Love & Luck
“YOU WERE BRAWLING. DURING THE ceremony.” Whenever my mom was upset, her voice lowered three octaves and she pointed out things that everyone already knew.
I pulled my gaze away from the thousand shades of green rushing past my window, inhaling to keep myself calm. My dress was bunched up around me in a muddy tutu, and my eyes were swollen drum-tight. Not that I had any room to talk: Ian’s eye looked much worse. “Mom, the ceremony was over; we—”
“Wrong side, wrong side!” Archie yelled.
Mom swore, swerving the car over to the left and out of the way of an oncoming tractor while I dug my fingernails into the nearest human flesh, which happened to belong to my oldest brother, Walter.
“Addie, stop!” he yelped, pulling his arm away. “I thought we agreed you weren’t going to claw me to death anymore.”
“We almost just got into a head-on collision with an oversize piece of farm equipment. It’s not like I can control what I do,” I snapped, shoving him a few inches to the left. I’d spent the last seventy-two hours crammed between my two largest brothers in every variation of transportation we
encountered, and my claustrophobia was hovering around a level nine. Any higher and I was going to start throwing punches. Again.
“Mom, don’t listen to them—you’re doing great. There were a good three inches between you and that tractor,” my other brother Archie said, reaching under the headrest and patting her on the shoulder. He narrowed his blue eyes at me and mouthed, Don’t stress her out.
Walt and I rolled our eyes at each other. The man at the airport car rental desk had insisted that it would take only an hour, two tops, for my mom to get the hang of driving on the opposite side of the road, but we were more than forty-eight hours in, and every time we got in the car, I got the same sinking feeling that rickety carnival rides always gave me. Impending doom. I held the airport car rental man personally responsible for all the emotional and psychological damage I was undoubtedly going home with.
Only Ian, whose perpetual car sickness made him the unspoken victor of the front seat, was unfazed. He rolled down the window, sending a cool burst of cow-scented air into the car, his knee doing the perpetual Ian bounce.
There are two important things to know about Ian. One, he never stops moving. Ever. He’s the smallest of my brothers, only a few inches taller than me, but no one ever notices that because his energy fills up whatever room he’s in. And two,
he has an anger threshold. Levels one through eight? He yells like the rest of us. Nine and above? He goes silent. Like now.
I leaned forward to get another look at his black eye. A slash of mud crossed under his ear, and grass peppered his hair. His eye was really swollen. Why was his eye so swollen already?
Ian gingerly touched the skin under his eye, as if he was thinking the same thing. “Brawling? Come on, Mom. It was just an argument. I don’t think anyone even saw.” His voice was calm, bored even. He was really trying to convince her.
“?‘Argument’ implies that there wasn’t any violence. I saw fists. Which makes it a brawl,” Walter added helpfully. “Plus, everyone, look at Ian’s eye.”
“Do not look at my eye,” Ian growled, his Zen slipping away.
Everyone glanced at him, including my mom, who immediately started to drift to the opposite side of the road.
“Mom!” Archie yelled.
“I know,” she snapped, pulling back to the left.
I really hurt Ian. My heart started in on a dangerous free fall, but I yanked it back into place. I had exactly no room for guilt. Not when I was already filled to the brim with remorse, shame, and self-loathing. Plus, Ian deserved that black eye. He was the one who kept bringing up Cubby—poking me with Cubby was more like it. Like he had a ball of fire on the end of a stick that he could jab at me whenever he felt like it.
Ian’s voice popped into my head—the broken record I’d been listening to for ten days now. You have to tell Mom before someone else does.
Hot, itchy anxiety crept up my legs, and I quickly leaned over Archie to unroll the window, sending another rush of air into the car. Don’t think about Cubby. Don’t think about school. Just don’t think. I was four thousand miles and ten days out from my junior year—I shouldn’t spend my remaining time thinking about the disaster scene I was going back to.
I stared hard out the window, trying to anchor my mind on the scenery. Houses and B and Bs dotted the landscape in charming little clumps, their fresh white exteriors accented with brightly colored doors. Lines of laundry swung back and forth in the Irish drizzle, and cows and sheep were penned so close to the houses, they were almost in the backyards.
