Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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All That Jazz

From the moment he walked in the door, Jesse had eleven-and-a-half minutes to shower and change for the wedding. He played a message from Wynter on speaker while searching his closet for a shirt—she’d called while he was on the freeway. The Clockwork Toys had given their first performance that morning, at the retirement home. His mood lifted at the excitement in her voice.

They were dancing, Jesse! The staff, too. They made us play I Want To Hold Your Hand four times. We had so much fun, even Hunter. I love that the old people loved it. We served them morning tea and they gave us handmade thank you cards. I met a lady, Doris, who was at the Seattle World Fair. Her husband Donald proposed to her exactly fifty-one years ago today at the NASA pavilion and they got married three months later at Cape Carnival…

Jesse winced, dried off his hair, and buttoned his shirt.

…and then he died in Vietnam and she never remarried. Very tragic. I wish you’d been there to see the Clockwork Toys. Caleb sent me a good luck text earlier this morning. You forgot, by the way. That’s okay. Oh, and Doris says I have to watch a movie called The Right Stuff about the space program, because Donald tried to get into astronaut training. Have a nice wedding!

The message ended and Jesse wondered if she was picking up his habit of rambling, or if it was just nervous energy after her first performance. He texted her as he walked through to the front of the house.

> It’s Cape Canaveral

>> What is?

> Never mind. Glad it went well. Will you get an A for the class?

>> It wasn’t for credit

> You should get credit. You had to perform AND serve tea.

> And I’m sorry I didn’t wish you luck, but as you know I don’t believe in luck

> Also, you didn’t need it

> Also, you’ve made $60 so far from your totally legal scam

> It’ll take me a few days to cash it

> I’ll mail it to you

> Wyn?

>> I’m here, checking email. Looks like I have another $15 coming through soon.

Yet more money he must take responsibility for.

> This is all highly suspicious

>> Send me live updates of the wedding. I’ve never been to a real one.

> You should be studying

Jesse struggled to shove the four-slice toaster into his backpack, which he’d emptied out when he got home. With only a minor scrape to the gift wrap, he made it fit. He was on his bike and halfway down the street before remembering he’d forgotten Indio’s gift. He went back for it.

In a dress shirt and waistcoat, Harry milled about his future mother-in-law’s house as if he was overseeing something. He wasn’t doing a damn thing, of course, but Jesse knew how he liked to look busy and in charge. Jesse set the gifts on the growing pile in the front room, which attracted Harry’s attention—he picked out the one from Indio.

“He mailed that to me,” Jesse explained. “He has a gig tonight. Couldn’t get out of it, so…”

Why on earth was he making excuses for his lame brother?

“Just for me, huh?” Harry said, bemused. He pointed to the tag. Indio had only put Harry’s name on it, which Jesse hadn’t considered significant until now.

“Maybe he’s gonna send you and Charmaine a steam mop later.”

“A what?”

“It’s on the registry list.”

“Charms put that together. No idea what’s on it. What the hell is a steam mop?”

Jesse shrugged. “If you’d rather have him-and-her bath towels or personalized champagne flutes or whatever, I’ll pass along the message.”

Harry wasn’t listening. He was opening the gift in an offhand manner, like he had nothing better to do. Jesse held his breath as Harry discarded the wrap and tipped something out of a square, flat box—halfway, to take a peek. Not artwork, after all, but a vintage LP record in a yellowing sleeve.

“Nice, very nice,” he muttered, pushing the record back into the box. His expression was curious, but not exactly overjoyed. The toaster was looking better and better.

Patricia put her head around the door. “Harry? Your bride’s setting out from the matron of honor’s house. She’ll be here in ten minutes. Ready to join us in the garden?”

“Lovely. Thanks, Pat.”

Harry placed the gift on a long narrow table under the window—the most useless piece of furniture Jesse had ever seen. It had a big lamp on it that looked ready to topple off, and teeny drawers that wouldn’t fit more than a few receipts or a set of keys.

