“Late night?” Caleb nudged Wynter as he switched off the engine.
Wynter stirred from the passenger seat in the truck. “Didn’t sleep much. Too excited.”
He’d picked her up from the bus station for her spring break visit—Thursday through Sunday. Back to school on Monday, and then on Tuesday Caleb was leaving on his two-month deployment. While he was gone, she wouldn’t be allowed to stay in Seattle because Jesse had been deemed not mature enough to supervise overnight visits, and he wouldn’t be allowed to visit Richland alone because Rosa had forbidden it.
Wynter was going to have to make this weekend count.
She stumbled into the house, yawning. “Is Joy coming?”
“I’m trying to arrange it. I hear Indio’s visit went well.”
She was still waiting for Rosa to find out about the illicit outing with Indio. Somehow, the right people hadn’t talked to each other yet and it remained a secret. Caleb, too, didn’t mention it and she wondered if he knew. She wasn’t sure he would approve of any part of it.
“Rosa thinks he’s a gentle soul who was led down the wrong path,” Wynter said. “That’s what she said.”
“Led down the wrong path?” Caleb spluttered, shaking his head.
“I think she liked his Moto Guzzi and his muscles. She was nervous and kept blushing. It was embarrassing to watch, but at least she likes him. And he did try. Jesse doesn’t bother trying, and you try too hard.”
“I’ll be sure to ride the Beast and wear a sleeveless shirt next time.” Caleb flexed his bicep as he lifted her bag onto the bed.
“You fixed her porch. She should be nicer to you. Do you have to go back to work?”
“Yes, and tomorrow, too. Jesse will be home at four, and all weekend after that. He has your schedule outlined to the minute: tutoring, video games, jamming, a couple of movies.”
“I was hoping he’d take me to the grocery store. I want to try a new recipe from Rosa’s cookbook for dinner tonight.”
“Looking forward to it. Bea’s coming over.”
Wynter yawned again and Caleb suggested she take a nap. When he’d gone, she unpacked in Indio’s room. She went through the dismal pantry to see what groceries she’d need, and made a list. Down in the jamroom she played three of Indio’s guitars, and had a go on the drums.
Halfway through a phenomenal drum solo, footsteps came clattering down the stairs.
“Whoa, whoa, stop!” Jesse called out, darting around guitars on their stands to get to her in the corner. He yanked the drumsticks out of her hands. “What are you doing? That sounds terrible.”
It wasn’t that bad…
On Jesse’s heels was a willowy girl with long wavy brown hair. “Wyn, this is Natalie. She’s gonna think you have no talent.”
“Oh, I thought…” Wynter trailed off at Jesse’s warning frown. Were they together again because Jesse had won, or because he’d accepted Natalie holding out?
“Hi, Wynter,” Natalie said. “Jesse says you’re quite the musician.”
“But so not a drummer,” Jesse growled. “Did you wanna play actual music with me?”
Wynter had something more important to do, for once. “You need to take me to the store. I’m cooking!”
“Cool. Indio said you made great soup.”
“I’m doing chicken cacciatore and roast potatoes.”
“Sounds ambitious. Let’s go.”
Chicken cacciatore was, in fact, far too ambitious. They couldn’t buy white wine without an adult. There were a lot of things to chop, and Wynter started to regret refusing Natalie’s help with the prep work. It was almost six before she got the chicken in the pan to brown, and then, finally, into the oven, which she’d forgotten to preheat. She started peeling the potatoes.
Caleb came home, and Bea arrived a little later. Bea hovered around Wynter for a while, but by then it was smelling pretty good and she was determined to go it alone. She realized she’d forgotten to add the pancetta and discovered she’d bought prosciutto instead. Were they the same thing? She turned up the oven to crisp the potatoes.
By the time she had a free moment to set the table, it was starting to smell strange.
She called everyone to the table and pulled out the casserole. The pot was blackened all around the edge and there was only a dribble of liquid left at the bottom.
“We can’t eat it,” she announced once everyone was seated.
“We’ll eat it, hun,” Caleb said. “Bring it on!”
Wynter felt like crying. “It’s awful. I burnt it so the potatoes would cook through. I got the wrong kind of Italian meat and there’s no white wine.”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” Bea said.
They spooned the dry chicken onto their plates and all the shrivelled bits of vegetables, and divided out a tablespoon of gravy between them.
“Oh, and I forgot the olives.” Wynter fetched the jar of olives and put it on the table. “You’ll have to spit out the stones.”
“Potatoes are fantastic!” Jesse said, and Natalie nodded enthusiastically. They weren’t fantastic. She’d put too much oil on them, to make them brown, and they were greasy and mushy.
“There were too many things to do,” Wynter said. “I couldn’t make it all finish at the same time.”
“That’s just a matter of experience,” Bea said kindly. Wynter didn’t believe her. Jesse once said Bea was born knowing how to cook a six-course banquet. “Do you have a stock cube? I’ll rustle up some more gravy.” Bea went into the kitchen and got to work.
“Don’t worry,” Wynter told Caleb, who was making a valiant effort with the food on his plate. “I won’t do it again.”
