Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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Freedom

Jesse rolled out of bed, stumbled to the bathroom and into the shower, ignoring Indio’s protests about privacy. Indio was toweling off.

Jesse put his head around the shower curtain, dripping on the tiles. “Are you gonna shave?”

“Give me one reason to shave on a weekend.”

“Wynter’s flying home today.”

“So?”

“Rosa’s dropping her off.”

“So?”

“I don’t know, man, I wanna see Rosa’s reaction to you. How she is with you. I need to understand what that’s all about. You should let her see you at your best. Roll up your shirt sleeves. All the way up to your shoulders, show off those musc—”

Jesse yelped as Indio reached in behind him, quick as a flash, and twisted off the hot faucet.

“Shave for the barbecue, then,” Jesse said, edging to the corner of the tub to avoid the cold jet while he adjusted the temperature. “We’re hosting a lieutenant commander. Show some respect.”

“A retired lieutenant commander. And he’s not anything when he’s with civvies,” Indio grumbled as he walked out.

That cold dousing had done a world of good. Jesse felt well and truly awake after his late night out with Indio—a nineteenth birthday treat, one week late—to see a band they both liked. With Caleb sleeping over at Bea’s, they’d made the most of having the house to themselves. Given the choice of alcohol or weed, Jesse chose weed. They’d stayed up until four in the morning, enjoying the mild night. Today, Wynter was flying back from Greece. And in three days’ time, Indio was heading off on his tour with Wages and Gifts. With his birthday over and his girlfriend home in New Mexico, having sort-of broken up with him first, Jesse’s summer promised to be rather less exciting.

Caleb was home from Bea’s already, scrubbing the grill on the patio even though it was already clean. Jesse cooked bacon in the kitchen. Indio emerged, unshaven, with a fistful of tickets to his gig in Seattle in August which he stuck to the refrigerator with magnets.

“Did you send one to Harry?”

Indio gave him the side eye, which Jesse took as a no.

“You’re going on tour, dude, and it’s gonna suck,” Jesse said, to get past the moment. “They don’t have groupies. They probably serve apple juice backstage. Lights out at 9:30 and secret cameras in the hotel rooms to make sure you’re not committing self-abuse.”

Indio cracked eggs into a bowl and found a whisk. “They do have groupies. They just don’t do what groupies do.”

“Then what do they do? Wash your feet with their hair? C’mon, if they don’t do what groupies do, they’re not groupies.”

“This is a band of five guys supporting a headlining act with six more guys. Of course there are girls hanging around. Including a bunch of wives.”

“Y’know, they only picked you cuz you’ve got the look.”

“What look?”

The look. You look like Jesus.”

“Wasn’t Jesus, like, five-foot-five with black wooly hair?”

“And swarthy skin. But no one wants to hear that. I meant you look like blond Jesus. The Jesus of every white American Christian teenage girl’s dream.” Jesse grinned. “Are you gonna explode from bottling up your natural blasphemous tendencies?”

Indio ignored that. “They picked me cuz I can learn the songs quickly, and I can sing and play at the same time.”

“Are you gonna behave yourself?”

“I think we established that.”

“When do you get to meet Charity Thorne?”

“Start of the tour, in San Antonio.” Charity Thorne was the main act. “That’s her hometown.”

“You know she’s that creepy preacher’s daughter, right? He had her singing on stage when she was three years old.”

“I don’t care who her daddy is.”

“They were in a documentary about purity balls, ten years ago. I looked it up. The girls take an abstinence pledge and basically hand over control of their bodies to their fathers until they marry. It’s sick stuff.”

“Jesus Christ, Jesse, I said I don’t care.” Indio dumped the beaten eggs into the pan, on top of the bacon.

“Whoa, what is this?”

“Scrambled eggs. Or, if you don’t stir it, an omelette.”

“In neither case do you just dump it on the bacon. And you gotta practice not taking the Lord’s name in vain. She’s an awesome singer, though. And she’s hot. I wonder if she kept her pledge all these years.”

“Would you like me to ask her?” Indio joked.

I would. I’d ask her.”

“Yeah, I know you would. That’s why I’m not putting you on the backstage list in Seattle.”

Jesse’s jaw dropped. “No, dude, I’m going backstage!”

“Kidding.”

“I’m so jealous of you, and of Wynter.”

“Speaking of Wynter, what the hell is that music video of hers on your channel? Why did no one tell me about it?”

