“There are worse things he could find out about us.”
“You were arrested today for exhuming a corpse. That’s pretty bad.”
My dad laughs. “Moby would probably like that.” He stares out the window again, long enough for them to pull out of the driveway.
I shove my hands in the back pockets of my jeans. “Dad?” I don’t know what I plan to say to him. He’s put up with so much in his life and I can’t help but feel like I’ve been adding to that weight all these years, rather than trying to take some of the weight off his shoulders. Do I apologize? Tell him thank you?
My dad nods, just a little, and then he takes a step toward me and pulls me in for a hug. The first hug he’s probably felt like I would allow him to give me in a very long time. “I know, Merit,” he whispers, relieving me from the awkwardness of not knowing what to say to him. “Me too.”
I pull my hands from my pockets and return the hug. My father presses his cheek to the top of my head and I can’t help but smile because it’s probably the best hug I’ve ever been given. It’s the one hug I’ve needed the most. We stay like this for a while, almost as if he’s making up for lost time. And maybe I am, too.
If someone had told me last week that we’d be having this moment tonight, I’d have laughed at them and said it would be a miracle.
Maybe it is.
I’m facing the living room with my head pressed against my father’s chest. I look up at Jesus and wonder if maybe He answered my prayer, after all. It was just a few days ago that I got down on my knees in my bedroom and prayed for a new focus.
I’d say the events that transpired after that have definitely given me a new focus.
I loosen my grip on my father and look up at him. “Why don’t you believe in God?”
He glances over at Jesus and contemplates my question for a moment. And then he says, “I’m just a pragmatic person.” He smiles down at me and tugs at my hair as he releases me. “That doesn’t mean you can’t believe in Him, though. We aren’t put on this earth to be carbon copies of our parents. Peace doesn’t come to everyone in the same form.”
He tells me good night and walks to his bedroom. I glance at the hallway and Sagan is leaning against the wall, watching me. There’s a faint smile on his face.
“It’s after midnight,” he says.
I look up at the clock on the wall and it’s almost one in the morning. Which means . . . it’s Saturday. “It’s Saturday! My tattoo!”
Sagan laughs. “Let’s go to the bathroom so you can see it in the mirror.”
I follow him to the bathroom, my heart pounding anxiously in my chest. I search for a handheld mirror so I can see it closer. “It better be pretty. If you gave me a poop emoji, I’ll kill you.”
He laughs quietly as he pulls down my shirt sleeve and works to remove the bandage. “You seriously haven’t peeked at it?”
I shake my head. “I promised you I wouldn’t.”
He takes the mirror from me and holds it up behind me. “Okay. Open your eyes.”
When I see it, I suck in a quiet rush of air. In small font are the words, “With Merit.” I stare at it for several seconds before the meaning really hits me.
In the letter I wrote to everyone, I signed off, “Without Merit.”
Sagan wrote the opposite.
Tears immediately cloud my vision as I run my fingers over it. It almost feels like a badge of maturity.
“Sagan,” I whisper. “It’s perfect.”
He smiles at me in the mirror. “I think it’ll look cool as a watercolor tattoo. I’ll add some colors to it once I get more experience.” He touches it and my skin feels like it ignites. “I’m glad you like it.”
“I love it,” I whisper.
I turn around to face him. He’s extremely close still, but he doesn’t back away. He’s looking down at me like he has something else to say. I wait with air stuck in my lungs, but he just clears his throat and takes a step back. My lungs deflate like balloons when he widens the gap between us.
“Good night, Merit.” He walks out of the bathroom, and I sigh.
I walk to my bedroom and sit down on my bed. I reach behind me and touch my fingers to my tattoo again. With Merit. I should have asked Sagan why he chose this tattoo. Did he do it to make me feel better? I’ve been wondering lately why he even seems interested in a friendship with me. Sure, we had an unusual connection the first time we met, but he thought I was Honor. And after that day, I was nothing but rude to him. He even said himself that the more he got to know me, the less he liked me. But despite all of that, he still invests in me. I don’t know why I automatically assume he must have an ulterior motive. Maybe he actually does find something appealing about my personality.
I glance across the room at the wadded-up piece of paper still on my bedroom floor. I walk over and pick it up, unfolding the paper as I sit down on my bed. I look at all the check marks and it makes me wonder if this list is in any way accurate. I don’t know a lot about mental health, but knowing that I might have inherited my mother’s instability fills me with an unknown fear. Am I going to end up like her?
I shudder at the thought.
I fold the paper in half and set it aside, pulling my covers over me. I leave my lamp on and stare at Sagan’s drawings for a while. I think about his family. I think about my family. I try to fall asleep despite all the thinking, but my mind has different plans. I lie wide-awake until I hear the front door open as everyone returns from the vet with the puppies.
I still can’t believe Wolfgang was a girl.
At least another half hour goes by while I stare at the ceiling. The wall. I listen to showers running and doors closing. The house finally settles, but then I’m startled by a knock on my own door. I reach over and find the list Luck gave me and shove it under my blanket. “It’s open.”
Luck walks in and I shouldn’t be surprised by his choice of clothing at this point, but I still laugh. He’s wearing a pair of Victoria’s pink scrubs.
“Do you need to go shopping?” I ask, scooting over on my bed.
He plops down next to me. “Nah. I keep finding plenty of stuff in the laundry room.”
He only allowed an accent slip on the last word of that whole sentence. He’s acclimating. I reach under the covers and grab the folded-up sheet of paper. I hand it to him. “So what does this mean?”
Luck opens the list and looks it over. I watch his expression carefully, but he gives none of his thoughts away. “It means you might be depressed,” he says nonchalantly.
I groan and dramatically fall over on the bed. “Can’t it just mean I’ve had a bad month?”
He lays the list on my chest and I grab it and wad it up again, sitting back up.
“It could,” he says. “But you won’t know until you talk to someone about it.”
I roll my eyes. “What if I go to this dumb therapy session and find out I am depressed? What kind of life is that to look forward to, Luck? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life like my mother.”
Luck dips his head and looks at me pointedly. “I haven’t met your mother yet and I’m no psychologist, but I think she suffers from a lot more than just depression. Agoraphobia being the main thing.”
“Yeah, but she didn’t even develop that until a few years ago. She gets worse with time. That’s probably going to happen to me, too.” The thought that there might be something severely wrong with me leaves a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don’t want to think about it. I haven’t wanted to think about it since Luck initially brought it up. “Why can’t I just be normal?”
My question makes Luck laugh. I wasn’t expecting that reaction. “Normal?” he says. “Describe normal to me, Merit.”
“Honor is normal. So is Utah. And Sagan. Most people without a broken brain.”
Luck rolls his head and stands up. He swings my bedroom door open. “Utah! Honor! Sagan! Come here!” He stands by the door, holding it open. I bury my face in my hands. What the hell is he doing?
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