“Is that Mom?” Ian’s voice bypassed Rowan’s pile of stuff to hit me in the face. He held a lock of wet and stringy hair near his mouth.
“That is disgusting,” I said, pointing to his hair. “And no. It’s Lina.”
He chomped down on the lock. “What’s she saying?”
“How excited she is to see both of us. You know, because both of us will be there?” I wiggled my eyebrows at him. Sometimes humor worked really well on Ian.
“Keep dreaming,” he said. Guess it wasn’t going to work today.
“Addie, you want any cereal?” Rowan shoved his box of Sugar Puffs through the space between the seats.
“No. Thank you.” I leaned back, rubbing my thigh. Being crammed into such a tiny space had set my left leg on fire with pins and needles. “So when are you guys going to fill me in?”
“Fill you in on what?” Ian dropped his hair out of his mouth, and it bounced perkily off his shoulder.
“On your master plan.” I gestured to the map. “You can start with what the Burren has to do with Titletrack.”
Ian’s knee shook. “Nice try, sis. We have one hour until we drop you off at the airport, and the deal is you stay quiet until then. So you just sit tight back there, okay?”
I hated when Ian used that condescending tone with me. It only came out when he was trying to leverage his role as big brother. Fifteen months was not a lot of extra experience, but according to him all of creation had happened during that time period. “What deal? No deal was made.”
He flipped around, giving me a bouncy smile that caught me off guard. Even with me here, he was happier than I’d seen him all summer. “Your getting in this car was proof that you agreed to our terms and conditions. It was a contractual agreement.”
“And let me guess. You’re in charge of the terms?” I asked.
“Exactly.” He patted my arm patronizingly. “Now you’re getting it.”
I shoved his hand away. “You know what? Never mind. This is actually really great. Instead of thinking about an Irish road trip that you’re not taking, I can spend my time looking at the view and thinking about what a great time we’re going to have in Florence.”
“Keep dreaming, sis.”
Rowan met my eyes in the rearview mirror, the corners of his mouth turning up in an amused smile. I hoped he’d lobby for me—after all, he was the one who’d suggested we use this little side trip as a way to get things out in the open—but instead, he and Ian dove right back into their conversation. The pull of the music was too strong.
I crouched forward to scout for clues on Ian’s map. A string of Xs looped in a crescent along the bottom of Ireland, each site surrounded by a mini flurry of tiny Ian handwriting. Most of the writing was concentrated around six numbered spots:
2. Slea Head
3. Torc Manor
4. Au Bohair Pub
5. Rock of Cashel
And the grand finale, written in large letters:
Great. I knew an Ian project when I saw one. Any time he found something he was really interested in, he dug in, and no amount of coaxing could peel him away from it. Once he committed, he went all in. That’s what made him such a great athlete.
I shimmied his note out of my back pocket.
Change of plans. Not going with you to Italy. Tell Lina and her dad that I had to go home early for practice. Tell Mom and Dad that I’m with you. Will meet up with you for the flight home. Will explain later.
Was he serious? I heaved myself forward again, thrusting the paper under Ian’s nose. “This was your note? Your big explanation? This doesn’t even look like your handwriting! I would have thought you were kidnapped!”
Ian startled, like he’d forgotten I was back there. He probably had. He snatched the note from me. “I was going for brevity.”
“Nailed it,” I said.
“Let me see it.” Rowan took the note and read it aloud, his musical voice making it sound even more cryptic. “Wow, that is bad.”
Ian grabbed the paper, stuffing it into his backpack. “I wanted it to be like in war movies where people only have the information they need. That way, when they get captured by the enemy, they can’t have the information tortured out of them.”
“Tortured out of them?” I said incredulously.
He hunched his shoulders sheepishly. “You know what I mean. I just thought it would be better for you if you didn’t have all the facts.”
“I still don’t have all the facts.” I yanked at my right leg, managing to free it from the crevice. If Ian wouldn’t tell me what was going on, maybe Rowan would. I fixed my eyes on the back of his neck. His hair was slightly longer at the nape.
“So who are you exactly?” I asked, using my friendliest Catarina-approved voice. She was big on curiosity as a means of persuasion. Start by acting interested.
I don’t know if it was my question or sparkly tone, but his eyes flicked toward me warily. “Rowan. We met back at the hotel? You told me my bumper was sagging?”
“That sounds dirty,” Ian said.
“It was your tailpipe,” I wailed, dropping the act. “Never mind. That part doesn’t matter. What I want to know is why you”—I pointed at him—“clearly Irish, and my brother”—I pointed at Ian—“clearly American, are acting like best friends. And don’t just say ‘online’ again. People who only know each other online don’t complete each other’s sentences.”
“Isn’t this a violation of the terms and conditions?” Rowan asked, calling upon what Ian had said earlier. Ian gave him a smirk equivalent to a fist bump.
“True, it is a clear violation . . . ,” I started, but I paused to think. What I needed was a cohesive argument. It had worked before in persuading Rowan to give me the keys. “Rowan, the thing is that I’m much more likely to be supportive of Ian’s plans if I know what is going on.”
“Riiiiight,” Ian said, dragging out the word.
“I am,” I insisted. “I didn’t come with you on your first stop just so I could sit back here listening to you guys dissect the music industry.” Saying “first stop” felt like a dangerous concession. It suggested the possibility of the road trip.
Rowan took both hands off the wheel to adjust his glasses. “She’s right. This is why she’s came with us in the first place—to give her some time to get used to the idea.”
Or talk you out of the idea, I added silently.
“Fine. Fall for her evil tactics. But don’t come crying to me when she makes your life a living hell.” Ian fell into a heap against his window. I’d always thought he’d missed his calling by not signing up for drama club.
Rowan lifted his chin curiously in the rearview mirror.
I shrugged. “By all means, continue. I’ll let you know when my evil tactics kick in.”
His dimple winked at me. “Right. Well, Ian and I talk a lot. Like most days. And we’ve known each other since last summer. Well, I guess ‘known’ isn’t quite the right word, is it?” No comment from Ian. Rowan continued nervously. “At first I was just familiar with his work. I read his first series of articles, and we started e-mailing from there. And then—”
“You read his first series of what?” I interrupted.