“Uh, you weren’t supposed to find that.”

“Because she’s somehow playing the Fender she sold months ago?”

“You can tell from that crappy recording?’

“It sure sounds like my Fender.”

As the pan sizzled, Jesse turned to his brother. “Okay, two things. You’re not supposed to know she bought back the guitar. She’s gonna give it to you as a surprise—I guess that won’t be until after your tour. She’s probably got a whole presentation ceremony in mind, so practice your happy stunned face. And you’re not supposed to hear that song. That is the level to which she debased herself, as part of her scheme to get the guitar.”

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Good. You’re not supposed to know. Forget you ever saw it.”

“The song’s not bad, actually. Pitched just right for her range. Catchy riff. I learned all about quartz, which will surely save my life one day.”

“And did you notice the angles, the zooms, the framing—pretty spectacular, huh?”

Indio smirked at Jesse’s compliment-fishing attempt. “I noticed she’s not self-conscious on camera. She’ll be great on stage.”

“You saw her on stage already.”

“And she was great. She loved it, which is the main thing.”

Jesse went back to stirring the eggs. “Don’t come home converted, okay? If I find out your soul’s been saved, I’m gonna have to smother you in your sleep with a pillow.”

“Go ahead. My saved soul will go straight to heaven.”

“Guys, I need you to show a little respect this afternoon,” Caleb said, coming in from the patio with a wad of slightly blackened newspaper that he tossed in the trash. He must’ve caught the last part of the conversation because he added, “Mateo and his wife are pretty conservative.”

“Is that code for religious?” Jesse said.

“Let’s keep the topics neutral. Let’s be civilized. Let’s be good hosts.”

Jesse pulled a face in Indio’s direction. Caleb sure was concerned about creating a good impression for this ex-colleague and his family.

“I’m going out for the meat, and for soda and chips for their kids,” Caleb said. “Jesse, don’t we have a ten-pin bowling game somewhere? Set that up in the yard. Maybe search out a soccer ball. And mow the lawn.”

“There’s kids coming?” Indio said dubiously after Caleb had left. “How old are they?”

“Little, I think,” Jesse said.

Indio groaned. “I was gonna fix the hammock and read a book, hoping no one disturbed me.”

“How come you got zero chores and I got three?”

“You got four, if you count polite conversation.”

Jesse placed two plates of eggy bacon on the counter. “You mow the lawn. I’ll be in charge of entertainment.”

Indio agreed to it, surprisingly. He was in a good mood despite the impending onslaught of children.

As they ate, Jesse showed him the photos Wynter had sent. During her trip, she’d sent each of them different messages and photos tailored to their interests. She’d been stuck in the hotel for the first week while Rosa went to her conference, and sent Jesse photos of everything in the suite room and lobby that caught her fancy—the hair dryer attached to a bracket on the wall with its strange European socket, the spa, the fruit bowl. After the conference, she and Rosa took bus tours around southern Greece and Crete, staying in a string of gorgeous hotels and quaint villas. They visited the sanctuaries of the Acropolis and the Parthenon, and wandered around museums.

“I’m burning with envy over these selfies.” Jesse scrolled through pictures of Wynter standing in front of the ruins. “Did she even understand what she was seeing? When the entire world’s a new experience, do ancient wonders have any impact?”

Indio was chuckling over a text message.

>> Rosa is terrible in museums. She reads every word on every plaque. I like to wander around and take it all in, and Google for info later. I like to ramble through the streets and take my time. Then she drags me away when she needs to eat.

“Can you imagine living in close quarters with that woman for three weeks?” Indio mused.

“It never occurred to me to imagine any such thing. The question is, why are you imagining it?”

Indio scowled, whacked the side of Jesse’s head with his fork, which he deserved, and went back to shoveling in food.

“Is Caleb gonna win custody?”

Indio looked up sharply. “There’s nothing you or I can do about it, so there’s no point—”

“I mean, I can’t imagine a future where we lose,” Jesse said, feeling sick to his stomach for even mentioning it. “Where Wynter has to stay with Rosa and we have to censor everything we say and do just to earn the right to see her.”

“Caleb never fails.” Indio returned his attention to the phone. “She sent me this one, too.” He showed Jesse the selfie Wynter had taken on the Eiffel Tower. They’d stopped over in Paris for three days on the way home.