I still couldn’t believe I was here. When you think destination wedding, you don’t think rainy, windswept cliff on the western coast of Ireland, but that’s exactly the spot my aunt had chosen. The Cliffs of Moher. Moher, pronounced more. As in more wind, more rain, more vertical feet to traverse in a pair of nude high heels. But despite the fact that my brothers had to Sherpa my aunt’s new in-laws up to the top, or that all of us had sunk to our ankles in mud by the time dearly beloved had been uttered, I completely understood why my aunt had chosen the place.
For one thing, it made for great TV. Aunt Mel’s traveling camera crew—a couple of guys in their late twenties with exceptionally well-thought-out facial hair—forced us to do the wedding processional twice, circling in on her as the wind whipped around her art deco dress in a way that should have made her look like the inflatable waving arm guy at a car dealership, but instead made her look willowy and serene. And then once we were all in place, it was all about the view, the overwhelming grandiosity of it. Big hunks of soft green ended abruptly in sheer cliffs, dropping straight down into the ocean, where waves threw themselves against the rocks in ecstatic spray.
The cliffs were ancient and romantic, and completely unimpressed with the fact that I’d spent the summer ruining my own life. Your heart got publicly stomped on? the cliffs asked. Big deal. Watch me shatter this next wave into a million diamond fragments.
For a while there, the view had crowded out every other possible thought. No cameras, no Cubby, no angry brother. It was the first break I’d had from my mind in more than ten days. Until Ian leaned over and whispered, When are you telling Mom? and all the anxiety pent up in my chest had exploded. Why couldn’t he just let it go?
Walter rolled down his window, creating a cross tunnel of air through the back seat. He sighed happily. “Everyone saw
the fight. There was a collective gasp when you went over the edge. I’ll bet at least one of the cameramen caught it on film. And then there was that group of tourists. They were talking to you, weren’t they?”
The Ian bounce stopped, replaced by angry fist clenching. He whirled on Walter. “Walt, just shut up.”
“All of you—” my mom started, but then she blanched. “Oh, no.”
“What? What is it?” Archie craned his face forward, his shoulders shooting up to his ears. “Roundabout,” he said in the exact tone a NASA scientist would announce, fiery Earth-destroying meteorite.
I anchored myself onto both my brothers’ arms. Walter clutched his seat belt to his chest, and Archie reverted into coach mode, barking out instructions. “Driver stays on the inside of the roundabout. Yield when you enter, not when you’re inside. Stay focused, and whatever you do, don’t hit the brakes. You can do this.”
We hit the roundabout as though it were a shark-infested whirlpool, all of us holding our breath except for my mom, who let out a stream of loud profanities, and Ian, who carried on with his regularly programmed fidgeting. When we’d finally cleared it, there was a collective exhale from the back seat, followed by one last expletive from the driver’s seat.
“Great job, Mom. If we can handle every roundabout like
that, we’ll be golden,” Archie said, unhooking my claws from his upper arm.
Walt leaned forward, shaking himself free of me also. “Mom, please stop swearing. You’re awful at it.”
“You can’t be awful at swearing,” she said shakily.
“You have single-handedly disproven that theory,” Walt argued. “There’s a science to it; some words go together. You can’t just throw them all out at once.”
“I’m going to throw you all out at once,” Mom said.
“See, that’s good, Mom,” he said. “Maybe stick to the clever quips. At least those make sense.”
“It’s about context. And respect for the form,” Ian added, his voice back to calm. I dug my fingers into my muddy skirt. Now I was confused. Was Ian angry-calm or calm-calm?
Archie glared at all of us. “She can use whatever combination of words she wants. Whatever gets us back to the hotel safely. Remember what you practice in your business meditations, Mom. Go to your powerful place.”
“Great,” Ian groaned. “You’ve invoked the Catarina.”
“There’s no reason to bring her into this,” I added.
