They stayed up so late watching movies, Wynter didn’t notice something was wrong until she was out of the shower the next morning, dressed, and rinsing her dish after breakfast. That’s when she realized she’d heard nothing from Jesse’s end of the house, not even his phone alarm.
She knocked on his door—no answer. Cracking open the door, she found him tangled up in his sheets, fast asleep.
She stepped over the pile of laundry on his floor and prodded him gently, then more firmly, until his eyes opened.
“Jesse?” she said softly. “We have to leave in six minutes.”
“You forgot to set your alarm.”
Jesse reached sleepily for his phone. “What? I didn’t forget… Fuck!” He threw off the covers, stumbled past her, tripped over the dirty clothes, picked himself up, and bounded down the hallway in his boxer shorts. “Get me food-to-go, Wyn! Put your stuff in the Caprice!” He slammed the bathroom door on her, calling from the other side, “Don’t forget your ticket! Make coffee! Find my Keith Moon shirt in the dryer!”
“I don’t know how to make coffee.”
She pressed her mouth to the crack of the door and said, over the unmistakable sound of him urinating, “I’ll put milk in a plastic tumbler for you, instead.”
“Add two scoops of vanilla protein powder. It’s on the third shelf. The second shelf?” He flushed the toilet and poked his head out the door, eyes wide with panic. “No, four scoops. And make it chocolate. I got a big day. I also need a full box of granola bars and a bag of corn chips for later. Don’t let me forget to print off something before we go. And the t-shirt, Wyn. Check it’s dry.”
Wynter already had her stuff packed and ready. While Jesse took a two-minute shower—a record for him—she found his t-shirt and left it neatly folded on his bed, then went to the kitchen to make his milkshake and assemble the requested food. Three minutes after they should have left, he showed up, printouts in his hand, toothbrush in his mouth, frothy dribble down his chin as he shrugged into a jacket.
He spat in the sink. “I can’t believe I screwed up. Get in the car. Where’s your bag? Do you have your ticket?”
Halfway out the door, he darted back into the house yelling something about forgetting the most important thing.
Finally, they were in the car and on their way.
“You forgot to set your alarm, didn’t you,” Wynter said into the silence.
“I did set it.”
“I never heard it go off.”
“That’s because it went off at exactly the same time as yours,” he replied stiffly.
“How’s that possible? The clock in the dining room is two minutes faster than my phone, and Rosa’s microwave clock is one minute slower. I’ve never seen two clocks telling exactly the same—”
“It’s called GPS. Shit.” The lights ahead turned red. Jesse drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “My alarm did go off, Wyn. I must’ve hit stop instead of snooze.”
“If I miss the bus, the next one’s not until the evening.”
“I am aware of that,” he snapped. “You should’ve checked I was up when you got up.”
“This is not my fault.”
He glanced at her. “No. Sorry. It’s not your fault. We’ll be fine. Traffic’s light.”
“Did you figure out how I can make one hundred fifty dollars?” Yesterday, he’d refused to help because she wouldn’t tell him why she needed the money.
“I could tell you six ways before breakfast but I won’t.” He gulped the last of his milkshake as the lights changed. “And I’ve finished breakfast.”
“I’m gonna ask Keira to ask her little brother how to get me a YouTube channel,” Wynter mused. “I could sing songs with my guitar, and people would give me money.”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“You told me you make lots of money on YouTube.”
“I have thirteen thousand subscribers and you have none. My most popular video, last Christmas, has one hundred and four thousand views.”
“What was it about?”
“How to tune your kit. Which most drummers don’t even bother to do. I was real scientific about it.”
“How much money did you make?”
“From that one video, twenty-two dollars.”
“What? What’s the point of all those subscribers and views if you only make twenty-two dollars?”
“They have to click on the ads for me to get paid. No one clicks on the ads. I never click on ads so I can’t expect them to.”
“Maybe you could get a weekend job. You do nothing on weekends.”
