Pedicures and Poppers
Hearing about all the things the girls were going to be doing at Stacey’s sleepover was exhausting enough. Wynter wasn’t sure how she was going to survive a weekend of actually doing all those things. She was determined to give it a shot.
At the close of the last day of the semester, Stacey’s mom picked up everyone’s sleeping bags and overnight bags they’d all brought along, and the six of them went to the mall. Wynter had hoped to hang out with Sharmila, the friend of Stacey’s she liked the best, but Sharmila had gone to Sri Lanka. Stacey made the effort to include Wynter, knowing she didn’t know any of the other girls well, and suggested that Tamara help her try on tops in a fashion store. Tamara wanted her to get a hot pink strappy thing that showed off most of her back as well as her midriff. Wynter couldn’t imagine ever wearing something like that. She was pretty sure Caleb would disapprove of it and Jesse would laugh at it. She liked the slim-fit t-shirts with bold logos on them, and ended up buying a couple with her birthday money, to Tamara’s horror—but the two of them had fun, and Keira thought the t-shirts were cool.
They ate at the mall and took a bus to Stacey’s house, where the evening consisted of doing each other’s nails and hair. Keira told Wynter to put on one of her punk t-shirts and Tamara twisted her hair into little bunches, which everyone assured her was cute.
The girls talked about boys and managed to extract a confession from Wynter that she liked Arthur Yu’s older brother. As none of them was ever likely to meet Leonard Yu until next school year, when Wynter would be living in Seattle, she figured she’d never have to face any embarrassment if Leonard found out.
“How did you meet Arthur’s brother anyway?” Stacey asked.
“Me and Jesse took him and Arthur to buy drums a few weeks ago.”
“Wait, Jesse visited? Why didn’t you invite me over?”
“Why would I?”
“You know I like him.” Stacey gave her friends an exasperated sigh. “That’s what friends are for, Wynter. When’s he coming back?”
In all likelihood he wasn’t coming back, since Caleb couldn’t come with him until June, and shortly after that she wouldn’t be living at Rosa’s anyway. “I don’t know,” she hedged. “I’ll see him next week in Seattle. I’m spending three days there next week.”
“Ooh, I’ll come with you! We’re not going anywhere, all spring break.”
“No, you can’t.” Wynter tried to think up an excuse that wasn’t a lie. Why was it so easy to keep the boys in her band in line, but she was lost with these girls? “Jesse’s teaching me all this history and science and stuff that’s not even part of our school work. You would hate that.”
Stacey pulled a face to show she certainly would hate that, and the subject was dropped.
Wynter was ready to go home by Saturday morning, but she had twenty-four hours to go. When she returned from the bathroom after her shower, she found the others assembled around Stacey’s iPad. To her horror, she recognized from the sound what they were watching.
“Found Jesse’s channel!” Stacey informed her with glee.
“My little brother found it,” Keira said. “It’s all about the keywords. Tracked him from Facebook to Instagram to YouTube.”
“He’s soooo cute,” Tamara said, “and so funny.”
Over breakfast they passed around their phones each time they found a new photo or video of interest, stalking Jesse all over his social media. While Jesse didn’t care about having his life displayed on the internet, Wynter certainly didn’t enjoy having five girls giggle and swoon over it.
The girls watched a movie to fill the rest of the morning, and after lunch baked cookies. Then they returned to Jesse’s antics and Wynter was done with it. She locked herself in the bathroom and called Indio, who had promised he’d be visiting at some point during the weekend.
“When are you coming up?”
“I lost the use of the car I wanted to borrow,” he said, “so I’ll have to ride the bike. Sorry—I wanted a car so we could go out somewhere on Sunday.”
“We’re not allowed to go out, remember? You have to be closely supervised.”
“Please come as soon as you can.”
“I’m at this sleepover and it’s awful.”
“Call Rosa and get her to fetch you.”
“She’s out this afternoon and I don’t think she’d do it, anyway. She thinks it’s good for me.”
“Okay, I’ll finish up what I’m doing and start out. I’ll text you when I’m close, okay?”