Mom scowled at us dangerously. Thirteen months ago my mom had traded in her yoga pants and oversize T-shirts for a real estate wardrobe and a bunch of Be the Business, Feel the Business audio recordings from a local real estate guru named Catarina Hayford. And we couldn’t even make fun of her for it,
because in one year she had outsold 90 percent of her more seasoned fellow agents, even landing a spot on her agency’s billboards. This meant that I could be almost anywhere in Seattle and look up to see her smiling imperiously down on me. And with her new busy schedule, some days it was the only time I saw her at all.
“Remind me why I paid to bring all of you to Ireland,” Mom snapped, her voice rising.
Walt piped up. “You didn’t pay for it—Aunt Mel did. And besides, if it weren’t for Addie and Ian’s performance back there, that would have been an unbelievably boring wedding, even with that crazy scenery.” He nudged me. “My favorite part was the moment when little sis here decided to shove Ian off the cliff. There was this deliberateness to it. Like that scene in The Princess Bride when Buttercup shoves Wesley and he’s rolling down the hill yelling, ‘As yooooou wiiiiiish!’?”
“Two things,” Ian said, his long hair brushing his shoulder as he looked back. His gaze skipped right over me. “One, great reference, seeing as the Cliffs of Moher is where they filmed the Cliffs of Insanity scenes. And two, did you even see what happened?”
Walter drew his breath in sharply. “Why didn’t anyone tell me that before we went? You’re right. We were totally at the Cliffs of Insanity. We could have done a reenactment—”
“Stop talking.” I laced my voice with as much menace as I could muster. When Walter got started, he was a human diesel train. Loud and really hard to stop.
“Or what? You’ll throw me off a cliff?”
“It was more of a chambered punch,” Archie said. “Or maybe a right hook. The technique was actually really good. I was impressed, Addie.”
Ian whipped back, and this time his bruised eye stared me down. “She didn’t knock me off the cliff. I slipped.”
“Yeah, right.” Walter laughed. “Way to save your ego there, buddy.”
I dug my elbows into Walter and Archie’s legs, but they both grabbed hold of my arms, locking me into place until I struggled free. “We went down the complete opposite side of the hill. No one was actually in danger.”
Walter shook his head. “Lucky break. Auntie Mel would have never forgiven us if you’d ruined her dream wedding by committing murder.” He whispered murder the way the narrator always did in his favorite true crime TV show.
“But could you imagine the ratings on the wedding episode if that happened?” Archie quipped. “HGTV would love you forever. They’d probably give you your own reality show. It would be like international wedding crasher–meets–hired hit man. Or hit woman.”
“All of you, stop.” My mom risked taking her hand off the
steering wheel to massage her right temple. “You know what? I’m pulling over.”
“Mom, what are you doing?” I yelled as we bumped off the side of the road, a parade of cars honking behind us. If I had to stay sandwiched in this car for even a minute longer than was completely necessary, I was going to lose it. “There’s a whole line of cars behind us. And the shoulder’s almost nonexistent.”
“Yes, Addie, I know that.” She shakily threw the car into park, wrenching us all forward. “This can’t wait.”
“The fight at the cliffs was one hundred percent Ian’s fault.” The words screeched—unplanned—out of my mouth, and all three of my brothers turned to stare at me in horror. I had just broken Bennett sibling code rule #1: Never throw one another under the bus. Except this Cubby thing was on a whole new level. Maybe old rules didn’t apply.
Ian’s face tightened in anger. “You’re the one who—”
“ENOUGH!” My mom’s voice reverberated around the car like a gong. “I don’t care who started it. I don’t care if Addie drenched you with honey and then threw you into a bear den. You’re teenagers, practically adults. And I have had it with your arguments. You fell off a hill. In the middle of a wedding.”
Bear den? Honey? Mom had a great imagination. Walter started to laugh, but Mom wrenched her neck toward him, and he fell silent. Next she zeroed in on Ian.
“There is one year standing between you and college, and if you think I’m going to put up with how you’ve been acting, you’re wrong. And, Addie, you’re sixteen years old and you have all the self-control of a ten-year-old.”
