Niki scowled. She clutched the rumpled picture of her best friend, Claire, as she trudged up the many stairs. I don’t care if this is a famous place, she thought angrily. It doesn’t change the fact that they made me move to Ireland and leave Claire behind in Wisconsin. Niki grumpily followed her parents up the never-ending flight of stairs leading to the Cliffs of Moher.
Niki’s mother glanced back at Niki and sighed. Her daughter wore the same pouting look she had been wearing ever since they moved to Ireland. There were so many beautiful sights in Ireland, and her daughter wouldn’t see any of it. She was stuck on the fact that she wouldn’t see Claire until Christmas, six months away.
As Niki continued to climb the seemingly never-ending stairs, the wind began to get stronger. When she reached the top, panting, she gasped in spite of herself. This was the most amazing thing she had ever seen. The land curved in, off to her left, and then curved out again; so she was looking across the water to the cliffs themselves. They rose majestically from the crashing waves and misty air. They were lined up in a row, so where one cliff ended, another one began.
Niki could hear the waves crashing far below. The wind came rushing in from the ocean, curving around the land to slam into her. The wind was so fierce she was yanked and shoved back and forth. She had to fight not to get blown over as she mounted the final steps. Ahead, there was a sturdy stone castle where her parents stood. She made her way slowly to them, fighting the wind every step of the way. “It’s… I didn’t know it would be like this!” she shouted; but the wind tore the words from her mouth. She just grinned at her parents instead.
Niki caught her breath in a sheltered area where the castle protected her from the strong winds. After a moment, she headed out, going around the corner of the castle. Then she was hit by the most powerful wind yet. She held her arms out to the side and leaned into the wind. It tore at her like a wild animal. The wind whipped her hair across her face and made her eyes water. This wind gave her a feeling of excitement and exhilaration that she had never felt before. She closed her eyes and leaned even more into the wind. She imagined herself flying free, soaring up, up, up… she felt calm in a way she couldn’t explain. She had been filled with millions of different emotions since moving here: excitement, anger, sorrow; but now she was feeling strangely free.
Suddenly, the picture of Claire, still in her hand, was torn from her grasp by the gusts of wind. She opened her eyes and the feeling of calm disappeared. “No!” she cried. She tried to run and catch the picture but the wind held her back. She watched helplessly as the wind tossed the picture back and forth, up and down, left and right. Then the wind soared, carrying the picture high into the sky. Then it plunged down, down, closer and closer to the crashing waves. Niki stared as the picture disappeared into the swirling water.
* * *
So where do you want to go tomorrow?” Niki’s father asked. Niki shrugged. She had been silent ever since Claire’s picture had blown over the cliff. Niki’s parents exchanged glances and walked quicker. Their daughter clearly wanted to be left alone. Niki sighed. Losing that picture was like losing her friend all over again. Niki trudged toward their room, which had been a horse stable before it was remodeled into a hotel. Her parents thought that staying in this hotel and visiting famous Irish places would make her like living in Ireland. It wasn’t working. Niki sighed again. She halfheartedly scanned the landscape, running her eyes over huge trees, the flowing stream, the stone wall covered with ivy. She reached out and ran her hand through the ivy as she walked. Some of the ivy curtain parted and Niki saw a blue piece of trash crammed into a hole in the stone wall. She stopped walking and separated the ivy so she could tug on it. There was a rock holding it in place, which seemed strange. Why would you need a rock to hold a piece of trash in a hole in a wall? Niki wondered. She yanked it out and let the curtain of ivy close. Niki blinked and looked closer at what she held in her hand. It was a blue plastic bag with a piece of paper inside it. Carefully, Niki opened the bag and pulled the paper out.
Hi. My father runs this hotel. This is where I live, but none of my friends live around here. I’m lonely. I’ve always wanted a penpal from another country, so would you write me a letter when you get home? It would be even better if you lived here; but letters are a good way to be friends, too.
Your hopeful friend,
Niki couldn’t breathe. A girl? Who lived here? This was better than she had imagined. Their new house was only a few minutes’ drive away. She started to run, calling, “Mom! Dad! Look what I found!” Niki raced to their room. She waved the letter at her mother, too breathless with excitement to explain. Her mother took the letter and handed Niki one in exchange. Niki glanced at the return address and hurriedly ripped open the envelope. It was from Claire! Niki grinned. She might have lost Claire’s picture, but she would never lose Claire as a friend. And she had found a new friend right here in Ireland.