Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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Opportunity

An unofficial house rule was that you didn’t go into your brother’s bedroom when he had a girl in there, but Jesse was in a hurry. He rapped on Caleb’s door at six in the morning, and kept rapping until he heard the groan of someone reluctantly waking up. He went in. Caleb struggled to sit up in bed, scuffing his scalp with his fingers to rouse himself. Bea stretched out beside him, still half asleep.

Caleb glanced at the alarm clock. “The house better be on fire.”

“I need that old suitcase.” Jesse opened the closet. “I’m taking a ton of books to Wynter. She’s almost through the books I made her buy. Need more. We’re doing two solid days of study. She’ll be caught up with math in two months, and then I’ll get her started on the high school syllabus. She needs to test out of ninth grade by September. Morning, Bea.”

“Didn’t you have an after-finals party last night?” Caleb said. “You okay to drive?”

Jesse pulled out the suitcase he wanted, the one with wheels. “I exercised extreme restraint. Did you proud. Marcus dropped me home by eleven.”

He watched Caleb squirm at that, because Caleb and Bea had gotten in twenty minutes later and would’ve assumed Jesse wasn’t home yet, when in fact he was already in bed in the room right next to theirs. The two of them could get quite vocal when they thought they were alone.

Jesse packed the books he’d picked from his own bookcase as well as a selection of novels from Indio’s closet, lugged the suitcase into the Caprice along with a change of clothes in a backpack, took a shower, and toasted six Pop-Tarts to eat on the way. By the time he was ready to go, Caleb had roused himself and came outside in PJs and a hoodie, standing barefoot on the frosted lawn to see him off.

“Behave yourself.” Meaning he had to be nice to Rosa. “And if you get there in under three hours, you drove too fast.”

Jesse was careful to pull up at Rosa’s house exactly three hours and two minutes later, in case Caleb asked about it. Wynter must’ve been watching for his car because she was out the door and down the driveway before he got out. He gave her a hug, and pushed a two-foot-long plush purplish-gray sausage into her arms.

“That’s Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It’s on the extracurricular syllabus for tomorrow.”

“Why?”

“One hundred thirty-one years ago, it was discovered by the German biologist Robert Koch.”

“Is that important?”

“The real thing, in microscopic form, causes tuberculosis, a deadly disease.”

“Oh, I know about that. They called it consumption in the olden times. Did this guy cure it?”

“No.”

“Then who cares about him? What kind of gift is this?”

“It’s a cuddly toy, Wyn. Would you rather I gave you a teddy bear?”

“This could be useful, I guess. I’ll use it as a pillow when I sit up reading in bed.”

“I figured, as well as your homework and our Lego project, we’ll take a look at interesting things that happened this weekend in history. So, tomorrow we’ll study Robert Koch and TB. Today we’ll be looking at polymer chemistry, developed by Hermann Staudinger a century ago. Today’s his birthday.”

“Poly-what?”

“Fascinating stuff.” Jesse dragged out the suitcase and headed for the house. “I’m not being sarcastic, either. Me and chemistry aren’t the best of buddies but even I can’t go past a good paper on macro-molecules.”

“Okay. I guess.” Wynter, by the sound of it, could go right past such a paper.

“Also for tomorrow, it’s the twentieth anniversary of the discovery of the Shoemaker–Levy comet.”

“Can we go somewhere that has a telescope and see it?”

“Well, no, it crashed into Jupiter a while back.”

“Did you see the crash?”

“I was three weeks old.”

Wynter was looking less and less impressed with Jesse’s educational plans. He stopped on the porch and made one last attempt.

“I’ve got a surprise up my sleeve. Well, Indio has. I asked him to email you something tomorrow because it’s more his thing than mine.”

“Something to do with music?”

“No. Wait and see. If microbiology, chemistry, and astronomy don’t excite you, this last one is my backup plan. Unless Indio forgets, which he probably will.”

They went inside, Jesse hauling the books all the way upstairs. The suitcase bumped noisily over every step, wheels scraping against wood. That’s gonna leave a few marks…

Wynter showed him to the guest room to drop his bag, and then they unloaded the books onto her bookcase, first removing all the trinkets Rosa had put there—plush toys, a music box, a few ornaments and a couple of framed pressed flowers.

“Where did all this stuff come from?” Jesse said. “It wasn’t here last time.”

“She moved it from another one of the bedrooms. I don’t know why—she thinks I need girlie stuff? I don’t mind the books. I hate the rest.”

“Can’t believe you don’t like teddy bears. Have you never had one?”

