Chapter 4
I think I'm just catching you at a weird time.

Days earlier I’d dropped my airplane note to my sister into the mailbox two blocks from my aunt and uncle’s house. In Ireland they called them post boxes. They were more solid and ornate than the mailboxes of home, and painted a luminous green that matched the grass. Aunt Kate had given me a stamp thinking I was mailing a letter to someone back in Canada. In a way that was true, and when I opened my eyes and saw a figure standing near my window in the moonlight, I knew the letter was the reason for her presence. She was wearing my clothes, lightweight drawstring pants and a sweatshirt that the summer should’ve rendered too warm, but hadn’t. Her arms were hanging loosely at her sides and her shoulders and overall frame were thinner than mine, her hair straighter and glossier and her legs longer. 

From my spot on the bed she looked like a better version of me and I wanted to get up and go to her. It’d been so long since I’d looked her in the eye. I tugged myself into a seated position as I tossed my legs over the edge of the bed. The floor was chilly underneath my feet and I stood, taking my first step…

Without warning, somebody was shaking me awake, consciousness sucking one figure out of the room and replacing it with another. 

“Amira, it’s me,” a female voice whispered. “The party’s moved down the back. Why don’t you come down?”

I hoisted myself up on my elbows, my mind suddenly a complete blank. The wardrobe came into focus first, followed by an uneven patch of wall—Jack’s photos. I stared blinkingly up at my cousin as the events of the past ten days rushed back at me. The chilly barbecue with my cousins. St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Zoey’s birthday dinner in Temple Bar. Sticking my foot in my mouth after Gloria had told me she used to drink too much. Céad Míle Fáilte.

“Where down the back?” I mumbled. 

“The shed,” Zoey replied, the impatience in her eyes hinting that she was repeating herself. “C’mon. We’re down the shed at the back of the garden. I thought you might want to join us.”

“What time is it?” 

“Half-one.” She motioned for me to get up, my brain doing a slow translation to one-thirty as Zoey listened to the silence between us. “Are you coming down or not?” she asked, leaning in closer and lowering her voice.

“I’ll be right there.” I threw on the clothes I’d been wearing earlier, pulled my hair into a ponytail and followed her downstairs. If I’d been more lucid I’d have done a cursory pillow line and sleep gunk check but considering what a deep sleep I’d been in only minutes earlier, Zoey had been lucky to get me out of bed at all. 

“Thanks for waking me up,” I whispered hoarsely as we tread across the backyard. The earlier humidity had entirely evaporated but somehow it seemed warmer. Or maybe I was just beginning to acclimatize. 

Music filtered into the night air as I slipped into the shed with Zoey, surprised to find that it looked more like a living room than the jumbo-sized storage closet it resembled from the outside. Subtract the fog of smoke and Zoey’s crowd of friends—whose numbers seemed to have multiplied since I’d said goodbye to them at the restaurant—and you’d be left with two amplifiers, mismatched couches, a drum kit, stereo, dining area, bar fridge, toaster oven and kitchen counter. “Fiona and Andy stayed here for a few months when they were first married,” Zoey whispered as I stood next to her inhaling the familiar party smell of spilt beer and weed. “Now we practice down here. We soundproofed it and all.” 

I nodded, my eyes jumping over to Darragh strumming his guitar by the kitchen table. His head was bent and he was staring at the floor. I watched his fingers slip smoothly along the strings as he sang about somebody in a bad situation. It wasn’t any song I knew. Maybe it was an original Brash Heathens tune and, if that was the case, I definitely had to be at that upcoming battle of the bands gig because it meant they were as good as Gloria had promised. Or that Darragh was at least. Now that I was studying him it seemed like an oversight not to have taken a better look earlier. He may not have been hot in a South American soccer player sense, but he had this blue-eyed, pale boy musician thing happening in a pretty big way. 

Wavy dark hair spilled down just over his ears and his skin was so white that it would’ve made him stick out like a sore thumb on a beach back home, but it did him the favour of making his blue eyes seem even bluer. A California swimming pool blue that seemed noteworthy even by Irish standards. If I’d grown up in Ireland I’d likely have developed a certain amount of immunity to the allure of ultra-blue irises, but as things stood my defenses were weak. 

