Jesse poured a tall glass of cran apple juice at the breakfast bar.
“You feel nauseated because your blood sugar was up last night, and now it’s crashed,” he explained as Wynter took a seat. “I’m gonna buy a whole roast chicken today and boil up its bones to make real broth. Next week, when you’re eating normally again, we’ll practice our chef skills and make something different every night.”
Wynter stifled a yawn and pulled her robe tightly around her frail body. “We need to learn to make lasagne for Caleb.”
“And stir-fry pork. Anything pork, really.”
Talking about food was not helping with Wynter’s nausea. She’d had nothing but water for eight days, other than a few sport drinks and a little juice last night.
Caleb came into the kitchen in his dark blue Coastie work uniform. She’d hoped he would stay home with her for even one day. That was an unfair expectation—Jesse was here, after all. While Wynter’s life was about to change dramatically, with a new foster home on the horizon and high school starting in September, Caleb had the same commitments as always and a mortgage to pay.
He threw her a concerned look as he made coffee. She returned it with a tentative smile, unsure of his mood.
“Jesse,” he said, “put your drum stool in the bath. Wynter, you need to sit when you take a shower—just for a couple days. I don’t want you falling in there.”
Jesse balked. “That’s not gonna do it any good, getting it wet.”
Caleb was unmoved. “Put a garbage bag over it.”
“I don’t feel dizzy anymore,” Wynter said as Jesse launched into another protest at the same time. “I’ll be okay in the shower. I don’t think—”
“Guys.” Caleb silenced them with a word and a look. “Jesse, you can deal with the food. That’s fine, you’ve read up on it, so you’re in charge of health. I’m in charge of safety. Go fetch the stool.”
Jesse left to obey.
“They’re sending a nurse at eleven to check up on you,” Caleb said. “It’ll be someone different, someone local.”
“I’m alright now. I’m drinking the juice and I’m gonna eat today.”
He leaned on the counter, opposite where Wynter sat. “Can I talk about this with you? You won’t put your hands over your ears again?”
Wynter drew a breath and nodded for him to continue.
“You need to promise me you’ll never do that again.”
One last flash of stubbornness made her test him. “Or what?”
“I’m not giving you an ultimatum, Wynter. I just need to hear it.”
“I don’t have any plans to do it again,” she said truthfully.
He raised an eyebrow, waiting for what he’d asked for.
“I promise I won’t do it again.”
“Or anything like it?”
“Or anything like it.”
He closed his hands over hers and smiled. He looked so tired. “Thank you. Now, you concentrate on getting stronger. Bea’s coming over when she finishes work.”
“I thought Bea doesn’t like me.”
“Of course she likes you.”
“I heard her say I was stroppy. I had to look it up.”
“Uh-huh.” He looked confused. “Honestly, I don’t remember her saying that. What does it mean?”
“It means difficult. That day I burned the dinner and said something that made Natalie walk out on Jesse, and then Bea left early, too.”
“That was months ago, hun. Bea likes everyone.”
Jesse talked the nurse’s ear off, assuring her that he had Wynter’s recuperation under scientific control. The nurse weighed her and made a list of what she’d eaten, and told Jesse to keep writing it all down.
Wynter was glad when she’d gone. She fetched her laptop and notebooks and brought them into the dining room, where Jesse was studying the chess game he and Caleb were in the middle of.
“Why were you so jumpy around her?” he said. “She’s here to help you.”
“I hate it when strangers come into the house. Will you stay when Bea comes over?”
“Bea’s not a stranger.”
“I don’t really know her.”
“Here’s your chance to get to know her better. I’ll be at the grocery store and I have four other things to do before that.”
Wynter slumped in her chair. Carrying the laptop that short distance through the house was enough to make her arms ache. “How do you tell if someone likes you?”
“She likes you just fine.”
“But how do you tell? I’m not good at telling. I gave up trying to figure out if the girls at school liked me. Hunter acted as if he liked me, but he sure didn’t respect me and he said mean things behind my back to make his friends laugh. I still don’t know if Rosa ever liked me or just thought I was an interesting case study.”
“You’re never gonna see your former foster mother or any of those kids again, so it doesn’t matter.”
“That doesn’t help me, Jesse. I always knew you liked me, and Caleb and Indio, so I started to think siblings like each other, but plenty of kids at school have siblings they loathe.”
Jesse sat beside her, tapping his pen against the table top, looking at her like he was expecting more.
“What?” she said.
“You left someone out.”
She sucked on her lower lip. “I don’t know if Joy likes me. Where is she? She left the courthouse after the hearing without talking to me.”
“She’s still on that retreat. When she gets back, we’ll see if she’s interested in… y’know, any of us. Did Caleb give you that picture yet?”
“The photo from the file of stuff she gave him at the courthouse.”
“A photo… of me?”
“Yes, a baby photo.”
“There aren’t any photos of me.” None. None at all from her entire childhood at the ashram.
“Don’t know why he hasn’t shown you,” Jesse muttered. “It’s part of Joy’s affidavit about your birth.”
Jesse hesitated. “It’s in there.” He indicated the filing cabinet next to the buffet. “All our important paperwork is in there. How about you fetch it, so I don’t get in trouble for showing it to you. The key’s in the vase.”
“Why would you get in trouble?” Wynter asked as she retrieved the key from the ceramic vase on the mantelpiece.
“I don’t know. Just seems odd he hasn’t shown you.”
The folder from Joy was at the front of the filing cabinet, and the first thing inside the folder was a small rectangular photograph of a baby—a close-up of the head and shoulders, a fuzz of hair, pink lips, blotchy skin, closed eyes, and a tiny fist pressed to the cheek. On the strip across the bottom, her name and birthdate were written in fading ink, in childish handwriting.
“I never saw anyone at the ashram with a camera,” she said, bringing the picture over to Jesse.
“This is from an instant camera. That’s why it has the white border and backing sheet. It’s meant to be a square. Joy said she cut herself out of the picture, years ago.” He pointed out the edge of a child’s hand in the lower corner. Joy would’ve been seven when the picture was taken.
Wynter examined the baby, trying to form a connection with it. At the ashram she often felt like she didn’t exist, that no one cared or even really saw her. But here was proof she was real, a human being who started life as a tiny person with a name and a birthday and a big sister.
“What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Whatever you want.”
“I guess it belongs in the file.”
Jesse gave her an exasperated look. “Seriously? No, Wyn, you put it in an album. You scan it to make sure we always have a copy. That’s the only photo of you before January of this year. It’s important.”
“Since when did you become sentimental?”
“Give it to me. I’ll keep it,” he snapped, holding out his hand.
“Why would you want a baby photo of me?”
“Because I was supposed to be there. Or you were supposed to be here. There should be a thousand photos of you and me, together, as babies and as children, and there never will be. Maybe, when it comes to you, I am sentimental. Okay with you?”
She mouthed Okay, taken aback by his tone. He recovered quickly, and took another look before tucking the photo into one of the books on the table.
“You were pretty cute, as babies go,” he said with a shrug.
“Not as cute as you were.”