Aiden Fucking Kelly.
I will my phone to do something. Anything. Anything at all that tells me that I’m not going to be stranded in Ireland.
I review my texts to Aiden, as if he slipped one in that I didn’t notice.
Julie Rodriguez: Landed! Will text when I get through Customs.
Julie Rodriguez: Waiting just outside the door, near the taxi stand.
Julie Rodriguez: Assuming you’re driving and not texting. Superhero!
And, of course, nothing.
It’s been ten minutes since my last text. Where the hell is my boss?
When I got promoted and agreed to move thousands of miles from San Diego, Aiden promised the transition would be smooth. Well, it certainly isn’t starting off that way. He has to be stuck in a meeting, or maybe he’s being held up by a bunch of sheep that won’t get off the road. That happens here, right?
After a few more minutes of nothing, I put my phone down and check out the land surrounding the airport. It’s definitely green, so they weren’t lying about that. Ireland is just how I pictured it to be, with rolling green hills and rugged edges…at least from what I could tell from the plane. The land looked plush and a tad bit magical. When the wheels touched the ground, the flight attendant started rattling off her memorized spiel in English and again in what I could only assume was Gaelic. Excitement coursed through me, which was way better than the trepidation I’m feeling right now about being stood up.
The group of travelers I’d arrived with are gone, and there isn’t much activity in the way of departures, either. There are a few taxis lined up, waiting, and it looks like they may be waiting a while. All three drivers are standing outside their cars. Two are older men, long since retired from other jobs. But it’s not those guys that catch my eye. No, it’s the one at the front of the line. He’s not nearly as old…in fact, he’s probably only four or five years older than me. Maybe thirty or thirty-one. He’s leaning against the car, his arms crossed at his chest and his legs crossed at his ankles, waiting for a fare.
My eyes flicker over this stranger, drawn to his striking facial features. The thin layer of dark stubble over a solid, square jaw. The intriguing bump in a nose that may be one size too big for his face. Was there a fistfight that didn’t go his way?
Ever so subtly, I take account of his rich dark hair and the brown beaded bracelets that wrap around his left wrist.
He’s wearing an army green V-neck t-shirt that stretches over a broad chest, dark blue jeans, and boots. He has well-defined biceps and forearms that don’t quite add up for a man that sits in a taxi all day. He should be working as a fireman or an army ranger.
My eyes lazily glide back up to his face, and to my surprise, he’s staring straight at me and smiling. Shit. I’m so busted.
My gaze snaps to the other two taxi drivers, who are in the middle of a heated argument. Thank goodness my complexion won’t give away how much I’m blushing.
When I carefully glance back at him, he’s still looking at me. He motions to his car and lifts an eyebrow. He wants to give me a ride? Well, I guess that is what taxi drivers do.
“No thanks, I have a ride,” I shout in his direction.
He shrugs his shoulders and goes back to leaning on the car with his arms crossed. There’s still nothing going on with my phone, so I tap out a short text to Aiden.
Julie Rodriguez: Are you coming?
As I wait for a reply, I lift my gaze to the taxi driver to find him still watching me. He smiles and once again motions to his car. I shake my head and check my phone. My family’s smiling faces in the background photo stare back at me, but nothing else.
Aiden Fucking Kelly, my mind repeats over and over.
A giant yawn breaks out of me. I’m so tired that I can’t even remember how long ago I left San Diego. I need a bed and I definitely need a shower. My hair, which I usually style to be buoyant and shiny, is totally flat and dull. And then there’s the fact that I smell like eau de airport.
I check my phone one last time, begging it to do something before I give in. Nothing happens, of course, and so—with a heavy sigh—I look back at the taxi driver. This time he doesn’t even motion to the car. Instead, he opens the car door for me and then opens the trunk.
My stubborn nature makes it hard to budge, but I figure I don’t have much of a choice. I slip my phone back into my purse, swing my camera bag over my shoulder, and wheel my giant suitcase over to where he waits for me. The Irishman has a satisfied grin on his face. I do my best to hold in an annoyed huff.
Without saying a word, he takes hold of my suitcase and puts it in the trunk with ease.
“Thank you,” I murmur, and he nods while shutting the trunk. I climb into the backseat, and he closes the door for me before getting into the driver’s seat.
“I’m going to the McCallister Hotel.”
