Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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A few minutes before Blunderbelly’s gig in a dive bar in Alberta, Jesse called Indio from outside the building.

“Can you get me in? Do you even check your messages on weekends? I rode down from Olympia in a t-shirt and I’m fucking freezing and I’ve been texting you all afternoon.”

Indio let Jesse in the back door. “Isn’t there a house rule about wearing leathers when you ride your bike?” He slung a roadie pass around his brother’s neck, adding, “You need to stay out of sight.”

He found Jesse a sweatshirt and directed him through the green room, which was packed with people, to the tiny kitchenette. Jesse made a beeline for the kettle on top of the bar fridge in the corner, to make himself tea.

“What were you doing in Olympia, anyway?”

“I had a date, sort of. A bunch of us went to Evergreen for a lecture this afternoon, and she wanted to ride with me on the bike. She wanted to see Blunderbelly, believe it or not, and I was gonna make the trip anyway to see if your drummer’s learned his left from his right yet.”

Indio glanced around to check Eduardo wasn’t within earshot.

“So, after the lecture we had a discussion about Libertarianism that turned… unpleasant,” Jesse continued. “She went back to Seattle in someone’s car—still wearing my jacket.”

“You can’t watch from the floor, Jess. The owner’s a good friend of ours. I’m not gonna risk him getting into trouble for having an underage kid on the premises.”

“I’ll stand in the wings. I don’t mind.”

“There are no wings. You’ll have to stay in here. And you can’t smoke or drink.”

“I’ll be a good little boy, I swear.”

Jesse hovered over the kettle so he could flick it off early, as he always did, because, allegedly, tea tastes better if you pour the water before boiling away the oxygen. He rummaged around for a tea bag. His movements were a little jerky and Indio sensed something was bothering him. He didn’t have time for a heart-to-heart, but it was no fun seeing Jesse stressed.

“So, Caleb shipped out today, right?” Indio said, in case that’s all it was. Caleb had been stationed at Key West for two weeks before his cutter sailed, so Jesse had already been alone in the house for a while—maybe he had a weird sort of cabin fever, coming home to an empty house every evening, fending for himself. During high school he’d stayed at friends’ places when Caleb was away for any length of time. Maybe Caleb leaving the country at last was making him nervous.

“He’s been bullying Joy into spending a weekend at the house next month.” Jesse dunked his tea bag so viciously the water splashed out of the mug. “Wynter can’t visit unless she’s there as the supervising adult. You don’t count cuz you’re, y’know, a delinquent. I heard all about how you charmed your way into Rosa’s heart, but the social worker’s not so impressed. Anyway, it’s never gonna happen, but if it does you have to be there. I’m not at all comfortable in Joy’s presence, even with Wynter there. I’m gonna start another unpleasant discussion and ruin the whole thing.”

“I doubt Joy cares about Libertarianism one way or the other.”

Jesse brushed that off. “It’ll be about reincarnation or homeopathy or the primal stream or something. I don’t think she has the intellectual rigor to hold her own in an argument. I’m not saying she’s dumb,” he added quickly. “She’s uneducated and that’s not her fault. But I might accidentally overpower her with my relentless logic.”

“So you want me to jump to her defense?”

“I want you to stop me before it starts!”

Turk poked his head into the room, acknowledging Jesse before leaving again with problems of his own.

“He’s been trying to track down someone to pay us since we arrived two hours ago for soundcheck,” Indio explained.

“Thought you said the owner’s a friend?”

“Doesn’t mean he pays us on time. At this point we’re gonna have to ask the bartender to raid the till. I need to hang with the guys out there for five minutes before we go on. Okay with you?” He tilted an eyebrow to emphasize the sarcasm.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re the rockstar. Gotta get in the zone. I respect that.” Jesse waved his hand to dismiss him.

“You expecting to sleep at my place?”

“Dude, I’m not riding home tonight.”

“Don’t you have to be somewhere tomorrow?”

“Yeah, at three in the afternoon.”

Indio blew out a sigh. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it. To persuade me to go to the wedding.”

Jesse’s mouth flattened for a moment. “I mean, why not?”

Indio refused to worry his conscience about Harry’s wedding, although he did feel bad Jesse had to go alone. Well, he didn’t have to go at all, of course.

“I have a gig tomorrow,” Indio said.

“No, you don’t. I checked.”

“I have a project due Monday.”

“What project?”

“I have to design a font from scratch.” Wasn’t remotely true, but whatever.

“Copy one from the internet and add or subtract a few serifs, like everyone else is gonna do.”

“I’m not going to the wedding.” Indio grabbed a spare wireless jack from his kit bag and a bottle of water from the refrigerator, and prepared to join his bandmates.

“Will you tell me what’s that gift you sent?”