Harry wasn’t quite ready to go outside yet. “Go on, boy, make yourself useful and help Patricia get those last-minute guests seated. I’ll pour myself a quick shot of liquid courage.”

Jesse felt he should probably stay to make sure Harry didn’t overdo the courage, but he wasn’t going to babysit. He did snap a picture of the pile of gifts, and sent it to Wynter.

> Wedding Rule #1: Spend as much on the gift wrap and tag and bag and fancy ribbons as on the gift. First impressions count!

>> Indio’s gift didn’t have a fancy ribbon

> His gift sucks

He went outside to help with ushering duties. The structured activity was easier than finding people to talk to—not that he normally minded striking up provocative conversations with middle-aged middle-class probably-Christian probably-right-wing strangers, but this wasn’t the time or place. The only person he knew was Patricia. He recognized a couple of his father’s army buddies by sight but they didn’t recognize him.

He showed a few people to their seats, making pleasant, teeth-grating small talk, until Patricia gave a worried tip of her chin to send him inside. He sent Wynter a picture of the bridal arch, entwined with flowers, and tapped a message on the go.

> Wedding Rule #2: Spend $300 on something you’ll get 10 minutes’ use out of.

>> But it’s so pretty

>> And you told me not to end a sentence in a preposition

He grinned at that and tucked away his phone. In the house, sultry jazz notes filtered down the hallway from the living room—gorgeous brushes on drums, tinkling piano notes, the unmistakable trumpet of Miles Davis. Harry was sitting on the couch with his whiskey, his gaze unfocused. The music came from a record player in the corner.

“Dad, you need to be under that flowery arch in about one minute or the bride will arrive before you do.” Jesse went to switch off the music, hesitating at Harry’s groan of protest. “I accept that traditions for their own sake are completely irrational and should be abolished, but Charmaine’s family strikes me as having a serious case of wedding fever so you should probably get things off to a good start by—”

“Shut up. Listen to this.” Harry had closed his eyes. “Kind of Blue, with Jimmy Cobb on drums, Coltrane on sax.”

“I know, Dad. You have the CD.”

“Couldn’t resist putting it on. The next track’s my favorite. He got me the original 1959 pressing. What a treat.”

He being Indio. Fuck him.

Jesse picked up the cardboard sleeve next to the record player to read the track listing. The rotating disc had the glorious luster of well-tended vinyl, a slice of it sparkling where the sunlight hit. No doubt Indio had polished it before wrapping it up.

“You know what the lovely Charms is walking down the aisle to? We had it all sorted—In the Mood, a nice Glenn Miller number. She and her stepdad practiced a little dance. She was gonna dance down the aisle to her betrothed. Then her mom had a word with her, and guess what it’s gonna be now?”

“Uh, Pachelbel’s Canon in D?” Jesse said, as a joke.

“Pachelbel’s fucking Canon in D! I said, at least find a jazzed-up version of it. Flamenco or something. Here we go…” The second track had started, and Harry was silent for half a minute, lost in it, as Jesse debated what to do. “Freddie Freeloader. She could’ve danced down the aisle to this, right? Listen to that piano.” His fingers played along on an imaginary keyboard, in perfect time.

Out the window, the limo pulled up and a procession of bridesmaids got out in identical dark blue silk dresses. Jesse should probably get a picture of them for Wynter, but he needed to get Harry moving. Charmaine’s mother raced down the path, wobbling in her heels, presumably to tell the bride to stay put for a minute.

“Time to get married,” Jesse said.

Harry snapped out of it. “Caleb called yesterday to offer his congratulations. He’ll soon be baking in the Caribbean sun, lucky sod.”

Jesse opened his mouth to explain Caleb was more likely combating international drug smuggling than basking on a beach in Barbados, two activities Jesse found equally pointless—and thought better of it.

