“C’mere, are you lost?” said a female voice.

I looked up from the travel guide on my tablet and smiled sheepishly at a woman about my age. “No. Just overwhelmed. I’ve been looking forward to vacationing in Europe for months and now that I’m here, I’m trying to decide what to see next.”

“Well first off, welcome to Cork,” she said as she held out her hand for me to shake. As we shook, she continued with, “It’s a wonderful city and I’m sure you’ll fancy it. Are you a Yank?”

Was it that obvious I was an American? I guessed it was as I was wearing jeans and a Boston College T-shirt in Cork’s English Market with a large backpack on my back.

“Yeah, from Boston. I graduated yesterday from Boston College, flew overnight to Dublin and then took the train down to Cork this morning.”

She gave me a big smile. She was very pretty with long, dark blonde hair and pretty brown eyes. Tall and thin – I would guess 5′ 10″ or so. She looked a year or two older than me. She was dressed in a simple royal blue dress. It had a conservative length and cut, but nicely showed off her figure and made her hair look stunning.

I realized I was staring. “I decided to come here first to buy some food.”

“I don’t have to work till this evening. I could show you around for a while if you’d fancy.”

Really? I’ve been in Cork less than an hour and a good-looking woman walks up to me and offers to show me around? “I’d like that very much.”

This didn’t seem right. No, this was flat out incredible. I was a good-looking guy, but not good-looking enough that pretty women walked up to me and offered to show me around. Was she someone who worked with a partner to rob American tourists?

“Okay,” she said. “Let me finish buying my bits and pieces, then I’ll take them back to my flat la and we’ll be off.” I followed her as she looked over some apples. “Why didn’t you leave your backpack in a locker in the train station? The best way to see Cork is on foot and that’s going to get heavy fast.”

“I don’t know. I guess I was too cheap to think of paying for a locker.”

“Well, it’s your feet and back. Oh, I’m Sinead Hayes.”

“I’m Noel Vaupel.” My first name is pronounced like “gnoll”, the race of humanoid hyenas in some fantasy games.

“Noel is my father’s name.”

“Seriously?” She nodded her head. “I’ve never met another Noel.”

I had hated my name as a kid. I had thought it was a girl’s name. Many, many kids in school had taunted me with the same opinion. At one point, I tried to get everyone to call me by my middle name “Liam”. That had failed because my mother had refused to go along – “I named you Noel because I wanted to call you Noel.”

“Noel is a good Cork name. Where’s your family from?”

“All over Ireland.”

“But Vaupel isn’t Irish.”

“It’s Hessian. Hans Vaupel was a Hessian mercenary who decided to stay in America after the Revolutionary War. But I’m seven-eighths Irish.”

During World War One, my great-grandfather James Vaupel had served in the First U. S. Division in France. There, he became best friends with Tip O’Sullivan of Boston and started corresponding with Tip’s sister, Rosemary. After the war, he went to Boston and married her. Somehow, the Hessian looks have bred true as I had black hair and dark eyes, same as my father.

“What do you want to see in Cork?”

“I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to see Ireland, but I don’t have a list of sights to see. I want to kiss the Blarney Stone at some point. Mostly, I just want to see Ireland.”

Sinead gave me a smile. She had a brilliant smile that melted me. As we talked, she picked out some fresh fruit, berries and vegetables. She paid for her food and we left the market.

Sinead had a definite Cork accent. It was mainly how she pronounced her vowels, particularly before an “r”. I had grown up listening to a Cork accent so I knew eventually I’d hear a “th” become a “t” as in “think” pronounced “tink” and “three” pronounced “tree”. Mother would be “mam”, pronounced like the American “ma’am”. The Cork accent had a sing-song quality that made it very pleasant and I enjoyed listening to her talk.

“What degree did you get?” asked Sinead.

“Computer Science.”

“Same for me. From University College Cork last year.”

“Are you a programmer?”

“Aye, but I haven’t been able to get a job programming. I’ve been doing volunteer programming projects for non-profits.”

“What language do you use?”

“C. I write iPad applications using Objective C. And you?”


“M? What’s that?”

“It’s a language that’s ten letters more advanced than C.” Sinead gave me a look that made it clear my joke had fallen flat. “It’s a language for high-speed data processing. The company I’m going to work for writes software for hospitals.”

