Little Sister Song (Wynter Wild #1)

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Indio held Jenny and thought about all the chances he’d blown. She’d caught his eye that very first day at the new school, a neatly dressed junior with a violin case, stunning dark eyes and golden skin, sleek hair pulled back in a perfect braid, a shy dimpled smile. She was new to the school, too. He wasted a month working up the courage to talk to her, although he’d never had trouble talking to girls before, only to have Kevin Tsang get there first.

He’d told himself she would’ve rejected him anyway. By then, the other kids had found out why he’d transferred so he had a bad boy rep he couldn’t live down. Sometimes it came in handy—there were girls who thought it was sexy and boys who thought it was cool. And sometimes it was a pain in the ass.

A different song started, with an up-tempo swing beat, and Indio danced with Jenny just as Caleb had with Wynter. He couldn’t match Caleb for style but he wasn’t too bad. After he graduated high school, when he’d given up on Jenny and couldn’t wait to escape to Ohio, he’d instead hung around in Seattle to keep Jesse company. Jesse had turned fifteen and pretty soon it would be just him and Harry in the house for long stretches while Caleb was deployed. In fact, that summer Caleb was on a cutter somewhere off the coast of West Africa. In July he came home on leave and Indio had an even greater incentive to get out quick. Jesse persuaded him to stick around so the three of them could play music for a couple of weeks. They did that, and in between arguing with Harry about how to fix a water heater and how to budget for groceries, Caleb had somehow found time to teach his brothers how to not look like fools when they had a girl in their arms on the dance floor.

So, he could dance. Thanks to Caleb.

Come to think of it, he was only here tonight because Caleb had had a change of heart about bringing Wynter to Portland, which in turn changed his mind about visiting Seattle.

After his first wild year in Ohio, he’d come home in the summer and Jenny was free. They went on two dates and she was exactly as pure and perfect as he remembered. He’d treated her right and she confessed she’d always liked him. And then he’d screwed it all up. Back to college as a sophomore, to the music, to that other sort of girl, the sort who didn’t care if you treated them right as long as you made them feel special for a night, or a few nights, however long it took for them to start thinking they were special. Then it was time to move on to the next one. He was drinking and doing drugs and flunking and hating himself, although he always found time for music.

“Can we go out the back and talk for a bit?” he said when the dance was over.

Jenny nodded. He passed his family at their booth—Caleb and Jesse were halfway through their coffees. Wynter looked ready to drop into bed. He was proud of himself for paying for the meal. Caleb always paid. Indio was trying to be a man now. He could step up on occasion.

“Give me five minutes?” he said, and Caleb nodded.

There was a patio out the back, overlooking the mountains. Patricia put tables out here in the warmer months. Tonight they were alone.

Indio leaned against the wall and Jenny pressed up against him, like when they were slow-dancing, and they kissed for the third time ever. She seemed desperate, which wasn’t like her at all.

“You should know, I’m seeing someone,” she said.

She may as well have punched him in the gut. He set her away from him. She backed up against the wall beside him as he stared at the dark mountains.

He made a joke of it, like he imagined Jesse might. “You could’ve told me before the dance. In my head we were already an item.”

“Yes, I should’ve. Got caught up in the moment. It was so good to see you again. His name’s Stefan. He transferred to the Arts course at U-Dub in the fall.”

Indio really didn’t want to know, but this was Jenny so he was nice about it. “He’s a musician?”

“An actor, a theater major.”

He could not picture Jenny with an actor. Weren’t actors vain pricks? Jenny deserved someone focused on her, not on himself. He hated Stefan already. Pretentious name, too.

“Whatever happened to Kevin Tsang?” he said, to change the subject. Kevin wasn’t a bad guy but he’d always been highly suspicious of Indio, with good cause, which had made him snappy toward Jenny when she paid Indio any attention.

“He’s been accepted to medical school at UCLA.”

“Wow. Didn’t realize he was a smart one.”

“You always made it your business to know as little about him as possible.”

Okay, he was done talking about her boyfriends.

“I should’ve stayed with you, that summer two years ago,” he said. “Wish I had.”

“So do I.” She gave him that sweet smile that had always seemed both innocent and all-knowing.

“Really? I assumed you’d dump me by August anyway.”

“Dump you? We weren’t really together. Two dates. You were great, Indio. Always nice to me from the day we met. I know that’s the real you, not the crap everyone says. I wish you believed it.”

“You could make me believe it.” He didn’t mean it. He didn’t need Caleb to tell him not to make a move on an unavailable girl. It might even work, given the way she’d kissed him, and then she’d be tainted by his poor behavior.

“Listen.” She turned to him and took his hand. “Next time a girl takes you to an open-air concert on the second date and holds your hand the whole time, don’t run off to Mexico and leave her hanging.”

“Yeah. Learned my lesson.” That trip to Mexico with friends had been planned months earlier. He could’ve canceled. Instead, he went along, had a meaningless fling with one of the girls in the group, and returned so ashamed of himself that he hightailed it back to Ohio without speaking to Jenny again.

“So, why’d you transfer to Portland?”

He hesitated so long she raised an eyebrow quizzically. “Trying to decide which reason to give you,” he said. “I could tell you my best friend from Ohio transferred there and wanted me to sing in his band. Or I could make myself look good and tell you I wanted to be closer to my family.”

“Tell me about that second reason,” Jenny said, a twinkle in her eye.

“I guess, around October, Jesse asked me to come home for Christmas. I’d skipped three already. I’d just been home for his high school graduation, and things were… a bit rough between me and Caleb. Really bad. I was a mess, to be honest. I didn’t want to show up again in that state, so I cleaned up and thought about leaving Ohio for good. Burned so many bridges there, and they were always threatening to throw me out anyway.”

“Well, you look great now. Really good.”

He gave her an uneasy smile. He wasn’t exactly clean and sober but things were a lot better. He was looking forward to the year ahead. He hadn’t known, of course, when he moved to Portland, that in a month he’d meet Wynter, or that he’d be given the chance to hope, for twenty minutes anyway, he had another chance with Jenny.

“Who was that girl with your family?” Jenny said. “I thought from the back she was Jesse’s girlfriend but she looks about twelve.”

“That’s Wynter. She’s nearly fifteen and she’s our half-sister. We didn’t know about her. I just met her yesterday.”

“How incredible!” She looked more excited about it than he remembered being when Caleb told him.

“She grew up in a… well, let’s call it a commune, in Arizona. They’re taking her into foster care tomorrow.” A wave of sadness passed through him. He leaned forward, hands on his knees, and drew a few deep breaths. “Sorry. Just having a shitty night. You’re right, it is incredible. She’s kind of amazing and we really wanted her to stay in Seattle. Caleb’s still being a jerk about my lifestyle choices. Stefan’s the final straw.”

Jenny rubbed his back until he straightened again.

“God, I wish I never went to Mexico. It was a fucking horrible vacation anyway.”

“Can’t change the past, Indio.” She handed him her phone. “Give me your number. No reason we can’t stay in touch. I’d love to come to your gig next time I’m in Portland.”

She gave him a quick hug and they went back inside.

Indio returned to the booth. “Ready to go? I’ll drive.”

In the truck, Wynter leaned forward from the back seat and asked him, “Are you gonna date Jenny again?”

“She’s with someone else.”

“But I thought you liked her.”

“Yeah, missed my chance.”

“Sorry, bro,” Jesse said.

In the rear-view mirror, Indio saw Wynter sit back with a confused look. Great. The dancing had put everyone back in a good mood and made the evening bearable, and now he’d given it a sad ending.

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