“Joy’s not with you, then?” Harry said. “I sent her an invitation. Caleb wouldn’t give me her address, so I sent it to her place of work. D’you think she got it? And Indio—he couldn’t make it?”

“I already told you—”

“I know, I know. He’s a working musician. I understand.”

Jesse refrained from pointing out he was a working musician, too. He had five or six gigs a month, four of them with a local jazz band. He could play more if he wanted, but he regularly turned down offers to concentrate on college. It should be a point of connection between him and his father—their love of jazz—but somehow Harry failed to appreciate it.

Harry failed to appreciate pretty much anything about his youngest son, come to think of it. Jesse couldn’t compete with a Coast Guard hero or a beloved missing six-year-old daughter or an original pressing of Miles Davis. Jesse looked at himself from his father’s perspective and saw a hyperactive, obnoxious kid, too quick on his feet to suffer more than the occasional beating, too clever to find much to respect in his father. Jesse had seen Caleb as the authority figure for almost as long as he could remember. Maybe the distance between father and son was Jesse’s fault, after all. Maybe he was the one who turned away first.

Heels click-clacked on a determined approach, and Charmaine’s mother appeared in the doorway. “We’re waiting! The bride’s here! You have to get into position! Hurry!” She addressed the breathless exclamations to Jesse, handing him the responsibility of making it happen, rushing off without waiting to see if it would.

Harry gave a deep sigh, downed the last of his drink, and stood.

“Hand me the jacket, then.” Jesse helped him on with it. “How do I look?”

He looked all right, in dark gray coat-and-tails and a pale blue bowtie. He also looked terrified and incomprehensibly sad, and his cheeks were flushed from the booze.

“You look great, Dad,” Jesse managed.

Harry slapped Jesse on the arm on his way out. “Lookin’ pretty spiffy yourself. We should’ve put you in the wedding party. I hear they’re a man short.”

Jesse lifted the needle to cut off the music.

“If you put a scratch on that,” Harry barked, turning to him in alarm, “I’ll… I’ll…”

He flapped his hand to dismiss whatever idea was brewing, but not before Jesse’s spine shivered with that familiar, dreadful anticipation that things were about to go bad. An instinctive reaction, not worth worrying about. He was stronger than his father now.

Harry walked away. Jesse lifted the record off the turntable and tilted it this way and that, letting it sparkle. One of his first memories was of pressing his ear to the speakers in his grandparents’ home—it must’ve been Harry’s home by then, but it had all their furniture and things. They had a record player, the same one now residing in Harry’s shack that would soon be blessed with Kind of Blue. They called it a gramophone, although it was a 1970s model. Indio told him there were tiny musicians in the speakers, and Jesse had not believed him for a minute. Well, maybe for a minute. Indio accepted Jesse’s disbelief and explained how soundwaves worked instead, and Jesse hadn’t believed that, either, not until Indio found a book about it, after which it was undeniable.

He loved his brother, and sometimes he was so scared for him it hurt, but today he hated him for scoring points without even bothering to show up. It would be so easy to gouge the vinyl. A zipper, a key, the cap from the empty whiskey bottle on the table. Scratched records sent him into fits of giggles when he was little. Or he would pound the bureau with his fist to force the needle to jump.

Jesse put the record in its sleeve, his fingers stiff and his chest tight.

> Wedding Rule #3: I hate weddings, Wyn.

Harry danced light-footed down the aisle, showing off as he greeted guests. He reached the arch and stood with his best man, an old friend all the way from Montana who’d brought along his daughter and young grandchildren. Jesse took a seat on the front row, saved for him by Patricia although she was three rows back. He’d rather be sitting with her. None of those people even knew who he was. No one knew who he was. Despite being the groom’s son and the only blood relative present, he was as insignificant as a drummer backstage, the one nobody recognized. All the girls fell in love with the lead singer and the guitarist, and Indio was both at the same time. Fuck him again.

