Rowan pointed to the most prominent bumper sticker, a large, faded shamrock. “Her namesake.”
“Nothing like a good stereotype,” he countered, his mouth twisting into another smile. I wished he’d stop with the smiling. It kept conjuring up memories of another notable smile.
“Time to go.” Ian stuck his head out the window, drumming his hands against the side. I don’t think he meant for it to, but his excited expression landed squarely on me. “Addie, I cleared you a spot. It will probably work best if you climb in from this side.”
I rushed over, eager to keep up the goodwill, but when I looked inside, the glow that Ian’s smile had created instantly faded away. He had somehow managed to stack Rowan’s items into a teetering pile that almost touched the ceiling. The only actual space was behind Ian’s seat, and it was just the right size for three malnourished squirrels and a hedgehog. If they all sucked in.
“Grand, Ian,” Rowan said from behind me. “You worked a wonder back here.”
He was either a liar or a serious optimist. “Um, yeah . . . a really great job, Ian,” I echoed, bracing my hands on either side of the window. I needed to keep things positive. “So how am I getting in there exactly?”
“Tunnel in,” Ian said. “You can just climb over me.”
“Great.” I threw my leg in through the window, managing to keep the guidebook pressed to my side as I climbed onto the middle console.
“What are you holding?” Ian asked, reaching up for the book.
I quickly tossed it into the back seat. “It’s a guidebook about Ireland.”
“Oh, right. The one you read about the Burren in,” Rowan said.
“Right.” I hovered, unsure of my next step. Circumventing the pile was not going to be a straightforward process.
“Maybe put your foot on the . . . ,” Rowan started, but I was already midfling, Rowan’s possessions snagging at every bit of exposed skin on my body. I landed in a heap.
“There was probably a less violent way to do that,” Ian said.
Rowan raised his eyebrows. “There was definitely a less violent way to do that. But none quite so entertaining.”
Crunchy, sun-faded velvet lined the back seat, which smelled vaguely of cheese. And Ian’s seat was so close to mine that my knees barely fit in the space. I jammed my legs in as best as I could, wincing at the tight squeeze, then poked at the pile. “Rowan, what is all this stuff?”
“Long story.” He started up the car, pointing to Ian’s black eye. “So, are you going to tell me what happened, or will it just be the big mystery of the trip?”
“Ask her.” Ian hiked his thumb back at me. “She’s the one responsible.”
Rowan turned and looked at me appraisingly. “Wow. You always so aggressive?”
“Always,” Ian answered for me. Was it just my imagination or was that a thin layer of pride spread atop all that exasperation? Either way, I didn’t protest. Rowan thinking I was dangerous might work to my advantage.
“Ready?” Rowan asked. Before we could reply, he hit the gas, accelerating so hard that the pile shimmied, spitting out a handful of records and one dress shoe. A group of birds scattered as we peeled brazenly out of the parking lot and onto the sunlit road, sprays of rose petals shooting out behind us.
Or at least that’s what I imagined our exit looked like. There was too much stuff blocking my view for me to know for sure.
I assumed that once we were on the open road, a few things would be cleared up. For example, what a tourist site in western Ireland had to do with my brother’s favorite band. But instead of explaining, Ian produced a massive, scribbled-on map of Ireland that he’d apparently been carrying around in his backpack, and Rowan passed around his box of cold cereal, and the two of them commenced to yell at each other.
Not angry yelling, happy yelling, part necessity due to the loud music—because as Rowan explained, the volume knob was missing—and part excitement. It was as if the two of them had been holding back an arsenal of things to say, and now that they were face-to-face, they had to get it all out or risk annihilation. And Rowan was as big of a music nerd as Ian was, maybe even more so. Ten minutes in, they’d covered:
• An eighties musician named Bruce something who was famous for composing guitar symphonies that involved bringing thirty-plus guitarists onstage at once
• Whether or not minimalism is a sign of a truly great musician
• Something called “punk violence,” which Rowan claimed (and Ian enthusiastically agreed) was the natural balance to the synth-pop genre that emerged through early MTV
• Why the term “indie” meant nothing anymore now that massive indie labels were churning out artists assembly-line style
I was torn between listening to Ian in his element and trying not to have a panic attack every time I looked at the road. Rowan was the kind of driver every parent dreads. His speed hovered just below breakneck, and he had some kind of psychic method for determining which curves in the road didn’t require remaining in his own lane.
But I was the only one worrying. Ian’s excited voice climbed higher and higher until it was resting on the roof of the car, and he alternated between his favorite fidget modes: knee bouncing, finger drumming, and hair twisting. Wasn’t he supposed to be explaining things to me?
My phone chimed, and I fumbled quickly for it, tuning out their conversation as I pulled up a behemoth text:
(1) Thank you for subscribing to LINA’S CAT FACTS—the fun way to quit ignoring your best friend and learn something feline in the process! Did you know that when a family cat died in ancient Egypt, family members mourned by shaving off their eyebrows? And bonus fact: Did you know you are in danger of having YOUR eyebrows shaved off? BY ME? (Mostly due to the fact that you are arriving in Italy today and I haven’t heard from you in A WEEK AND A HALF?) In order to receive double the number of Daily Cat Facts—please continue to ignore me. Thanks again for your subscription, and have a PURRRfect day!
“Oh, no,” I whispered to myself. Immediately, Lina’s texts began dropping in like fuzzy hair balls. Egyptian family members were just the beginning.
(2) Cats who fall five stories have a 90 percent survival rate. Friends who ignore their friends for longer than 7 days have a 3 percent chance of remaining friends (and then only if they have a really good reason). Thanks again for your subscription, and have a PURRRfect day!
(3) A group of kittens is called a kindle. A group of adult cats is called a clowder. People who stop talking to their best friends for absolutely no good reason are jerks. This is not a CAT FACT. It is just a fact. Thanks again for your subscription, and have a PURRRfect day!
(4) Back in the 1960s, the CIA turned a cat into a tiny spy by implanting a microphone and camera into her ear and spine. Unfortunately, Spy Cat’s mission was cut short when she immediately ran out into traffic and was flattened by an oncoming taxi. This reminded me of the time you decided to visit me in Italy and then the week before completely stopped talking to me. ARE YOU EVEN COMING ANYMORE?? Thanks again for your subscription, and have a PURRRfect day!
Guilt twisted painfully in my gut. I had to respond to that one.
So so so so so sorry. And of course I’m still coming to Italy.
Explain everything once I’m there.