“When do you start work?”

“September, the day after Labor Day.”

“Are you going to tour Europe until then?”


“That sounds savage.” I took “savage” to mean “great”.

“Should be fun if my money doesn’t run out.” I had a mission to complete in Cork before touring the rest of Europe. “What applications did you develop?”

As we walked down the quaint streets of Cork, Sinead told me of the programming projects she had done to help non-profits help other people. From the way she talked, she clearly knew how to code and to provide solutions to her clients. I was impressed.

“Here la,” said Sinead as we arrived at a three story apartment building. The buildings all abutted each other on this street and all looked like apartment buildings. She took out her key and unlocked the front door. “I’m on the second floor.” Next to the door was a set of buttons and the one for number 203 had a card that read “S. Hayes”.

I was still wary about how friendly Sinead had been with me. At the same time, she was clearly a very smart, competent woman. Would someone like that lure Americans someplace to get robbed? If something bad was going to happen, this was where it was going to happen.

I climbed the stairs to reach the second floor landing. Sinead started up the next set of stairs.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“To the second floor, silly goose. I told you my flat was on the second floor.”

“This is the second floor.”

“Na, na. This is the first floor. Come on.”

Sinead continued up the stairs and I was forced to follow her. When she got to third floor, she walked down a hallway past a pair of doors and unlocked her door. No noticeable signal to her compatriots that a rich American was following her. As I entered the hallway, I braced myself to flee at the slightest sign of company. Sinead went into her apartment – 203 – and left the door open for me. I stuck my head in and saw no one else. It was a small apartment – a single room with a kitchen area on the far side. No one else was in the room and there were no doors for someone to hide behind. I felt foolish as I entered her apartment. Shouldn’t she be worried about me jumping her once I got her alone?

Sinead said, “I’ll put this away then we’ll be off.”

“How about I fix us some sandwiches for lunch?”

“Sandwiches sound good.”

I sat my backpack down and went over to her kitchen area. Everything looked old and/or second hand. The area needed a good cleaning. Not up to the standards of what I was used to. I opened a box marked “Bread” and got out a loaf.

“Do you have a knife for slicing the bread?”

“Aye.” Sinead handed me a massive bread knife that had seen many years of service.

I thought of an old joke, smiled and then sang:

I’m looking over
A four-loaf cleaver
That I overlooked before!

I glanced at Sinead and she looked dumbfounded. 

“Haven’t you heard that joke before?”

“Na, na.”

“Well, it’s a really bad joke and as I sang you the punch line, you wouldn’t find it funny. You’ll just have to read my mind to get the joke.”

She shook her head with a slight smile on her face.

“It’s easy to read someone’s mind. Let me demonstrate.” I set down the bread knife and put my right hand on her forehead. “Think of a country that starts with ‘D’. Got it?” Sinead nodded her head. “Now take the last letter of that word and think of an animal that starts with that letter. Thought of one?” Again, she nodded her head. “Now take the last letter of that word and think of a fruit that starts with that letter. Do you have that pictured in your mind?” One last time, she nodded her head.

I took my hand off her forehead, reached over to a fruit bowl and grabbed a fruit, which I held out in front of her. “You’re thinking of an orange, aren’t you?”

She smiled, gave me a you’re-such-a-smart-ass look and then said slightly embarrassed, “Aye.”

I smiled and picked back up the bread knife. “However, I’m not good at reading people’s minds on how thick they want their bread. Would this thick do?”

“A little thinner.”

As I cut her two slices, I asked, “What kind of sandwich do you want?”

She shrugged. “Peanut butter and jelly.”

“Have you ever had a peanut butter and banana sandwich?”

“Na, na.”

“I used to make them for my sisters all the time. Would you like to try one?”

“Aye.” Sinead seemed quite content to watch me work in the kitchen. “How many sisters do you have?”

“Two. Erin and Riley.” I set everything down, got out my tablet and pulled up pictures of them. “They’re twelve and ten. I’m more like a junior parent to them than an older brother.” I talked proudly as I showed Sinead my favorite pictures of them. When I was done, I went back to making the sandwiches. I took a banana out of the fruit bowl, peeled it, quickly sliced it and then arranged the slices on the peanut-buttered bread slices.

