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We sit in silence as he finishes up my tattoo. I can’t stop thinking about everything that’s happening with him. It has my stomach in knots. And I really do feel like an asshole. He read a letter I wrote, complaining about my entire family and our trivial issues. And he doesn’t even know if his family is alive.

“Done,” he whispers. He cleans it with something cold and then he begins to bandage it up.

“Wait,” I say, turning around. “I want to see it first.”

He shakes his head. “Not yet. I want you to keep the bandage on until Saturday.”

“Saturday? It’s only Thursday.”

“I want you to anticipate it a little longer,” he says with a smile. I like that he’s smiling after the heaviness of the conversation. Even if it is forced. “I’ll apply lotion every few hours until then.”

I like the idea of that, so I reluctantly agree. “At least tell me what it is.”

“You’ll see what it is on Saturday.” He starts cleaning up his mess. I stand up and roll the chair back to the desk. He walks his box of supplies to his closet.

As I watch him, I’m overcome by an overwhelming sense of compassion for him. For what he’s going through. I walk to him and slip my arms around his waist, pressing my face against his chest.

I just need to hug him after hearing all of that. And based on the way he wraps himself around me and accepts the hug without question, he must have needed it, too. We stand like this for an entire minute before he presses a kiss to the top of my head. “Thanks for that,” he says, releasing me.

I nod. “Good night.”

He smiles appreciatively. “Good night, Merit.”

Chapter Fourteen

Are you excited about today?”

“Yes!” Moby yells from the hallway.

“How excited?”

“So excited!”

“How excited?” Utah says.

“The most excited!” Moby yells back.

Normally, that exchange would make me roll my eyes this early in the morning. But that was before last night, when I started to like Utah as a brother again.

My father still doesn’t know I dropped out of school, so I force myself out of bed. I brush my teeth, fix my hair, put on clothes and go through the same routine I go through almost every other morning. I would just tell him the truth, but I’m not so sure I want to deal with the aftermath right now. It feels like a lifetime has been crammed into the last few days.

I’ll give it another week before I tell him. Maybe two.

Or better yet, I’ll tell him I dropped out when he finally explains why my mother is taking placebo pills.

When I walk into the kitchen, Honor and Sagan are sitting next to each other at the table. She’s laughing at something he just said, which makes me a little relieved to see her smiling. Maybe she’ll stop being so mad at me now that I’ve made up with Utah.

Or maybe not.

As soon as she sees me, her smile disappears. She refocuses her attention on the smoothie in front of her, moving her straw around.

At least Sagan smiles at me. I smile back and feel ridiculously cheesy when I do.

“Merit, taste this,” Utah says. He shoves one of his smoothies in my face and tries to stick the straw in my mouth.

“Gross,” I say, swiping his arm and the smoothie away. “I’m not tasting that crap.”

“It’s good.” He holds it out for me again. “I promise, just taste it.”

I take the smoothie and taste the damn thing. Sure enough, it tastes like someone took a bunch of vegetables, blended them together and threw tasteless vitamins in the mix. I wince and hand it back to him. “Disgusting.”

“Sucker,” Sagan says.

The back door opens and my father walks in. “Something is wrong with that dog,” he says, washing dirt off his hands. He dries them on a towel. “Has he been that lethargic since he showed up?”

I shrug. “He looked better yesterday.” I walk past him and out the back door. I can hear Sagan following me. The three of us make it to Wolfgang’s doghouse, and I kneel down and touch him on the top of his head. “Hey, buddy.”

He looks up at me with the same lack of enthusiasm he’s had since he showed up Sunday night. His tail twitches again, but he makes no effort to stand up. Or lick me.

“Has he been acting like that all week?” my dad asks.

I nod, just as my dad squats down. He runs his hand down Wolfgang’s back and it’s honestly a sight I never thought I’d see. My father and this dog . . . together again.

“I thought he was just depressed,” I say. I feel bad for not making more of a fuss about his temperament, but I don’t know anything about dogs.

“I called the vet yesterday,” Sagan says. “They said they could squeeze him in tomorrow but I don’t think he can wait that long.”

“Which vet?” my father asks.

“The one out on 30, near the Goodwill.”

“That’s close to work,” my father says. He slips his hands beneath Wolfgang. “I’ll drop him off on my way in, see if they can check him out sooner.” My father nudges his head toward the gate on the side of the house. “Merit, go open that gate so I can get him to my truck.”

I run and open the gate, then I run and open the passenger door to my father’s truck. He places Wolfgang in the passenger seat. Wolfgang doesn’t even seem to care that he’s been moved. “You think he’ll be okay?”

“I don’t know,” my Dad says. “I’ll let you know what they say.” He walks around to the driver’s side and climbs in. He begins to back out, but he stops the truck and calls me over to his window. “I forgot to give this to you the other night when you asked for it,” he says, handing me a sack. I take it from him and watch as he continues backing out of the driveway.

Once he’s gone, I look down and open the sack. Inside is a trophy. I had forgotten all about asking him for one. I pull out the trophy and it’s a statue of a tennis player.

“What’d you win this time?” Sagan asks.

I read the small plaque on the bottom of the trophy. “‘State Tennis champs, 2005.’ ”

He laughs. “You were a little child prodigy.” He walks to his car and opens the door. “You need a ride to school today?”

I narrow my eyes at him. He knows I haven’t been going to school lately. “Nice try.”

He climbs in the car. “Worth a shot,” he says, closing the door. He rolls down the window and says, “I’ll text you if I get any updates about Wolfgang from your dad.”

I nod, but then I tilt my head. “Why would he give you updates?”

“Because . . . I work for him?”

“You do?” Wow. I’m so out of the loop.

He laughs. “Did you really not know that?”

I shake my head. “I knew you had a job, but I’ve just never asked what it was.”

“Your dad gave me a job and let me move in the first day I met him. That’s why I like him so much, even though you can’t stand him most of the time.”

He looks over his shoulder and backs out of the driveway. Before he pulls onto the road, he gives me a small wave. I wave back and watch him drive off.

I don’t know how long I stand in the driveway, watching the empty road. I just feel so . . . lost? I don’t know. Nothing really makes sense this week.

I go back inside and spend the next several hours wasting time.

I mostly watch TV, but I can’t stop checking my phone for updates. I still haven’t heard from my father. I’ve only received one text and it was from my mother, asking if I’d come to the basement sometime this afternoon. I responded to her and told her I was busy. She replied with, “Okay. Maybe tomorrow.”

I know I said I was never going to the basement again, but I only said that because I was angry. I’ll visit her eventually, but right now I’m still upset with her. And my father. Still confused by how Victoria can choose to remain in such a strange marital environment.

And I still don’t know what the hell the placebo pills are for.

I hate that I have any sort of resentment in me after hearing what Sagan’s going through. But for some reason, his issues haven’t negated mine at all and I hate that. I hate that I’m still emotionally affected by the poor choices of my parents when I should be lucky that I know they’re alive. It makes me feel weak. And petty.

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