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I glance in the living room and then the kitchen, wondering what I’m going to do with myself today. Another crossword puzzle? I’m getting really good at them. I sit down at the table with my half-completed book of crossword puzzles. I flip it to the puzzle I finished on Friday and start on the next one.

I’m on the third question across before the doubt begins to seep in. It’s no big deal, this has been happening every day since I stopped going to school. A sense of panic rears its ugly head, making me question my choice.

I’m still not quite certain why I stopped going. There wasn’t a single catastrophic or embarrassing incident that influenced my decision. Just a bunch of small ones that continued to pile up until they were hard to ignore. That, coupled with my ability to make choices without giving them a second thought. One minute I was at school and the next minute I decided I’d rather be browsing antiques than learning about how terribly we lost the Battle of the Alamo.

I like spontaneity. Maybe I like it because Utah hates it so much. There’s something freeing about refusing to stress over stressful situations. No matter how much thought or time you put into a decision, you’re still only going to be wrong or right. Besides, I’ve accrued more knowledge this week by doing these crossword puzzles than I probably could in my entire senior year attending high school. It’s why I only do one puzzle a day. I don’t want to get too intellectually ahead of Honor and Utah.

It isn’t until I finish the puzzle and close the book that I notice the sketch left on the table. It’s placed upside down in front of the spot I was seated at this morning. I reach across the table, slide the sketch toward me and flip it over.

     His drawings make no sense. What would possess him to draw a picture of someone swallowing a boat?

I flip it over and look at the back of it. At the very bottom, it reads, “If silence were a river, your tongue would be the boat.”

I flip the drawing back over and stare at it a moment, completely taken aback. Did he draw this of me? Was he the only one in this house to notice I haven’t spoken since Friday?

“He actually noticed,” I whisper.

And then I immediately slap the drawing on the table and groan. I just ruined my no-speaking streak. “Dammit.”

Chapter Four

How long will this last?” I ask the cashier, dropping the fifty-pound bag of dog food onto the counter.

“What kind of dog?” she asks.

“It’s for a full-grown black Lab.”

“Just one?”

I nod.

“Maybe a month. Month and a half.”

Oh. I was guessing a week. “I don’t think he’ll live with us that long.” She rings up the total and I pay with my father’s debit card. He said to only use it in emergencies. I’m sure food is an emergency to Wolfgang.

“You need help carrying it out?” someone from behind me asks.

“No thanks,” I say, taking my receipt. I turn around to face him. “I only got the one bag . . . what are you wearing?” I didn’t mean to say that out loud but I wasn’t expecting to be met with the likes of the guy I’m staring at right now.

Peeking out beneath his hat are sporadic pieces of red hair, too bright to be authentic. So bright, it’s almost offensive. His face is decent, a little imperfection here and there. But I didn’t give it much notice because my eyes went straight to the kilt he’s wearing. I guess the kilt itself isn’t tripping me up as much as the clothes he chose to pair it with. He’s wearing a basketball jersey and neon green Nikes. Interesting ensemble.

The guy looks down at his outfit. “It’s a basketball jersey,” he says innocently. “You don’t like Blake Griffin?”

I shake my head. “Sports aren’t my thing.”

He sets what looks like a lifetime supply of beef jerky on the counter. I wrap both arms around the ginormous bag of dog food and head to my car.

The car I drove here isn’t specifically mine, but that’s because my father never keeps a car long enough for any of us to claim ownership over it. Vehicles have always rotated in our driveway and the only rule is that whichever person leaves the house first each day gets first pick. I think that’s the true reason behind Utah’s extreme punctuality.

Last month a faded red 1983 Ford EPX appeared in the driveway. It’s such a terrible car, they stopped making them almost as quickly as they started. I think my father has been having trouble selling it because it’s the longest any vehicle has lasted before it’s been sold. And since I rarely leave the house on time, this unfortunate Ford has been driven more by me than the rest of the family put together.

I place the bag of dog food in the trunk and am about to open my front door when kilt-guy appears out of nowhere. He’s chewing on a piece of beef jerky, assessing my car like he’s about to steal it. He walks toward the front of the car and taps his neon green Nike against the front tire twice.

“Think you can give me a ride?” He looks at me and leans against the car. Despite the kilt, there’s no trace of a Scottish accent. There’s also no trace of a Texas accent, either. But when he said the word you just now, he sounded a tad British.

“What kind of accent is that?” I ask. I open my front door and stand behind it to put a barrier between us. He looks harmless, but I don’t like his confidence. I need to shield myself from it. Overly confident people should never be trusted.

He shrugs. “I’m from all over,” he says, but he says, over with an Australian twang.

“Ovah? Are you Australian?”

“Nevah been there,” he says. “What kind of car is this?” He walks to the rear of the car to read the make and model.

“Ford EPX. They’re extinct,” I tell him. “Where do you need a ride to?”

He’s back from the rear of the car, but now he’s standing on the same side of the door as me. “My sister’s house. It’s a few miles east of here.”

I give him another once-over. I’m aware of how stupid it is to give a complete stranger a ride. Especially a stranger in a kilt who can’t seem to nail his own accent. Everything about him screams unstable, but my spontaneity and refusal to weigh the consequences of my decisions are my two favorite things about me.

“Sure. I’m headed east.” I sit in the driver’s seat and shut my door. He grins at me through the window and runs around to the passenger side. I have to lean across the seat to unlock the door so that he can open it.

“Give me a second to grab my things.” He takes off in a sprint across the parking lot until he reaches a pile of stuff propped next to the front entrance of the store. He grabs the backpack and throws it over his shoulder, then a thirty-gallon black trash bag and a small suitcase on wheels.

I agreed to give him a ride. Not him and everything he’s ever owned.

I pop the trunk and wait for him to finish loading his belongings. When he’s back inside the car, he puts on his seat belt and smiles at me. “Ready.”

“Are you homeless?”

“Define homeless,” he says.

“A person without a home.”

His eyes narrow in thought. “Define home.”

I shake my head. “You are the strangest person I’ve ever met.” I crank the car and put it in reverse.

“You obviously haven’t met very many people. What’s your name?”

“Merit.”

“I’m Luck.”

I shoot him a quick glance before pulling out onto the highway. “Luck? Is that a nickname?”

“Nope.” He opens his container of beef jerky and offers me a piece. I shake my head. “You a vegetarian or something?”

“No,” I say. “I just don’t want any beef jerky.”

“I have granola bars in my suitcase.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You thirsty?”

“Why? You don’t even have a drink to offer me if I am.”

“I was going to suggest a drive-thru,” Luck says. “Are you thirsty?”

“No.”

“How old are you?”

I’m starting to regret my spontaneity. “Seventeen.”

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