“I’ve had an idea for our special weekend together,” Rosa said at breakfast on Saturday. “I notice you’ve pinned up that sketch your brother did. Why don’t we go to the mall and find a frame for it?”
Wynter sipped her mug of milky tea. “I only have my twenty dollars allowance.”
“And you’ll have fifty dollars from selling that guitar.”
Wynter scowled. Before getting the idea to steal Rosa’s credit card number, she’d sold Indio’s guitar to Giselle from her music class in order to fund her escape. She hadn’t even received the money yet, but Rosa had already rung Giselle’s mother to ensure the deal went ahead.
That guitar was worth hundreds of dollars and Wynter felt sick about it.
“I want to frame all his sketches,” Wynter said. The sketches Rosa had deemed appropriate.
“I see.” Rosa gave a brittle smile, like she thought Wynter was being deliberately difficult. “That will be expensive. You should save some of your money for later.”
“You told me I could spend it.”
“That’s not exactly what I said.” Rosa gave a deep, patient sigh. “I suggest you pick one sketch and get a large frame with a nice matt.”
“What’s a matt?”
“I’ll show you in the store. Bring the sketch with you and we’ll get advice about the color.”
“I want to buy some Lego, too.”
“Jesse made these little Lego people to represent our family, but he didn’t make Joy. I need to make a Joy figure. I don’t want her to see the others in Caleb’s house and wonder why Jesse left her out.”
Antagonizing her sister was something Wynter was desperate to avoid. Eight days ago she’d threatened to bring the authorities knocking on the Light’s door unless their mother let her stay in Washington. Joy hadn’t spoken to her since, no doubt furious Miriam was making Joy stay here as well. Wynter hadn’t anticipated that response from Miriam. And even though Joy preferred to spend her time with her new friends in the Light than with her family, she was still part of this family.
“I’m sure I have some Lego in the playroom,” Rosa said. “We’ll take a look when we get home from the mall.”
Wynter wanted to take a look now, given the Lego was more important to her than picture frames. But she was going to make the effort to get along with Rosa. She had to accept living here for the next few months. She would play by the rules.
She took Indio’s sketch to the mall—the arched black cat prowling on moonlit rooftops—and they found a matted frame. Rosa took her to the food court for lunch and they talked about the girls at school whose friendships she needed to win back. Or if not those girls, some others.
Wynter gave the answers she thought Rosa wanted to hear. She’d be seeing those girls again on Tuesday, after the mid-winter break. Rosa assured her they knew nothing about her escape to Oregon or the man who’d tricked her into going there. All they knew was that she’d skipped school on Thursday afternoon. She planned to tell them she was upset about the prank they’d played that day, and that she’d met up with her brothers for dinner. All true.
Still, she had to agree with Rosa that her evasiveness wasn’t going to help repair the friendships. The food court chat was turning into a therapy session. Wynter knew the signs.
“I have homework,” she said when Rosa asked about her friends at the ashram and how she’d nurtured those relationships. No nurturing had taken place at the ashram.
Wynter found a hammer in the garage and escaped to her room to hang the picture. Then she snuck into the playroom—a room for younger children with a couch and TV and picture books—to look for Lego. She found a large tub of it at the bottom of the closet and dragged it out.
Eventually, Rosa found her. “There you are!”
“Why are there no pieces to make little people?” Wynter had been sorting through hundreds of tiny colored bricks for some time.
“That’s all I have, I’m afraid. Would you like to make something else with it?” Rosa sat on the floor beside her, tucking her feet awkwardly under her body like someone who’d never sat on a floor in her life. “You can make anything you like.”
Wynter had every intention of doing just that.
“And then we’ll talk about it,” Rosa added.
Wynter started building, hoping Rosa would leave. Instead, Rosa moved to sit on the couch and watched her.
“My church has a very friendly youth group on Sunday evenings. They do all sorts of activities—dances, bowling, scavenger hunts, movie nights. I think it’ll provide excellent social opportunities. Would you like to come to church with me tomorrow morning to meet the youth leader?”
“I’m not religious.”
“You don’t have to be.”
“Jesse says religion is a crutch, generally patriarchal, and demonstrably untrue.”
“He’s certainly entitled to his opinion. Don’t you want to make up your own mind?”
Wynter pressed bricks onto a small baseboard. She had friendships at school to fix before she could start on new ones at a youth group.
“I’ll think about it.” What she meant was, I’ll ask Jesse about it.
