His father slowly pushed the door closed behind him, never breaking the incredulous stare that fixated on Quin. He crept forward, but his steps didn’t seem to close any distance. He raised a hand slowly and delicately touched his lower lip. He exhaled, likely for the first time since he’d entered the room.
“Is it… is it really you?” his father whispered.
Quin wasn’t sure what to say, or more so, he wasn’t sure if he could say anything at all. His throat seemed to swell. He held his hands together to keep them from shaking. Eventually, he found his voice.
“Yes, it’s me,” he replied. Quin had only wanted to get to the facts about The Prism and the note that his mother apparently wrote. However, the moment he saw his father this close, everything from his past came flooding back. He had questions now that he’d told himself he didn’t care to have answered. But he did care. “Why couldn’t you accept me for who I am?”
Tears welled in his father’s eyes. Quin was not expecting this reaction from his father, guilt. “I love you, Quin. I always have. I never thought any different of you when you decided that you were… that you wanted to change.”
Quin was taken aback, but not in a satisfying way. He felt foolish. “You loved me? It’s funny to hear you say that, seeing how you kicked me out when I wanted to start my treatment.”
“There is nothing I can do to rectify what your mother and I did. Your mother was the one that…”
Quin cut him off. “Don’t blame this on Mom. You’re just as guilty.”
Harold held his hands up in front of him in surrender. “I know that, Quin. Please, just hear me out.”
Quin nodded, permitting him to continue.
“Your mother was the one that did not approve of your choices, Quin, not me.” He slowly lowered his hands back down, and he walked forward and placed his hands on his desk, across from Quin. “I know I am just as guilty, Quin. I still let you leave, and it broke my heart to see you go. Your mother blackmailed me. She was always the more successful one in our studies. PYKSEL Industries reached out to her for this opportunity, not me. She said that if I didn’t let you go, she wouldn’t offer to take me with her. She threatened to ruin me, and I knew that she could.” The tears started to fall down his cheeks. He didn’t try to wipe them away, didn’t try to hide them. He just looked up and took a deep breath in through his nose as if he hoped to suck in the courage to continue speaking. “I was young, Quin. I was focused on my future, and the idea of losing it felt like a death sentence. I worked so hard, and I was blind to the fact that my future was right in front of me the whole time: you. It doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t fix what happened, and I don’t expect you to forgive me for what I did. I just want you to understand that I do love you, Quin. I think about you every single day. You’re so handsome, Quin. I wish I could have been there to help you through everything, emotionally and financially, and I’ll do anything I can from here on out, just name it.”
Quin held his composure. He wanted to get up and hug his father, tell him it’s all right. Tell him that they can get past it. But he didn’t. His father didn’t deserve that, not yet at least. But a huge weight was lifted off of his shoulders. Well, at least half of it.
“That’s nice to hear,” Quin said. “I would like to talk more about all of that sometime, but that’s not exactly why I’m here.”
Disappointment and understanding simultaneously shared a place on his father’s face. “Right.” He sighed. “What can I do for you… son?”
Quin looked down awkwardly at the table and smiled. Son. He never thought he would have the pleasure of being called that a day in his life. He forced a small cough to clear his throat and pulled the ripped paper out of his pocket and handed it to his father.
“Can you explain this?” he asked.
His father looked down at the letter. His eyes widened when he read the signature.
“That letter was written to Evan Derick. He worked for a rival company of PYKSEL that lost the contract to…” Quin raised his hands, gesturing to everything around him, “all of this. Do you know who that is?”
“I’ve only spoken to him on the phone, once, with your mother. I never got too involved. He was very young. He was a prodigy when it came to building technology. He supposedly started the basic outline when he was in high school. He contacted your mother when he was about nineteen, saying that he needed her help. I didn’t really see how this technology would be worth my time, but your mother did. She stayed in contact with him before PYKSEL reached out to offer her a position. She was doing research for him to fine tune the technology. That’s about all I know. They’d had a very long-lasting professional relationship. Almost five years.”
“But if she got the job here, why would she give him any help or whatever that note is? Why would she even entertain the idea of him coming at all?”
“I’m not sure, Quin. I didn’t know she’d even kept in contact with him since being brought on with PYKSEL. Your mother is a very private lady when it comes to business, even with me,” he said with a frustrated chuckle.
“Take a guess then,” Quin demanded.
