31. Cake

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"Got my first client this afternoon."

"On your birthday? That's great." Jesse leaned in Indio's studio doorway. His brother was on his back on the floor, adjusting the underside of a second-hand drafting table—a beautiful vintage oak piece that wouldn't look out of place in the tower. "What's the job?"

"Same as usual. Brochures for a chain of gymnasiums. I'd love to get away from this layout work and do something more creative."

Indio had been home for one month now, and he'd spent most of that time renovating his wing of the house. He'd ripped out all the carpets, sanded the floors and repainted. Unlike Jesse's atmospheric medieval castle these rooms were light and airy. Indio's bedroom still looked a bit like a college dorm, but the studio was almost complete with shelving and cabinetry and display boards. In the bathroom, what started out as a tiling job had turned into a complete overhaul.

"Wynter's baking in the kitchen," Jesse said. "She's not saying much. Is she okay?" Indio had texted him earlier about the ENT appointment and warned him not to pry. Now he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with the information.

"When is she not okay?"

"What did Caleb say?"

"He's obviously concerned about the possibility of future problems. He agrees she should go to a vocal coach. I'll take her myself and pick up a few tips." Indio tightened a screw and reached for another by feel. "Don't fucking ask her about it. I told you that already. We still barbecuing tonight?"

"Yeah, the weather's gonna hold. When do I get to see the haircut I paid for?"

Indio scooted out and sat up with a flourish of his hand. "Wynter hates it."

"Seriously? It looks the same."

It was, in fact, a few inches shorter, sitting off his shoulders for the first time in about a decade. And because Rubylynn was a style wizard, it retained the grungy rock n' roll look that defined his lifestyle. Or, used to. Jesse's impression of Jenny was that she was a thoroughly well put-together girl, so whether Indio's look would pass muster tomorrow was another issue.

Today, however, Jesse was more interested in impressing someone else. "I feel like I should change into a button-up shirt."

Indio scoffed. "Because the girlfriend's coming?"

"First impressions matter." Jesse cast a disapproving look over Indio's faded jeans and t-shirt with a ripped sleeve, which hopefully he hadn't worn to the doctor's or barber's. "You're not gonna wear that, are you?"

"No. Not wearing a button-up shirt, either."

"I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna dress up."

"Knock yourself out."

Jesse compromised on his outfit choice—a collared two-button polo. He helped Wynter prepare the salad as the smell of the baking cake filled the kitchen. She triumphantly removed it from the oven and set it on the countertop to cool.

By six they were ready to grill, waiting on Caleb and Olivia. Indio showed up wearing clean jeans and a t-shirt with a T-rex skeleton on the front along with the words Get Off My Lawn!

"Let's discuss our game plan," Jesse said. "Are we gonna be warm yet polite and on our best behavior like the perfect family? Or be ourselves and scare her off?"

"First option sounds creepy," Indio said.

"We can be ourselves and be the perfect family," Wynter said, "because we are the perfect family."

Jesse gave Indio a backhanded slap in the ribs. "Indio's t-shirt doesn't match that description."

"You sent me this shirt," Indio pointed out, "on my twenty-first birthday, when apparently I became a dinosaur. Wynter's right—we'll be ourselves and we'll charm the pants off her."

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