Victoria’s eyes are boring into mine. Her nostrils might even be flaring. I’ve never seen her so mad. I honestly didn’t say it out of cruelty. “A bastard is a child born out of wedlock,” I say to Victoria. “Isn’t that what he almost was?”
Victoria points toward the hallway. “You will not speak that way in front of my child, Merit. Go to your room.” She looks to my father for backup. “Barnaby?”
I scoot back and fold my arms over my chest. I’m not backing down. “So you want me to lie to your child?” I look at a wide-eyed Moby. “Since sex is a bad eighties TV show, a bastard is the commercial.” I look at Victoria. “Is that better?”
“Merit,” Utah says. He says it like I’m the one out of line at this table. I turn my attention to him.
“Are you seriously taking Victoria’s side now?”
“Can we please just make it through one meal as a family without a fight breaking out?” Honor says, frustrated.
“Barnaby?” Victoria says, still standing, still waiting for him to punish me.
My father wraps his hand around Victoria’s wrist and tries to get her to sit back down. “I’ll deal with her later. Let’s just eat, okay?”
Victoria snatches her hand away from my father and grabs her plate. She walks toward the kitchen and tosses her food into the trash can.
“Save the scraps,” I call out to her.
I point to the trash. “The scraps. Wolfgang can eat them.”
“Wolfgang?” my father says. “Why are you bringing up that bastard dog?”
“And here we go again with that word,” Honor mutters.
“Is that why there’s a bag of dog food by the back door?” Utah asks.
My father’s eyes move to the bag of dog food. He stands up. “Is that dog here?”
I take a bite of my mashed potatoes because I have no idea if I’m about to be sent to my room, but I’m hungry. “He showed up in the middle of the night last night,” I say with a mouthful. I swallow and throw my thumb over my shoulder. “He’s in the backyard.”
“You let him in the backyard!?” my father yells.
Victoria throws her hands in the air. “Oh, this is just great. You get angry at her for allowing a dog in the yard but not for calling your son a bastard?”
I hold up my fork. “I said he was almost a bastard,” I clarify.
“Why do you always do this?” Utah whispers. He’s so quiet when he says it, which means he’s not directing his question at Victoria on the other side of the kitchen. Surely he isn’t talking to me.
“You think this is my fault?”
“It usually is,” Honor says. “We can’t get through one meal without you doing something to piss her off.”
I laugh incredulously. “And that’s my fault?” I raise my voice loud enough for Victoria to hear our conversation. “Maybe she gets pissed off because she’s an unreasonable person. Just ask the little brother she abandoned.”
I make sure to look at Victoria so I can see her face. Sure enough, that last sentence was a shocker.
“What did you just say?” She’s looking at me like she either didn’t hear me or doesn’t want to hear me. I open my mouth to repeat what I said, but my father interrupts me.
“Merit,” he says, more defeated than angry. “Go to your room.”
Victoria slowly turns her head toward my father. “You told her about Luck?”
He immediately shakes his head. “No, they don’t know about Luck. She’s pushing your buttons.”
Now I’m dying to know what she doesn’t want us to know. I take two more quick bites of my potatoes in case I’m forced to carry out my punishment. “I’m not pushing her buttons.” I swallow and wipe my mouth and then prepare to explain myself. Not that I should be required to do so.
“Wolfgang showed up here last night. It was raining and I felt bad for him, so I let him in the backyard. Then I found out Pastor Brian died and forgot to tell any of you about the dog. I went to Tractor Supply to get dog food today and this weird guy in a kilt asked me for a ride to his sister’s house, which turned out to be this house. His name is Luck, he’s Victoria’s little brother, and he’s asleep in Dad’s office, since Sagan apparently lives in the guest room now. And like it or not, the definition of a bastard is a child born out of wedlock. And in case any of you forgot, Victoria got pregnant while Dad was still married to Mom, so Moby was practically a bastard.”
When I finish my explanation, everyone is quietly staring at me. I face forward and give my full attention to my food.
“He was wearing a kilt?” Sagan asks. As much as I wish he wasn’t talking to me, I appreciate him trying to ease the tension with humor. “What color was it?”
I force myself to look across the table at him. A small smile plays across his lips.
He nods appreciatively. “Can’t wait to meet him.”
“My brother is here?” Victoria says. Her voice is much quieter now. “Luck is here? In this house?”
I start to respond, but I don’t have to because Luck is now standing at the end of the hallway. “Technically, it’s not a house,” he says to her. “It looks more like a misunderstood church.”
I’m starting to understand what Luck meant about conversations being a Ping-Pong match, because we’re all looking back and forth between Luck and Victoria, waiting for the emotional reunion.
Victoria’s hand goes up to her mouth. My father walks up to her and puts his hands on her shoulders, trying to take her attention away from her little brother. “Sweetie,” he says soothingly. “Let’s go talk it out with him in the bedroom.”
Victoria shakes her head and pushes past my father, toward Luck. “You can’t just show up unannounced, Luck. You need to leave.”
Luck doesn’t move. He looks a little surprised by her reaction. “You aren’t going to hug me first?”
Victoria takes a step closer to him. “Leave,” she says. “And next time you want to show up without apologizing first, try calling. It’ll save you money on travel!”
“Victoria,” my father says in a whisper. He pulls her in the opposite direction. “Go to the bedroom. I’ll be there in a second.” She immediately starts trying to hide the fact that she’s sniffling a bit when she walks away from Luck, toward their bedroom. My father faces Luck.
Luck smiles and walks toward him with his hand out. “You must be my brother-in-law,” Luck says. My father reluctantly shakes his hand.
“I honestly thought she’d be over it by now,” Luck says. “She’s right. Maybe I should have called first.”
“Be over what?” Honor asks. Luck swings his gaze to Honor and he gives her a familiar smile, but then his smile disappears when he notices me.
He looks back at Honor, then back at me. Then he points between us. “Which one of you gave me a ride today?”
I lift my hand.
“Thank you for the hospitality, Merit.” Luck walks toward the table. He introduces himself to Utah, Honor, and then Sagan. When he gets to Moby, he kneels down in front of him. “You must be my nephew.”
“I’m a nephew?” Moby asks. “Merit said I’m a bastard.”
“Almost a bastard,” I correct.
“Luck,” my father says, interrupting the introductions. “Can we please sort this out first before you make yourself at home?”
Luck stands up and puts his hands on his hips. “Yeah, sure. But . . . I just woke up from a four-hour nap. Kind of already made myself at home.” He laughs, but he’s the only one laughing. I have to hand it to him. Luck is cheerful, if anything.
He follows my father to Quarter Three. I’m sad they’re moving the conversation out of Quarter One. I was enjoying it.
“Sounds like your day was productive,” Honor says to me. “At least you weren’t wasting away your entire life by sleeping all day.”
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