Wynter gave him the strangest look, and said, “I had one.”

“What was its name?”

“Deedee.”

“Cool. So, what was Deedee like?”

“I hated him.” She gave him a warning look. Asking about a teddy bear was a problem now? Wynter flicked the nearest bear in the face. “They look so… desperate for love with their pleading eyes and fluffy faces, don’t they?”

“These are adorable,” Jesse insisted.

“Put them in your room, then. In your bed. You can cuddle up to them tonight.”

“I think I will. Just one, though. I’m a serial monogamist.” He put a large beige teddy bear to one side and dumped the rest in Wynter’s closet. “Where is the shrink?”

“At the store. She wasn’t expecting you until lunchtime, by the way. She doesn’t like surprises.”

“But the surprise is me! A well-behaved me, I promise. I’m irresistible when I behave myself. By the end of this weekend, she’ll be filing the paperwork to adopt me.”

“That’s not funny.”

Yeah, it really wasn’t funny in this particular circumstance.

“Come downstairs and bring your work. We’ll get civics out of the way, then we’ll take a look at Staudinger. We’ll save the best ’til last.”

“The comet that crashed into Jupiter?”

“I meant math.”

She wrinkled her nose.

On his way out, he noticed a pile of lyric sheets on her desk and had a quick look through. “Is this for the Clockwork Toys? Whoa, Sweet Child O’ Mine? Hunter can play that?”

“Not really, but I told him I’d consider adding it if he learns it properly.”

“That’s gonna be a disaster if he can’t pull it off.”

“I know. I don’t think he’s gonna pull it off.”

They spread out Wynter’s school books in Rosa’s front room, which she called the formal living room. It was a pointless room, with uncomfortable overstuffed armchairs and a loveseat, a piano, a real fireplace filled with pinecones that looked like it was never used, and a glass cabinet with more exotic artifacts. It did have a nice big round table to work at.

“Hey, a piano. You play the piano.”

“I don’t play the piano,” Wynter said, irritated.

“Thought you said you did.”

“I don’t want to play. That’s what I meant. Don’t tell Rosa I can play. She’ll find a reason to turn it into therapy.”

“I’ll keep your secret.”

“We’re not allowed to have secrets.”

“Piano playing is a privacy issue. Better?”

They got down to work.


“We have to visit a retirement home next month,” Wynter said as they finished up her civics questions. “It’s called community outreach. We have to serve the old folks morning tea and talk to them, play board games with them, that sort of thing.”

“I remember doing something like that in eighth grade. I sang a song for them with Lottie.”

“Who’s Lottie?”

“My first true love.” Jesse sorted through pictures of the comet on his laptop as he talked. “She had blonde ringlets down to here. I called her Goldilottie. I got her locker combination from her best friend and left candy in her locker every day for two weeks until she gave in and agreed to go steady.”

“How long did you date her?”

“I wouldn’t say we dated. We hung out at lunchtime and held hands at the bus stop. It lasted forty-seven days. Then her hamster died and I couldn’t go to the funeral—I had band practice. So she dumped me. Later, I found out her next boyfriend called her Goldilottie, too, which pissed me off no end.”

“What song did you sing for the old folks?”

I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash. I played guitar, badly, and we sang it together. Hey, you should ask if the Clockwork Toys can do a little show. It’d be good experience and it won’t matter if you screw up because they’re all deaf.”

“I don’t think any of our songs are appropriate.”

“Sure they are. Lighten up a bit so you don’t scare the grandmas.”

“I’ll ask our civics teacher on Monday if we can do it.” She texted her bandmates on the spot. “I’m including Arthur so he doesn’t feel left out, but I don’t think he’d be able to come—pretty sure they won’t let us take the drum kit over there, and anyway he’s not in our civics class. We’d be doing it without drums—”

Rosa appeared in the doorway. “Good afternoon, Jesse. I see you’ve made yourself at home.”

Jesse glanced guiltily at his mug of coffee and the box of cookies he’d found in the pantry and had been working his way through.

“Thanks, Rosa. I knew you’d be cool with it. You have fair-trade coffee—that’s awesome. I approve.”

“I’ll make you subs for lunch. Come along.”

Jesse was hungry, despite the cookies.

“I had a word with Ms Driscoll,” Rosa said in the kitchen. “She’s impressed with your progress, Wynter.”

“Why would you talk to her?” Wynter said.

“I wanted to check this band business isn’t interfering with your studies.”

