A heartbeat pounded in Wynter’s ear. Not her own fluttering pulse that made her feel she was floating away. This beat was strong and steady, and anchored her in a safe harbor. Slowly, she pulled herself out of sleep and opened her eyes. She was lying pretty much on top of Indio and they were both stretched out on the couch. Jesse sat on the floor a few feet away, watching her, and Caleb stood with his hands in his pockets, staring out the window.
Indio sat up with her. She had to lean on him to stop from keeling over. Jesse jumped up and held out an open bottle of pink water.
Indio sat up with her. She had to lean on him to stop from keeling over.
“Caleb!” Jesse said sharply, and Caleb turned. Jesse held out an open bottle of pink water. “Drink it, Wyn. Caleb has something to tell you.”
Wynter didn’t take the bottle. Not yet. Caleb hunkered down in front of her.
“I’ve talked to Tina. Tomorrow she’s going to hand your file to another caseworker, who’s going to find you a new foster family.”
“Why?” Wynter croaked.
“Rosa and Tina both agree—” He glanced at Indio. “—that their recent actions have destroyed the trust between you. They’ll step aside and you can start again. A new family, a new home, a new school. Somewhere closer to Seattle, I’ve been promised that, so we’ll see more of each other.”
“When do I get to live with you?”
“In a few months I’ll become your foster parent—like we talked about already.” He took her hand in his. “This is as good as it’s gonna get, hun.”
Her brain was fuzzy and she had trouble figuring it all out. She didn’t have to live with Rosa anymore, or speak to Tina again. That was good. She wasn’t going to go home, either. That was unbearable.
“Please, Wynter, please,” Jesse was saying. “Drink this and get better. Please…”
She slipped her hand out of Caleb’s and returned to Indio’s embrace, unable to look into Caleb’s steady blue gaze, or into Jesse’s eyes, a shade lighter and wide with desperation.
“The nurse is here,” said Rosa from somewhere behind them all.
Panic rose in her chest. “Are they taking me to the hospital?”
“The nurse will check you over and make a decision,” Caleb said.
Someone stepped into Wynter’s field of view, a woman about Rosa’s age, but nothing like Rosa. She was plump with smiling lips and kind eyes.
“Hello, Wynter. Could you sit up for me?”
Jesse and Caleb were already leaving and Indio was swinging his legs off the couch…
“Don’t leave me.”
“We’ll be right outside,” Indio said.
The nurse was taking things out of her bag.
“Don’t leave me alone with her.” She managed to catch Indio’s hand before he walked off.
Indio and the nurse exchanged a look. “She doesn’t feel… safe right now,” he said. “I’ll sit in the chair over there, okay?”
“Yes, that’s fine.” To someone Wynter couldn’t see, the nurse said, “Do you have bathroom scales?”
The nurse put a blood pressure cuff on Wynter’s arm. She put the stethoscope diaphragm under Wynter’s t-shirt and asked her to breathe deeply. She took her temperature with an ear thermometer and felt up and down her neck. She made notes and asked questions.
“How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know.”
“Your foster mother tells me this is the eighth day you haven’t eaten. Everyone is concerned about you. Did you want to make yourself sick? Did you want to die?”
“I don’t want to die. I want to go home.”
“Have you thought about killing yourself?”
“No, never. I want to go home. If you send me to the hospital, I won’t eat. You’ll have to strap me down and push a tube…” Her throat was dry and tight, making the words stick. She tried again. She needed to make it clear. “If you let me go home, I’ll start eating again.”
“Let her come home to Seattle,” Indio said, “just until she’s strong again. That’s the only place she’ll get better.”
“I’m afraid it’s not up to me. I’m here to assess Wynter’s health and make a recommendation for treatment.”
“Then recommend home.”
“Would you be taking care of her?”
“No, I don’t live there. Caleb—” He tipped his head toward the door. “—he’ll take care of her. She’ll do whatever he says, whatever it takes to get better.”
“I’ll have a chat with him in a moment.”
Rosa brought in the scales and, thankfully, left at once. The nurse helped Wynter to her feet and she stood on the scales. She made more notes.
“Even if I recommended you going to your brother’s house, Wynter, I’d like to see you start eating over the next couple of days before that happens. I’ll visit each day and check on how you’re—”
“I won’t eat until I go home.” Wynter sat down again, clutching the edge of the couch cushion. “How can you know what’s best for me when you don’t even know me? I need to go home.”