From what I remembered about seeing Darragh on his feet earlier in the night I guessed he was roughly five ten. He was dressed in a grey crewneck, well-worn jeans and battered Doc Martens—the kind of clothes that implied he didn’t really care what he looked like and had no intention of using his appearance to his advantage. Then again, I didn’t trust my judgment when it came to guys anymore and there was no use in developing an interest in someone who already had a girlfriend and who I’d never see again after August.

I unstuck my gaze from Darragh and his guitar and scanned the room, telling myself I was just overtired, my mind playing tricks on me. He’s the same guy you saw earlier at the restaurant and didn’t look at twice except to notice how his girlfriend was hanging off him, I advised. 

But as my eyes roamed over the contents of the shed, I noticed everyone was watching Darragh with an attentiveness beyond friendly politeness. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him for long either. My ears were paying rapt attention too, honing in on the lyrics as he sang:

They said you went away
You had your reasons, it’s okay
There’s been a better time and place
Don’t know if I could make this
case for you
Stop and smell the bitter air
Voices crackle in despair
Did you think I didn’t care?
No, I know it’s bad out there

Sorry for your disappointments and
Sorry for their lies
I know how long you fought them
Every triumph hard won
And still they think you won’t run
Well, the cold it’s been colder
But since you’ve gone I feel older
Did you think I didn’t care?
No, I know it’s bad out there

They said you went away
You had your reasons, it’s okay

The room broke into applause as Darragh finished playing. He looked up, offering a nod of thanks back in our direction. “You up for Save Me?” he called to Zoey, a hint of a smile appearing on his lips.

My gaze shifted to Zoey sauntering confidently across the room. She leant against the edge of the Formica table, her and Darragh trading the kind of at ease with each other looks that must’ve come from playing music with someone on a regular basis. Zoey’s head tilted towards him as he played the opening chords. Then she was parting her lips, a powerful voice—something like Cassie Ramone meets Hayley Williams—belting out of them and turning her into a stranger, bona fide lead singer material with her own original brand of charisma.

I clapped loudly when they stopped, Zoey smiling at me from her place at the table. The music had made me feel restless and giddy, like when we’d walked through Temple Bar earlier. With the live performances finished for the moment, I pulled up a bit of floor, planted my hands on either side of me and tried to get in tune with the party. Normally I hated showing up in the middle of parties. It usually meant everyone else was on a wavelength it took too long to catch up to. But I still had the shadow of expectation in my stomach and it wasn’t something I wanted to walk away from. 

“Here,” Nick said, bending down to hand me a beer. “I think you’re a bit behind us.”

“Thanks.” I popped the can open and took the smallest of sips, the liquid sour on my still drowsy stomach. 

The girl next to me leaned over my lap slurring, “You know, this is the best country in the world. Irish people travel everywhere in the world but almost everyone comes back. There’s nowhere in the world you can party like you can party in Dublin.” She shut her eyes and laid her head against the shoulder of the girl on the other side of her. 

“Yeah, I’m sure she’s never seen a party like this before, Roisin,” an ironic voice retorted from behind me. 

“Sit down, Kevin,” cooed the girl. “Isn’t it true what I’m saying?”

I glanced up into Kevin’s red-rimmed eyes as he squatted to offer me the joint he was holding, his hand pausing in mid-air as though he was having second thoughts. I shook my head, saving him any worries about being a corrupting influence. 

“I’d ask you too,” Kevin told Roisin as he sat down next to her, “but you obviously don’t need it.” Next thing I knew he was resting his head in her lap, stretching out on the floor.
Three’s a crowd and my eyes searched the room for someone semi-lucid and unattached to talk to. Surprisingly, Gloria was squished into one of the couches, her chin sagging in what looked like boredom. I zipped over to her and perched on the arm of the sofa. “You’re still here,” I observed. “I figured you were going home after you dropped me off.”

