Little Sister Song (Wynter Wild #1)

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New and Improved Version

On Saturday morning, Rosa drove Wynter to Pasco for the 8 o’clock bus. Caleb had emailed her a ticket to print off and in her school bag was her homework and a change of clothes. Nothing else, because everything she needed was at Caleb’s house—her family, a roomful of guitars, and that small safe bedroom with the gray quilt on the bed.

Joy was going to be there, and Indio was riding his motorcycle up from Portland to arrive around lunch time like her. He could only stay a few hours because he had a gig later. That was okay. It would be the five of them, all together for the first time.

Wynter snapped a photo of her bus before she boarded and texted it to Joy, to show she was on her way. Joy rarely responded to written messages, but a photo sometimes prompted a smiley face. That single emoji couldn’t compete with Indio’s little cartoons, which he drew just for her, or with Jesse’s patient, sometimes hilarious responses when she asked her endless questions, or with Caleb’s encouraging words over the phone when she told him about a difficult evening with Rosa. Still, it kept her connected to her sister.

The trip was over four hours, with several stops. Wynter hadn’t slept much the night before and she refused to sleep on the bus. She’d trained herself to stay awake and to ignore a rumbling stomach—necessary survival skills in the Light, and today the anticipation made it easy.

Caleb picked her up at the station.

“Jesse’s got a few things to do downtown, and then he’s fetching Joy.” He put her bag on the back seat of the truck and they got in. “Indio can’t make it, hun.”

Wynter’s heart lurched. Not so much because of the news, but because of the way he said it.

“Why not?”

“He texted Jesse half an hour ago. Something came up.”

“What does that mean?”

Caleb started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot. His face was set hard, making him look angry even while his voice was calm and his smile in greeting had been real. “He has very busy weekends—gigs, school work. I’m really sorry.”

“Is he sorry?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Is it because you were mad at him over those sanctions at Ohio?”

“How… Did Jesse tell you about that?”

“He also said you and Indio weren’t talking to each other again.”

“Regardless of any problems me and Indio are having, that’s no reason for him not to see you.”

They stopped at the grocery store to buy what Caleb called “fixin’s for lunch.” Wynter couldn’t stop thinking about Indio being too busy for her. He hadn’t even sent her a message about it.

At home she unpacked her bag into Indio’s closet even though she didn’t have much. They organized the food and waited for Joy and Jesse.

Jesse pulled up in front of the Light’s downtown office. He must’ve passed this building a hundred times, paying no attention because it looked like a New Age bookstore. The lettering said Healing Center and there were no signs or logos to associate it with the Light. Since Wynter had shown up, his research had revealed the chapter offices across the country were essentially recruiting places for the various retreats and courses run by the Light. You’d never know that if you walked in off the street.

The building was set back from the street, squashed between a nail salon and a small general store boasting Chinese herbs and cheap international phone cards. The two off-street parking spaces in front were taken so he parked crosswise behind both cars. He’d only be here a minute. A poster in the window advertised yoga classes on site, and another offered personalized spiritual healing therapy.

Pushing open the door, Jesse was assaulted by the stench of incense. A young man behind the counter, sporting terrible acne and a weird earring, watched him anxiously.

“I’m sorry, you can’t park there.”

“Is Joy here?”

“Would you mind moving your car, please?”

“Would you mind fetching Joy, please?”

Jesse was enjoying the guy’s discomfort at having to deal with a belligerent member of the public. Growing up, he’d never given the Light a second thought even though he knew Joy and his mother were with them in Arizona. Since meeting Wynter he’d decided he hated every person and their dog who’d ever associated with the Light. Spotty here wasn’t impressing him with his parking rules and regulations.

Jesse did feel sorry for him, though. Evidently the Light didn’t pay well enough for him to buy Clearasil. Or maybe he just wasted all his pay on their stupid courses and crystals.

