Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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Frayed

Three weeks ago, Indio had rescued Wynter from a bus station and watched her confidence crumble under the weight of crushing disappointment. To see her happy and excited now, facing the world again with eager determination, made him envy her resilience. Much as he tried to look forward, it had never been that easy for him.

As they left Patty’s, she regaled them with questions. “When did you have time to rehearse? How did you get your gear up here?”

“We talked about the songs last week and got Patricia to agree to it,” Jesse said. “Indio rode up from Portland yesterday and we rehearsed all day.”

“All night,” Caleb said with a pained grin. “Until four in the morning.”

“We’ve recorded stuff before but never played an actual gig together,” Jesse said. “We’re pretty awesome, huh?”

Wynter put her arm around him with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

“We drove the gear up here in the truck this morning,” Jesse continued. He was as thrilled about the whole thing as Wynter.

Outside, Joy stood near the bikes, talking on her phone. She hung up as they approached.

“That was great.” She had none of Wynter’s glow. “Can you drop me off at the chapter office downtown?”

“Aren’t you coming shopping with us?” Wynter said.

“No, darling. They need me to mind the store.”

Jesse shot back, “You said you took the whole day off.”

“I thought I could, but I can’t. I’m sorry. But we’ve had a lovely time, haven’t we?” She touched Wynter’s arm.

Wynter looked at Joy’s hand on her arm.

“I’ll drive the Silverado home and then drop you off,” Indio told Joy. “You guys go ahead. I’ll load out and meet up with you later.”

Wynter gave Joy a hug, the kind of hug that said she didn’t know what kind of hug was required. The two sisters were like strangers to each other. Caleb fitted Wynter’s helmet and she climbed on his bike, and he and Jesse headed off.

“I have to fetch our gear,” Indio told Joy. “You can wait here, or come on around the back.” He was angry with her, but it was hard to show that anger when Joy looked like a harsh word would snap her in half.

“I’ll help you,” she said with forced brightness.

He gave her some cables and pedals to carry, and loaded the guitars and amps himself. The drum kit belonged at Patty’s. He wheeled the Moto Guzzi up the ramp and secured it, and they got in the truck.

All the way down the mountain he thought of the things he needed to say to her, and couldn’t say any of them. She was a stranger to him, too—but surely they had some shared memories beyond plastic ponies and paper snowflakes? He’d barely given her a second thought since their mother took her away. He’d thought a good deal on Miriam, much as he tried not to, but not Joy. He felt guilty about that.

They got home and left the truck in the garage. Indio rolled his motorcycle down.

“Could we take the truck, do you think?” Joy said.

“No, the bike—so I can ride home with the others afterward.”

“I’d rather not ride the bike again.”

“I think you enjoyed it earlier.” He knew she had. He’d had enough girls on his bike to know the signs.

She looked defeated. “Well…”

He stepped up close and pushed the spare helmet into her arms. “Do you not like enjoying yourself, Joy?” He leaned on her name. Joyless Joy. “Is joy illegal in the Light?”

“Don’t be upset. I’d feel safer in the truck.”

“I’ll get you there alive, don’t worry about it.”

He was riding on a suspended license and should probably have mentioned it, but it gave him a childish thrill to know she was unwittingly participating in his petty crime. He swung his leg over the bike, pulled on his gloves, revved the engine, and waited for her. She got on behind him and put her arms around his waist like before, only it wasn’t like before.

They got to the Light office at four. The sign said it had shut at three, so her story about having to work was bullshit. She stood beside the bike and handed him the helmet. He twisted around to strap it to the seat.

“Keep the jacket,” he said. “For next time.”

She looked like she didn’t want to but lacked the energy to fight it. He didn’t dismount although he took off his helmet to talk, out of courtesy. He wanted to see how long she’d stand there and listen to him before fleeing.

“Wynter needs you,” he said. “She needs you more than these people ever will.”

“She doesn’t need me. I got her out, I made sure she’s safe. I don’t have anything else to offer.”

He knew a thing or two about feeling unworthy. “You deserve more than this. Caleb wants us to be a family. We don’t see eye to eye on much, but I agree with him there. If you stay with the Light, they’ll swallow you up. You need to get out, now.”

She looked over her shoulder at the sad little whitewashed building with posters stuck inside the windows, and he felt her desperation to walk away from him. The only thread that held her was blood, and it was almost frayed through.

“You talk as though I don’t want to be in the Light. It’s my life. I wavered, just for a moment, when we first left the ashram. In that bus station in LA, I looked around and saw another world. A world in darkness. I wish I could show you.”

Indio set his jaw, shaking his head.

“No, it’s okay,” she said. “I’m not going to try and bring you into the Light again. We have to follow our own paths.”

“A few weeks ago, your path was taking you to Thailand.” Wynter hadn’t told any of them what really happened, why those plans fell apart. When Joy said nothing, he couldn’t help digging deeper. “You were all set, weren’t you? What changed Miriam’s mind?”

A flash of fear lit her eyes. “What has Wynter told you?”

“Nothing at all.”

“You don’t need to know. She’s safe and Caleb will get custody when the time is right. I have a lot of work ahead, and it has nothing to do with any of you.”

“So you’re giving up on her. You think she has a dark heart, whatever that means. That she’s disposable. You had enough sisterly love to get her out of the place where she’d never belong, but now you’re done with her.”

He knew he was being harsh, yet Joy didn’t defend herself. “It’s not her fault, Indio. She doesn’t even understand it, not really. Miriam tried with her, and I tried. Everyone tried. But the Light can’t get in.”

“There’s nothing wrong with her!” he hissed.

“Well, you would see it that way. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to see her. Of course I do. I love her.”

Indio had had enough. He yanked on his helmet. “Then act like it. Can you please keep in touch with Caleb? He told me you don’t return his calls, you break appointments, you make excuses.”

“Isn’t that what you do?”

“Let’s both try harder. I don’t care if you discard the rest of us, but make the effort to see Wynter when she’s in Seattle.”

“Yes, of course.”

He was going to try harder—he’d already committed to that. He didn’t have faith that she would. He watched her walk to the door, waited while she unlocked it and went inside and closed it safely behind her, because that’s what you did after dropping a girl home.

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