Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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Instantly Cool

Indio checked his phone. A text from Jesse said they were heading to E Sharp, the music store where they used to hang out as teenagers when they had no money to buy anything. Indio hadn’t been in years, although he’d done work for the owner and still ordered his strings and picks from here, for old time’s sake.

He parked next to his brothers’ bikes and went inside.

Wynter saw him first and rushed over, grabbing his hand to pull him to the counter at the side of the store. She was still bright-eyed from the gig, which was cute and rather gratifying.

“Look at this. Look at this!” She stopped in front of a rack of postcards with the new E Sharp logo. “This has your name on it!”

“Yeah, I did some design work for Frankie last year, modernized his logo and—”

“And now he’s selling it in his store! It’s all over his store!”

“That was the point.”

“I’m gonna buy one.”

He laughed. “I can send you a bunch of them for free.”

“Why is the store called E Sharp? Isn’t that F?”

“F for Frankie. He owns the place.”

Indio directed her attention to the grizzled ex-hippie coming out from the back room. Frankie reminded him of Harry, except that he was generally coherent and good-natured and ran a successful business and wasn’t a drunk. So, really, nothing like Harry. He reminded Indio of a father, perhaps, though Frankie had no kids of his own. He greeted Caleb and Jesse in a friendly, casual way that made it clear they still came here often.

“Indio!” Frankie came over and pumped his hand. “Good god, I don’t believe it. And who’s this?”

“Our sister, Wynter.”

He looked taken aback but didn’t ask for details. “I used to chase these three out of my store at closing time every Saturday,” he told her. “Indy here, he would sit in that corner and work his way through half a dozen guitars in three hours. Free demonstrations for the customers—great for business. Did you see my new logo?”

Wynter pressed against Indio’s side, suddenly shy. “Yes, it’s very good.”

He addressed Indio again. “Heard you transferred to Portland State. Playing with anyone?”

“He’s a rockstar,” Wynter said.

“Ah, a rockstar!” Frankie said, without a hint of scorn.

“Does he have the eight-thousand-dollar guitar you want?” she asked Indio.

“I don’t stock anything quite that exotic,” Frankie said, “but I do have something you’ll like, son.”

He beckoned them over to that very same corner where Indio had spent his youth, and unlocked a large glass cabinet.

“I put this in the vault every night. Can’t resist displaying it during the day. Vintage 1955 Fender Stratocaster.” He handed it to Indio. “Bodywork’s in near-perfect condition. You gotta hear it.”

“How much did you pay?”

“Twenty-five G. Been on the lookout for one of these for a while.” Frankie got a cable and amp sorted out.

“Does he mean twenty-five thousand dollars?” Wynter whispered when Frankie’s back was turned.

“Uh-huh. So I’m gonna try not to scratch it.”

“Not for sale, by the way,” said Frankie, switching on the amp.

“Wanna play it?” Indio asked Wynter, moved by the sudden urge to show her off to Frankie. She stepped away, terrified, when he made to hand it over, and shook her head emphatically. Indio took a seat and looked down the wall of guitars. “Get her that weird green Strat, Frankie. We’ll compare the tone, see if it was worth your money.”

“It’s called seafoam green.” Frankie unhooked the guitar. “Not to everyone’s taste, I admit. This is a 1980s re-issue of the ’57 model.”

He set up Wynter’s amp and she hopped on a stool with the guitar. Unsure whether she’d play to an audience, Indio gave a little jerk of his head. Frankie got the message and went to talk to Caleb and Jesse over by the drums.

They checked their tuning and Indio started a blues riff.

“Don’t wanna hurt Frankie’s feelings, but for solid body guitars I’m a Les Paul guy. Hear the difference? This has a brighter sound, even the neck pickup.”

Still, it was pretty nice. He found a tone he could live with and played until Wynter joined in. From her expression, he could tell she didn’t like it, so he slid her pickup switch and adjust the tone knobs. The new tone gave her more confidence and soon they found a bluesy groove. Once she had the hang of the chord progressions, he added some lead notes, nothing too fancy, and was pleased when she moved between the scales to create a bit of drama.

He sensed the moment when her nervousness dissipated. Her toe started tapping and she slid into a rock beat, which she was clearly more comfortable with, and then the music took over for a while.