“In eighth grade,” Jesse said, “it’s more important to develop your talents—whatever interests you.”

“I think it’s more important to get a good grounding in the basics of education,” Rosa said.

Jesse happened to agree and had recently told Caleb as much, but he wasn’t about to say so. “Wynter’s smart. She can do both. She can do anything.”

“I’m sure that’s true. Still, we must take care that—”

“So, Wyn,” Jesse said, cutting Rosa off. “Are those girls talking to you yet?”

“On and off. My guitarist Hunter dumped his girlfriend right after he joined the band, so she hates me, and her friends hate me, but that’s okay because Stacey and Keira have hated them since sixth grade for some reason.”

“How is that okay?” Jesse said, flummoxed.

Wynter shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s all so stupid. Sharmila told me she is still friends with Sarah. They live in the same street and they’ve known each other forever, and they have to pretend not to be friends even though it’s an open secret. Except in dance class because none of their other friends do dance.”

“Wow.” Jesse chuckled. “So why did Hunter dump his girlfriend?”

“She likes Billy Ray someone.”

“That’s a singer.”

“Oh. I thought it must be a boy at school. Anyway, Hunter’s arrogant and he doesn’t listen. He thinks I’m bossy.”

“Does he have the hots for you? Sure sounds that way.”

“Don’t know, don’t care.”

Rosa brought the platter of sandwiches to the table, giving Jesse a mild warning look for some reason, before returning to the counter to whip up a fruit platter in one minute flat.

“Stacey said he calls me a Nazi,” Wynter continued.

“Jesus, that’s not cool.”

“It’s not nice to use that word like that,” Rosa said.

Wynter frowned, and Jesse imagined the cogs turning as she wondered whether the offending word was Jesus or Nazi. Not that he knew, without asking, and he didn’t plan on asking.

Rosa set down the fruit platter and sat with them. “Have you RSVP’ed Stacey yet about her sleepover?”

Wynter’s eyes widened. “RS… what?”

“RSVP’ed. Responded, replied. Répondez s’il vous plaît.”

French, Jesse mouthed to Wynter behind his hand, pulling a face that made her suck in her lips to stop from smiling.

“Her mother sent a message prompting me to ask you about it,” Rosa said. “You wanted to go, didn’t you?”

“Turns out I can’t,” Wynter said. “Indio’s coming to visit after his tour.”

“That’s hardly a reason to turn down your first party. It’s important to nurture friendships. And you never asked me if Indio could visit.”

“If he can’t come that weekend, I won’t see any of them until the end of spring break!”

“I did tell Caleb that I didn’t want Indio staying in my home.”

“I don’t blame you, actually,” Jesse said off-handedly. “Indio carries duct tape and rope wherever he goes. Highly suspicious, if you ask me.”

Wynter stared at him, horrified, and he regretted making a joke about it. Slightly regretted it. Rosa pushed a grape into her mouth and acted like he hadn’t said a thing.

“He’ll get a motel room on Friday night,” Wynter said.

“He could come up Saturday and stay through Sunday so it doesn’t interfere with the sleepover,” Jesse said.

“It’s a double sleepover,” Wynter groaned. “Two nights.”

“Wow. That takes commitment.”

“How about you ask him to drive up Sunday after lunch,” Rosa suggested, “and he can visit with you for a few hours in the afternoon.”

“It’s a three-hour drive or more. I can’t ask him to travel six hours in one day for such a short visit. Why would he do that?”

“He’ll do it if he cares,” Rosa said sweetly. “He can’t show up until I’m home from church, so that’s the best I can offer. I’m sorry, but it would be silly to say no to Stacey—she only has one birthday a year. Now, let’s not fight about this. I have some exciting news.” Rosa paused before making her announcement. “In June, I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Athens. I thought you and I could make a little vacation out of it.”

“Athens, Greece?” Jesse said in disbelief.

“What do you think, Wynter? A European summer vacation! Tina’s already cleared it.”

Wynter looked confused. “For how long?”

“The conference lasts one week. We’ll stay an extra two weeks after that. Perhaps stop over in Paris on the way home. In any case, we’ll see Athens and go to Crete, which is an island in the Mediterranean.”

Jesse’s jaw dropped lower with every word. The two places at the top of his personal must-see list were Greece and Antarctica, and Rosa was handing one of them to Wynter on a silver platter.

Wynter, however, didn’t look happy. “Can’t I spend the summer in Seattle?”

“Of course you can visit Seattle, but this is a proper vacation.”

