did. Italy looked good on her. Her skin was a dark olive color, and instead of her trying to tame her hair the way she always had, it fell loose around her face in bouncing, voluminous curls. Maybe it was the wild familiarity of her hair that got me, but suddenly I was blinking back tears. Please don’t let me start crying within the first few seconds of seeing her.

“I can’t believe I’m here. What is this place? Back at the entrance there were two guys running around inside a big rolling plastic ball.” Lina stepped back, catching sight of Rowan. “Are you Rowan?”

“That’s me,” Rowan said, shaking her hand. I waited for him to do the Lina stare. All guys did it—between her hair and her big eyes, she was a lot to take in—but he just smiled politely and then glanced over at me. “I can see you why you two are friends. You’re both really good at making an entrance.”

She grinned and put her arm around me. “We do our best.”

Ian suddenly appeared, deep in conversation with a guy roughly Lina’s height, a mess of dark, curly hair crowning his face. “Ian found us near the fairy woods,” Lina explained.

“Ren?” I asked the curly-haired stranger. His nose was exceptionally Italian, and when he smiled, a small gap between his front teeth instantly put me at ease.

Ren yanked me in for a hug. “So nice to meet you. I’ve heard things.”

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