A customer wandered over, a teenaged boy with lank hair and baggy pants. Indio counted the seconds until Wynter noticed him. Eventually she did, and abruptly stopped playing as Indio knew she would. He stopped, too. Across the store, Frankie had been surreptitiously listening the entire time, standing close to Caleb as if they were talking, but Indio had seen them fall silent almost as soon as Wynter started playing.

The kid was still staring at Wynter, who was studiously not looking at him.

“Can she play Slayer?” he declared.

Indio stopped himself shooting back with Why don’t you ask her? Given Wynter’s experience with classic rock and Top Forty radio, he was fairly sure she’d never heard of Slayer and he didn’t want to put her on the spot.

Indio asked him, “Can you?”

“I’m pretty good. I can do the guitar solo from Antichrist.”

“That’s awesome, dude.” Indio didn’t know if it was awesome or not—he was hardly familiar with Slayer himself. “Whatever floats your boat.”

“She’s pretty good, though.” Indio heard the unspoken for a girl.

Frankie approached and the customer moved off, to Wynter’s evident relief. Indio returned the guitar and made appropriate noises of admiration.

“That was some sweet improv,” Frankie said, looking at Wynter. “Come back any time if you want to try out some of the other guitars.”

She gave a small smile and set down the green guitar.

“Holy shit,” Frankie said after Wynter joined Caleb and Jesse. “Where’ve you been hiding her?”

“Isn’t she great?”

“You look proud as punch. Did you teach her?”

“I only just met her.”

“You’re meeting me for a drink tonight.” By which he meant, To tell me the whole story of how you acquired a sister. Two sisters, although Frankie didn’t know that yet.

“You’re on. She’s had years playing and writing a sort of religious music, believe it or not. But she’s a little punk rocker at heart. Her brain’s wired differently or something. She remembers everything—plays anything after hearing it once.”

“Does she have a teacher? I’ll take her on, or maybe Martha—she’s here two evenings a week.”

“She lives across the state.”

“Too bad. Does she sing?”

“Oh yeah. And her theory’s pretty good, too.”

“Encourage that songwriting. I mean it. She’ll go far. Speaking of teaching, I need someone over the summer. Will you be back in Seattle?”

“I doubt it.” Meaning, no, certainly not. Portland was quite close enough.

“Well, think about it. I run four summer school sessions—that’s twenty-four hours a week. And you could pick up some of the individual lessons, too. Take the pressure off my old bones.”


They went to a seafood restaurant on the docks for dinner. Indio looked through the books Jesse had made Wynter buy with her birthday money. His brother had frankly bizarre opinions about what was suitable for a fifteen-year-old, but what did Indio know? He was reading The Lord of the Rings for the fourth time at that age and didn’t regret one second of it.

He leafed through Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. “What the hell, Jesse? This was written two thousand years ago.”

“The human mind hasn’t fundamentally changed, even if our culture and ethics have. The overall theme is a bit depressing,” Jesse told Wynter, “but I think you’ll appreciate the stoicism. Both these books—” He wrestled Francis Crick’s The Astonishing Hypothesis from Indio’s hands. “—are about the human mind, how it works and what it can do, rather than physics like the Hawking book I gave you. In addition, we’ll be dipping into some random topics now and then to help with your social development. You let me know if there’s anything in particular you want to investigate, because I want you to find your own interests.”

Wynter gathered up the books. “I trust your judgment, Jesse.”

Indio was pretty sure that trust came from the fact she liked Jesse rather than an objective assessment of his judgment. She had to start somewhere, of course, but it worried him a little because Jesse didn’t know half as much as he thought he knew. As they ate and chatted, as she asked Jesse her odd questions and listened attentively to his replies, it became clear that Jesse simply showing he cared was as important to her wellbeing as the information he provided. For all his little brother could be an annoying brat, the three of them knew Wynter would be better off living in Caleb’s home, under Jesse’s tutelage, than with a clinically cold foster mother who didn’t know the first thing about the messy business of real families.

“You’ll be pleased to hear my friend Stacey finds you even more fascinating than I do,” Wynter told Jesse, who narrowed his eyes, unsure if she was being sarcastic. “Actually, she’s not my friend. I mean, I don’t know if she is. Everything’s very awkward. I don’t know how to… be around those girls. Nothing feels right.”

Caleb drew breath, no doubt to offer some platitude about friendships taking time. Indio jumped in first.

