Little Sister Song (Wynter Wild #1)

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The Fairn Boys

Indio met up with his family at the Silverado. He didn’t like going home, and despite Jesse’s pleading that had guilted him into packing a bag, he hadn’t known until he laid eyes on Wynter whether or not he would.

Thursday night he’d learned he had another sister. Great. Whatever. Following Caleb’s phone call, Jesse had sent fifty texts about her—her weird questions, her charming naivety, the effect she was going to have on his life. Jesse was a kid, still living at home, and didn’t know the first thing about life. He’d texted a screed about “climbing a whole new tree” and thought he was being profound. He’d made fun of the Light’s beliefs, as far as he could determine them, and about Wynter’s “harmful” superstitions, yet didn’t have one word to say about how a child might be affected by her mother walking out on her.

Indio could tell him a few things about that, except that he thought about his mother as little as possible and his twin sister even less. A second sister meant nothing when the first meant so little. He barely even remembered Joy.

Then, after his gig on Friday night, he’d found Jesse’s voicemail.

She’s got talent, dude. Not like me. Like you.

That piqued his interest.

It jolted free a few memories, too, stuff from before that he hadn’t thought about in years. Joy singing Mariah Carey on the morning walk to elementary school in Missoula, Montana—it had seemed a long walk, with Caleb in charge hurrying them along as they were both prone to dawdle, though it was probably only half a mile. Accompanying Joy on the ukulele for a performance at the kindergarten concert. They sang Octopus’s Garden—the song choice was definitely hers—and by the last verse she had tears rolling down her cheeks because Miriam’s front-row reserved seat was still empty.

Miriam made it up to her. After taking them all to Harry’s place in Anaconda that summer, she left forever a week or so later with Joy. Only Joy.

Indio had walked up to Wynter and knew this wasn’t nothing, this was something. Probably helped that she looked nothing like Joy. He did recognize her, though. Caleb said she looked like him and it was sort of true. But there was something else. He felt like he’d been punched in the gut by an unshakable truth. She belonged with them.

Which was all the crazier because he’d spent years convincing himself he didn’t belong with his family. Other than the music, what did he have in common with his brothers? He and Jesse were pals but he didn’t understand the way his younger brother’s brain worked. Their social circles were completely different, too. Jesse had once drawn him a Venn diagram to illustrate this fact. And Caleb—he understood Caleb just fine. Life was so much easier when he stayed out of Caleb’s way.

Jesse rode shotgun so Indio and Wynter could sit in the back for the ride home. Blood is thicker… For all the words Jesse had sent, he hadn’t sent a picture. Indio tried not to stare. In the end it didn’t matter because she spent much of the first hour staring at him, so they gave up avoiding each other and just enjoyed it. It didn’t feel awkward. Her eyes still shone from the excitement of the gig.

He talked about music with her. She’d heard of half the bands he mentioned from the last five decades. She told him what songs she loved, and why—the bass in this one, the beat in that one, the breakdown, the vocal tone, or just the sheer energy of it. He could tell she understood musical structure from the way she talked about the songs, even if she didn’t always know the correct terminology.

Caleb had the radio on quietly. Jesse turned it up when a favorite song came on during a lull in the conversation, and he belted it out using the dashboard as his drum kit.

“Will you play with us in the jamroom?” Wynter asked Indio.

Us? You guys already have a band?” Indio teased.

“We do!” Jesse said. “We are now the Fairn Boys plus Girl.”

“Fairn Boys?” Wynter queried.

“The Fairn Boys was founded right after we moved to Seattle,” Jesse explained. “I’d been drumming for about a year—I was in fourth grade and already awesome. We played grunge back then, of course, inspired by our new location. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney. Not Caleb’s scene at all but he was game. Indio persuaded him to switch to bass.”

Those were good times. Music was a great way to avoid conversation, for starters, and as a bonus it was a great way to avoid Harry. Their father never joined them, though he had the talent, but nor did he complain about the noise. They wrote their own songs and honed their musical style into a melodic riff-based rock with judicious use of harmonies to make the most of three different voices.