“Bring the spare helmet.”
Wynter hung up, breathing freely again, and texted him Stacey’s address. At least three hours until he showed up. She braced herself and went back out.
The girls had found a new video—a performance Jesse had recorded of Indio’s band playing live earlier in the year.
“Which one’s your brother?” Keira said. “He’s captioned it My brother’s band but it doesn’t say which one’s his brother.”
“Must be the dark-haired one on lead guitar. He looks like Jesse,” Stacey said.
That was Turk, Indio’s best friend, who had a stocky build and olive skin—nothing like Jesse. Wynter didn’t correct her. While Stacey held out for Turk as the cutest, the other four girls declared the lead singer with straggly dark-blond hair and “kissable lips” was cuter, and was in fact the very epitome of a rockstar.
“Put it on the TV,” Tamara said. “Make him life-sized!”
From his voice—the sexiest thing ever—to the way he stood at the mic to the way he fingered the fretboard, everything about him was worth commenting on and squealing about.
Wynter went into the next room and called Jesse.
“Why did you make your channel so easy to find? They won’t stop watching it.”
“It’s supposed to be easy to find. I make money from it. The gaming vids, anyway.”
“I hate this. They’re ogling Indio like he’s a god.”
“He is a god, Wyn. Hadn’t you noticed?”
“They’re ogling you, too, by the way.”
“I don’t care. Every click is a penny in my pocket. More like every fifty clicks, actually. Okay, if you really hate it, I’ll fix it.”
“Wait a sec… And three, two, one…”
A chorus of cries went up from the living room. Wynter put her head around the door. Jesse’s channel was wiped out.
“What did you do?” she whispered into the phone.
“Made all the videos private. I’ll have to switch it back on Monday, though. I’m still paying Caleb for my camping trip.”
Wynter flatly refused to tell the girls Indio’s band’s name when they wanted to look it up. They took it well and decided to redo their hair, give each other pedicures, and stick tiny rhinestones on their nails.
An hour later, Keira gave a triumphant whoop. “Found him!”
Keira turned the TV on and searched YouTube for Blunderbelly.
“Wasn’t easy, girls.” She threw Wynter a sly look. “I looked up the gig schedules around Portland, which should’ve been the first thing I did but I didn’t think of it. Then I found pictures of every band on every list and finally found the right one.”
And it started all over again, this time with two dozen videos uploaded by random people who’d attended the gigs. Wynter sat in the corner and watched the clock.
At 5:30 the pizza that Stacey’s mom had ordered arrived. Wynter’s stomach was in knots and she couldn’t eat anything. At last her phone pinged.
>> At gas station around corner. I’ll be there in 3 minutes.
> Wait on the street. Don’t come to the door, she texted, suddenly fearful of being caught in a lie. A lie of omission, really, because she’d never actually said Turk was Indio, just hadn’t corrected Stacey’s wrong assumption. She didn’t want them to see the real Indio.
While the girls ate, Wynter went to talk to Stacey’s mom in the kitchen. Lies formed on the tip of her tongue, but it wasn’t worth the effort because Rosa was bound to find out eventually. She went with the truth.
“My brother’s up from Portland to see me, and he’s taking me to eat. I’ll only be a couple hours.”
“Oh, alright. Does Rosa know?
Okay, one little lie. “Yes. Didn’t she tell you?”
“No, but that’s fine if she knows about it.”
Wynter fetched her jacket, not quite believing she might get away with it. She slipped out to wait on the sidewalk. The approaching single headlight told her Indio had arrived. He stopped in front of her, in the halo of a street lamp, and flipped up his helmet visor. His hazel-green eyes were smiling.
She grinned, pulled on the spare helmet, climbed onto his Moto Guzzi, and settled her feet on the pegs.
“Wynter!” Stacey was running down the driveway, trailed by a couple of her friends. “Where are you going? Is that…? Is he coming in?”
Wynter wrapped her arms around Indio’s waist. He took the hint and gunned the bike, and they left the wailing girls behind.
Wynter didn’t care where they were going. Indio rode to a diner several blocks away.