“You know what might help? Put together a band at school.”

Jesse perked up. “Wyn, that’s perfect! You’ll be instantly cool.”

“I don’t know anyone who plays instruments. Other than viola and flute and things like that.”

“The boys, then,” Jesse said. “Ninety percent of boys in junior high play air guitar, and at least five percent of those play for real. How many kids in your school? A thousand? Do the math.”

She did the math, because she was literal like that. Or maybe because Jesse told her to. “Ninety percent of five hundred boys is four-fifty. Five percent of four-fifty… Ten percent is forty-five so half of that… Twenty-two-point-five real guitar players in junior high.”

“Two or three of them are gonna be pretty good by eighth grade,” Indio said.

“Not as good as you, of course,” Jesse added, twisting in his seat to face her, excited by his train of thought. “You need to find the one with a manageable ego. Doesn’t matter if he can’t sing, but you’re gonna have to let him play the lead breaks. Now, those kids are fourteen and you won’t find anyone who plays bass yet. They all wanna be Slash at that age.”

“I didn’t want to be Slash at that age,” Caleb said.

“Which is why you switched to bass in high school,” Jesse pointed out.

“Where can I find a bass player, then?” Wynter said. She looked utterly bewildered by the conversation.

“You take a newbie guitarist with great rhythm, big hands, and a sweet voice for your backing vocals,” Indio offered. “Give him a bass and he’s just happy to be in a band, looking cool, where he only has to play one note at a time.”

Caleb was smarting. “There’s a bit more to it than that.”

“The drummer,” Jesse said, “that’s gonna be tricky, cuz—”

“Oh, I know! Arthur Yu in seventh grade,” Wynter said. “Every time I pass the music room before school, he’s in there practicing. I asked Ms Driscoll, one of the music teachers, who he was. She told me it’s the school’s kit and he’s the only one who uses it.”

“So, you’re all set!” Jesse announced, like it had been his idea all along.

“What about me?”

“You’re lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist,” Jesse said, “and because you put it together you’re the band leader. That’s important—you don’t want them telling you what crap to play. You take charge of it so you end up with an awesome band instead of a dumb one.”

“How do I know what music is awesome?”

“Because you’re gonna ask your awesome brother about it.”

Wynter wasn’t on board yet. “I’m supposed to be catching up with math and everything else this year. I won’t have time for a band.”

“Sure you will. You’re not doing soccer or cheerleading or chess. You get out early on Wednesday, right? Two hours a week—that’s all you need. You’re not trying to be famous. You’re in a band, therefore you’re cool. And you need a name.”

“The Clockwork Toys,” Wynter said without hesitation.

“What does that mean?”

“It means something to me,” she said cryptically.

“I want to point out,” Caleb said, “the purpose of playing in a band is not to be cool.”

“You think I shouldn’t do it, then?” Wynter asked him, ready to accept his edict on the matter.

“I think it should be done for the right reasons—for example, to have fun, to make friends, to challenge yourself musically.”

“When was the last time you challenged yourself musically?” Jesse asked Caleb.

“We’re not talking about me.” Caleb reached across the table to touch Wynter’s hand. “Hun, I think it’s a great idea. If Rosa objects, have her call me and I’ll explain those reasons to her.”

“Either way,” Wynter said, still unsure, “will it make everyone forget I told all those lies about my past? They’re still teasing me about it.”

“That was backstory,” Jesse said. “All part of the performance. Give me your phone. I’ve thought of seven songs already.”

She handed over her phone, which had a new glittery case that made Jesse curl his lip.

“Rosa gave it to me for my birthday,” she said with a grimace. She snapped off the case and gave it to Indio. “Can you draw something on it with a Sharpie?”

Indio grinned. “Sure. I’ll mail it back to you.”

“She also gave me my birth certificate.” Wynter turned to Caleb. “Did you know about that?”

“She did tell me,” Caleb said. “Didn’t know it’d come through yet. I sent her some paperwork from Joy to speed up the process—the things she got together for your passport, Miriam’s ID and her affidavit about your birth.”

“Rosa didn’t tell me you helped.”

“It was Joy who helped, really. So, what did you think of it?”

Wynter sucked in her lips for a moment before replying, quietly, “Under Father’s Name the box is blank. Why doesn’t it say Malcolm?”

