22. Poison

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Indio said hardly a word all morning, and was silent again as he drove them home. Wynter wished Jesse would shut up, too.

"They believe in reincarnation, right? I'm gonna tell her I was Galileo in a past life, and Joan of Arc before that. This incarnation, Jesse Fairn, has finally overcome its persecution complex and can ascend to nirvana. Everyone was someone famous in a past life—why is that? It doesn't make mathematical sense." He twisted around to Wynter in the back seat. "Can I be a woman in a previous life? Souls don't have gender, right? I'll bet the only reason they believe in reincarnation is so they can sell meditation courses to access your past lives."

"That's not the reason," Wynter said dully. She didn't want to talk about it, but if she was talking then Jesse was not, and she was sick of him. "They believe a soul chooses its next life. Your previous incarnation chose to be Jesse Fairn so it could experience something new. Every bad thing that's ever happened to you is your fault because you chose it."

"Jesse Fairn is an incredible human being with an incredible life. My eternal soul chose well."

"That's great for you," she said, dripping sarcasm. "Personally, I don't like being told my eternal soul chose in advance the bad things that happened to Wynter Wild."

"She turned out okay, other than this pathetic self-pity."

"Leave her the fuck alone!" Indio said with such sudden force it made Jesse go pale. "She's never once shown self-pity."

"Don't yell at him," Wynter cried.

"I wasn't yelling." Indio gripped the wheel. "Everybody just stop talking."

"Don't tell me what to do. All of you need to stop telling me what to do."

"I don't tell you what to do," Jesse said.

"You told me not to drop physics. You told me I had to call my goat Octavia. You told me to stay away from Beck Clifton."

"And you ignored me on all counts." Jesse fell back in his seat, exasperated. "I can't tell who's on whose side in this argument."

"This isn't an argument," Wynter said. "It's pointless bickering because, whatever you say, it's eating you up inside that you're gonna meet the woman who abandoned the cutest three-year-old the world has ever known, and it won't be funny or interesting. It'll be awful."

That shut him up. He stared out his window and didn't say a word. Wynter felt the heat of shame rising, inexorably, squeezing her chest until she couldn't breathe. She was doing everything wrong. She wasn't supposed to kiss Jesse and now she was being mean to him. Why was she snapping at Indio when she'd never felt as close to him as she had last night?

Tears splashed onto her hands in her lap. She tried to stay quiet so they wouldn't know, but her ragged breath turned to sobs.

"Baby, it's okay," Indio said, eyes on the road. "This is nothing to do with any of us."

"It is. It wasn't just her who was poisoned." Wynter wiped her eyes but the tears kept coming. "She poisoned us all. She's come back and we're being mean to each other."

"Forget about her," Jesse said bitterly. "You're not seeing her, anyway."

"Why are you going, Jesse?" she sobbed. "You don't remember her. What do you really want to say to her? You think there's some perfect, cutting thing you could say to hurt her, to make her listen, to make her notice you and remember you and love you, but there's nothing. Everything will bounce right off and you'll end up even angrier."

"I'm not angry. I don't feel anything at all. I never once needed her, my entire life."

"Every three-year-old needs a mother. How could she do that? Why did she choose Joy and not you? Why did she love Joy more? You're amazing, and Joy's a waste of space."

Indio pulled over sharply on the freeway, slamming on the brakes. He unbuckled his seatbelt and turned around in his seat, irate.

"Don't ever say that!"

Wynter leaned forward, matching his anger. "Don't tell me what to do! I'm saying what you're thinking."

"You don't ever say that about our sister."

What the hell? He was sounding more than ever like Caleb.

"You never even loved her," Wynter spluttered.

"That's not true."

"Okay, you loved her for six years and you hardly remember her. I loved her twice as long and it was wasted. Miriam poisoned her, too."

"Fine, blame Miriam, but not her."

"Why are you defending Joy, all of a sudden? You never liked her when she came back."

"She never liked me. Any of us."

"Because she's a waste of space! Both of them. That poison makes them think they're saving humanity by staying up all night reciting prayers and fasting and squashing little kids under their feet. They could've had everything I have right now. Miriam could've had her three beautiful boys, but she threw them away. Joy could've had her brothers back, but she refused. I wish I hadn't cut them out, so I could hate them for you."

She fumbled with her seatbelt catch, shaking so hard it took several seconds to release it. Indio reached for her arm but she slunk back and found the door handle.

"I'm gonna throw up."

She staggered out of the truck and made it a few paces along the shoulder of the road before dropping to her knees. Indio was right behind her. In two seconds flat he'd twisted her hair into a loose knot in his fist as if he'd done it for a hundred girls before her, which he probably had. Her stomach heaved in a wave of nausea. She concentrated on staying conscious and getting the poison out.

She got to her feet, shakily, and Indio put an arm around her shoulders to support her. Jesse handed her a bottle of water.

"I don't want to hate anyone," she said, "but sometimes, feeling nothing is even worse. I wish Momma hated us. Then at least I'd understand why she didn't want us."

"Maybe she does hate us," Jesse said. "I'll find out for you this afternoon, if you like."

Wynter wiped away the last of her tears with the heel of her hand. "I love you, Jesse. I'm so sorry I kissed you. I don't remember why I did it."

"I was probably being annoying."

Indio said, "Let's get home."

* * *

A/N: Just a quick one today... as the boys prepare to meet their mother. How will they react to seeing Miriam again after all this time? And will Wynter change her mind about going?

 How will they react to seeing Miriam again after all this time? And will Wynter change her mind about going?

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