Little Sister Song (Wynter Wild #1)

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No Trouble

Wynter dozed on the bus, woken intermittently by the gnawing in her stomach. They arrived in Los Angeles at noon.

Joy glanced around the busy station as if she expected someone to be waiting for them. But no one noticed them—a young woman and a teenager dressed for summer in the mild Californian winter were hardly out of place.

“How will we get to the airport?” Wynter said.

Joy chewed her lip. She guided Wynter to sit on a bench, one of many arranged in long forward-facing rows like chairs in a prayer meeting. While Joy fiddled with something in her bag, Wynter watched the people, fascinated by their clothes and their conversations. Some sprawled motionless on the benches, like they’d been that way for days. Others sat amid their luggage looking anxious or sad or bored. Still others seemed to know exactly where they were going, even if it was only to the restroom or the water fountain.

Joy gave Wynter another bus ticket. “Our journey isn’t over.”

The bus ticket was for Seattle.

“But we have to get to the airport.”

“Miriam isn’t here, Wynter. She’s in Thailand. There’s no plane. She’s not coming. Haven’t you figured that out yet?”

Wynter had not figured it out. Despite Joy’s evasiveness, it hadn’t occurred to Wynter that she’d invent such a huge lie.

“Why do you think we had to sneak away?” Joy went on, like it was Wynter’s fault for being too stupid to realize the truth. “We had to leave the ashram because you don’t belong there. I know how scared you are of the outside and I needed you to come right away, without a fuss. That’s why I said what I said.”

Wynter had never considered leaving the ashram, but she wasn’t scared of the outside. Xay and Roman had made the outside seem incredible and they’d lived out here longer than Wynter had been alive. It was Joy who was scared.

“Can we go to Thailand?” Wynter whispered. “Do we have enough money?”

“Of course we’re not going to Thailand. We’re going to Seattle.”

Seattle was all the way up north, about as far from the ashram as it was possible to be. That alone was a good reason to go. But…

“Why Seattle?”

“The only person I know on the outside is my father. Miriam told me, years ago, that he’d moved to Seattle.” She flipped over the map Wynter had used earlier. “See? I found his name with an address in Everett, which is near Seattle.”

The list of names wasn’t from a customer database after all. It was a directory listing—names, addresses, phone numbers. All the names started with F.

“Are we allowed to go to him? You told me he’s an apostate.”

“Who’s going to stop us?” Joy snapped. “Harry is family, and on the outside that means something special. He has to help. I haven’t seen him since…” Joy’s brow quivered. “I mean, I was just a little girl. But there’s no one else.” She drew Wynter to her feet. “That ticket seller in Tucson told me I only had enough money for one ticket all the way to Seattle. You’ll go ahead of me. I’ll follow when I get more money.”

Wynter couldn’t take it in. “I can’t go by myself. Harry’s not my father. What if he sends me back before you get there? Can’t we go to Nevada?”

“Stop talking about Nevada!”

“There’s a Light office in Las Vegas. Didn’t Ember go there? Ember knows us!”

“Ember isn’t in the Light anymore. Why would she help us? She’s bad news. You’re going to Seattle. I’ll call Harry and explain.”

Joy dragged her to a payphone, one of several in a row on the wall and covered in a bewildering array of stickers and numbers. She smoothed out the piece of paper on the metal shelf, lifted the receiver, and pushed coins into the slot.

“Read the number to me,” Joy said, her hand shaking as she looked over her shoulder like she still expected someone to recognize them.

Wynter peered at the list. There were at least two dozen names, all of them similar but with different initials, like Joy had printed off an entire screen of search results. Fair, Fairn, Farn, Fearn, Fern, Furne…

“Which one?” Wynter said.

“H Fairn, near the top.”

She read off the number and Joy dialed. After five rings, someone answered. Wynter could just make out the male voice on the other end of the line—a mumbled query followed by a harsh, confused bark.

Joy hung up, looking more lost than ever. “We can’t… we can’t go there. That’s not a good place.”

“But you didn’t even ask if he remembers you!”

“There’s something wrong with him.” Joy staggered back to a seat, arms wrapped around herself. “Miriam was right. She’s always right about everything.”

Wynter watched Joy fold up in despair. She understood that feeling because Joy had just made her feel it, too, by raising her hopes for a reunion, making her believe Miriam wanted her when Miriam hadn’t even left Thailand and knew nothing about their trip to the west coast in the middle of the night.

Wynter looked at the list again. “Who’s C Fairn?” She pointed to the name above Harry’s, the only other Fairn on the list.

“Never mind. I made a mistake. I should’ve known. Two fares to Seattle was more than we could afford—the universe couldn’t have been clearer. I shouldn’t have bought those tickets in Tucson.”

Wynter clutched the ticket to her chest.

“We have to go home. I’m so sorry. I made a mistake.” Joy started to cry. “Give it to me. Maybe they’ll let me exchange it for two tickets back to Tucson.”

Wynter stepped back sharply as Joy reached for the ticket. “Who’s C Fairn?”

Joy pressed her face into her hands for a moment. “It must be Caleb, Harry and Miriam’s son.”