His father pursed his lips and looked at Quin in defeat. “I really don’t know, Quin. It’s possible he signed up for the program and your mother tried to warn him against it. I’m sure there is more to that story but I can assure you I have no insight on what that may look like,” It was clear he was bothered by this as he said it. However, he still attempted to be as nonchalant as possible. But there was no hiding the concern in his eyes.
“But why shouldn’t he enter the final phase? Is it more dangerous?” Quin asked.
“Not any more than the others as far as I’m aware of. But you overestimate my power here, Quin. I do research. I help build stats for the program. I don’t have any part in what it looks like outside of those statistics. I haven’t the slightest idea about any trap, or whatever Karen and the rest of her staff have planned for you all.”
“Well, Mom apparently knows something, and she does the same thing,” Quin said.
“Like I said, your mother is very private when it comes to business. She knows how to get to the top, and she knows how to get herself on the inside of things,” he said. His father looked defeated.
Quin could tell his father didn’t know much. He could tell that he was trying. “Does she know I’m here?”
His father paused. “Ye.. yes,” he stammered. “I’m not sure at what point she knew, but she definitely knew after round one, phase one,” his father said. He looked up at Quin with a smirk. “You were the one to watch in that round Quin. Your leadership skills were… are… impeccable. Very few people thought to organize the three groups on a floor as one, and those that did were not organized in the slightest. You were the only one to create order in the chaos. I was proud of you.”
Quin choked back his tears. His father was proud of him. His parents had never expressed pride for him in his entire life. “Thank you,” Quin said softly. “What did she say?”
“Nothing,” he said honestly. “I tried to bring it up, and she pretended like she didn’t hear anything.”
His father’s candor hit Quin like a ton of bricks. But he was grateful for it. He didn’t want anything to be sugarcoated, not anymore.
“One last question before I go,” Quin said. He stood up, grabbing the picture on his father’s desk. He turned it around, showing it to his father. “Is this my brother?” Quin couldn’t hold his composure anymore. He started crying uncontrollably. “I have a baby brother?”
His father nodded. “Yes,” he cried. He rushed around the desk and hugged Quin.
Quin didn’t know what to do. He just cried. He didn’t reciprocate his father’s embrace, but he stood there, enjoying every second of the one-sided act of affection.
His father broke away and reached to wipe the tears from Quin’s face with his thumbs. “When all of this is over, you will meet him, I promise.”
Quin nodded, unable to speak. He walked towards the door.
“Thank you,” Quin said. “I need to get back though. Is it safe?”
“It should be. But, Quin, before you go…” His father sat down at his desk and pulled something from the drawer. He grabbed a pen and started writing on his lap. After a few seconds, there was a rip of perforated paper. “Here.” He held out a small rectangular piece of paper.
“What’s this?” Quin asked, reaching out for the paper.
“It’s an apology. It doesn’t fix what happened, but I want you to know I’m here for you. I know things haven’t been easy. Use it for medical bills, or a wedding for you and Blair, or both for all I care. Just… at least invite me, please,” his father smiled at Quin.
The small piece of paper sat weightless in Quin’s hands. The check was blank, ready to be filled in with whatever amount Quin desired. Faded on the check was a grey background with a triangle of a different shade of grey in the center. Two white lines hit the center of the triangle from both the upper and lower left side. A single white line struck horizontally through the triangle where those two beams met. On the right side of the triangle, a rainbow exited towards the bottom right of the paper. It was a prism. Quin placed the check on the desk and used three fingers to slide it a few inches towards his father.
“This doesn’t do me any good here. If I make it out, try again,” Quin said with a smirk.
“Fair enough,” his father said. A look of hope filled his face but was instantly replaced with worry. “Please be careful in there, Quin. Just survive. Don’t worry about winning this thing, you don’t need to.” His father reached for the check and held it up before sticking it back in his desk. “I’ll try to find out what I can, if I can.”
“Thanks.” Quin looked at his father once more before he opened the door and left.
His father actually cared about him, after all this time. As much as this excited Quin, he couldn’t let it distract him. He was still going to get through this and win the money. He couldn’t depend on his father. He was going to take care of things on his own terms. If his father was going to come back into his life when he got out of here, great. But he wasn’t going to take a handout from him. He seemed genuine, but that didn’t change what he’d done, and Quin wasn’t going to give him any sense of reconciliation, not yet anyway.
As Quin made his way back to his room, he felt disappointed. He didn’t get any information that he’d wanted about the note and his mother. All he had was an educated guess, a guess that didn’t even matter because Evan was dead. All Quin could do was go back and tell everyone the unsatisfactory news.