>> Why do you hate weddings? Wynter wrote, several minutes after his last message. She was, hopefully, studying as he’d told her to, and checking her phone sporadically.

He regretted sending that message. Harry’s behavior had put him an uncertain mood but that was no reason to be negative. Weddings were fun! Weddings were celebrations of love!

> I’m sure this one will pick up. Kinda rude of me to text during the ceremony so I’m going silent.

Pachelbel piped up from a boombox, the traditional sedate string rendition. Terrible sound quality. They hadn’t even hooked up speakers. Weddings were a waste of money in every respect, from the thousand-dollar dresses to the flowers that invariably looked better rooted in a field than plucked and preened and arranged into stiff little bouquets, but if he was forced to have a wedding he wouldn’t skimp on the music. He’d have a live band, a five-piece, at least. He’d have Indio in that band, much as he resented the prick today. Wynter would sing something to make even Harry cry, in addition to the women who were already crying—as they were doing now. Caleb would be his best man and tell non-embarrassing stories about the bridegroom’s youth that made it clear he was smart and successful and very much a hit with the ladies, but that this particular lady (whoever she was) had finally won his heart by being the most rational, intelligent, sexually adventurous woman he’d ever met. Patricia would cater the event, and MC it, keeping everything classy.

Was it normal for eighteen-year-old guys to fantasize about their own weddings?

Of course, none of that would happen. He’d marry a girl who was perfectly fine with eloping. In fact, she’d be the one to suggest it. He’d ask if she was sure she didn’t want a wedding, even a small one, and she’d say, God, no, what a waste of money, and he’d fall in love with her all over again.

Harry’s grin was starting to look fake. One hand slowly tapped the other, in time to Canon in D. The grin was a grimace because of that god-awful music. He looked to be in pain and Jesse held his breath, hoping his father wasn’t going to faint. How much whiskey had he had? He hadn’t seemed drunk.

Three groomsmen escorted three bridesmaids down the aisle, followed by a solitary bridesmaid at the rear. The groomsmen wore pale blue suits. They looked hideous and Jesse was glad he wasn’t among them. Still, would’ve been nice to have been asked, especially as they were one short. Natalie once told him light colors suited him. He and the unescorted bridesmaid, a tall, dark-haired girl in her twenties, would’ve made an attractive couple for the photos, except that she was scowling. Jesse would’ve made up the numbers and made her laugh. If anyone had asked him.

The wedding party shifted aimlessly around the altar, arranging themselves. A few of them must’ve skipped the rehearsal. Jesse was having so much fun watching them screw it all up, he missed the bride’s entrance. He caught a quick glimpse of Charmaine’s euphoric face before she passed by and was handed off.

The ceremony began. Jesse caught the eye of the lone bridesmaid, standing farthest from the action and on the other side of the garden from him, and indulged in a vivid fantasy wherein she thanked him for stepping up at the last moment by leading him into the barn (in his fantasy, there was a barn), inviting him to unzip her dress, and dragging him down onto the puddle of blue silk to make love. That’s what she’d call it, sultry romantic that she was. Making love.

The officiant waffled on and on, so Jesse expanded the fantasy to include the redhead standing next to the lonely brunette, although his gaze was mostly on the latter because her gaze was on him and she was no longer scowling.

When he chanced a look at Harry, his father looked more uncomfortable than ever as he faced his lovely bride. But he said all the right words at the right time and the husband-and-wife pronouncement was made. They kissed. Celine Dion was the music of choice for the signing. Jesse cringed on Harry’s behalf. Charmaine sat at the wobbly fold-out table to sign. Then it was Harry’s turn.

Harry wouldn’t sit.

His best man made a joke about it that only the wedding party heard, and half of them laughed uproariously, the other half nervously. Harry was paler than pale. He was green. He was going to throw up—Jesse knew the signs and should get over there to… do something, somehow. But the body knows when it needs to hurl and nothing can stop it. Harry stumbled backward, heaved forward, and did what he had to do.

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