John looked up at her with an expression somewhere between surprise and awe. “Do you mean it? Do you really mean it?”
She beamed. “With all my heart. Wait. That was a real proposal, right? It wasn’t just a test run, right?”
He laughed and kissed her hands. “I’m not even sure myself. The words just came to mind and I needed to say them. I needed to ask. I needed to know. I needed to hear your answer. So. I guess yes. Yes, it was a real proposal. I want to marry you, Clarice Vansing.”
“And I want to marry you, you wonderful, breath-stealing man.” She released his hands and looped her arms around his neck. She kissed him and it was the best kiss ever. It was starling sheen and starlight gleam. It was seagull laughter and joyful waves. It was sunshine and moonglow.
Clarice ended it at the right moment, keeping the kiss from being too long or too short. She opened her eyes.
His expression was open wonder. “I’m not the only breath-stealer here.” he said in a husky voice. “Clarice, are you sure? If we get married, it means facing heartache and loss all over again. Maybe sooner instead of later.”
“I know.” She idly stroked the back of his neck as she thought of the best way to phrase what she wanted to say. “But heartache and loss isn’t something that you can hide from. It will come and it will come in so many forms. Mother. Father. Husband. Wife. Children. Friends.” Her fingers went still. “John, I accept the heartache that your loss will bring to me. I accept it even though I’m pretty darned sure that it will hurt more than Gerry’s death did. But that’s okay. I’m okay with that. John, I love you and I will marry you. I will be yours to my dying day.”
“And I will be yours to my last breath.” He kissed her again.
The salt shaker sat on the table. It was a simple, pink shaker with copper daisy stenciling along the middle. John and Clarice had meant to put it away, but they’d forgotten. So, the salt shaker sat alone on the table.
John kissed Clarice again.
The salt shaker tipped over, even thought there was no obvious reason for it to do so.
“He is no ghost!” Raoul exclaimed. “He is a man surely as alive and as real as myself. Christine!”
Sarah lowered her book and looked up at the sky. It was starting to get dark. She sighed and set the book down.
Clarice would have to go home. It was a shame she couldn’t stay. Of course, there were ways that Sarah could force her to stay.
The small girl transformed into her XQ self – a creature of fire and flames. She could burn. She could singe. She could destroy.
But she didn’t want to do any of that to Clarice.
She could bar all of the house’s exits and keep her trapped inside. But Clarice would be scared. Clarice would be terrified.
Sarah didn’t want that either. She transformed into her human form and picked up her book.
But maybe Clarice would want to stay on her own. It wasn’t quite possible, but it wasn’t impossible.
Sarah scanned her surroundings, but there was no trace of Carthage. She nodded emphatically, turned around, and headed inside.