Rosa made Caleb and Jesse leave after dinner. Wynter heard them at the door, heard Caleb say they were staying down the road in a motel and would return in the morning. Rosa was angry about rewarding Wynter with another visit tomorrow when Caleb hadn’t made her eat and put an end to it today. When Jesse started yelling it was her fault for helping Tina in court, Caleb hustled him out and they were gone.
It was for the best. Wynter didn’t want Caleb in the house overnight. She hated being so near his pain. Jesse’s pain was easier to handle—he didn’t blame himself, he was just miserable on her behalf. Caleb did blame himself. He’d failed before the judge. Officially deemed inadequate. And now he was helpless to fix things.
Wynter didn’t know how to fix things, either. In this world she had discovered the power to control three teenage boys until they produced music to her satisfaction, and the power to train her brain to get a B-plus in math. She had the power to make Indio rescue her from a sleepover, and Jesse switch off his social media when her friends were embarrassing her. She had power over Caleb, too, although she rarely asked him outright to do anything for her. Without asking, she had the power to make him give up time with his girlfriend, hand off his scheduled work at the dojo, and commit to several years taking responsibility for her—some kid he hadn’t known existed until recently—although that last one hadn’t worked out.
She had no power over Tina or Social Services or the judge. She couldn’t control the decisions they made that affected her. She had no power over Joy, either, who could have petitioned for custody months ago and lived at home with them.
She did have the power to control her mechanical body. It was easy not to eat because she wasn’t hungry anymore. The rest was harder. She couldn’t concentrate or stay awake for long, or keep warm. She had to stand slowly or she got dizzy. She hadn’t been downstairs in four days for fear of not being able to get back to her room.
The nights were hard to bear. The first night, with the lights off and the drapes closed and her stomach churning with hunger, the dark pieces tumbled out of the walls and swallowed her, leaving her shaking in a cold sweat. She had spent these months creating her new self, burying that darkness so she could truly belong in this world. And now this world had forced her to do something that brought the dark pieces back. A stifling room, a locked door, broken tiles and gnawing hunger and the terror of believing she’d been forgotten…
Now she slept with the drapes open and the lamp on, ignoring Rosa’s lights out order, and still when she closed her eyes she felt herself floating away.
On Monday, she woke with crippling cramps in her legs and feet. She crawled to the bathroom and sat in the shower stall under a stream of hot water, massaging her calves. The pain eased long enough for her to get dressed. She finished the glass of water by her bed. The cramps returned and she couldn’t get to the bathroom to refill it.
The doorbell rang at eight. Unsurprisingly, Rosa protested letting Caleb and Jesse in. And unsurprisingly, it had no effect. She was still voicing her complaints as Jesse arrived at Wynter’s door seconds later to find her twisting her feet every which way to try and stop them cramping.
“Can you get me water, please?” She indicated the empty glass on her nightstand.
Jesse filled it in the bathroom and she drank it all. He filled it again.
“What’s wrong with your feet?”
“Cramps,” she admitted.
“That’s because your body needs salts. You need sports drinks or salt tablets.”
“Salt isn’t food, Wyn. It’s inorganic.”
His mouth tightened and he looked furious and scared at the same time. “Let me stretch out your feet.”
She nodded, already nervous about him touching her there even though she wore thick socks. He reached for her foot. Instinctively, she pulled it back.
“What? I’m just gonna push on it.”
“My legs hurt more than my feet,” she lied.
The way he looked at her, his expression clouded with suspicion, she thought he might refuse to help her at all because he couldn’t do it his way. But he sat on the bed, pushed up the cuffs of her sweat pants, and rubbed her calves. Wynter cried out as pain shot through her legs.
“I’m going down the street to buy some sports drinks,” Jesse said.
Jesse moved her legs off his lap. “I’m gonna buy Gatorade, and you’ll drink it.”
“Salt isn’t food!” he yelled.
Jesse had only yelled at her once before, when they’d had that awful fight. This time, his anger barely registered. He couldn’t make her do anything and he knew it.
Downstairs was someone whose anger she was terrified of facing.
“Don’t leave me with Caleb,” she said. “Rosa’s going to a meeting soon, and I’ll be alone in the house with him.”
“Not my problem. Block your ears like last time.”
He stormed out. She heard him run down the stairs, call something to Caleb, and leave the house.
Wynter worked on her legs and feet as best as she could. She glanced at the clock as it ticked toward 8:30. She wondered what Caleb and Rosa were talking about, what they were plotting. Would Caleb plot with the woman partly responsible for preventing him getting custody?
She wasn’t thinking straight. Caleb hated Rosa.
But they were talking. Their voices drifted up from downstairs. Wynter limped out of her room and down the hallway. She peered over the balcony. They must be in the front room because she couldn’t see them. She sat at the top of the stairs, rubbing her legs, and strained to hear. They weren’t arguing but she couldn’t hear what they were saying.
Rosa left for work. Now Wynter was at Caleb’s mercy. He’d tell her to eat. It was going to be tough, looking into those blue eyes and saying no, but she was determined to do it. She would be a stuck record, as Jesse had told her to be. No, thank you. No, thank you. No, thank you.
Jesse would be back soon. She had to hold out for a few minutes. Although, she wasn’t sure Jesse was on her side anymore.
Caleb came out of the front room and walked across the entry hall. He had a foot on the first step before he looked up and saw her at the top of the staircase. He hesitated. In that second, Wynter stood up with her hand out—Stop!—as if that would stop him. The blood drained from her head and spots filled her vision as she wobbled on stiff, cramped legs. She grabbed the handrail, hearing Caleb call her name from far away.
Wynter collapsed, clutching at the spindles of the staircase banister.
“Head between your knees.”
Somehow he was already there, kneeling on the stair below her, his arm around her, his hand closing around the nape of her neck. She let him push her head down. Ice needles spiked into her brain and her skin prickled all over.
Gradually, the dizziness passed. She pushed away Caleb’s hand and rested her forehead against her knees, hands over her ears.
“Let’s get you to your room.”
“Please go away. I’m okay now.”
He sat with a heavy sigh, a couple of steps down from her, leaning against the wall. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to talk about this, okay? But I do need to talk to you.”
Wynter let her hands drop away, trusting he was telling the truth, and wrapped her arms around her knees.
“I have a plan. Will you listen?”