Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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Something You Need

Wynter was now officially part of Stacey’s posse, according to Stacey. The posse consisted of Keira and Sharmila, along with a handful of other girls who rotated in and out of favor. Wynter doubted Stacey’s motivations and most of the time was unable to participate in the group’s conversations, but there was one topic Stacey liked to return to whenever she could.

“Your brother was so helpful with my math. When’s he coming to help me again?”

“He actually came to help me,” Wynter said.

“Sure, but he’s so good at explaining. It won’t take long. He’s in college,” she reminded her friends. “Does he have a girlfriend?”


“What does he like doing in his spare time? He didn’t seem nerdy at all.” To the other girls, she added, “He was so funny. Kept pretending he couldn’t see without his nerd specs.”

“He drums. He trains at karate. He plays video games. He has a YouTube channel.”

“What’s his channel? Oh my god, you have to tell me! What sort of videos does he make? What’s his channel?” Stacey shrieked.

Wynter wasn’t about to tell them. “I’ll have to ask him.”

“How can you not know your brother’s channel?”

“I don’t watch it. It’s silly stuff about his college friends, and a bunch of gaming videos.”

“How many subscribers does he have?”

“A bit over twelve thousand.”

That got Keira’s attention. “What? Are you sure?”

“He keeps me regularly updated on the count.” It had developed into a joke between them, Jesse’s text messages demanding congratulations for every hundred additional subscribers. Wynter had become quite handy with emojis.

“I’m gonna cyberstalk him and find his channel,” Keira said. “I’ll get Aaron to help me.”

“He’s nine years old,” Stacey said.

“Yeah, he’s good though.”

Wynter knew what cyberstalking was thanks to several lengthy lectures from Rosa. Bad things happened when you used the internet.

“You’re not allowed to cyberstalk anyone,” she told Keira.

“I’m not gonna do anything. I’ll watch his stuff and maybe leave some smart-ass comments if he’s as cute as Stacey says.”

“He is,” Stacey assured her.

“I dunno, Stace, you have weird tastes sometimes.”

Wynter had had enough. “Are you my friend because you like my brother, or because you like me?”

“You, of course,” Stacey said. “I made you that bracelet. What happened to it?”

“It got caught on a door handle and snapped.”

“Too bad.”

The incident had not been accidental. Wynter was weaving herself a new, wide cuff from colored string. She finished it on Friday, her birthday, and decided it was a birthday present to herself.

>> Happy Big Day, little sis, Jesse texted her. The ping woke her up ten minutes before her alarm. I love not being the baby anymore. XOXO

At the breakfast table, a row of four packages greeted her—three wrapped in pretty paper, the fourth in a cream folder—each with a different tag.

Something you want

Something you need

Something to wear

Something to read

Wynter had never had four gifts at once, and hadn’t expected anything at all from Rosa, who sat there on the opposite side of the table with a look of hopeful anticipation. Wynter felt ungrateful because she hadn’t cared about today at all. Today was a normal school day. On Saturday she was going to Seattle, and Caleb had given her a one hundred percent guarantee that all five of them would be together. That was the only thing on her mind.

She opened the packages in order, curious, nevertheless, about what Rosa’s idea of suitable gifts might be. Apparently, Rosa thought she wanted a snap-on phone case—a smart rose gold affair with a sheet of pink gemstones to stick all over it. Stacey had something similar and Wynter hated it. Rosa thought she needed a hardback diary for school. Her thing to wear was a lightweight skirt for spring that she genuinely liked. Then came something to read.

“It’s supposed to be a book,” Rosa explained, “but right now I think this is more important.”

Wynter pulled a single sheet of paper out of the envelope.

“Is this real?”

“Of course. Tina helped me organize everything. It’s all official. We had to establish you didn’t have one, and then Arizona created one with the available information.”

Wynter carefully read every word on her birth certificate. A simple piece of paper that proved…

She existed.

“What a nice little house.” Rosa said, pulling up at Caleb’s single-story home in Columbia City on Saturday.

Wynter didn’t like the way she said it. “Yes. I love this house.”

“I’ll pick you up at 8:30. You have Caleb text me to confirm the time.”

Wynter took her bag out of the trunk and went to ring the bell. Jesse opened the door and yanked her inside, leaving Rosa to drive off without acknowledgment.

“Have you eaten?” he said.

“We stopped on the way for a birthday brunch, whatever that is.”

“We’re going to Patty’s for ice cream. You gotta have ice cream on your birthday. Then we’ll go to the Lego store to buy bricks for our new jamroom model. I’ve drawn up blueprints.”

“Where’s Indio? Where’s Joy?” She couldn’t help fearing one or both of them wouldn’t show up.

“The guys are out on their bikes—a test run. They’ve been working on them all morning. We’re gonna take the bikes!”

“I’ve been on a bike before,” Wynter said nonchalantly. And now she knew why Jesse had texted her the day before and told her to wear jeans and boots “because of the weather.” The weather, it turned out, was fine, but they had to cover up to make riding a bit safer.

In the living room, Joy rose from the couch.

“Hello, Wynter. You look wonderful.”

