Wynter was determined to justify herself as they cleared away the dishes.
“You told me love is an action,” she told Caleb, following him into the kitchen. “He acted like he loved his daughter more than his sons.”
“That’s absolutely not true. Parents love all their children…” Caleb’s eye caught Indio’s, an involuntary admission of his mistake. “Those parents love all their children the same. You misinterpreted what you saw.”
“Mateo is misogynistic,” Jesse said helpfully, unwrapping a popsicle for Jilly. “He assumes girls are weaker, and it manifests as making allowances for his daughter.”
“Is that true?” Wynter asked Caleb.
“I very much doubt it. Let’s not make judgments about another family, okay? Mateo is a good guy.”
“Why does it matter, anyway? I could tell you didn’t even know him well. Why were they here?”
Caleb opened his mouth to answer her, and stopped, presumably because he wanted to neither lie or reveal the truth.
Bea said, “We don’t often have guests,” as if that answer should be sufficient.
Jesse had had enough. “That was the family who was supposed to be on your Family Care Plan, in case Caleb’s deployed again.”
Caleb shot Indio a look. Indio shrugged with his eyebrows to show it wasn’t his fault Jesse had guessed the truth.
The color had drained from Wynter’s face. “But they won’t want me now!”
“Probably not,” Jesse said. “Seriously, that was the best you could come up with, Caleb? They were no good for Wynter.”
“Do you think I haven’t tried every option?” Caleb shot back. “My entire social life is at the base. I don’t know any civilians. We have no suitable relatives.”
“Jesse could do it,” Wynter said.
“There are certain restrictions.” Caleb forced his anger down as he explained. “It has to be someone who’s financially independent. Jesse’s a full-time student and he’s still too young.”
Wynter was distraught. “Why didn’t you tell me that’s what they were here for? You tricked me. You kept it secret.”
“I thought it would be better if—”
“I would’ve behaved however you told me to. I would’ve tried to make them want me.”
“Hun, it’s not your fault. There was no reason not to be yourself.”
“But there’s something wrong with being myself. There’s something wrong with me.”
“This is the only place I fit properly. This house. This family.” She drew a deep breath and said, terrified, “Does this mean you’ll lose at the custody hearing?”
“No. It means I have to work a little harder to impress them.”
“You said your boss has to be satisfied with your Family Care Plan. Otherwise they’ll make you leave the Coast Guard. That’s what you—”
“Wynter, forget about it for now. I’ll think of something else.”
She glared at him for a long moment, trying to determine how much faith she should put in him. At last she turned to Indio. “Can we jam?”
“Sure. Great idea.”
“I’ll clean up here,” Bea offered, eager to separate herself from the drama.
“I’ll help,” Caleb said, like he thought he should do penance. “I’ll be down in a minute, guys.” He held onto Jilly’s sticky hand to stop her following Wynter, Jesse, and Indio through to the back of the house.
“You said you had a gift for me,” Wynter said to Jesse. Her voice shook but she was making the effort to calm down. “I’ll take it now.”
“Dunno, Wyn. I might withhold it, as punishment for your behavior.”
Dude, bad timing.
She stopped suddenly and turned, which made Jesse collide with her, and Indio with him.
“Give it to me.”
“Your behavior was just as bad, bro,” Indio said. “You managed to bring up sex and religion.”
“But no politics! Credit where credit’s due.”
“You mentioned capitalism,” Wynter said.
“Mateo mentioned capitalism. Believe me, if I’d wanted to give him my capitalism rant, you’d all know about it.”
Wynter put her hand on Jesse’s door handle, threatening to open it. “Get my gift, Jesse. This has not been a good day for me. I deserve that gift.”
“Opening someone else’s door is against house rules.”
“Which house rule?”
“Number nine. It is forbidden to go into someone else’s room without permission.”
“Pretty much the first thing you did, the morning after I arrived on your doorstep, was to come into my room without permission and complain about how I’d made the bed.”
“I admired the way you made the bed.”
Wynter swung open his door. “My gift. Get it.”
Jesse shook his head and went into his room. “After all this build-up, you’d better not be disappointed,” he called out. “All I’m saying is, this beats a rhyming dictionary, hands down.”
Wynter rolled her eyes at Indio.
Jesse emerged with a wrapped gift the size and shape of a thick novel. Something heavy moved around inside the box when Wynter shook it.
“Okay, not a book,” she said. “I could use a thesaurus to go with the rhyming dictionary, but it can wait.”
“You’re already finding fault with it?”
Wynter gave him a hug and tore off the paper. Inside the gift box was a metal hook in the shape of a dragonfly, about four inches long, its tail curved up to form the hook.
“It’s a green darner dragonfly, the Washington state insect,” Jesse said. “Because this week you officially became a resident of Washington.”
