Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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It Means Nothing

Two minutes later, Wynter was on the bus watching the Caprice drive off. She had had a good visit. As she waited for the bus to depart, she couldn’t imagine ever wanting to be any place else than at home in Caleb’s house even if he was working overseas and Jesse was stressed out and Indio was selling his treasured possessions and Joy was… well, uninterested in being a part of any of it.

She took the Christmas photo out of her pocket. There was a space in that album now, a white square she hoped nobody would notice. She’d first seen the photo weeks ago, when Caleb showed them the albums he’d taken from Harry’s place. Now she’d stolen it… borrowed it. Little Indio and Joy were playing on the floor of their grandparents’ home, amid discarded boxes and colorful gift wrap, with action figures that looked like robot turtles.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Jesse had corrected her at the time, “in cyber samurai armor. They were Indio’s gift that year but I got them as hand-me-downs when I was about five.”

Wynter didn’t care for the turtles, but she loved the photo because of Joy’s expression—the wide smile and sparkling eyes. Joyful. It reminded her of the way Xay and Roman reverted to little kids when they battled their wind-up robots on the floor of the shed at the ashram. Joy had once been happy living out here in so-called darkness. If she’d visited this weekend, she could’ve joined them in the jamroom where Wynter and Jesse had spent their entire Saturday morning. Wynter got a drum lesson and after that they messed around with Jesse’s weird lyrics. She could still feel the strings digging into her fingertips, still feel the hollow body of the acoustic guitar vibrating against her chest.

Joy worked at the Light office on weekends. She might be there right now, over in the next neighborhood from the bus station. Joy didn’t like coming to the house, but the store was a familiar place. She’d feel comfortable if Wynter visited her there, far from Caleb’s expectations and Jesse’s judgments.

Wynter looked up the address on her phone. A thirty-five minute walk, or half that by bus. The fare was one dollar twenty-five. She rummaged around in her backpack for her wallet and discovered she had one dollar to her name. So, the universe didn’t want her to take a bus to visit Joy. It might be testing her resolve to see if she’d walk all the way there and back… In either case she’d miss this bus to Pasco, which had dire consequences of its own.

The bus driver started the engine. She startled and the photo in her lap slipped to the floor. They’d be leaving in a few minutes.

She bent to pick up the photo. Underneath it was a silver coin. One quarter.

Wynter froze. Now she had the exact fare she needed to visit Joy, to tell Joy about her weekend and make her wish she’d been a part of it. Was that what the universe was telling her to do? Was that what the quarter on the floor meant?

It means nothing at all, Wyn.

Jesse’s voice was crystal clear in her head.

Joy’s smile was crystal clear in her head, too, that smile when she got off Indio’s bike after the ride up the mountain on Wynter’s birthday. Joy had been happy in that moment, and later as she held Wynter’s hand under the table watching their brothers perform at Patty’s. Six-year-old Joy smiled at her in the photo. Joy hadn’t forgotten how to be happy with her family, she just needed reminding.

The driver closed the doors of the bus and the air brakes hissed.

Wynter picked up the quarter. She shoved the phone and wallet and photo into her backpack and stumbled to the front of the bus.

“I have to get off,” she said as calmly as she could manage. “My mom texted me—she’s waiting in there.” She pointed to the bus station building.

The driver took a few seconds to convince himself she was telling the truth before returning her Unaccompanied Minor form and letting her off. Wynter went into the building until he’d driven off. Then she walked down the street to the local Metro stop, in time to catch the bus that would take her where the universe wanted her to be. It turned south through the downtown area and then east, away from the waterfront, through the International District and under the I-5.

A few minutes after that she disembarked and walked past storage buildings with closed-up roller doors, past fenced-off parking areas, Asian markets, auto service shops, a nail salon.

And then she was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Light office, inexplicably labeled Healing Center. She drew deep breaths, silently urging herself to walk in. Her feet wouldn’t move.

She hadn’t expected this. Hadn’t expected to be paralyzed by fear when she wanted so desperately to get to Joy.

She let herself stand there, motionless, waiting for it to pass. A handwritten banner in the unwashed window advertised 20% off jewelry. Bracelets woven by her hands, similar to the one on her wrist, were probably in that store, hand-stitched to pretty cards that each had a hole for hanging. She remembered exactly what they looked like. The hole was punched in the center, precisely one-quarter of an inch from the top, and the card was outlined with a hair’s width of silver by running a metallic Sharpie around the cut edge. Including inside the hole. She once packed and shipped an entire box of five hundred bracelet cards that she’d forgotten to color inside the hole. She never forgot again.

Her ears buzzed, making her head swim with nausea. She scanned the signs and posters, searching for the sun logo with its halo of irregular rays—she couldn’t find it. In the farthest corner of the window was a colorful poster of a mandala, drawn by a child, with Thank you for sponsoring our craft show written in crooked letters below the image. The Light did not do charity work—they were concerned only with an individual’s spiritual journey—but apparently this office had done some sort of outreach.

At last she was able to take a few steps, bringing her closer. Only when she reached for the door handle did she notice the CLOSED sticker on the inside of the glass.

