I love her.
It’s become so easy to say it out loud. So natural.
I love her.
I love Clarice Vansing.
John followed her into the kitchen. “I still have this lingering edge of my nerves feeling that I’m sneaking around behind Carolyn’s back. I keep expecting to get caught. Do you feel that way about him?”
Clarice let go of his hand and went about gathering up her hot chocolate supplies.
His skin felt so cold without her touch. He rubbed his hands together.
“I don’t know.” she said. “Maybe subconsciously. But I suppose every widow and widower feels that way about dating again. When you’ve been with only one person for so many years, it’s only natural to feel all spooked and weird about making out with someone new.”
He sat at the kitchen table and listened to her putter around. “If. If he walked through that door right now, what would you do? What would we do?” He didn’t give her a chance to answer. “I know what we would have to do. If he came back, he’d still be your husband. Your vows to him would still hold. I’d have to leave and forget all about you.”
She came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his neck. “It will never happen. Gerald is dead and he will not come back.” Her voice softened. “He will never come back, John. So, don’t worry about it.”
She held onto him for a few extra minutes.
They were minutes of heaven for him. He closed his eyes and relished the physical contact. “Clarice, thank you.”
“Mm? For what?”
“For noticing me. For making that first advance. For wanting to know me. For wanting to take that chance on me.”
“I’m not sure how to respond to all that. ‘You’re welcome’ doesn’t seem right. ‘Not a problem’ sounds a touch too arrogant.” She released him. “I’ll just return the favor. Thank you for not pushing me away. Thank you for giving me a chance. Thank you for stepping into the unknown with me.”
He turned in his chair and looked up at her. “You found me at the right time, Clarice. A year ago or the year before that, I wasn’t ready to move on. I would have turned you down.”
She stroked the side of his face. “I’m so glad you didn’t.” Her eyes sparkled with mischief as she added, “John.”
Carrie, I love her.
Tell me it’s okay.
Let me know that it’s okay.
Carthage returned to Pinkerlee and drove straight to Bobolo’s Bistro & Bread Shoppe. He parked along the sidewalk in front of the brick building.
Maybe I should give up. Nothing will come of this. Little receptionist will chase me away or sicc her pet dragon on me. She won’t listen to me. She won’t let XQ listen to me.
It will prove to be a big waste of my time and energy. XQ made it clear that she doesn’t want me. She doesn’t love me. She doesn’t care about me. She will never want to come with me.
Carthage looked over at Sammy’s Place.
I should give up. I should go on to Mark Caten. See what use he can have for someone like me.
She won’t miss me if I leave.
She won’t care.
So, why should I try? Why can’t I just give up? Why not surrender my only child to some receptionist and her dragon?
Because that is not what I want to do.
But maybe that is what I should do. XQ will be fine without me in her life. She has made that clear. She doesn’t want me. So?
So, I should drop her and move on. But it hurts to do so. If I let her go, it means I’m letting Sara go too.
He leaned his forehead against the steering wheel.
What would Sara tell me to do? She was so much better at this interpersonal stuff than I could ever be. What would she say?
She’d tell me to do what is best for XQ. But isn’t being with her own father the best thing for her? I am her father, her flesh and bone. I know her better than anyone else will. I can make her better. I can make her stronger.
I can give her a reason to live. I can give her a sense of purpose. I can make her a perfect XQ. I know how to do it. I can acquire the equipment. I can make her the perfect weapon.
Carthage frowned slightly as he remembered The Institute’s ruins.
Maybe she did that. Maybe it was the other XQ. I don’t really know how I could prove who did it. Even if I could prove it, what does it matter? Who would I tell? Capernaum? Antioch? What about the others? How many of them are still alive? How many are dead?
His frown deepened.
If I make her a perfect XQ, she will burn down more places just like that. She will be an obedient weapon. She will be a killer.
Is that the best thing for her?
Is that what she…
She will be at the mercy of brigands and coup leaders and terrorists and whoever else hires out her services. How will they treat her? What sort of things will they do to her?
She’s my little girl.
My little XQ.
Sara, what should I do?
She didn’t need to answer him. Carthage knew the answer.
He raised his head and gave Sammy’s Place one last look.
He pulled out of his parking spot and drove away.