“Oh, it’s perfect!” Wynter said. Her genuine pleasure filled Indio with relief, for Jesse’s sake, because Jesse was surely as worried about the consequences of this afternoon’s disaster as she was.
“We’ll put it on your door to hang your bathrobe or your school bag or whatever.”
“Indio, how come you never put a hook on that door?” Wynter said.
“Somehow, I survived to adulthood without one.” Indio held out a hand for the hook and had a closer look. “This looks to me like a regular dragonfly. I could paint it to look like a darner.”
Jesse snatched for the hook. “No! Then it would be a gift from you. This is a gift from me.”
“I love it just the way it is,” she assured him. “Let’s go down.”
She led the way.
“I am number-one top-quality best-in-show big brother once again,” Jesse said over his shoulder.
Indio wiped the smirk off his face by punching him in the ribs, hard enough to warrant a retaliatory ear-boxing. They tussled all the way down the stairs, which put them both in a better mood by the time they reached the bottom.
They played loud, heavy songs to warm up. Caleb joined them after Bea and Jilly went home. The music morphed into jamming, just messing around until the riffs solidified, and Jesse rapped some crazy random lyrics to the beat until it sounded right, and Wynter sang his lyrics with a soulful melody, and Indio and Caleb added the harmony and eventually they had a song. Their first song.
They went upstairs for a break. Wynter and Jesse sat at the breakfast bar with cold chicken drumsticks and rehashed the song, singing back and forth with each other until the structure was sorted out. That gave Indio a new idea for the bridge, although he kept quiet about it because he was enjoying watching the two of them too much. Wynter found some lyrics Indio had sent her and created a couple of verses. Indio glanced at Caleb, who looked pretty contented with his family right now. With four-fifths of it.
“Let’s record this,” Wynter said. “We have all night and all day tomorrow.”
“I have to go home tonight,” Indio said. “Our last rehearsal before the tour is at noon tomorrow.”
“Then we’ll do your guitar first. It’s only eight o’clock.”
“We’ll track the drums first,” Indio countered. “I can stay a bit longer.”
Jesse went to set up the mics, taking Wynter with him to show her how it was done.
“I don’t think I properly congratulated you for getting this tour,” Caleb said, straightening from emptying the dishwasher to hold out his hand.
Indio shook it, slightly confused. He’d assumed Caleb would be more worried than pleased about him going on tour. The stresses and temptations of touring had knocked Indio around before, and this one was a good deal larger in every respect than his mini-tours with college bands.
“I’ll be good.” He avoided his brother’s eye as a way of showing it was none of his business.
“I know you will.”
Damn, even that innocuous statement felt like a threat. You’d better be good.
“Is Mateo definitely out?”
Caleb ran his hand over the back of his head. “Yeah, looks that way. I think he would do it, but Renata was pretty upset.”
“So, what now?”
“My other option is Bea’s parents.”
“In Renton? Wynter would have to switch schools.”
“So you haven’t asked them yet?”
“Haven’t even suggested it to Bea. She must’ve figured out it’s on my mind. The fact she hasn’t suggested it means she doesn’t want me to ask. I think I could persuade her folks. Persuading Bea is gonna be harder. She has to agree to it. She lives in that house.”
“You could get married. Solves everything.”
Caleb grimaced and spoke with difficulty. “Not quite. I, uh, I wanted to ask her to marry me, a few months ago when I thought Wynter was going to Thailand. She would’ve said yes. Now, I think she won’t say yes until Wynter’s at college, out of the house.”
“You think she’ll wait four years for you?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Indio took that in. Caleb seemed to be saying the relationship was doomed. Her parents being the standby caregivers would only add to the strain they were under.
There was another option. Indio had barely examined the idea, thinking Caleb had it under control. Now it looked like the best alternative.
“I’m going out for a bit.” Indio fetched his jacket from the couch.
“What about your track?”
“Do yours. Do whatever you can. I’ll be back in time to lay something down, and if we run out of time Wynter can do it.”
He waited for Caleb to ask where he was going. Caleb did give him an assessing look, but disappeared down the hallway without a word. As Indio opened the front door, Tina’s car pulled up. He sighed heavily and showed her in.
“Your guests have left already?” Tina said. “I was hoping to meet them.”
He realized Caleb must’ve invited her over, or that she’d invited herself over on learning Caleb had found a caregiver family. Well, that was all up in smoke.
“Wynter’s recording downstairs with the others.” Indio figured he’d leave the explanations to Caleb. “Can’t interrupt.”
Tina looked him over, assessing him for potential violence as she mentally went over his criminal record. Maybe Rosa had forgotten to tell her he was a sweetheart. He stared her down and she gave up. She wandered around the front of the house and peered out the back.
“You had a barbecue. How nice.” Her fingers brushed a dangling star as she walked across the patio. “Lovely decorations.”
