Just Once - Page 23

Annika frowned. My father you mean, not yours, she corrected after a timeless moment of consideration.

Yes, Art answered after some hesitation. Of course. Your father, not mine . . . that's who I meant.

Annika nodded, satisfied with his answer. Mom has been so brave since he left us.

She has, Art agreed.

It's been so hard on Father since she died . . . Annika began, but her thoughts trailed off in confusion.

. . . I'm all he has left of her, I understand that, Art finished. I just wish that didn't make him so overprotective of . . . Now it was Art's turn to share Annika's confusion. Me?

Arthur, Annika ventured hesitantly, Something's not right. We can not stay like this . . .

Yes, we can, Art assured her.

Yes, we-- Annika started to agree, then stopped herself, her eyes going wide. No, we can not! she thought firmly. Our thoughts and memories are already starting to overlap too much! We're losing ourselves in each other!

But we're so much greater together than apart! Art protested. And it's not like I'm any great loss--

Annika refused to let him finish. You would be to me! she mentally snapped. But if we stay like this much longer, there won't be a 'me' for it to matter to any longer! We're just not strong enough as individuals to stay merged like this!

In time we could be though, Art told her.

Yes, in time, Annika agreed, but not now! Right now we are running out of time!

You're right, Art's brain conceded even as his heart continued to rebel at the idea. We'll have to be careful when we practice this in the future, he concluded. You can't stay with me, obviously, so I'll just have to come with you. It won't be easy, but . . .

No, Annika interrupted him as gently as possible, you can not. My father will never accept you, especially after he learns . . . This time Annika deliberately let her thoughts trail off for Art to complete.

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