Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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Wynter walked into Wednesday’s rehearsal holding a yellow flyer from the noticeboard right outside the room.

“Did anyone see this? Auditions in one month to play at the junior high graduation ceremony. We’re gonna do this!”

“One month?” Ethan gave the others an anxious look. “Will we be ready? I was thinking maybe we could put on a summer concert after school breaks up.”

Wynter would be in Greece after school broke up. “No, we’re doing this. They’re picking three winners, one of which will be the Clockwork Toys. That’ll be our summer concert.”

“Can we do the Beatles songs?”

They’d picked two Beatles songs for the upcoming retirement home performance, but they were working on half a dozen others as well. The individual practice sessions had been a success and Wynter was proud of her little group. Icing on the cake had been Hunter declaring Indio’s logo “not lame”. Indio had sent through a file of the design and Wynter got it printed on card at the print shop, large enough to cut into a circle to fit onto the kick drum.

“No way I’m playing the Beatles in front of the whole school,” Hunter said. “That’s not cool. We’ll do Green Day. We’ll do Guns N’ Roses, obviously. Maybe Joan Jett. Wynter’s not bad on that one.”

“We’ll do our best songs,” Wynter said. “I agree though, not the Beatles. And not Sweet Child if you can’t nail it. Obviously.”

“I’m gonna play it for you right now,” Hunter announced.

“Okay. I’ll play rhythm and sing. Let’s see how far we get.”

Hunter looked confident and, more importantly, his brow was drawn low in concentration. He started the intro—smoother than last time but it wasn’t great. Wynter was pleased when Arthur joined in, unasked, with a nice rock beat after sixteen bars. They petered out eight bars later because Wynter wasn’t going to start the vocals when it was clear it wasn’t going to work.

Hunter read the bad news in her expression.

“You’re not even keeping time.” No point tearing apart the rest of it when the most important part was wrong. “We’re a band, a team. You need to listen to Arthur.”

Hunter gave Arthur a reflexive sneer, before turning it into a sheepish grin for Wynter. “My mom says I’m a bit out there when my blood sugar’s high.”

“Is your blood sugar high?”

“Sure is. I’m still getting through my Easter candy. Three weeks straight eating pretty much nothing but sugar. Let me play the solo. Told you, I rock the s—”

“If you can’t do the main riff,” Wynter said, “I don’t care about the solo.”

Hunter huffed with agitation. “You try playing it perfectly! Jeez!”

Wynter put her acoustic down and held out her hand for his guitar. He smirked and handed it over. She switched to the neck pickup because he hadn’t even figured that out—he really didn’t know what he was doing half the time—and she played the intro. At the ashram she’d figured it out from memory, working out the fingering in her head and then quietly on the guitar when she had the chance in between rehearsals for prayer meetings. It was one of Xay’s favorite songs and he’d never heard her play it.

She looked up when she was done to see Arthur staring, slack-jawed, and Ethan grinning from ear to ear. Hunter looked stunned, like he’d entered an alternate, incomprehensible universe where girls could be Slash.

“What do you even need me for?” he said.

She handed back his guitar. “I don’t need you. But for the most part you play pretty well and I like the way you sound in my band—when your blood sugar’s normal.”

Hunter gave her a thanks for nothing look.

“Also, I can’t do the solo,” she added, although she could if she cared to spend the time learning it, especially with Indio’s help. “So I would still need you for that. Next week, play me the intro perfectly, and the solo with your wah pedal, and we’ll talk about it.”

Hunter grumbled under his breath, but she saw him smile as he turned away.

“I think they actually respect me,” she told Jesse on the phone that night. “I was grinning to myself on the bus all the way home. I’m completely lost most of the time at school, but this is the one thing I’m really good at.”

“Everyone should have one thing they’re really good at.”

“What’s yours? Drumming?”

“God, no. Drumming keeps me sane—something physical to work off the energy, counteract all the stuff going on in my head.”

He was talking to her from the dining room. In the background she could see the window overlooking the front yard, and the chess board on top of the drinks cabinet. With Caleb gone, he had no one to play chess with.

He went on, “When I look at you, though, or Indio… I can’t match you for talent. Don’t tell Indio that. I’ve got him fooled that I’m brilliant cuz guitarists are universally terrible drummers. I’m better than the Blunderbelly drummer, I’ll tell you that. The guy needs to work on his sticking. He’s all over the place when he exits his fills, and at the last gig he looked like he didn’t have a clue which—”

“Jesse, did you set up that payment account like I asked?”

Jesse sighed heavily at her lack of interest in his drummer rant. “I did. I created a new email address for you and added it to my account. Are you ready to tell me what you’re up to?”

“I’m doing what you suggested—scamming the Light. I’ll tell you all about it once it’s done.”

He leaned forward to study her carefully. It felt odd to see his reactions in close-up when they were two hundred miles apart. “I feel I should get confirmation you’re not breaking any laws.”

“I’m not telling one single lie, so I don’t see how I could be breaking any laws.”

“You’re saying this is a scam even Caleb would approve of?”

Wynter bit her lip. “Please don’t tell him about any of this.”

That poster in the Light office’s window in Seattle had given Wynter the idea. The Light wasn’t known for its charity work, but there was apparently one way to get money out of them—convince them you were spreading the word. Better still, you were spreading the word about their courses and retreats and retail outlets, which was how they made their money.

Wynter had learned a little about entrepreneurship from her business class, and a little about advertising from her art class when they studied logos.

Can you help? she wrote in an email subject line.

For my eighth grade exhibition in May, I’ve chosen to do a presentation about the healing power of crystals. My sister told me all about them but I don’t have any of my own. I need to buy some crystals for the display so I’m writing to you and a few other places for help.

Would you like to sponsor my display? If you can spare $2 or $5 or even $10 I’ll list you as a co-sponsor. I’ll print off any promotional material you’d like to send for your services and products, and set aside a corner on my table for it. Our whole school and all the teachers and parents will get the chance to see the crystal healing display. Any money left over, I’ll use to educate people about crystals.

Please help me spread the word!

With a fake signature—Penelope Phoenix, to match the email address she’d asked Jesse to create—the scam email was complete.

Wynter had spent the previous evening making a list of email addresses for all the Light offices and retreats in the country. She copied and pasted her letter twenty-nine times to send out individual emails, because her business textbook warned about the negative impression a mass emailing could give.

Her hand began to shake on the mouse as she hovered the cursor over the Send button for the Arizona retreat. She felt sick to her stomach to be contacting them, even anonymously. But singling them out by leaving them out was somehow worse. It would give them power over her.

She reclaimed that power and clicked the button.

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