An Inconvenient Friendship
“I’ve decided to forgive you for the lies about your family in Montana, and moving to Thailand, and your nonexistent cat, and for running out on us at the movies when we were trying to be nice, and for being a bad friend,” Stacey said at the lockers.
She and her friends had barely acknowledged Wynter in the two weeks since she ran away. This was progress.
“I’ve decided to forgive you for that Valentine’s Day prank,” Wynter said, mimicking Stacey’s tone.
“Oh, you should be grateful for that. One of those boys might’ve asked you out. Apparently, two of them think you’re cute.” She looked Wynter up and down as if trying to figure out why. “Aren’t you going to ask which two?”
“No.” Wynter grabbed her books and reconsidered her attitude. “But thanks, anyway, for forgiving me.”
“You’re welcome. I forgive you out of Christian love.”
“How is that different from regular love?”
“We’re all children of God. So, no matter what you do, I have to love you like a sister.”
“You have to?”
“Yes, even though you’re not a Christian. I have Christian sisterly love for you.”
“I’d rather you forgave me out of regular love.”
Stacey tossed her head impatiently. “Anyway. We’re friends again, so invite me to your house tomorrow for a study night and sleepover. I’d ask you to my place but my grandma lives with us. She has her Bridge ladies over on Fridays and we’d have to talk to all the boring old people. I wouldn’t put you through that.”
A sleepover might be a decent way to repair the friendship. Although Wynter didn’t mind eating lunch alone with a book every day, she was supposed to be making an effort with the girls at school. She did need Stacey to be gone by noon Saturday because Caleb was visiting.
Rosa was pleased about the sleepover and made a big fuss of Stacey when her mom drove her over after school on Friday. The study session lasted about an hour, after which Stacey wanted to gossip about kids at school Wynter didn’t care about and Hollywood celebrities Wynter had never heard of.
“I have something in my bag you’re gonna love,” Stacey said as they sat on the floor in Wynter’s bedroom. Stacey’s fancy floral overnight bag was huge—Wynter couldn’t possibly imagine what was in it. What could anyone need other than a toothbrush, PJs, and a change of clothes?
Stacey retrieved a zip-up pencil case from the bag and spilled its contents onto the rug between them—a dozen skeins of embroidery thread in various colors and a handful of wooden beads. Wynter’s stomach dropped when she realized what it was all for.
“See? We can make each other friendship bracelets, like that one you always wear. Who made yours? It looks really old.”
“A friend in Arizona.”
“A hippie friend on the commune?” She giggled.
In fact, Wynter had made it herself, one of thousands, and it had no sentimental value. They weren’t called friendship bracelets in the Light. They were called meditation bands and often had metal protection and healing charms woven into them that cost three cents each from a factory in China. The Light sold the finished bands online for twenty-five dollars.
She felt bad about the lie for three seconds before deciding it was what Caleb would call a privacy issue.
“I’ve made bracelets before—narrow ones,” Stacey said. “Can you make me a wide one like that? You’re supposed to wear them until they fall off, right? So a wide one will last for ages. I’m sorry about making fun of you, Wynter. The school counselor called my mom and explained why you lied and that we should be nicer to you. I mean, you seem nice enough and I do feel bad for you, growing up without TV.”
Wynter sorted through the irrelevancies in Stacey’s natter to focus on one point. “What did the counselor tell your mom?”
“That you were a foster kid and made up stuff as a sort of wish fulfilment thing.”
Foster kid. She hated the sound of that. She wasn’t supposed to be in foster care at all.
She wove a wide cuff for Stacey, letting her pick the colors and beads, while Stacey made her an unevenly braided narrow one and forgot to add beads until it was finished and it was too late.
Stacey was happy with the result anyway. “I’ll dangle some beads off the ends after I’ve tied it on you.”
If Wynter had forgotten to add the required charms and beads as she wove bands for the Light, she’d have stayed up all night redoing it with hands sore from a caning. She told Stacey the bracelet was pretty and they tied the finished bands on each other’s wrists. They watched an episode of Stacey’s favorite TV show about a girl in high school and Stacey spent the entire hour explaining the backstory of every character. Wynter found it hard to concentrate on the storyline. The girl’s main concerns were whether to cheat on an upcoming test (she didn’t) and whether to use tongue when kissing her boyfriend (she did).
Wynter was ready for Stacey to go home by ten, but this was a sleepover. Wynter’s bed had another bed underneath it, which she hadn’t realized until Rosa showed her how to pull it out. There were several other bedrooms in Rosa’s house and Wynter would rather Stacey slept in one of those.
