Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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The First Kind Face

“Your dad’s in the bar. D’you want me to tell him you’re here?”

Jesse looked up from his chocolate malt shake into Patricia’s brown eyes. Hers was the first kind face he saw after they moved to Seattle. He’d just turned nine years old. Their first free weekend in the new city, Harry was eager to drive out and see the scenery. He’d moved a few months earlier, leaving Caleb to look after his brothers so they could finish the school semester in Montana. Harry already had a girlfriend, who came along. Zoe was a lot of fun but wasn’t too interested in Jesse—something of a shock to him, because his superpower was making almost any grown woman mother him.

They drove up Cougar Mountain and ate at Patty’s for the first time. Patricia succumbed to his superpower and made a huge fuss of him. Over the years, Patty’s became their go-to place for meals out of town, although they were careful never to find a “reason” to go because they’d already stopped celebrating birthdays or other anniversaries. They dropped in if they were in the neighborhood, or if there was nothing in the refrigerator for dinner.

Jesse rested his cheek on his fist. “This is the last place I thought he’d be.”

“He didn’t eat any of that catered food this afternoon, so I figured he’d be hungry. I suggested he drop by.”

“Yet he’s in the bar, not the dining room.”

“True. I’m keeping him supplied with free finger food and pretzels.”

“You better charge for the drinks, though, or he’ll never leave.”

Patricia slid into the seat opposite. “You sounded like you weren’t going to come. I’m glad you’re here.” Nice to know someone was glad when he showed up.

“Our dishwasher’s on the blink. That’s why I’m here.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I’ll send my cousin Neville over to take a look, if you like.”

“Neville the sound engineer?”

“He’s good with household appliances. He fixes stuff around here all the time.”

“I have a cash flow problem at the moment, but maybe when Caleb—”

“He won’t charge, Jesse,” she said, in that kind way of hers that put a lump in Jesse’s throat.

He said, without meaning to, “I’m very depressed.” Normally he would’ve debriefed with Indio, but he wasn’t ready to tell his brother about the missing cash yet.

“About the wedding?”

“No. Other stuff. Actually, yeah, things that happened at the wedding. I may have to adjust my entire perspective on humanity. It’s been fun finding all this stuff to teach Wynter, all these amazing things humans have achieved. But everything’s sort of bleak right now. Love, women, parenthood. Have you ever been married? Do you have kids?”

She shook her head. “I guess I wanted to, in theory. Never worked out in the right way, at the right time.”

“We thought… I thought, and Indio agreed, that you and Harry might hook up.”

“Once upon a time, there was a slight possibility,” she said with a smile. “You know I have a soft spot for your family.”

“It sucks. You’d have been the world’s best mom, or stepmom. I never even met my future stepmom. No one introduced me. I think Harry doesn’t like me. I think he never loved me.” That same dead calm came over him again as he spoke the words.

“Oh, Jesse, I’m sure that’s not true.”

“I mean, he has the weirdest way of showing love in the first place so it’s a little hard to tell. But it occurred to me today, the way he spoke to me, compared to the way he spoke about my brothers and about our mom… I think he sort of loves them, in his weird way, and I think he doesn’t love me. I feel like an idiot for not noticing sooner.”

“Surely parents automatically love their kids.”

“Yeah, I hear that’s the way it’s supposed to work. You don’t have kids. So, you don’t know.”

She accepted his rebuke. “Well, I have four nieces and I automatically love them.”

“Are any of them currently between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one, and intending to get married in more than twelve but less than fourteen years’ time? That would be awesome,” he said miserably. “You’d be my aunt-in-law, if that’s a thing.”

“That’s definitely a thing.”

“Maybe he does love us all, and I expect a bit more than the others, and that’s why I feel disappointed. Indio gave Harry this life-changing gift, a classic jazz LP, to make up for not showing up, which is fine. They don’t do well in the same room together, never have. And Harry talks sometimes like he’s proud of him, despite the trouble he’s been in. He’s proud like a regular father would be. Indio’s found the only way he can to connect with him.”

“Or the only way he wants to connect with him,” Patricia pointed out. “It’s up to you to figure out how much you want to connect with Harry. You’re not competing with your brothers. You can do as much or as little as you want.”

“I wanted to go to the wedding, to show my support. I don’t think he wanted me there.”

“I think maybe his problems with getting married ran a lot deeper than that. Anyway, did you enjoy the rest of the wedding? I met some interesting people.”

