Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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The Clockwork Toys

On Friday morning, as Wynter waited at the bus stop on her last day of school, Caleb called. He’d been back in the States for several days, finishing up his posting in Florida.

“They rebooked my flight. I’m so sorry, I won’t be there in time for your graduation.”

Wynter’s stomach sank. “Who rebooked it?”

“They need me another couple hours this afternoon, so they rebooked it without telling me. They didn’t realize it would be a problem. My flight doesn’t get in until seven, Seattle time.”

“That’s okay. I understand.” He sounded so upset that she was forced to sound upbeat, to compensate.

“I’ll call Jesse,” he said, “and check when his exam ends this afternoon. Maybe he can go.”

“I talked to him yesterday. He won’t finish in time.” She’d emailed him her silly song, recorded in her bedroom with Indio’s guitar, which was finally in her possession, and he’d promised to put it online when his finals were done.

“God, I’m so sorry. I should be there.”

She couldn’t bear to listen to him any longer, to hear the pain in his voice. “The bus is coming. Are you still driving up tonight?”

“Yes, of course. I’ll see you at Rosa’s after the ceremony and we’ll do something special tomorrow. Good luck to the Clockwork Toys. I know you’ll kill it.”

Wynter set aside her disappointment to concentrate on the gig tonight. While her friends had been preoccupied with the ceremony and organizing the disco afterward, Wynter and the Clockwork Toys had spent every spare moment rehearsing. All four were excited about performing in a real auditorium for the first—and last—time.

Wynter lined up with everyone else to collect her graduation gown and cap, took the bus home, and waited for Rosa. She hadn’t told Rosa that Caleb wasn’t coming, not wanting to hear her reaction. He had a dressing down from Tina due, as well, because of the overnight stay he’d failed to supervise. Let Rosa sit next to an empty chair and ponder his failings for two hours.

For her stage outfit, Wynter put on her denim skirt and UK t-shirt and ankle boots. They’d been told they could wear what they wanted under the gown because of the disco after the ceremony. Nevertheless, she drew the gown around her so Rosa wouldn’t see, because despite the school giving them permission she knew Rosa would make her change if she saw the mini-skirt.

Rosa drove her to the auditorium. Wynter sat in the front rows with her classmates, listening to speeches and thinking about that empty chair where Caleb should be. It didn’t matter. It was just a stupid ceremony and they were videoing it anyway.

She collected her diploma, shook Principal Orlev’s hand, and posed on the other side of the stage for a photo like everyone else.

But she wasn’t like everyone else. She’d never been to school until five months ago, when she couldn’t pass a seventh-grade math test, had never heard of Martin Luther King Jr or the Revolutionary War, and didn’t know what conservation of mass, latitude and longitude, or suffragette meant. She returned to her seat and looked at her name on her diploma. Five months ago she didn’t even have a birth certificate. She hardly existed at all. Now she had a diploma and a B-plus in math. She started feeling good about herself. She wanted to call Jesse, right there and then, to share her happiness, but her phone was at home.

Ms Driscoll caught her attention. She and the other performers assembled backstage, waiting to be introduced. The band’s gear had been brought over in the afternoon.

The first performance was introduced—a duo of choral singers. They sang a lengthy a cappella aria in front of the curtain. Next up was Stacey’s friend Mikaela on the violin, with another student accompanying her on piano. Mikaela was very good. She was going to Hunter’s high school where they had the allegedly great music program.

During the applause, Ms Driscoll ushered Wynter, Arthur, Ethan, and Hunter on stage behind the curtain, where their instruments were waiting. The boys were buzzing with excitement, so much so that Wynter forgot to check her own feelings until her guitar was over her shoulder and she got into position at the central mic. She was excited and nervous, and so much more. She was about to show the world, or a small piece of it, something she’d created. She had been focused and demanding and, yes, bossy at times, and as a result the Clockwork Toys had bloomed into an expression of their collective creativity, their spirituality.

Tonight, she intended to have a spiritual experience.

“We’ll start with I Love Rock n’ Roll,” Wynter said, as soon as Ms Driscoll had gone into the wings.

Arthur said, “We’re not allowed to—”

“We’re going to express ourselves without apology.”

Hunter and Ethan grinned at her, most definitely ready to express themselves.

With the curtain rising and the kids applauding, Wynter felt too far from them. This wasn’t right. She moved her microphone stand forward a few feet. Ethan followed her lead and did the same, and Hunter stepped forward as well. Much better.

Five months ago she’d shown up on Caleb’s doorstep with nothing but the clothes on her back. Never tasted hot chocolate. Now she was on stage with her very own rock band.

She stopped herself scanning the auditorium for Caleb’s empty seat. Her focus narrowed to two things. The Clockwork Toys, and…

Xay, I wish you could see me now.

She turned to give Arthur a nod, and he counted them in.


Indio turned in his exam paper five minutes before the official end and raced over to the other side of campus, where Turk was sitting his biochem final. He pulled Turk aside has he walked out of the lecture room.

