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Did he just have sex with my mother?

Did my mother just let him?

I can’t process what just happened. I can’t.

I immediately rush across Quarter One and open the door to Quarter Four. I run down the stairs to the basement and find my mother zipping up her dress. I look at her unmade bed and then look back at her. At her disheveled hair and flushed cheeks.

“Did you just have sex with him?”

When the words leave my mouth, my mother looks just as shocked as my father looked a few minutes ago.

“Excuse me?”

I point up the stairs. “I just saw him walk out of here. He couldn’t even look me in the eye.”

My mother sits down on the bed, dumbfounded. “Merit. There are some things you’re too young to understand.”

I laugh. “Age has nothing to do with it, Mother. Are you seriously having sex with him, knowing he sleeps in bed with Victoria every night? Is that why you refuse to move out? Because you think he’ll leave her for you?”

She stands up and walks past me, heading for her bathroom. She looks in the mirror and wipes her fingers under her eyes, getting rid of the mascara streaks.

“Is that why you still dress up every day? Because you’re trying to steal him back?”

She spins around and takes a step forward. “I’m your mother and you will not disrespect me like this.”

Now that makes me laugh. “You call yourself a mother?” I can’t even look at her. I turn around and make my way to the stairs. When I get halfway to the top, I spin and walk two steps back down. She’s at the base of the stairs looking up at me. “You haven’t been a mother to me since I was twelve. You haven’t been a mother to any of us! And now I know why. Because Dad is the only thing you’ve ever cared about!” I run the rest of the way up the stairs. She calls my name but I don’t return to the basement. Right before I slam the door, I yell down, “The only thing separating you from crazy is a few cats!”

I go back to my room and slam my door. I fall onto my bed and check my texts again. There are two. One from Dad and one from Honor.

Dad: I’m sorry you saw that. Please let me talk to you about it before you jump to any conclusions.

Delete.

Honor: Do you think you can cover for me tomorrow night?

Oh, great. Another adulterer in the making. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Me: Cover for you in what way? From Dad or Sagan?

Honor: Both. I’ll text you about my plans later. Have to put my phone away.

I slide my phone back under my pillow. I’m curious what she’s hiding from Sagan, but from the sound of their argument last night, it has to do with a guy. I’m sure one of her online friends is near death, so she wants to be there for him in ways that Sagan wouldn’t approve of.

I swear to God, this family is the worst. No wonder so many people hate us.

I roll onto my side and face the wall. I stare at the pictures Sagan drew and trace all the lines in them. My fingers are on their third path when someone knocks at my door.

Before I can say it’s open, the door swings open and Luck walks in sporting a new head of jet-black hair. He’s smiling, which only annoys me further. “Guess what?” he says.

“I can’t possibly.”

He plops down on the bed next to me. “I got a job.”

I roll back over and stare at the wall. “Good. Where?”

“You know where we met?”

“You got a job at Tractor Supply?”

“No, it’s on the same street as that, though. The coffee store. I’m a barista.”

I smile, even though I don’t feel like it. But it’s actually perfect for him. “When you say coffee store, are you referring to Starbucks?”

“Yeah, Starbucks.”

I laugh a little, curious as to how he couldn’t possibly remember the name of Starbucks. But it’s Luck, so it makes sense. “Is that why your hair is black now? You had an interview today?”

“Nah, I was actually going for green but I think I let the dye stay on for too long. Speaking of black, why is it so dark in here? This lamp is an insult to Thomas Edison.” He fingers the string of my lamp, pulling it. It turns off and then he turns it back on.

“I don’t have any windows.”

“I can see that. But why?”

I roll over onto my back. “My father divided all the rooms into two when we moved in. Honor got the half with the window after the wall was put up.”

Luck scrunches up his nose. “That’s not fair.”

“I didn’t want a window.”

“Well, then. I guess it worked out well.” He scoots down until he’s lying next to me. “Why are you still in bed?”

I wonder if I should tell him about what just happened with my mother and father. I decide against it. I want to talk to my father first. I’m hoping I was wrong. I’m hoping he values his marriage to Victoria more than he valued his marriage to my mother. At least then I could believe he learned something from ripping our family apart. Because right now, it doesn’t appear he learned his lesson at all. Sex is more important to him than his wives. Than keeping his family together.

“Is sex really all it’s cracked up to be?” I ask Luck. “Why do people risk so much for it?”

“You’re asking the wrong person. I don’t think I value it as much as most people.”

“I hope to God I don’t, either.” I don’t want it to rule my entire life and every decision I make. It seems that way with my father. With Victoria. With my mother. I want sex to be meaningless so it has absolutely no control over me. In fact, it would be great if I could just get it over with.

I roll over onto my side and prop my head up on my hand. “Luck?”

He’s staring at me apprehensively. “What?”

I swallow nervously. “Do you think maybe . . . we could . . .”

Luck laughs, but I don’t crack a smile. I’m dead serious, even though I can’t seem to come out and ask him. When he sees that I’m not smiling, he lifts up onto his elbow. “No. I’m your uncle.”

“Step-uncle.”

“Not any better.”

“It’s by marriage.”

“You don’t even know me.”

“I know you better than you knew Angela and you had sex with her.”

He narrows his eyes at that response. “You’re a virgin, Merit. I’m not having sex with you.” He falls onto his back like the conversation is over.

I’m not giving up. “You said yourself that people put too much weight on losing their virginity. I just want to get it over with. Sex doesn’t mean anything to you anyway.”

He’s quiet for a moment. And then, “Why? Why me? Why now?”

I shrug. “I’m not everyone’s cup of tea,” I say, repeating how he described himself to me yesterday. “I’ve never really had the opportunity to get it over with until now.”

He looks at me and I can see in his eyes that he’s contemplating it. I don’t know if it’s because he wants to help me or if it’s because he’s a guy and most guys would take me up on this offer without question.

“You don’t like me, do you?” he asks.

“In what way?”

“Are you attracted to me?”

I debate lying if it will help him make his decision, but I go with the truth instead. I don’t want him to think I like him when I don’t. Even if it would help my case right now. “No. Not really. I mean, I think you’re a good-looking guy. But I’d be lying if I said I was attracted to you.”

He stares at me a moment and then says, “Merit, you better be certain about this. Because sex is just sex to me and this won’t mean a damn thing to me.”

“I don’t want it to mean anything to you. That’s the point.”

“So it’s just a means to an end?”

I nod. “The end of my virginity.”

He studies me closely, waiting for me to change my mind. When he sees I’m not going to, he shrugs. “Okay, then. Let me grab a condom.” He hops out of the bed and I fall onto my back.

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