“Hey!” I started, but Archie shot his elbow into my ribs, and I doubled over. It was a saving gesture. If I had any chance of surviving this, it was going to involve the subtle art of keeping quiet. And Mom was right. As my outburst had just so aptly demonstrated, I did struggle with impulsivity. It got me into trouble a lot.
“You two are so close,” Mom said. “The closest of any of you. There were years when I thought that neither of you knew that anyone else existed. What is going on this summer?”
And then suddenly the car was quiet. Horribly quiet. All except for the windshield wipers, which chose this exact moment to become sentient. This summer, this summer, this summer, they chanted, sloshing water across the window. Ian’s knee slowed, and I felt his stare, heavy on my face. Tell Mom.
I raised my eyes to his, my telepathic message just as insistent. I am not. Telling. Mom.
“Fine. Don’t tell me.” Mom slammed her palm down on the steering wheel and we all flinched. “If Dad were here, you know you’d be on the first flight back to Seattle.”
Ian and I simultaneously levitated off our seats. “Mom, no! I have to go to Italy. I have to go see Lina!” I shouted.
Ian’s measured voice filled the car. “Mom, you’ve got to think this through.”
She threw her hand up, deflecting our emotion like one of the backhand shots that ruled her tennis game. “I didn’t say you’re not going.”
“Geez, chill, Addie,” Walter whispered. “You almost went headfirst through the windshield.”
I sagged back into my seat, panic filtering out of my veins. The only good thing about Aunt Mel’s wedding—besides the gorgeous location—was that it had gotten me to Europe, the continent that had stolen my best friend from me at the beginning of the summer.
My aunt had arranged for a postwedding tour of Ireland that was supposed to include all of us, but I’d managed to talk my parents into letting me skip the tour in exchange for a few days in Italy with Lina. I hadn’t seen her since she moved to Florence ninety-two days ago to live with her father, Howard, and every single one of those days had felt like a lifetime. Not seeing her was not an option. Especially now, when it was very likely she was the only friend I had left.
Ian slumped forward in relief, twisting the back of his hair into a tight corkscrew. I swore he’d grown his hair out just to give him more fidget options.
“Don’t get me wrong,” my mom continued. “I should be sending you both back, but we spent way too much on those tickets to Florence, and if I don’t have some time away from the two of you and your constant fighting, I’m going to have a breakdown.”
A fresh dose of anger hit my system. “Could someone please explain to me why Ian’s coming with me to Italy?”
“Addie,” my mom snapped. Ian shot me a wide-eyed look that said, Shut up NOW.
I glared back, our stares connecting. Despite the fact that I definitely should have been Shutting up NOW, it was an extremely valid question. Why did he want to come on a trip with me when, by all accounts, he couldn’t stand me?
“So here’s the deal,” my mom said, inserting herself into the middle of our staring match. “Tomorrow morning, Archie, Walter, and I will leave on the tour, and the two of you will continue on to Florence.” She spoke slowly, her words lining up like a row of dominoes, and I held my breath, waiting for her to topple the first one.
But . . . she didn’t.
After almost ten seconds of silence, I looked up, hope lifting the edges of my voice. “That’s it? We just get to go?”
“You’re just going to send them to Italy?” Walter asked, sounding as incredulous as I felt. “Aren’t you going to, like, punish them?”
“Walter!” Ian and I both yelled.
My mom wrenched herself around again, focusing first on me, then Ian, her spine swiveling seamlessly. At least she was putting all her yoga classes to good use. “You’re going to Italy. It will force you two to spend some quality time together,” she said, barbing the word “quality.” “But there’s a catch.”
Of course there was. “What?” I asked impatiently, pulling a particularly stabby bobby pin out from its favorite spot in the back of my wilting updo. If it wouldn’t completely set him off, I’d stick it in Ian’s hair, try to get some of it out of his face.
“Here we go,” Ian muttered, just loud enough for me to hear.
Mom paused dramatically, her eyes darting back and forth between us. “Are you both listening?”