The decorations were sparse and obviously last-minute, but at least it looked like they’d made some effort. A few dishes and napkins remained on the table, along with some empty beer bottles. Tina glanced at those, but something else caught her attention. She walked to the edge of the patio, over by the lounge chairs.
Suddenly Indio knew why. She could smell the vestiges of last night’s sesh. Damn social workers had a nose for it. Should’ve bought some incense from the Light store to burn out here.
“They’re probably done now,” he said, hoping to lure her inside.
Tina leaned over the side of a chair to inspect the paving on the other side. She gave him a withering look over her shoulder.
“I’ll have a quick word with Wynter before she returns to Richland, to find out how her trip went.” She was talking around Indio, because Caleb had come out. “Your guests left early?”
She went inside with Caleb, who made a trivial excuse about Mateo’s family.
Indio crossed the patio to see what Tina had seen, though he could already guess. He picked up the burnt-out stub and dropped it on the little side table. Fuck, fuck, fuck!
Jesse came out.
“Caleb says you’re going out? You gotta help me, dude. I can’t be trusted with those microphones. Wynter’s this close to figuring out I don’t have a clue what I’m doing—”
Indio pointed to the table.
“Oops,” Jesse said.
Caleb spoke from behind him. “I’ll tell Tina that was last night. That you’d never smoke in front of Wynter.”
“This is ridiculous,” Jesse said. “Wynter’s so happy when she’s here, but every little thing—things that happen all the time in normal families—is a reason to damn us. In this state the weed’s not even illegal. What’s the big deal?”
Indio flicked the stub with his finger. “I guess we’ll find out.”
Duty was a familiar enough weight on Caleb’s shoulders. Failure, and fear of an even greater failure, were not. This time it was Wynter who would suffer along with the rest of them. He’d made promises he couldn’t keep. He couldn’t see how to fix it.
Jesse and Wynter were in the jamroom editing the recorded drum track so the rest of them could do their tracks. Caleb downed his second whiskey and wondered if his playing would be affected by having a third. Surely not.
Indio came home and handed him an envelope. “One thousand in cash. That’s my upfront payment from the tour.”
“You won’t need it?”
“I’ll give you the other two grand as soon as I get back.”
Caleb bit his tongue on some speech about how proud he was Indio was taking responsibility for his financial obligations. He’d likely get a sarcastic response and was in no mood to hear it.
Instead, he said, “It didn’t take you two hours to go to the ATM.”
“I rode up to Cougar Mountain.”
“To Patty’s? That’s a long way to go for a drink.”
“To talk to Patricia. She says she’ll call you tomorrow to discuss being Wynter’s emergency caregiver.”
Caleb felt his expression freeze. Why would you do that? He couldn’t get the words out. It had never occurred to him to ask Patricia. He didn’t know her, not really, had never once met her outside her diner. And yet she’d become a part of their lives, somehow. Always taking a kindly interest, as though they mattered to her.
“It’s not ideal, I know that,” Indio said. “Wynter would still have to switch schools for as long as you were away, unless Jesse could work it into his schedule to drive her around. And her caseworker will probably object to her living over a bar. But Patricia would take proper care of her. We both know that.”
Still speechless, Caleb covered his face with his hand.
Indio pressed on. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’ve got some nerve going to a woman we hardly know. You don’t like asking for help, least of all from someone who has no duty toward us. But I was thinking, we’ve been going there since we were kids. She always welcomed us, no matter how many times Harry made a scene, no matter how many times Jesse broke something or got into an argument with another customer. All these years, all she could do for us was feed us. Now she gets the chance to do more. I think she… she loves our family, for some reason. And Wynter is part of us.”
He was speaking the words that exactly matched the thoughts going through Caleb’s mind. Indio understood as clearly as he did what Patricia was to their family. Still…
“You shouldn’t have asked that of her. It’s too much.”
His brother walked past him to head downstairs.
Caleb ground his teeth and composed himself. Already he was mentally rehearsing what he must say to Patricia when she called. So kind of you… Can’t possibly accept… Too much to ask… But thank you for your support… Don’t worry about us… Everything will work out.
I will fix it.
“Are you coming?” Wynter said from the hallway door. “Indio says he’ll stay a bit longer. We can record all three guitars together. Save time.”
He looked at her over the back of the couch. “We don’t have to do our tracks tonight, hun. Plenty of time to finish up tomorrow.”
“Come on. I’d rather we played it together. I think it’ll work out better that way.”
Caleb got up. “Sure.”
He must look exhausted, because a look of alarm crossed her face.
“Is everything gonna work out?” she said.
“Yes.” He put his arm around her. “Let’s go to Patty’s for breakfast tomorrow.”
“But Sunday is for your pancakes.”
“Patricia’s are better.”
“That’s not possible.”
He squeezed her shoulder. He’d promised himself a long time ago he’d do whatever was necessary for Wynter. Allowing Indio to fix things—that wasn’t easy, but this time it was necessary.