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“Why did you say you bury me right before you kissed me? Is that something you say to Honor?”

Sagan looks down at his hand—the one that’s caressing my knee—and he smiles. “No. It’s the meaning of the Arabic word tuqburni.”

“Tuqburni? What’s the English word for it?”

He leans his head against the back of the swing and tilts it a little so that he’s looking at me. “Not every word can be translated into every language. There isn’t an English equivalent for the word.”

“You bury me sounds a little morbid.”

  Sagan smiles. I can see a hint of embarrassment in his expression. “Tuqburni is used to describe the all-encompassing feeling of not being able to live without someone. Which is why the literal translation is, ‘You bury me.’ ”

I take in what he just said and the fact that he said those words to me right before he kissed me that day. I love that he said that, but I hate that he didn’t know he was saying it to me. At the time, he thought he was saying those words to Honor. And even though he admits he was attracted to her that day because it was actually me, it doesn’t explain why he didn’t just explain that to me right after it happened. It’s been more than two weeks now.

I clear my throat and swallow my nerves until I can find the courage to ask him about it. “If you and Honor aren’t a thing, and if you’re attracted to me like you just said, why didn’t you act on it? It happened weeks ago.”

Hesitation marks his expression as he searches for an answer. He releases a quiet sigh and then strokes his thumb across my knee. “Do you want the honest truth?” He brings his eyes to mine and I nod. He folds his lips together for a moment and then says, “The more I got to know you . . . the less I liked you.”

It takes a moment for his response to fully register. “You don’t like me?”

He lets his head fall back against the swing with a regretful sigh. “I like you today.”

I let out a halfhearted laugh. “Oh, well that’s reassuring. You like me today, but you didn’t like me yesterday?”

He looks at me pointedly. “I especially didn’t like you yesterday.”

I can’t tell if I should be mad. I stare at him a little in shock. I feel like I should be mad, but at the same time, I get it. I didn’t like me yesterday, either. And I really haven’t been myself around him since he started showing up at the house. I’m closed off and rude and I’ve barely spoken to him up until the past twenty-four hours.

“I have no idea what to say to that, Sagan.” I look down at my skirt and start picking at a splatter of dried purple paint. “I mean, I know I’ve been rude to you, but it was self-preservation. I thought you were my sister’s boyfriend and I didn’t like how I felt about you. You were the first thing of hers I wanted for myself.”

Sagan doesn’t respond right away. I continue to pick dried paint off my skirt because I’m feeling way too many things to make eye contact with him right now.

“Merit.” He says my name like it’s a plea for me to look at him. I eventually do and I immediately regret it because everything I see in his expression right now is everything I didn’t want to see. Regret. Fear. A preview to rejection.

“Let me guess,” I whisper. “You still don’t like me enough to kiss me?”

He lifts a hand and touches my cheek. He shakes his head softly and says, “I like you enough to kiss you. Believe me. But I just wish you could like yourself as much as I like you.”

I don’t even know what to say to that. Does he think I don’t like myself because of what I did last night? “I already told you last night was a drunken mistake. I like myself just fine.”

“Do you?”

I roll my eyes. Of course I do. I think. “So I have moments of unhappiness. What teenager doesn’t? Everyone sometimes wishes they were someone else. Someone better. With a better family.”

He shakes his head. “I’ve never wished that.”

I peg him with my stare, silently calling him on his bullshit. “You said yourself you’ve never even met your little sister. If you tell me you don’t wish you had a different family, I won’t believe you. Just like you don’t believe me that last night meant nothing.”

Sagan holds my stare, long enough for me to notice the slow roll of his throat. He releases me, then stands up. He slips his hands in his pockets as he looks down at the ground and kicks at the dirt. I have no idea what I just said that made him angry, but his temperament has changed completely.

“You keep downplaying what happened last night, and to be honest, it’s kind of insulting,” he says. “You don’t get to decide what your life means to anyone else.” He pulls his hands from his pockets and folds them over his chest. “You could have died, Merit. That’s huge. And until you recognize that, I don’t want to pursue anything with you. I think you have a lot that needs to be addressed and I don’t want to cloud that with whatever is going on here.” He motions between us with his hand. “This can wait.”

My face grows warm with the embarrassment climbing over me. “You think I’m too unstable for you to date me?”

He lets out a frustrated sigh. “I didn’t say that. I just think you need to work on yourself first. Take your father’s suggestion and go to therapy. Make sure there’s nothing more serious going on.” He closes the gap between himself and the swing where I’m sitting. He kneels in front of me, gripping the swing to still it. “If I interfere and allow myself to start something up with you, your feelings for me might lead you to believe you’re happier than you really are.”

I can feel my fingers trembling, so I clench them into fists. I’m flabbergasted. He can word it however he wants, but he has the nerve to sit here and tell me he thinks I’m too depressed to date right now?

“Get over yourself,” I mutter. I push off the swing and he stands up to move out of my way. I walk toward the house, but when he calls my name, I start running. My stupid, loud skirt adds a serious level of ridiculousness to my anger. By the time I make it to the house, I slam the door so hard I’m afraid I might have woken Moby.

Who does Sagan think he is? He won’t pursue me because I might get “too happy” with him and that elation could mask my supposed depression? “Get over yourself,” I say again as I shut my bedroom door. Just because I’ve been unhappy lately doesn’t mean I’m depressed. I unbutton my stupid dress and let it fall to the floor. I barely have a T-shirt over my head when Sagan walks into my bedroom without knocking.

I spin and face him and he closes the door, walking toward me. Apparently he isn’t finished with this conversation like I am. “You accuse everyone else in your family of not having the courage to be honest, but the second I’m honest with you, you get mad at me and walk away?”

“I’m not mad because you were honest, Sagan! I’m mad because you arrogantly assume I’ll be so happy with you that I’ll use my feelings for you as a mask for my apparent depression!” I roll my eyes, folding my arms over my chest. “You’re giving yourself way too much credit. If you tried to kiss me at this point, I’d probably slap you.” It’s a ridiculous lie, but I’m already embarrassed by how angry I am at this whole conversation.

Not everyone likes themselves! That doesn’t mean I’m suicidal or depressed or unable to differentiate feelings for a guy with feelings for my life.

Sagan looks at me apologetically, like my frustration actually means anything to him. He slides his hands in his pockets and stares at the floor for a moment. When he looks up at me, he does it slowly. Starting at my feet, trailing up my bare legs. I can see the roll of his throat when his gaze meets the hem of my T-shirt, then crawls up my body until he’s looking me in the eye. He doesn’t even have to speak for me to know what he’s thinking. He’s looking at me like maybe I’m right—maybe a kiss wouldn’t interfere. Maybe it would bring us both relief.

I quietly inhale because that one look makes it feel like I just sank to the bottom of his heart and there isn’t a single air pocket to keep me alive. He could probably open his mouth and call me an asshole again and I’d still want to kiss the lips the insult came from. I can’t even remember what we’re arguing about because my head is swimming.

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