And then suddenly the car was quiet. Horribly quiet. All except for the windshield wipers, which chose this exact moment to become sentient. This summer, this summer, this summer, they chanted, sloshing water across the window. Ian’s knee slowed, and I felt his stare, heavy on my face. Tell Mom.
I raised my eyes to his, my telepathic message just as insistent. I am not. Telling. Mom.
“Fine. Don’t tell me.” Mom slammed her palm down on the steering wheel and we all flinched. “If Dad were here, you know you’d be on the first flight back to Seattle.”
Ian and I simultaneously levitated off our seats. “Mom, no! I have to go to Italy. I have to go see Lina!” I shouted.
Ian’s measured voice filled the car. “Mom, you’ve got to think this through.”
She threw her hand up, deflecting our emotion like one of the backhand shots that ruled her tennis game. “I didn’t say you’re not going.”
“Geez, chill, Addie,” Walter whispered. “You almost went headfirst through the windshield.”
I sagged back into my seat, panic filtering out of my veins. The only good thing about Aunt Mel’s wedding—besides the gorgeous location—was that it had gotten me to Europe, the continent that had stolen my best friend from me at the beginning of the summer.
My aunt had arranged for a postwedding tour of Ireland that was supposed to include all of us, but I’d managed to talk my parents into letting me skip the tour in exchange for a few days in Italy with Lina. I hadn’t seen her since she moved to Florence ninety-two days ago to live with her father, Howard, and every single one of those days had felt like a lifetime. Not seeing her was not an option. Especially now, when it was very likely she was the only friend I had left.
Ian slumped forward in relief, twisting the back of his hair into a tight corkscrew. I swore he’d grown his hair out just to give him more fidget options.
“Don’t get me wrong,” my mom continued. “I should be sending you both back, but we spent way too much on those tickets to Florence, and if I don’t have some time away from the two of you and your constant fighting, I’m going to have a breakdown.”
A fresh dose of anger hit my system. “Could someone please explain to me why Ian’s coming with me to Italy?”
“Addie,” my mom snapped. Ian shot me a wide-eyed look that said, Shut up NOW.
I glared back, our stares connecting. Despite the fact that I definitely should have been Shutting up NOW, it was an extremely valid question. Why did he want to come on a trip with me when, by all accounts, he couldn’t stand me?
“So here’s the deal,” my mom said, inserting herself into the middle of our staring match. “Tomorrow morning, Archie, Walter, and I will leave on the tour, and the two of you will continue on to Florence.” She spoke slowly, her words lining up like a row of dominoes, and I held my breath, waiting for her to topple the first one.
But . . . she didn’t.
After almost ten seconds of silence, I looked up, hope lifting the edges of my voice. “That’s it? We just get to go?”
“You’re just going to send them to Italy?” Walter asked, sounding as incredulous as I felt. “Aren’t you going to, like, punish them?”
“Walter!” Ian and I both yelled.
My mom wrenched herself around again, focusing first on me, then Ian, her spine swiveling seamlessly. At least she was putting all her yoga classes to good use. “You’re going to Italy. It will force you two to spend some quality time together,” she said, barbing the word “quality.” “But there’s a catch.”
Of course there was. “What?” I asked impatiently, pulling a particularly stabby bobby pin out from its favorite spot in the back of my wilting updo. If it wouldn’t completely set him off, I’d stick it in Ian’s hair, try to get some of it out of his face.
“Here we go,” Ian muttered, just loud enough for me to hear.
Mom paused dramatically, her eyes darting back and forth between us. “Are you both listening?”
“We’re listening,” I assured her, and Ian’s knee bounced receptively. Couldn’t he ever just hold still?
“This is your chance to prove to me that you can handle yourselves. If I hear anything bad from Lina’s father, and I mean anything—if you fight, if you yell, if you so much as look at each other cross-eyed while you’re there—both of you are off your teams.”
There was a moment of dead air, and then the car exploded. “What? ” Archie said.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Walter shook his head. “Are you being serious, Mom?”
“We’ll be off our teams?” I asked quickly. “Like soccer and football?”
She nodded, a self-satisfied smile spreading like warm butter across her face. She was proud of this one. “Yes. Like soccer and football. And it doesn’t even have to be both of you. If one of you messes up, you’re both getting punished for it. And there will be absolutely no second chances. One strike, you’re out. That’s it.”
I thought I had no space for fresh panic, but it squeezed in with all the old stuff, turning my chest into an accordion. I leaned forward, putting my hands on the front seats to steady myself. “Mom, you know I have to play soccer this year.” My voice was high and stringy, not nearly as reasonable sounding as I’d intended. “If I don’t, college scouts won’t see me play, and then there’s no way I’ll get onto a college team. This is the year that matters. This is my future.”
“Then you’d better not mess up.”
Ian’s eyes met mine, and I could see the words ping-ponging through his head. You already messed up, Addie.
I shot lasers at him. “But—”
“This is in your control. And Ian’s. I’m not backing down on this.”
As if she needed to add that last part. My parents never backed down on anything. It was one of life’s constants: the shortest distance between two points is a line, root beer floats always taste better half-melted, and my parents never take back their punishments.
But soccer? That was my way into a good school. Because no matter how hard I tried, my grades were never all that great, which meant I needed to rely on sports to get me into any college with a halfway decent engineering program. It was a long shot, but I had to try.
Plus, soccer. I closed my eyes, imagining the smell of the grass, the complicated rhythm of my teammates, the way time disappeared—the rest of life forced to the outer boundaries of the game. It was my place. The only place where I ever truly fit in. And with Lina moving and Ian now hating me, I needed that place more than ever.
Forget future Addie. I needed soccer for present Addie. If I had any chance of surviving post-Cubby life, it was going to be on that soccer field.
Mom tilted her head toward Ian, who was now impersonating a collapsed puppet. “Ian, are you listening?”
“Listening,” he responded, his voice oddly resigned. His body language and voice all said I don’t care, but I knew that couldn’t be true. Sports were an even bigger deal to him than they were to me. He was way better at them.
“So you understand that if you or Addie do anything wrong, you are off the football team? No second chances, no debating, you’re just off?”
“Got it,” he said nonchalantly. His hand sank back into his hair, forming a tight knot.
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