Spotty’s lips tightened and he went out the back. Jesse dug his fingers into a glass bowl of tumbled stones on the counter. The slippery-smooth sensation was almost enough to soothe his soul. “Lucky” aventurine, when taped to his cell phone, would protect him against toxic emanations according to the card next to the bowl. The blue quartz would vibrate his number four chakra. Astrophyllite—he liked the sound of that one—would help with astral travels. Cool. He considered stealing one while he had the chance, just to deprive the Light of $2.95. His first ever shoplifting effort. The stones really were nice. The explanatory card, on the other hand, turned his stomach. He’d started hating the Light sixteen days ago but he’d hated this sort of crap all his life.

Spotty returned and took his seat behind the counter. “She’ll be out in a minute. You’re her brother, are you?”

Jesse nodded, letting the stones run through his fingers. “These are fascinating. What does this one do?” At random, he picked out a bright orange stone.

“That’s carnelian. It enhances creativity and helps you recall past lives, rejuvenates your cells and aids with pollen allergies.” The man spoke earnestly, hopeful Jesse was seriously interested.

“Bit of an all-rounder, this carnelian,” Jesse said.

“One of my favorites. It’ll help you manifest your desires.”

“Awesome. So, it’ll get me laid?”

Before the guy could stammer an answer, the bead curtain behind the counter parted and a young woman emerged. She scanned the store, taking no notice of Jesse.

“Hey, Joy,” Jesse said.

Joy looked at him, surprised. “Jesse?”

“I went to your place in Magnolia and your friend said you were here.”

“Yes, here I am.”

She offered no explanation for the change in pick-up arrangements. She came around the counter and they stood awkwardly for a moment. Then they both went in for a quick hug. She looked as fragile as Wynter, but tall and with his and Caleb’s coloring.

“I was expecting Caleb,” she said.

“I’m the new and improved version. Come on.”

Joy didn’t move. “He’s not with you?”

“He went to pick up Wynter from the bus station. They’ll be home by now. Let’s go.”

She shifted uncomfortably. “I was hoping he’d bring Wynter here for the visit. I have a session scheduled this afternoon.”

Jesse couldn’t believe his ears. “A session of what?”

“A healing and counseling session. They’ve been very kind to slot me in.”

He tried hard not to sneer and wasn’t sure he succeeded. “Some people would say spending time with family is like a healing and counseling session.”

“That’s very sweet, Jesse. I’m sure you’re right. It’s so lovely to see you again. Look at you—you must be six feet tall. I suppose you don’t remember me at all.”

“No, sorry. Are we going, then?”

Still she hesitated. Jesse thought about what Caleb would do. Well, Caleb had failed to keep her in the house that day she showed up two weeks ago. Maybe he’d have failed here, too. Jesse was determined not to fail. He’d do everything humanly possible to get Joy in the car, and if it didn’t work out it would be her fault and her loss.

“Let me fetch my purse.” Joy faded away through the bead curtain.

Jesse glared after her, psyching himself up to go on back there and drag her out by the hair if she didn’t return very quickly.

“Where were we?” Jesse said pleasantly, picking out another stone. “This is rose quartz, right? The love stone. Will this put my girlfriend in the mood?”

He got a terse smile and silence from Spotty in response. Jesse roamed the store, casually picking up and putting down candles and CDs and boxes of incense, trying to look like he was about to pocket something just to fuck with poor Spotty.

After five minutes he wheeled on his heel and marched through the bead curtain.

Yeah, this is what Caleb would do.

He found himself in a musty corridor with two doors. The first was open—an office with a computer and filing cabinets and not much else. The second door was locked. He walked around the corner.

“Excuse me! Excuse me!” Spotty called after him.

Jesse went through the door at the end of the corridor into a larger room with cushions scattered on the floor and posters all over the walls. Two people sat on cushions in the corner, talking quietly.

“Joy!” Jesse yelled, startling them both. “Where’s Joy?”