“You’ll find out tomorrow. Would’ve saved myself eight bucks postage if I knew you were coming down tonight.”

“What about our delightful new stepmother? You don’t wanna meet her?”

“Fuck off, Jesse. Oh, hang around, though. You can help us load out. Earn that roadie pass.”

Indio came home late Saturday morning to an empty apartment. That wasn’t right. He’d expected to find Jesse on the couch. He’d lost track of him after the gig, when Blunderbelly and the other band on the bill headed off to a private party at a house near the club. Indio had somehow ended up in a beautifully appointed bedroom with tasteful dramatic paintings on the walls and a king-sized canopy bed with that pink-haired girl Elizabeth. No, Liza… Leanne… Ellen… Eleanor. She had some nerve flinging herself at him again after her little prank in February. Hoping for a repeat performance. Problem was, she was a sexy as hell and Indio’s resistance was particularly weak. Her hopes panned out.

He shook his head to clear it, put on coffee, and texted Jesse to discover what had become of him. Indio had gotten shirking responsibility down to a fine art, but his kid brother was a guest in his city and he was definitely responsible for him.

>> I’m in Turk’s bed, Jesse replied.

> Trying something new? Nice.

Jesse emerged from Turk’s room in his boxers. “Very funny. Turk told me I could crash here.”

“Where is he?”

“I guess he had a better offer. I mean, what’s with that?” Jesse drew his hands down his lean body with a flourish. “Who could turn this down?”

“Every girl at last night’s party, apparently,” Indio said dryly, making a show of looking around Jesse to the empty bed beyond. “You ever heard of protein shakes?”

“I drink protein shakes. Caleb won’t let me start bulking up until I’m nineteen. I need to borrow a jacket.”

“Take my old leather jacket. It’s the one I lend to girls when they want to know what seventy horsepower between their thighs feels like.”

“I meant a dinner jacket, for the wedding.”

“What makes you think I have a dinner jacket? Not sure I even know what a dinner jacket is.”

“Last time I wore mine was at Caleb’s promotion. I’m, like, two inches taller now and it looks ridiculous. It was his, anyway, from when he was about fourteen.”

“Check Turk’s closet. He won’t mind. You have a good night?”

“Well, you vanished into the bowels of that huge house leaving me with strangers, so thanks a lot for that.”

“You love strangers.”

“They were okay. Thought about persuading one of those girls to come back with me. I think she would’ve, whatever you think. Decided against it. Went straight to bed.”

“I’m glad,” Indio said. “Glad you decided against it, I mean. You’re not gonna find much joy doing that, Jess.”

“But it’s good enough for you?”

“I’m good at switching off. You analyze everything. You get emotionally involved even though you’re about to tell me that’s not true.” Sure enough, Jesse had opened his mouth to protest. “Find yourself another nice girl, one who likes sex this time, and do the girlfriend-boyfriend thing properly.”

Jesse looked pitiably sad for a second. “Natalie was my most successful girlfriend ever.”

“That can’t possibly be true.”

“I turned her around one hundred eighty degrees, less than a month after meeting her.”

“She was a friend without benefits. How long were you gonna wait for her?”

She wasn’t convinced I… you know, loved her. Maybe I did, but that’s not something you blurt out when you’re not sure. She was great. And I’m miserable now. Is that love?”

Indio had nothing to add to this conversation. He made for the bathroom.

“You’re gonna put on smart black jeans and a collared shirt, right?” Jesse called out hopefully.

“I’m. Not. Going.”

At the look on Jesse’s face, he almost changed his mind on the spot. He escaped to the shower and spent five minutes getting his thoughts—his justifications—in order. The idea of watching Harry speak vows of love to some woman he probably met in a bar, and proposed to while drunk, turned his stomach. On principle, however, he had to respect the man for going through with it this time.

He allowed himself a flicker of sympathy for Harry. Unlike his brothers, he’d always been acutely aware of how Miriam’s disappearance had affected his father. Until that summer, Harry had rarely visited his kids, knowing his estranged wife did not welcome his presence. Yet he showed up—irregularly, a few times a year—with a sort of desperation in his eyes, and in the slump of his shoulders, because he still loved her and hoped she loved him.

Had Miriam ever loved Harry? Indio had pondered that question when he was older. Had she loved any of them? Was she capable of love?

Indio’s love for her was instinctive, automatic, and he didn’t blame his child self for being gullible. But he had no yardstick with which to measure adult love. No way to explain why Harry fell in love with her and still loved her years later. Indio couldn’t imagine loving someone who didn’t love him back.

He went to pour the coffee and make toast. Jesse was on the couch with a book.

“I haven’t heard otherwise, so can I assume Wynter’s blood test was clear after that tatt?”

“All clear,” Jesse said. “And she won’t give any more details about why she has it.”

“Why does it matter?”

“Just curious.”