Jesse could understand Wynter’s reluctance, but… Athens! “Wyn, you have to go. I would kill to go to Athens. You’ll walk on ancient battlefields, see the Parthenon.”

“I’d rather go to Seattle.”

“You can’t go to Seattle for three weeks, dear. Tina won’t agree to that.” Rosa was trying to be kind about it, but of course Wynter wouldn’t see it that way. “If you don’t want to come with me, she’ll find you a temporary foster home.”

Wynter looked more miserable by the second.

Jesse did a mental What Would Caleb Do?

“Come on, this is a fantastic opportunity,” he said. “A once-in-a-lifetime chance. Please, Wyn, do it for me.” Not so much like Caleb, after all. Caleb didn’t resort to pleading. Caleb told you what to do, and you did it. “You’re going to Athens. You’re definitely going, okay?” He turned to Rosa. “She’s going.”

Wynter said, “Why are you doing something so expensive for me when I won’t even be living here in July?”

“Whatever do you mean?” said Rosa.

“Caleb told me he can apply for permanent custody in Washington six months after I arrived, when I become a resident of this state. That’s Wednesday, July third.”

Jesus, she had the date and everything.

“It will take a little longer than that,” Rosa said. “He’ll have to wait for a court date. It could take a few weeks.”

“No, it’s July third. That’s when Caleb becomes my guardian.”

Jesse took her hand under the table, desperate to make things right for her. “Wyn, she’s right, it might take a bit longer. Maybe August. But then you’re definitely coming to live with us. Until then, I think you should go to Greece. Please, please, please, go to Greece.”

Wynter managed a little smile. “Sure, okay. Thank you, Rosa.” Her phone beeped and she took it out. “It’s Hunter. He says he wouldn’t be seen dead playing at a lame retirement home. Too bad it’s not his decision.” She began tapping a reply.

“No phones at the table, please,” Rosa said.

Wynter set her jaw and glanced at Jesse. He knew she was wondering whether to make a thing of it, and whether he’d support her if she did.

She made her own decision. “Excuse me.” She left the table and the room.

“Wow, Athens. That’s nice of you, Rosa,” Jesse said.

“The conference came up at just the right time. It’s my pleasure to give Wynter an opportunity she wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Otherwise being Caleb’s limited income and erratic vacation time. Rosa’s superior attitude, not to mention her superior resources, grated on Jesse’s nerves.

He said, “How’s old Mr Gnome’s love life these days?” On a previous visit, he’d arranged Rosa’s garden gnome and fairy in a compromising position.

Rosa became absorbed in peeling an orange and meticulously removing every single string of pith.

He tried again, politely this time. “May I take Wynter to see a movie this afternoon?”

“If she’s finished her study for the day.”

“We’re getting through it. I’m gonna put her through high school in three years. Two, really, cuz she was supposed to be in ninth grade this year. She’s gonna graduate at seventeen, like me.”

Rosa arched one thin eyebrow. “That would be quite an achievement.”

“Watch me. And her,” he amended. “Watch her. She can do it.”

“Personally, I think she would benefit from spending the full four years with her peers. She shouldn’t start college until she’s nineteen.”

“She can take a year off before college. I’ll be graduating U-Dub at the same time, cuz I’m on track to finish my degree in three years, so I’ll take her on a road trip all over the States. First we’ll drive to Chicago—via Montana, so I can show her where I grew up. Then Niagara Falls, Boston, New York. We’ll zig-zag down the east coast and hit Nashville, obviously, and take a steamboat cruise on the Mississippi. Over to Texas. We’ll skip Florida—nothing to see there.” He knew Rosa was from Florida. “We’ll go skiing in Colorado, and then a few nights gambling in Las Vegas with our fake IDs. Over to California—Disneyland, camping in Sequoia National Park, then up the west coast. She’s never seen the ocean.”

He was bullshitting, but he meant it about Wynter finishing high school early. He hadn’t even considered it until forty-five seconds ago, but now he’d make it happen.

“How do you propose to pay for your grand adventure?”

“We’ll sing for our supper. Oh, I know—we could ask Indio along. He can make easy money as a gigolo. Pretty sure he already knows the requisite nine positions and a few others besides. A haircut and he’s good to go. He’s got the body for it, yeah? He’s got the necessary equipment. You got the picture to prove it.”

Rosa was actually offended now, raising her chin, clamping her lips. Dumbstruck.

Jesse congratulated himself on a job well done. And then remembered he was supposed to be behaving himself. Oh well. She’d already said he could take Wynter to the movies and he didn’t think she’d renege on account of him being a dick.

