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“Thanks, sweetie,” she says. “While you’re down here, do you mind taking those dishes on the fridge back upstairs?”

“Sure.” I close the bathroom door and find a few days’ worth of dishes on top of her mini-fridge. They’re clean, even though she has no kitchen sink. She must have washed them in the bathroom sink.

You would think she’d be desperate enough for her own kitchen by now. I don’t understand why she still lives here. She could move into the house Utah is remodeling. She could lock herself in her bedroom and never leave, just like in the basement. It’s been vacant since the last tenants moved out six months ago. It’s not healthy for anyone. Especially her.

As I’m walking toward the stairs with her dishes in hand, my eyes fall to a pile of medication on the table next to her couch. She’s been on several different medications since as early as I can remember. Medication for her cancer, pain pills for her back, anxiety pills. I look back at the bathroom to make sure the door is shut. I set the plates down on the couch and pick up one of the pill bottles. It’s the medication she takes for pain.

My hands begin to shake as I open the lid. They always do this when I come down here and take some of her medicine. I’m always scared she’ll catch me, or scared she’ll notice some are missing. But with as many teenagers that are living in Dollar Voss now, it’ll be impossible to pinpoint who did it.

I empty a few pills into my hand and then shove them in my pocket. I put the bottle back where I found it and I take the plates up to the kitchen. I rush to my room and pull the pills out of my pocket and count them. Eight. I’ve never stolen that many at once. I like to spread it out so it’ll be less noticeable. The bottle was more than half-full so maybe she won’t be able to tell that eight are suddenly missing.

I walk to the closet and pull the bottle of pills out of my black boot. I’ve been hiding them in this boot since I started stealing them. Honor hates these boots, so I don’t have to worry about her borrowing them and finding my stash. I open the empty Tylenol bottle, adding the eight to the pile of twenty I’ve already stolen.

I’ve never actually taken one. In all honesty, I don’t even know why I steal them. I have no desire to become addicted to medication like she is. I think I steal them out of spite. Just like the trophy I took from Drew Waldrup’s bedroom.

I don’t normally steal things. The few times I have, it’s simply a return for my anger. I stole two sets of Valentine-themed scrubs from Victoria once. I had no intention of wearing them, but knowing she couldn’t wear them made the theft worth it. I donated the scrubs to Goodwill and pretended I had no idea what she was talking about when she asked all of us if we’d seen her pink scrubs with the hearts on them.

Other than the trophy from Drew Waldrup, the scrubs, and the pills, I’ve never stolen anything from anyone else. Not that I don’t have the urge. I can’t stop wondering what it would be like to steal Honor’s boyfriend.

I place the boot back in my closet and shut my closet door. On my way back to my bed, my foot meets something that isn’t carpet. I look down and notice a sheet of paper on my bedroom floor. I pick it up and turn it over.

I’m assuming the girl in the picture is me, since Sagan slid the picture under my door rather than Honor’s. In the picture, I’m sitting at the bottom of a pool. A rope is tied around my waist on one end and the other end is tied to a floating cinder block. I flip it over and read the caption.

“Coming down for air.”

I sit down on my bed and continue to stare at it. Coming down for air? What does that even mean? Why would he draw this?

Before I can talk myself out of it, I walk across the hall and knock on his door.

“It’s open,” he says.

I open the door and he’s sitting on his bed with his sketchbook in his lap. When he looks up and sees me, he pulls the sketchbook to his chest.

“What does this mean?” I ask him, holding up the sketch.

He stares at me a moment and then returns his attention to the drawing in his lap. “Sometimes I just get ideas, so I draw them.”

“You drew a picture of me drowning! Is that supposed to comfort me?”

“It’s not a picture of you drowning.”

“Then what is it?”

He sighs and slides his notebook off his lap. He tosses his covers aside and stands up. He’s not wearing a shirt and it’s the only thing I can focus on, despite the fact that he’s walking toward me. I have so many thoughts, but the closer he gets, the more jumbled they become. When he reaches me, he takes the drawing out of my hands but he doesn’t break eye contact with me.

“I like that you like my drawings, Merit. I drew this one and thought you might like it. It doesn’t mean anything.” He sets the drawing down on his dresser and then returns to his spot on the bed. He pulls his sketchbook onto his lap again and gets back to whatever he was doing before I interrupted him.

I swallow my embarrassment. Why is he making it seem like I’m overreacting?

I turn toward the door, but then I spin and walk back to his dresser and grab the drawing. When I walk out of his room, I close his door a little too hard. That only serves to embarrass me more.

I hang the drawing next to the one he drew of me this morning. I don’t like that he’s drawn two pictures of me today. I would prefer to be ignored by him much more than being the center of his artistic attention.

Chapter Eight

I didn’t even pretend to get ready for school this morning. I heard everyone rushing around in the usual morning Voss chaos, but I stayed in bed the entire time. I’m surprised Honor and Utah haven’t told my father about my skipping school for the past two weeks. They hounded me about it for a few days but once they realized I wasn’t listening to them, they stopped bringing it up. No one knocked on my door to ask where I was. Not even my father.

I wonder if anyone would even notice if I ran away?

They’d probably notice. They just wouldn’t be upset about it.

I reach under my pillow to check the time and notice a text from my father, sent an hour ago.

Cowboys lost last night. I blame you. Please undress Jesus and burn His clothes as soon as you get home from school today.

I know he’s trying to be funny, but the fact that he incorrectly assumes I’m at school negates the rest of his text. It’s like we don’t even have parents. We have a mother living in our basement and a father living in his own world. No one has a clue what’s going on with anyone around here.

I check the time and it’s just after noon. I get dressed and go scour the kitchen for something to eat. No one is here and I noticed the door to Luck’s room is open, so he must be out looking for a job like he mentioned he was going to do last night.

I eat a sandwich and then go to the garage to get the ladder. Thanksgiving is the next holiday, but I’m not really in the mood to dress Him. I take the ladder to the living room and begin pulling off the duct tape that’s securing the trophy to his wrist.

The door to the basement opens unexpectedly. I’m hoping my mother is about to walk out, but it’s not my mother.

It’s my father.

He quietly closes the door and then walks to the kitchen counter where he downs a bottle of water. He tucks in his shirt, grabs his jacket off the back of one of the chairs, and heads for the door. He opens it and is about to shut it when he finally sees me.

It’s like we’ve both seen a ghost.

He glances back to the basement door then looks back up at me.

Why was he in the basement?

Why was he tucking in his shirt?

Why does he look so guilty?

I can’t move. I’m holding the football trophy in one hand and the cheese hat in the other. My father is still staring at me, frozen in place. He finally looks down at his feet. He goes to pull the door shut but then opens it again and looks at me. “Merit.” His voice is timid and regretful. I don’t say a word.

He doesn’t follow my name up with anything else. Instead, he hesitates, then shuts the door and leaves me alone with Cheesus Christ.

It takes me a moment to gather my thoughts enough to climb down the ladder. I walk over to the couch and sit down as I stare at the basement door.

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