Ian shook his hair into his face and crossed his arms tightly. “Addison Jane Bennett, if you are not back down here in five minutes, I will come looking for you.”
Rowan’s dimple dented his cheek. “Better hurry, Addison Jane.”
“Addison Jane Bennett. B-minus in geometry? I thought you were straight As all the way.”
I stumbled back into the doorway, hand to my chest. It was early one morning in July, and either I was hallucinating or Cubby Jones was standing in my kitchen looking at my report card.
I blinked hard, but when I looked again, he was still there. Only now he’d deployed the signature grin, one hand still on the fridge. A lot had changed since the morning I’d made him waffles. Cubby’s smile didn’t go all the way up to his eyes anymore, and something about it looked calculated, like he’d figured out its power and was using it to his advantage. Like now.
“What are you doing here?” I managed to choke out.
He grinned again, then pulled himself up onto the counter in an easy, athletic motion. “Don’t try to change the subject. B-minus? What does your honor student brother think of that?”
“I bombed the final,” I said, attempting and failing at nonchalant. “And you know report cards are confidential, right? Meant only for the person they’re addressed to.” I attempted to snatch the paper from his grip, but he held on to it tighter, pulling me toward him before he let go. And suddenly I was twelve years old again, in this very kitchen, looking into his eyes for the first time and noticing that Cubby was different. The memory must have hit him, too, because this time the old Cubby was back, his smile climbing to his eyes.
“So”—he cleared his throat, looking me up and down—“are you going out for a run?”
I quickly crossed my arms over my chest, remembering what I was wearing. A ratty T-shirt and an ancient pair of volleyball shorts that were so short, I only wore them to bed or for quick trips to the kitchen for early-morning Pop-Tarts. Or in this case, quick trips to the kitchen that resulted in running into my longtime crush.
Sometimes I hated my life.
“No run. I’m just, um . . .” I bit my lip nervously, desperate to get out of there but also desperate to stay. “What are you doing here, Cubby?”
“No one calls me Cubby anymore, Addison,” he said, tilting his head slightly.
“Well, no one calls me Addison. And the question stands.” I edged toward the hallway, the tile cold under my bare feet. Cubby’s stare ignited too many feelings in my stomach—and they tangled into a knot. Why did I have to look so gross? Upstairs, the bathroom door slammed shut.
“I’m picking up your brother. Coach called for an extra practice this morning, and Ian said you had the car today.”
“We have joint custody,” I said. “This weekend it’s mine.”
Cubby nodded knowingly. “But you made sure to explain to the car that it isn’t his fault, right? And that you both love him very much?”
A laugh burst out of me just as Ian appeared in the doorway. His hair was wet from the shower, and the strings from the two sweatshirts he wore tangled together. He was the only person I knew who ever wore two hoodies at once. How he managed to put them on was an unsolved mystery that I had been attempting to put to rest for several years now.
Cubby lifted his chin. “Hey, Bennett.”
Ian nodded at him sleepily, then squinted his eyes at me. “Addie, why are you up so early?”
“I was on the phone with Lina.” The time difference meant I sometimes had to get up really early if I wanted to talk to her.
He looked at my pajamas and wrinkled his face. I didn’t have to be a mind reader to know what he was thinking.
“Bye, Addison.” Cubby smiled disarmingly, then jumped off the counter, giving me a long look as he followed Ian out.
“Bye, Cubby,” I called back, my heart hummingbird-fast. The second he was out of sight I fell against the counter. Why did I always have to act like a lovestruck third grader? I might as well walk around with a T-shirt that reads I CUBBY JONES.
Suddenly, Cubby’s face appeared around the corner. “Hey, Addie, you want to hang out sometime?”
I shot back up to standing. “Um . . . yes?” You’d think that living with so many brothers would mean I’d know how to talk to guys, but I didn’t. It just meant I knew how to defend myself. And the way Cubby was looking at me—really looking at me—I had no defense for. It set my capillaries on fire.
Back in the hotel room I set a world record by getting dressed, packing my suitcase, and locating my phone, all in less than six minutes. Once my sneakers were laced, I stuck my head into the bathroom to check for Ian’s alleged note. Sure enough, there was a folded-up square of paper wedged into the corner of the mirror, my name spelled out in Ian’s miniscule handwriting.
“Ian, come on,” I groaned. Chances were I wouldn’t even have seen it there.
I jammed the note in my pocket, then wheeled my suitcase to the doorway, pausing when I caught sight of the guidebook peeking out from under my cot. I hurried over and scooped it up. I didn’t like the idea of stealing from the gnomes’ library, but something about the guidebook’s crinkled pages made me feel better. Less alone. And besides, what if Guidebook Lady was telling the truth? What if she was an expert on heartbreak? I needed all the help I could get. Maybe I’d figure out how to mail the guidebook back to the gnomes from Italy.
Outside, the car was right where I’d left it and Rowan stood rummaging through the trunk. Now that I wasn’t engaged in actively fighting off my brother, I could actually take Rowan in. He was taller than I’d expected and really skinny—like half the size of Archie or Walter. But even so, he definitely had what my mom called “presence.” Like he could walk into any lunchroom anywhere and ten girls would look up from their ham sandwiches and whisper, Who’s that? in identical breathy voices.
Good thing my breathy voice had been scared into permanent hibernation.
“Welcome back.” Rowan took my suitcase, tossing it into the trunk.
I pointed to the bumper stickers plastering the back of the car. “Did you pick all of those, or were they a preexisting condition?”
“Definitely preexisting. I’ve only owned the car for three weeks.”
IMAGINE WHIRLED PEAS
THIS CAR IS POWERED BY PURE IRISH LUCK
TEAM OXFORD COMMA
CUPCAKES ARE MUFFINS
THAT DIDN’T GIVE UP ON THEIR DREAMS
“The muffin one is pretty funny,” I said, hugging the guidebook to my side.
“I think so too. It may be the whole reason I bought this car. There wasn’t a whole lot to love otherwise.”
I shook my head. “Not true. This car is equipped with a rare sagging tailpipe. I’m sure people go crazy over those at car shows.”
“Wait. Is that a joke, or is the tailpipe actually sagging?” He looked anxiously at the roof of his car, his gaze a solid six feet above where the tailpipe actually resided. Yikes. I think it was safe to say Rowan was not a car person.
“Uh . . . that pipe thing?” I said, pointing under the back bumper. “It lets exhaust out of your car. If it starts dragging on the ground, it’ll make a loud, horrible noise.”
“Oh . . .” He exhaled, a blush spreading across his cheeks. “Actually, I think it was making that noise. On the way here. Especially when the road got bumpy. But Clover makes a lot of horrible noises, so I thought it was just business as usual.” He patted the car affectionately.
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