“You will do it again,” Jesse said. “We’ll do it together, tomorrow. We’ll write a schedule so everything’s ready at once, and then—”
“No.” Wynter fought to remain calm. “I don’t want your schedules. I don’t want my visit to be your pre-arranged little bits of time doing what you think I should do.”
“I was kidding about that,” Caleb said. “I don’t think Jesse was planning to be quite that structured.”
“Well…” Jesse started.
“I want to hang out. Can I just do that?” Wynter felt bad for Natalie, who looked embarrassed.
“You can do whatever you want, Wyn.” Now Jesse sounded upset.
“Okay. Thank you. I think I’ll skip dinner. I didn’t make dessert, sorry.”
She went to her room and sat on her bed to read a novel for her English class, her eyes glazing over.
Twenty minutes later, she’d read one paragraph. She could hear the rest of them talking and laughing, and she hadn’t wanted to miss out on that. Someone knocked on her door.
To her dismay, Natalie came in. She didn’t even know Natalie and would rather have talked to any of the other three people in the house.
“You want to come out with Jesse and me, and a couple of my friends? We’ll go ten-pin bowling.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Oh. Really? Well, come along and find out.”
“I kinda thought Jesse and Caleb and me were gonna jam in the basement after dinner.” No one had said that, but she’d assumed that’s how they’d be spending their evening. After this weekend there would be no more music with her brothers for two months, and then not for another three weeks because of the stupid Greece trip.
“Jesse sent me to ask you out with us. So I don’t think he planned to jam. Come on, let’s give Caleb and his girlfriend a bit of time alone, shall we?”
“I thought you didn’t approve of sex before marriage.”
Wynter hadn’t meant to be rude, but it was all so confusing and she was annoyed with everyone right now. Mostly herself for the failed meal. Natalie looked equally confused.
Wynter tried to explain. “Jesse said you wouldn’t sleep with him and that’s why you broke up, but now you’re back together so I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe you believe in the sticky tape thing?”
Natalie sucked in her lips and her brow went down in a hard line. “Did he tell you that? He told you that?”
“Yes. Why wouldn’t he?”
She gave a shaky little laugh. “Excuse me, Wynter. Nice to have met you.”
Natalie strode out and three seconds later she was yelling at Jesse—right in front of Caleb and Bea, too. The front door slammed and then Jesse walked past in the hallway. Wynter hoped he’d come talk to her, but he shut himself in his room. After a moment of dead silence, he switched on music and the thump-thump-thump of the woofers made the house shake. Jesse played loud music all the time so it didn’t necessarily mean he was mad…
Wynter came out of her room. Caleb was making coffee, and Bea was on the living room couch finishing up a call with her mom, who was babysitting Jilly. Someone had put the burnt casserole dish to soak but the acrid smell pervaded the house. The rest of the dishes had been washed by hand, because Caleb’s dishwasher was broken, and they were drying on the rack. Washing dishes should’ve been Wynter’s job. Rosa had taught her, If you mess up the kitchen you’re responsible for clearing it up. It was the kind of house rule Caleb probably agreed with.
Wynter watched Caleb for a minute, and got a thin, tense grimace out of him in return as he poured the coffee.
“I think I broke up Jesse and his girlfriend.”
“He’ll live,” Caleb said.
“I don’t think he’s talking to me.”
“Give him a little time, okay? He always bounces back.”
“Is Joy coming over tomorrow? You said she might.”
“I’m waiting to hear from her.”
Wynter sat with him and Bea in the living room for half an hour, with no sign of Jesse. Her brother and his born-to-cook girlfriend talked softly to each other about this and that. Caleb’s arm was around Bea and she kept stroking his chest and touching his face like she wanted to kiss him but didn’t want to do it in front of Wynter. He smiled so much he didn’t look like Caleb anymore. He was trying to persuade Bea to let him buy chocolate for Jilly because she’d had no Easter eggs. Bea said she didn’t want Jilly to have chocolate until she was two.
Wynter felt the minutes ticking past, minutes they could be in the jamroom making music, and instead Bea was here taking up Caleb’s time and Jesse wasn’t in the mood because of girl trouble that was Wynter’s fault.
Wynter wondered if Caleb didn’t want her to be here. Right now, Jesse certainly didn’t.
She stood abruptly, intending to return to her room. Caleb caught her hand as she walked past the couch.
“Hun, I know you’re upset about the meal, but you’ll do better tomorrow. None of us minded.”
That couldn’t possibly be true, but she appreciated he was trying to be nice.
“It’s not that,” she said. “I only have three days. Two days left. After 8:45 Sunday morning I won’t see you for two months, and maybe not Jesse either because he’s officially a bad influence. Joy’s not going to come. I know she’s not, and she’s only met you a few times. I wanted everything to be perfect. I’ll ask Jesse to take me out somewhere, if you want. If you two want some time alone.”
“No, that’s okay.” Caleb glanced at Bea, who did not look happy, and then to Wynter. “Go ask Jesse if he wants to jam.”
“Caleb,” Bea muttered, not hiding her annoyance.
“She’s tired,” Caleb said quietly.
As Wynter left the room, she heard Bea say, “She’s being a bit stroppy. Are you going to reward that behavior?”
Wynter stood outside Jesse’s door for a long time. She didn’t like about half the music on his playlists, but that was okay. Anything he played was always exactly right for Jesse.