“But I been low key . . .”
He doesn’t stop. He spends the next few minutes rapping every single line to “Forgot About Dre.” By the time I fall asleep, the tears have dried on my cheeks.
Imagine the chaos a normal family must experience in the morning after one of its members attempts suicide. The phone calls to therapists, the tears, the apologies, the constant hovering and smothering and chaotic mess of everyone thinking, “How did this happen?” and “How did we not see the signs?”
I stare at Sagan’s bedroom ceiling, painfully aware that everyone in the house other than Sagan left a few minutes ago. Or else, I’m assuming because I heard the door slam several times and no one bothered to check on me. I wonder what that must be like—to live in a normal family. A family where people actually give a shit. Not a family like ours, where everyone goes on with their day like I didn’t just try to kill myself a few hours ago. A family like ours, where my father still wakes up and goes straight to work. A family where my mother still refuses to leave the basement. My twin sister leaves for school. My step-uncle leaves for his new job. And no one who shares any sort of blood relation to me sticks around to make sure I’m okay.
I get it. They’re all pissed at me. I said some really hateful things in that letter and by this point, everyone has read it more than once, I’m sure. But the fact that Sagan is the only one here right now proves that nothing I said in that letter got through to them. Everyone is still blaming me.
I sit up in the bed as soon as Sagan’s bedroom doorknob begins to turn with a knock. I’m disappointed—yet somehow relieved—to see my father peek his head in. “You awake?”
I nod and pull my knees up, hugging them. He closes the door behind him and walks over to the bed, taking an unsure seat on it.
“I, um . . .” He squeezes his jaw like he always does when he doesn’t know what to say.
“Let me guess,” I say. “You want to know if I’m okay? If I’m still suicidal?”
“No, Dad,” I say, frustrated. “I’m a girl who found out her parents were having an affair, so I took my anger out on a few illegal substances. It doesn’t make me suicidal, it makes me a teenager.”
My father sighs heavily, turning to face me full-on. “Either way, I think it’s a good idea for you to see Dr. Criss. I made you an appointment for next Monday.”
Oh my God.
“Are you kidding me? Out of all the people in this family, you’re forcing me to go see a psychiatrist?” I fall back against the headboard in defeat. “What about your ex-wife who hasn’t seen the sun in two years? Or your daughter who’s one heartbeat away from being a necrophiliac! Or your son who thinks it’s okay to molest his sister!”
“Merit, stop!” he says, frustrated. He stands up and paces the floor before coming to a pause. “I’m doing the best I can, okay? I’m not the perfect father. I know that. If I were, you would have never gotten to a point where you would rather be dead than live with me.” He turns for the door, but then he pauses and faces me again. He hesitates a moment and then lifts his eyes to mine. His expression is full of disappointment, and his voice is much quieter when he says, “I’m doing the best I can, Merit.”
He shuts the door and I fall back onto the bed. “Yeah, well. Try harder, Dad.”
I wait for the sound of the front door closing before going across the hall to my bedroom. I change, brush my teeth in the bathroom, and then make my grand entrance to Quarter One. No one is there to greet me or tell me how happy they are that they were only placebo pills.
I walk to the kitchen and take a seat at the table. I stare at the marquee outside. It’s the first morning it hasn’t been updated since we moved in all those years ago. The same message Utah put up yesterday is still there.
IF THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE EARTH WERE COMPRESSED INTO A SINGLE CALENDAR YEAR, HUMANS WOULDN’T EVEN APPEAR UNTIL DECEMBER 31ST AT 11:00 P.M.
I have to read it a few times for it to actually sink in. Are humans really that insignificant? We’ve only existed for one hour out of an entire year?
Sagan walks into the kitchen from the backyard. He’s holding a water pitcher. “Morning,” he says, his voice cautious. I stare at him a moment and then look back out at the marquee.
“Do you think that’s true?”
“Do I think what’s true?” he asks. He walks over to the table and takes a seat with his sketch pad.
I nudge my head to the window. “What Utah put on the marquee yesterday.”
Sagan looks out the window and stares at the marquee in thought. “I’m probably not the right person to ask. I believed in Santa until I was thirteen.”
I laugh, but it’s a pathetic, forced laugh. And then I’m frowning because laughter is only a fleeting cure for melancholy, which seems to be my constant state of mind here lately.
Sagan puts down his pencil and leans back in his chair. He stares at me thoughtfully. “What do you think happens when we die?”
I glance back at the marquee. “I have no idea. But if that marquee is true and humans really are that insignificant to the earth’s history, it makes me question why a God would go through all the trouble to revolve an entire universe around us.”
Sagan picks up his pencil and puts the end of it in his mouth. He chews on it for a moment before saying, “Humans are romantic creatures. It’s reassuring to believe this all-knowing being who has the power to create anything and everything still loves the human race more than any of it.”
“You call that romantic? I call it narcissistic and ethnocentric.”
He smiles. “Depends on the perspective you look at it from, I guess.”
He resumes sketching like he’s done with the conversation. But I’m stuck on that word. Perspective. It makes me wonder if I look at things from only one point of view. I tend to think a lot of people are wrong a lot of the time.
“Do you think I only see things from one perspective?”
He doesn’t look up at me when he says, “I think you know less about people than you think you do.”
I can feel myself instantly wanting to disagree with him. But I don’t, because my head hurts and I might be a little hungover from last night. I also don’t want to argue with him because he’s the only one still speaking to me at this point. I don’t want to ruin that. Not to mention that he seems wise beyond his years and I’m not about to compete with him intellectually. Even though I have no idea how old he actually is.
“How old are you?”
“Nineteen,” he says.
“Have you always lived in Texas?”
“I’ve spent the past few years with my grandmother, here in Texas. She died a year and a half ago.”
“I’m sorry.” He doesn’t say anything in response. “Where are your parents now?”
Sagan leans back in his chair and looks at me. He taps his pencil against his notebook and then drops it on the table. “Come on,” he says, scooting his chair back. “I need out of this house.”
He looks at me expectantly, so I stand up and follow him to the front door. I don’t know where we’re going, but I have a feeling it’s not this house he wants to get away from. It’s the questions.
An hour later, we’re standing in the antiques store, staring at the trophy I couldn’t afford to buy a few weeks ago.
“Yes.” He pulls the trophy from the shelf and I try to take it out of his hands.
“You aren’t paying eighty-five dollars for this just because you feel sorry for me!” I stalk after him like a tantrum-ridden toddler.
“I’m not buying it because I feel sorry for you.” He sets the trophy on the register and pulls out his wallet. I try to grab the trophy but he moves so that he’s standing in my way.
I huff and cross my arms over my chest. “I don’t want it if you buy it. I only want it when I can afford to buy it myself.”
He grins like I’m amusing him. “Well then, you can pay me back someday.”
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