“We made demo tapes,” Jesse said. “Just for fun.”

“I need to hear that,” Wynter said earnestly.

Jesse took a CD from the glove compartment and slotted it in. This one was from the last time they’d all jammed together—the summer after Indio’s freshman year when he was home from Ohio.

Wynter settled back to listen. Indio did most of the vocals—his voice suited these particular songs—but despite being center-stage with various high school and college bands over the years he didn’t aspire to be a lead singer. He was pretty sure Jesse should be in that role, but no one could keep Jesse away from the drums.

He stole a look at Wynter. She was leaning back in the seat, her eyes unfocused as she listened. After a while, she closed her eyes and a half-smile formed on her lips. Her fingers tapped the beat.

Near Seattle they stopped for gas. Caleb got out to fill the tank.

Jesse turned around in his seat. “Someone from Social Services came by today.”

Indio sensed Wynter’s mood drop at once. “On the weekend?” he said.

“She wasn’t keen on letting Wynter stay with us.”

“Why not? She can have my room. I’m never gonna need it—Wynter, you can paint it pink.” He was joking. Neither Jesse or Wynter looked happy.

Jesse said, “She can live with Joy, if Joy shows up, but not with Caleb.”

“Why not?”

“A teenage girl living with two guys she only just met? Not gonna happen.”

Indio stared out the window, into the night. “Fucking social workers.”

“She knew who you were,” Wynter said. She’d silently watched their conversation, sitting cross-legged on the seat. “Why did she know?”

Indio drew a deep breath, in and out. “I had some dealings with them a while back.”

“He spent four months in juvie.” Trust Jesse to lay it all out.

“What’s juvie?”

“It’s like prison for kids,” Jesse said.

Wynter’s expression didn’t change, which surprised Indio. Maybe she had no yardstick to measure it by. Hell, maybe she didn’t know what prison was.

She turned to him. “What law did you break?”

Okay, so she knew what prison was.

“Just silly teenage boy stuff. Fighting.”

“Second-degree assault,” Jesse clarified.

Indio was mortified that Wynter’s opinion of him might be diminished by the revelation. Well, she would’ve found out sooner or later.

“What’s assault?” Wynter asked.

Now that was something no one had ever asked him. Jesse gave a little shrug that said, She really doesn’t know anything about anything.

“It means I hurt a kid. Put him in the hospital.”

“He did the world a favor,” Jesse said. “Of course, violence is never the answer.” He said it in a mock-Caleb voice that even Wynter recognized, and it made her smile.

“Caleb made us learn karate,” Indio told Wynter. “He always said, now you can win any fight so you take responsibility for walking away before you hurt someone. That was a fight I should’ve walked away from—but, y’know, it’s not so easy to do in the moment.”

“Caleb was deployed overseas at the time,” Jesse added. “His powerful influence only reaches so far.”

“Yeah, I was a little tired of Caleb’s influence by then.”

“But Caleb’s wonderful,” Wynter said spontaneously. “Isn’t he?” She had Jesse’s directness. Unlike Jesse, she didn’t know when her questions made someone uncomfortable. Jesse knew and asked anyway to watch you squirm.

Now was probably not the best time to make a joke about his little brother’s name for the rift in the family—the Mariana Trench. Instead, he said, carefully, “That’s the general consensus, so I won’t disagree with you.”

Wynter saw right through him. “How could you not think he’s wonderful?”

Regret and resentment dragged the breath out of his body. He still blamed Caleb for every last childhood battle. Still resisted coming back to Washington. He’d split himself off from this family at the first opportunity and spent every day trying to justify it.

He reached over and touched Wynter’s arm. “He’s my brother. We’ll work it out.”

They sat in silence until Caleb got back in the truck.

“What’s up?” he said, sensing the change in atmosphere.