“I’m heading soon.” Gloria frowned as she glanced past me, her comment about watching the eejits echoing inside my head.

Then Zoey swept in front of us, stealing my attention. “Hey, you two were fantastic!” I cried, one of my hands clasping her arm. “Were those songs originals?” 

Zoey’s eyes sparkled. “You liked them?”

“I loved them. Both of them.”

“Darragh and Rory take care of the music,” Zoey clarified, still smiling at my compliment. “And the first song was all Darragh’s. I can only take credit for the last one’s lyrics.”

“And Kevin just tags along for the hot chicks,” Gloria cracked.

Zoey laughed and eyed Kevin in Roisin’s lap, shrinking joint still between his lips. I had no clue what all the staring in Kevin’s direction was about but wasn’t nosy enough to ask. Mostly I just sat there with my legs crossed, listening to Gloria and Zoey talk and feeling out of step with the party but not ready to leave yet. That weird sensation of being on the verge of something had faded to nothing and my thoughts had boomeranged forcefully back to Jocelyn. 

Would Ajay and Joss’s parents somehow pull themselves together when the time came? Could Ajay handle prison? And what if he couldn’t? The thought stole my breath as I tried to tune back in to the sound of Zoey’s and Gloria’s voices. 

Between Kevin’s joint, a guy with a buzz cut who was vaping and two girls chain-smoking regular cigarettes, the room had turned as hazy as every one of the AA meetings I’d seen in old movies. Not only did the smoke reek, it stung. My eyes rebelled, spilling hot tears down my cheeks. I wiped them briskly away and got to my feet. Time to calm myself down and fill my lungs with something good. “Clean air break—I’ll be back in a few minutes,” I announced. 

Gloria nodded and inclined her head towards Zoey, already jumping to the next topic. I headed for the door and stepped onto the lawn. It was darker in my aunt and uncle’s backyard than it ever was in Toronto and I stared into the sky, in awe of how much brighter the stars seemed because of it. If I knew anything about astronomy I could’ve picked out constellations there and then. 

Edging towards the fence, I sat down on the grass, inhaling fresh air and watching the sky sparkle. Butterflies looped in my stomach, but they weren’t solely unhappy ones any longer. For a few seconds it seemed as if this moment was exactly what I’d needed. Just me in an Irish garden, mesmerized by a thousand pinpricks of distant scattered light, my aunt’s flowers swaying gently around me. It felt almost spiritual—not in a way that involved God or religion but like maybe I was where I was supposed to be in the universe, despite the crazy things going on elsewhere. 

I must’ve been out there five minutes when Darragh swung the door open and stood in front of the shed staring down at his phone. His fingers swiftly tapped the keys, composing a message. He was so intent on it that he didn’t notice me. 

I pulled my knees towards me, trying to make my presence known. “Hey,” he said, his startled gaze whipping over to me on the lawn. “I didn’t see you there. You all right?”

“Just taking a breather,” I told him. 

Darragh nodded at me and I swear at that instant I was so wrapped-up in my starry altered state that I was back to barely noticing what he looked like. “I liked your song,” I said honestly. “You and Zoey are really good.”

“Thanks.” Darragh’s lips poked up as he ambled towards me. 

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted company or not—it felt like having someone else around might break the spell I’d been under—but I wasn’t about to tell him that. “Zoey said you and Rory write all the music for the band,” I offered.

In the glittering darkness I couldn’t make out the colour of Darragh’s eyes. They could just as easily have been a boring muddy grey.

“She’s a brilliant singer and lyricist.” He sat down next to me on the lawn, setting his phone down in front of him. “Are you not cold out here?”

Irish phraseology killed me. The accents too. My voice sounded like a flat line compared to his. “A little, but it’s kind of nice.” My fingers combed the cool grass in front of me. “The stars look really close here. I was sort of tripping on them before you came out. Either that or it was the smell of weed in there that did it.” I cocked my head to indicate the shed behind us.

Darragh’s mouth broke into a grin that colonized his entire face. “It was probably the weed,” he agreed. Then he looked up at the sky and back at me, smiling again, like I’d said something funny. 