“Nothing? I work four nights a week tutoring or gigging. And I’ve been plenty busy this weekend. I got paid for taking Caleb’s class yesterday—twenty dollars cash.”
“That doesn’t sound like much for being a black-belt teacher.”
“We train there for free, Caleb and me. In return, we teach classes.”
“Could you lend me the twenty dollars for a while?”
“What about all that cash you got for the Les Paul guitar?”
“That’s Indio’s money and neither of us is touching it. You already have fifty, don’t you? From selling the Fender.”
“I spent it on candy bars.”
Jesse slapped the steering wheel with both hands. “Fifty dollars on candy bars?”
“Also chips and cookies and those little cheese-and-cracker dip things. I bought a different snack every day at school until I’d tried one of everything. Rosa owes me this week’s allowance, so that’s twenty dollars. I need the money by June, so I’d have eighty dollars from my allowance if I didn’t spend a cent. But Rosa says I need sunglasses and a hat and a swimsuit and all sorts of things for Greece and she expects me to save up for them. I don’t need a swimsuit. I’m not going anywhere near water.”
“What’s wrong with water?”
“I can’t swim. I hate water.”
“You grew up in Arizona! You’ve never seen water. How d’you know you hate it?”
“I know I’ll hate it. The point is, I have to make pretty much all the money some other way.”
“I can’t believe you blew through fifty dollars. And that’s not cheese in those dips, by the way.”
“How do you know?”
“How can it be cheese when the packs don’t need to be refrigerated?”
Wynter shook her head in amazement. “Jesse, you know everything. I’m so lucky to have you.” She used her most genuine tone, to counteract her sarcasm yesterday. “I’m not gonna buy any more snacks, even if I had the money. Most of them weren’t as great as I was led to believe. Please help me.”
He frowned over at her. “You gotta tell me why you need the money. Last time you needed money, it was to run away. Can you understand why I might be concerned?”
“I’m not running away. If I tell you, you’ll tell Indio and he’ll tell me not to do it.
Jesse’s eyes rolled skyward as he thought it through. “You’re gonna buy back that Fender, aren’t you.”
“Yes,” she muttered. “Giselle got greedy.”
“Okay, you’re right. Indio would tell you not to waste your money buying it back at three times the price. Also, given he needs money right now, he might resell it as soon as you hand it over.”
“I won’t let him.”
“Good luck telling Indio what to do.”
She giggled. “I know. You’re the only one who does what I say. Most of the time, anyway.”
He scowled, keeping his eyes on the road.
“Give me your six ideas, Jesse. Please?”
“My first choice would be to scam the Light for money. It’s gonna be tough to do that without breaking any federal laws.”
“Caleb wouldn’t like it if I broke the law.”
“There are other reasons than Caleb not to break the law. Do you understand that? You need to develop your own relationship with ethics.”
“Isn’t Caleb a good guide?”
“Of course. He’s the most solid guy on the planet, which is why I put up with his… you know, his Caleb-ness. Your moral development is stage three, meaning you behave yourself in order to please Caleb. We need to shift you up a notch or two.”
“How many stages are there?”
“Six. Even Caleb is only at four, leaning into five—he bends the law now and then if it’s the right thing to do.”
“You are at stage six, no doubt,” she said, the sarcasm creeping back.
“I’m still learning. I strive for stage six, of course.”
“How does this help me make one hundred fifty dollars?”
“You could give guitar lessons at lunchtime to the kids at school.”
“If I do that, I’ll lose Stacey and the other girls as friends. They already hate that I spend so much time with the Clockwork Toys.”
“Then you need to ask around your neighborhood, see if you can mow lawns or wax cars or something.”
“I don’t want to knock on strangers’ doors.”