“Indio’s talking in double negatives,” Jesse said. “We gotta get him home, down to the basement, knock some sense into him before he makes a lyric out of that nonsense.”

Indio ate the last of his post-midnight snack—four pieces of raisin toast—and put the plate in the sink.

“Is the bathroom free?” he called out in the direction of the hallway. He’d been desperate for a shower three hours ago and the situation hadn’t improved.

“Did you forget the no yelling rule?” Jesse said. “That’s, like, number three on the list. He won’t answer. You gotta go down there and speak at a normal volume.”

Indio was well acquainted with the rules, of course. “What if the house was on fire?” he mused.

Caleb walked in from the back and dumped a sleeping bag and pillow on the couch. “If you only yelled for genuine emergencies,” he said, “I’d know it was a genuine emergency when you yelled.”

“Guys!” Jesse was playing back a message on the answering machine next to the kettle. “It’s Joy.”

… hope Wynter arrived safely. I’ve made a mess of things but everything will work out. Next week someone will be driving me to Seattle. Please take care of her, Caleb. Of course you will. I know you will, like you always took care of us. I’ll see you soon.

Caleb spanned his hand over his face and exhaled. “Okay, that’s good. That’s great news. I’ll turn around the bed in Wynter’s room so we can fit another one in there. Jesse, maybe you can ask on campus or at the clubs about jobs? Cashier or waitress or something? Just to get her started. I’ll ask around at work. On Monday I’ll call the school to see about enrolling Wynter—”

“What about that woman from Social Services?” Jesse said.

“What about her? Go to the hardware store tomorrow and get a bolt lock for the bathroom door. Fixed.”

Indio wasn’t so sure a bolt lock was going to fix anything. He opened his mouth to point out all the ways it could go wrong, and thought better of it.

“Did you have a question for me?” Caleb asked him. The impatience in his tone indicated he was a lot more worried than he looked.

“Shower—is it free?”

“Yes. Wynter’s already gone to bed.”

Indio took a quick shower and flopped on the couch. Caleb had decided that 2AM was a good time to rinse dishes and noisily load the dishwasher. Given the living room and kitchen were open-plan, that meant another five minutes or so before he could think about sleep.

When Caleb went over to the hallway door and closed it, Indio held his breath.

“Regardless of whether Joy gets custody,” Caleb said, “Tina wants me and Jesse to get background checks. You, too, so you can visit.”

Indio knew exactly where this was heading and braced himself for the onslaught. Conversations with Caleb were like a survival course—clear those obstacles one by one and hope it didn’t go off the rails before reaching the finish line.

Caleb leaned on the back of the couch and glared down at him. “You could’ve applied to get your juvenile records sealed two years after you got out of detention. I personally handed you the forms in Ohio at the time. It didn’t get done, and now this woman Tina is already on to you.”

“Did you see those forms? There’s about a million of them and they have to be sent to two million different places. Certified copies, too. It costs money.”

“Jesse offered to help you with it when you came to Washington that summer, and to get your ass to the County Court to schedule a hearing. You did nothing.”

“I would’ve had to come back here in the middle of the semester for the hearing—”

“How can I make you understand how important this is? Not just because of the background check you’re about to fail. This will follow you for the rest of your life. Employers, landlords, credit and insurance companies—that’s life, Indio. That’s adult life. You need to fix this, wipe that slate clean, so you can survive.”

Indio threw an arm across his eyes to block it all out. Everything Caleb said was true, of course. Indio hadn’t filed the paperwork, but the reason wasn’t procrastination or the ridiculous complexity of the process or even the filing fees and the cost of certified copies. He hadn’t done it because he hadn’t in fact been eligible to get his records sealed thanks to a more recent misdemeanor conviction that neither Caleb or Jesse knew about.

That was just over two years ago, which meant he was now eligible to apply again. He could get his juvenile record sealed, but he’d still fail the background check because of the other charge. No way to wipe that slate clean.

Still, the juvenile conviction was a violent felony and he really should deal with it.

