She crouched down next to Ian and mumbled something to him, and then the three of them cleared out of the room, banging loudly into the hallway.
It felt like only minutes later when a slamming noise sprang me out of sleep. I sat up quickly, disoriented, but not too disoriented to notice that the entire vibe of the hotel room had changed. Not only did it feel twice as big without Archie, Walter, and my mom, but the curtains were straining against full, brilliant sunlight. The room was silent, highlighting a distinct ruffling sensation hovering in the air. Had someone just been here?
“Ian,” I whispered. “Are you awake?”
He didn’t budge, which was typical. Ian could sleep through almost anything.
I rolled onto my back and lay still, straining my ears. The hotel’s silence was as thick as black pudding. Suddenly, the door to our room pulled quietly shut, followed by an explosion of footsteps down the hall. Someone had been in our room. A thief? A European kidnapper? One of the gnomes?
“Ian,” I said, tumbling out of my bed. “Someone was just here. Someone was in our room.” I reached out to shake his shoulder, but in a highly disorienting moment, my hand sank straight through him.
I yanked off the covers to find a pile of pillows. Had he pillow ghosted me? I spun around, checking the rest of the cots. Empty, empty, and empty. “Ian!” I yelled into the silence.
My eyes darted to the door, and what I saw elicited my first real bit of uneasiness. Instead of the two navy-blue suitcases that were supposed to be standing by the door, there was only one. Mine.
I hustled over to the alarm clock, but it stared up at me blankly. Of course. My mom had ripped it out of the wall. I needed to find my phone.
Not under the sheets, not under the complimentary stationery, not in the scattered brochures. Finally, I ran to the windows and flung open the curtains, only to get kicked in the retinas. The countryside was on fire—green and sunlight combining to create an intense glare. Apparently, Ireland did have sunshine, and it was blinding.
I stumbled my way to the door and burst out of the room, my bare feet making staccato echoes down the hall.
Downstairs I did a fly-by inspection of the breakfast room and lounge, but the only form of life was an obese orange cat who’d taken up residence on a velvet armchair. I sprinted out the front door and into the parking lot, and a wave of cold air hit me head-on. Irish sunshine must be for looks only.
The only vehicle in the parking lot was a lonely utility van parked next to a line of rosebushes waving frantic messages at me in the wind. Where’s Ian? Did you miss your cab?
I needed to pull it together. Even if I had overslept, it’s not like Ian would have left for Italy without me. Maybe he was just out for an early-morning walk. With his suitcase?
The distant sound of an engine starting pulled me out of my trance. I took off after it, the shuddering noise getting louder as I headed toward the side parking lot. When I rounded the corner, I skidded to a stop, giving myself a few seconds to process what I was seeing.
The tortured-sounding vehicle was technically a car, but it just barely qualified. It was tiny and boxy—like when a Volkswagen and a hamster love each other very much—with a splotchy paint job and a muffler dangling an inch or two off the ground. And striding purposefully toward it, navy-blue economy suitcase in hand, backpack slung over one shoulder, was Ian.
Adrenaline hit me full force. My legs got the message before I did, and suddenly I was charging across the parking lot, my brother in my line of target.
He saw me just before he reached the passenger door, but by then it was too late. I collided with him like I was the Hulk going in for a high five, which was to say, hard. His backpack went flying, and we both hit the ground, tumbling for the second time in twenty-four hours. It hurt in a white-hot, head-pounding kind of way.
“What are you doing?” he hissed, scrambling to his feet.
“What am I doing? What are you doing?” I yelled back, jumping up to shake off the fall.
He lunged for his backpack, but I beat him to it, wrapping the handle around my fingers. “Are you trying to leave without me?” I demanded.
“Just go back up to the room. I left a note on the bathroom mirror.” He wasn’t meeting my eye.
“A note? Is this the cab Mom ordered for us? Why is it in such bad shape?”
Suddenly, the passenger window began cranking down in jerky, uneven motions. The sound of an appreciative slow clap filled the air followed by an Irish voice. “Ah, Ian, you’ve been beaten by a girl! I wish I’d been recording. Would love to see a replay.”
“Rowan!” Ian hustled over to the window, his voice much happier than someone who’d just been tackled in a parking lot should sound. He wore the same massive grin he’d had plastered all over him last night during his text sessions.
I dropped Ian’s backpack on the ground and ran over, butting him out of the way so I could get a look inside.
“Well, hello there,” the driver said. He was Ian’s age, maybe a little older, with tousled hair, large grayish eyes, and horn-rimmed glasses that should have been perched on an old man’s face but managed to be at home on his. His T-shirt said HYPNOTIZING CAT and featured a large feline with whirlpool eyes. Definitely not a cabdriver. He smiled, and a dimple appeared charmingly on one side. Until now I’d thought that dimples only came in pairs.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
He stuck his hand out. “I’m Rowan. And you must be Addie.” His accent was 100 percent Irish, singsongy with the vowels getting soft and running together like chocolate syrup in ice cream.
I ignored it. His hand and the chocolate syrup voice. But I couldn’t ignore the way he was looking at me—like I was something rare and exciting that he’d just discovered in the wild. “How do you know who I am?” I asked.
“I knew Ian has a sister named Addie, and let’s be honest, only a guard or a sibling would tackle someone in the middle of a stony car park.”
When I didn’t match his smile, he dropped his, self-consciously reaching up to push the corners of his glasses up with both hands. “Or at least I’m guessing that’s how siblings operate. Also, you look like the mini female version of him.”
“Do not call me a female version of Ian,” I snapped. My first week of high school, at least five of Ian’s friends had made it a point to tell me that I looked like my brother with a blond wig, which was not the confidence booster I’d been looking for.
He held up his hand quickly. “Chillax. I didn’t mean to annoy ya. I probably wouldn’t like it if someone called me a male version of a woman either.” The dimple reappeared. “Also, I come in peace. So please don’t attack me, too.”
Ian quickly nudged me aside. “Sorry about this, Rowan. Minor glitch in the system. Addie, go back up to the room. Your taxi will be here later. And the note will explain everything.”
Had he just called me a minor glitch in the system? “What do you mean my taxi? It’s our taxi. Why are you out here talking to . . . ?” I stopped. I’d been about to say “Hypnotized Cat Guy,” but that just sounded rude.
Ian grabbed my arm, pulling me away from the car and lowering his voice so Hypnotized Cat Guy wouldn’t hear. “Great news: your wish is granted. I’m not coming with you to Italy. Go upstairs and read the note—it has all the details.”
The parking lot revolved once, then twice. He was serious. “You’re not coming to Italy? Since when?” I asked dizzily.
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