Indio rounded the corner and pulled up short to avoid running into a woman watching the stage from the wings. The music must’ve covered the sound of his approach because she didn’t turn. He stayed in the shadows, not wanting to alarm her by his sudden appearance. Probably didn’t look super friendly right now in his motorcycle boots and black t-shirt with cartoon ninjas sprawled across it.
Wynter looked every inch the little punk rocker he knew she was in her heart, in her short skirt and scrappy hair, with one of his old electric guitars in her hands. She wasn’t smiling but she looked happier than he’d ever seen her—focused and alive. In fact, he knew exactly how she felt. Her eclectic clockwork toys clustered around her on the huge stage, blasting their music out of 40-watt amps.
He realized the woman was looking at him. Very pretty, very teacher-like. Jesse’s fantasy come true. As she hadn’t screamed for security, he figured it was safe to step forward and stand beside her.
“I told them they couldn’t play this song,” she said.
“I’ll string you from the flies if you try to shut them down,” he replied pleasantly.
“Wynter’s brother from Portland, right? The kids have been passing around video clips of your band.”
Pleased to have disarmed him, she poked out her hand. “I’m Cathy Driscoll, one of the music teachers.”
He shook her hand. “That’s the first guitar I ever took on stage.” And then, because tonight was not the night to be talking about himself, added, “Isn’t she awesome?”
Cathy Driscoll nodded enthusiastically. Her gaze dragged down the length of his body as she turned back to watch the band. If Ms Driscoll had been in the foyer five minutes ago, Indio wouldn’t have had to commit a Class C felony to get in.
The song ended to applause and whoops of appreciation from the kids in the front rows. Some were already on their feet, and as the next song started they raised their hands in the ubiquitous metal horns and others danced on the spot, trapped between rows of chairs. The kid on lead guitar, excited by the response, stepped forward to launch into his solo. Wynter exchanged a look with the bass player, who was flushed with excitement. They were loving this. By the third song, the kids were moshing in the aisles in their graduation gowns, and the Clockwork Toys were on fire.
Indio had been doing this, and loving it, since he was Wynter’s age. Like her he was naturally reserved, but the ability to control an audience by turning up the amps and keeping the rhythm was intoxicating. And even when the audience was lame, he lived for the thrill of the on-stage collaboration between musicians—part dance, part conversation—where the complexities and frustrations of life were forgotten for a while.
He had the entire summer open before him, twice-weekly gigs with Blunderbelly and whatever casual work he could scrounge up. Or he could go on tour with Gareth’s outfit—the experience of a lifetime at his age. The lyrics stuck in his craw but the music was good, the temptations presumably few.
The Clockwork Toys finished up, all four somewhat stunned by the reaction. The kids on the floor were calling out for Green Day, which was listed on the program but they’d sung the Joan Jett song instead.
“What d’you think—encore?” Cathy Driscoll said, as if Indio’s opinion mattered.
“Go for it.”
She stepped onto the stage and caught the attention of the principal in the front row. Some signal passed between them, and Cathy nodded to Wynter. Wynter looked straight through her because she’d noticed Indio in the wings. He hadn’t meant for her to see him in case she got distracted. Her eyes widened. He held his breath, not reacting, willing her not to react.
Wynter exhaled with the hint of a smile on her lips, went to her mic, and waited for the others to regroup, and they played When I Come Around for their encore.
Indio pulled out his phone, snapped a picture of the band from his sideways vantage point, and sent it to Caleb and Jesse. And Joy. Then he texted Gareth:
> I’m in.
>> Cool! When can we talk?
> I’m in Washington. Call you tomorrow.
It occurred to him that, given some notice, Gareth could’ve filled in for him tonight with Blunderbelly. He’d done it before—a clean-living Christian who showed no reluctance to sing on occasion about drugs and fornication. Indio could be similarly sanguine singing about the Holy Spirit and Christ’s redemption.
The Clockwork Toys were done and the principal called for order to make her closing speech. Wynter placed her guitar on the stand beside the drum kit and ran offstage to fling herself on Indio.
“Thank you thank you thank you!” she cried. “Did you see it all?”
“Yup. Looks like you had a blast.”
“I’m so glad you’re here. I didn’t know. I nearly died when I saw you. Thank you for coming.”
With the ceremony over and everyone filing out, he followed her into the main hall where she retrieved her diploma from her chair. He hung back, watching the kids coming up to her and her bandmates to congratulate them, seeing how she took it.
“I didn’t know what to say to them,” she said as they returned to the stage to pack up the gear.
“You just say thanks, hope to see you next time.”
“There’s no next time for the Clockwork Toys.”
“You’ll be in other bands. I’m on my eleventh.”
As he looped the cables and Wynter put her guitar and Caleb’s bass in their cases, a gaggle of girls came to the front of the auditorium.
“That’s Stacey and the girls from the sleepover,” Wynter said under her breath.
“Wynter, you were fantastic!” Stacey called up. “Is that your brother from Blunderbelly? You said the dark-haired one was your brother.”
Wynter was trying to ignore them.