“Uh, I met one.” He wasn’t going to elaborate on that count, not with Patricia. “Someone stole some money from my backpack in the bedroom. That’s another reason I’m feeling sorry for myself.”

“Oh, that’s terrible. Was it a lot?”

He stopped himself answering truthfully. She might lend it to him, especially if he told her it wasn’t his. She might even give it to him, and he couldn’t have that on his conscience.

“Not really,” he said.

“What happened?”

“I forgot it was in there. I bet one of those kids took it. They were completely unsupervised most of the afternoon.”

“They were a bit too young to know what money is, weren’t they?”

“Maybe. But not too young to play with it. Or eat it. I ate a dime once.”

“Surely you were too sensible to eat a dime.”

“It was in the name of science. I was trying to suck off the color. Indio claimed it was bronze like a penny underneath the silver. Still, I was six years old—probably old enough to know better. This was when I still trusted Indio.”

“You don’t trust him anymore?”

“Let’s just say I’ve become disillusioned, and maybe that dime was the start of it. I accidentally swallowed it, and it got caught in my throat for a while. Dad made me drink about a gallon of milk until it went all the way down. Then it was a matter of waiting it out.”

“So… I take it everything went well?”

“Indio brought home a book from the school library about the digestive system, and we went through it. The impending event became not only inevitable, but interesting, too. We talked at length about how that dime was working its way through my guts. I thought about it day and night. I was determined to retrieve it at the other end. I had a trophy case on top of my dresser—a shoebox covered in stickers. I was gonna display that dime with pride alongside the ID band I wore in hospital when I burnt my foot on a firecracker, and this little pitted rock shaped exactly like Hyperion. That’s a moon of Saturn.”

“Do you still have the dime?”

“No. But the incident taught me a lot about plumbing, both domestic and human. I’ll spare you the details. It gets gross.”

It also got violent. Harry caught him carefully pooping on newspaper on the bathroom floor, dumped it and flushed it before Jesse could explain what he was doing, and whacked Jesse’s head on the toilet bowl for good measure, knocking out a baby tooth. And that was the end of that. His hard-earned souvenir—gone. Caleb said it might be stuck in the S-bend and together they devised a tool from a wire hanger to fish for it, with no result.

No real harm done—the tooth was already loose and rationally speaking there was nothing special about the dime.

Patricia patted his hand. “I’m so sorry you’ve had a difficult day. I’ll get you another shake and more fries. While Caleb’s away, you come up here any time you like and I’ll feed you, on the house. Okay?”

He wasn’t going to tell her about the missing five hundred, but he was quite happy to take a free meal now and then. He ate as much as he could without looking like he was taking advantage. He went to the bar entryway and saw Harry across the room, talking to a younger couple in a friendly way—he didn’t look drunk and Patricia would keep an eye on him. Harry glanced up and saw him, squinting to double-check. Jesse prayed he didn’t acknowledge him, and he didn’t. Jesse walked to his bike.

Well, perhaps a nod or a wave would’ve been nice. No big deal.

He pondered Patricia’s words on the ride home. Harry wasn’t impressed by Jesse’s jazz drumming or his grades. Once it was the two of them in that house, they tried to stay out of each other’s way. Jesse slept at friends’ homes half the time, whenever he figured Harry would be in the house. Sometimes, by accident, they were there at the same time and Jesse locked himself in his room as much as possible. He was accustomed to being afraid of his father, and that fear remained, a current under the surface, long after Caleb took over, even after Jesse was too big to bully.

He’d never wasted time wondering about Harry. Why was he doing it now?

He had a far greater concern, and a rock settled in his gut as he prepared himself to tell Indio the bad news. To delay the moment, hopefully for days or even weeks if he was lucky, he texted his siblings to update them on the wedding-that-wasn’t.

> A marriage did not take place. Harry changed his mind after saying “I do.” Very bad form.

> I much prefer the tragic love story of Doris and Donald, he added for Wynter.

> Not a total loss, he added for Indio. I was set upon by a bridesmaid in the coat room. He double-checked that he’d addressed that message to the right person.

He was starting to feel odd about the encounter. Was that remorse?

> I don’t regret a thing.

He backspaced and added three exclamation points before sending.

It was a full day before Caleb responded—with nothing but an emoji face, the confused guy with the twisted mouth. Jesse hadn’t even known Caleb knew how to send emojis. It warmed his heart.

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