I'm pretty sure we all slept through most of the remainder of the train ride, except Finn. I awoke when he returned to our compartment, slipping his phone into his trouser pocket, and took his seat again.
"Only about five more minutes to Kilkenny," he whispered when he noticed me.
"That's good," I answered quietly. "What do we do there?"
"From the look of things? Sleep." His infectious half-smile nearly stopped my sleepy heart, and I felt a goofy grin cross my face in return. Out of nowhere, he asked, "Do you like horses?"
I pursed my lips and considered horses. "Not particularly."
Finn's casual smile only broadened. "Oh, I see," he whispered. "Well, then."
I waited, but he said no more. I urged him on. "Why?"
"Never mind. We're almost there."
After we'd gotten everyone up and out and into the waiting car, we made only one stop, so that Tim could cash in some traveler's cheques and pay Finn and the driver. After that, it was straight to the boarding house.
The house was owned by a cheerful old woman and had only four guest rooms, each with its own door off the house like a motel. The room that Allison and I shared looked like it had been designed for a pair of little kids, with its Pepto quilts, white eyelet and twin beds. We barely had time to make jokes about it before we both passed out.
After about 30 minutes, I woke up in my little pink bed, realized where I was, and felt I could hardly breathe. I grabbed Allison's sweatshirt, flung it over my shoulders, threw myself out the door and clutched the the railing by the walkway. Slowly, I sank down and sat on the steps. I concentrated on calming thoughts. What the hell was wrong with me?
I sat perfectly still, my forehead against the cool, hard railing. A few minutes passed and my anxiety subsided, but I didn't feel tired anymore.
I imagined what I'd be doing right now if I had stayed home. The sun was high, so I figured must it be very early in the morning back there. I'd probably still be in bed. That didn't sound all that exciting, I thought. Maybe I wasn't missing anything after all.
The house had a little garden in front. The old woman, bedecked in a floral dress and yellow swing jacket, appeared at a side door with a watering can. She marched across the garden and I watched as she tipped it next to each flowering tree and bush, a little brown dog following along behind her. She began at the front, and as she reached the near end of the garden, I could hear her chirping to the little dog. She sang part of a little song I didn't recognize. She reminded me of my grandma.
Behind me, the sound of the opening door was so faint I barely heard it. Then stillness. I turned around to see Finn, still inside the open door, leaning down toward something in the room, out of sight. His expression seemed serious when he first looked up at me, but quickly changed when he caught my eye. He smiled blithely and shut the door behind him.
"Hey there, Bonus."
I smiled a little and turned back to the garden. Finn took a seat close beside me on the step. He smelled clean. Really, really clean. For a moment, I could think of nothing but the seeming enigma of a clean smell that was also so strong. That's what I was thinking about when I realized he had been speaking.
"I'm sorry. What?"
He scanned my face, puzzled. "I said, 'What are you doing up?'"
"Oh. Just needed some air."
I watched the old woman sit down on a stone bench and pet the dog, but I could see Finn out of the corner of my eye, observing me intently with his glass-blue eyes. Eventually, he looked out at the garden, too.
"Allison said you were feeling nervous about the trip. On the train."
I scowled in confusion. "She did?"
Finn nodded. He had picked up a dry leaf and folded it, snapping it into smaller and smaller pieces, as he gazed toward the garden. "Apparently you haven't been yourself. She seemed to think you needed the extra rest on the way down."
I wondered how much I had missed. I thought everyone was asleep on the train. I frowned.
"I went on a class trip to Spain once," he said abruptly, as if he were merely remembering aloud. "When I was 13. I got pitiful homesick. Ended up staying in the hotel and saying I was sick. Watched the 24 hour news for three days straight. Came home convinced the world was going to end. I've still never been to the Plaza Mayor."
I studied his face. He brushed the crumbled leaf from his hands, tucked a curl behind his ear rather bashfully, then faced me with a kind, conspiratorial look. It was weird, but nice, like he was giving me a big hug with his mind.
I stared back in silence and eventually sighed. "Yeah."
"I'm guessing this is the first time you've been this far away. You must miss them."
"Your mom and dad," he said.
The statement was simple enough, but took me by surprise. "Dad," I stammered. "Well. I mean. Mom, too, all the... I mean..."
Finn's face fell. "Oh, I'm sorry."
I looked down at my bare feet. "Not your fault."
"How long ago?"
"Five and a half years."
"So you were only..."
The air grew heavy with quiet, until Finn said quietly, "Me, too."
I looked up.
He had his palms open, fingers fanned out, and brushed his hands back and forth against each other.
"I'm sorry," I said.
He raised his face and met my eyes with a regretful smile. "It isn't your fault," he said.
We stayed there, looking at one another. Eventually, he squinted up at the clear sky. "Maybe you'd better call your pa," he said, patting my knee. "Let him tell you you're not missing anything. I want you good and cheered by lunchtime so you can enjoy the afternoon." He flashed me his troublemaker's grin.
I wanted to ask what we'd be doing in the afternoon, but found myself speechless. Finn rose and tramped off around the house to the kitchen door, leaving me alone, staring dumbly at my knee.