“We’re listening,” I assured her, and Ian’s knee bounced receptively. Couldn’t he ever just hold still?
“This is your chance to prove to me that you can handle yourselves. If I hear anything bad from Lina’s father, and I mean anything—if you fight, if you yell, if you so much as look at each other cross-eyed while you’re there—both of you are off your teams.”
There was a moment of dead air, and then the car exploded. “What??” Archie said.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Walter shook his head. “Are you being serious, Mom?”
“We’ll be off our teams?” I asked quickly. “Like soccer and football?”
She nodded, a self-satisfied smile spreading like warm butter across her face. She was proud of this one. “Yes. Like soccer and football. And it doesn’t even have to be both of you. If one of you messes up, you’re both getting punished for it. And there will be absolutely no second chances. One strike, you’re out. That’s it.”
I thought I had no space for fresh panic, but it squeezed in with all the old stuff, turning my chest into an accordion. I leaned forward, putting my hands on the front seats to steady myself. “Mom, you know I have to play soccer this year.” My voice was high and stringy, not nearly as reasonable sounding as I’d intended. “If I don’t, college scouts won’t see me play, and then there’s no way I’ll get onto a college team. This is the year that matters. This is my future.”
“Then you’d better not mess up.”
Ian’s eyes met mine, and I could see the words ping-ponging through his head. You already messed up, Addie.
I shot lasers at him. “But—”
“This is in your control. And Ian’s. I’m not backing down on this.”
As if she needed to add that last part. My parents never backed down on anything. It was one of life’s constants: the shortest distance between two points is a line, root beer floats
always taste better half-melted, and my parents never take back their punishments.
But soccer? That was my way into a good school. Because no matter how hard I tried, my grades were never all that great, which meant I needed to rely on sports to get me into any college with a halfway decent engineering program. It was a long shot, but I had to try.
Plus, soccer. I closed my eyes, imagining the smell of the grass, the complicated rhythm of my teammates, the way time disappeared—the rest of life forced to the outer boundaries of the game. It was my place. The only place where I ever truly fit in. And with Lina moving and Ian now hating me, I needed that place more than ever.
Forget future Addie. I needed soccer for present Addie. If I had any chance of surviving post-Cubby life, it was going to be on that soccer field.
Mom tilted her head toward Ian, who was now impersonating a collapsed puppet. “Ian, are you listening?”
“Listening,” he responded, his voice oddly resigned. His body language and voice all said I don’t care, but I knew that couldn’t be true. Sports were an even bigger deal to him than they were to me. He was way better at them.
“So you understand that if you or Addie do anything wrong, you are off the football team? No second chances, no debating, you’re just off?”
“Got it,” he said nonchalantly. His hand sank back into his hair, forming a tight knot.
Archie raised one finger in the air. “Not to criticize your wisdom, Mom, but that does seem a tad bit harsh. One of them messes up and they’re both off their—”
“Enough from the peanut gallery,” Mom snapped.
“Wait, what?” I startled, the second part of her punishment finally sticking to my brain. “You’re saying that if Ian messes up, I’m going to be punished for it?”
“Yes. And if you mess up, Ian is going to be punished for it. Think of it as a team sport. One of you blows it, you both lose.”
“But, Mom, I have absolutely no control over what Ian does. How is that fair?” I wailed.
“Life isn’t fair,” my mom vaulted back, a hint of glee in her voice. My parents loved maxims the way other people loved cheese or fine wines.
And how was Ian acting so chill?? Ever since his first junior football game, where he single-handedly turned the game around and then methodically led them to the championship, football had been Ian’s life. Not only was he the starting quarterback on our high school’s football team, but he’d already been approached by two different colleges with talks of scholarships. One of them had been right before football camp. No wonder he was acting like he didn’t care. He was probably in the process of internal collapse.
You know what Cubby’s been doing, right? He’s been—Without warning, Ian’s words charged into my head, and I had to dive on them before they could gain any ground. I couldn’t think about football camp now. Not unless I wanted to go from kind of losing it to completely losing it. Not when Italy was on the line.
