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Because of her obsession with being loved eternally by the terminally ill, I’m curious what has drawn her to this Sagan guy. Based on her relationship history, I think it’s fair of me to have assumed he was terminally ill, but apparently, that assumption makes me a bitch.

I pull into my driveway, relieved I’m the only one here. If you don’t count the permanent resident in the basement. I grab my sack with the trophy in it. Had I known at the antiques store that I was about to experience the most humiliating event in all my seventeen years, I would have bought every trophy they had. I would have had to use Dad’s emergency credit card, but it would have been well worth it.

I glance at the marquee as I make my way across the yard. A day hasn’t passed since we moved in that my brother, Utah, hasn’t updated the marquee with the same promptness and precision that he gives to every other aspect of his life.

He wakes at approximately 6:20 a.m. every day, showers at 6:30 a.m., makes two green smoothies, one for him and one for Honor at 6:55 every morning. (If she doesn’t have them made, first.) By 7:10 he’s dressed and headed to the marquee to update the daily message. At approximately 7:30 every morning, he gives our little brother an annoying pep talk and then he leaves for school, or, if it’s a weekend, he heads to the gym to work out where he walks for forty-five minutes at a level five on the treadmill, followed by one-hundred push-ups and two-hundred sit-ups.

Utah doesn’t like spontaneity. Despite the common phrase, Utah does not expect the unexpected. He expects only the expected. He does not like the unexpected.

He didn’t like it when our parents divorced several years ago. He didn’t like it when our father remarried. And he especially didn’t like it when we were told our new stepmother was pregnant.

But he does, in fact, like our half brother that came as a result of said pregnancy. Moby Voss is hard not to like. Not because of his personality, per se, but because he’s four. Four-year-old children are fairly liked across the board.

Today the message on the marquee reads “You can’t hum while holding your nose closed.”

It’s true. I tried it when I read it this morning and I even try it again as I walk toward the double cedar front doors of our house.

I can say with certainty that we live in the most unusual house in this whole town. I say house because it is certainly not a home. And inside this house are seven of the most unusual occupants. No one would be able to determine from the outside of our house that our family of seven includes an atheist, a home wrecker, an ex-wife suffering from a severe case of agoraphobia, and a teenage girl whose weird obsession borders on necrophilia.

No one would be able to determine any of that from inside our house, either. We’re good at keeping secrets in this family.

Our house is located just off an oil top county road in a microscopic Northeast Texas town. The building we live in was once the highest attended church in our tiny town, but it’s been our house since my father, Barnaby Voss, purchased the fledgling church and closed its doors to the patrons indefinitely. Which explains why we have a marquee in our front yard.

My father is an atheist, although that isn’t at all why he chose to purchase the foreclosed house of worship and rip it from the hands of the people. No, God had no say in that matter.

He bought the church and closed the doors simply because he absolutely, vehemently, without doubt, hated Pastor Brian’s dog, and subsequently, Pastor Brian.

Wolfgang was a massive black Lab who was impressive in size and bark, but lacked a great deal of common sense. If dogs were classified into high school cliques, Wolfgang would most definitely be head of the jocks. A loud, obnoxious dog that spent at least seven of the eight precious hours of sleep my father needed each night barking incessantly.

Years ago, we had the unfortunate distinction of being Wolfgang’s neighbor when we lived in the house behind the church. My parent’s bedroom window overlooked the back property of the church, which also doubled as Wolfgang’s stomping grounds, in which he stomped quite regularly, mostly during the hours my father would rather Wolfgang have been sleeping. But Wolfgang didn’t like to be told what to do or when to sleep. In fact, he did the exact opposite of what anyone wanted him to do.

Pastor Brian had purchased Wolfgang when he was just a pup, not a week after a group of local teens broke into his church and stole the week’s tithe. Pastor Brian felt that a dog on the premises would deter future robberies. However, Pastor Brian knew very little in the way of training a dog, much less a dog with the intellect of a high school football jock. So for the first year of Wolfgang’s existence, the dog had very little interaction with humans outside of his master. Being that Wolfgang got the short end of the stick when it came to intellect and interaction, all of his boundless energy and curiosity were placed solely on the unsuspecting, and possibly undeserving, victim who occupied the property directly behind the church. My father, Barnaby Voss.

My father had not been a fan of Wolfgang’s since the moment they became acquainted. He prohibited me and my siblings from interacting with the dog, and it was not uncommon for us to overhear my father threatening to murder Wolfgang under his breath. And at the top of his lungs.

My father may not be a believer in the Lord, but he is an avid believer in karma. As much as he fantasized about murdering Wolfgang, he did not want the murder of an animal hanging over his head. Even if that animal was the worst he’d ever encountered.

Wolfgang’s feelings were mutual, or so it was assumed by the way Wolfgang spent the better part of his life barking and growling at my father, inconsiderate to whether it was day or night or weeknight or weekend, only occasionally distracted by a rogue squirrel.

Dad tried everything over the years to put an end to the incessant harassment, from earplugs, to cease and desist warnings, to barking right back at Wolfgang for three hours straight after a Friday evening of consuming three glasses more than his usual evening glass of wine. He attempted all of these things to no avail. In fact, my father was so desperate for a peaceful night’s sleep, he once spent an entire summer attempting to befriend Wolfgang in hopes that the barking would eventually cease.

It didn’t.

Nothing worked, and from the looks of it, nothing would ever work, because Pastor Brian cared for Wolfgang a significant deal more than he cared for his neighbor, Barnaby Voss. Unfortunately for Pastor Brian, his fledgling church was at an all-time financial low while my father’s used car lot and thirst for revenge were at an all-time high.

My father made a bid the bank couldn’t refuse and one Pastor Brian could not himself raise the funds to match. It helped that my father also threw in quite a deal on a used Volvo for the loan officer in charge of the church’s foreclosure.

When Pastor Brian announced to his congregation that he’d lost a bidding war to my father, and that my father would be closing the doors to the public and moving our entire family into the church, our family became fodder for gossip. And it hasn’t subsided since.

After signing the closing papers almost five years ago, my father gave Pastor Brian and Wolfgang two days to vacate the premises. It took them three. But on the fourth night, after our family moved into the church, my father slept thirteen hours straight.

Pastor Brian was forced to relocate his Sunday sermons, but with divine intervention on his side, it took no more than just one day to find an alternate venue. He reopened a week later in an upscale barn that was used by a deacon to house his collection of tractors. For the first three months, the parishioners sat on bales of hay while Pastor Brian preached his sermon from a makeshift platform constructed out of plywood and pallets.

For six solid months, Pastor Brian made it his personal mission to publicly pray for my father and his wayward soul every Sunday before dismissing church. “May he see the error of his ways,” Pastor Brian and the parishioners would pray, “And return to us our house of worship . . . at an affordable price.”

This news of being at the top of Pastor Brian’s prayer list was unsettling to my father, for he did not feel he had a soul, much less a wayward soul. He certainly did not want the churchgoers praying for said soul.

Approximately seven months after we turned that old church into our family dwelling, Pastor Brian was seen driving a brand-new-to-him Cadillac convertible. The following Sunday, Barnaby Voss was coincidentally no longer a subject in Pastor Brian’s passive-aggressive closing prayer.

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