Wynter had no phone or computer at home, but she could still log on to the homework forum in the school library. On Tuesday she told Felicity about moving to Thailand in a few weeks to live with her mother. In writing the words, she managed to make herself excited about it again. She hoped Felicity would be excited, too—Felicity had been reunited with her own family after several years in foster care, so she’d surely understand this nervous hope Wynter was feeling.
On Wednesday Wynter wrote again, with links to photos of the beautiful scenery of Ko Samui.
> It looks like a place where nothing bad could happen, she wrote, as if the act of forming the words could make them true.
By Thursday there was still no response from Felicity although she was active on the forum itself, commenting to other kids about Rihanna’s latest album and the best lip gloss flavors and her Ragdoll cats. She hadn’t mentioned cats before, but there she was on the Pets forum posting cute photos of Dollie and Smooch. Wynter couldn’t help feeling disappointed at being ignored. They could’ve stayed friends after she moved to another country. Had Felicity even asked her uncle about finding Xay and Roman?
It didn’t matter. Soon she’d be in paradise with Momma. Joy would be happy, filled with the Light. Wynter might have a harder time with the Light but she’d give it a shot. She’d have to forget a lot of what Jesse had taught her, but Jesse wouldn’t be there to scowl at her for being illogical.
She looked at the pictures again. So much easier to think about everything she hoped to gain instead of everything she was about to lose. No one at school would miss her and Rosa would probably be glad to get rid of her. Her brothers would return to the lives they’d had before, where they didn’t even know she existed.
Rosa handed back her phone on Friday morning so she’d have it this evening when she went out with Stacey’s group. Jesse had sent her a dozen messages during the week, knowing she wouldn’t see them at the time. She read them on the way to school, smiling and then laughing at his jokes. On Tuesday he’d written he might come up on the weekend, although he didn’t mention it again. He could still send her messages when she was in Thailand, couldn’t he? Or would Miriam not let her have a cell phone? No one at the ashram had a cell phone, but Miriam lived at a meditation retreat that served the public and Wynter knew how attached people were to their phones. Perhaps she could stay in touch with her brothers after all. Would Miriam approve of that sex website? Of Dimiti Dime? Of rock music?
Joy had texted, too—she’d received the missing documents for the passports via Express mail from Thailand and was coming to Pasco today to lodge them in person rather than starting all over again in Seattle.
>> Let’s spend the afternoon together, Joy wrote. Rosa won’t mind, will she? We don’t have to sneak around this time.
> I’m seeing a movie with my friends after school. You could come with us!
To Wynter’s surprise, Joy agreed. She texted her the address of the theater. Then she called Jesse to confirm his visit on Saturday.
Jesse was walking to his first class of the day when Wynter called. All week he’d been agonizing over how to tell her about Indio’s arrest, knowing Caleb wouldn’t want her to worry about it and Indio would just keep it to himself if he could. Someone had to tell her. She was part of their family. But now he was actually talking to her, he found himself putting it off. Indio’s pre-trial hearing was Monday and his lawyer was confident. It made sense to wait until that was over before stressing her out over the whole thing.
She wanted to know what time he was coming up tomorrow, which reminded him he’d rashly promised to visit.
“I can’t come up. I’m sorry.”
“Did Rosa say you couldn’t?”
“No—although she probably would’ve because it’s not authorized. I’m spending Saturday with Natalie for Valentine’s.”
“What does that mean?”
“Valentine’s Day. The day for lovers. Not that Natalie and me… Well, I can hope, can’t I. It’s on Thursday, but I play a regular gig on Thursdays so we’re going out all day Saturday instead.”
“You could come over tonight. I’m seeing a movie with the girls from school.”
“Thought those girls weren’t talking to you.”
“They’ve been told to be nice to me, to include me so I don’t feel the need to make stuff up. My online friends are better.”
“What online friends?”
“I’ve been writing to kids on a homework forum. All kinds of interesting people. Please come? We’re seeing something called Star Wars 3D.”
“That’s the reissue of Phantom Menace from 1999. You have to wear funny glasses.”
“You’ll see why.”
“Why did they reissue an old movie? Am I supposed to know what Star Wars is? What is the Force?” She sounded a little desperate. “Stacey laughed at me when I didn’t understand what she was talking about.”
“Everyone under the age of sixty is expected to know the basics of Star Wars. I’ll go through it with you.”
“So, you’ll come?”
“I’m not driving over there for a movie. We won’t even be able to chat.”
“Joy’s going to be here!”
What on earth was Joy doing there? “That’s not the biggest incentive you can offer.”
“What does that mean?”
“We didn’t… you know, click.”
