Joy wasn’t on the afternoon bus. Wynter felt hope slipping away. Tina hadn’t been impressed with Caleb’s house, or with Jesse, or even with Indio in another state. If Joy didn’t hurry up, Wynter might be sent away. Or worse—she might be sent back.
They put on sweaters and went outside in the twilight to barbecue the steaks. Her worry was echoed on her brothers’ faces, though they were making an effort to act happy. Caleb’s mood improved as Jesse’s jokes made him laugh. Wynter managed to smile when she should. She found herself looking around for signs, though she kept quiet about it so Jesse didn’t make fun of her again. If only the universe would send a message that Joy was coming, she could stop worrying about Social Services. She’d had a good day, other than the bouncing emails and Tina showing up. She’d learned so much already. She felt herself filling up with all the new things she was experiencing.
She could hardly get the food down, tasty as it was. The steak was rich, with a metallic tang she quite liked, but her stomach was in knots and after a few mouthfuls she stopped eating. Caleb and Jesse ate like they hadn’t had a meal in a week. Then again, she didn’t know how much food men were supposed to eat.
They set out for Portland, with Caleb driving this time. Jesse provided a running commentary on the landmarks they passed. She recognized some of the place names.
“This is the same highway I traveled,” she said. “If Joy’s on her way right now, we might pass her bus going in the other direction.”
“Indio checked the last bus out of Portland a couple hours ago,” Caleb said. “Don’t worry, hun, she’ll show up.”
But would she show up in time? Wynter didn’t want to spend even one night in some other house that Tina found for her.
When they entered the college hall, music was playing over the PA. People milled around, dancing and drinking sodas. At the back of the darkened stage was a drum kit, and at the front stood a row of microphones. Caleb held her hand tightly as they pushed through the crowd. This was as overwhelming as the mall had been, but somehow easier because it was dark, muting the sensations. All she had to do was cling to Caleb’s hand and let him lead the way.
Caleb took her to a spot halfway down the hall, to one side.
“Not too close to the speakers,” he said, and nodded toward the front. “There he is.”
Wynter stood on tiptoes to fully see the stage, which was still in near-darkness. Some people had walked on. One went behind the drum kit and played a flourish. Three guys with guitars took their places at the mics and one of them, she couldn’t tell which, yelled a greeting at the crowd, which cheered in response, and introduced the band as Blunderbelly.
The spotlights hit the stage in a sudden burst, and people cheered again. The screams of a group of girls rose above the noise, and the music started.
Indio stood in the center, in ordinary jeans, t-shirt, and boots, but he looked anything but ordinary. Lit up, larger than life, he filled her vision. His band played hard rock with driving riffs that made the audience near the stage jump and pound their arms to the beat. The music pulsed through Wynter’s body and pushed the air from her lungs in gasps of excitement. She loved it. She loved Indio’s voice and the emotion he put into the vocals. He was trapped behind the mic but the songs soared. She recognized some of them—Jesse had explained the band played a mix of originals and covers, and then he’d explained what those words meant.
Indio’s voice was a more melodic and versatile version of Caleb’s rawness, punctuated with hard-rock growls that rattled her bones. She stared at him, barely noticing the other three players on stage. Her throat ached, tight with emotion. She wanted to do that, make that music. She’d already had a taste of it and she wanted more.
Most of all, she wished Xay were here with her.
Jesse bounced off to join the mayhem near the stage. Wynter backed up against Caleb, just close enough to maintain physical contact, which helped her feel safe and stopped her getting jostled around as the audience turned increasingly wild.
As the fourth song ended, Indio noticed Jesse at the front and came to the edge of the stage to high-five him.
“You okay?” Caleb’s lips were right on her ear, the only way to make himself heard.
She’d fallen so deep into the music and lights, it took her a moment to register the words. Unwilling to break the spell, she struggled even to nod her head.
The band played a couple more songs, and it was all over. Another band came on. Caleb drew Wynter away, to the door at the back, checking his phone.
“Let’s wait for Jesse, and we’ll meet Indio by the side door.”
Jesse bounded outside to join them a few minutes later, his eyes bright, sweat on his skin in the cold air. “Hey, you liked it?”
She nodded enthusiastically. “My ears hurt.”
They headed to the side exit. Muffled music from inside boomed into the night. Among the people leaving the building, she recognized the Blunderbelly bass player, carrying a guitar case. Indio followed him out, saw them waiting a few yards away, and called over his bandmate to hand him his guitar.
Indio walked across the gravel toward them. Wynter was reminded of that moment two days and a lifetime ago, when Caleb approached her for the first time. She’d first seen Caleb in silence and darkness, and now seen Indio in noise and light. Unlike Caleb’s commanding, authoritative presence, Indio radiated a gentler vibe. He looked briefly at his brothers, then his focus went to Wynter. He walked right up to her.
“Hey,” she mimicked shyly.
He placed his hands on her upper arms in a greeting that felt halfway between a hug and a handshake. He was flushed and sweaty, like Jesse, heat radiating off him.
“Jesse tells me you play.”
“She’s incredible,” Jesse said.
Indio nodded and smiled at her, thoughtfully. Wynter was surprised by Jesse’s endorsement. Incredible? She wondered if he was teasing. For once he’d sounded deadly serious.
“You coming home with us?” Jesse said.
“Yeah. Don’t have class until Tuesday afternoon. I’ll fetch my bag.”
He released Wynter. She tingled from the contact. Must be because he was a rockstar. Xay talked about rockstars like they were gods. Indio went to fetch his bag from a van in the parking lot.
“I didn’t know he was coming back with us,” Wynter said.
“He didn’t give me a firm answer before,” Jesse said. “Didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up.” He was looking at Caleb as he spoke, and Wynter sensed the tension between them.
Did Indio not come home much?