“You’re right. I’ll get it done,” he said, surprising Caleb. “I’m gonna need copies of my records, though. I threw all that crap out when I moved to Portland.”

“Go visit Harry tomorrow. He has a fat folder with your name on it.”

Okay, that wasn’t part of the plan.

“I just saw him at Christmas. Twice in two weeks? Not gonna happen.”

He locked eyes with his brother in a familiar battle of wills. To his surprise, Caleb caved.

“Fine. I’m seeing him on Tuesday. I’ll get the reports. I’ll print off the forms, too, and mail the lot to you.”

“Awesome.” Indio grabbed the chance to change the subject. “Does Wynter have problems—emotional stuff, brainwashing, from growing up in that place?”

“She won’t talk about it, which in itself is worrying.”

“Maybe if a woman talked to her? You can be pretty intimidating. You still seeing that girl—Bea?” Indio had met Bea at Christmas. She seemed like the ultimate in marriage material, not that he knew much about that. A bit fragile, but stable, kind, and loving. Three things Indio rarely found together in the girls he hung out with.

“Yes. She’s pretty great. And how’s your love life?”

“Same as ever,” he muttered.

“I’m not gonna tell you not to make the most of your college years, but take care, okay?”

“Not gonna go there with you.” Indio didn’t bother masking his irritation.

“Can we go to your grades, then? You never told me if you passed the fall semester at Ohio.”

“I skipped out on my finals. You know that. What was the point in sitting for classes that Portland wouldn’t credit?”

“So you’re now repeating two entire semesters.”

“I transferred a few third-year credits. But yes, that’s what I’m doing.” Indio waited for another tongue-lashing.

Caleb had already moved to the next thing on his mind. “You realize the only way Joy could get a ride from LA to Seattle is by going to the Light for help.”

“Yeah. Well, that shit’s addictive. My first memories are that tiny rental in Billings—you and me camped on the living room floor for two years and Joy slept in Mom’s bed. Remember that place? The endless procession of women passing through for crystal healings and yoga, and in between sessions they’d take turns feeding and rocking Jesse like he was a kitten you could just pass around. She kept having kids but the Light always won her attention in the end.”

“Let’s hope Joy has different priorities. I’m out with Bea tomorrow. You could go to the Light office downtown and inquire about Joy.”

“They have an office here?”

“International District, just east of the I-5. Took Jesse a while to track it down—it’s not explicitly associated with the Light. More of a New Age store and yoga center.”

“Even if she sets out tomorrow, she won’t be here until Monday.”

“Ask if anyone knows what’s going on. Someone there may have a cell number for whoever is driving her.”

“How about you check on that? You’re going out anyway.”

Caleb’s jaw twitched. “Fine. I’ll do it.” He left at last.

Indio probably should go visit that office, do his part. Truth was, it was hard to muster the enthusiasm when every instinct resisted acknowledging Miriam and Joy at all. And that was monumentally unfair to Joy, of course, but Joy wasn’t here. It was Caleb he had to deal with.

He cast his mind back to when things went wrong between them. Hard to pinpoint the exact time. He did remember when things were good. That summer before he and Joy started school, they were based in Bozeman and Miriam was selling prayer cards and dreamcatchers and Light courses door-to-door along the I-90. Sometimes her four kids waited in the car, bored out of their minds. More often they were left home alone for the day, and those had been days of glorious freedom. This was before Caleb felt the need to take charge, when they still considered each other playmates. The driveway to their apartment complex backed onto the County Detention Center, which even Caleb thought was cool. They’d leave Joy and Jesse, load up their cap guns, and run up and down the fence hunting bad guys.

Indio would’ve done anything for that Caleb. All these years later, he was balking at the “suggestion” he drive ten minutes down the street to check on the twin sister he hadn’t seen since he was six years old.

Caleb’s presence and Joy’s absence in his life were not what he needed to be focusing right now. He’d focus on Wynter, and for her sake he’d attempt to make it through the weekend without a blowout.

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