“Those are your neighbors. I used to knock on neighbors’ doors all the time when I was a kid. If they didn’t know me, I’d pretend I’d lost my kitten or I’d say my scooter was stolen from my porch and ask if they’d seen it. If they knew me, if they knew I didn’t have a kitten or a scooter, I’d pretend to be locked out of home. In either case, they’d usually feed me. It was excellent.”
“Was it ethical?”
“I was at stage two. Gimme a break.”
“I don’t know how to wax a car or use a mower. And I don’t think Rosa would let me knock on doors in case a pervert lives there. Also, she said kids shouldn’t work until they’re in high school.”
“You’re supposed to be in high school.”
“But I’m not.”
“I got nothing else, Wyn.”
Wynter’s hopes dwindled. Indio wasn’t getting that guitar back.
They pulled up at the bus station. She opened the door and hesitated. “Do you have something for me?”
“Oh. When you ran in the house and said you forgot the most important thing, I thought maybe it was a gift for me.” She indicated the paper bag on the back seat, the most important thing.
Jesse shifted awkwardly in his seat.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting anything. What’s in the bag?”
“That’s today’s entertainment. I’m hanging out with Marcus cuz his folks are away.”
Wynter gave a fake gasp. “Is it porn?”
“How do you even know what porn is?”
“Rosa told me all about it.”
“Pretty sure she didn’t tell you all about it. And no, it’s been a decade since anyone walked around with their porn in a paper bag.”
“So what is it?”
“It’s half a dozen hash brownies, if you must know.”
“That’s some kind of drug, right?”
“Yes. With chocolate.”
“It’s not gonna make you do stupid things, is it?”
“It’ll make Marcus’s vintage Starcraft twice as fun to play, or it’ll make me fall asleep. So please don’t call me with any last-minute homework this afternoon. I won’t be able to help.”
“Where did you get it from?”
“The girl I saw leaving the house yesterday? I thought you wanted to date her.”
“I thought she wanted to date me. Turns out she wanted to sell me her home baked goods. You need to get on the bus. Is that it?” He pointed out the window. “Hasn’t left yet. I did not fail.”
They got out of the Caprice and he grabbed her bag.
“Did you have a good visit?” he asked.
“I wish Joy had come.”
“I’m not gonna see you again for a month and a half.” Saying the words made her throat close up. She swallowed and blinked back tears.
“We’ll set up a videochat,” Jesse said, like it would solve everything.
The events of the past four days blurred together in a blaze of emotion. “Pretty much everything went horribly wrong,” she pointed out.
“Yeah. That’s life. But you had fun, right?”
Wynter nodded and fell into his arms for a hug. He shoved some pages at her.
“This is today’s day in history. There was a choice between two women—the queen of England or Charlotte Brontë, both born today, one hundred ten years apart. Guess correctly which one I printed out, and I won’t tell Indio about the guitar.”
“You hate royalty, so I’m guessing Charlotte Brontë.” She checked to discover she was right. “I’ve heard of her. I read Jane Eyre at the ashram.”
“Huh. Is that why you thought teachers were terrible people?”
She shrugged vaguely. She didn’t need to read a book to know that. She said, “It’s a very romantic book, Jesse. I’m surprised you’ve read it.”
“Had to, for my eighth grade book review. It was either that or The Outsiders, which Indio told me to pick, so naturally I picked the other one. Anyway, Charlotte Brontë had a pretty miserable life, as you’ll read, and died young after watching all her siblings die first, but her creative output was innovative for the times and I respect that. I respect anyone who adds to human knowledge and enjoyment, instead of shuffling around with pamphlets getting all up in other people’s business. Hate to say it, but Rosa was right, and bloody Indio with his medieval boudoir painting. If you’d rather read classic literature and look at pretty pictures than study comets, let me know. I mean, we still have to do the science, but I can adjust the ratio.”
He gave her a crooked smile to acknowledge that he was rambling. And he wasn’t quite done…
“I was gonna annotate it to put things in historical context. Didn’t have time, so let me know if—”
“I love you, Jesse.”