Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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Where It Starts

Indio took the back seat so he wouldn’t be in Caleb’s line of fire for the drive up. Caleb drove, which was unusual when Jesse was an option. Given the time it took to get there, he figured Caleb was at the wheel so he could take the hit if they were pulled over for speeding.

“Does Wynter know I’m coming?”

“No,” Caleb said. “I told Rosa this morning that Jesse and I would come. I fully expect to sit on the couch for two hours while Jesse visits with her, like last time.”

“What’s your secret, Jess?”

“I’m not a big bad grown-up, I guess,” Jesse said. “Also, I told her I admire what she’s doing.”

Caleb slapped the wheel with the heel of his palm. “Christ, you’re still telling her that?”

“She’s standing up for what she believes in.”

“This has nothing to do with… with beliefs. You’re encouraging her.”

“I’m not encouraging her. I hate this! I gave her other options, everything I could think of. But this is what she has to do.”

Indio didn’t know what he was going to say to her. Mostly he just wanted to see her, and if she wouldn’t see him then at least later, when it was all over, she’d know he made the effort.

Rosa let them in. The first thing she said was they could stay no later than ten. All the same house rules, applied, apparently.

“Where is she?” Jesse said. They’d agreed he should spend some time with her first.

“In the guest bedroom upstairs, the one with the TV.” She called after him as he bounded up the stairs, “I gave her those bottled drinks you bought and she poured them down the drain!”

Rosa wore no makeup and her sweater was buttoned up wrongly, the buttons mismatched with the holes. As a therapist she’d faced more serious behavioral issues than Wynter’s, surely? Yet for some reason she was having trouble holding herself together.

In a tight voice, well practiced in hiding emotion, she addressed Caleb. “Wynter hasn’t been downstairs since Friday. Tina was here, but she refused to talk to her. There’s a nurse coming this evening, and I fully expect them take her to the hospital. In an ambulance, if necessary.”

Were things that bad already? How long had it been? Eight days?

“I’m cooking soup—I keep hoping the smell of the food will make her hungry.” They followed Rosa into the kitchen. “You’re welcome to join me for dinner.”

“I’d love some soup,” Indio said. “Haven’t eaten much since breakfast.”

Throughout the meal, Caleb sat with his elbows on the table, eating little and saying less, while Indio told Rosa about his tour.

“And it’s Christian music, you say?”

“Yes ma’am. First the kids get to work off a bit of energy, dancing and screaming at us, and then Charity Thorne comes on to croon for them—she’s a real inspiration.”

Caleb glared at him from beneath a lowered brow, a reminder he knew something was going on with Charity Thorne that Christian kids shouldn’t know about. The way she’d draped herself on him in front of the two people who’d recognize what it meant—that was her holding it against him, after all.

Indio ignored his brother. He was working his charm on Rosa, and if Caleb couldn’t see that he needed to leave the scene.

After half an hour, Indio gave up waiting for Jesse to come down and announce whether Wynter would see him. Perhaps he was impatient, but that was long enough.

“I’ll go talk to her,” he said. Rosa gave him a grateful look.

Upstairs, he found Wynter and Jesse huddled together on a huge bean bag while the TV played quietly. The Princess Bride—how on earth did they come to be watching that movie? As Indio approached from the side, he could tell she wasn’t really watching. She stared unblinking at the screen. When he’d first met her, she was pale and thin but bright-eyed and full of life. Now her skin was translucent, her eye sockets dark hollows. An ethereal changeling, only one foot in this world.

Jesse heard his approach and jostled her shoulder. “Hey, Indio’s here.”

Wynter turned her head slowly, confused. Jesse must not have told her he’d come along. Jesse got up to leave, giving Indio’s arm a squeeze as he walked past—an unexpectedly adult gesture of reassurance.

Wynter stiffly pulled herself to her feet and locked her knees.

“Jesse told me all about your gig. Wish I could’ve seen it.” An odd comment, given all she had to do, to see him on stage, was eat. But she had new priorities now. “He thinks Charity Thorne has the hots for you. I don’t blame her. He showed me some photos—you looked great.”

Wynter didn’t look so great. She was swaying on her feet. Before he had time to reach out for her, she sat abruptly on the nearby couch. Indio sat beside her and took her into his arms. The room was warm but she was shivering.

“I got your guitar back,” she murmured, pointing, without the strength to even raise her arm. The Fender Montara acoustic-electric—his first guitar, the one Harry had bought him—stood in the corner of the room next to a tub of Lego and a giant teddy. That guitar didn’t belong here any more than Wynter did.

“Thanks, baby. That means the world to me.”

“You weren’t supposed to come.”

He pressed a kiss on top of her head and said, “I think I was.”

Last time he’d seen her, she’d been happy and healthy after Greece and excited about his tour. The time before that she was high off her own first gig and proud of the hard-won diploma in her hand. Now she was fading away.

“I made a promise to myself, like you told me. I screwed it up the first time, and this time it’s gone wrong again.” She turned her face against his chest and gripped his shirt sleeve, as though every last ounce of strength had drained into her fingers. “After we left the ashram, I made Joy send me to Caleb. There was a clear path to his door. If that’s where I’m supposed to be, why didn’t things work out that way? Am I not supposed to be there?”

“You are supposed to be there. You’ll find a different path.”

He settled on the couch with her as the movie played on. He wasn’t going to plead or cajole. It wouldn’t work, any more than Caleb’s years of pleading and cajoling had worked on him. He’d gone his own way, regardless. Wynter had to go her own way, too. She was scaring the hell out of them all, but she was going to be okay.

She wasn’t going to get what she wanted. No one was coming out of this with what they wanted. Caleb couldn’t teach her how to compromise because it wasn’t in his repertoire. Jesse had tried, but once he closed his books she didn’t recognise his authority. Indio didn’t have another game plan, so he held her.

Later, when Wynter had fallen into a deep sleep, he sensed someone watching—Rosa, standing in the doorway, a lost soul. This strange and unfeeling woman who filled her life with exotic dust-collectors and self-righteous pronouncements and the occasional bad-boy fantasy, tonight looked devastated. Wynter was her personal and professional failure.

“What can I do?” she said. “What more can I do? Where does this end?”

Indio was thinking about the women who’d passed through his life. Not the girls backstage, where it was all fun and games, but the older women. The ones who’d found his vulnerabilities and taken from him exactly as much as they’d wanted before letting him go, never concerning themselves with what he needed. Charity. Zoe. His mother.

Here was another of those women, this time taking from Wynter.

Indio had nothing to say to Wynter, but there was something he could say to Rosa.

“I don’t know where it ends, but it starts with you giving her up. You broke her trust and you’ll never get it back. Walk away and let someone else take care of her.”

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