“Let’s go to the mall tomorrow,” Stacey said as they finished up in the bathroom. “Rosa can drop us off and my mom says she’ll pick us up at two and bring you home.”
“My brother Caleb’s visiting tomorrow, so you have to go at midday.”
“Is that one of the rockstar brothers? Oh, wait, was that a lie? I can’t keep track.” Stacey giggled, like she thought the whole thing was trivial. It hadn’t been trivial to Wynter, at the time.
“Two of my brothers do play in bands.” Wynter stuck to the facts this time. “Caleb used to. He’s in the Coast Guard.”
“Is he old?”
“Ugh, that’s old. But my mom loves a man in uniform.”
Wynter wrinkled her nose, heading for the bedroom and wondering how Stacey’s mother was relevant to anything. “He won’t be wearing his uniform.”
“What about the other two?” Stacey asked, arranging three pillows and a stuffed bunny on her bed.
“They’re in college. Jesse’s going to be an electrical engineer and Ind—”
“Ooh, is he really smart?”
“Yes. He knows all about physics and computers, and he’s teaching me philosophy.”
Stacey’s face dropped. “A nerd, then. I bet he’s a real interesting conversationalist.”
Wynter was about to confirm this when she realized Stacey was being sarcastic. She pressed her lips shut and slid into bed with mounting trepidation. There was a fifty percent chance she’d have a nightmare and give Stacey fodder for teasing and gossip. She wasn’t entirely sure Stacey even liked her.
She woke suddenly in the night, not remembering whether she’d had a bad dream, but her heart was racing. She breathed quietly, carefully, until she calmed down. As she drifted back to sleep she fingered her new friendship bracelet, hoping it would fall off soon.
“You should absolutely go to the mall with Stacey,” Rosa said over breakfast. “What a good idea. I’ll give you money for two more school shirts, to save me doing laundry in the middle of the week.”
Stacey gave a silent harrumph, which told Wynter she didn’t want to shop for school clothes.
“I need to be here when Caleb arrives, otherwise it’s a waste of his time,” Wynter said.
Stacey was horrified. “I can’t get through the entire mall in one hour!”
“What do you need to buy?”
“Nothing. That’s not the point.”
Wynter thought it was exactly the point. “I’ll get the shirts, and you can go to the store you want, and we’re done.”
“I need to teach you how to shop,” Stacey grumbled. It sounded like something Jesse would say, not that she knew if Jesse knew how to shop. Even if he didn’t, she’d rather learn shopping from Jesse than from Stacey.
Rosa dropped them off. Stacey insisted they go to a fashion store first and then three jewelry stores, two of which had nothing under two hundred dollars. In the third store, Stacey spent fifteen minutes trying on rings. She already had lots of thin rings stacked on her fingers and was adamant she needed another. Wynter watched the clock and calculated when they needed to call Rosa so she still had time to get the shirts and be home on time.
At twenty minutes to noon, Wynter called Rosa to pick them up. If Rosa left the house immediately, they should be back in time.
“Are you gonna call your mom to have her pick you up?” Wynter asked Stacey in the department store.
“I already texted her. She says I can stay for lunch.”
That wasn’t part of the plan. Wynter grabbed two shirts that were identical to the ones she already had and they met Rosa in the parking lot.
“I’ve let Caleb know he may have to wait outside the house a few minutes if he’s early,” Rosa said.
“You could drop Stacey off home on the way,” Wynter said.
“Don’t be silly,” Stacey scoffed. “All my stuff is at your house. Mom says I can stay until four as long as we do two more hours of study.”
So, “lunch” had turned into four more hours. Friendships were altogether too inconvenient.
“Oh my god, who’s that?” Stacey cried as they pulled into the driveway.
Wynter leaned over to look out of Stacey’s window. Instead of Caleb’s Silverado truck, it was Jesse’s Caprice in the driveway. Caleb and Jesse were up on the porch. Wynter opened her door before the car had even stopped, ignoring Rosa’s exclamations, and raced up the driveway to fling herself on Jesse.
“What are you doing here? You didn’t tell me!”
Jesse laughed. “Surprise?”
“What about karate?”
“We sorted something out,” Caleb said.
She gave him a hug too, and then she was forced to deal with Stacey who had made her way to the porch. She introduced them while Rosa unlocked the house.
Stacey ignored Caleb and stepped up close to Jesse, tilting her face to examine him. “Wynter’s talked about you a bit. I thought you’d be a super-nerd, but you don’t look like one.”
Jesse feigned indignation. “I sure am a super-nerd. Left my coke-bottle glasses at home.”Stacey giggled. Wynter ground her teeth.
