A wave of maternal warmth rushed through Clarice as Sarah grabbed the side of the shopping cart.
She’s still just a little girl, holding onto my cart so I don’t lose her and she doesn’t lose me. It’s all perfectly normal. We could be mother and daughter. Although, I suppose at my age, it would be more like grandmother and granddaughter.
I wonder how long it will take Elsie and hot man Hildreth to make me a grandmother.
That old pang flared up, making her smile turn sad. Gerry. Oh, Gerry. I wish you could have lived to a fine old age with me. I wish you could have met your grandchildren. And yes. I said grandchildren. Elsie and Hildreth are just too steamy for each other to have just one kid. Well. Barring any and all health complications, of course.
Or sudden death.
Sarah let go of the cart to check out a cute panda t-shirt on a nearby rack.
Clarice stopped walking and watched her go through the other clothes hanging behind that t-shirt. Gerry, I think you would have liked Sarah. She laughed softly. I’m sure you would have taught her some offensive and defensive moves, even though she definitely doesn’t need them. This little girl is not like our little girl.
Sarah’s fire bracelets reappeared as she found the panda t-shirt in her size. She held up the shirt to flaunt it at Clarice.
Elsie is fiery, but this little girl is fire.
Sarah frowned. The bear on the t-shirt was not like any bear she’d ever seen before. It was black-and-white with rounded edges. If it fell over, it would roll and roll and roll like a ball. There was a good possibility it would even bounce.
Using her fingertip, she traced the edges of the black circling its eyes. So cute and harmless looking, but maybe those looks were a deception. Maybe this bear was like her.
Dangerous if threatened.
Sarah flipped through the duplicate t-shirts, trying to find one her size. Her fiery bracelets reappeared as she found it. She pulled the shirt off the rack and waved it in a “Look at what I found!” gesture.
Clarice smiled and it was one of the best smiles Sarah had ever seen. It went all the way up into her eyes and probably into her hair. It wasn’t a lie or half-hearted. It was truth. Absolutely full-hearted truth. “That is one very cute shirt.”
Sarah nodded in absolute agreement.
“Well.” a woman’s strong voice broke through the piano music and the passing crowd noise. “I don’t know why The Institute went up in flames.”
Sarah blanched. She didn’t know that woman’s name, but she recognized her voice.
Clarice’s smile fell. “Sarah? What’s wrong?”
“But I’m sure that one of the XQs had something to do with it.”
That woman’s voice was so strong. It sounded close. Too close! Sarah dropped down to her hands and knees and crawled under the rack. She tucked her bridesmaid dress all around her.
“Sarah!” Clarice moved the hanging clothes out of the way and knelt. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Sarah pointed out past Clarice and then thumped her fist against her chest. She repeated the gesture again with tears in her eyes.
“Out there? You? I’m—”
The Institute woman stopped behind Sarah. Her artificial rose-scented perfume seeped through the hanging clothes.
Sarah grabbed Clarice and pulled her underneath the rack with her. She covered the older woman’s mouth.
“Well, since you’re asking, I’d say it was Carthage’s XQ. Yes, his personal pet project.” The Institute woman laughed. “OH, please! Do you really think that—” She laughed again. “Oh, of course, everyone knows that was supposed to be Carthage’s daughter, Sarah. But I’m sure you didn’t know that his daughter died.”