I pulled out my phone to verify the Twitter account. The profile photo on @IndieIan11 was an up-close shot of Ian’s eyes, his long hair framing the right side of the square. 9.9K followers. A massive party I hadn’t been invited to. Hadn’t even been told about.
I gripped the phone hard, a herd of feelings galloping across my chest. At least now I knew why Ian had been so distant all summer. He’d been living a secret online life. “Ian, why didn’t you tell me about all this?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Why would I? It’s not like you listen to anything I say anyway.”
Cop-out answer. “Ian, for the last time, this isn’t about Cubby. If Rowan found you a year ago, that means you were music”—I hesitated—“music journaling way before Cubby and I started hanging out.”
“ ‘Music journaling.’ I like it.” Rowan might as well have been wearing a referee jersey. He was desperate to stop our fight.
Ian turned back impatiently. “So tell me again, are you planning to tell Mom about Cubby during or after your trip to Florence?”
“Ian, we’ve been through this a dozen times. I am not telling her.” My words vibrated loudly through the car. How had he even jumped to that? “And it’s not my trip to Florence. It’s our trip.”
Even I didn’t sound convinced.
The first time I ever lied to Ian, it was about Cubby. It was surprisingly easy.
It was during our last field trip together, and right away I realized something was different about this excursion from the others. Usually, our trips were to my brother’s newest and most recent discoveries, but not this time.
“I’ve been coming here since I got my license,” he said, as I aimed the flashlight at the troll’s one visible eye, glistening as hard and shiny as a bead. Cars roared above us on the overpass.
Ian climbed up the statue’s gnarled hand, settling into the curve between its head and neck. I let my light wander over the statue. The concrete troll was over twenty feet tall, and one of its plump hands clutched a life-size car in its monstrous grip. “Why have I never been here before?”
Ian stretched out over the arm. “I like to come here after practice. To think.”
“To think about what? How you’re going to dominate at the next game?” I teased.
He made a noise in the back of his throat, quickly changing the subject. “Did you notice how blobby the troll is? It’s because people spray-paint him, and the only way to remove the paint is to cover him up with more cement.”
“Nice segue,” I said. Lately, Ian had been dodging every conversation that had anything to do with football. But tonight I wasn’t going to pry. It was nice just to be with him. I felt like I hadn’t seen much of him lately.
I tucked the flashlight into my sweatshirt pocket and scrambled up to join him. For a while, we listened to the rhythmic rumbling of cars rushing overhead. Their predictable noises were comforting. I could see why Ian liked it here.
“Where were you last night?” he suddenly asked, and my heart raced faster than the cars on the highway.
I avoided looking him in the eye. “I went to bed early.”
He shook his head. “I came into your room to see if you wanted to watch SNL. You were gone on Tuesday night too. How are you getting out? The window? Kind of ballsy to climb out past Mom and Dad’s room.”
Very ballsy. Particularly for a person who was five foot one on a good day trying to descend a tree whose branches were spaced out at least five feet apart.
“I was probably in the kitchen,” I said, surprised by how easily the lie slipped through my mouth. I’d never lied to Ian before, never even really considered it. But then, I guess I’d never had a reason before. A small smile invaded my face. I couldn’t help it.
He raised his eyebrows. “So now that I know how you’re sneaking out, the question is who are you sneaking out with?”
I pressed my lips together, sealing in my secret. Sometimes it felt like everything I owned had once belonged to one of my brothers, and as much as I loved them, I loved the idea of having something all to myself even more.
After a few seconds Ian let out a long and exaggerated sigh. “Fine. Be that way.” He slid off the troll, his sneakers thudding heavily onto the ground. “But you know I’ll find out eventually.”
Taking me to the troll was Ian’s attempt at drawing out my secret: I’ll tell you one of mine, you tell me one of yours.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him.
Rowan’s car raced down the twisted road as I watched Ireland suddenly morph into something remote and ferocious. Roofless stone structures lined the narrow roads, moss blanketing them softly in green. Everything looked abandoned, which for some reason made my internal clock tick even louder. I had less than an hour to convince Ian to abandon his plan.
Luckily, I had a secret weapon. Two weeks ago, my mom and I had driven over an hour north to visit her aunt, and I’d gotten stuck listening to a new Catarina Hayford recording called “Modes of Persuasion.” Back then I hadn’t thought I would ever need it. But now I needed to draw on the experts. Step one: act curious. “So what exactly does the Burren have to do with Titletrack?”
The bruise under Ian’s eye looked at me accusingly. “Listen, Catarina. We’re working on a strictly need-to-know basis here. Also, no one invited you, so quit asking questions.”
“I was not being Catarina,” I snapped. I guess he’d listened to that one too.
“Yes, you were. Rule number one,” he said in a surprisingly good impression of Catarina’s throaty voice, “act curious.”
“I’d ask who Catarina is, but you’d probably both rip my head off,” Rowan said.
“You’re safe on this one,” Ian assured him. “She’s a real estate guru who spends all of her free time getting spray tans. She turned our mom into a Seattle real estate mogul.”
“I didn’t know your mom was in real estate.” Rowan slid his eyes curiously at Ian. For someone who was so close to my brother, he knew surprisingly little about him. He hadn’t even known Walt’s name.
“Rule number two: Never meet the client halfway. Meet them all the way.” Ian flicked his hair behind his shoulder and pursed his lips convincingly. “Rule number three: Be realistic and optimistic. The future belongs to the hopeful.”
I flicked him on the shoulder. “Ian, stop.”
He snorted and dropped the pose, ducking down to look out the windshield. “Rowan, is this Corofin?”
“No. That was the first town. This is Killinaboy. Also, I’m overruling your terms and conditions.” Rowan’s gaze fell on me, light as a butterfly. “Your sister needs to know what we’re doing.”
“What? Why?” he asked.
“Because if she knows why you’re taking off without her, maybe she’ll retaliate less.”
“Rowan, believe me. She won’t retaliate less,” Ian said.
“She can hear you,” I reminded them, my gaze snagged on yet another attempt by Rowan to adjust his glasses. The way he pushed them up was the perfect combination of endearing and nerdy. If he didn’t seem so clueless about it, I’d think he was doing it on purpose. “And, Ian, I’m starting to like your friend here. Unlike you, he actually considers other people’s feelings.”
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