Page 27

And now he’s standing in the way of me and the back door.

“I have to feed Wolfgang.” I say it in such a way that should indicate I don’t want to do anything other than feed Wolfgang. Especially have a conversation with him about his infidelity.

“Merit,” he says, looking at me pleadingly. “We need to talk about this.”

I walk around him to the bag of dog food. “Do we?” I ask as I scoop some into the pitcher. I turn around and face him. “Do you really want to have a conversation with me about it, Dad? Are you finally going to explain why you started cheating on Mom when she needed you the most? Are you finally going to explain why you chose Victoria over the rest of this family? Are you finally going to explain why you were in the basement having sex with Mom today while everyone thought you were at work?”

He takes a quick step toward me and says, “Shh. Please.” He looks panicked, like Victoria might overhear this conversation. It makes me laugh. If he doesn’t like the thought of getting caught, why does he do things he doesn’t want people to find out?

I nod. “Oh, I see. You don’t want to discuss why you’re a pathetic husband. You just want me to promise I won’t tell anyone.”

“Merit, that’s not fair.”

Fair? He’s going to talk to me about fair? I’ve had very little respect for him these past few years, but today has completely diminished what little was left.

“Believe me, Dad. I won’t tell anyone. The last thing this family needs is another reason to hate you.”

The timer on the microwave goes off. When my dad looks in that direction, I use the break in eye contact to walk out the back door. Thankfully, he doesn’t follow me. I walk across the yard to Wolfgang’s doghouse. He’s just lying there, looking up at me. He’s not even excited to eat. Do dogs suffer from depression? I wonder if human Xanax would work on him. If so, I should feed him some of my mother’s.

I sit down next to his doghouse and Wolfgang crawls forward a little and lays his head in my lap. He licks my hand and it’s honestly the sweetest thing anyone’s done for me all day. At least he appreciates me.

“You aren’t so bad, you know?” I scratch between his ears and his tail begins to wag a little. Well, wag might be a bit of a stretch. It twitches, almost in a convulsive way, like it’s been so long since he’s been happy that he forgot how his tail works.

“Let me get you some water.” I grab his empty water bowl and walk to the far side of the house and turn on the water faucet. I glance to the left, at Sagan’s bedroom window. There’s a light on, which means he’s probably up drawing. I wonder what he’s drawing. Probably a morbid picture of me losing my virginity.

The water bowl overfills and the water spills over onto my shoe. “Shit.” I step back and pour some of the water out of the bowl, then drop the hose.

“Merit?”

I spin around, but no one is behind me.

“Over here.”

It’s Sagan’s voice. It’s coming from his window. His curtains are pulled back and his arms are folded on the inside of the windowsill. The only thing separating us is the window screen and a few feet.

“What are you doing?”

I reach down and turn off the water. “Feeding Wolfgang.” My hands fumble around the faucet, but Sagan’s presence has me a nervous wreck now. I don’t notice the metal wire holding on the faucet covering until I slide my wrist across it and cut myself. “Ouch,” I say, jumping back. I turn my hand over and there’s already blood bubbling up out of the cut across my wrist.

“You okay?” He leans closer to the window screen.

“Yeah, I just cut myself. I’m fine, though. It’s superficial.”

“I’ll bring you a Band-Aid.” His curtain falls shut and I hear him walking across his bedroom.

Crap. He’s coming out here.

I close my eyes and inhale, hoping I can pretend I’m not still completely mortified. I hope he doesn’t bring up what he saw today. Surely he won’t, it was none of his business.

I wipe my wrist on my T-shirt and then walk the bowl of water to Wolfgang. I return to my spot on the ground, just as the back door opens. It’s dark out, but there’s a full moon tonight, which means I’ll have to make eye contact with him like a normal person.

Wolfgang lifts his head and he starts to growl as Sagan comes closer. I pet him on top of his head. “It’s okay, boy.” The gesture reassures Wolfgang. He nestles his head in my lap again and sighs.

When Sagan reaches us, he squats down, handing me a Band-Aid. I take it from him and open it. At least he didn’t try to apply the Band-Aid himself. He would have seen how bad I’m shaking.

“So this is the infamous Wolfgang, huh?” He reaches out to pet him and Wolfgang allows it. Never mind the fact that Wolfgang’s head is in my lap and now Sagan’s hand is touching something on my lap and what is oxygen?

“He’s a beautiful dog.” Sagan moves from a squat to a seat on the ground. He’s so close, his knee is touching mine. The contact makes it more difficult to breathe so I do my best to keep it unnoticeable. Sagan’s hand is still on Wolfgang’s head. “Is he always this subdued?”

I lift a shoulder as I secure the Band-Aid to my wrist. “He didn’t used to be. I think he’s depressed.”

“How old is he?”

I think back to the year the war began between my father and Pastor Brian. I was probably eight or nine. “He’s almost ten years old, I think.”

My answer makes Sagan sigh. “He may not have much more time in him.”

“What do you mean? Dogs live a lot longer than ten years, don’t they?”

“Some breeds do. But Labs live an average of about twelve years.”

“He’s not dying, though. He’s just in mourning.”

Sagan rubs a hand across Wolfgang’s stomach. “Feel this,” he says. He grabs one of my hands and slides it over the path his hand just took. “His stomach is swollen. Sometimes that’s a sign that they’re about to die. And with his lethargic temperament . . .”

Something gets caught in my throat. I make a sound, like a gasp and a cough mixed with disbelief. I quickly cover my mouth, but then the swelling in my throat causes tears in my eyes. Why am I sad? I’ve spent my whole life hating this dog. Why would I care if he’s dying?

“I’ll call a vet tomorrow,” Sagan says. “It wouldn’t hurt to get him checked out.”

“Do you think he’s in pain?” I ask, my voice just above a whisper. I feel a tear escape my eye and I discreetly wipe it away. Or at least my intention was to be discreet, but Sagan saw it because he’s staring way too hard.

A smile tugs at his lips. “Look at that,” he says quietly. “Merit has a heart.”

I roll my eyes at his comment and use both hands to pet Wolfgang now. “You don’t think I have a heart?”

“To be fair, you come off kind of . . . brash.”

I wasn’t expecting his honesty. It makes me laugh. “Is that your way of calling me a bitch?”

He shakes his head. “I’d never call you that.”

Sure, he’d never call me a bitch. But it doesn’t mean he’s not thinking it. Sagan just doesn’t say mean things out loud. Maybe that’s a product of how he was raised. Or maybe he’s some kind of saint. Or an angel brought to earth to test my morals.

Wolfgang rolls over and scoots closer to me. My eyes flick up to Sagan’s but when I see he’s looking at me, I immediately look back down at Wolfgang. I once again do whatever I can to find something about him to dislike.

“What are you allergic to?”

Sagan tilts his head. “Nothing,” he says, looking confused. “Why? That’s such a random question.”

“Last night in the van you said you had an allergic reaction to something you ate. And that you met Honor in the hospital.”

He nods a little, then cracks a smile. “Oh. That.” He pauses and then says. “I was lying. For Honor.”

Of course he was. That’s what good boyfriends do for their girlfriends.

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