One of them stood up, an older man who looked like a Jedi master with his ponytail and neat beard and pale baggy clothes. “Can I help you?”

“I’m here to pick up Joy. She has a family engagement.”

“And you are…?”

“…here to pick up Joy!” Jesse was not leaving this place without her. He was not coming home to Wynter without her, not after Indio fucked himself up, too fucking wasted to ride.

A door on the far side opened and Joy slipped into the room, fiddling with her purse.

“I’m here, Jesse. I’m coming,” she said quietly.

She scurried across the room and followed him out of the store. It was freezing cold outside and she had no coat.

In the car, he half expected her to scold him for making a scene. She was almost four years older than him, after all, and he’d been a bit of a dick. But she sat meekly, clutching her purse, saying nothing. He had to remind her to fasten her seatbelt. He drove through the lunchtime traffic on Rainier Avenue, wondering how to put it right.

“Look, I’m sorry. I thought you backed out. You can’t back out. Wynter’s counting on you.”

“Of course. I understand. I was just fetching my purse and speaking with my healer before I left.”

“Okay. Okay.” Jesse drew some deep breaths. “Did you change that session thing? Wynter’s staying the night. It would be great if you could stay the night.”

He glanced at her, pressed against the car door to make herself small. If Wynter had been hit or hurt in the Light, it made sense Joy had been, too. She’d lived with them since she was six years old. Jesse should be gentle and patient. Trouble was, he was too angry at her for failing to be what Wynter needed right now.

When she didn’t answer, he said, “One of the venues I play at, they have a notice up for a waitressing job. Five or six nights a week. You could do that, couldn’t you? The boss is a great guy and he really likes me. I put in a good word. I bet you could get the job.”

“That’s kind of you. Why don’t you text me the details. Five nights a week, though… I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”

“Anything will help, right? Once you have a job, we can get Wynter away from that awful woman.”

“What awful woman?”

“Her foster mother! She’s awful. She doesn’t understand Wynter at all.”

“Wynter is a little hard for anyone to understand.”

What was wrong with this girl?

“What’re you talking about? I understand her. I’m gonna teach her everything. Caleb understands what she needs and Indio connected with her over music. Everything will work out once the court gives her to you.”

Joy was staring out the side window, at the frigid gray sky that refused to deliver snow. She must’ve been thinking along the same lines because she said, “I remember the snow in Montana. That last Christmas, Mom took us to Harry’s parents in Anaconda. Harry was only around for a day or two, but we stayed for two weeks. It snowed every single day. Mom taught us how to cut paper snowflakes. Well, not you. You were too little for scissors. Indio made the best snowflakes. Will he be there today?”

“Nope.” Jesse didn’t elaborate and Joy didn’t ask, which was odd.

She said, “Do you remember that house?”

“Of course. We lived there for six years after… after Miriam… you know… After she left us there with Harry and took you to Arizona.”

“I loved that house. Ever since you were a baby, Miriam used to take you there to stay with Grandma and Grandpa for days at a time while she worked. You loved it. You loved the snow, too. That Christmas Day you took off all your clothes and tunneled naked through the drifts up against the house, laughing the whole time as you turned blue.”

“That doesn’t sound like me. It sounds completely irrational.”

“You were two-and-a-half.”

“Yeah, but I was born rational, so…”

“Never mind. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.”

“No, no, that’s okay. I was joking.”

Sort of joking. He was fairly sure he had been rational, even at that age, but he felt bad for making her feel bad. Or maybe she was deliberately taking offense just to shut down the conversation. He drove on in silence, not wanting to make things worse. So far, he wasn’t as impressed with the older sister as with the younger. Didn’t matter. What mattered was that she take responsibility for Wynter. He didn’t need to forge a relationship with her if she wasn’t willing. He didn’t remember his mother and he didn’t remember her.

He wasn’t even sure she deserved to be immortalized as a Lego minifigure.

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