Love & Luck
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“Purple,” Cubby corrected.
I nodded my head. “Yep. I like that one the best. If you were in a sci-fi movie, that eye would be the source of all your powers.”
Both of his eyes widened, and then he smiled, a slow, surprised drizzle that started at his mouth and went right up to his mismatched eyes. That was the moment I realized there were two different ways to look at boys. There was the regular way—the way I’d done my whole life—and then there was this way. A way that made kitchens tilt ever so slightly and waffles go forgotten in Mickey Mouse irons.
The sparkler send-off for the newlywed couple was a joke. Not only did my legally tipsy oldest brother attempt—and succeed at—catching one of the rosebushes on fire, but cameraman number two kept missing his shot of the bride and groom. This meant repeating the whole process over and over again until we ran out of sparklers and even the most camera-hungry wedding guests began to bray mutinously.
“Buses arrive tomorrow morning at six thirty sharp,” Aunt Mel yelled over her shoulder as Uncle Number Three carried her back into the hotel. The train of her dress dragged behind her, sweeping up bits of confetti and dried sparklers. The send-off had been just for show. They were staying at Ross Manor tonight with everyone else.
“Finally free to go,” my mom said quietly, running a tired hand through her hair. Her mascara was smudged, and it made her eyes look blurry.
The rest of us followed behind her, slogging silently up the billiard-green staircase to our floor, then filed one by one into our closet of a room. Despite the fact that there were five of us, including two college football players who were roughly toddler-size versions of King Kong, Aunt Mel had assigned us what had to be the smallest room in the hotel.
Fuzzy floral wallpaper decorated the walls, and my brothers’ cots occupied most of the space, so all that was left over was a tiny corridor running along the base of the beds. And of course my brothers had filled that up with their never-ending supply of junk—candy wrappers, tangled-up phone cables, and more sneakers than should really exist in the world. I had a term for it: brother spaghetti.
I managed to claim the bathroom first and locked the door behind me, turning the tub on at full blast. I had no intention of actually taking a bath. I just needed to drown out the sound of everyone crashing around the room. Traveling with my family made my head hurt.
I yanked off the real estate dress, replacing it with an oversize T-shirt and a pair of black pajama shorts, then brushed my teeth as slowly as possible.
“Gotta pee, sis!” Walt shouted, banging on the door. “Gotta pee, gotta pee, gotta pee pee peeeeee.”
I yanked the door open to make it stop. “Cute song. You should trademark that.”
He shoved past me. “Thought you’d like it.”
I picked my way through the room, avoiding half a dozen sneaker land mines before climbing onto the bed and cocooning deep into my blankets. I couldn’t wait to sleep. Forget. It had been my main coping skill over the past ten days—ever since Ian had burst into my room to tell me how badly I’d screwed up his life. His life. Like he was the one who would have to spend the whole upcoming year avoiding Cubby and everyone who knew Cubby. My stomach twisted as tightly as the sheets.
“So what’s the strategy exactly? Wear my T-shirt until I forget it’s mine?” Ian’s voice pierced through my blankets, and I slowly uncovered my head. Was he talking to me?
My mom was stuffing her suitcase like it was a Thanks-giving turkey, and Archie lay with his face planted on his cot, still wearing his suit. Ian propped himself up on a mountain of pillows, one earbud in, his face pointed in my general direction.
“You gave it to me,” I said, aiming my voice for what a sitcom writer would mark as RETORT, SASSY. It was an exceptionally comfortable T-shirt with a black collar and sleeves and SMELLS LIKE THE ONLY NIRVANA SONG YOU KNOW written across the chest in block letters.
“By ‘gave it to you,’ do you mean you raided my T-shirt drawer and stole the softest one?”
Nailed it. “You can have it back,” I said. Ian is talking to me. Talking. To me. A flicker of hope sprang into my chest.
“Do you even get the reference?” he asked, punching his top pillow into shape. His hair was in a horrible attempt at a man bun, with bumpy sides and a large chunk hanging out the back. He clearly hadn’t watched the How to Man-Bun Like a Boss tutorial I’d forwarded him.
“Ian, I sat with you on Fleet Street and listened to the entire Nevermind album. How would I not know what it means?” That had been during Ian’s Nirvana period. We’d gone on three different Nirvana-themed field trips, including a trip to Kurt Cobain’s red-vinyl childhood home. I’d even agreed to dress up as Courtney Love for Halloween even though it required wearing a tiara and no one knew who I was.
“At least you know what it means.” Ian flopped grudgingly onto his side. He hesitated, then nudged at his phone, his voice slightly above a whisper. “When are you going to tell Mom?”
I groaned into my sheets. He was bringing it up again. Now? When Mom, Archie, and Walt were all within earshot. Not to mention that’s what the black eye had been about. One of Ian’s teammates had texted him asking about Cubby. And instead of waiting until after the wedding ceremony, when we would be alone, he’d shoved the phone in my face and whisper-demanded that I tell Mom. Our parents finding out was the worst thing that could happen. Why didn’t he get that?
“Ian!” I hissed.
He cut his eyes at Mom, then shot me a warning look. I growled in my throat and then slid down under the covers, forcing my breathing to calm. The odds of me not exploding on Ian were only as good as the odds of him not bringing up Cubby every chance he got. That is to say, not good.
Time to put a hard stop to this conversation. “Good night, Ian.” I slid even farther under the covers, but I could still feel Ian’s glare on my back, sharp as needles. A few minutes later I heard him rustle under the covers, the music from his earbuds filling the air between us.
How were we going to survive a full week together?
The next morning, I awoke to what sounded like the brass section from our school’s famously exceptional marching band rumbling with our famously unexceptional drama team. I opened my eyes a slit. My mom was untangling her leg from the alarm clock and lamp cords. “Damn hell spit,” she muttered. Or at least that’s what it sounded like she muttered. Walter was right. She needed a swearing intervention.
I opened my eyes a half millimeter more. Weak sunlight puddled under the curtains, and Archie and Walter and their extreme bedhead stood next to the door looking all kinds of ambiguous about the state of their consciousness.
“You both have your passports, right?” my mom asked them, finally freeing herself. They stared at her with blank, sleep-coated expressions, and she sighed before swooping in on me in a cloud of moisturizer. “Your cab will be here at nine. The gnomes will knock on the door to wake you up.” She pressed her cheek onto my forehead like she used to do when I was little and had a fever. “Promise me you’ll work things out with Ian. You two are the best friends you’ll ever have.”
Way to twist the dagger. “Love you, Mom,” I said, scrunching my eyes shut.