“You have a brother? Will he remember you?”

“I suppose so. He was nine when I left.”

“Call him!”

Joy looked over at the phone as though she was afraid of it. “What if he says no?” she whispered.

Then they truly had nowhere to go but back to the ashram. And they were not allowed to leave the ashram without permission. Joy would pay with extra shifts in the laundry and lengthy Reflections sessions, with people screaming at her until she broke. Wynter would pay in a different way. Cold terror knotted her stomach.

She stared at the ticket in her hand. Neat lines of print swam before her eyes. “The universe wants me to go to Seattle. I’m sure of it. I have a ticket and an address. I have everything I need. I’m going to Seattle. Caleb will help me.”

No one on the outside will help us!”

“Someone flashed their lights to tell us to switch on our headlights. The very first person we saw on the outside, and they helped us. Caleb will help.” Wynter was going to Seattle, whether Caleb wanted her or not. She was not going back to the ashram. She was going to travel more highways and eat those snacks and find Xay.

Joy blinked at her surroundings, searching for something.

Looking for a sign from the universe.

Wynter looked around, too. Colors, lights, words and numbers were everywhere. Roped-off lanes led to the bay doors, each marked with a big white letter on a stand.

“Look! It says here I’m supposed to board with Group C.” She thrust her ticket under Joy’s nose and pointed excitedly at the lanes. “C for Caleb! Even the door has a white C on it.” Her sister tended to ascribe significance to anything white.

“Oh, Wynter, the universe doesn’t speak to you.” Joy spoke with pity rather than spite. She was right, though. Wynter had never heard the universe speak and until this moment had never pretended otherwise.

“Out here, I think I can hear the universe properly for the first time,” Wynter said, panic rising because they only had minutes until the bus to Seattle departed. “You said I didn’t belong in the Light. Maybe that’s because I’m meant to be here, in darkness, where the universe can get through to me.”

Joy was listening, but she didn’t look convinced.

Wynter couldn’t resist making more connections. “That big white A on the mountain—I showed it to you. Doesn’t A mean the start of something?” She injected uncertainty into her voice, enough to motivate Joy to elaborate.

“Alpha—a new beginning,” Joy murmured.

“The starting point of my journey, labeled for me. And then… and then… We stopped in Blythe, and it made me think of the poem about Sunday’s Child—that’s me! A on the mountain, B for Blythe…” Her words tumbled out. “It’s the universe mapping out my path. And now C, the next step on my path. C for Caleb.”

Joy was looking at her very oddly. Wynter couldn’t tell if she was getting through.

“Don’t take me back,” she pleaded. “I’m supposed to go to Seattle.”

Joy came to her decision. “You’ll always walk in darkness, and I’ve accepted that even if Miriam never could. Yes, you belong out here.”

Wynter gasped with relief.

Joy bought her a sandwich and stuffed a few bills into the paper bag the food had come in. She tore a strip off the top of the piece of paper, the part with Caleb’s details, and gave it to Wynter.

“You’ll go to Seattle and take a taxi to that address in Columbia City. You’ll tell Caleb who you are. Tell him your name is Wynter Wild.”

Wild?

“Is that my name?”

“That was Miriam’s second name before she came into the Light. You’ll tell Caleb your name, and mine. Only him, understand? Listen carefully to me.” Joy’s voice hardened as Wynter’s attention waned from tiredness and overload. “Don’t talk to anyone else. Stay away from the cops. Stay away from Social Services. Don’t you go into the house until you’re sure it’s him. Ask his name to be sure. Caleb Henry Fairn. He has dark hair and blue eyes, like me. Don’t trust anyone else.”

Wynter nodded, filing away each piece of information. Excitement mingled with terror, making the blood pound in her head. She could so easily get lost in this new world. Joy was her only guide, and Joy was staying behind.

“What about you? Are you going back to the Light?”

“I’ll follow when I get more money. I promise. I’ll be right there to help you, darling, like I’ve always been.” She hugged Wynter. “Sometimes I’m not sure of the best way to help. This time, I believe the universe wants me to listen to you. I can’t think here, in this dark place.”

Wynter didn’t feel like Joy had always been there to help her. They hardly ever saw each other at the ashram. There were plenty of times she wished Joy had helped, but no one had.

“Remember everything I told you on the bus. You don’t belong in the Light, but if you behave yourself you’ll fit into this world. You have to be no trouble for Caleb, understand? No trouble at all.”

She sent Wynter toward Bay C. Wynter handed her ticket to the driver, a garrulous older woman who was too busy talking to the family ahead of her to take any notice of Wynter. Perhaps she thought Wynter belonged with them. Wynter went straight to the back of the bus so the driver wouldn’t talk to her.

Exhaustion took over, yet she still couldn’t sleep. Lulled by the rocking of the bus, hypnotized by the shapes of the hills and the bright green trees, she let her mind fall blank. She travelled north through the night and at each stop the air grew colder. The bus was blessedly warm.

By Thursday morning, more than a day after leaving Tucson, the bus crossed into Oregon. A few hours later it departed the station in Portland and started on the last leg to Seattle. To Caleb.

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