>> I climbed 700 steps to the top. Best of all, Rosa took the elevator so I did it alone. Freedom!

Jesse grumbled, “She spent the summer in Europe. You’re spending it on a national tour. I’m spending my fifth summer in a row working at the mini golf.”

“They love you there.”

“When does something great happen in my life?”

“You’re living with Caleb. Mini golf’s as good as it gets.”

* * *

Rosa’s car pulled up outside the house as Caleb returned from the store. Wynter hopped out and ran into his arms.

Jesse didn’t go out, yet. He left them sort of melded together and went to poke his head out the back door.

“Wynter’s here!” he yelled over the sound of the mower. Indio needed to get out front before Rosa left, so he could observe them together.

Then he went out to see Wynter. She looked great, no longer that skinny wide-eyed waif, but healthy, tanned, and happy.

“I got you a birthday present,” was the first thing she said after the requisite hug.

She was already tugging his hand to go inside. Jesse delayed and joined Caleb’s small talk with Rosa. They’d come directly from the airport and Wynter was going to stay two nights.

Indio finally wandered out. Not surprisingly, he had the rugged, outdoorsy look of a man who’d recently mowed a lawn. Oil streaks on his hands and t-shirt from the old mower, bits of grass on his jeans, sweat circles soaking though at the armpits. None of which stopped Wynter hugging him, although briefly. Jesse watched Rosa’s reaction—she chose that moment to remove her sunglasses and he could’ve sworn her pupils dilated. Wasn’t that the opposite reflex to what biology and physics dictated should happen?

“I didn’t realize you’d be here,” Rosa said. Like someone should have warned her? “Wynter tells me you’re touring with a musical group.”

Jesse stopped himself snickering at her old-fashioned phrasing. Indio wiped down his hand and offered it as an afterthought, along with that charming smile he reserved for special occasions. Rosa shook his hand warmly, quite unlike the dainty formal shake she’d given Caleb.

Speaking of whom, their eldest brother crossed his arms and drew himself up to observe the scene, his expression halfway between bemusement and confusion. Must be burning him up to see Indio seducing the one woman he’d failed to impress.

“Leaving in a few days,” Indio told her, hooking one thumb in his belt loop and raising the other hand to scratch absently at his shoulder. His bicep bulged at Rosa’s eye level. Way to rub it in, bro.

Jesse was already backing up toward the house. He’d seen enough.

“Well, we have guests coming,” Caleb said abruptly, stepping between the lovebirds to throw an arm around Wynter’s shoulder and turn her around, cutting Rosa out of their family group. “Thanks for dropping her off. She’ll be on the bus Monday morning.”

Caleb surreptitiously jabbed Indio in the chest with his elbow as he walked off, which had the desired effect of making Indio drop his pose and follow them inside, leaving Rosa calling goodbye to their retreating backs.

Jesse followed Wynter to her room.

“I’m so glad to be home.” She dumped her bag on her bed and rummaged around, producing a box for him. “Turns out it’s illegal to take bits of the Parthenon. Sorry. Happy birthday anyway.”

He took a six-inch resin sculpture of the Parthenon out of the box. “Perfect. I know exactly what to do with it.” He beckoned her into the living room and over to the bookcase, where their little Lego family stood in the Lego jamroom. “This is where they go on vacation.” He arranged the Indio and Jesse figures on the base of the mini Parthenon.

“Why only you and Indio?”

“You’ve already been, and Caleb’s been to a dozen other countries. He stays home to take care of you.”

She raised an eyebrow, waiting for the rest.

“I did make a figure of Joy,” he admitted, and withdrew it from behind the jamroom—a dark-haired figure in a long skirt, with a pink crystal in her hand. “I’m not taking her on vacation with me. And she doesn’t like the jamroom.”

Wynter’s solution was to put the Jesse figure in the jamroom with Caleb and Wynter, and to place Joy with Indio in the Parthenon.

“They’re twins. They can have a little adventure together. Maybe they’ll return the best of friends. Is Joy coming?”

“Caleb invited her.”

“I haven’t seen her since March.”

“I know.”

“After this summer, everything will be different. I can’t wait!”

In the backyard, Indio was finishing up with the hedge clippers and Caleb was opening a beer for him, with one for himself on the table.

Caleb said, “Later this afternoon, a former colleague of mine is coming over. A friend,” he corrected himself. “Mateo, with his family. We’ll have a Fourth of July barbecue.”

