Before Friday’s last class, Wynter found Hunter waiting outside her homeroom.
“Yes, you’re in,” she said before he had time to speak.
“For sure? Huh.”
“You’re a good player.”
He drew himself up. “Thanks.”
He followed her to her locker as she talked. “It’s gonna be hard work. Every Wednesday for two hours after school, and as many lunch breaks as you can manage.”
“Sure. I have a couple of microphones, by the way. And I broke up with Sarah.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all good. She was getting clingy and she likes Billy Ray Cyrus, so… Anyway, you won’t have to worry about girlfriends at rehearsal.”
“Good to hear.” Wynter reached around him to open her locker.
“Ethan told me he’s coming over to your house this weekend.”
“For a bass guitar masterclass with my brother.”
“Can I listen in?”
“No, you’ll make Ethan self-conscious. He’s already too shy to sing properly for me.”
“We can go in another room and practice. I’ll bring my Orange Tiny Terror. Got it for two hundred bucks on eBay. Made my mom buy it for me, for Christmas.”
“I guess it’d be okay if you guys came along, too. I’ll ask Ms Driscoll if we can take home the drum kit for the weekend. My brother’s picking me up from school today, so we can put it in his truck.”
“Arthur can’t make it. He told me already. So it’s you and me. Just us. To work on the guitar parts. I got driver ed in the morning so I’ll come over after that.”
“Is that true, about Arthur?” she asked dubiously.
“He said he had a family thing on. I think that’s what he said. He could hardly squeak out a word. I only talked to him in the first place to find out how your, uh, decision was going.”
“I’ll ask him myself,” Wynter said firmly.
“Are you gonna be like this all the time?”
“It’s my band.”
“Can we call ourselves Tweeze?”
“No, we’re the Clockwork Toys.”
“How about Funky Fungus?”
“Fungus Funk? How come you get to choose our name?”
“It’s. My. Band.”
Hunter gave in. He walked off, saying to no one in particular, “Clockwork Toys. I don’t hate it. Makes me think of robots, and robots are cool.”
Wynter took out her phone to ask Indio what an Orange Tiny Terror was. She tapped out her message, then looked up to see Keira and Sharmila approaching. Her heart dropped. Stacey was off sick today but had been less than friendly all week because Wynter had been spending too much time with her fledgling band. Keira and Sharmila were unlikely to be any more forgiving.
“Is that guy at the front office your brother?” Keira said, chewing forbidden gum.
“I don’t know. What guy?”
“We walked past just now and heard someone call him Caleb. That’s his name, right?”
It probably was Caleb. He’d planned to show up at school early and take a look around.
Sharmila said, “Dark hair, blue eyes? Six foot something? Like, very, very hot?”
Wynter remembered Jesse’s advice, and said, “His girlfriend thinks he’s hot.”
“How old is he?”
“That’s a good age,” Keira said. “Mature, but not dad-like. I like older guys. I told you that, yeah? Does he work out?” Her jaw worked the gum with uncharacteristic vigor. “Cuz he looks like he works out.”
“He teaches karate and swims before or after work a few times a week. And he lifts weights in the garage.”
“OMG,” Sharmila said excitedly, “he has muscles under that shirt. I knew it,”
Wynter thought they were being ridiculous. It wasn’t like either of them was going to get a date with Caleb. Why were they ogling him like they had a chance?
“I’m gonna go over there and talk to him,” Keira drawled. “I’ll pretend I need to fill out a form or something.”
“You can’t do that,” Sharmila said. “We have Spanish.”
Keira shrugged and walked off.
“He hates gum!” Wynter called after her. She knew Caleb hated gum because he’d pulled a face at a disgusting joke Jesse told about gum and kissing. Not that Keira and Caleb would be kissing. Still, she saw Keira take out the gum and stick it on someone’s locker as she went past.
“Ugh, gross. She’s so gross. So, what’s his type? Sultry Asian beauty?” Sharmila giggled, coiffing her long dark hair and batting her eyelashes. She was quite striking.
“I guess I don’t know his type. Didn’t Stacey tell you she already met him?”
“She didn’t mention him at all. She’s madly in love with Jesse, though. Are you in Hunter’s band? That’s pretty cool.”
“It’s my band. My band. My name. My music choices.”
Sharmila’s eyes widened, genuinely impressed. “Really? Girl power! Stacey’s annoyed you never eat lunch with us anymore.”
“I’m sorry about that. The band is important to me.”
Wynter headed off to her last class, concerned about Keira waylaying Caleb at the office. Should she intervene? Surely Caleb would ignore a fourteen-year-old girl flirting with him. It felt strange, sitting in Tech knowing he was in the building. He didn’t belong here. She wondered what he thought of the school—it was a good school, supposedly, and he believed education was important. She’d rather be two hundred miles west, living in his house in Columbia City, attending the local junior high and doing her homework at the dining room table with Jesse.
At the final bell she went to the office, where Caleb had said he’d meet her. Caleb wasn’t there, but Keira was.
“Have you been here this whole time?” Wynter said.
“No, stupid. I checked in before Spanish, and now I’m returning my form.” She waved a sheet of paper under Wynter’s nose. “So, where’d he go?”
The woman behind the office counter held out her hand to Keira. “I’ll take that, if you’ve finished?”
