Chapter 19: Simple

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Caleb was never going to tell himself that signing up with the Coast Guard for another three years was a mistake—he loved his job—but it was proving inconvenient now. Choosing to become a single parent in the military was fraught with difficulties. His EO at the base was willing to work with him, and Wynter's caseworker had shown tentative support, so he was prepared to push ahead.

The threat of Miriam summoning Wynter to Thailand appeared to be neutralized, for now, and Caleb was counting on their mother's continued disinterest in Wynter's life. In four months Wynter would become a Washington resident and the family court would make a permanent custody decision. Until then, Caleb could be charming and accommodating to Social Services and to Wynter's foster mother. He had to be.

Sitting at Rosa's dinner table, he took care to keep his tone even, his questions innocuous, his answers respectful. He helped Wynter with her English homework—he still remembered how to construct an argumentative essay, while Wynter was still learning the basics of formal education. She did, at least, understand the requirements of the first paragraph—"Define your terms"—per Jesse.

Rosa had put him in a guest room down the hall from Wynter. He called Bea, ever mindful to make her feel wanted and included. One month ago he'd been anticipating asking Bea to marry him, thinking Wynter would soon be on the other side of the planet. Wynter had done something—he was starting to suspect what that might've been—to change Miriam's mind, and now Caleb must split his time. He would still marry Bea in a heartbeat, but it had to be on his terms. His terms included Wynter. Bea had made it clear she had a strictly nuclear family in mind.

"Haven't you done enough cleaning up after your parents?" she'd said, after he told her he'd be petitioning for custody when he returned from his upcoming deployment.

Caleb had no children of his own but he'd do as much for his siblings as Bea would for her child. There was no "enough". He had sacrificed for Indio and Jesse. Now it was Wynter's turn.

He got ready to turn in and sat on the bed fiddling with his phone.

"No electronic devices after nine." Wynter was in the doorway, grinning. "It's the law."

"House rule number nineteen—knock before entering."

"This isn't your house."

"I think Rosa probably has the same rule."

"Your door was open. May I come in?"

He patted the edge of his bed and she perched on it.

"Can I ask you about something that happened in Eugene?" she said.

Caleb tossed aside his phone. "Sure."

"Could Indio go back to jail for hurting that man?"

"That man can't report the assault, hun. We have the evidence—those text messages—that he lured you there. He wouldn't bring that trouble on himself."

"Is he gonna trick someone else? Hurt someone else instead?"

"I made an anonymous report to the local sheriff's office, with his licence plate so they can ID him. Maybe they'll do something, maybe not, but I don't want either of you involved further. Indio agreed to that." In fact, Caleb had been surprised when Indio admitted to the assault and asked for advice.

"Indio deserves a medal, but instead you're still angry at each other. I can tell. You played together at Patty's for me, but other than that you hardly said one word to each other."

"I'm grateful he stepped up when we needed him to. He knows that." There was also the small matter of the large sum of money his brother owed him, a silent source of friction between them.

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