Chapter 58: Worth It

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Caleb was having a hard time getting past what he'd done. He had no right to teach his siblings not to lie when his own lies rolled off of his tongue. But this was for Wynter and he'd missed her graduation and they wouldn't be seeing her again for a month.

They rode the bikes through the forest, and then it was open road for the last few miles. As they rounded a corner, a ferris wheel rose up in the distance. Caleb pointed to it, and he felt Wynter's helmet turn across his back as she looked that way. Her arms gave him a squeeze to tell him she'd seen it.

Yeah, he'd lied, but this was going to be worth it.

They parked the bikes and bought a bunch of ride tokens. They were all starving and headed straight to the food trucks for sloppy chilli dogs, greasy pizza, and sugary churros.

An hour later the sun set and the carnival lights came on in a dazzling display. It was a lot busier now, and Caleb concentrated on keeping Wynter in his sights as she and Jesse went from one ride to another, deciding how to spend their tokens. Jesse had reverted to a ten-year-old kid, which brought on a wave of nostalgia—Caleb had taken over his brothers' upbringing by then. Jesse had made it easy. He was happy with his books and video games and never balked at doing his homework because to him it was no big deal. For all his goofiness and strident opinions, he listened when Caleb talked, respected his advice, and rarely defied him. It made the contrast with Indio all the more stark.

Caleb watched from behind the railings as Jesse and Wynter went on the rides. This place was not his scene, but that was probably true of half the parents here. They did it for their kids. But they hadn't deceived someone to be here.

He texted Rosa as Jesse and Wynter stumbled off another ride, dizzy and laughing.

"I told Rosa we'll get back around one in the morning. We need to leave in half an hour." He could see Wynter mentally setting a timer.

Jesse pushed Wynter's dust-covered hair off her face. "You're really pale."

"Feel a bit sick," she admitted, but she was grinning.

"Okay, no more rides," Caleb said. "Let's shoot something."

They went to the shooting gallery, where Jesse shot at ducks for a few minutes until he won a tier four prize. Wynter, who didn't want to shoot, was happy enough to pick out a glow-in-the-dark bracelet. Caleb smirked at his brother's smug look, leaned over the rifle and took his turn. After a couple of "practice" shots to get the feel of it, he hit every duck for a tier one prize.

"What would the gentleman like?" The carny indicated the options with a sweep of his hand—an assortment of huge, grotesque plush toys.

"Let's let the lady choose," Caleb said.

Wynter walked up and down the racks and finally saw the one she wanted. The carny pulled it down for her—a plush robot with dangling arms and legs. It was almost as tall as her.

"You'll have to take him to Seattle," she said. "Can't bring the evidence back with me."

"I'll teach him to play the harmonica so he can jam with us," Jesse said.

They went to the coconut shy and Caleb showed her how to throw the ball. She was pretty bad at it, but eventually hit a couple of coconuts and chose another bracelet for her robot. Jesse and Caleb competed with each other at a basketball hoop game and by the end of it the robot had multicolored glowing bands around every limb and both antennae, and a necklace as well.

"Time to go," Caleb said. "We've got a long ride."

Wynter's mood sank through the ground. Jesse tried to make her laugh by securing the robot's hands into his belt so it could ride as his passenger. Jesse always made the best of it when things were bad. Caleb knew from Indio that their father had attacked him last month in a bar. Jesse had brushed it off, a familiar routine. Caleb would probably visit Harry in a few days and they'd talk about Caribbean beaches and Lexie the dog, and maybe even the failed wedding if Harry brought up the subject first. But neither of them would mention that punch. Even if Harry alluded to Jesse being an idiot for losing his brother's cash, the punch would not be mentioned. Yep, the familiar routine.

Caleb felt the weight of Wynter's helmet against his body the whole way back, through the forest and into Ellensburg, where they stopped for gas.

"Wynter's asleep on her feet," Jesse said as they leaned on their bikes, waiting for her to come out of the restroom.

Caleb knew where this was going. "You're saying it's not safe for her to ride?"

"Yeah, she could slip right off."

Caleb scowled. "Okay. You wait here with her. I'll ride down to Selah and bring back the truck."

"That's another hour. See, you could turn up at Rosa's at 2:30 in the morning, or we could find a motel for the night and do something fun tomorrow. I think she'd like to see the university campus. We could catch a movie. Take the bikes out one last time."

"And Rosa's gonna be okay with this—how?"

"The truck broke down again, on the road somewhere along the I-90."

"I take better care of my truck than this, Jess." He shook his head. Wynter joined them and he told her what he planned to do. "I'm gonna fetch the truck before you fall asleep on the bike, okay? Let's ride around and find somewhere safe for you guys to wait for me."

"How about a nightclub?" Jesse joked. "It's a college town—gotta be some night life."

Caleb ignored that and thumbed the back of the seat to tell Wynter to get on. He was angry with himself now, for setting up this situation. Shouldn't have been lured to the carnival. Shouldn't have lied to Rosa.

"The movie theater back there was still open," he said. "You can wait in the foyer."

They rode a few blocks down the street. Coming up on the left, a huge neon sign flashed Vacancies. Caleb thought about the lie he'd already told and the new one he'd have to tell. He thought about Jesse's plan and the hope in his voice, and when he pulled over opposite the motel it was really as much for Jesse as for Wynter. Jesse, who his entire life had relied on Caleb to protect him, but never once complained all those times Caleb had not been there to do that duty—Jesse deserved this. He was a pretty cool kid.

Jesse pulled up beside him. Caleb looked across the street at the motel, waiting for his head to catch up with his heart. Then he pointed at it. Jesse gave a nod, his expression hidden by his helmet. Caleb waited for a car to pass, and rode across the street into the motel driveway.

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