The nurse packed up her things and went out to talk to Rosa and Caleb. Indio brought over a hoodie and helped her zip it up, as Caleb had on her first day in Seattle. He sat on the couch with her, and Jesse came to sit on her other side. As they waited in silence, the warmth from her brothers’ bodies soaked into her from either side, and her shivering eased. She could hear the nurse and then Caleb talking on the phone, presumably to Tina.
Caleb came in and knelt in front of her and said, “You’re coming home with me for a while. You’re coming home and you’ll start eating again. Will you agree to that?”
She trusted Caleb with all her heart, yet she thought it might be a trick. Her ears buzzed so loudly she couldn’t think straight. Caleb wanted her at home but he dealt in facts, not dreams. He could manipulate the world to a point, and after that he made the best of things and didn’t call it a compromise when the world didn’t conform to his will.
She could go home, but only for a while. She had managed to manipulate the world in a small way, and Rosa and Tina had for some reason given her up. It didn’t feel like a win, but in that moment it was what Caleb wanted her to do. So, she’d do it.
She whispered her answer, yes, but no sound came out.
Caleb sent Jesse and Indio to pack her clothes and books and all the guitars, including the Fender.
“Not the camel coat,” she managed to say.
“Rosa said you could have everything,” Caleb said.
“Not that coat. I don’t want it.” The next girl who stayed in this house, who slept in that blue-and-white room, she could have the camel coat.
Caleb carried her downstairs and put her on the back seat of the Caprice with a heap of pillows and blankets. As the car moved off and sped up and rumbled along the highway, Jesse rubbed her calves when they cramped and tried to get her to drink more pink water. She drifted in and out of sleep, listening to music and to her brothers’ voices, though she couldn’t keep track of their conversations.
Until the car stopped in the driveway of Caleb’s house in Columbia City, she refused to believe it was happening.
She walked into Caleb’s home—her home—on her own two feet, shaking off the hands that tried to help her. She went straight to Indio’s room—her room. She unzipped her hoodie. She was shivering again and needed to keep it on, but there was a dragonfly hook on her door asking to hold it, so she hung it up.
She fell on the bed and curled up.
Indio came in to say goodbye. He was going to drive Jesse’s car to Vancouver for his next gig because his bandmates had already left on the tour bus.
“My birthday’s right after Labor Day.” Indio rubbed her shoulder as he talked. “I’ll visit you the weekend after that, wherever you are, so you better be strong enough to take me out.”
“It’s Joy’s birthday, too.”
“I’ll be sure to ask her if she wants to come along.”
They both knew Joy would not be coming along. The Light didn’t celebrate birthdays, and Joy was falling away.
“What did you say to make Rosa let me go?”
“Batted my eyelashes at her.” He leaned over, rested his forehead on her shoulder. “You know this is only for a few days, yeah? Until you’re better.”
“I can’t say you did the right thing, baby, but I’m proud of you for agreeing to a compromise to end it.”
“I didn’t get what I wanted.”
“You got a little closer to what you want. Just keep moving forward.”
After he left, Jesse brought in her suitcases and three different bottles of juice.
“The nurse gave us a list of what you should eat for the first few days and I pretty much agree with it. You need to have some juice before you sleep tonight. Not too much, or it’ll spike your blood sugar. And keep drinking water. Tomorrow you can have chicken broth.”
Wynter sipped juice while he hung her clothes in the closet and stacked her school books on Indio’s desk. She’d never had so much of her stuff in this room before. She liked the way it looked.
“Did everything fit in the car? Did you have to leave anything behind?”
“No. Not one single thing.”
He sat on the floor to put the books in the bookcase, unpacking and arranging things as if she was going to be here forever.
“Jesse, it’s not worth doing that. I’ll only be here for a few days.”
He squeezed one last book onto the lowest shelf, forcing it into a tight gap with his thumb. Then he bowed his head, clasped his hands behind his neck, and started sobbing.
Wynter slid off the bed and crawled to him. She knelt beside him and put her arms around him, as he had outside the courtroom one week ago.
“I’m okay. Sorry. I’m okay,” Jesse said, sniffing. “I thought it was cool, what you were doing, and brave, like a suffragette—fighting to have a say and to be heard. I didn’t know it would get so scary.” He wrapped his arms around her and they held each other, very still. “But I admire you for doing it.”
“Thank you for sticking by me.”
“I’m always on your side, Wyn. Even if you don’t know as much stuff as me, sometimes it feels like you know more. Like you’re older. You’re braver and calmer and more determined. You’re my hero.”
She was quite sure Caleb saw everything in exactly the opposite light.
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