We don’t stop. I’m pretty sure a good chunk of Honor’s hair is now wrapped around my fingers, but I just grab hold of more.
“Cover her mouth!” Utah yells at Sagan. Utah says this just as he clamps his hand over my mouth and nose, smothering me. Sagan is behind Honor now, covering her mouth and nose with his hand.
What the hell are they doing? Trying to kill us?
I can’t breathe!
Honor’s eyes grow wide after several seconds and we’re both trying to struggle out of their grips while still refusing to let go of each other.
I can’t take it another second.
I can’t breathe.
I release Honor’s hair and grip Utah’s hand that’s covering my mouth. Honor does the same, pulling Sagan’s hand away from her mouth. We’re both gasping for breath when they release us.
“What the hell!?” Honor says, shoving Sagan. “Are you trying to kill me?”
Sagan looks at Utah and gives him a thumbs-up, then he puts his hands on his knees and bends over, catching his breath. “Quick thinking,” Sagan says to Utah.
I fall into my chair again, trying to catch my own breath. I pull strands of Honor’s hair from my fingers.
“What’s going on?”
My father is back. He’s standing next to the table, which is now a chaotic mess of pizza parts. Honor’s shirt is ripped and both of us look a wild mess. But he isn’t looking at any of that. He’s addressing Utah, who is wiping pizza off his jeans.
“What are you doing here?” my father asks.
“I’m calling a family meeting,” Utah says.
My father shakes his head. “Now’s not a good time.”
Utah laughs under his breath and says, “If you want me to wait for the perfect time to discuss kissing my little sister, we’ll be waiting for an eternity. We’re having a family meeting. Tonight.” Utah walks past my father and heads toward his bedroom. He slams the door so hard, I jump in my seat.
My father grips the back of one of the chairs and shoves it at the table so hard, I jump again.
“Great,” Honor mutters. She goes to her room and slams her door, too.
It’s just me and Sagan now. He’s standing on the other side of the table, staring at me. I think he’s expecting me to cry or get angry or have some sort of normal reaction to everything that just happened. I scoot my chair toward the table and reach to the only box of pizza that isn’t ruined. It’s ham and pineapple. Figures.
“Next time Honor and I fight on the kitchen table, try to salvage a box of pepperoni, will ya?”
Sagan does that quiet laugh of his and shakes his head. He sits down across from me and pulls the box of ham and pineapple toward him. He pulls out a slice and takes a bite, then with a mouthful he says, “You’re kind of a badass, Merit.”
It makes me smile.
I don’t want to be smiling at him, so I grab a slice of pizza and walk to my room with it, then close the door.
An hour later, Moby is asleep, I’ve washed the pizza off myself and almost everyone in the family is seated in the living room together for the first time in years. Utah is pacing the floor, waiting on my father to join us. I’m on the couch between Sagan and Luck. I mostly scoot toward Luck so that not too many parts of me are touching Sagan. Honor and Victoria have taken both the recliners.
When my father finally does walk into the room, he doesn’t sit down. He leans against the wall near Jesus Christ and folds his arms over his chest.
Utah inhales a deep breath, like he’s nervous.
He can’t be as nervous as I am. I know I’m trying to play it cool, but my stomach has been in knots since he walked through the door an hour ago. I don’t want to talk about this, and I especially don’t want to talk about it in front of the entire family. I guess that’s what happens when you lay everything out in the open with a letter, though.
Utah wrings his hands together and then shakes them out, still pacing the living room. Now that we’re all here, he finally comes to a pause. Right in front of me.
I don’t look up at him. I just want him to hurry up and say his lame apology so we can all move on and continue to pretend that it didn’t happen.
“I feel like I owe everyone an explanation,” he says. He begins pacing again, but I stare at my hands, clasped in front of me. I still have black nail polish on my thumb nails, left over from last month, so I pick at it.
“I was thirteen,” he says. “Merit was twelve. And it’s true . . . everything she said. But that’s not who I am. I was a kid, and it was stupid, and I’ve regretted doing it since the moment it happened.”
“Then why did you do it?” I snap. I’m shocked at the anger in my voice as I continue chipping away at the polish on my thumb.
“I was confused,” he says. “My friends would come to school every day and talk about girls. We were all hitting puberty and our hormones were crazy, but I didn’t care about the girls. All I could think about were the boys. I thought something was wrong with me.”
He pauses in front of me again, and I know he’s looking down at me, wanting me to make eye contact with him. I can’t. He eventually begins pacing again.
“I thought maybe if I kissed a girl it would fix me. But I was a kid, and I didn’t know the first thing about kissing or girls. All I knew was that there was one person I wanted to kiss, and according to society, I wasn’t supposed to want to kiss Logan.”
I finally lift my eyes to watch Utah speak for a moment. He isn’t looking at me. He’s still pacing.
“I had written Logan a letter that day, telling him I liked him. He showed everyone at his lunch table and then called me a queer when we were walking out of the cafeteria. I was so upset after that. I didn’t want to be queer, I didn’t want to like Logan. I just wanted to be what I thought was normal. So that night, I didn’t even think about the consequences of what I was doing. I was desperate to fix myself, so I made Merit kiss me, hoping it would . . . I don’t know. Cure me.”
I squeeze my eyes shut. I don’t want to hear anymore. I don’t want to go back to that moment, and I don’t want to hear his excuses.
“As soon as it happened, I knew I had done something terrible. She ran out of my bedroom, and I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I was disgusted with myself. Disgusted by what I did to Merit. And I’ve spent every day since then regretting it. Trying to make up for it.”
I shake my head, trying to hold back my tears. “You’re a liar,” I say, finally looking up at him. “You haven’t done a damn thing to make up for it! You never explained yourself and you’ve never once apologized to me!”
The tears have made an appearance, so I swipe at them angrily.
“Merit,” Utah says.
I suck in air through my nose and then force it back out. It’s an angry sound.
“Please look at me.”
I fall back against the couch and look up at him. He actually looks remorseful, but he has had an entire day to practice this speech. He squeezes the back of his neck and then squats down in front of me so that we’re at eye level. I fold my arms over my chest and hug myself.
“I am so sorry,” he says. “Every day, every hour, every second since then I’ve regretted that moment. And I’ve never apologized because . . .” He looks down at the floor for a moment. When he lifts his eyes back to mine, there are tears in them. “I was hoping you forgot. Praying you forgot. If I had known how much it affected you I would have done everything I could to make up for it and I mean that, Merit. The fact that you remember and you’ve been angry at me all these years . . . I can’t even tell you how much regret I have.”
A tear slides down my chin and lands on my arm. I wipe it away with the sleeve of my shirt.
“Merit, please,” he says, his voice desperate. “Please tell them I have never done anything even remotely inappropriate since that day.” He looks over at Honor and stands up. “You, too, Honor. Tell them,” he says, waving toward my father.
Honor nods and looks at my father. “He’s telling the truth, Dad. He’s never touched me.”
My father looks at me and I nod, too, but I can’t speak yet. Too many emotions are caught in my throat. But I can tell by the look on my father’s face that he wants to make sure I’m okay with Utah moving back in.
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