“Oh, this is Hunter and Ethan,” she told Indio as her two bandmates appeared from the wings to help.
Indio shook their hands. “Great job, guys.”
“Yeah, we made ’em scream, didn’t we,” Hunter said. “Wynter, you coming to the disco?”
“She’s hanging with us,” Stacey called out from below. “Hurry up. We have to get to the school gym by 9:15.” Stacey ushered her friends out.
“Will you come with me?” Hunter asked Wynter. “We could go out after, for soda pop or something. My mom said she’ll drive us.”
“Um…” Wynter looked confused. “You mean a date?”
“Yeah, kind of. Yes.”
“But we already went through this. I don’t want a date, Hunter.”
His face fell. “Will you ever come on a date with me?”
“Then what was all this for?”
“This? This was fun… wasn’t it? You learned lots. We all learned a lot.”
Hunter stormed off the stage with his guitar and his amp.
“I’ll help you carry the stuff to your car,” Ethan said, to cover for Wynter’s stunned silence. “We all learned heaps from you, Wynter. Tonight was the best. My sister told me she’s gonna call Arthur on the weekend.”
That cheered Wynter up. “To ask him out?”
“Just to chat. You know, see what happens.”
They shared a satisfied grin.
Rosa had worked her way forward. “Indio, what a surprise. Were you standing at the back? I had a spare seat.”
“Watched from the wings,” he said. “What did you think, Rosa?”
“It was certainly nice to see everything come together. Well done, Wynter. And congratulations on your diploma.”
Wynter gave her a tight smile as she zipped up her guitar case. Ethan took the other and slung the bag of cables over his shoulder, and Indio grabbed an amp in each hand. Easiest roadie job ever—they weighed twenty pounds each.
It was almost dark. They walked to Rosa’s car, weaving through a hundred other kids and cars and two hundred proud parents.
“Make sure you thank Caleb for me again, for lending me the guitar and teaching me,” Ethan told Wynter as they piled the gear into the trunk and on the back seat.
“Let’s go to the disco together,” Wynter said. “I’ll teach you the country swing.”
“Do I need to learn that?”
“Yes. Caleb says every man must learn the country swing.”
Ethan looked pleased. “Okay, sure.”
“Can I go in his parents’ car?” she asked Rosa.
“That’s fine. I’ll fetch you at 10:30. We’re expecting Caleb at eleven. Indio,” Rosa said, turning to him, “are you spending the night? I can make up a bed for you.”
God, that sounded creepy somehow, and wasn’t he banned from sleeping at her house?
“No, ma’am,” he said, for old time’s sake. “I have to get home tonight.”
He knew that would disappoint Wynter and possibly even Caleb, but he’d just committed to a six-week tour with one weekend to seal the deal and four weeks to prep for it. He was also growing bored with Rosa.
Rosa drove off and Indio figured he probably would never have to see her again. He’d most likely be on tour when the custody hearing rolled around, and he’d return to Seattle to find Wynter living at home, where she was meant to be.
“My bike’s in the bay around the side of the building,” Indio said. “Ethan, can you get your folks to drive by on your way out and pick up Wynter? I need a few minutes.”
Ethan headed off to find his parents. Indio took Wynter’s hand and led her through the hectic parking lot, to his bike. He unlocked his helmet and jacket, took an envelope out of the jacket pocket and gave it to Wynter.
“Made these for you—for the Clockwork Toys.”
She tipped the contents into her hand—four guitar picks with their logo.
“They’re wonderful. Thank you. Oh!” She giggled. “You should’ve made an extra one for Rosa, your number one fan.”
“You may end up with a spare, if Hunter won’t accept one. You truly were impressive, Wynter. You owned that stage. And those boys.”
“Did he do it just to get a date?”
“That’s why guys pick up a guitar in the first place, isn’t it?” He smiled. “I promise you, that’s not just why he did it, even if he started out wanting that. What you felt on stage tonight, he felt exactly the same thing.”
“I’m sad it’s over.”
“When do you leave for Greece?”
“Monday after next.”
“I’ll visit when you get back. After that I’ll be away the rest of the summer. You’re the first to know—a friend of a friend asked me to fill in as guitarist when they tour. It’s a pretty big deal.”
“A real tour! Where to?”
“We start in Texas, work our way across the south, up through the midwest, and then all the way west. We’ll be in Seattle in mid-August, so you can come see me.”
“Is it an all-ages gig?”
“They’re all all-ages gigs. You’ll see why. Jesse’s gonna burst a vessel in that precious brain of his.”
Ethan’s parents’ car pulled up beside them, saving him the need to explain himself there and then. Wynter gave him a long goodbye hug. Hard to believe such a powerhouse of spirit could fit into such a fragile body.
But she wasn’t fragile anymore. Since that first day he’d sat with her in the jamroom in Seattle and persuaded her to sing for him, though he’d seen her only a handful of times, he’d watched her growing stronger. Everyone else wanted her to dig up her past and scrutinize it and deal with it, but that wasn’t what she needed. She needed to keep moving forward. Like him.