The fried mozzarella sticks and jalapeño poppers were delicious, the jukebox music perfect, and Indio did indeed look like a rock god, albeit with three hours’ worth of road grime and sweat on him. She was well aware that every sensation was heightened by the thrill of being AWOL.
“I’m gonna get this part said up front.” He leaned forward with his arms folded on the table. “I’ve been following the local news in Eugene. That guy—he was arrested early last week.”
“Something similar to what he did to you. Maybe the cops investigated him after Caleb made that report, or maybe he got unlucky. In any case, he plead guilty to felony charges and he’s going to jail.”
“Are you sure it’s him?”
“Checked his mugshot. He even had scars across the bridge of his nose from… you know.”
From when Indio slammed his face into the car door.
“Who was he? What’s his name?”
“You don’t need to know anything else, baby. I told Caleb, and that’s the end of it.” He sat back and looked at her, gave her three seconds to raise an objection. Then, “Don’t ever think about him again, okay?”
“What the hell happened to your hair?”
Wynter fingered the silly bunches that had started to mat together. “This is what sleepovers are all about, apparently.” She pulled out the rubber bands, one by one, and untangled the mess with her fingers. “Hmm, now it’s all rat-tailed like yours. Have you ever cut your hair short?”
“Until I was about twelve, Caleb or Harry would take the clippers to me every few months. Then they gave up and now I just hack it back once a year. Christmas present to myself.”
“You cut it yourself?”
“Sure. You pull it all forward in your fist and chop off the ends. Try it.” He thought about what he’d said. “Actually, don’t try it.”
“I wanna see you do that.”
He shrugged. “Okay. December twenty-fifth. I’ll bring the hair, you bring the scissors. It’ll be past my shoulders by then.”
She sat back, contented. It was so different being with him than with Jesse. Jesse tended to control the conversation and didn’t know the meaning of companionable silence. Every second thing he said was intended to educate her, and every third thing was meant to make her laugh. With Indio there was an underlying tension because she didn’t know him that well, yet he was the one she trusted not to ask the wrong questions or push her for answers, and that made it easy to relax. She had to do a little more work to keep the conversation going, but when she didn’t the silences were comfortable.
She regaled him with a description of her awful sleepover, finishing with, “I don’t think I like eighth-grade girls.”
“Don’t worry about it. High school’s just around the corner.”
“Do they get any better?”
“You’ll get better at deciphering them. How are those eighth-grade boys of yours?”
“Much easier. I’ve been working with them individually. We’re making good progress. We’re playing the Beatles at a retirement home in a few weeks, on the off-chance the old folks have heard of them.”
“Had you heard of them before this year?”
“I’d heard of them. I never heard their songs on the radio. We listened to rock stations because that’s what… that’s what I liked.”
She’d almost said they. She had said we. Those boys were gone now, in the past. She had no reason to find them, not after what happened last time she tried. She had no reason to think about them. In any case, Indio didn’t ask her to explain though she was sure he’d noticed.
She picked at the rhinestones on her nails. “Jesse told me, for my musical education, to start at the Beatles and work forward. Caleb told me to go back to pre-war blues like…” She wracked her brain for the names he’d given her. “Louis Jordan and T-Bone… someone?”
“T-Bone Walker. You should listen to him for the guitar playing, to see how it all began. In terms of your musical education we can probably start a little later. I’ll send you some stuff from the mid and late ’fifties—the original guitar-based rock n’ roll. Listen to everything, though. Figure out what you like. There’s no wrong way to do it. Have you tried writing songs?”
“I’m working through the stuff that’s been in my head for years. It’s coming out different, though, when I play it instead of imagining it.”
“Are you writing it down?”
“Why would I do that?”
“So you don’t… Uh, let me guess, you never forget any of it.”
“It’s impossible to forget it.”
“That’s a singular gift. Write it down for Caleb and Jesse, then. You’re gonna want to play these tunes with them, right?”
“I’m putting some of Jesse’s lyrics to music. He sent me hundreds of lines.”
