Everyone is looking at me now, even Utah.
I nod and manage to choke out a quiet “I believe him.”
The room is quiet for a moment. Victoria eventually stands up. “Okay, then.” She begins walking toward the kitchen, when she turns around and says, “I’d appreciate it if you all would clean up this damn mess you made.”
Luck laughs under his breath. Utah faces me and mouths “Thank you.”
I look away from him, because I don’t want him to think I’m doing him any favors. I can’t just let go of years of anger simply because he finally apologized.
“Meeting adjourned,” my father says, clapping his hands together. “You heard your stepmother. Clean up your mess.”
The meeting may be adjourned, but this is just one of many issues that needs addressing in this family.
We spend the next fifteen minutes cleaning the kitchen in silence. I don’t think any of us really know what to say. It was a very sobering family meeting. The Vosses aren’t used to so much honesty in one day.
“How did pizza sauce end up on the window?” Luck asks, wiping the glass with a wet rag. “Looks like I missed a good fight.”
I close the dishwasher once it’s loaded and hit the Start button. Honor washes her hands in the sink next to me. “I’ve got pizza sauce in my bra,” she says. “I’m gonna go shower.”
Utah walks to the pantry and grabs his box of letters. Pretty sure this will be the first time he’s ever changed the marquee at night. He walks toward the door and pauses, then turns around and looks at me. “You want to help?”
My eyes dart around the room until I find Sagan. I don’t know why I look to him for reassurance. I just honestly don’t think I’ve been alone with Utah in several years and this all seems so strange. Sagan gives me a small nod, silently telling me I should go with Utah. It isn’t lost on me that I just looked to Sagan for advice. I dry my hands on a towel and walk toward the front door.
When we’re outside and the front door is closed, Utah smiles at me, but neither of us says anything. We just both walk in silence until we reach the marquee. He sets the box of letters down on the ground and starts removing the letters that are already on the marquee. I walk over to the marquee and start pulling down a few of the letters.
“You have a quote you want to put on the marquee?” he asks.
I think about it for a moment and then say, “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
He points down to the box. “They’re in alphabetical order if you want to go ahead and pull them out.”
I bend down and start pulling the letters I’ll need out of the box while he continues to remove the words from the marquee. “Did you really not know I was gay?”
I laugh. “I don’t know what I thought.”
He bends down and puts the last of the letters in the box. “Does it bother you?”
I shake my head. “Not at all.”
He nods, but he doesn’t look convinced. And then I remember that he’s probably still thinking about the letter I wrote and all the hateful things I said to him. “Utah, I’m serious. I don’t care that you’re gay. I know I said some mean things in that letter, but I was upset. I really am sorry for that. We were kids. I know that . . . I’ve just spent years building up a lot of animosity toward you.”
I pull out the last letter and place it on the ground. When I stand up, Utah stands up, too. He holds eye contact with me for a moment, and then he says. “I’m sorry, too. Really, Merit. I mean it.”
The sincerity in his voice makes me feel things and my God, I’m so sick of crying. But I do it anyway. Stupid tears start running down my cheeks, but I can’t help it. I’ve needed to hear him say that for so long.
Utah reaches for my hand and pulls me into a tight hug. My face presses against his chest and he hugs me like a brother should hug his sister and that makes me cry even harder. I wrap my arms around him and as soon as I do, I can feel all the anger I’ve ever felt for him evaporate with every tear I shed.
“I’ll be a better sibling,” he says. “I promise.”
I nod against his chest. “Me too.”
He releases me and then says, “Let’s finish this and go inside.” We finish up the marquee and walk toward the front door. As soon as we open it, we see Luck at the kitchen table, looking down at a piece of paper in his hands.
“You’re a dick!” he yells.
Utah and I close the door. “What now?” Utah asks, walking the box of letters back to the pantry. Sagan is seated across from Luck, who looks extremely pissed off.
“I don’t look like this!”
Sagan laughs. “Don’t ask me to draw you if you’re going to argue with me about how I perceive you.”
Luck pushes back his chair and tosses the sketch at Sagan. “If this is how you see me, you suck as an artist.” He walks to the refrigerator and Sagan is laughing quietly. I walk over to him and grab the sketch that pissed off Luck. I flip it over and immediately start to laugh.
“Let me see,” Utah says. I hand him the sketch of Luck and Utah bursts out in laughter. “Wow,” he says, handing the sketch back to Sagan. “You holding a grudge or something?”
Sagan grins and slips the sketch into the back of his sketchbook.
“Actually, let me keep that,” Utah says. “For blackmail.”
Luck walks around the bar and tries to snatch it from Utah, but Utah holds it up in the air. Luck tries to grab it again but Utah runs down the hallway with Luck close on his heels.
“I like the marquee,” Sagan says, pulling my attention back to him. I glance out the window at the quote I had Utah put up.
NOT EVERY MISTAKE DESERVES A CONSEQUENCE. SOMETIMES THE ONLY THING IT DESERVES IS FORGIVENESS.
I shrug. “I heard it from some guy.”
It’s hard for me to look at him right now because so much of me still likes so much of him. And for some reason, the way he’s looking at me right now is the hardest to accept. Like he’s proud of me.
Luckily, he gets one of his urgent phone calls again. At least this time he holds up a finger and says, “One second,” while pulling out his phone.
I don’t give him his second. I just give him privacy as I make my way to my room. I’ve had enough for one day, and even though I slept through most of it, I’m already ready to sleep through the rest of it.
When I get to my room, I realize just how literal Sagan was being when he said, “One second.” He’s knocking on my door almost immediately after I close it. When I open it, he’s sliding his phone back into his pocket.
I don’t ask him why he’s at my door or what he wants to talk about. I just start with the question that’s been bothering me the most. “Why do you get so many phone calls?” He’s always answering his phone, no matter what he’s in the middle of. It’s actually kind of rude.
“It’s never who I want it to be,” he says, walking into my room uninvited.
“Come in, I guess.”
Sagan walks around my room, looking at everything. He pauses in front of my trophy shelf. “When did you start collecting these?”
I walk to my bed and take a seat. “I stole the first one from my first boyfriend. He broke up with me in the middle of a make-out session and it made me mad.”
Sagan laughs and then picks a few up and inspects them. “I don’t know why I like this about you as much as I do.”
I bite my cheek to hide my smile.
Sagan sets the trophy down on the dresser and faces me. “You want a tattoo?”
My heart skips at the thought. “Right now?”
He nods. “If you swear you won’t tell anyone.”
“I swear.” I try not to smile, but I’m way too excited.
Sagan nods his head toward his room and I follow him across the hall. He pulls the desk chair close to the bed and motions for me to sit in it. He starts messing with a box of tattoo equipment that he pulls from the closet.
“What do you want?”
“I don’t care. You pick.”
He looks at me and arches an eyebrow. “You want me to pick the tattoo that’s going to be permanently etched into your skin for the rest of your life?”
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