“Leave her alone, Jesse. You’re twice as nosy with her as you ever were with me, and you were insufferable with me. I get a shudder down my spine when I think she had to spend twenty-four hours alone in your undiluted presence.”

“We get along incredibly well! Except for that one argument, which was over quickly. She respects and admires everything about me. She knows I’ll always be there to help her.”

“At some point you gotta let her figure things out for herself. Can you not bend the spine? That’s for her.”

Jesse checked the book’s cover, as if he hadn’t bothered before. “If your gift for Harry’s as lame as this rhyming dictionary, my toaster’s suddenly looking real thoughtful. And if this is for the Wordsworth-esque poem she had to write, that was weeks ago. Keep up.”

“So how was her poem? Any good?”

“Why would I read a poem about flowers? Or any poem?”

Indio sighed patiently. “There’s this thing called lyrics. She might find it useful. She texted asking for a rhyme for amethyst.”

“Uh, why?”

“No idea.”

“Pacifist. Narcissist. Masochist. That’s off the top of my head. Infected cyst. See, she doesn’t need a rhyming dictionary. She just needs me. Catalyst! One of my favorite words. Remember when I stole hydrochloric acid from the science room and we did that experiment at home to demonstrate catalysts? The only aluminum foil we could find was Dad’s disposable ashtray…”

Jesse went off again, a sure sign he was nervous about the rest of his day. Indio was in the habit of indulging his weird tangents, if only because Caleb often didn’t. This gave Jesse the impression they were the best of friends, when in fact Indio didn’t understand him and rarely confided in him, two things that were rather essential to friendship. Indio would kill or die for his little brother without a second thought, but sometimes, like now, he felt close to throttling him to get a few minutes of peace.

Indio was remembering their father crashing about the house in a drunken rage looking for that ashtray, not because he needed it—he could’ve used a mug or an empty beer can or his own dinner plate like he often did—but simply because he was in the mood to rage about something.

Jesse was still going. “…So, I wouldn’t say it worked exactly liked the internet said it would. And Dad had a major overreaction to the disappearance of that ashtray cuz it was the last one in the pack. I wrote a song last year using the word catalyst.”

“Did you have to rhyme it?” Indio asked, coming in with mugs for them both.

“No, I had to rhyme combustion, which isn’t easy.” Jesse turned the dictionary over and over in his hands. “How come, whenever you give me a book, I get a dog-eared, water-damaged monstrosity with the cover ripped in half, but Wynter gets a new book from the store?” He dropped it on the coffee table, perilously close to a puddle of coffee.

Indio rescued the book and put it on the kitchen counter. “You’ve never cared what state your books are in. I actually like nice things, now and then. Like my nice guitars, for as long as I can hold onto them.”

“I almost forgot!” Jesse jumped up and patted his pockets for his wallet. “I’ve got your money for the Les Paul. Oh, it’s in an envelope in my backpack. Hang on—”

“Whoa.” Indio caught his arm. “Why d’you bring it here? Leave it for Caleb when he gets home.”

“Five hundred bucks cash sitting around the house? That’s a big responsibility, bro.”

“Take it with you, okay? I don’t trust myself with it.”

Jesse gave him a searching look. “Sure. Not that your lack of self-control is my responsibility, but okay. Have you sold anything here?”

“I got ninety bucks for a crappy old electric that needs a ton of work.”

“So give me that, too. I’ll keep the lot for you.”

Jesse held out his hand for a second, before pulling it back with a grin because he knew damn well Indio no longer had the cash. In fact, it had been converted into a beautiful tremolo pedal.

They finished breakfast and Jesse found a suitable navy sports jacket in Turk’s closet.

“Can you call Turk about this? I don’t wanna just take it.”

Indio reached for his phone. He had a new message—Caleb reminding him about the wedding. Not ordering him to go or anything. Just reminding him. He muttered a curse and texted Turk.

“Can I roll this up and stick it in my backpack, d’you think?” Jesse said. “I don’t wanna crease it. Is it supposed to have a… what are those things called… a pocket square poking out? I thought they came with the pocket square. I bet everyone else at the wedding will have one.”

“I have no advice about the jacket.” Indio distracted himself with his phone so he wouldn’t have to talk about the wedding. “Just don’t spill anything on it.”

Jesse shoved the jacket into his backpack with rather less care than required for it to arrive in good shape. “Last chance. You coming with me? Follow me on your bike. I’ll even let you critique my riding technique at the other end.”

Indio showed him to the door with a shit-eating grin. “Have a fun day.”

Jesse took a last look at the dictionary on the counter. “I gave her an entire suitcase of books. She’s gonna test out of ninth grade because of me. And I’m helping her with a secret project. Just saying.”

“It’s not a contest. Although, I did give her a guitar. So… I win.”

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