“I’ll send you some too. I always have bits and pieces with no home. Jesse knows how to scan and rhyme, but why does he put physics references into every song?”
“I know! His latest one’s called Not Again and I thought it was maybe about an ex-girlfriend, but then it mentions centripetal force and absolute zero, so now I’m not so sure.”
“We all write our own truths, I guess.”
“What does that mean?”
Indio’s brow creased into a frown. “I’m just saying, in music—in all art—you have to express yourself without apology.”
“I don’t know how to express myself.”
“God, Wynter, you do it all the time.” He shook his head with a little laugh. “Be yourself, one hundred percent. If someone else likes what you’re creating, that’s a bonus. That’s why Blunderbelly’s never gonna make the big time. I love it, and I love those guys, but no one’s listening to rock music these days.”
On the way out of the diner, Indio stopped at a bench and leafed through some flyers.
“Wanna see some live music? There’s gotta be something on around here.”
“I said I was only going to be out for a couple hours.”
“A couple, or two?”
“Um, I think I said a couple.”
“Well, that’s anything up to five hours. Here we go—the Iron Barristers are playing an all-ages in Pasco tonight. Is that close?”
“About fifteen minutes away. It’s where I catch the bus to Seattle. What kind of music is it?”
“No idea.” He showed her the grainy photo of four young men in trench coats and eyeliner. “With a name like that, I’m thinking they might be law students. Let’s not get our hopes up.”
The music, it turned out, was not good—an incomprehensible fuzz of ear-splitting noise. Indio found a good spot, sitting halfway up the steps on one side of the venue that led to an Employees Only door at the top.
“I want to go down there,” Wynter yelled in his ear, between songs as it was impossible to be heard while the band played. She pointed to the area in front of the stage where twenty or so people were jumping about during the songs. Wynter disliked crowds and she disliked strangers, but the darkness and loudness would make it okay. It looked exciting.
Indio shook his head emphatically. Wynter tested his resolve—as the next song started, she made it two steps down the stairwell before he grabbed her arm and drew her back. After that he kept the hem of her jacket in his fist, like he thought she’d try again at any minute.
“That was incredible, but really bad,” she told him afterward, when the house music came on and they made their way outside. Her heart was still racing.
“Yeah, volume at the expense of clarity.”
“Your band is better.”
“Thanks, baby. I wholeheartedly agree. I gotta get you back.”
“Where are you spending the night?” she asked as they walked to the bike.
“Already booked a motel in Richland.”
“I’ve never stayed in a motel. Can I stay with you?”
“I think that would be pushing our luck.”
“Okay. Stacey’s mom’s bringing me to Rosa’s in the morning.”
“I’ll be there at noon.” Grimly, he added, “Looking forward to meeting her. We’ll pretend this evening never happened, cuz I think the bike and the gig are the reasons I’m supposed to be closely supervised.”
“I don’t care. She can take my phone away for a month. I don’t care.” Wynter chewed her lip. “I guess I would care.”
“Was it worth it?”
“No regrets, then. You made a decision, and now you figure out how to live with it.”
She absorbed that and felt a sort of peace settle on her as they rode through the night. Despite her resolve that she would not move to Thailand to be with her mother, the decision had left her with doubts after Indio admitted that in her position, he’d have gone. Miriam had intended to put her in a boarding school on the other side of the country. She’d have been with kids from all over the world whose parents didn’t want them at home, either. Maybe, for that reason alone, she’d have fitted in after all—better than she fitted in with the girls in junior high, anyway. But she’d made her decision and she would not regret it. She’d figure out where she fit in this world, with her little band of rock musicians, with her brothers on the end of the phone line, at least until it was confiscated, and with the knowledge that in three months she’d be living in Caleb’s house where she belonged.
Indio dropped her off at Stacey’s house. The girls were still up, watching a movie.
“Where did you go?” Stacey demanded, her voice a muffled hum in Wynter’s ringing ears. “I sent you a million texts.”
“I told your mom I was going out.”
“You missed most of the movie.”
Wynter sat on the couch, still buzzing from her evening out, and found it easier with each passing minute to live with every one of her recent decisions.