“I need a favor.”

You need a favor? You still owe me for Piper.”

“Dude, it’s been five months and you have a new girlfriend.”

Turk gave him a smarmy smile to show he was joking, in a sick sort of way.

“I can’t do the gig tonight,” Indio said.

Turk slapped Indio’s hand off his arm. “You fucking can! What d’you mean? These are our last gigs for the semester.”

“I can do tomorrow, just not tonight. I have to be somewhere else, for someone else.”

Indio wouldn’t relent, and Turk was forced to accept it. Turk could handle lead vocals if they dropped a couple of numbers, and he’d have to figure things out as the only guitarist.

Indio texted Caleb.

> I’m leaving for Richland in 20 minutes

He didn’t get a reply, and didn’t expect one because Caleb would still be in the air.

Earlier in the day, Jesse had let him know Caleb wasn’t going to make Wynter’s graduation. Jesse had three finals and wouldn’t be done until six. That’s too bad, Indio had responded. It would never occur to Jesse or Caleb that he’d ride over there. Indio had a gig, and that commitment would not be questioned. It had taken him a few hours to decide what he was going to do, and now he was doing it. He would represent the family—an easy choice, in the end, because he wanted to support Wynter and see her play.

He had a harder choice to make, and it played on his mind all the way up the I-84 to Richland. He owed Caleb three thousand dollars and hadn’t yet paid back one penny. He didn’t have a summer job lined up. He’d lost his chance with Frankie, who had found someone else for the teaching job at E Sharp.

He did have a phenomenal opportunity with Gareth’s band. They’d wanted him as a guitar tech and backup player, and he’d pretty much talked himself out of it. He couldn’t imagine playing Christian music for money any more than he listened to it for pleasure.

That morning Gareth’s friendly requests had turned into outright begging. Their guitarist couldn’t come on the tour. They had one month to find someone else. Gareth had emailed him four times already, encouraged by Indio’s total lack of response, sending increasingly detailed information about the tour dates and hotels, splashy posters of the headline act, and links to the music “just in case” he wanted to have a “quick listen” to the guitar parts.

He could really use that money.

He stopped for gas and thought about texting Caleb again—he’d have landed now, and he’d be wondering if Indio had actually done what he said he was going to do. Indio could tell Caleb he was halfway to Richland and put him out of his misery. He decided not to. Caleb didn’t like repeating himself, so why should he?

He’d already looked up the school’s website so he knew where the ceremony was and that it started at seven. He’d missed the first hour, which was okay because the musical performances were listed at the end of the program. That first hour would be speeches, the part he was happy to skip. He’d also probably miss seeing Wynter walk up on stage, and that felt bittersweet. He’d not attended his own middle school graduation because he’d had no interest in going and Harry hadn’t pushed him to. He hadn’t attended his high school graduation because he’d spent that last week of the semester tripping at a girlfriend’s holiday house on the lake while her parents were in Europe. Harry had by then entirely given up on him, and Caleb was at sea. No one to tell him what to do, which was exactly the way he liked it.

At the auditorium he parked his bike in the empty motorcycle bay. The sun hadn’t yet set—the evening was warm and beautiful. He locked down his helmet and jacket, walked up to the door, nodded a casual greeting to the security guard standing outside. A woman in her thirties, presumably a teacher, sat behind a table in the foyer. On one corner of the table was a small stack of graduation programs. He heard distant violin music.

The woman looked up from her phone. “Good evening. You’re a little late. Ticket?”

“I don’t have a ticket. I’m filling in for someone.”

“I’m sorry, you’ll need a ticket. Seat number?”

“Don’t know. I’m here for Wynter Wild. She’s graduating tonight.”

“I’m afraid I’m not familiar with…?” The woman looked around her table helplessly, as if a solution would miraculously appear. Perhaps not a teacher after all, then. He couldn’t imagine any teacher not knowing who Wynter was—but he was biased.

He pulled out his phone and called Rosa. It went straight to voicemail.

“Listen, I have to get in,” he told the woman. “I came all the way from Portland. I’ll stand at the back.”

“I’m so sorry, I can’t let you in.”

She leaned to look around him, and he turned to see the security guard coming in.

“Can I help you?”

“This gentleman doesn’t have a ticket.”

The security guard looked Indio up and down, unimpressed. “This way, sir.” He pointed to the front door.

Indio thought about making a scene. A year ago, he would’ve made a scene. He went outside, disappointed his charms hadn’t worked on the woman like they had on Rosa, who didn’t even matter.

This did matter.

He walked off into the parking lot, aware the security guard was watching. He circled around the building out of sight and found the stage entrance. He selected a rock from the nearby garden bed and broke the handle, with its integrated lock, clean off the door.

The backstage area was deserted tonight. From above came the sound of applause. It died down and there was near-silence for thirty seconds as he made his way up a short flight of steps.

A familiar guitar riff blasted through the hallway. Then Wynter, singing Joan Jett.

He was almost there.

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