“They don’t know his full name, couldn’t track him down.” Caleb hesitated before adding, “If you find him in the future, you can establish paternity and get the certificate amended.”

“I hate that it’s blank.”

“I understand. You should know, too, that they finally got a response from Miriam in Thailand to confirm her details, although she gave nothing more about your father.” Caleb leaned forward, elbows on the table, his soft but intense tone acknowledging the unspoken implications, his voice not betraying even a hint of the pity they all felt for her and must not show. “It was handled by the Arizona Bureau of Vital Records and they wouldn’t release any contact information to me or to Social Services here in Washington—no email or home address. Other than providing the necessary details, she hasn’t responded to any other correspondence. It all gets returned.”

“Does that mean she won’t interfere with the custody petition?”

Caleb said, “I think so, yeah.”

Indio turned his glass of iced tea around and around between his palms, absorbing her pain and uncertainty, while Jesse sat still and tense beside her.

Wynter forced a tremulous smile. “I hope so. Everything will be easier if she stays out of it. If she doesn’t want me.”

Jesse put his arm around her shoulders. “Yeah, but we do, and we’re motorcycle-ridin’ rockstars!”


Jesse and Wynter sat on the pierhead, legs dangling over the water, heads bent over their phones as he explained how to share files and playlists. They argued benignly over his song ideas.

Indio hung back with Caleb and couldn’t think of a thing to say to him. They’d had a good time last night, rehearsing for today’s little performance, because they’d spent it in the basement where all talk was about music. In the real world there was a wall between them that neither knew how to climb, let alone tear down. Indio was still wondering when Caleb was going to mention the three thousand dollars he owed him. He hadn’t said a word last night and Indio was finally realizing he wasn’t going to. He was acting like Indio would do the right thing eventually, when in fact he hadn’t even advertised his guitars for sale yet.

And Indio resented that, resented the lost opportunity to bite back when told what to do.

“Jesse, let’s go get some chowder,” Caleb called from the foot of the pier. “We can freeze it.”

He’d engineered it to give Indio and Wynter some time alone. Thoughtful Caleb—a new look for him. Their brothers left, and Indio went to sit beside her.

“You cold?”

“Everyone always asks me that. I like the cold.”

“Change from the desert, huh?”

“It was cold sometimes, but it felt different. Everything here is the opposite of Arizona.”

They sat in silence for a while, enjoying the bite of the evening breeze and the sound of the water lapping against the pier.

Indio said, “I know we’ve been having a tough time communicating lately, but you want me to visit, right?”

“Yes!” Her entire body bowed in an emphatic nod. His asking the question, and her speaking the answer, instantly removed the awkwardness. Like picking up two guitars and letting the music flow. “I thought you had to be supervised, though? In fact, you’re supposed to be supervised right now.”

“Yeah, and we’re near water n’ all. Who knows what I might do.”

“I guess Caleb trusts you.”

“That’s good to know.”

She held his gaze for a moment, working herself up to say something. “When I think about the night at the bus station, I remember you beating up that man—more clearly than anything else that happened.”

So, after weeks of avoiding the topic, they were going to talk about it.

“I’m not sorry for it,” Indio said. “I am sorry you had to see. I couldn’t let him just drive off after what he did, and planned to do. Violence is scary, I know that.”

“I’ve seen violence before, and it was scary. This wasn’t scary. It was shocking. It made me realize how much danger I was in, because of how angry you got.”

“He was gonna do far worse to you. You understand that?”

She nodded, still troubled. “I didn’t tell Caleb what you did. I’ll keep that secret, if you want me to.”

“It’s okay. I told him.”

“Why?”

“Well, Caleb knows how to fix things.” He didn’t tell her how much pride he’d swallowed to ask Caleb for help. If it hadn’t involved Wynter, he wouldn’t have said a damn thing. He moved on to a more important topic. “So, I have a little tour with Blunderbelly in April, down through Oregon and northern California. After that, I’ll visit you at Rosa’s.”

“You can see her stupidly big house. She won’t let you take me out on your bike, though.”

“You’ve got a couple of guitars there now, right? We’ll make some music.” And somehow get past the fact Rosa had seen his entire kit and caboodle.

“Will you give me a guitar lesson? There’s so much I need to learn.”

He chuckled at that. Not want. Need. “I will. And Joy said she’d try harder to see you more often. No reason she can’t go to Richland with Caleb sometimes.”