Wynter came in. “Arthur just texted me. His parents are letting his brother buy him a second-hand drum kit for his birthday. They found a couple of kits on Craigslist. Can we go with them this afternoon to check them out? I don’t want them to get ripped off. You told me people get ripped off all the time.”

“Sure.” He winked at Rosa. “We’ll make it a road trip.”


They picked up Arthur and his brother Leonard, a junior at the local high school, who sat up front in the Caprice with Jesse. Leonard didn’t know anything about music or drums and Jesse didn’t know anything about baseball, so they didn’t say much to each other on the drive, letting their siblings in the back chat about the Clockwork Toys.

“I’m thinking about a new approach to rehearsal,” Wynter told Arthur, and proceeded to detail her plans to work with each of them individually for a few weeks, “to really nail the parts”, in addition to their Wednesday full band practice.

Jesse was pleased with the way she was taking control. Aside from that, he was more interested in the way she kept sneaking looks at Leonard, whom she’d never met before. He was a good-looking kid with stylish black hair and even features that wouldn’t look amiss in a boy band. As with any new experience of Wynter’s, Jesse was fascinated by how she dealt with this sudden crush—from the lip-chewing to the self-conscious smile when he happened to throw a word her way.

At the first house on the list, a man was selling a low-end drum kit after his son lost interest. Jesse made himself useful by checking everything over, and Arthur had a quick play.

“There’s an extra tom. I love it!” Arthur said, ignoring his older brother’s earlier instruction not to show too much enthusiasm or they wouldn’t be able to barter.

In the end, Jesse got ten dollars off the asking price because of a few scratches, a reasonable deal, and they were done in twenty minutes. They packed the drums into the back of the Caprice—Jesse had ample experience with this and a specific way of doing it. He drove them to Arthur’s house and helped him set up the kit in his room. The boys’ mom fussed over the guests, offering drinks and snacks. Her gratitude might not last, once Arthur got to practicing at full volume.

“Play for us, and maybe Jesse can give you some tips,” Wynter told Arthur. “Leonard, you should hear him play. He’s really good.”

“I’m gonna be hearing him play every day from now on,” Leonard said. “I have homework.”

He went off to his room and Wynter’s face fell. Jesse gave her a sympathetic shrug, which embarrassed her because she hadn’t realized he’d noticed her interest in Leonard. She sat on the edge of the bed and they listened to Arthur drum along to a couple of songs. Jesse found online video tutorials, including some he’d made for his own channel, and suggested Arthur do the exercises, nice and slow, to get the techniques down.

When they left, Arthur was still raving about the extra tom and his mom was still piling snacks into their hands.

“We have a lot of work to get through,” Jesse said on the drive back. “First things first, we’re going to the movie theater.”

“Yes!”

“We’ll have to work all evening to make up time.”

“You could stay an extra night.”

“I’ve got my camping trip Monday.”

Her shoulders heaved in an exaggerated sigh of disappointment.

“So, you like Leonard.”

Wynter gave him a sidelong look but didn’t deny it. “I realize he didn’t give me a second look. Can you give me a few tips on boys?”

“Uh, maybe in a couple years. Sorry, Wyn, I don’t think you stand a chance with him. You’re competing with seventeen-year-old girls he sees every day.”

“At least now I understand how Stacey feels around you.”


Wynter pointed to a movie poster for a new release. “Is this about the Greek gods?”

Jesse took a closer look. “Let’s see… Gerard Butler? I gotta work on my Scottish accent. Apparently, there’s not a woman alive who doesn’t find him sexy. Star-studded cast, explosions, terrorists. It’s got the lot. Let’s watch it.”

“Oh, it’s R-rated,” she said, disappointed. “Rosa told me I can only see PG-13 movies, unless she’s with me.”

“Come on, this looks great.”

“We need to choose a PG-13 movie,” Wynter said firmly.

He relented. They watched The Sapphires, about a singing group in Vietnam, and afterward ate at a cheap burger place near the theater. Wynter pushed fries around on her plate and he couldn’t tell from her thoughtful mood whether or not she’d liked the movie.

“I bet Rosa would’ve loved that movie,” he prompted. “Not quite as wholesome as the Andrews Sisters, but—”

“They were Australian.”

“The actors? Yeah, it was an Australian film. I love the accent. Sexy as hell. What d’you think—I’m still leaning toward Scottish. I’ll get confused if I try to learn both at once.”

“There were some Australians at the ashram.”

