26. Unhealthy Attachments

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"I don't think I remember what she looks like," Wynter said.

She and Indio sat at a tiny cafe-style table in Westlake Park, a square in the heart of the downtown shopping district. Caleb had arranged the meeting via text messages with Miriam the evening before—she'd wanted brunch at the hotel, but Wynter needed neutral territory, so Caleb suggested one of the city parks nearby. They were surrounded by eclectic sculptures and a water wall, and trees set at regular intervals into the pavers. And people. Plenty of normal everyday people to provide a buffer.

Indio said, "She's unmistakable. Word on the street is she looks like you and me."

He had an edge of nervousness, but she felt it was purely empathetic—reflecting her own tension, rather than because he was wary of seeing their mother again.

"I'm glad I look like you," Wynter said. "I mean, I'm glad I look like one of you. If you were dark like the others, I'd be the odd one out. I might wonder if I belonged."

"I think you'd know." He brushed his thumb back and forth on her hand where it lay on the table. "D'you know what you're gonna say to her?"

"No. Any ideas?"

"You could ask her about your father. Caleb said he tried, but... maybe you'll have more luck."

"No." Of this she was absolutely certain. "He's not part of me. He left me before he even knew who I was gonna be."

"What made you change your mind about meeting with her?"

"She did." Wynter bit hard on her lower lip, determined to keep hope alive. "She offered a bribe, and it worked. The only thing I want from the ashram is Xay. If she has news, if there's a chance I can find him, I have to take it." Resting her head in her hand, she studied him. "Is it true, what Joy said, that you shot her with a water pistol on the day she left?"

"Not just any water pistol. A pressurized water rifle—the Super Soaker SS50." A smile played on his lips at the memory of an old toy. "That's a collector's item now. Real powerful. I was shooting Ninja Turtles off the wall out back of Harry's place. She came to tell me she and Joy were going off somewhere. I was hardly listening. Didn't realize it mattered." He leaned back on the spindly chair, pushing both hands through his hair in a sudden release of energy, an attempt to cut out the lingering regret, to make it not matter. "I told Jesse she'd be back for his birthday. Then, I thought, for sure by the end of the summer. Or for our birthday—mine and Joy's seventh. For Thanksgiving, or for Christmas... Every celebration she missed was another kick in the teeth."

"So you stopped celebrating."


Wynter's gaze flicked over his head as a fancy car stopped on the corner to drop off Miriam. Wynter recognized her instantly although her appearance had changed. The simple everyday clothes of the ashram were replaced by glamorous bright robes.

"She's here. You're right, she does kinda stand out."

He glanced over his shoulder. "That's why thousands flock to her side, I guess. Listen, I don't have a thing to say to her either, but if you need me to step in, I will. I'll sit over there." He indicated a blocky podium structure a few paces away.

"You're not staying with me?"

"I'll be right here, baby, but I think you'll have a more productive talk if she doesn't have to look at me."

"Okay." Indio was always the first to stand aside and let her experience life, hesitant to interfere, and today was no different. She was feeling strong and hopeful because no matter what happened next, all she cared about was finding out what Miriam knew about Xay.

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