"Our grandma wrote that book!" Ryder said so loud we now had an even larger audience. Everyone who'd been groggily waiting to claim their luggage had tuned in.
"Excuse me?" My ex-love was back in the picture, not snickering this time. "Did you say your grandmother was the author M. E. Thorne?" The spark in his eyes seemed desperate to rekindle our imaginary flame.
Get out of your own head, Iris.
"Yeah," I managed.
"Have I got something to show you." He started to take off his shirt.
"Oh, for the love of—" I whispered, staring down at my red Chucks.
"Look!" Ryder proclaimed. "Iris, look! He's got the map of Elementia on his ribs!"
I had to peek. It was an awfully big map. Alas, my curiosity was rewarded by a rich paleness smattered in black chest hair.
He put his shirt back down and smiled, but I kept hearing the way he'd grumbled 'Americans'. "So are you excited about the film adaptation?" he asked. "Are you having a hand in its development? How do you feel about them changing the ages of the characters?"
I braided my hair back and said nothing, reminded once again of my life's golden rule. People usually treated me one of two ways. One: like I was M. E. Thorne's granddaughter, gifted with an otherworldly glow. Two: no one. I'd give anything for a third option.
"This is all you talk about, isn't it?" he continued. "You've probably been reading your grandma's books since you were a kid. I discovered them a few years back. Then again, I bet you can't say anything because of the movies. Top-secret insider information, right?"
I chewed on my response. The gristle of this fantasy talk would not go down. Everyone assumed I'd be over the moon about the adaptation, but it meant the story's fandom would triple. Quadruple. Soon everyone would revise their interest in me, just like this guy.
"Ryder, see if that's our bag," I said, moving us to the other side of the carousel. When I had my back to everyone from our flight, I squeezed my eyes, a little scream coming up from deep inside.
"You okay, Iris?" Ryder put a hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes. Not his hand—it was his foam dwarf axe. At least his little-kid expression was earnest.
"I'm fine." I rested my forehead on the top of my guitar case. I knew better than to check out when I was on Ryder duty, but I couldn't help it. One moment later, my brother was lunging for his luggage, and the next, he was on the carousel, disappearing through the plastic hanging strips and into the bowels of Shannon Airport. "Hey!" I yelled. "Ryder!" Fear slapped me awake, and I almost crawled through the plastic strips after him. "Hey!"
"Need some help, then?"
I turned toward a new Irish voice and almost fell over. "Oh no."
The boy had elf ears. Honest to God, pointy and flexed into his hairline elf ears.
"Oh no?" he returned, his eyebrows sky-high. "What're you... What are
"I'm an elf," he said as casually as if he were telling me he was an art major. "I'm here to give you a lift." He held up a printed sign that read THORNE.
"Put that down. These people are already too curious." I grabbed the paper and balled it. "And if you're here to help, solve that equation." I pointed to the baggage exit. "One brother went in. No brothers are coming back out. He's probably on the runway by now."
"Ye of little faith," Elf Ears said, crossing his arms. "He'll pop back through in a moment." He leaned over conspiratorially. "It's a circle, you know."
I couldn't believe that a stranger with artificial ears was "ye of little faith"-ing me. "What if security catches him? In the United States, the TSA confiscates firstborns for this kind of thing."
On cue, Ryder came back through the plastic strips, sitting on my duffel and wearing my sunglasses he'd pillaged from the outer pocket. He knew he was in trouble, and yet he grinned. Then he saw the guy beside me, and his mouth dropped open. Ryder jumped down and ran over, leaving me to fetch both of our bags from the carousel.