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I think her pink scrubs annoy me more than anything else about her. I might even be more willing to forgive her for the atrocity she committed against my mother if she’d wear a different color just once.

I remember the day she started wearing pink scrubs. I was twelve, sitting at this very table. She had emerged from Quarter Three, back when Quarter Three was shared by my father and ailing mother. She had been my mother’s nurse for about six months and I actually kind of liked her. Until that particular morning, anyway.

My father had been sitting across from me reading the paper when he looked up at her and smiled. “Pink looks really good on you, Victoria.”

I know I was young, but even kids can recognize flirting, especially when that flirting only involves one of their two married parents.

Victoria has only worn shades of pink scrubs since that day. I often wonder if their affair began before or after that flirtatious moment in the kitchen. Sometimes the curiosity consumes me so much, I want to ask them the exact hour they began ruining my mother’s life. But that would mean we were discussing a secret out in the open, and we don’t do that in this family. We keep our secrets buried deeper than the grave Victoria wishes my mother would go ahead and fall in.

They kept the affair quiet for at least a year. Long enough to realize my mother’s cancer wasn’t going to kill her after all, but not long enough to prevent Victoria from getting pregnant. My father was stuck between a rock and a hard place at that point. It didn’t matter which decision he made, he’d still come out the asshole. On the one hand, he could choose not to abandon his wife who had just beaten cancer. But if he chose his wife, that would mean he was abandoning his new pregnant mistress.

It was so long ago, I’m not sure how he came about making the decision he made. I don’t have much recollection of any fighting taking place between the adults. I do, however, remember when my mother and father discussed where his new wife and child would live. She suggested he move to our old home behind Dollar Voss and leave her here to manage us children. He refused on the grounds that she wasn’t mentally or physically competent enough to manage us children without his help. And sadly, he was right.

My mother had been in a car accident when she was pregnant with my sister and me, and she never fully recovered. To us kids, she’s the same person she’s always been, considering we didn’t know her before the accident. But we know she changed because of how our father references things. He would say, “Before the accident when your mother could . . .” or “Before the accident when we would take vacations . . .” or “Before the accident when she wasn’t so ill . . .”

He never said any of those things out of spite, I don’t think. They were just matter-of-fact. There is the Victoria Voss “before the accident” and the Victoria Voss we now have as a mother. If you don’t count her bad back, her two-year fight against brain cancer, a slight limp in her step, a severe social anxiety that’s kept her in the basement for over two years, a few scars on her right arm, and her inability to make it through an entire day without at least two naps, she’s relatively normal.

We used to try to get her to leave the basement and interact with us all the time. The last time she left the basement was to attend Kirk’s funeral, and that was only because Honor sobbed and begged her to come. But after that, when the first year of her seclusion came and went and our mother seemed to be functioning just fine with her life in the basement, we had no choice but to accept it. With Utah, Honor, and me, she’s checked on daily. My father still buys all her groceries and Honor and I make sure her mini-kitchen is fully stocked. She doesn’t have any bills because my father covers utilities on the whole house.

The only issue that has come up in the two years since she’s been secluded is her health. Fortunately, my father found a doctor who does house calls if he’s ever needed. And since she refuses to see a psychiatrist for her social phobia, we have no other choice but to accept it. For now. I have a feeling after all three of us kids are out of the house next year, Victoria is going to demand my mother move out. But that’s not a battle anyone wants to confront prematurely, especially when my siblings and I will be the first to come to our mother’s defense.

Victoria has just resigned to pretending my mother doesn’t exist. The same way my siblings and I pretend Victoria doesn’t exist. We don’t see the point in befriending a woman we despise, simply because she’s the mother of our little half brother.

Since the day Victoria entered our lives, our family hasn’t been the same. And while we do hold our father accountable for half of our family issues, he is still required to love us. Which makes him harder to blame than Victoria, who doesn’t even like us.

Victoria scoops up the bananas and layers them over the top of Moby’s bowl of oatmeal. “Moby, come eat your breakfast!”

Moby crawls out from under the table and stands up. “I’m not hungry.” He wipes glaze off his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. There’s no hiding that he just inhaled a donut, and there’s no sense in trying to hide that I’m the one who gave it to him.

“Moby,” Victoria says, taking him in. “What in the world is all over your . . .” Here we go. “Merit! I told you not to give him donuts.”

I look at Victoria innocently just as my father walks into the room. She turns her attention to him, waving the knife in the air that she was just using to slice bananas. “Merit gave Moby a donut for breakfast!”

My father gently slides his fingers around her wrist and grabs the knife. He leans in and kisses her on the cheek and then sets the knife on the counter, finding me in his crowd of children. “Merit, we talked about this. Do it again and you’re grounded.”

I nod, assuming that’s the end of it. But Victoria doesn’t stop there, because a donut for breakfast is the equivalent to Armageddon and it deserves all the panic.

“You never ground them,” she accuses. She grabs the bowl of oatmeal and walks it over to the trash. She angrily scoops the contents of the bowl into the trash. “I’ve never seen you actually follow through with a single punishment, Barnaby. It’s why they act like this.”

They being my father’s three oldest children. And it’s the truth. He’s full of empty threats and very little follow-through. It’s my favorite thing about him.

“Sweetie, lighten up. Maybe Merit didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to give him a donut today.”

Nothing irks Victoria more than when my father takes our side over hers. “Of course Merit knows not to give him a donut. She doesn’t listen to me. None of them do.” Victoria chucks the bowl in the sink and bends to pick up Moby. She sets him on the counter near the sink and wets a napkin to wipe donut remnants off his face. “Moby, you cannot eat donuts. They are very bad for you. They make you sleepy, and when you’re sleepy, you can’t perform well in school.”

Never mind the fact that he’s four and isn’t even in real school yet.

My father sips from his coffee cup and then reaches over to Moby and ruffles his hair. “Listen to your mother, buddy.” He carries his coffee and newspaper to the table, taking the seat next to me. He gives me a look that says he’s not happy with me. I just stare at him with the hope that he demands I apologize, or asks me why I broke one of Victoria’s rules again.

But he doesn’t. Which means my no-speaking streak is looking good for day four.

I wonder if anyone will notice my taciturnity. Not that I’m giving anyone the silent treatment. I’m seventeen years old. Hardly a child. But I do feel invisible in this house most of the time and I’m curious how long it will take before someone notices I haven’t spoken out loud.

I realize it’s a bit passive aggressive, but it’s not like I’m doing it to prove a point to them. It’s simply to prove a point to myself. I wonder if I can make it an entire week. I once read a quote that said, “Don’t make your presence known. Make your absence felt.”

No one in this family notices my presence or my absence. They would all notice Honor’s. But I was born second, which just makes me a faded copy of the original.

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