Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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Peanuts

After the weird clinic visit, Wynter was a lot happier watching Jesse take the karate class along with an assistant teacher. Most of the students were kids her own age and she began to imagine herself among them—learning karate would make Caleb happy—but once the students started fighting with each other using stylized moves that nevertheless got quite violent, she discarded that idea at once.

At home, a large flat package, addressed to Jesse, lay on the porch.

“It’s from Indio.” She handed it to Jesse.

Inside was another package, wrapped in black and silver paper, addressed to Harry.

“Huh, looks like a wedding gift,” Jesse said. “That blows. It means he’s not coming to the wedding.”

“I thought Harry wasn’t really getting married.”

“We assumed it would fall apart, but me and Caleb got fancy invitations, although he’ll be at sea. It’s at Charmaine’s mom’s house a few streets from here. Hey, you could be my plus-one! We’ll get you a special dispensation from Tina.”

“Why would I want to go to Harry’s wedding? I’ve never met him.”

“Now’s your chance.”

“You should take Joy with you.”

“Joy doesn’t want anything to do with Dad. Caleb said she refused to see him when she had the chance in February.”

“She’s not supposed to hold onto negative feelings about people. It’ll detract from her spiritual journey. That’s what the Light teaches. Although… maybe it doesn’t apply to negative feelings about apostates.”

“Dad’s not an apostate. He never believed that shit.”

“Is Joy coming to see us this weekend?”

He flicked her a sympathetic look. “No, I don’t think so.”

“I was looking through that photo album in my room this morning. There’s a Christmas picture… She looks so happy. I wish…” She couldn’t bring herself to say it. She wished for so much when it came to Joy, partly for her own selfish reasons, but wishing wasn’t going to make it happen.

“I know. I’m sorry.” Jesse turned the gift around in his hands, testing the weight, giving it a shake. “I wonder what this is. I bet it’s something awesome.”

“What are you giving him?”

“Caleb bought them a toaster, the exact model on the registry list. I’ll put my name on that. Seriously, though, why do two people need a four-slice toaster? We never had a four-slice toaster with an adult and three hungry teenagers in the house. I’m seriously concerned about this gift, Wyn. Indio’s gonna show me up. It’s probably a stunning original artwork of his.”

“So, buy your dad something even better.”

“Like what? I don’t have the first idea.”

“I thought Indio doesn’t even get along with him.”

“Indio avoids seeing him as much as possible. So, yeah, it’s ridiculous he’s giving him this probably awesome gift and I’m giving him a toaster so big it won’t even fit on his kitchen bench.” Jesse tossed the package on the couch. “Since you nixed the whole Gollum thing, I’m gonna take a shower and then we’ll go to the grocery store and cook something gourmet.”

Wynter found a recipe site on her phone and scrolled through pictures until she found something that looked good.

“Roast pork with macadamias and sage stuffing and roast pears,” she called through the bathroom door as soon as the shower stopped running.

“We can’t afford macadamias.”

“What are macadamias?”

Jesse came out with a towel around his waist, scrubbing his damp hair with another. “Why would you pick something when you don’t know what the ingredients are?”

“Look at the picture! It looks delicious.”

“Wyn, that’s not rational. Who cares what it looks like? Macadamias cost twice as much as pistachios. You remember the trouble we had with pistachios when you first came here?”

Wynter growled at his retreating back as he went to his room to get dressed. The doorbell rang while she browsed for something else.

“I’ll get it!”

On the porch stood a man and woman in their forties, in ripped jeans and black leather jackets.

“We’ve come about the guitars,” the woman said. She had a teardrop tattoo on her cheek and lots of eye makeup.

“What guitars?”

The guy, tall and thin and wearing glasses said, “Is Josh here? He said to come at 5:30. We texted him earlier about buying the Les Paul Studio and the Dean Custom.”

Wynter shivered with alarm. “You came to the wrong house. No one is selling guitars here.”

The woman checked her phone and put it under the guy’s nose.

He said, “Yup, this is the address he sent. Oh, sorry, Jesse. Not Josh. Is Jesse here?”

“You made a mistake. He’s not selling anything.”

Jesse was hurrying down the hall, yanking a t-shirt over his head. “Uh, sorry, I got sidetracked. Helen, right? Forgot you were coming.”

“What are they talking about?” Wynter said. “You can’t sell Indio’s guitars.”

“He asked me to,” Jesse muttered, elbowing her aside to let the couple in. “Write your list for the store, okay? I’ll deal with this.”

“Why is he selling his guitars?”

Jesse led the way to the basement, talking as he walked. “Come on down and have a play. I don’t know anything about them so I’ll leave you to it.”

He showed them to the basement steps. Wynter waited in the hallway, totally confused.

“Walk down to the store.” Jesse hustled her through the house. “Get a tub of ice cream, too. Any flavor you like.”

“Why is he selling those guitars? The Les Paul Studio? I play that one! Why would he sell it?”

“He needs the cash, Wyn.”

“He can ask Caleb for money, can’t he?”

“He needs the cash to pay back Caleb.”

“How much?”

“Three thousand dollars.”

“What? Why? He’s gonna have to sell all his guitars to get that much.”

“Well, yeah. It sucks.”

“But why?

“Could you let me deal with it?” Jesse found his wallet and gave her his card. “Go to the store.”

“It’s not ethical to use someone else’s card.” She knew she was being stroppy, but what the hell was going on?

“It’s perfectly ethical if I give you my card. If you buy macadamias with it,” he added, his voice tight to control his rising stress, “knowing I don’t want you to, that would be unethical.”

Wynter could hear the strangers in the basement playing the Les Paul, very badly, amped very loud. She pushed past Jesse and stormed down the stairs. Perched on a stool, the man played the guitar while his girlfriend, or whoever she was, someone allegedly named Helen, fiddled with the amp knobs.