“Do I have to come outside for that?” Wynter said.

“Yes, I’d like you to meet them. I’d like everyone to meet them. They have a girl and two younger boys.”

“Is she my age?”

“She’s eight.”

Wynter took a moment to assess that information. Then she said, “I think I’ll go to the library and study. Jesse wrote a schedule to get me ready for high school and I fell behind while I was in Greece.”

“No, hun, you’ll stay here with the family.”

Jesse watched her struggle to retaliate. He knew how much Wynter hated meeting people, hated strangers in the house, but she wasn’t going to win when Caleb was this determined.

“It’s your first Fourth of July,” Jesse said brightly. “You can’t run off today.”

“It’s the sixth of July and I’m not running off,” Wynter said. “Studying is important.”

“It is, but not today,” Caleb said firmly, done with her arguments.

Wynter looked to Jesse for help. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do except ease the pain.

“I have a gift for you, too,” he told her. “If you survive the barbecue, I’ll give it to you.”

“What is it?”

“It’s spectacular. That’s all I’m saying.”

She gave him a brave smile. They found leftovers for a light lunch and Indio joined them. Jesse had been hoping for a beer—Caleb let him have a drink on the weekends sometimes—but he wasn’t offered one and didn’t want to push it after the tense moment earlier.

“Are you excited about your rockstar tour?” Wynter asked Indio.

“Yep.” Indio flopped on a lounge chair. “We leave for Texas in two days and finish in Vancouver.”

“Canada!”

“Two gigs in Canada.”

“We’ll go see him in Seattle on August thirteenth,” Jesse said. “We already got Tina’s approval. We’re getting backstage passes.”

“If you promise to behave,” Indio said.

Caleb patted the bench beside him, and Wynter sat. “Tell us about your trip.”

“I already sent you the photos. Rosa hated the airports and the flying but I liked that part. I love airplane food. All those little packets and tubs. The ancient artifacts were interesting. Oh! Indio, they had these urns in the museum with pornographic paintings on them. I didn’t dare take photos of those. Rosa kept trying to steer me away. You should’ve seen them.”

Indio froze with his beer halfway to his mouth. “Uh, why me?”

“Well, because it was art. You’re artistic.”

“The ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t have any concept of porn,” Jesse said. He ignored Caleb’s warning look because the subject amused him and it so happened he’d read up on it. “They found erotic frescoes in Pompeii that were considered perfectly acceptable decoration two thousand years ago. After they excavated them two hundred years ago, only gentlemen of good morals were allowed to view them. Apparently, there’s a secret museum in Naples with a statue of Pan having sex with a goat.”

Wynter clapped her hand over her mouth, eyes wide, which was the effect he was hoping for.

“And they had carved dicks… uh, phalluses everywhere,” he went on. “Right there in their homes. It was a good luck charm.”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Caleb said mildly.

“I know what a phallus is—I’ve been to Greece!” Wynter informed Caleb. “For the last few days Rosa wanted to sit on the beach, which was boring, other than…” She stopped herself and bit her lip.

“Other than?” Caleb prompted.

“Well, I liked people-watching on the beach.”

“You mean checking out the half-naked sun-tanned guys, don’t you,” Jesse guessed.

“Maybe.” Wynter blushed. Other than gawping at Leonard Yu, she’d shown no interest in boys in junior high. Jesse figured the holiday atmosphere must’ve opened her eyes. “Let’s just say I was glad to be wearing sunglasses, so Rosa couldn’t see where my eyes strayed.”

“Was Rosa wearing sunglasses?” Jesse asked, and she nodded. “Where d’you think her eyes strayed?”

Wynter smirked. “Guess what else I did to kill time on the beach? Taught myself the Greek alphabet. I already knew some letters from algebra. And after that, I taught myself the Cyrillic alphabet as well. I can now read Russian phonetically.”

“That’s… useful,” Jesse said.

Caleb’s phone dinged. “Joy.” He gave a little shake of his head. “She says we’re welcome to drop by the office this afternoon and say hi.”

Jesse could tell from the way his gaze lingered in his phone that Caleb was furious.

Wynter looked from one brother to the next, gauging their reactions. “Can we drop by?”

“I’ll call her.” Caleb stood and headed for the house. Call her in private, apparently. “Maybe I can persuade her to come here.”

“No, Caleb, let’s go visit her.”

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