Rosa had made her ubiquitous platter of sandwiches for lunch. Stacey sat herself next to Jesse before Wynter could get there, and went on and on about their shopping trip. Daintily she held out her hand for him to admire the new ring.
“Oh, and Wynter made me this friendship bracelet. Isn’t it neat?” She pushed her other hand under his nose, giving her wrist a little shake to invite him to touch the bracelet.
“Blind as a bat without my specs,” Jesse joked. He fondled the bracelet on Stacey’s wrist. “But that feels like some skillful braiding, Wyn.” Wynter knew he couldn’t care less about braiding.
“Show him yours, show him yours!” Stacey said. “I made her one.”
“I’ll show him later,” Wynter said. “He won’t be able to see it from all the way over there.”
Jesse sucked in his cheeks to stop himself grinning. “Do you have homework?” he asked her.
“We have to do two more hours of study,” Stacey said. “I have Spanish and math.”
Wynter couldn’t see the point of Stacey hanging around for that, as they couldn’t do any of it together. Wynter didn’t take Spanish and she was working from a different math textbook because she couldn’t pass a seventh-grade test.
“Do you have math?” Jesse asked Wynter. “I’m here to help. Then we’re gonna play some music. We brought another acoustic-electric to replace the one you… uh…” He flicked Rosa a look, like he was unsure whether to mention it. “Anyway, we brought that as well an electric guitar for you to keep, and an amp.”
“Rosa doesn’t allow loud music,” Wynter said.
“I brought headphones, because I think of everything.”
“Does Wynter need so many guitars?” Rosa said. Jesse scowled at her.
“I thought you played drums,” Stacey said.
“I can strum some chords,” Jesse said.
“Can you sing, too?”
“Nah. I have adenoids and asthma, and I’m tone deaf. We nerds don’t sing.”
Wynter was about to contradict him when she realized he was making a private joke. In fact, he had a beautiful tenor voice that blended with Wynter’s in his higher range, and he could rough it up, too, although Caleb and Indio did the raw bluesy stuff better.
“I’d love to hear you play,” Stacey gushed.
“We’re playing after four,” Wynter said firmly, and Caleb almost chuckled. Almost.
“Rosa, I noticed your gutters out the front are peeling off,” Caleb said. “I can fix that while the girls are studying.”
“How nice of you. Thank you. I have a ladder in the shed, and maybe a few tools.”
“Got a toolbox in the wagon,” Jesse said. “House rule number sixty-two—never leave home without your tools in your vehicle.”
Caleb took the car keys and disappeared outside. Wynter and Stacey spread out their books on the cleared table and Jesse sat with Wynter to go through her math. Stacey quickly discovered she needed help with her math, and moved her chair to Jesse’s other side. He divided his time between them.
“Compound interest—urgh! I can never remember the formula,” Stacey opined.
Jesse talked her through it, getting nowhere.
“Do you know the difference between compound and simple interest?” he said after a third attempt at explaining the calculation.
“Yes, they have different formulas. But I can’t remember the formulas.”
“Do you know why they have different formulas?”
Stacey gave a helpless shrug and Wynter realized she wasn’t putting it on. Jesse took her workbook and drew a diagram that looked like a flight of stairs as he explained compound interest. Stacey was more interested in the fact that he was writing in her book than in what he was saying. After a couple of minutes she did pay attention, and finally her expression lit up.
“Oh my god, I get it now. Why didn’t Mr Yannis explain it that way? You’d be a fantastic teacher. Are you going to be a teacher?”
“Maybe. Not in math.”
“What subjects do you like?”
“Engineering, robotics, cosmology.”
“The study of the universe—astrophysics, astronomy.”
“I love astronomy! I’m Aries, a fire sign. It means I’m honest and passionate. What are you? Oh, let me guess. I’m never wrong. You’re a fire sign, too, I know it.”
“What’s your star sign? is the one question I never answer,” Jesse said. “I’d much rather hear your analysis.” Wynter noticed he didn’t correct Stacey’s confusion over the meaning of astronomy, which was kind of him.
“Are you Sagittarius?” Stacey went on. “They like philosophy. Didn’t you tell me he likes philosophy, Wynter? They say whatever they like without worrying about what people think. It sounds like you. They travel the world searching for the meaning of life. Have you travelled a lot, Jesse?”
“All the way from Montana to Washington. When I do travel the world, I guess I can anticipate meeting a lot of Sagittariuses.”
“They’re also highly compatible with Aries,” Stacey added.
Jesse made a face at Wynter to show he thought Stacey was quite mad.