In fact, the cliffs are an awful lot like a certain heart I know. You know, the one that has managed to contain both splintering joy and shattering sorrow and still remain exquisitely beautiful?
Not that anyone asked me.
HEARTACHE HOMEWORK: Let’s unleash a little rage, shall we, pet? I want you to find something to throw. A rock? An annoying pigeon? Now name it. Give it the identity of the thing that is bothering you the most about this situation, and then let it fly. Sometimes a little rage is good for the system. After that, I want you to take a deep breath. And then another. Notice how the breaths just keep coming? Notice how they just take care of themselves?
—Excerpt from Ireland for the Heartbroken: An Unconventional Guide to the Emerald Isle, third edition
“NICE DRESS, SIS. YOU DOING a houses showing later?”
I looked up from my book, fully intending to scowl murderously at Archie, but I made it only halfway before my energy fizzled, landing me somewhere between disgust and disdain. After the day I’d had, I just didn’t have any murderous left in me.
Archie, being Archie, took my passivity for an invitation and did a sideways trust fall onto the sofa, launching me and the guidebook off in the process.
“Archie, what the hell?” I growled, scrambling back into place and suddenly panicking over the fact that I was holding a book with the word “heartbroken” in the title.
The book had all but jumped into my arms from the shelf of the tiny library off the hotel ballroom. The library was convenient for a lot of reasons. Along with providing a solid view of my still-raging mother, it smelled like a soothing combination of lavender and dust and was packed full of what appeared to be cast-off books from previous hotel guests. In other words, the perfect place to hide out.
Ireland for the Heartbroken had caught my eye immediately. It wasn’t much to look at. The cover was decorated with heart-shaped clovers, and a coffee ring obstructed the too-long title. But the cover didn’t matter: I was in Ireland, and I was heartbroken. This book was my soul mate.
“What are you reading?” Archie asked as I attempted to stuff the book behind the sofa’s cushions.
“Little House on the Prairie,” I said, spouting off the first thing that came to mind. As a child I’d been slow to reading, but once I picked it up, I’d read those books until they fell apart. “Also, you shouldn’t jump on the furniture. I think this sofa’s an antique.”
“This whole hotel’s an antique.” He gestured toward the ballroom stuffed with more antique furniture, glittery chandeliers, and precious crystal than I’d ever seen in my entire life.
But even as a pretentious wedding host, Ross Manor definitely had a magical woodland cottage feel to it, thanks to the lush lawn lined with gnarled rosebushes and the freshly plumped pillows that sprouted golden-wrapped chocolates every night before bed. Even the caretakers were adorable—a white-haired wrinkly couple that were constantly in the process of ambushing guests with offers of tea and biscuits. Walter had dubbed them the garden gnomes. It fit.
“How much would Dad hate this, by the way?” Archie said.
“I’m so glad he’s not here.” Earlier this summer, when news of our aunt’s engagement had descended on our house like a particularly expensive swarm of bees, my dad had put his foot down fast and firm. Your sister collects men like other people collect shot glasses. I am not going to another wedding where we spend a week trying to re-create a fairy tale.
I leaned forward, doing my quarter hourly Mom check. Right now she was walking around the ballroom spiffing up the floral centerpieces that an hour ago Aunt Mel had begun shrieking were starting in on a “slow dance of death.” There was obviously no room for slow dances of death. Not when ratings were involved.
Five years ago my aunt Mel started a home design show that had been picked up by HGTV. That meant that on any given afternoon I could plop down on the couch with a couple of strawberry Pop-Tarts and watch her do one of her Thirty Minutes with Mel renovations, where she showed viewers how to turn an old pallet into a bookcase using just a screwdriver and a dried-up jar of nail polish. Or at least I think that’s what she did. I never seemed to make it all the way through an episode.
Archie tilted his head toward Aunt Mel. “How do you think she tricked this one into marrying her?”
“Clark?” I asked. Our new uncle was standing near the bar, swaying tipsily. Ever since they’d announced their engagement, he’d had the dazed look of a piece of driftwood caught in a persistent current. Par for the course. Uncles number one and two had had that look as well. I’d once heard my dad describe Aunt Mel as a riptide, which made my mom angry and my dad truthful. Mom only got mad when people were telling the truth.
“Probably with her money. And easygoing ‘modern eclectic’ style,” I said, doing an Aunt Mel voice.
“Yeah, but is that really enough? Mom told me she made him lose twenty pounds.”
“And shave off his mustache,” I added.
“Society should have made him shave off his mustache. It looked like he had a wet rat stuck to his face.”
I laughed, my first real laugh in ten days, and it came out creaky, like a door that hadn’t been opened in a long time.
Archie flashed me a smile. “Nice to hear that. It’s been a while. You’ve been kind of . . . depressed.”
My mood tumbled back down again. He was right. Every time I somehow forgot what junior year was going to be like, Cubby suddenly appeared, landing on my shoulders and sinking my mood a solid three feet. Like now. How could I have been so stupid?
“You and Ian do an adequate job of groveling?” Archie asked.
I nodded, grateful for the subject change. “I did. Ian mostly just stood there scowling defiantly.”
He groaned. “So in other words, being Ian.”
“Exactly.” It was just like on the cliffs with the tourists. Me scrambling for an explanation while Ian played dead. At least this time he was upright.
“Speaking of, where is Ian?” Archie asked.
I lifted my chin. “Eight o’clock. Sitting in that throne-looking chair.” Ian had come up with the same survival strategy I had: find an out-of-the-way piece of antique furniture to camp out on and pretend you’re anywhere other than where you were. Except he’d been texting all night, his face stretched in an expression I could only describe as gleeful.
“Is he smiling?” Archie said incredulously. “After everything that happened today? That kid is such a weirdo.”
I bit my lip, fighting off my automatic instinct to defend Ian. That’s the way our family had always lined up: Ian/Addie versus Walter/Archie. We occasionally formed alliances, but our core allegiances stayed the same. Had I ruined that forever? “He’s been grinning at his phone ever since we left the cliffs. Whoever he’s texting, it must be good.”
“Probably a girl,” Archie said.
“Doubt it.” Every girl in the world was in love with Ian, but he rarely surfaced long enough to notice them, which left me to fend off all the wannabes who thought that getting close to his little sister was the certain way to his heart. Ha.
Archie plucked at my sleeve. “Seriously, though, sis. This dress. You look like Miss Seattle Real Estate.”
This time the glare came without effort. “Come on, Archie. You saw what happened to my dress at the cliffs. I didn’t exactly have a lot of options. I had to wear one of Mom’s.”
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