“Do you believe in God?” she asked Jesse on Sunday morning, after telling him Rosa wanted her to come to church.
Her call had woken him up and he sounded distracted. “I don’t believe in magic,” he said.
“But what about God?”
“Same thing, Wyn.”
“Is his belief gonna sway you, one way or the other?”
Jesse yawned loudly. “He doesn’t talk about it. I think he has some nebulous concept of God but he’s not religious. You could call him.”
“Can’t you ask him? Is he awake?”
“I’m in Portland. I gotta call him, though, cuz my dirt bike’s making odd noises. I need him to take a look at the engine. I’m going on a ride this afternoon when I get back.”
“Rosa says I can explore my spirituality at church. Is that something I should be doing? What does that mean?”
“Let’s define our terms.” The opportunity to lecture her woke him up a bit. “Spirituality means finding meaning in something bigger than ourselves, something that inspires awe. Think about the universe and how amazing it is—the size of it, for starters. The structure of it, from nebulae and stars and galaxies and supergalaxies, and down to atoms and quarks. The way it formed and the things it’s produced, like volcanoes and human intelligence and dirt bikes and endless beetles, and all the things we don’t even know about yet. I’m awestruck by the universe.”
“But what does it all mean?”
“Nothing at all. It exists because of physics. I can create meaning, though. I can study physics and create new knowledge. That’s a spiritual experience for me.”
Head or heart? Head, all the way, Jesse had told her when they first met. But physics couldn’t explain everything, and Jesse did have a heart—his drum beat and his laugh, his ability to make her laugh. And the simple fact he cared about her journey in this world. She was fairly certain, however, that if she pointed all that out, he’d dismiss it with perfect logic.
Instead, she rephrased his own words. “You’re saying that being creative is your spirituality?”
“Never thought of it that way before, but it sounds about right.”
“Is Caleb spiritual?”
“Sure, when he’s drinking single malt whiskey and listening to John Lee Hooker.” Jesse chuckled to himself. “Actually, fixing my dirt bike will be like a religious experience for him. He makes things better than they were before, so in that sense he’s being creative. Mechanics is his spirituality.” He made a thoughtful sound. “I need to tell him that.”
“What about Indio?”
“He’s a little sidetracked right now, but he’s obviously a creative person. Plus, he ponders the big questions like I do. Doesn’t have my philosophical rigor, but he gives it a shot when he’s sto… uh, when he’s in the right mood.”
A few minutes before they were due to leave for church, Wynter went downstairs to explain to Rosa why she didn’t want to go.
“I’ve decided to explore my spirituality by being creative. Don’t need church for that.”
Rosa looked up from the paperwork she was sorting on the kitchen table. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Did your brother influence your decision?”
“What if he did?” Jesse already had a few black marks against his name in Rosa’s book, but Wynter would rather be influenced by him than by Rosa. “I don’t have to go, do I? It’s not in my behavior contract.”
Rosa had to admit that it was not.
Wynter went to her room and sat on her bed with a guitar. Not Indio’s beloved Fender acoustic-electric cutaway, which was locked up in the music room at school awaiting its new owner. Still, this guitar had its own unique feel and tone. The strings dug into her fingertips in that familiar way.
She was listening for the sound of the front door closing, indicating Rosa had left. She strummed through some chords, gazing at Indio’s sketch on the wall, wondering how he wrote his songs and whether it made him feel spiritual. A new progression emerged. The beginning of a new song, perhaps. Something fifteen-year-old Indio might play, sitting up on a rooftop under the night sky, watching a bright-eyed cat stalk the moon—
Rosa burst into her room.
“Whose number is this?” Rosa’s face was red, her entire body trembling with fury as she crossed the room with determined strides. She held up her phone, blocking the screen with her other hand—all but the number at the top. “This is absolutely unacceptable! Do you recognize this number?”
The tiny digits swam before Wynter’s eyes. She didn’t know anyone’s phone number by heart. Why would Rosa think she’d know some random person sending her a message?
Wynter shook her head, not trusting her voice because her throat had closed up.
“Get your phone and check. Now!” Rosa hissed.
Wynter fumbled for her phone on the nightstand and opened the contact list. It couldn’t be Caleb or Tina because those names would be in Rosa’s phone. One by one, Wynter tapped the other names. Stacey Abrams and Keira Grantwell from school. The clinic where she got her shots. The dentist. On the fifth tap, she found a number that matched.“It’s Indio.”