The little train rattled along the tracks, bumping and listing as we breezed behind rickety houses and shops. So far, aside from the occasional hillside covered in sheep, nothing looked very different from home.
Patti leaned forward. "So, Finn, you do this to raise money for school?"
Pete was sitting between Finn and me, and he turned away from me to listen. I drowsily watched a spider cling for life to the outside of the window.
"I do," Finn replied affably. "It helps pay my tuition, and it's certainly more enjoyable than working in the shops."
"Good for you! I have to admit, I was half-sure we'd end up picking up armloads of brochures at the airport and finding our own way around."
Finn chuckled. "Oh, dear. Why?"
"It isn't personal," she explained with a smile. "You seemed very sweet when we spoke. It was just something about finding a guide in an online ad..."
Tim agreed. "We weren't sure, I'll be honest with you, but the tour descriptions sounded fantastic. And when you didn't ask for payment ahead of time, we figured we'd just take our chances."
"Well, I'm pleased you did. You'll see. Traveling with a native is the only way to do it properly." Although his voice was very friendly, it was also low and even. Rhythmic, like the train. I yawned.
"We're all looking forward to seeing what you've got planned," Patti said warmly. "The itinerary you sent last week looks wonderful. There are a lot of things on there I've never even heard of!"
"Yes." A hint of mischief. "I'm going to show you the Ireland that tourists never see."
Tim gave an exuberant nod of approval. "I can't remember what day you had it scheduled for, but Allison's birthday is next Wednesday, and I know she's been looking forward to seeing the Blarney Stone."
Up until now, I had let the conversation wash over me, but the silence that followed brought my attention back in full. After a conspicuous pause, Finn said, "Excellent. Whatever you like, Allison. Your birthday should be special." Allison, who was sitting across from me, smiled at him. And that was that.
Or so I thought. "What were we going to do?" asked Pete.
Patti reached for her bag. "Good question, Pete." She pulled out a little folder and opened it up. "The 27th. 'Galway Bay.' What's at Galway Bay?"
"They've got some nice little villages and old stills," said Finn. "I've a cousin there with a fishing boat and he was going to take us all out for the day. It's a nice way to travel from town to town. I thought we might stop for lunch at—"
"Is that a Starbucks?!" I howled.
Pete looked out the window and laughed. "We might as well have stayed in Columbus!" Allison and I laughed with him.
Patti looked dismayed, either with me or Pete or Starbucks. "Is that something we can do another day?"
"Starbucks?" Finn's voice gained a surprised octave. "I suppose so. We'll be back near Dublin toward the end of your visit, so..."
"No, no! Galway Bay. Does it have to be Wednesday?"
"Oh, of course not. I'll call my cousin and work it out. Whatever you prefer. Only it might change our itinerary around a bit, so I'll need to get back to you with a new one if that's all right."
"Actually," Allison piped up, "the boat thing sounds nice."
"Are you sure, honey?" Tim asked. "It's not a big deal."
"Yeah." She looked at Finn and smiled. "I'd rather go to Galway Bay."
And that was that.