What did it mean when the universe sent you to a locked-up storefront on a Sunday? When the universe made you miss the bus that under no circumstances could you miss, for no good reason?

Wynter fumbled for the bus ticket in her wallet with little idea what to do next. There in the pocket next to her school ID card was Jesse’s card from yesterday, which she’d forgotten to return. She could use it to pay for a taxi to Pasco. Cars were faster than buses… She could get there before the bus and walk out of the station when the bus arrived, where Rosa would be waiting. Rosa would think she’d been on the bus all along. She recalled the layout of the station and how she could fool Rosa…

How much did a three-hour taxi ride cost, anyway? Would Jesse’s card cover it? How could she find out? She plucked out the card and squeezed it in her palm, its edges digging into her finger joints as her hand shook in frustration. Jesse was teaching her all these random bits of information, and now she needed to know something random but didn’t know how to find out.

What did it mean when the universe made you miss the bus for no good reason, and then made you steal money from your brother so you could pretend like it never happened?

It means nothing at all.

Jesse was right. That gut feeling when she saw the quarter meant nothing at all. And if it did mean something, then Joy was right—Wynter had no idea how to interpret signs from the universe.

Yet every time those signs popped up, she kept trying to find meaning in them. She had to stop.

She ran away from the Light, down the street, and turned the corner. She should call Caleb, who would know how to fix things, but he was in Renton spending his last few hours with Bea. She couldn’t face him.

She called Jesse, who would be at Marcus’s by now.

“Hey, Wyn. What’s up?” he said over the noise of their videogame.

“I missed the bus.”

“No.”

“I did.”

“I watched you get on the bus!”

“I took a different bus. I thought…” She swallowed, anticipating his reaction. “I thought the universe wanted me to visit the Light office.”

The background noise faded as he moved somewhere quieter. “Okay, what? The universe doesn’t want you anywhere near the Light.”

“I know that now. The office is closed. But I missed the bus.” Her voice trembled in panic. “I have your card, by accident. So I wanted to know… Please can I use it to get a taxi to Pasco, so Rosa doesn’t find out?”

“You can’t take a taxi to Pasco.”

“I’ll pay you back.” Somehow.

“No taxi will take you all the way to Pasco. And if it did, it’d cost about a thousand dollars. Why did you get off that bus, Wyn? That was my one mission and now I’ve failed.” He sounded more exasperated than angry. “Why would you think the universe wanted you to go to the Light office?”

“I found a message. I thought…” She trailed off, knowing he’d think it was lame. She didn’t need to hear him laugh at her. “I thought Joy might be here. I wanted to tell her, to show her, that she could be happy with us even when things go wrong, like the burnt chicken and the pamphlet lady and you forgetting to set your alarm.”

“I didn’t forget!”

“What am I gonna do? The next bus doesn’t get in until after midnight. Tina will never let me come to Seattle again. Can you come pick me up and drive me to Pasco?”

“I can’t drive. In about fifteen minutes I’m gonna be high as a mountain goat.”

“So, don’t eat the brownie.”

“I already did. I ate three. Takes a while to hit the brain and then I’ll be couch-locked for hours. You have to call Caleb.”

“He can’t drive all the way to Pasco and back. He has to report in at three and catch a plane. Won’t he go to jail if he doesn’t obey orders? I can’t make him late. And Bea will hate me even more because it’s the last time she can see him for two months.”

“Caleb will sort things out. Just tell him—”

Wynter jabbed the button to end the call. The thought of Caleb being disappointed in her was too much to bear.

Seconds later, Jesse sent a message:

>> I’m calling Caleb

And then another:

>> Don’t ever hang up on me again XOXO

She set her backpack down on the sidewalk and sat on it to wait. Not for a sign, because she was never going to pay attention to messages from the universe again. But because there was nothing else to do.

A minute later, Caleb called. Seeing his name there on the screen made her feel safe. And so anxious she started shaking again. She took a deep breath and tapped the green button.

“Where are you?” he said, before she could say a word.

“Around the corner from the Light office.”

“On the main street? You’re near the I-5 overpass?”

To her left, the elevated freeway crossed the street.

“Yes. I can see the overpass. It’s not Jesse’s fault I missed the bus—he didn’t fail. He took good care of me.” Her voice sounded choked and plaintive, and she felt pathetic. “I took a different bus and now it’s too late.” Her chest tightened like that awful moment three days ago, standing in Jesse’s doorway, when she feared her brothers were going to decide she was too much trouble.

“Wynter, hun, calm down. I’ll drive up and get you. Stay put.”

“I have to wait eleven hours for the next bus and then… and then…”

“No, I’ll come get you. I’m already in the truck.”

His steady voice slowed her pulse. She heard Bea talking faintly and his curt response. That was the worst part of all. Bea was upset with him because of her stupid decision.

“I’ll walk to the bus station,” she said. “Maybe there’s a different bus to Pasco. Maybe—”

“Stay where you are, okay? Stay exactly where you are. I’ll be twenty minutes at the most.”

Wynter did as she was told. She sat huddled on her backpack with her earphones jammed in. Time dissolved into an endless ocean of drumbeats and guitar riffs…

…Until Caleb’s boots planted themselves on the sidewalk in front of her.

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