He lifts his chin and starts the car. Butterflies take flight inside me as he pulls away from the airport. This is it, I’m really on my way to a new life in Ireland.
The ignition comes to life with an angry roar. It’s no surprise, since I turned the key much harder than I needed to, all because of her. She’s sitting in the back of my dad’s taxi, staring down at her phone again with a definite sense of desperation. She’s so obviously new. So new to Ireland. So new to Cork. So new to me.
And just like with anything new, there’s a little bit of panic.
I gather my wits and quickly decipher the longest way to get her to the hotel. It’s a shite thing to do, but something inside me wants to learn more about her. I’ll fix the meter later.
Through the rear-view mirror, I watch her whenever I can. She’s put the phone down now and is staring out the window with giant doe eyes and a smile that beams. Pride radiates through me. I love my hometown and I think she’s starting to like it, too.
When those same doe eyes meet mine in the mirror, I get stuck there. Much like her hair, they’re creamy brown velvet, like my favorite ale. It’s a feckin’ miracle I don’t get us into an accident.
Her full lips purse together just a moment before a bright white smile spreads across her heart-shaped face. I grip the steering wheel tighter because I am done for. In my line of work, I come across loads of pretty girls, but this one just appeared from nowhere like a gift from God.
She breaks eye contact first and looks back out the window. “It’s lovely here.”
“Mmm,” I agree with a throaty grunt because, apparently, I’ve lost my natural-born gift of gab.
“It lives up to the stereotype,” she says with a little chuckle and looks back to the mirror. My eyes flicker between her and the car in front of me. Thankfully, I know these roads like the back of my hand.
I know everything there is to know about her, without asking her a single thing. She’s American, obviously. Based on how she’s shivering in her jacket on what’s considered a balmy day for Cork, she’s from somewhere warm, like Florida or California. She hasn’t seen much of the world, but she wants to. She’s brave and she’s confident, and that means she’s probably pretty successful at whatever she does. She has an eye for beauty. That much is clear from the camera bag she’s carrying. Most people would pack their camera in their suitcase. Not her. She keeps it close.
To prove how right I am, I start with the most basic question. “American?”
Yes. From her shoes to her accent and everything in between. I don’t answer, but keep going. “West Coast?”
“Yeah, California. How’d you know?”
“Lucky guess,” I answer. “What part?”
“San Diego, near Mission Beach.”
And just like that, the image of her in a little bikini pops into my mind and I take a moment to subtly adjust myself. Her curvy body and tan complexion would fill it out beautifully.
I forget all the other questions I was going to ask her while a long beat passes between us. Finally, I croak out, “Céad mile fáilte.”
Bewilderment flashes across her face. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“It means ‘a hundred thousand welcomes.’”
“Oh, in Gaelic?”
That makes me laugh a little.
“Am I missing something?” she asks and crosses her arms. She’s a feisty one, that’s for sure.
“We mostly call it Irish here.”
“Don’t you mean Gaelic?”
“We call it Irish,” I insist. I’ve got an urge to teach her more of it.
“Well, thank you. It’s my first time in Ireland.”
She confirms what my heart already knew.
“On holiday?” I ask, because that’s what naturally comes next.
“Actually, no. I’m moving here for work.”
I’m so stunned, I nearly run into a parked car on one of Cork’s narrow side streets. Relief courses through me in eight different ways.
Turns out, she’s quite unexpected.
With this new information, I no longer feel the need to take the long way to her hotel.
“And you’re moving halfway across the world with just a couple of bags?”
“No, not quite. I’m going to find a place first, and then the rest of my stuff will be shipped to me.”
The phone in her hand chimes and she immediately pulls it up close to her face and breaks out in a huge smile. I shift gears with more force than necessary as she rapidly types a message back.
She said she’s moved here for work, but does she have a boyfriend here? Is it the langer that stood her up at the airport?
Once she puts the phone down, I ask, “Did you finally hear from your man who didn’t show up?”
She gives me a confused look, one that’s almost defensive. “That was my boss,” she clarifies.
Her boss? He’d better have a good reason to leave the poor lass stranded in a new country.
I keep my mouth shut and keep driving, but my dad’s poor taxicab is taking a beating. My fingers are wrapped way too tight around the steering wheel because I need to hold on to something. Lord knows why, but from the moment I saw her standing all alone on that curb, I wanted to hold on to her, and if I can’t do that, this will have to do.