The last time she’d seen Joy, Wynter had threatened to report the ashram to the authorities. If Joy was still mad at her, today she wasn’t showing it. She didn’t look happy or well, however. Wynter no longer had sticking-out bones and hollowed-out eyes—she looked and felt so much stronger, but Joy did not. Wynter sat with her for a few minutes as Joy fed her platitudes about how kind and supportive the people at the Light were being. She had a part-time job in their office and had permanently moved into the home of her new friend in Magnolia. Joy didn’t mention Miriam or Thailand. Maybe she didn’t want to create a scene in front of their brothers. Maybe she’d already come to terms with it. It was, after all, Miriam not Wynter who’d made the decision Joy had to stay in Seattle.

When Wynter heard the motorcycles turning into the driveway, it was a relief to release herself from Joy’s quiet misery. She waited on the porch for her brothers to take off their helmets. Caleb came up for a hug, that strong warm embrace that convinced her she was home. Indio put his arm briefly around her shoulder in an uncertain gesture. She hadn’t seen him in three weeks, when he’d hurt a stranger who wanted to hurt her. She couldn’t get that image out of her head. Since then, though he’d continued to send her short messages and cartoons as before, they hadn’t spoken. And of course Rosa thought he was a terrible influence—or would be, given the chance.

Despite this, he had always seemed the most familiar of all her brothers, and she was desperate to reconnect.

“Happy birthday, baby,” he said. “Ready to ride?”

“Am I allowed to?” Wynter asked Caleb.

“No one has specifically told me you’re not allowed to.” Caleb gave her a look she understood perfectly—today’s treat was not information she should volunteer to Rosa or Tina.

They presented Wynter with her birthday present—a leather motorcycle jacket that fit with a little room to grow.

“It’s second-hand,” Jesse said. “Only a few scuffs.”

“That’s the best kind,” Caleb said. “New leather’s like a straight jacket.”

There were new gloves in the pockets, too. They’d dug out an old jacket and gloves for Joy to wear.

Jesse wheeled his dirt bike out of the garage and they sorted out their helmets. Joy was nervous about riding on the back of a motorcycle, while Wynter was bursting with excitement, eager to forget that Valentine’s highway ride through the night—a blurred memory of shock and relief and disappointment.

She watched Indio get on his bike, wondering if riding with him would help fix that memory.

Seeing her interest, Caleb laid down the law. “You’ll ride with me.”

Good enough.

“Your bikes all look the same to me, anyway,” she said.

Other than being different colors, this was true. Yet all three of her brothers exchanged incredulous looks.

“Don’t tell Indio his fancy Italian bike looks the same as a Honda!” Jesse scolded her.

“Don’t talk about my Honda like that!” Caleb retorted. He checked Joy’s helmet and then Wynter’s, before mounting his bike. “There’s a reason they call this the Beast.”

“What is the reason?” Wynter asked, hopping on behind him. Joy got on gingerly behind Indio.

“One hundred sixteen horsepower.”

“Is that a lot?”

“Hell, yes!” Jesse piped up. “That’s the first power cruiser, a super-bike. It’s older than Caleb.”

“I wanted this bike since I was eight years old,” Caleb said.

Wynter turned to Indio. “How many horses does yours have?”

“About two-thirds that. But I don’t have to stop every two hours for gas.”

“Okay, rules of the road,” Caleb said over his shoulder. “Boys, staggered formation until we reach the mountain road. Indio, you take point, I’ll bring up the rear. Jess, keep right on the main road and keep the spacing even. Girls, the bike’s gonna lean around corners, so you relax and don’t fight it. No sudden shifting of your weight. If you need us to stop for some reason, two taps on the right shoulder.” He demonstrated. “At the other end, you girls get off first and watch for the exhaust—it’ll be hot. Arms around your rider and hold on for your life.”

Wynter put her arms around Caleb’s waist and they set off, with Indio and Jesse pulling ahead as they hit the road. She concentrated on the sensations, the vibrations of the engine, the pressure of the wind, the exposed feeling as they picked up speed—all the things she’d been too numb to notice last time. Best of all was the adrenaline rush that told her she was in danger, yet clinging to Caleb she felt completely safe. She turned her head to the side, resting the heavy helmet against his shoulder blades, and watched the scenery change from suburban street to main road to twisty mountain pass.

“You doing okay?” Caleb yelled, halfway up the mountain.

“I love it!” she screamed.

At Patty’s diner, Wynter thought Joy might stagger off the bike knock-kneed with terror, but it turned out she’d enjoyed the ride, too. She gave Indio a hug and thanked him, which made him smile, which made Joy smile. Joy looked so pretty when she smiled. Wynter had no idea how to make her smile like that.

The owner Patricia showed up as if on cue to greet them, enthusiastically welcoming Joy before showing them to a table in the middle of the restaurant. Wynter had expected a booth in the back like last time, but there were five of them now and the table was bigger. The place was already full, mostly families and couples of all ages out to enjoy the fine early spring weather on the mountain.

They ordered a plethora of ice cream sundaes. Joy said she was off dairy and ordered a gluten-free chocolate brownie.

