28. The Wolves

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They walked down Pine Street, toward the water, until they found an ice cream parlor. They sat opposite each other in a booth and talked about anything except their mother. The goats and the garden, Jesse's upcoming housesitting adventure, Indio's new band, the antique drafting table he'd seen on Craigslist, and the songs they planned to record next. Their hands touched, playfully or meaningfully or idly or just because. They never said her name.

Her laughter came easy, while Indio was still choking on the bitterness of Miriam's casual cruelty. That would surely pass. He had cut her out, and almost seven years of his childhood with it. And Wynter was here to fill up the spaces.

"Thank you for coming with me," she said, as they walked slowly back to the bike. "Poor Caleb. In the end, this was hardest of all on him."

"I came here for you, not him."

"Half true." She squeezed his hand. "Tell me how to cheer you up. Today, I'll do anything."

"It's okay, I don't need cheering up."

"You need something. I feel... relieved, I guess. But your mind is still churning."

"I'll recover."

He had to find a way to deal with this love. No way out, so he'd find a way around it, a way to live with it without destroying himself. The emotional cravings, so powerful he felt them as a physical force, that made him want to hold her forever and tell her everything and soak up her love and understanding—he was learning when he was vulnerable so he wouldn't be blindsided. Those times she showed her strength. Knocking down his walls. Standing up to their mother. Leaving her mark on the world.

Up ahead, the bike was parked on the street. She stopped suddenly, a few paces from it, which dragged him to a halt.

"You don't have to say those things to me, Indio—I'm okay. I'll recover. That's what you'd say to Jesse, to protect him from more pain. We both love you, but we're not the same."

"I know that."

She tugged him closer, and his arms went around her spontaneously.

"I wish you'd tell me everything. Nothing you're hiding will make me love you less." She burrowed her face into his chest with a deep sigh. "You smell just right. I could stay here forever."

Fear made his breath stop. Fear he had no room in his heart to love anyone else like this, and worse still, that he didn't want to. This instinctive bond between them—however hopeless on his part, however innocent on hers—was the truest thing he'd ever known and his only refuge.

He could only pray she hadn't guessed any part of how he felt.

Her mind was on something else entirely. She pulled back slightly, looked up at him, and said, "Are you gonna ask me what Joy's secret is?"

"I don't ask you about the past, remember?"

"But you're dying to know."

"I'll recover from that, too."

She groaned good-naturedly at his incuriosity.

"I'll tell you anyway," she said as they arrived at the bike. They couldn't speak during the ride, so apparently she'd decided to get it said now.

She talked as he unlocked the helmets.

"There are actually three secrets, and that's not even including Deedee. A year-and-a-half ago, when I threatened Joy if Miriam didn't back off, I thought she understood I was threatening to reveal the abuse. But then, a few weeks later on my birthday, Joy told me nobody cared about that. Maybe she's right. I can't prove anything. For the longest time I couldn't figure out what she feared I knew, the thing she thought I was threatening to reveal to the authorities."

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