“It’s a specialty bookstore. For charity. They only sell books signed and donated by the authors.”
I pick up one of the books from the shelf and open it to see if he’s telling the truth. Sure enough, it’s signed. “That’s kind of cool.”
He chuckles, but he continues to walk and browse the shelves like he might find something he likes. I pick up a few of the titles and inspect them but already know I won’t be getting one. I don’t have any money and I’m not about to let him buy me something else. We browse quietly until we get to a row toward the back of the store. Sagan stands in front of the books, fingering them, plucking a few out to read the backs of them. I just watch him. After a moment, his phone rings and of course he acts as though the whole world has to stop. He fishes the phone out of his pocket and looks at the caller ID. He sighs, disappointed, but answers the call anyway.
He grips the back of his neck while the person on the other end talks. He glances at me briefly and then looks away when he says, “Yeah, yeah. Everything is fine.”
Everything is fine.
I’m curious who he’s talking to and if he’s referring to me and my situation when he says everything is fine.
He motions to the door to let me know he’s going to take the call outside. I nod and watch as he slips out the door to the bookstore. I walk over to a couch by the window and take a seat as I watch him on the phone.
“Can I help you find anything?” The woman behind the register is staring at me. It’s a little unnerving. She looks to be in her late thirties and her frizzy hair is piled into a knot on top of her head. She’s sitting behind a laptop, looking across the room at me, waiting on me to answer her.
She nods, but then she says, “Are you okay?”
I nod again, a little annoyed that this woman is asking me if I’m okay. That seems a little intrusive. I glance out the window again and Sagan is pacing back and forth, doing very little talking. He’s mostly listening to whoever is on the other end. He squeezes his forehead at one point, which makes me sad for him. He seems stressed and I can’t help but feel a little guilty about that.
“Is he your boyfriend?” the woman asks as she makes her way over to me. I try to keep my eyes from rolling, but I’m pretty sure it’s obvious that I’m not in the mood to make small talk.
“Brother?” she asks, taking a seat on the couch across from me.
She gets comfortable and looks out the window at him. “He’s cute. How do you know him?”
If I stare hard enough, I wonder if Sagan will look inside and see how desperate I am for him to come save me. Until that happens, though, I have no choice but to answer this woman’s questions. I try and answer them all at once so it’ll leave her no room to ask me more.
“He’s a family friend.” I point down Main Street toward the courthouse. “He kissed me for the first time over there. But he mistook me for my twin, which is the only reason he kissed me, so it was an accidental kiss. I’ve tried avoiding him for the past few weeks because I thought he was dating my sister. But last night I dressed up as her and kissed him again, only to find out he’s not even dating my sister. We got into an argument and he left, so I went to my step-uncle’s room and he was having sex with my brother. So I got drunk, swallowed a bunch of pills and almost killed myself. Sagan,” I point outside at him. “That’s his name. Sagan thought a sugar cookie and a bookstore would make me feel better, so that’s why we’re here.”
The woman’s eyes are wide, but she doesn’t look shocked. Just a little overwhelmed by the info dump. She eventually leans forward and says, “Well, he sounds like a keeper. There really isn’t anything better than sugar cookies and bookstores.” She stands up. “You thirsty? I have soda in the fridge.”
Anything to get her away for a minute. “Sure.”
She walks toward the back of the bookstore, just as Sagan ends his call and walks inside. He glances around the bookstore before spotting me on the couch. I stand up when he makes his way over. “Everything okay?” I ask.
I nod. “Was it my Dad? He checking up on me?”
Sagan doesn’t answer me. Instead, he just slides his phone in his pocket and says, “You want to go home?”
I laugh halfheartedly. I’m not even sure home is a word that can be used to describe where I live. It’s just a house filled with people who are counting down the days until they don’t have to live with each other anymore.
I try to say, “Okay,” but I have to choke it out because it’s so quiet and there are tears mixed in with the word. Sagan doesn’t even ask me why I’m suddenly emotional. He just wraps his arms around me and pulls me to him.
I press my face against his chest and hug him back because it feels good and as strong as I’m pretending to be today, I’m still sad. I’m full of regret for writing that letter last night and sad that it caused so much drama and even sadder that it’s all the truth. I don’t want to be mad at Utah. I don’t want to be annoyed with Honor. I don’t want my father to be cheating on Victoria—even if it is with my mother. And I don’t want Honor to be obsessing over unhealthy relationships anymore. I want us all to be normal. It can’t be that hard.
“Why can’t we be a normal family?” My voice is muffled against Sagan’s chest.
“I don’t think such a thing exists, Merit,” he says, pulling back to look down at me. “Let’s go. I can tell by the look in your eyes that you’re exhausted.”
I nod and he wraps an arm around me. We turn to head toward the door, but we both stop suddenly because the lady from the bookstore is standing in our way, uncomfortably close, holding up a soda. “Don’t forget your Diet Pepsi,” she says.
Sagan takes a step back and hesitantly reaches out for the can of soda. “Um. Thanks?”
The woman nods and then steps aside to let us pass. Right before we walk out, she says, “Don’t even think about stealing one of my gnomes! Teenagers are always stealing the gnomes!”
I glance back at her and give her a reassuring wave. When we get outside, Sagan laughs. “That was odd.”
I don’t disagree.
But I like odd, so I’ll probably come back.
Utah: Are you home?
Utah: Mer, I really want to talk to you.
I stare at his texts with disdain. He hasn’t called me Mer since we were kids. I lock my phone and slide it back into my pocket. I pick up my fork and take another bite of enchiladas.
Sagan and I got back right before everyone started to return from school and work. I stayed in my room until dinner was ready. When I came out, no one spoke to me other than my father and Sagan. My father asked how I was feeling. I said fine. Sagan asked me what I wanted to drink. I said fine. I didn’t even catch it until I saw him smile and hand me a glass of soda.
Now we’ve been sitting in complete silence and we’re halfway through dinner. The tension is so thick, I’m not sure I’d be able to speak through it even if I tried. Honor is the first to attempt it. She receives a text shortly after the two texts from Utah that went ignored by me.
“Utah wants to talk to you, Dad,” she says, looking down at her phone. “Can he come by tonight?”
My father is patient with his answer. He finishes the bite he just took. He swallows. He takes a sip of his drink and places the glass back down on the table. Then he says, “Not tonight.”
Honor glares at him. “Dad.”
“I said not tonight. I’ll reach out to him when I’m ready to discuss it with him.”
Honor laughs halfheartedly. “You? Discuss something important? He’ll be waiting his whole life for that.”
“Honor.” Victoria says Honor’s name like it’s a warning.
Honor doesn’t like that. She looks like she’s about to explode when my father senses it, too. He cuts her off before she has a chance to respond.
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