33. Fantasy

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Indio punched the big red bag, keeping up a steady one-two rhythm beyond the point of exhaustion. A few feet away, Caleb lifted dumbbells on the bench. They hadn't worked out in the same space in... how many years? Maybe six. That September he got out of juvie, and Caleb came home from Alaska and decided a rigorous work-out schedule would turn his life around. That was also the month he met Jenny at the new high school. This afternoon, he was going to see her again for the first time since Valentine's Day last year.

Caleb was giving him sidelong glances that meant one of two things—either he was pissed because Indio wasn't offering to spot him on the barbell, or he was working himself up to ask about the emancipation hearing.

"Do you agree with what she's doing?" Caleb said as soon as Indio paused to catch his breath.

"Yes."

"I guess you're the wrong person to ask. You'd have loved to legally cut ties with Harry at sixteen."

"Not necessarily. Wynter's in a totally different situation. Would you want to be property of the government?" He grinned to himself. "Oh, that's right—you signed up to be exactly that."

"I'll file for custody. It's been six months. I told her I would."

"She needs you to be her big brother, not her dad."

Caleb sat up and racked the dumbbells. "What the hell is the difference?"

"Look back on every fight we ever had. That was you trying to be my parent. You don't get a bonus just because you happened to be born first. Four equal parts, that's what you told me before I moved home."

"She's sixteen years old! She doesn't know one-tenth of what I knew about the world at sixteen."

"She's aware of her shortcomings, which is the other nine-tenths of the battle. When it comes to the important stuff, she listens to you—to all three of us. That won't change, unless you screw this up and lose her respect."

"I'm trying to protect her."

"You can do that without being needlessly stubborn."

Caleb looked like he was going to protest the label, but swallowed it when Jesse appeared in the doorway of the shed. He appealed to their youngest brother. "Is that what I am? Needlessly stubborn?"

"You're not known for your flexibility," Jesse said carefully. "I went to the store on my way here and we made this weird pasta and bean salad for lunch. Wynter's idea. It's on the table."

Indio went back to the punch bag.

"I can't stop her doing this," Caleb said, "but is it too much to ask that I can be in the courtroom?"

"She's afraid... of your truthfulness," Indio said between punches. "That's how you screwed it up last time, right? You were too open."

"I should've lied under oath?"

"It's called spin. Presenting the facts in a more favorable light." Indio threw down his gloves and grabbed a towel to mop up. "Even Jesse with his brutal honesty knows how to do that when necessary. You used to know how."

Caleb fumed in his corner.

"Okay." Jesse assessed them both, his eyes darting back and forth. "You guys are gonna fight no matter what the rules, but can we make a new house rule that nobody fights about Wynter? It upsets her."

"She's not here," Caleb pointed out.

"It upsets me."

Caleb stuck his hands on his hips and stared at his feet, the familiar stance that indicated he was fighting to keep calm.

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