He swiped his hair out of his eyes and put a steadying hand on my shoulder. “Since always. I’ll meet you in Dublin for the flight home.” My mom had only arranged for our flights to and from Italy. The plan was that we would return to Dublin to fly home with the rest of the group. But now it seemed that plan was about to be compromised.
“But . . . why?” I asked desperately.
Rowan’s voice pierced the air between us. “I thought Addie was in on this. Why doesn’t she know we’re going to Stradbally?” I was momentarily distracted. The way he said my name made it sound like it was being played on an Irish fiddle.
“I left her a note,” Ian said, his cheeks flushing pink. He shoved his hair out of his face and slid his eyes guiltily at me. “It’s easier this way.”
“For who?” I shot back.
Rowan leaned toward the passenger window, his eyes concerned behind his glasses. “A note? No wonder she just knocked you over. This must look unbelievably sketchy. You meet some random guy and leave for a place she’s never heard of?”
I lifted my hands in the air. “Finally, someone’s making sense here.”
Rowan looked pointedly at me. “Stradbally is a small town near Dublin. But we’re headed to a few other sites first. We have to do research for—”
“Stop—stop—stop!” Ian stuttered. “Please don’t tell her anything.” He shoved past me again and yanked on the car door handle, but it didn’t budge.
“Don’t tell me what? Ian, don’t tell me what?” I grabbed at his backpack.
Rowan smiled apologetically at my brother. “Sorry, Ian. According to the previous owner, that door hasn’t worked since the late nineties. The lads always just have to climb in through the window.”
“Who are the lads?” I asked. As if that were the most important question that needed answering.
Ian hoisted his backpack in and slithered through the window before reaching for his suitcase. I lunged for it, but he managed to pull it in. “Addie, just go read my note. I’ll see you in a few days.”
I clamped my hands onto his window frame. They were shaking. “Ian, were you not in the car yesterday? Didn’t you hear what Mom said about us not messing up? This is the definition of ‘messing up.’”
His shoulders slumped. “Come on, Addie, you said it yourself. You don’t want me to come to Italy, and I get it. I even respect it. So you go have your trip, and I’ll have mine. The only way we’re going to get in trouble with Mom and Dad is if we tell them, and let’s be honest, neither of us is going to do that.”
“Just stopping by Electric Picnic,” Rowan added in the kind of soothing voice you’d use on a rabid dog. “We’ll be done by Monday morning. Nothing to stress about, ninja sister.”
“Electric what?” The Hypnotized Cat looked at me pityingly. My voice sounded hysterical. Strangled.
“Electric Picnic. It’s the biggest music festival in Ireland. It happens every year. Lots of indie and alternative stuff. But this year is special. Guess who is headlining?” Rowan paused, his smile suggesting that I’d just dangled something warm and cinnamony in front of his nose.
“Not Ian,” I answered weakly.
“Yes, Ian,” Ian said. “Definitely Ian. And you won’t even care because you’ll be off in Italy having an incredible time.”
“Titletrack will be at Electric Picnic,” Rowan said, his tone a clear indicator that we’d both just let him down.
Titletrack. It took me a second, but my mind leapfrogged to a massive poster hanging over Ian’s desk. Four guys, four brooding expressions, and an admittedly unique sound that I’d actually started to look forward to on the mornings when Ian drove me to school. “That band you love. From the U.K.”
“Now you’ve got it,” Rowan added encouragingly. “Only they’re Irish, not British. And Ian’s planning to—”
“Okay, Rowan, that’s enough. Addie, have a great time in Italy.” Ian cranked at his window, but I threw myself on top of it, using all my weight to keep it down.
“Ian, stop.” Rowan looked disapprovingly at my brother. “You were just going to roll the window up on her?”
Ian shrank under Rowan’s stare, and he dropped his gaze to his fidgeting hands like he was trying to decide something. “Addie, I’ll explain it all later. Just make sure Mom and Dad don’t find out, and everything will be fine. You’ll figure out a way.” He took a deep breath, delivering the next part in a rush. “You’ve been lying to everyone all summer anyway, so this will be easy.”
The line was rehearsed. He’d been carrying it around in his back pocket in case of emergency. In case I got in his way.
“Ian . . .” Tears prickled my eyes, which of course made me furious. I couldn’t lose it now—not in front of this oddly dressed stranger and definitely not when Ian was already settled in the oddly dressed stranger’s car. “Ian, there’s no way we’ll pull this off. You know they’re going to find out that you didn’t make it to Italy, and then we’ll have to quit our teams.”
His gaze collapsed to the dashboard. “Come on, Addie. Sports aren’t everything.”
“Sports aren’t everything?” Now my breath was catching in little bursts in my chest. What was he going to say next? Fainting goats aren’t hilarious? “Who are you?”
“This is my only chance to see Titletrack in concert. I’m sorry you don’t like it, but I’m going.” The edges of his voice set hard and crinkly, his eyes a steely blue. The look set off a chain reaction of panic in me. We had officially entered the Defiant Ian stage, better known as the Never Back Down Ever stage. Unless I did something drastic to stop him, he was going to that concert.
Now or never.
I dove through the window and grabbed the keys out of the ignition, then shimmied out before either of them could process what was happening.
“Addie!” Ian yanked his seat belt off and scrambled out the window. I was already on the other side of the car, the keys imprinting in my palm. “Are you seriously doing this?”
“Wow. You people are really entertaining. Like sitcom-level entertaining.” Rowan reclined his seat noisily.
I squared toward my brother. “Ian, you can’t do this. You know I have to play soccer if I’m going to get into a good school. Don’t ruin this for me.”
“Your college plans are not my problem.” His voice fell halfway through. He was trying to play the tough guy, but the real Ian was under there, the one who knew how hard I tried—and continued to fail—at school. Sometimes I got the impression that he felt guilty about how easily things came to him, when nothing ever seemed to come easily to me.
We stared each other down, waiting for the other to make the first move. Ian stepped toward me, and I bolted in the opposite direction, using the car as a buffer.
Ian groaned. “Sorry, Ro. Let me just get this out of the way and we can head out. Minor bump in the road.”
“Don’t you mean glitch in the system?” I asked, purposely making my voice snide. “And ‘Ro’? You already have a nickname for this guy?”
Ian shoved his hair back, edging toward me. “I’ve known him for more than a year.”