Caleb had prepared himself for failure. The further into the process he’d gotten, the more he’d seen all the ways he could fail. He’d kept it from Wynter, not wanting to worry her because the odds had still been on his side. He thought he’d given Jesse an accurate assessment of the situation—apparently not. Jesse was a mess.
He had a more pressing concern even than Jesse’s heart-wrenching disappointment. The evening after the hearing, he called Wynter’s phone and Rosa answered, saying she’d already gone to bed. He sent messages and got no response. On Monday, Rosa called him at work and said she’d confiscated Wynter’s phone and removed her internet access because Wynter was refusing to talk to her.
“Why would she talk to you?” Caleb said wearily. “You and Tina plotted against us.”
“She’s refusing to speak. Not a word. Regardless of her feelings about this outcome, her behavior is not acceptable. I can’t help her if she won’t talk.”
“Let me talk to her. I’ll change her mind.”
“She needs to change her own mind. She needs to take responsibility.”
Caleb spent the day in a fog. He’d failed Wynter in the worst way, and he had Jesse to deal with, too.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Jesse demanded. His shock and depression of the previous day had turned to anger. “Why didn’t you stop Tina saying those awful things? Why didn’t you defend us?” Caleb hadn’t seen him cry since he was about ten years old, and now he’d been close to tears for twenty-four hours straight.
“That’s not how a court proceeding works. You can’t interrupt. I had my say, and then it was Tina’s turn, and then the judge decided.”
“He decided wrong!”
“Yes, he did. So now we’ll find another way.”
“We have to drive over there. We haven’t talked to her since it happened. We have to do something.”
For the first time, Caleb truly understood the delicate situation he was in. They’d broken a few rules, believing that Wynter’s happiness was more important, and they were suffering the consequences. While he discussed the next step with his lawyer, he would play by the rules a little longer.
He forbade Jesse to drive to Richland, for the time being.
He called Rosa on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday… Each time it was the same. Wynter was spending her days doing school work, like she always did. Rosa thought that was a sensible way to spend her summer vacation although she’d have preferred Wynter engage in a social activity or two. But Wynter refused to talk, so the phone remained forbidden.
By Friday, Caleb had had enough.
“We’re driving down on Sunday,” he told Rosa. They’d stay overnight if necessary, and if Rosa planned to object she had another thing coming. Weeks ago he’d arranged to take leave next Monday and Tuesday, Tuesday being the day of Indio’s Seattle gig. It wasn’t a prearranged visit, however—they’d arranged nothing formally beyond the date of the custody hearing.
“I’ve told Wynter she needs to behave herself before she can have visitors.”
Caleb said, “We’ll be there at noon.”
On Saturday afternoon, as he was walking in the door after karate, Rosa called.
“Perhaps it would be best if you drove up tomorrow after all.”
Caleb was going to anyway, but at least now he had permission. “What’s going on?”
“As part of her… little act of defiance, Wynter has stopped eating.”
“Since Monday afternoon.”
Caleb threw down his keys and pushed his hand through his hair. “She hasn’t eaten in five days and you’re only now telling me?”
“I didn’t believe she’d carry it through. Refusing to speak is normal teenage behaviour. Refusing to eat is obviously more concerning. Tina can’t visit until Tuesday. I’d like you to talk some sense into her.”
“How is she? Is she sick?”
“She’s perfectly alright at the moment. She spends all day with her books or playing guitar in her room—endless, interminable scales and repetitive exercises. But she won’t talk to me. She won’t take anything but water. I’m sure she’ll break soon. Hunger’s a powerful drive.” She gave a little laugh. “Children don’t starve themselves to death.”
Caleb thought that an odd thing for a child therapist to say. Teenage girls, in particular, certainly did starve themselves to death.
“Anyway, please do come tomorrow. If she eats while you’re here, you’re welcome to stay overnight. Otherwise, I don’t intend to reward this behaviour and you’ll have to cut your visit short.”
The news that had confused and upset Caleb buoyed Jesse’s spirits.
“A hunger strike! That’s awesome and brave. I couldn’t do it.”
“This could get serious, Jess.”
“It’s only a few days. People can go for ages without food as long as they drink lots of water. People fast for five or ten days, or even a whole month, for spiritual enlightenment.”
“Those fasts have an endpoint. What she wants isn’t going to happen—not in five days or in a month. And it’s not like she can afford to lose any weight. It could make her really sick.”
“Don’t worry about it. You tell her to eat, and she’ll eat. She’ll do anything you say.”
Jesse thought he knew his sister pretty well. He was wrong about her this time.
When Rosa let them in, Wynter was at the top of the stairs wearing sweatpants and a thick sweater in the middle of summer, and her face was pale. But she was smiling to see them. On any other visit, this was the point where he’d expect her to almost fall down the stairs in her rush to get to them for a hug. This time she just stood there waiting.
“Hey, hun, let’s go for a drive,” Caleb called up. Jesse heard the uncertainty in his voice—everything felt wrong. They’d already planned what to do. They’d get her out of the house, take her to eat, and then talk about how to get through the next few months.
Wynter said, “Can I talk to Jesse, please?”
“Wynter, come downstairs,” Rosa said. “We can all have a good talk.”
Wynter went to her room.
Caleb gave Jesse a nod of permission and he raced up the stairs, leaving Caleb to deal with Rosa.
He knocked on Wynter’s door. “It’s me, just me.”
She opened the door, let him in, and let him hug her. With that sweater on, he couldn’t feel how much weight she’d lost but she sure looked frail. Not ill, exactly—delicate, with eyes and lips a dark contrast against her white skin.
She closed the door and sat with him on the bed.
“I don’t want to talk to Caleb,” she said, before Jesse had the chance to ask any of the dozen questions he needed to ask. “He’ll tell me to stop, and then I’ll have to defy him cuz I’m not gonna stop.”