“It looks like you know what you’re doing,” said Sinead.

“I started cooking meals for my family when I was twelve. I enjoy cooking and I like to think I’m pretty good at it.”

“Your mam must be proud of you.”

“My mom is dead.”

“Oh, na, na!”

“She died in an industrial accident at her work a year and a half ago.”

“I’m so sorry!” Sinead stepped up to me and gave me a big hug.

I stood there, enjoying the hug, different feelings warring in my mind. I missed my mother still and I appreciated the consolation. At the same time, I was being hugged by a pretty woman who I was very attracted to. The contours of her bodying pressing against mine felt wonderful. I was maybe three inches taller than her and I could feel all of her best parts as they were pressed against me. Were all Irish girls this friendly? Or had she developed an attraction to me as quickly as I had developed an attraction to her?

I played it safe and kept my arms by my side. When she ended the hug, I said, “Thanks.” I was touched by her concern, but at the same time it made me feel uncomfortable as I felt I was getting too attracted to a stranger. “Would you mind if I left my backpack here while we tour the town?”

“Na, na. We’ll come back here when it’s time for me to change for work.”

“Good. I’ll get out my daypack and I’ll carry our lunches in that.” I got my daypack out. I had planned on living mostly on sandwiches, fresh fruit and vegetables as I toured Europe, so I was prepared. I unzipped my lunch box and took out my sandwich carrier and took it over to the sandwiches.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a sandwich carrier I made out of a plastic milk jug. I made smaller ones for my sisters.” Mine was big enough to hold two sandwiches. Sinead looked impressed, which made me feel flustered. “Would you mind if we took some of your fruit to eat? I’ll buy the drinks while we’re out.”

“I’d fancy that.”

I finished packing our lunches, zipped up my lunch box, and placed my lunch box and my tablet in my daypack. If someone robbed my backpack while we were gone, they were going to be disappointed – it only had clothes and my toiletries.

“Would you mind carrying my iPad?” Sinead asked as we headed out of her apartment.

“Not at all.”

I thought iPads were seriously overpriced, but I knew not to start that fight. I tucked it into my daypack next to my Android tablet as she locked the door.

“Is there a country that starts with ‘D’ besides Denmark?” Sinead asked.

“I don’t know. I didn’t take any Geographic Information System courses.”

Sinead stuck her tongue out at me.

* * * *

We hiked all over as Sinead showed me Cork. It was a wonderful city; very different from Boston. The buildings were so old, built to be used for hundreds of years. The churches were gorgeous. Cork didn’t constantly tear down the old to make way for the new like Boston did. Every street corner seemed to have hundreds of stories that it longed to share with me.

I took lots of pictures on my tablet. I got Sinead in as many of the pictures as I could. She had firm, toned legs and arms, but not the bulky musculature of someone who worked out with weights. I guessed she was physically active, probably a lot of it outdoors. With her conservative dress, I couldn’t tell much about the size of her tits, but they seemed good-sized.

Lots of other guys checked her out. I was glad I checked her out subtly as guys openly checking her out made her obviously uncomfortable. Those were the only uncomfortable moments in our time together as we seemed to just click. There was rarely a pause in our conversation. When we hiked past University College Cork, Sinead told me stories of her college days and I told her stories of mine.

We were taking a water break when Sinead asked me, “Don’t you like beer? This is twice you’ve bought us water instead of beer.”

“Oh, I like beer. However, I don’t like paying for beer. If you want to buy me a beer, I’ll happily drink it.”

“I’m so used to guys offering to buy me a drink.”

“Oh, I’m not a believer in the whole get-the-girl-tipsy thing. Women are too smart to fall for it. Instead, when I get them back to their apartments, I start cleaning their kitchens.” Sinead smiled. “I clean their counters and scrub their sinks” – I acted out the cleaning motions – “and they go wild.” Sinead laughed. “My experience is that a clean kitchen is an aphrodisiac for women.” Sinead was laughing hard now. “Women are like ‘Take me now, you big sink-scrubbing stud’.” Sinead doubled over.

When she finally stopped laughing, Sinead said, “You’re so funny.”