“It might be better if I visited her house, where she feels safe. Otherwise she gets stressed. She felt safe at the ashram.”

He heard the unspoken flipside to her statement—that Wynter had not felt safe at the ashram. Joy had offered a strange explanation of why their little sister didn’t “belong” there, in January and again tonight, and Indio couldn’t get it out of his head.

She played those beautiful songs, she had that beautiful voice, but she wouldn’t open herself to the Light.

Caleb and Jesse had been pushing Wynter for more information about what happened in Arizona, and so had Rosa. Curious though he was, Indio wasn’t going to add himself to the list of people making demands of her.

“Did you want to ask me about the ashram?” she said, reading his thoughts.

“I want you to know, no matter what they told you there, there’s nothing wrong with you.”

“Jesse says there’s something wrong with the way I think sometimes.”

Jesse was a persistent little shit.

“He thinks there’s something wrong with what the Light taught you,” Indio said, “and I agree with him, but we’re both biased. Doesn’t mean he has all the answers either.”

“Isn’t there a bit of truth in every worldview?”

“Not according to Jesse.”

“Well, I hope he does know the truth, because I rely on him for all my information.”

Better than the Light, but still… “Just Google it.”

“He’s told me not to Google anything until he’s taught me how to determine what sources are reliable. He’s so upset about what happened on the internet forum and the way I was fooled. He’s given me a list of two hundred sites I’m allowed to consult for factual information on science and history.”

Indio gave her a bemused look.

“Wouldn’t you ask him,” Wynter said, “if you had a question about something?”

“A question about science or history, sure. But I’m the one who tuned his dirt bike and fitted the fuel tank at Christmas. I’m the one who told him rap music has no merit.”

“Jesse says some rap music is poetry. Not that he likes poetry, either.”

“Never said it couldn’t be poetry. It’s not music.”

“That’s opinion.”

“Nope, that’s fact. And his two-in-the-morning texts asking me for advice prove he knows nothing about girls.”

“He knows eight positions for sexual intercourse.”

“Jesus, Wynter, you have no filter.” At her look of dismay, he rubbed her shoulder to remove the sting. “That’s okay, I love it. I bet Jesse loves it.”

She recovered quickly. “Did he ask for your advice about his girlfriend Natalie?”

“Yes.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I’ll tell you when you’re old enough to know.”

“I could just ask him. He’ll tell me anything. He told me he lost his virginity to a girl called Meg, the summer before he started eleventh grade. She worked with him at the mini golf. He counts her as girlfriend number one. He doesn’t count the ones in fifth through tenth grades he didn’t sleep with.”

“Well, despite not including those, he does apply the term girlfriend loosely. I think this current one is only the second time it’s lasted more than a couple months.”

“How long is a girlfriend or a boyfriend supposed to last?”

Indio marveled at the little twists her questions had. “It lasts as long as it lasts.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Not right now. I mean, I don’t… uh, date, in the usual sense. Not since high school.”

“Caleb doesn’t approve somehow of how you are with girls.”

“He said that?”

“No, I’m going by how he reacts when Jesse talks about it.”

“We do it differently.” Like, get straight to the point as opposed to playing their games. “Caleb has different priorities again. He’s gonna be married within the year, I think.”

“To Beatrice?”

“Maybe. I only met her once. She seems his usual type—in need of rescue. Jesse has a type, too—in need of educating. He thinks girls are mysterious, well-meaning creatures whose minds he can mold in his own image. You’re a case in point. They don’t last because he keeps being disappointed, but he’s pathologically optimistic so he tries it again on the next one.”

“I’m not going to disappoint him.”

“I know. Remember, though, as you learn from his wisdom and become more Jesse-like, to hang on to the parts of Wynter that make her you.”

“What’s to hang on to? That birth certificate says I was born fifteen years ago, but everything before January this year didn’t count.”

He didn’t contradict her like his brothers would have—he sensed it would shut her down, and he was right because she kept talking.

“On the bus to Seattle, with rock music playing on the radio and Caleb’s address in my hand, I blanked my mind and I think I was meditating. I could never do it right at the ashram, but it was working this time. I was letting in the real Light—the outside world. Only my mechanical body walked out of that place. Once it was cleaned up and fed, that’s what became me. I have to fill myself up with all the new things out here. That’s what Jesse’s helping me do.”