“I have some questions. Do you have time?” Keira said sweetly,
Keira and the woman bent their heads over the form. Keira had a question about every single part of it, biding her time.
Principal Orlev’s office door opened and Caleb walked out. Wynter hadn’t realized he had an appointment to see the principal. Principal Orlev said a few words to Caleb in the doorway and handed him a clipboard. Seeing Wynter, Caleb came over and gave her a quick hug.
“Hey, hun. How was your day?”
“Why were you in there?”
“Just having a chat.” Caleb noticed Keira. “Oh, you’re back.”
Keira looked up, very coolly, and gave a little shrug that came off more like a sexy roll of her shoulders. Wynter wondered what she’d said or done earlier to make Caleb remember her an hour later.
Then Sharmila and two more girls showed up to stare, and Wynter was keen to get away as fast as possible.
“I have to fill this out.” Caleb indicated the clipboard.
“Myra can help,” Keira said, pointing to the office woman with her. She was being a horrible show-off. “She’s very helpful.”
Caleb smiled to acknowledge them both, but that was all. Wynter followed him to a couple of waiting chairs with a table between them, in the corner. The other girls found reasons to hang around, sneaking looks and giggling.
“Why are they doing that?” Wynter muttered.
“Ignore them.” Caleb tapped the form. “This is to make me one of your emergency contacts. This other form is authorization to have your school test results and reports sent to me. Right now, they only go to Rosa. I have to get it stamped here, and then Rosa has to sign it, and you can bring it back. Then they’ll give me a log-in for the website.”
“I can tell you my results.”
“I know, but this makes it official. Rachel’s very supportive of me being more involved.”
“She told you to call her Rachel? I’ve never heard anyone call her Rachel.”
He grinned and rested the clipboard on the table to write.
Wynter considered her brother for a moment, trying to see him as those girls did, or perhaps as Principal Orlev did. His height and confidence made him pretty imposing, even just sitting here filling out a form. His five o’clock shadow balanced his dark serious brow, and he wore a casual blue shirt, sleeves rolled up untidily to the elbow, the color turning his eyes even bluer than usual.
He glanced up, raising an eyebrow at her scrutiny.
“The way you did that,” she said thoughtfully, pushing up her own eyebrow with a finger, to demonstrate, “to be honest, it does makes you look kinda mysterious and deep.”
“Hmm,” he grunted, and returned his attention to the form.
“Maybe she likes you. She’s about fifty—”
She stopped because one of the girls was standing right there.
Wynter held her breath. Caleb looked over his shoulder at the girl.
“Hi, I’m Mikaela. I’m in Wynter’s French class. She mentioned you teach karate?”
“I got my purple belt at the last grading.”
Caleb swiveled to give her his full attention, which was nice of him given he must suspect she had an ulterior motive for engaging him. “Well done, Mikaela.”
“I’m having a little trouble with my kumite.” Mikaela looked nervous, like someone had put her up to this. “Any chance you can help me?”
“Sure. You can book a lesson at my dojo and we’ll practice your sparring. Wynter can give you the details.”
Mikaela chewed her lip. “But isn’t that in Seattle?”
“Yes. Wynter, didn’t you drop French?”
Wynter said, “Yes.”
Mikaela hopped from one foot to the other, uncertain how to extract herself. Wynter wasn’t sure which was worse—Stacey’s fawning helplessness around Jesse, or this nervous giggling and staring around Caleb.
Behind Mikaela, she saw a familiar face.
“Arthur!” She beckoned him over. Mikaela scurried back to the girls, and Arthur gave them a confused look as he let Wynter grab his arm. “Caleb, you have to meet my drummer. Arthur, this is my brother. Caleb’s giving Ethan a masterclass on the bass guitar tomorrow.”
Caleb gave Arthur a proper smile, instead of the tolerant half-smiles for the girls, and they shook hands. He didn’t stand, which was probably a good thing because Arthur was very small and timid.
“Nice to meet you, Arthur. Wynter speaks highly of you. Can’t wait to see you guys up on stage when it all comes together.”
Arthur looked pleased. “I wish I could come tomorrow, but I have to go to my cousin’s wedding.”
“Another time, then.” Caleb turned to Wynter. “You should ask him over when Jesse’s here and they can talk drumming.”
“Oh, I’d love to! Guess what, Wynter—I told my parents about the band and they’re sort of okay with it. I wasn’t completely honest about the kind of music we’re playing. They have no idea about modern music.”
“Once they hear us play, they’ll be on board,” Wynter said.
“Hope so. Gotta go—I have to pick up a receipt from the office or my mom’ll kill me.” He scampered off.
Wynter sat down. “Isn’t he sweet? It’s not like playing with Jesse, but it’s good enough.”
“Good enough is fine in junior high,” Caleb said. “A band is about more than making music. Getting four people together in the same room at the same time, week after week, that’s a tough ask. Agreeing on the music, keeping egos in check, that’s all part of it. This is terrific experience for you. Too bad it doesn’t count for credit.”
“You need to talk to Ms Driscoll, the music teacher. She’s the one letting us do this. Use your hotness to make her give us credit.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“She’s about your age and very cute.”
That eyebrow quirked again. “Oh, then I’ll definitely think about it.”