“You’re a lot of fun to be with. Come on, we don’t have much longer until you have to go to work.”

* * * *

Around 3:30, we stopped in front of a restaurant in a trendy area a block off the River Lee.

“This is where I work,” said Sinead. “Stay here. I’m going to ask for the day off.” Sinead disappeared inside. Several minutes later, she reappeared a little flush. “I got the day off.”

“Great! You’ve been a great guide and I’ve really enjoyed seeing Cork with you. How about I buy you dinner as a thank you? Someplace nice that serves traditional Cork food?”

Sinead looked at me dubiously. I felt like I had said something wrong.

“Well, okay.”

“Until then, let’s keep walking.”

* * * *

On our way to dinner – I had finally gotten Sinead to name a restaurant – Sinead asked me, “What was your mam’s favorite Irish dish to make?”


She snorted. “Seriously.”

“Seriously, Mom hated to cook. She was all about getting food on the table with the minimum effort. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had skipped cooking the noodles and poured the spaghetti sauce over the raw pasta.”

“I can sympathize. Is that why you took over cooking for the family?”

“Yes and no. It’s a long story.”

“I’d fancy hearing it.”

“Well, my parents almost divorced when I was nine. They fought about a lot of things, but the two things they fought about the most were money and cooking. Dad is great with a grill but useless in the kitchen. Mom hated cooking and hated that it was somehow her responsibility to cook.”

“It wasn’t her responsibility to cook.”

“She responded by wanting to order pizza and eat fast food, which led to more fights about money. Dad also complained about how all the fast food was making Mom fat. It was an awful, scary time.”


“Then they had a big reconciliation, things calmed down and they decided to have another kid. One day, my parents told me Mom was pregnant and that once the baby came along, I would have to do more around the house. When Erin arrived, I helped out in different ways but cooking was the thing I enjoyed the most. Mom was a good cook – she just hated doing it – so she knew how to teach me to cook. At first, I got the ingredients out for whatever recipe she was making. Then I measured them as well. Later, I started making simple things like pudding all by myself. As Mom did less of the cooking, she scheduled more complex, better-tasting meals. Dad criticized Mom’s cooking all the time, but he never criticized mine. The more I cooked, the less fighting happened.”

I looked over at Sinead. I had been wrapped up in my memories and hadn’t been paying attention to her. Was this boring to her? She was staring raptly at me, so I continued.

“A year after Riley was born, Mom decided she was going to lose a lot of weight. She joined Weight Watchers, but she hated the weighing and the counting. One day, she came to me, showed me the Weight Watchers books and told me to figure out how to keep her on the diet. From then on, I did the menu planning. My parents gave me the grocery money every week and it was up to me to spend it wisely as whatever I didn’t spend was mine. My mom lost weight, the fights over money stopped and they were much happier; kissing and holding hands a lot. Probably the two biggest reasons their marriage improved was that my dad got a big promotion and that my mom got a better job. Still, every time they got lovey-dovey, I felt proud of my contributions to strengthening their marriage.”

Sinead seemed stunned by my story. Then she leaned forward and gave me a kiss on my cheek. “That’s the best story I’ve ever heard.”

I blushed. “That’s how I learned to cook. And that’s how I learned to be cheap. I’d always buy what was on sale and figure out how to make a meal out of it. My sisters learned to forget about name brand snacks as store brand were just as good. I saved my money so if there was an emergency expense, I could help out. And every time I did help out, my parents sang my praises.”

“Here la,” said Sinead as we arrived at the restaurant. I was starving, having worked up a big appetite walking all over Cork.

Dinner was awkward. I had had such a great day with Sinead that I was happy to spend a lot of money on her, but she seemed somewhat withdrawn throughout dinner. It was the first time all day when the conversation didn’t flow easily.

When the check arrived, Sinead said, “I’m going to pay half.”

“I’d said I’d pay for dinner. I want to thank you for being such a great guide.”

“It’s not how I want to be thanked. I’ll pay half.”

I thought about offering to pay more than half as she probably wouldn’t have chosen this restaurant if I hadn’t offered to pay, but I decided to let it go.

After we left the restaurant, I said, “Let’s go back your place. I’ll get my backpack then go to the youth hostel.”