Page 35

“You feeling okay?” Sagan asks. I nod. “I’ll get you some water.”

I close my eyes. Everything is calming down now. My heart is calming down. The commotion is calming down. I blow out a steady breath. It’s fine. She’s fine.

I’m fine.

“Is this true?” It’s Victoria’s voice. I open my eyes and she’s holding the pages I stapled together. She’s looking down at them. Her expression is anything but fine.

It’s not fine anymore.

I clench my stomach, feeling like I want to puke again.

“Merit. Did you write this?”

I nod. Maybe she’ll be so embarrassed about my father cheating on her, she’ll gather all the other letters before anyone else reads them. She takes a step toward me. But she doesn’t look at all angry, even though I put in the letter that my father was cheating on her. She looks . . . sad.

She looks at Utah. “You did this to her?”

Utah looks at me and then back at Victoria. “Did I do what to who?”

Victoria walks toward Utah and slaps the letter against his chest. She keeps walking past him until she’s in the kitchen with my father. I look back at Utah and he’s staring down at the first page of the letter. Sagan is back with the water. “Here, drink this.” He helps me sit up and tries to get me to take a drink, but I can’t take my eyes off Utah. I push the glass away and shake my head.

That’s when I see it.

A tear.

Utah looks up from the first page of the letter, just as a tear rolls down his cheek. I can’t help but wonder if it’s a tear of guilt or a tear of fear over me finally spilling the truth. He drops the pages and runs his hands through his hair. Of course he’s not making eye contact with me.

I hear sirens in the distance. My father says, “Thanks, Marie,” into the phone. He ends the call and Victoria is right there, whispering something to him. She points at Utah. She points at me. She points at the pages that are now at Utah’s feet. My father looks at Utah. He marches to the living room just as the ambulance pulls onto our road. He grabs the pages from the floor and begins reading. One minute. Two minutes. Utah is frozen in place. There’s a knock on the door but my father ignores it.

“Dad,” Utah whispers.

My father looks up from the letter. His eyes meet Utah’s and then mine.

There’s another knock at the door.

“Dad, please,” Utah says. “I can explain.”

Another knock.

A punch.

Honor screams.

Utah is on the floor now. My father is standing over him. He points to the door and says one word to him.

“Leave.”

Honor is helping Utah up, glaring at our father. “What the hell is wrong with you!?”

Once Utah is standing, he turns and heads toward his bedroom. Honor and Luck follow him. Sagan opens the front door and lets in the paramedics.

“She’s fine,” my father says to them, pointing toward me. “Check her out, but they were only placebo pills.”

Placebo pills.

Why were they placebo pills?

The next ten minutes go by in a blur as the paramedics bombard me with questions, check my blood pressure, my oxygen, my eyes, my mouth. “It probably wouldn’t hurt to let us take her overnight,” I hear one of the paramedics whisper to my father. “Otherwise, we’ll have to let the social worker know what happened. They’ll have to follow up.”

My father nods and walks over to me. He kneels down, but before he even says anything I force out an “I’m fine. I don’t want to go to the hospital.”

“Merit,” he says. “I think you should . . .”

“I don’t want to go,” I say with finality. He nods. I don’t hear what he says when he returns to the paramedic, but the guy squeezes my father’s shoulder. They must know each other. Of course, they do. It’s a small town. And since they know my father, they’ll tell their wives and then their wives will tell their friends and then their friends will tell all their daughters and then the entire town will know I tried to kill myself.

With placebo pills.

Why is she taking placebo pills?

As soon as that thought crosses my mind, my mother appears at the top of the basement steps. The door is open and she’s looking at me from across the room. “Are you okay?” She starts to take a step toward me, but she looks down at her foot as it meets the wood floor and she quickly returns to the top step of the basement.

“Everything is fine, Vicky,” my father says to my mother. I glance over at Victoria and she’s walking toward her bedroom with Moby. She can’t even be in the same room with her. I wonder if she’s even read the entire letter yet. Does she know they’re still sleeping together?

“What happened?” my mother asks.

I’d give anything for her to walk over here and hug me. Anything. She knows something bad has happened or she wouldn’t have opened the basement door. Yet she’s more concerned about not leaving the basement than she is about me. I look down at my hands. I’m shaking, and I feel like I’m about to be sick again.

“I’ll explain everything in a little while,” my father says to her. “Try to get some sleep, okay?” I hear the basement door close. I don’t get a hug from my mother.

“Dad,” I whisper, looking up at him pleadingly. “I threw a letter in the basement. Can you please go get it before she reads it?”

He nods and heads to the basement without question.

“Merit!” Honor yells. I look up just in time to see her marching down the hallway, letter in hand. She crosses Quarter One and looks like she’s ready to attack me, but Sagan steps in front of her and grabs her arms. She struggles to get out of his grip, but when she realizes he won’t let her past, she just chucks the pages at me. “You’re a liar!” She’s crying and I suddenly realize we’re not at all attractive when we cry. I hate that I’ve been doing it for the past two hours.

I feel like I’m watching a movie. I don’t feel like I’m in it, living it, taking the brunt of her anger right now. I don’t even respond to her anger because I feel so disconnected from it.

“Not now, Honor,” Sagan says, walking her away from me.

“It’s not true!” Honor yells. “Tell them it’s not true! Utah would never do something like that!”

I watch everything unfold as I remain curled up on the couch, wrapped in a blanket. Victoria is back, but Moby isn’t with her anymore. Honor runs up to her and my father. “You can’t make him leave, she’s lying!”

Victoria looks at my father. “You can’t let this slide, Barnaby.”

“Mind your own business!” —Honor.

“Honor,” —My father.

“Oh, shut up!” —Honor.

“Go to your room!” —My father. “Everyone! To your rooms!” —Still my father.

“What about me? Can I go back to my room?” —Utah.

“No. You leave. Everyone else to their rooms.” —My father.

“If he’s going, I’m going.” —Honor.

“No. You’re staying.” —My father.

“I’ll go with Utah.” —Luck.

“You aren’t going with him, either.” —Victoria.

“You’re seriously going to tell me what I can do? I’m twenty!” —Luck.

“Everyone just stay. It’s fine. I’m fine. I’ll go.” —Utah.

“Why are you leaving? You didn’t do anything!” —Honor.

And here it is. The moment of truth. The climax.

Utah’s shoulders rise with his heavy intake of breath. Then they fall, like all great empires eventually do. He looks across the room at me. He stares at me, but doesn’t use the opportunity to admit his guilt. Or even apologize. Instead, Utah walks to the door after it’s clear my dad isn’t going to relent. The slam the front door makes when it closes makes me jump.

Sagan slowly takes a seat on the couch next to me. He’s popping his knuckles like he’s angry, but I have no idea which person in this family he’s angry at. More than likely me. Everyone is quiet until my father says, “It’s late. We’ll discuss everything tomorrow. Everyone go to bed.” He looks at Luck and points at him. “You stay in your room. If I see you anywhere near my daughters, you’re gone.” He must have read the rest of the letter.

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