Could he reinvent himself as she had? Despite the things he’d done and the shame he felt, he couldn’t imagine wanting to do it, let alone figuring out how it might be achieved.

“Those fifteen years shaped you,” he said. “You can’t escape that.”

“I can. I have. I tried to explain this to Caleb but he can’t accept it. He keeps trying to ask me about the dark pieces I left behind—not like Rosa, who thinks talk therapy will fix me. Caleb is desperate to find out for his own peace of mind. He doesn’t understand it would hurt him more if he knew.”

“That’s true, it will hurt him—because he cares about you. He loves you.”

She startled at that.

“Baby, we all love you,” he said.

“You don’t even know me.”

“You’re our sister, so we loved you the moment we met you.”

She frowned, taking that in. “I guess I don’t know what that word means.”

“I think all five of us have trouble with it.”

“Because of Miriam?”

He exhaled a deep breath, staring at the murky water, and shook his head, not in denial but simply a refusal to answer. No way could they have a conversation about Miriam that didn’t cause pain to both of them.

She let him off the hook, only to string him up on a different one. “Why don’t you want people to see inside you?”

He put on an Oh, please! look and said, lightly, “Why don’t you?”

She gave him a coy grin to show she understood, and accepted, the difficulty of her question.

Footsteps signalled their brothers’ return. Jesse carried a big paper bag in his arms. Indio put his hand on Wynter’s shoulder to keep her sitting a moment longer.

“Listen, you got your reasons for not talking, and that’s okay. But Caleb can handle the hurt, so don’t let that be a reason.”

She gave a little shake of her head, and he knew she wasn’t ready to take his advice.

“We bought some for you, Wyn,” Jesse called out. “Both kinds. You can take it for Rosa.”

Wynter went to peek in the bag. “How are you gonna carry that on the bikes?”

“That’s why I have those handy saddlebags on the Beast,” Caleb said.

“You mean those goofy saddlebags, don’t you?” Jesse said.

“Speaking of which,” Caleb went on, unfazed, “we need to get home before Rosa shows up or she’s gonna see something she’s not supposed to see.”

Jesse spent the walk to the bikes explaining the relative merits of cream-based versus tomato-based chowder, his enthusiasm raising Wynter’s spirits. While Indio figured Caleb could handle anything, he wasn’t so sure about Jesse. Then again, Jesse was full of surprises, the most resilient of all of them.

As for himself, he’d handle it if Wynter could, and so far she was handling it.


Indio heaped a pile of old music theory books into Wynter’s arms. “Gave them to Jesse years ago, hoping he’d teach himself.”

Jesse looked up from sorting his new Lego bricks on the living room floor. “I will teach myself. Haven’t had time yet.”

“I’ll teach you,” Wynter offered, straightening the pile of books in her arms. “I’ll teach you to play guitar, too.”

“I know how to play guitar.”

Wynter shared a look with Indio, who had tried teaching Jesse years ago, a doomed effort. He didn’t have the knack for it and Wynter had noticed. Teaching Wynter, on the other hand, was going to be a breeze.

“Don’t build that without me,” Wynter told Jesse, checking the time with an edge of panic to her voice. “Please save it until next time? Rosa’s gonna be here in nine minutes.”

That was Indio’s signal to leave. He wheeled his bike out of the garage and said goodbye to Wynter on the driveway. As she went inside to pack up her birthday gifts and purchases, Caleb and Jesse came out.

“You could stay overnight,” Jesse said. “We’ll play Xbox in the morning.”

“I’m gonna take off.” Indio wouldn’t mind playing video games with Jesse, but he didn’t like sleeping in this house, in that room. He was going to meet Frankie for a drink and then he was riding back to Portland. He said, “I need a word with Caleb.”

Indio held out his hand to Jesse—the handshake thing was part of their adult greeting-and-farewell ritual, given they’d never been a hugging family. Until Wynter, he noted.

Jesse didn’t shake. “About her? I want to hear.”

“Jess, go inside,” Caleb said.

“No. Don’t exclude me.”

Caleb visibly balked at Jesse’s defiance. Indio had exactly the opposite reaction—he suppressed a smile of pride at his little brother’s determination. Easy to think of Jesse as still a kid, but he was in college now, the self-styled font of all knowledge, struggling to dump a manipulative girlfriend and eager to make use of a pornographic repertoire of sex positions. He was desperate to be seen as a man. And they were a family—why shouldn’t he hear it?