“She’s your sister.” Now she sounded truly peeved. “She’s more your sister than I am.”
“Don’t say that. It’s not true. It doesn’t feel true.”
“I want us all to go out together, all five of us, just one time.”
“One time? We’ll have loads of chances to do that.” He was itching to tell her about Caleb’s plans for custody, but Caleb had told him not to say anything until he’d sorted things out with his EO.
“We won’t have loads of chances, Jesse,” she said. “We won’t… I’m not…”
Her stammering set off an alarm in his head. He lingered outside the lecture room. “Why not? What’s going on?”
“We’re leaving. We’re going to Thailand. I’m not supposed to tell you. We went to get passports on Monday and we’re leaving when they come through.”
“Miriam wants us to live with her.”
“She doesn’t want you, Wyn. How can you think that?”
“How can you say that?”
“Because she left you five years ago without a word! She left us in the same way. Maybe she wants Joy, I don’t know. She doesn’t want you.”
“But we’re getting passports,” Wynter said indignantly.
“Tell her you don’t want to go.”
“I do want to go!”
“You belong here. I’ve only just started showing you… There’s so much…” He swallowed the lump in his throat. “Please don’t go back to the Light.”
“This is nothing to do with the Light. I don’t care about that. I want to be with Momma. Aren’t I allowed to want that?”
She sounded so plaintive, Jesse couldn’t bite back. Something was wrong, though. He knew something was wrong. Why would Miriam change her mind after all these years? Just because the ashram didn’t want Wynter, suddenly she did?
“Did I push you too hard?” he said. “Is that why you don’t want to stay?”
“I want to stay, Jesse. But I want to go.”
“I should’ve let you find your own interests and developed your own worldview. I know that. I’m sorry.”
“That doesn’t matter now. Star Wars doesn’t matter. Homework doesn’t matter. None of this matters anymore.”
“I can’t believe this is happening. I was gonna show you everything. Please don’t get brainwashed. Remember what I told you about scientific methodology, okay? Ubi dubium ibi libertas. Tattoo that on your brain. And the kids in Thailand know about Star Wars, by the way, so you still need a primer.”
“We can still talk on the phone, can’t we? You can still help me with homework. Or is that too expensive?”
“We could do video calls if they let you use the internet—essentially free.”
“Oh! Let’s do that!”
“But you’ll be half a day ahead, which means your evening will be, like, 5AM for me.”
“Oh.” After a long pause, she said, “Can you please be happy for me?”
“I’m not happy for me. And don’t ask me to keep it secret. I’m telling Caleb and Indio.”
“That’ll get me in trouble.”
“I’m telling them, Wyn. Why would you get in trouble? Miriam loves you so much, evidently. I’m sure she’ll forgive you.”
“She does love me. Joy said so.”
“Oh, okay, then. If Joy says so.” He regretted the sarcasm creeping into his tone. Maybe she wouldn’t notice, over the phone.
“I don’t ever want to hurt you,” she said quietly. “I wish she’d come and live here.”
“Then I’d have to visit her.”
“Don’t you want to see her?”
“No. If she didn’t want me at my three-year-old cutest, why would she want me now?”
“Maybe she just doesn’t like little kids. She and Joy got along well once Joy was grown up.”
“She might not like the grownup I’ve become. I mean I’ve tried, but…”
Jesse sagged against the wall. “Tried to live up to my potential. That’s the important thing, isn’t it? To reach your potential in life. I’ve tried to feed my brain only the good stuff. Tried to be the perfect son, so she can never say… never say…” His throat closed up.
“Never say it was your fault she left you?”
“You are perfect, Jesse.”
“Thanks,” he grumbled.
“You’re my only friend on the outside.”
“Then why are you…? No, it’s okay. You get your mother back. That’s a chance we never had.”
“Will you visit me in Thailand?”
“When I get my hands on fifteen hundred dollars or so. I’ll ask Indio for a loan.” He chuckled bitterly to himself. Indio had to find a fortune to sort out his own life first.
“Why are you making me feel bad about this?” Wynter said, her voice shaking. “She’s my mom and she wants me back. You don’t understand. You don’t even remember her.”
That cut so deep, Jesse could hardly draw breath to speak. Wynter wasn’t being deliberately hurtful, he knew that. And on a fundamental level she was right. She’d known a mother’s love, such as it was, and lost it, and now had the chance to regain it. He’d never felt the need for it. Never. Never needed Harry, either. His brothers loved him. Pretty much everyone he’d ever met loved him, from the kind ladies on the street back in Anaconda who’d give him home-baked treats if he hung around their yard, to his friends at college he could laugh with, to the girls sexting him in the hope of being his next project. That had always been enough.
“No, I don’t understand.”