No one asked Wynter about school or Rosa, a welcome respite. They talked about Caleb’s dojo redecoration woes, and Indio’s band, and the three bands Jesse currently played in, sporadically, and the one he wanted to put together from the remnants of his high school friends who still lived in Washington. Joy relaxed and asked thoughtful questions that made her seem interested in everything.

“Does Patty’s have a lunchtime band?” Wynter said. The stage had a drum kit and amps set up.

“Sometimes, on the weekend,” Caleb said.

“Can we go downtown this afternoon?”

Caleb handed her an envelope. Inside was a card with a funny cartoon drawn by Indio, and $50 cash. Caleb made a pained face. “I will brave the stores with you, on your birthday.”

“Thank you.” She beamed at them all.

“You are spoiling her.” Joy was doing a poor job at hiding her disapproval. The Light didn’t do birthdays and there was no gift from Joy.

Jesse said, “We’ve got fourteen missed birthdays to catch up on.”

Seeing the fifty-dollar bill, Wynter remembered something. “I have your fifty dollars, Indio, for that guitar.” She’d decided the right thing to do was offer it to him.

“You keep that,” he said. “I gave the guitar to you.”

“And I tried to get it back. Rosa wouldn’t let me because I already made the deal with Giselle. I feel awful about it. You said it was worth much more.”

“You could use the money, bro.” Jesse flashed a grin that made Wynter think he meant more than he was saying.

Indio slid Caleb a look, and told Wynter, firmly, “Keep it.”

“We’ll leave you girls to chat for a minute,” Caleb said.

Jesse leaned over and said in her ear, “Gonna fetch another birthday present.”

They left.

She already had the cash and the jacket and gloves. She looked at Joy, whose expression gave nothing away. Wynter’s sundae arrived, and Joy’s brownie, but nothing else yet.

“Are you mad at me?” Wynter said, to break the silence. “Are you mad you have to stay in Seattle?”

“I’m not going to discuss that.” Joy squashed her brownie with her fork. “But I will say this. You need to be careful not to harm the Light. I told you, when we left, not to talk about it. Not to talk about anything that happened there. You made a promise in February, to me and to Miriam, and you’ll keep it.”

“It wasn’t a promise. It was a…” A threat, she almost said. “A deal. And when Caleb petitions for custody in July, Miriam has to stay out of it.”

“Regardless of your deal, Miriam will stay out of it because she doesn’t want you near.”

“And because she doesn’t want anyone to know what those teachers did to me,” Wynter pointed out.

“Don’t be melodramatic, Wynter. No one cares about that.”

“Then why…?” Wynter stopped herself. What exactly did Joy think the deal was about, if not the teachers? She stirred her ice cream, trying to make sense of it.

Joy’s attention had moved to the little corner stage where Patricia had stepped up to the mic.

“Today we have a special treat for you,” Patricia announced. “Now, it’s gonna be louder than my lunchtime crowd is used to, so you might want to move away from the speakers. Please put your hands together for my favorite Montana cowboys—the Fairn Boys!”

Wynter almost choked on a mouthful of ice cream. They were suddenly there, walking on stage. Jesse grinned at her and settled behind the drums. Caleb and Indio came on with their guitars. The three of them looked very pleased with themselves. Without a word, Jesse hit his drumsticks together to count them in, and the music started.

It was loud, and it was wonderful.

And Wynter couldn’t stop thinking about what Joy had said. If no one cared about the teachers, what did Joy think she knew that was so terrible, so devastating to the Light, it had the power to make Miriam back off?

Joy took Wynter’s hand under the table. “They look happy.”

Wynter froze, confused by her sister’s touch that belied her mood and earlier tone of voice. Joy had grown up in the Light, too, and believed every word she’d been taught. She craved their mother’s ineffective and conditional love, but was stuck in Seattle trying to make the best of things.

She was here today, when it mattered. She was holding Wynter’s hand and she looked happy enough as they watched their brothers. Indio and Caleb shared the vocals, with Caleb swapping out his bass for an acoustic guitar on some of the numbers. After a few songs Caleb said, “Happy birthday, Wynter,” and sang Here Comes the Sun—the first song he’d ever played with her. They switched up the pace and played melodic crowd-pleasers that soon had people dancing and little kids bopping right in front of the stage.

Joy was no longer holding her hand—she slumped in her seat, distracted. Maybe she was tired.

Wynter tapped her toe and let happiness flow through her. Indio and Jesse went into a lengthy improv to keep people dancing, and Caleb set down his guitar and came to fetch Wynter. They joined the other dancers and did the country swing and the two-step and then something that was a bit of both.

Caleb returned to the stage for one more song. Wynter returned to the table and found Joy was gone.

When it was all over, the Fairn Boys came over. Wynter hugged them, one after the other, feeling the energy of the performance thrumming through their bodies.

Patricia brought them iced tea.

“Your sister’s out the front—needed a bit of fresh air. What did you think, then?” she asked Wynter.

“I’ve never seen them play together on stage,” Wynter said. “It was so good.”

“They got the room hopping, eh?”

Patricia left, and Wynter leaned on the table. “I want to do that. I want to play up there with you.”

Indio said, “One day, you will.”

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