Sarah’s tentacles disappeared as she watched him walk away.
Questions took over her mind. So many questions and only he knew the answers. She knew that if he got in his car and drove away, she would never get those answers.
Sarah didn’t consider pros versus cons. She ran after him.
“Sarah!” Barbara called out.
She turned into XQ and ran fast and hard on her four feet.
Carthage’s headache was an easy 3,000 times worse. He rubbed the sides of his head with the heels of his hands. “I wonder if there is an easy coffee hangover cure. Maybe tomato juice with a little lemon juice. Would that work?”
But that isn’t the only reason why my head hurts.
She doesn’t want me. She’d rather be with that little blonde receptionist.
She hates me.
My daughter hates me. And after everything I’ve done for her. After all of the time I put into turning her into an XQ. After all I’ve—
Something warm and heavy rammed into the back of his legs, knocking him flat on his chin.
He pushed himself up into a sit.
XQ came around to the front of him and sat down. She turned back into her human form.
“XQ?” His headache lessened. “Have you changed your mind?”
Sarah shook her head. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a crinkled up ball of paper.
He frowned slightly as she uncrumpled it. “What is—”
She handed the paper to him.
He took it and looked at it.
Carthage gasped as he recognized the woman drawn on the page.
The straight lines of her hair.
The shape of her eyes.
The sharp angles of her face.
Sarah gave him another wrinkled up drawing.
He looked at it and quickly looked up at her. “This is me. And that. This other drawing…”
Sarah tapped the other drawing, pointed at herself, and drew a flaming question mark in the air.
“This other one. This woman.” His expression softened as he looked at the woman’s drawn face. “This one.”
Sarah tapped his arm.
He looked up at her again.
She drew another question mark in the air and tapped the first drawing.
“She is Sara. She loved you, XQ. Maybe more than I loved you.” He gave the picture one last long look before giving it back to her. “Sara was your mother.”
Sarah looked at the two pictures side-by-side.
Him and her.
Barbara came over to her. “Are you all right?”
She tapped herself and tapped the picture of her mother.
Sarah and Sara.
Daughter and mother.
Sara loved Sarah.
She tapped the picture, did the sign for reading, and pointed at herself.
He stood. “I don’t get it. What are you saying?”
She repeated the three gestures again.
“She wants to know if her mother read The Phantom of the Opera to her.” Barbara said.
“Yes. After every injection, Sara would come in and read to her. It seemed to calm her down. But, after Sara’s death, I just couldn’t pick up where she had left off. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take over for her. I didn’t have the heart to try. So. I didn’t try. I would inject XQ and send her back into her room. And that was that.”
Carthage went down on one knee. “XQ, I know I’m not the best father. I know I’ve given you plenty of reasons to refuse, but I will ask you again. Will you come with me, my XQ…my little girl?”
She looked up at him.
Daughter and father.
He held his hand out to her. “Will you stay with me?”
Her gaze moved down to his hand.
In her forearm.
In her knee.
In her thigh.
And fire coursed through her joints and eyes and veins.
Fire flowed into her heart and brain.
And she couldn’t scream.
No matter how hard she tried, she could not scream.
She stood and backed away from him, shaking her head. The two drawings fell to the pavement.
Carthage kept his hand extended. “XQ. Please. Come home with me.”
She shook her head harder and grabbed Barbara’s hand.
“Please. Give me a chance.”
Sarah shook her head again. She tugged on Barbara’s arm. As soon as she had the young woman’s attention, she pointed at herself, at Barbara, and out at the parking lot.
“Are you sure, Sarah?” Barbara asked. “I don’t trust him, but if you—”
Sarah rolled her eyes in exasperation.
“Are you sure? He is your father.”
She nodded emphatically.
Barbara gave Carthage a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry.”
He stood. “No, you’re not. So, don’t insult me by saying that you are.” He pushed past Barbara and headed towards his car.