Sagan rolls his eyes and then walks back to the side of the church to refill the grave. When we’re all finally back inside the van, Honor says, “What’s the purpose of this, anyway? Dad hated that dog. I don’t think he really cares where he’s buried.”
Sagan disagrees with a shake of his head. “No, he cares. I don’t know why he was so adamant about burying the dog with Pastor Brian, but for whatever reason, he wants them together.”
Utah pulls out of the church parking lot and flips on the headlights. “I think Dad has always felt a little guilty for buying Dollar Voss out from under Pastor Brian. Maybe this is his repentance.”
“He’s an atheist,” Luck says. “I think remorse is a more fitting word.”
Honor has her hand over her nose and mouth. “Someone please roll down a window. That dog smells so bad, I’m about to puke.”
He really does smell. Utah rolls down both front windows but it doesn’t help. I cover my nose with my shirt and keep it there until we make it to the cemetery.
“Which way is Pastor Brian’s grave?” Utah asks. Sagan points to a grave not too far from the front gate. Utah follows the circle drive until the van is pointed toward the entryway of the cemetery. When he parks, he tells me and Honor to take the front seats and keep watch for them.
“I don’t want to keep watch,” I say as I close the side door to the van. “I want to help you guys bury him.”
Honor walks around to the driver’s seat. “I’ll keep watch.” Utah and Luck walk to the back of the van to get Wolfgang.
Sagan grabs my hand and squeezes it, looking down at me. “Stay in the van,” he says. “It won’t take long.”
I shake my head. “I’m not staying alone in that van with Honor. She hates me.”
Sagan looks at me pointedly. “That’s exactly why you should stay in the van, Merit. You’re the only one who can fix that.”
I huff and fold my arms over my chest. “Fine,” I say, agitated. “I’ll talk to her but I’m not happy about it.”
He mouths, “Thank you,” right before he turns around. I watch the three of them walk across the cemetery to the freshly dug grave. And then I get in the damn van.
When I close the door, Honor turns up the radio, drowning out any possibility of her hearing me if I tried to speak to her. I lean forward and turn the radio back down.
She leans forward and turns it up.
I turn it down.
She turns it up.
I reach over and turn off the van. I pull the keys out and the radio cuts off for good.
“Bitch you,” she mutters.
We both start laughing. Bitch you used to be one of our favorite things to say to each other. She hasn’t said it to me in years.
Utah used to have a friend named Douglas when we were kids. He lived about a mile down the road, so he used to come over all the time when we lived in our old house behind Dollar Voss. The last time Douglas ever came over was the day he accused me of cheating at hopscotch. Who cheats at hopscotch?
I remember Utah getting so mad at him for accusing me of cheating, he told Douglas to go home. Douglas shot back and yelled, “Bitch you!”
The insult might have been more damaging to Utah’s ego had Douglas used the curse word correctly. I was only eight or nine, but even I knew that bitch you was funny enough to laugh at. That made Douglas even angrier, so he balled up his fists and threatened to hit me.
What Douglas didn’t realize was that our father was standing right behind him.
“Douglas?” my father said, causing him to jump three feet off the ground. “I think it’s best you go home now.” Douglas didn’t even turn around. He just started walking as fast as he could toward the road. When he was about fifteen feet away, my father called out, “And for future reference, it’s fuck you! Not bitch you!”
Douglas never came back, but bitch you became our new favorite insult. It’s been so long since I’ve heard it, I almost forgot it used to be our thing.
Honor slides both her hands down the stereo and sighs. “I heard what you said to Dad yesterday.” She begins picking at the steering wheel with her fingernail, pulling tiny pieces of leather off.
“I said a lot of things to Dad yesterday. Which part are you referring to specifically?”
She leans back in her seat and stares out her window. “You told him I was one heartbeat away from being a necrophiliac.”
I close my eyes and feel a pang of regret that’s become all too familiar this week. I didn’t know Honor was still there when I said that to my father yesterday.
