A light breeze huffed up the hill. Instead of trying to lift Aisling’s heavy red curls, the wind changed direction. Another breeze blew in, excited and puffing after its travels from a far corner of the world.
Jay took a deep breath of the misty early-morning air. “Weird,” he said. “Do you smell something… hot?”
“No,” Aisling replied. “I smell peat and mist. Pretty typical Irish morning.”
“You don’t smell, say, sunbaked cow flops or spices roasting in a dry pan?” Around them, green-brown hills rolled in the east. The blue-gray ocean lapped at Ireland’s west, and in every other direction the world flowed.
“Um, no,” Aisling replied. “We don’t even have sheep up this way, much less sheep pellets.” She kept her voice even, but her thoughts screamed at the mountain. What is he doing here? What are you doing here? What are you doing to him?
“You win,” Jay said. “I wouldn’t want to be argumentative. Might get myself chucked out of the best hostel in Ireland.”
“Eighth Wonder of the World, mate,” she said.
“It’s a good name,” Jay replied. He sat on the scrubby moss and peat, then pulled a thermos of tea and two mugs out of his daypack. “Besides, the company’s far better than the landscape, and what’s the good of hills that can’t count?”
Cut off by the tea steaming under her nose, Aisling sniffed a laugh and took the cup.
“Thanks for showing me the hilltop,” Jay said.
“Least I can do after that dinner,” Aisling replied. “Besides, I usually take this morning for a quiet walk to get the blood going.” She chuckled. “That way I have at least one day where I don’t start by cleaning vomit out of the sinks and flowerpots. Bloody English party blokes. Don’t hold a glass if you can’t hold your stout.”
“Is that who did that?” Jay shook his head. “Damn, that was really rank. I’m just glad it wasn’t me. We certainly wouldn’t be here right now.” Jay clinked his metal cup to hers. “Then I’d never know that in Ireland, thirteen hills can be considered twelve.” He swayed toward Aisling and lightly bumped her shoulder.
Aisling smiled and sipped her tea. The light on the mountain made it seem like the hulking rock had given her a thumbs-up. For a moment, she sat still as the hills. Then she swallowed hard. “I suppose there must be trade-offs,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“You can say my name, but you make tea about as well as you count.”
“I suppose we Yanks have our limitations.”
They smiled at each other. The green-gold glint of Jay’s eyes bounced off Aisling’s blue. The breeze shifted and they turned away from the wind. “You traveled the world,” Jay said, “but I see why you came back to Clifden and called it home.”
“What makes you say that?”
Jay sipped and grimaced. “Tea,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s just not coffee. No. Thing is, I haven’t been here long, but I’ve felt something I haven’t felt in years. From the moment I got here, it’s been there. Took me a while to figure it out.”
“What is it?”
“I feel like I’ve come home.”
Aisling started to say something but closed her mouth. She looked away from Jay, just to the side, but in her gazing she had put on a pack, grabbed a passport, and was already halfway around the world. Desert sun washed out the hills. For a moment, Jay stood in a shadow of angled lines that stopped at a sharp point. Then the green, wet hills of Ireland came back into sight, unreal in the foggy morning sky.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish