Little Sister Song (Wynter Wild #1)

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Someone New

Caleb showed Wynter the bathroom and she stared at the tub—at the two sets of faucets and a shower head, a rail, a curtain, bottles and towels and a mat on the floor. Her vision blurred. It was all very confusing and she didn’t want to do anything wrong.

“I don’t know how to use that,” she said.

“Nothing to it.” Caleb twisted in the plug, turned on the water, checked the temperature, and squeezed something from a bottle that foamed the water. “That one over there is shampoo. For your hair.”

“I know what shampoo is.” She fingered her hair self-consciously, knowing it was filthy despite Joy’s best efforts earlier. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d used shampoo.

Caleb fetched a folded gray towel from the cupboard in the corner, along with a new toothbrush and a face cloth. “Put that robe on when you’re done. I’ll find some PJs. You want to take off your bracelet first?”

Wynter touched the braided bracelet on her left wrist. “No, I never take it off.”

When he was gone, she undressed and sank into the water, cocooned in heat and steam. Everything was so shiny—the blue patterned tiles, the white basin, the silver faucets. How could she ever make herself clean enough to live here?

The water rose higher. Caleb’s footsteps approached on the other side of the door, which was slightly ajar.

He rapped on the door and called, “Turn the water off, hun. You’re gonna overflow the tub.”

She sat up in alarm, sloshing a great wave of water and suds over the edge. She reached for the faucets. One was stiff. She tried the other, turning it the wrong way so the water gushed even faster.

“Help me…?” she cried, though she was mortified about making a mess. Everything in Caleb’s house that she’d so far seen was meticulously tidy. Everything except Jesse’s work on the table.

Caleb came in and turned off the faucets. The water level was only an inch below the top of the tub.

“We have pressure showers at the ashram,” she said, feeling the need to explain her mistake, though he didn’t look angry.

“I’ve used those, when I’m camping.”

He frowned, glancing at her shoulders as she hunched over in the water, the bubbles keeping her decent. She rubbed her shoulder, wondering what was wrong.

Caleb drew the shower curtain across the tub and spoke from behind it, moving toward the door. “When you’re done, you can eat more if you’re still hungry. I’ve made up the bed in Indio’s room, just opposite. You can sleep there.”

“India?”

Indio. Our brother—Joy’s twin. You didn’t know she had a twin?”

She poked her head around the curtain. “How many more of you are there?”

He grinned. In a burst of emotion, she felt she would do anything, whatever it took, to make him smile like that every day from this moment on.

“Just the three of us. Indio’s at Portland State, a couple hours from here.”

“Oh! My bus stopped in Portland. It’s not a state.”

He gave a little chuckle, but not making fun of her like Jesse had. “Portland State is a university. Jesse’s in college, too, just down the road. He’s packed his schedule, hoping to graduate in three years.”

“So, he’s smart?”

“Very smart. He’ll tell you so. Indio… he has your hair color, or a bit lighter, and hazel eyes like you.”

No one had ever described her eyes as hazel before. She didn’t know if it was a color or a shape or something else.

“Can I go to a real school?”

“Didn’t you go to school at the ashram?”

“We had a classroom. I don’t think it was much like a real school.” Xay had mentioned school in Australia—not very often because he’d hated it.

Caleb looked troubled for a moment. “Wynter, you’re only fourteen. When Joy comes, there will be legal stuff we have to sort out. But everything will be okay.”

He left and she finished her bath. She brushed her teeth and combed out her damp hair with her fingers. It was certainly clean now, but more matted than before she washed it and she gave up trying to smooth it out. Her face in the mirror looked different already—flushed and soft from the steam. Her eyes shone like the tiles. She didn’t look like herself. And that was fine. In this new world, she would be someone new. The dark pieces were left behind.

As for Xay—he wasn’t a dark piece. She wanted to find him, but how? He and his mother had most likely returned to Australia. He’d always talked about living near the beach again. He’d explained to her how time in Australia was upside-down and back-to-front, which meant it was daytime right now, and summer. He was surfing.

Across the hall, the door to Indio’s room was open. She went in to find a t-shirt and pajama pants on the bed, folded neatly on the dark gray quilt. They smelled of unfamiliar soap, like the towel and robe. Everything was too big. She rolled up the ankle cuffs and pulled the drawstring tight to hold the pants up. The bedroom was small with just a bed, a low bookcase, and a desk. Inside the built-in closet was a chest of drawers. A few clothes remained on the rack. Caleb and Jesse were real to her now, but Indio was nebulous. And Joy was from another world altogether.

Exhausted, she lay on the bed, intending to rest for a moment before going out to ask for more food. She’d never slept in such a tiny room, at least not one with a bed. At the ashram the living spaces were large and open, to let the Light in. There were small dark rooms there, too, and they were invariably bad places. This room didn’t feel like a bad place. When she pressed her face into the pillow, it even smelled right. This room reminded her of the shed in the corner of the compound—her sanctuary, the one place she was always welcome.


She awoke to the feel of a hand on her shoulder.

“Joy?”

“It’s me.” Caleb. “Get back into bed. You’ll get cold.”

It took a moment to get her bearings. She was on the floor in the corner of the room, wedged between the end of the bed and the closet doors, tangled up in blankets and pillows. She remembered crawling out of bed and making a nest. She couldn’t remember why she’d done it.

Caleb helped her replace the bedding and she got back into bed. He covered her up and hunkered down. “Just got back from the bus station. Joy wasn’t on the evening bus, so we’ll try again with the next one.”

“How many buses are there?”

“Four every day. So she has lots of chances to catch one.” He brushed strands of hair off her face and said, softly, “I didn’t even know you existed.”

She took his hand in both of hers and held it close, tucked under her chin. “I didn’t know about you, either. Once, when I was sick, Joy told me stories about when she was a little girl, in a house with a patio in Montana, and about piggyback rides in the backyard. She never said your name. She never told me she had three brothers.”

“I used to give her piggyback rides. She always asked me, not Indio, because I was faster than him. I could tell you so many stories. I remember us getting into trouble for jumping on her bed until the slats cracked. We were pretending we were on the moon.”

“She told me about a boy who fell out of a tree and broke his arm, fetching down her doll. Was that you?”

“Yup. Did she tell you why the doll was in the tree in the first place? I was teasing her and threw it up there, and it got stuck.”

“Did you get into trouble for that, too?”

“Miriam was more concerned about my broken arm.”

“What did they do to you after you cracked the bed slats?”

“I don’t remember. Probably got sent outside to rake leaves. No candy for a month. Something like that.”

In the half-light she watched his expression turn serious. She realized she was clutching his hand too tightly. He lay his free hand on her shoulder.

“You’re trembling.” His eyes narrowed. “Wynter, did they hurt you?”

A shiver ran through her. She had to be careful or everything would go wrong. She understood now why Joy had told her not to talk about her life in the Light. If she told Caleb how badly behaved she was, and the way they punished her, he might think she was too much trouble to keep.

No, she belonged here.

Caleb accepted her silence. He extracted his hand from hers.

“Go to sleep. We’ll figure it out.”

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