“What?” I asked.

Suddenly his phone beeped. He eyed it warily in the grass in front of him and it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen Ursula in the shed. Darragh reached for his phone. He flipped it over so that it was face down, turning back towards me like he’d lost his train of thought.

“So how’d the band get together?” I asked. “Were you all friends before?” 

“Just me and Rory.” Darragh raked his hair back behind his ears. “He was in the year ahead of me at school. We talked about starting a band for ages before we got off our arses and did something about it. Back in November we finally got serious and put an ad in Hot Press. That’s how we found Kevin and Zoey.” He glanced up at the sky like that was the end of the story. “You should come and see us do Battle of the Bands at Enda Corrigan’s in Temple Bar. The venue’s right around the corner from the restaurant we were at tonight.”

“Gloria said something about it,” I told him. “I’m hoping I can make it, but I don’t know, it depends on Zoey’s parents. They seem kind of like mine, which isn’t really a good thing.” 
“Are they giving you hassle? I thought Zoey’s parents were fairly sound.”

Sound. I’d never heard that one before, but I could guess what it meant from the way he’d used the word. “No, they’re okay. They’re actually really nice people but with me being underage I guess it’s natural that they don’t want me out late or at the pub.” I shrugged. “I shouldn’t complain. In the scheme of things this vacation is nothing.”

Darragh tilted casually towards me. “It could be. You can’t write it off yet, can you? It’s hardly gotten started.”

“True. It’s just, there are other things I should be doing.” I glanced down at my fingers in the grass. Suddenly they were ice-cold. “Somebody who needs me at home and I’m not there for them like I should be.” I’d gotten real with Darragh without meaning to and I folded my hands into my lap and clammed up, hoping he’d leave the issue alone. 

Darragh peered at me in the moonlight. “It probably doesn’t feel like it now, but the time will fly in and then you’ll be back at home.” His hand settled on his phone, but he didn’t pick it up.

“Yeah, I guess.” The temptation to confide in him grabbed me around the middle and squeezed. “You must think I’m really out there—first the stuff about the stars and then this.” 

Darragh shook his head and pressed his lips together. “I think I’m just catching you at a weird time. So what are you into?” 


“It sounds like you need something to keep you busy. It’ll make the time go in faster.” 

Having never written a screenplay, it seemed premature to profess my dreams of conquering Hollywood. Maybe not even Hollywood—my favourite movies were usually character-driven ones starring people like John Hawkes or Michelle Williams. Movies that taught you something about life and characters that felt complicated enough to be real. But generally I liked anything good, whether it was a classic Katherine Hepburn comedy or a depression-inducing end-of-the-world movie like The Road

Darragh was still watching me, awaiting my answer, and I tapped my knee with my nails and took the plunge. “One thing I’m really interested in is screenwriting. I thought I’d try to get something finished this summer.” So far I’d been too distracted to put down a single word, but there’d been instances when my focus had bobbed toward an unfamiliar teenage boy—a character sculpting himself out of nowhere but who I already knew was being crowded out of his house by his mother’s boyfriend. 

Darragh’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “You should check out the Irish Film Institute for courses. I have a friend who was taking a production class there. They might have something for screenwriting as well.”

“Great. I’ll look into it.” My mind surged with fresh possibilities. Taking a class at the Irish Film Institute would help me get into film school for sure. I needed to start writing right away, despite my tension level. Writers didn’t have the luxury of writing only when their lives were pictures of serenity. “That’d be perfect. There’s an idea that’s been fermenting in my head lately that I really need to…” My voice trailed off. The troubled boy was too new to talk about; let alone with someone I’d just met.

But Darragh nodded like he knew exactly what I was talking about. “Life never gets boring then, does it? You always have something to keep you company, no matter where you are.”

“Is it the same for you with music? Like part of you is always someplace else?”

“Mostly when I’m in the middle of working on things. But the music’s always there on some level.” Darragh pushed his legs out in front of him like he was getting comfortable. “It’s something that makes life feel bigger in a way other people might not understand if they don’t have something like that in their lives, you know?”

