“Didn’t she have anything less . . . realtory?”
“Um, you’ve met our mom, haven’t you?” I said.
“Briefly. She’s the one who’s always yelling at us, right? Short hair? Occasionally seen on billboards?”
I shuddered. “We’ve got to talk her out of those this year.”
“Good luck with that. Those billboards are paying my tuition.”
“Football is paying your tuition. And Walt’s,” I pointed out. “And Ian is probably going to be the first college student in history to get paid to play. I’m the only one who’s going to need those billboards to help pay for college.”
That wasn’t self-pity talking; it was truth. My brothers had used up all the natural athlete genes, leaving me to do my best with enthusiastic athlete. I was good, but not the star. Bad news when your brothers had shrines dedicated to them in the athletics hall.
Archie’s face softened. “Hey, don’t give up on playing in college so soon. I saw huge improvements in your game last year. You definitely have a shot.”
I shrugged. I was in way too wallowy of a mood for a pep talk. “Unless I blow it with Ian.”
“You won’t. You’ll just be with Lina, and Ian will be . . . I don’t know. Being Ian.”
Being Ian. It was like its own extreme Olympic sport. Music, football, school—all at a higher intensity than everyone else. “Do you have any idea why Ian wants to come to Italy with me? Because I don’t think he even likes Lina. She lived with us for six months, and he barely even talked to her. Is he just trying to torture me?”
He shrugged. “Little Lina? I’m sure he likes her. She’s funny and kind of quirky. Plus, she has all that crazy hair. How long has she been gone again?”
I wanted to say the actual number of days, but I knew that would sound neurotic. “Since the beginning of June.”
“And she’s staying in Italy permanently?”
My shoulders rounded in on themselves. “Permanent” sounded like a life sentence. “She’s staying for the school year. Her dad, Howard, is a serious traveler, so they go all over the place. In October he’s taking her and her boyfriend to Paris.”
Lina’s boyfriend. Yet another thing that had changed. Over the past year, Lina had gone through a lot of changes, starting when her mom, Hadley, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A familiar ache ignited in my throat—the one that always flamed up when I thought about Hadley. She had been special, no doubt about it—creative, adventurous, chaotic, and just the right amount of hovering to make you feel cared about but not smothered.
Sometimes I felt like I’d experienced Hadley’s loss twice—once for myself and once for Lina. I’d been desperate to drag Lina out of the grief she was floundering in—to the point that I’d made myself sick with worry.
I bit my cheek, fighting back old feelings of helplessness to refocus on Archie and the trip. “It makes way more sense that Ian would choose to visit all the castles and other sites you guys are seeing this week. Aren’t you going to the castle where Braveheart was filmed?”
Archie perked up, just like I knew he would. Every single one of my brothers could recite that movie by heart. “We are definitely going to the Braveheart castle. Walt brought face paint so we can do some reenactments.”
Oh, geez. Aunt Mel was going to love that. “See? Ian loves that movie. He used to fall asleep watching it. I think he’s coming to Italy just to bug me.”
“Maybe he just wanted a little quality time with his sister.”
“Right, because he’s been spending so much time with me this summer.” Archie rolled his eyes, but there was no arguing with my sarcasm. Ian had spent most of the summer locked in his room writing college application essays and driving around on mystery errands, his music blaring. And then I’d gotten involved with Cubby and brought our relationship to a standstill.
Not to mention what happened at football camp.
Suddenly, Archie shifted, his eyes boring into mine. “So, Addie, talk.”
There was a serious edge to his voice, and my heart rate climbed to a rickety pace. “About what?”
“What’s the deal?”
“With . . . Ian?” I asked uncertainly. Please tell me he didn’t hear.
Archie shook his head no. My heart clawed its way up to my throat, pushing my voice out in an angry burst. “Well, then I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Easy, sis. I’m not the brother you’re mad at.” He steadied me with his gaze. “I heard what Ian said. Before you pushed him.”
My breath caught in my throat, and I scrambled, trying to remember exactly what Ian had said. How much could Archie have pieced together from one whispered conversation? “What did you hear?”
“Are you in some kind of trouble? What does Ian want you to tell Mom and Dad about?”
Archie doesn’t know what happened. I flopped back in relief. “I’m not in trouble,” I said quickly. So far that was the truth. As long as this thing didn’t spread any further than it already had, I was not in trouble. Embarrassed and heartbroken? Yes. In trouble? No. Which was why I was not telling my mom.
Archie studied me, his head resting on his hand. “So, what? Does this have something to do with a guy? I’m guessing someone on Ian’s team from how pissed off he sounded?”
Was that incredulity? My body tensed. “Why, you think it’s impossible that a popular football player would like someone like me?” I snapped.
“What? No.” He held his hands up defensively, his blue eyes wide. “Addie, I didn’t say that at all. Why are you acting so strange?”
Because my heart hurts. Because it actually is impossible for someone like Cubby to like someone like me. I kept my eyeballs glued to the green velvet upholstery, scratching my thumbnail against a tear in the seat. Tears burned hot in my eyes. “Did Mom and Walt hear?”
He shook his head. “Mom was secretly negotiating a deal on her phone, and Walt had headphones hidden under his hair. He didn’t even know you guys had gone over the side until everyone started freaking out.”
At least it was Archie who had heard, and not Walter. Of all my brothers, Archie was the most normal secret keeper, as in he kept most secrets most of the time. It was the other two who were extreme. On the one end was Ian. The second you told him anything, he turned into a human vault—it was the reason I didn’t have to worry about him being the one to tell my parents about Cubby. And then there was Walt, the exact opposite. Any time he had a secret to keep, it was like a game of Hot Potato—he just had to throw it somewhere, usually dead center of wherever you didn’t want it to go.
“If this guy messed with you, I’d be happy to pay him a visit on my way back to campus. Maybe just wait until he’s out in the road and do some distracted driving? Back out without looking behind me first? All I need is his name.” His tone had gone from his usual laid-back Archie to hyperintense Archie, which was rare.
“No. Archie, I do not want you to run over anyone,” I said emphatically, just in case his half joke was half-serious.
“Yes, I’m sure,” I wailed. “It’s not like it would fix anything.”
“It would fix the fact that he’s messing with people he shouldn’t be messing with.”
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