“Finally. What took you so long?” I complained, reaching for my seat belt as he slid into the front seat. “Next time I’m going to leave you.”
“You’d really leave me?” I startled at the voice. It was Cubby. Freshly showered, with rosy cheeks and droplets of water clinging to the ends of his hair. He smiled, his bright eyes meeting mine. “You’re staring at me like I’m a ghost. Why?”
“Because . . .” My words tried to catch up with my brain. Because I think about you all the time and now you’re in my car.
“Um, I guess practice is over?” I finally managed. Brilliant.
He grabbed the seat adjuster, reclining a few inches. “So glad it’s over. Practice was brutal.” His head dropped, and if I weren’t so shocked to have him in my car, I probably would have noticed how spent he looked. Ian had mentioned something about the football coach being exceptionally hard on Cubby this year. I guess it was getting to him. “And Ian might be a while. Coach cornered him for strategizing.” He paused, his gaze heavy and invigorating all at once. “Do you still want to hang out? We could go somewhere.”
A hot spiral formed in my stomach. Is this really happening? Do things you daydream about actually happen?
“Where?” I asked, careful to keep my voice even.
He looked out the passenger window and traced his finger over the fogging glass. “Anywhere.”
It took all my effort not to slam my foot on the accelerator. When it came to Cubby, that was my real problem. I never stopped to think, not even once.
“I missed my flight. My parents can’t know and Ian and I got in a fight and there were tractors and Ian’s going to a festival and Lina I missed my flight.” Instead of the calm explanation I’d planned on, everything came out in one big tumbling blob, my words piling on top of each other.
“Addie, slow down,” Lina said sternly. “I need you to slow down.”
“What’s going on?” It was Ren, Lina’s boyfriend, in the background. He was always in the background these days. Did they ever spend time apart? I wished it didn’t bug me so much.
“Just a minute.” She shushed him. “I’m trying to figure that out. Addie, what is going on with you?”
“I told you. I—I just missed my flight.” Tears poured from my closed eyelids, and my voice sounded as shaky as Rowan’s car.
She blew into the phone, sending hot static into my ear. “Yeah, I got that part. But I mean what is going on with you? You’ve been avoiding my calls for the past week and a half, and now you’re standing on the side of the road having a breakdown. This isn’t just about the flight. Or the wedding. Why have you been avoiding me?”
Cubby dropped down like a marionette, swinging in the space between us. Of course I hadn’t fooled Lina. She’d always had this sixth sense about when I needed her. Half the time I didn’t even need to call; she just showed up.
And evasion wasn’t going to work. Not when she’d cornered me like this. I took a deep breath. “Lina, there’s something I need to tell you. About this summer. I was going to tell you as soon as I got to Florence, but—”
“Is this about Cubby Jones?” she asked impatiently.
“I— What?” I cringed, my shoulders shooting up. Had word really spread to Italy? “Who told you?”
Now Lina’s voice was all business. “No one told me anything. You’ve been hiding something since July. Every time we talked, you were just barely holding back. And then you kept casually dropping his name, like, ‘Oh, remember when we were in pottery class and Cubby’s pot exploded in the kiln?’ Not that great of a story, Addie.”
My head fell into my hands. I’d never been very good at lying, doubly so when it was to someone I loved. Walter claimed I was the worst liar in the world. My dad claimed that was a compliment. “Yeah, I guess I was sort of trying to tell you. But not really.”
There was a long pause, and I pressed the phone closer to my ear, desperately trying to read her silence. Could silence sound judgmental? I turned to look at Ian. He and Rowan both slouched miserably against the car, Ian’s hands deep in his pockets.
“So which airport should I fly into? Shannon or Dublin?”
It took me a moment to realize what Lina was saying. “Wait. Did you just ask which airport you should fly into?”
“Yes.” She exhaled impatiently. “That makes the most sense, right? You just told me that you missed your flight and your parents can’t know, so obviously I’m coming to you.”
“You’d . . . fly here?” I’d clearly missed the jump somewhere. “But how would you . . . ?” I brushed away the fresh flood of tears staining my cheeks.
Lina made another impatient noise that was distinctly Italian-flavored. “Listen to me. I have tons of frequent flier miles, and Ren does too, and we’ve both been dying to visit Ireland. I’ll just tell Howard that you need me. You stick with Ian, and I’ll get to you as fast as I can.”
I shut my eyes, letting Lina’s plan unfurl. I stay with Ian. Lina comes to me. Maybe our parents don’t find out. Maybe I still play soccer. Maybe I figure out a way to make Ian stop looking at me like I’m a burr hitchhiking on his sock. It was the best possible plan for the scenario.
“Are you sure?” I managed. “Flying to Ireland is not a small deal.”
“Flying to Ireland is not a huge deal, not when friendship is involved. And, Addie, it’s going to be okay. Whatever it is, it’s going to be okay.”
I wanted to tell her what this moment meant to me, but the words dammed up in my throat. She’d come through with a solution I hadn’t even considered. It made me feel bad about ever having doubted her.
“Thank you,” I finally managed between tears.
“You’re welcome. Sorry you don’t get to taste gelato, but at least we’ll be together. That’s the important part, right?”
“Right.” I opened my eyes to a brilliant swath of sunlight. A small pink bubble formed in my chest. Precarious, but hopeful all the same.
“No. Absolutely not.” That was all it took for Ian to snuff the spark in my chest. “This is my trip. Our trip. It’s once-in-a-lifetime. We’ve been planning this for months now.” Ian edged toward the car protectively. Rowan had managed to find a wire hanger in the trunk, and I’d used it to refasten the bumper.
“Which is why I’m in this position to begin with,” I snapped back. Every time a car went by, I felt like I was about to get sucked onto the road. “If you hadn’t messed with the original plan, then none of this would be happening.” My voice was high and whiny, but I didn’t care. His trip had cost me Italy. “Do you think I wanted to miss my flight?” Though the more I thought about Lina’s plan, the more it made sense. Our best chance of surviving this trip unscathed was to stick together.
“Ian, come on. . . . It does make a lot of sense. Don’t your chances of not getting caught go way down if you’re together?” Rowan asked, echoing my reasoning. I looked at him gratefully, but he was completely zoned in on my brother.
Ian kicked at the ground angrily. “Fine. Fine. But listen to me. This is my trip. No fighting. No Addie drama. No stuff about Cubby. Got it?”
“I do not want to talk about Cubby!” I yelled. “You are the one who keeps bringing him up.” A large truck whooshed by and blew my hair around my face.
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