“You make it sound like my entire life revolves around death, Merit. It’s not an obsession. There have been two guys since Kirk died. Two.”
“Are you counting Colby?”
Honor rolls her eyes. “No, he’s still alive.”
“And Kirk,” I point out. “That’s actually four. You’ve been averaging two dead boyfriends a year.”
“Okay,” she says, exasperated. “I get your point. But it doesn’t make you better than me.”
“I never said it did.”
“You don’t have to. I see the way you look at me. You’re always judging me.”
I open my mouth to protest, but then I close it because she might be right. I have very strong opinions about my sister. Is that judging? I get so angry when people judge me, but maybe I’m no better.
I suddenly wish I hadn’t turned off the radio. I’m not liking this conversation so far.
“Do you think you’re in love with Sagan?” she asks.
“Just humor me. I have a point to make.”
I look out the window and watch as Sagan digs up the same hole he dug up earlier today. “I barely know him,” I say to Honor. “But there are things I love about him. I love the way he makes me feel. I love being around him. I love his quiet laugh and his morbid art and how he seems to think in a different way than most people our age. But I haven’t known him long enough to be in love with him.”
“Forget about time, Merit. Look at him and tell me you haven’t fallen in love with him.”
I sigh. Fallen is an understatement. It was more like collapsed. Plummeted. Crumpled at his feet. Anything but fallen.
I pull my legs up and turn in my seat to face her. “I feel so stupid saying this because I barely know him, but I felt like I loved him the first moment I laid eyes on him. That’s why I’ve been so cranky lately, because I thought you were dating him, so I did everything I could to stay away from both of you. And now, the more I get to know him, I care about him so much I can’t stand it. He’s all I think about. All I want to think about. It’s so hard to breathe when he’s near me, but it’s also hard to breathe when he isn’t. He makes me want to learn and change and grow and be everything he believes I can be.”
I take a breath after that verbal vomit. Honor laughs and says, “Wow. Okay, then.”
I close my eyes, embarrassed all of that just came out of me. When I open them, Honor is turned toward me in her seat. Her head is resting against the head rest and her eyes are downcast.
“That’s exactly how I felt about Kirk,” she says quietly. “I mean, I know I was a kid, but I felt those same things for him. I thought he was my soul mate. I thought we would be together for the rest of our lives.” She lifts her eyes to mine. “And then . . . he died. But all the feelings I had for him were still there, with nowhere to go and no one to latch on to. And I worried about him constantly because I couldn’t see him or touch him. And I thought maybe, wherever he was, he was just as devastated as me.” There’s a hint of embarrassment in her voice as she tells me all of this. She shrugs and says, “That’s when I started talking to the guys in support groups online. Talking to other kids like Kirk who were dying. And I would tell them all about Kirk. I would make sure they knew how much I loved him so when they got to Heaven and they found him they could say to Kirk, ‘Hey, I know your girlfriend. She sure does love you.’ ”
She falls back against her seat and kicks her feet up on the dash. “I don’t think any of that anymore, but that’s what started all this. A few months after Kirk died, Trevor, one of the guys from the Dallas support group, was put in a hospice. I didn’t love him like I loved Kirk, but I cared about him. And I knew when Kirk was dying that my presence brought him peace. So when Trevor needed that, I gave it to him. And it was nice. It made me feel good to know that I made his death a little more bearable for him. And then after Trevor, there was Micha. And now . . . Colby. And I know you think it’s this terrible thing, like I’m taking advantage of people, or I’m somehow oddly attracted to guys with terminal illnesses.” She looks at me pointedly. “You’re wrong, Merit. I do it because I know that in some small way, I help them through the hardest thing anyone should ever have to go through. That’s all I’m doing. It makes me feel good to make them feel a little more at peace with their death. But you make it seem so terrible and you constantly talk about how I need therapy. It’s . . . mean. You can be really mean sometimes.”
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