Oh. He risked a question, since she’d brought it up. “Was that… like, a good thing, or a bad thing?”

“Good.” She gave a wan smile. “Roman—the boy I thought I’d found last month—he was Australian and… some others, too. I guess I didn’t think I’d ever hear that accent again.”

“There are Aussies all over the States. There’s an exchange student from Queensland in my physics class. She’s at least as smart as me. I intend to reel her in.”

“You mean, date her?”

“I hope so. Pretty sure she’s available. She has these freckles all over, like a sun goddess. And she surfs. I never met a girl who surfs before.”

“Is Queensland near Byron Bay?”

“No idea.”

“Don’t you have a girlfriend already?”

“I broke up with Natalie on Thursday.” He was pretty cut up about it, too. Not the breaking up, specifically, but the lost opportunity. Natalie had been open to his rational perspective and he’d have liked to keep working on her.

“Did she ever sleep with you?”

“Nope. It was tragic, Wyn.”

“Do you… love these girls you date?”

He shrugged. “What does that mean, anyway?”

“Fall in love with them.”

He shrugged again, casting his mind back over the girls he’d dated. He’d liked them all and been attracted to them all. Was that what falling in love meant?

“Why is Caleb okay with all your girls,” Wynter said, “but not with Indio’s?”

“It’s not the girls per se,” Jesse said, happy to turn the conversation away from his own relationships. “It’s the environment he’s in, and the way it erodes your self-respect. Indio’s hot stuff, right? The brooding thing he’s got going, putting his heart on his sleeve on stage. Girls love that, even if he’s faking it. His band has groupies. You know what that means?”

“Girls who sleep with rockstars.”

“So, he’s basically lazy and not interested in a committed relationship anyway. He takes the easy route. The easy root.” He chuckled at his own pun. “He only really hangs out with other musicians and hangers-on, and there’s drugs and wild parties and… Well, he actually hates wild parties. He hates the whole scene but he gets dragged in and then hates himself for it. That’s why he started over this year. He’s doing better in Portland. Other than a couple of lapses.”

“I think Indio believes we can’t love properly because we didn’t have a loving mother.”

“None of us? Jeez, that’s harsh. He’s projecting. I love you, Wyn. I think you’re amazing.”

“I love you, too.” Her shy smile turned real when he grinned back. Hearing the words made him happier than he thought possible, even though he’d already figured it out weeks ago.

“Look, I do philosophy, not psychology,” he said when the moment passed. “Truth is, it never bothered me, not having a mom. Never knew any different. Caleb tells me I used to ask about her but I don’t remember her now.”

“You don’t remember anything about her?”

“Not one thing.”

He buried his nose in the dessert menu. He could feel Wynter watching him through the laminated sheet.

“I think Indio was right,” she said eventually. “I never heard a song about it, though. About not being enough for your own mother to love you.”

“Have another listen to Indio’s lyrics,” Jesse muttered.

“You said I could talk to you about anything, but you’re real uncomfortable right now, and avoiding me.”

Jesse slapped the menu down and met her gaze. “Yeah. I don’t have anything to add. I don’t remember her and I don’t care. Anything she ever did, or didn’t do, doesn’t even matter now because in the end she put you in my life. You’re gonna change the people we become, me and Indio and Caleb, just by existing. Ever think about that? You’re gonna make Indio think twice before his next screw-up. You’re gonna turn Caleb into a sweetheart. All without lifting a finger.”

“What about you?”

“Well… I don’t need to change, of course. I don’t need to improve,” he teased. “I’m sure there will be some positive impact.” In fact, he felt his life was on a new trajectory entirely. Not only because of the effect she would have on him, and he on her, but—depressingly—because of all the things that could have been, had they grown up together, and never would be.

Her phone pinged and she checked it. “Caleb tells me I should go to Athens.”

“That’s it, then. You’re going.”

“It’s nuts, isn’t it? He’s not allowed to take me out of the state, but Rosa can take me out of the country.”

“Make the most of it. Bring me home a piece of the Parthenon.” He stood and tugged on her hand. “We’re gonna watch that other movie.”

“Two movies in one a day?”

“I know, extravagant! Wait till someone forces you to watch five Twilight movies in one sitting. If you make it out alive, and by that I mean sane, I’ll disown you.”

“I’m not allowed—”

“If Rosa asks about it, we only mention the first movie and it won’t be a lie. She won’t guess the rest because no one’s nutty enough to watch two movies at the theater in a row.”

“But you just said you watched five.”

“That was supposed to get me laid.”

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