“Great. We’re all in agreement,” my mom said to our silence. She turned forward, placing her hands on the steering wheel at a perfect ten and two. “Here’s the plan for tonight. When we get back to the hotel, I want everyone to pack up. Walter and Archie, the tour bus leaves at some ungodly hour tomorrow morning, and you need to be ready. Addie and Ian, you are going to change and get cleaned up, and then I am taking you to your aunt’s room, where you will apologize profusely and beg for her forgiveness.”
“Mom—” I groaned, but she held up a hand.
“Did I say beg? I meant grovel. After that, we’re all attending the wedding dinner, where I trust you will all manage to behave like civilized human beings, or at least like mildly trained apes. Then, once we’ve danced and eaten cake or whatever else my sister wants us to do, we will all go right to bed. And, Addie and Ian, I suggest you both figure out a way to reconcile in a nonviolent manner. Otherwise it’s going to be a miserable few days in Italy. I hear that cemetery Lina lives in is pretty small.”
“It isn’t. It’s giant,” I blurted out.
“Addie,” Ian said, his patience completely spent. “Stop. Talking.”
“I just don’t get why you—”
“Addie!” the whole car yelled.
I threw myself back into my brothers’ meaty shoulders. Stop talking. If I wanted to play soccer, I was going to have to keep my focus on two goals: stay on Mom’s good side and get along with Ian.
I bit the inside of my lip, Ian’s tousled hair on the outskirts of my vision. How had getting along with Ian become a goal?
At any other point in our lives, Ian coming to Italy with me would have made perfect sense. He’d always been my partner in adventure. When we were in elementary school, he’d made a game out of finding strange spots around the neighborhood to surprise me with. Once we’d snuck into an abandoned shed full of molding comic books, and another day he’d boosted me up into a massive oak tree littered with initials.
“Field trips,” Ian called them. And as we got older, we stuck with the tradition, driver’s licenses extending our possibilities. We’d been on one just three weeks earlier.
“Field trip time.” As usual, Ian hadn’t bothered to knock. He’d just burst into my room, shoving past me at my desk to launch himself onto my unmade bed.
“Not happening. Mom’s coworker will be here in an hour, and we will be at dinner,” I said, doing my best imitation of Mom. “Also, you’re getting my sheets dirty.”
I hadn’t actually turned around yet, so this was based entirely on speculation. But I knew Ian. Instead of showering and changing like a normal human, Ian almost always jetted straight out of practice the second it was over. The muddy upholstery of our shared car was a testament to that.
I scribbled out my last answer and flipped to a fresh page in my notebook. It offended my very essence to be enrolled in summer school, but I’d barely passed biology, and my parents and I had decided that a second go-around would be a good idea.
Ian flopped around dramatically, making my bedsprings squeak. “Mom is fine with us missing dinner for our important Student Athlete Committee meeting.”
“SAC?” I spun around, my chair twisting with me. “Please tell me you did not sign me up for that.” SAC was a new and desperate attempt to repair our school’s reputation as having the most aggressive (read: mean) spectators in the state.
Ian grinned his signature grin, the one that took over his whole face and let me know that something exciting was about to happen. “Don’t worry. I did not sign you up for that. Although if Mom asks, that’s where we’re going.”
I let my pencil clatter onto the desk. “You know they’re going to make you do it, though, right? Ms. Hampton said they were going
to recruit the school’s ‘most beloved student athletes,’ and I swear she was making googly eyes at you when she said it.” I placed my hand over my heart, doing my best impression of her shaky falsetto. “Ian, you shining star of perfection. Save us from ourselves!”
He made a gagging face. “Please, please, please, can we not talk about football? I’ll be in the car.” He jumped up and thundered out, leaving a muddy body print splayed out on my white sheets.
“Ian,” I groaned, looking at his imprint. But I grabbed my sneakers from under my desk and took off after him. Chasing after Ian never felt like a choice—it was like sleeping or brushing my teeth. It was just what I did.