“You are gonna stop,” Jesse said. “Six days, Wyn, that’s enough. You’ve made your point, haven’t you?”
“I’m not making a point. I’m gonna make them send me home.”
“Or die trying?”
“I won’t die.”
Jesse huffed. “By the way, I told you to talk to me before doing anything drastic.”
“It was a spur-of-the-moment decision.”
“Are you hungry?”
“I was for the first couple days. Now I’m just tired and cold and light-headed. I’m not scared like last time.”
“Last time? You’ve done this before?”
She shook her head and didn’t elaborate. “Is Caleb mad at me?”
“He’s worried.” Of course he was fucking worried, and so was Jesse. “What you’re doing won’t make the judge change his decision. The hearing’s over. We lost.”
“Caleb lost. I will win.”
“Then we need a plan. Another way to make it happen. Caleb’s been talking to his lawyer about writing out a formal visitation agreement. It’s possible we can get a judge to authorize it, so Rosa can’t cancel when she feels like it.”
“That’s nice of him, but that’s not what I want. I want to live in his house.”
“I don’t think…” Jesse found it hard to speak because his throat was painfully tight. “I don’t think that’ll happen for a while. If you don’t start eating, they’ll put you in the hospital. They’ll put a feeding tube into your stomach.” He couldn’t even imagine it. Would it go that far?
“At least I won’t be here.”
“That’s serious stuff. It could escalate way out of control.”
“Not if they do the right thing and let me live with Caleb.”
Jesse was getting nowhere.
They heard Caleb’s footsteps on the stairs. Wynter stood up, grabbing Jesse’s arm. “Tell him I don’t want to see him.”
She pushed him out of the room and shut the door, leaving Jesse to confront Caleb. He found himself guarding the door, doing what Wynter wanted even though it was ridiculous. He put up his hand and Caleb stopped in his tracks, surprised.
“She doesn’t want to talk to you.”
It didn’t even sound like a command. He said it in a perfectly normal speaking voice, but it triggered that familiar response in Jesse, the automatic desire to obey. He almost always did what Caleb said, because what Caleb said was always reasonable. That was the difference between Jesse and Indio. Indio would generate a confrontation out of sheer stubbornness. Over the past couple of years, Caleb had mostly stopped telling Jesse what to do, trusting him to make his own decisions. On the other hand, Indio, who was beyond his physical control, had lost that trust. Caleb worried all the time about whether Indio would make good decisions on his own. And now he had Wynter to worry about, too.
Jesse was still standing there. Caleb was still waiting for him to obey.
“Wynter doesn’t want to disobey you,” Jesse said, “but this time she will. If you tell her what to do, things could get quite awkward.”
Caleb wasn’t interested. Jesse’s instincts waged a battle between obeying his brother, who could knock him out of the way with a hair from his head, and standing up for his little sister, who trusted him to defend her.
He stepped aside—the hardest step he’d ever taken.
Caleb went in. Wynter lay on the bed, turned to the window, earbuds jammed in. Jesse waited in the doorway, unable to think of a way to help his sister.
Caleb sat on the edge of the bed and put his hand on her shoulder. “Wynter, sit up.”
When she didn’t move, he pulled out the nearest earbud. She immediately clapped her hand over that ear, correctly determining that Caleb wasn’t going to physically force her limbs to do what he wanted.
“Hun, can I get a hug, please?”
She could hear, despite blocking her ears, because she did sit up then, and leaned into him for a hug. Jesse breathed a sigh of relief—yup, Caleb always got what he wanted.
“Now go away,” she said.
She extracted herself and lay down again, fumbling for the earbuds. Caleb snatched them up before she could get to them. She glared at him over her shoulder. Then she clamped a pillow over her head.
Caleb gave Jesse a look that said, What is she, five years old?
Jesse shrugged an I told you so.
Caleb dropped the earbuds on the bed and stood up. “I guess she wins round one. Can you talk to her, please?”
“Why?” Jesse said. “I support what she’s doing. I’ll always be on her side.”
Caleb’s eyes glinted and he set his jaw, and Jesse braced for the full force of his brother’s ire. But then Caleb’s expression softened as he reconsidered. “You’re right, Jess. She needs someone on her side.”
“I’ll sit with her, then. We’ll get some school work done. Okay, Wyn?” he called across the room.
Wynter replied with a muffled, “Okay.”
“I’ll go buy subs for lunch,” Caleb said, fury evident in his eyes even while his voice was calm, “so Rosa doesn’t have to bother.”
Caleb left, and Wynter emerged from under the pillow.
“D’you want to go downstairs to that big table in the front room?” Jesse said.
“No.” She gave him a sheepish look. “I don’t think I could climb up again.”
He felt a shiver of alarm and tried not to show it as hot pressure built behind his eyes. They sat on the floor and opened her books.
“You haven’t forgotten Indio’s concert on Tuesday afternoon, have you? You’ll be too weak to go.” He swiped at the tears before they spilled over. Dammit.
“I don’t want to miss it, Jesse, I really don’t. But I’m not eating until I’m living at home.”
“That’s all I wanted, too. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry it didn’t work out.”
Now she looked like she was going to cry. But she never cried.
He said, “Will you talk to Indio?” If he and Caleb couldn’t change her mind, maybe Indio could.
“I don’t see the point. I’m only talking to you so you can help me with my work.”
They worked on her math. Her concentration was terrible and it seemed like wasted effort. But he wasn’t going to leave her side, not even when Caleb called up the stairs half an hour later to say he had lunch on the table.
“You should go ahead and have lunch,” Wynter said. “I don’t mind.”
“That’s okay. I stand in solidarity with you. For one meal, anyway.”