I put my hands on his shoulders. “Archibald Henry Bennett. Promise me you won’t do anything.”
“Promise me!” I yelled.
“Fine. I promise.”
Oh my hell. Brothers. It was like having a bunch of guard dogs that occasionally turned on you. I was completely exhausted by this conversation. By this whole day. “Well, thanks for the talk, but I could use some time alone,” I said, tilting my head ungracefully toward the door. I’d learned long ago that hints get you nowhere with boys—or at least not with the ones I was related to. The more direct the better.
Archie jumped gracefully to his feet and patted me clumsily on the shoulder. “I’m here for you, Addie,” he said.
“And I really appreciate it.” I tilted my head more aggressively toward the doorway.
“Okay, okay. I’m gone.” He jumped up and swaggered out of the room, his to-do list lit up in neon over his head. Be there for little sister. Check.
Once Archie was out of my visual, I grabbed the guidebook and flicked on the library’s dusty side lamp. I tried to focus on the words, but Ian kept snagging my gaze. He hadn’t moved from his chair once, and he was still laser-focused on his phone, his hair flopping forward to shield his face.
Right after Christmas Ian decided to stop cutting his hair, and no matter how much my mom begged and threatened, he hadn’t let up. Now it was almost to his shoulders and a constant reminder of how unfair the gene pool was. My brothers all had my mom’s thick eyelashes and wavy dark hair. My grandmother’s fine blond hair had leapfrogged a generation, bypassing my dark-haired dad to land on me.
We all had the blue eyes, though, and even from here Ian’s were looking bluer than usual, accented by the heavy dark circle around his left eye, courtesy of me. The bruise looked really painful. And final. A punctuation mark on the end of a long, miserable sentence.
Suddenly, a smile split Ian’s face, and a mixture of emotions bunched up in my chest. Because here’s the thing about Ian’s smile: it was always 100 percent genuine. Ian didn’t fake anything for anyone—he never had. Get him laughing, you knew you were actually funny. Make him angry, you knew you were actually being an idiot.
I am such an idiot.
Panic bubbled in my chest, and I jumped to my feet, tucking the guidebook under my arm. I needed fresh air. Now.
As soon as my mom got swept into a conversation with the groom’s mother, I took off, hugging the side of the dance floor to burst through the doors and into the courtyard.
Outside, I paused to take a few glorious breaths. If I were writing a travel brochure for Ireland, I’d start with what it smells like. It’s a combination of just-fallen rain mixed with earth and something else, something secret. Like the extra sprinkle of nutmeg in the top secret French toast recipe my dad and I had spent Fourth of July weekend perfecting.
What if my dad finds out?
Before my mind could dig its fingernails into the thought, I started moving, walking down the stairs past a trickling fountain overflowing with rainwater. Strings of warm, twinkly lights crisscrossed over the courtyard’s path, the yellow bulbs making a cheery clinking noise in the spots where they overlapped. Puddles shimmered in the divots in the stone pavement, and the air ruffled in cool, sparkly perfection. How was it possible to feel so horrible in a place that was so beautiful?
I squeezed my fingernails into my palms, a dull ache blooming in my chest. Sometimes I didn’t know if I missed Cubby or if I missed the picture I’d put together in my head of the two of us. It was always the same. It would be mid-September, a week or two after everyone’s start-of-school jitters wore off. We’d be walking down the hall, him with his arm slung casually around me, lost in one of those conversations where the only thing that matters is the person you’re with. Whispers would follow us down the hall. That’s Addie Bennett. Aren’t they cute together? I know. I don’t know why I never noticed her before either.
Well, I’d gotten my wish. They’d be whispering all right. But not about what I wanted them to be.
Finally, I made it to an ivy-enclosed alcove on the far side of the garden—an outdoor version of my hiding place in the library—and I attempted to sit cross-legged, cold seeping up through my mom’s constrictive skirt. I pulled out my phone, and my heart bounced when I saw a new text message.
WHERE ARE YOU??????????????????
Lina and eighteen question marks. I counted them twice to be sure. Aggressive punctuation was never a good sign with Lina. Normally, she texted like a nineteenth-century schoolteacher who’d gotten ahold of a smartphone: proper use of capital letters, restrained emoji use, and always a complete sentence. Multiple question marks was the equivalent of Lina standing up in the middle of a church service and yelling cusswords through a bullhorn. She wasn’t just angry; she was raging.
I hit respond, quickly typing out an exceptionally vague text. Sorry, can’t talk now. Wedding stuff
I was getting good at vague texting. And avoiding phone calls. The frowny face emoji looked up at me judgmentally.
“What?” I snapped. “For your information I have a great reason for not answering her calls.”
I wasn’t talking to Lina because I couldn’t talk to Lina. She knew me too well. The second she heard my voice, she’d know something was wrong, and I refused—refused—to tell her about Cubby over the phone. If Lina was going to judge me, I wanted to see it in person. There was also the issue of the sheer number of things I had to tell her. She didn’t know anything about Cubby, which meant I had to walk her through my entire summer.
I just had to make it to Italy. Once I got there I’d unpack the story and lay it all out, start to finish, nothing excluded. I knew exactly how it would go. First she’d be shocked, then confused. And then she’d be struck with a brilliant plan for getting me through my junior year while reassuring me that everything was going to be okay.
Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself.
The first time Cubby ever spoke to me was four days after we moved to Seattle. I was making waffles. Bribe waffles, to be more specific, and I wasn’t having an easy time of it. Archie and Walter had been assigned to unpack the kitchen, and they’d somehow managed to turn it into one large booby trap. I’d taken a baking sheet to the head and dropped an entire carton of eggs when I tripped over a bread maker. But once my first waffle was on the iron, sending delicious spirals of steam into the air, I knew it would be worth it.
I took a deep, satisfied inhale. The waffles needed to be delicious. They were my ticket into the early-morning hangout Ian had expressly banned me from. No one yells Addiegetoutofhere to someone holding a plate of hot waffles. Not even when they’re trying to impress their new friends.
“You have batter in your hair.”
And there they were. The first words Cubby Jones ever said to me. Admittedly, not the most romantic introduction, but I was only twelve. I didn’t have a name for the way my attention funneled to Cubby every time he walked into a room. Not yet.
While I swiped at my bangs with a dish towel, Cubby stepped closer, sniffing the waffle air. The second he was within five feet of me, I pinpointed what was different about him. “Your eyes!” I crowed, abandoning my dish towel. Cubby’s eyes were two different colors.
His smile slipped off his face. “It’s called heterochromia. It’s just a genetic thing; it’s not weird.”
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