Jesse stared his oldest brother down, making it quite clear he wasn’t going to move.

Caleb gave in, which must’ve killed him. He nodded to Indio. “Go ahead.”

“That night I talked to Joy in January, she told me about this concept in the Light, this idea that Wynter has what they call a dark heart. She hinted at it again this afternoon. Has Wynter ever talked to you about it?”

Caleb shook his head.

“Why would they tell a kid that?” Jesse said, horrified.

“I’m not sure they did tell Wynter, in so many words. But I think to some extent she internalized it. I don’t understand what Joy meant by it, or what Wynter thinks it means. But it’s important to her that she left that part behind—the dark pieces. The emotional pain and other memories, I guess. She doesn’t want you looking for those dark pieces. She says it’ll hurt you.”

“Hurt me?” Caleb said.

Jesse had gone pale. “It’s true. I know it’s true. Really bad things happened to her. Why won’t she tell us? Why won’t Joy?”

“Joy’s in denial,” Indio said. “Either she thinks Wynter deserved it somehow, or she doesn’t know the extent of it. I’m saying you gotta stop asking her about it.”

“Okay, that’s fine.” Caleb brushed aside his frustration. “She’ll tell us eventually.”

“No, Caleb, she might never tell us and you’re gonna have to live with that. She says she left all that behind and only her mechanical body walked out.”

“Her what?

“Her band name…” Jesse said. “She really is a clockwork toy.”

A car approached from down the street, slowing as it drew near—must be Rosa. Indio jammed on his helmet and said a quick goodbye. That woman had seen him naked, after all, and he made it a habit to avoid uncomfortable conversations. Or at least postpone them as long as possible.

He rode to E Sharp and sat in Frankie’s darkened store to share one six-pack of Japanese beer—just the half-dozen because Frankie wasn’t going to let him ride home drunk. Indio told him why and how Wynter had recently turned up in the Fairn boys’ lives, and about Joy, the twin he barely remembered and was struggling to reconnect with. Frankie offered him a nice deal on a second-hand Ibanez Talman and Indio made noncommittal noises because he was supposed to be offloading guitars, not acquiring more.

They talked until three in the morning, by which point Indio was sober enough to hit the road. He should ask Frankie to help him sell those guitars in Caleb’s basement. He couldn’t do it. Couldn’t tell him the reason it had to be done. To Frankie, he was a talented but aimless kid who used to hang out in his store, who got into a little trouble before pulling himself together and heading off to college to play in a moderately popular college rock band. Which was pretty much Frankie’s life story, too, and that story had a happy ending. Frankie ran a successful business, doing what he loved. He had a forgiving wife he adored—a former beauty queen with not one hobby or interest that intersected with his. Leather and Lace, Frankie named their marriage. The woman genuinely didn’t mind him staying out drinking until three on a Saturday night.

Indio could see himself thirty years down the track with Frankie’s life, but he couldn’t see himself content with it. Selling guitars instead of playing them. Loving a devoted woman who didn’t understand him.

Wynter had been right. Indio didn’t want anyone to see inside. Yet at times he felt a desperate need to be understood, even while he was still trying to figure himself out. One person would be enough. One person in seven billion who could see inside and make him whole. He wrote songs that cracked the surface and offered glimpses, which was all he was capable of giving. The rest he hid away.

All of which he wished he could tell Frankie, but the anger and resentment would surely sound like petulance if he spoke it aloud. And the rest, the exposed dark pieces newly raw since the bandage had been ripped off two months ago, those pieces had no names. He had no idea how to identify them beyond a vague feeling of desolation. In any case, while Frankie had a hundred opinions he was eager to share, from the politics of cannabis to the merits of polyamory and DiMarzio humbuckers, he was not the philosophical type. Indio trusted him to listen without judgment but he had no confidence Frankie had anything useful to say.

The old man thought Indio was doing okay, and Indio had enough pride left not to disabuse him of the notion.

And enough pride left to meet at least one of his obligations. He got home at six in the morning and, still sitting astride the bike, texted Jesse to ask him to take photos of five of his guitars. He’d write those ads. He’d start paying back Caleb—it was going to take him a couple of years, but he’d get it done.

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