I thought I did, yeah. It was just strange to hear an approximation of my own feelings come out of someone else’s mouth. No one I knew back home wrote anything voluntarily. “So what’s the ultimate goal with music?”

“I can’t imagine life without it.” Darragh furrowed his brow. “I want to be the kind of musician that still can’t go a day without picking up his guitar when he’s eighty-seven. They’ll have to pry it out of my stiff hands when I go.” He erupted into a chuckle. “Jesus, I sound like I’m taking myself a bit too seriously, don’t I?” 

I squinted at him, automatically returning his smile. I had to wonder if he had any idea how he looked when he grinned, how the sight would make a healthy percentage of girls (and boys) want to bounce a thousand watt smile back and climb into his lap. “Maybe that’s the weed too,” I joked. “It’s playing with our heads.”

Darragh scraped his teeth against his bottom lip, grin digging deeper into his face. 

“But seriously,” I asked, because I still wanted to know, “what are you hoping for with the band—what would be your personal definition of success?” 

Darragh shrugged and crossed his legs at the ankles. “I just want to get the music out there. Whatever happens has to be about the music. I want to be in this for the long run. And for that I reckon you need to keep your head in the right place and hold on to your artistic integrity. There’s not much point playing music without it.” He patted the grass under his hands and knocked his elbow gently against mine. “You could work for Rolling Stone, you know that?” 

I laughed into the dark. “Actually, I was just about to ask about your influences and inspiration,” I kidded. “You might as well get used to it.” 

Darragh eyes sparkled as they caught the moonlight. “Next time I’m interviewing you, Amira.” At first I was surprised that he’d remembered my name, but I’d remembered his, why shouldn’t he remember mine? “Actually, most people don’t take musicians seriously unless they’re already a big name. If you say you’re in a band they’re more likely to say, ah yeah, my cousin was in a band, but then he got involved with the drugs or I wanted to be in a band meself when I was in school, I have a rare pair of lungs, you know. Does your band need someone to do a bit of singing?” He blinked at me, suddenly serious. “It’s one of those things everyone thinks they can do, especially after all those ridiculous Pop Idol shows on the telly.”

“Just like everyone thinks they have a book in them,” I said. “And I bet everybody thinks they could write a movie too, if they wanted.”

“Ah, yeah,” Darragh said emphatically. “People think these things are easy. They’ve no idea how much work it really is. No idea.”

“So I guess you’re not going to tell me you have a dozen ideas for a screenplay that you’re thinking about knocking out sometime?” 

“I’m not.” Darragh smiled that awe-inspiring smile of his again. “Someone else will probably tell you that the second you mention wanting to write one, but it won’t be me. Words are tricky. Getting the lyrics right is the hardest bit for me. Music is purer. Words can be clumsy.” 

“I thought Zoey wrote the lyrics.”

“Mostly, yeah. But I like to keep a hand in.” 

We talked for a few more minutes. Darragh told me about his day job working for his uncle’s home renovation business. A highly-strung Pekingese had bitten him on the calf the other day and he joked, “You don’t think of a hairball like that as an attack dog, but he really clamped on. Broke the skin with his tiny Dracula teeth and then sulked like I was the problem when his owner started shouting at him.” 

I hunched over, laughing lightly. “So now what—you’re going to turn into a Pekingese?”

“Any time now.” Darragh was laughing a bit too. “If I try to bite you when it happens just give me a good kick in the head.”

“If you say so.”

“I do. You don’t need that kind of tragedy in your life. The humiliation of being attacked by something that couldn’t be more than eight pounds soaking wet.” 

I was still smiling when Rory sauntered out looking for Darragh and steered him into a conversation about Gaelic football. Waving goodbye to the two of them, I hopped up and sauntered back to the house, afraid my aunt and uncle might discover me loitering in the backyard if I lingered too long. I couldn’t afford to get grounded before the Battle of the Bands contest. Summer was only beginning. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it anymore, except that for the moment I had my breath back, and it would be hours before I’d be able to fall asleep again.