“That guitar isn’t for beginners,” Wynter yelled over the distortion.

The man stopped playing. “I’ve been playing longer than you’ve been alive, kiddo.”

“You’re terrible.”

Jesse was right behind her. “Wyn, you need to let me—”

“He doesn’t deserve that guitar.” She shook his hand from her shoulder. “You can’t sell it!”

“Go upstairs,” Jesse said, gritting his teeth. “Call Indio right now and ask him. He wants me to sell the guitars for him.”

“It’s Saturday night. You know he won’t answer.”

Jesse’s face went taut with frustration. “We’ve had a difficult day, I know that. Please don’t make it harder. Please leave.”

She’d never heard that pleading tone in his voice before, not even when he’d begged her to go to Athens. He sounded like he was going to cry. She went upstairs, and moments later the awful noise started up again.

She walked to the store, fuming, and bought the ingredients for roast pork with peanuts and sage stuffing and roast pears. Why did Indio need three thousand dollars? To pay for college? That made no sense—Caleb paid his upfront fees and always had. Was it for the wedding gift? She couldn’t imagine Indio would go into debt over a gift for a father he didn’t seem to care for.

Wynter dragged her feet in the hope that awful couple would be gone by the time she got home. Her conscience troubled her because that Fender acoustic-electric she’d sold to Giselle for fifty dollars had been worth a lot more. Maybe Indio was wishing he had it now, to sell for a fair price. She didn’t want him to sell it at all. In fact, she’d do anything to make him keep it, if he had it back. She knew it meant a great deal to him. If he was selling off the guitars he had, he could really use that Fender to replace them.

Shouldering the shopping bag, she tapped a message to Giselle on her phone.

> I want my guitar back. How much?

She was almost home before the answer came through.

>> How much do you have?

She had nothing at all. Maybe Jesse could help her make some money.

> $65

Fifteen dollars profit would surely appeal to Giselle.

>> You can have it for $200

Wynter gaped at the number.

> $75, she wrote, her finger punching the screen angrily.

>> $150

> $85

>> $150 is my final offer

Wynter didn’t bother responding. There was no way she’d be able to get $150 by the end of the semester.

A stocky young woman was coming out of the house as Wynter turned up the driveway. Another stranger. She had bright red hair sticking up like a brush and a determined stride. Wynter stared at her and she stared back as she mounted a bicycle in the driveway and rode away.

“Was that another guitar thief?” Wynter demanded, hefting the shopping bag on the counter to unpack it.

“Just a friend from college dropping something off for me.”

“You could’ve invited her for dinner. We have heaps of food.” Wynter didn’t want anyone staying for dinner, but it would’ve been the polite thing to do.

Jesse was perched on a bar stool, his fingers tapping the counter. Not the double-handed drum beat he always tapped out when he was bored, but a nervous gesture. His expression was dead serious.

“I’m gonna tell you about Indio, okay?” It was clear he’d been working his way up to this while she’d been at the store.

“Okay.”

“He got arrested two months ago. And also about two years before that in upstate New York. He has some misdemeanor convictions, which is… well, it’s not the end of the world but it’s serious. He was fined about three thousand dollars, which Caleb paid, which is why we can’t afford to fix the dishwasher. So now Indio has to pay him back.”

“What did he do?”

“Nothing violent.”

“Something to do with drugs?”

“Yeah. And stupid things he did while high.”

“Why does he take drugs if it makes him do stupid things that get him arrested?”

“He’s not the most rational person on the planet. I mean, we’ve all had our lapses, to be honest.”

“Have you ever done that?”

“I’ve never been arrested, no.”

“Has Caleb?”

“No.”

“What makes Indio different?”

Jesse gave an awkward shrug. She knew he knew why. He just didn’t want to talk about it.

“It’s because of Miriam,” she said. “You told me as much, ages ago. He loved her more than you did, or Caleb did. He loved her more than I did because I didn’t need her as much. Joy took care of me when I was little. And Miriam sort of faded away, for me. I watched the Light take her away and it didn’t seem unusual. The Light took all the adults in the same way. But she left Indio in an instant. She was gone, and he didn’t understand why and had no time to get used to it. No explanation.”

“He’s an adult now. He has to take responsibility.”

“I know. That doesn’t make her not responsible.”

“Maybe not.” Jesse moved the groceries around at random on the counter. “I hate her, Wyn. Is that wrong?”

“You tell me. Wrong or right is an ethical thing, so you can use math to figure it out. Or so I hear.” He smiled at her, sadly. She pushed one brown onion against his chest. “Chop that while I do gross stuff with the raw meat.”

“Did you buy macadamias?”

“No.”

“You could’ve. That would’ve been okay.”

“I bought peanuts instead.” She retrieved the bag of peanuts from the bottom of the bag, to show him.

“Never liked macadamias anyway.” He found a chopping board and a knife. “Did you know the peanut is not a nut? It’s a legume.”

“What’s a legume?”

“Like a pea, or a lentil.”

“It tastes like a nut.”

“I know, right? I don’t know why it’s a legume. I know nothing about taxonomy.” He paused, knife raised. “We’ll study that together. I don’t think it’s too important, in the grand scheme of things. Might be four or five years before we get to it.”

“I can’t wait. Did those people buy the guitars?”

“The Les Paul, yeah. Five hundred bucks. If you’d been here, and in a cooperative mood, and demonstrated the Dreadnought for that woman, I think she’d have bought it. She was showing an interest in the acoustic guitars.”

“I would not have cooperated.” Wynter unwrapped the leg of pork on the red plastic board, which house rules stated was only to be used for raw meat. “Jesse, I need to make one hundred fifty dollars in six weeks. Any ideas?”

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