Embers by NR Levy, admin
1. Part 1 by NR Levy
2. Part 2 by NR Levy
3. Part 3 by NR Levy
Note: This is the last of a series. Read 'The Not so Wonderful Life''mu inka descarga gratis
, 'A Special Valentine'
by N.R. Levy
Sydney remembered being fascinated by a story he’d seen a few years ago about the wildfires that had devastated Southern California. It amazed him that once lush and vibrant land could be turned into little more than black, scalded earth.
That was what life had become for he and Parker and for all of those who loved Jarod the moment the reality of the pretender’s death had set in. Every day seemed to resemble a ravaged and devastated landscape left to try and find some small trace of life with which to rebuild. Since his phone had rang and he’d heard the voice of a man named Bailey Malone telling him to come to the cabin right away, nothing in the world seemed as horrible to Sydney as the grief that weighed down on them like leaden stone.
By the time he’d reached the cabin, the place where his brother had died just two years earlier, Malone and his colleague, a woman named Rachel Burke, had managed to coax Parker outside. She sat on the steps, a blanket wrapped around her as police officers and FBI Agents moved in and out of the cabin. He saw a body bag being carried out by two paramedics, and his heart seized thinking it was Jarod. It was only as he stepped inside that he realized his mistake. Jarod still lay there on the ground, his body covered so that the terrible, bleeding wounds that had taken his life went unseen.
Sydney was not sure how long he stood there, but he suddenly realized that he had been left alone in the room. Alone – already the reality had begun to sink in. Jarod was not here anymore despite the 6’3” form lying on the floor. He did not move the blanket from Jarod’s face.
Somehow, Sydney knew he wanted to remember those eyes wide with curiosity and anger and wonder and amusement. He did not want to see them closed and lifeless. Instead he reached under and took one hand in his and moved it to his chest, pressing it close over where his heart beat.
“I promise, Jarod, I promise you that I will make sure she’s all right.”
He replaced Jarod’s hand under the blanket and stood. After a moment, Sydney headed out to the front porch. He was shocked to see that Malone
and Burke were the only two law enforcement officers still there. The two of them were standing to near the front porch steps. Parker had discarded the blanket she’d been wrapped in earlier and now stood at the far end of the porch facing the lake. Sydney chose to step toward the two FBI agents to find out what would happen next.
“I’m very sorry, Dr. Green.” Sydney looked at Bailey Malone’s face, surprised that such a gruff looking man had such a gentle voice.
“Miss Parker has asked that she be allowed to take Jarod’s body. Since he doesn’t officially exist in any database anywhere, I didn’t think that was a problem. Our report will simply say that I tracked Lyle down here after his escape and my attempt to arrest him ended in his death.”
Sydney, noting the continuing silence of Rachel Burke, simply nodded. The female agent turned to glance in Parker’s direction. Then Burke suddenly bolted from the porch, racing toward the black Suburban that sat parked beside the cabin. Malone tipped his hat to Sydney, and then turned and headed toward his partner. It was clear to both men that there was nothing more to be said.
In moments, the black Suburban was heading down the driveway to make its long journey to the airport, and Sydney was left to try and help the wounded and fragile woman who stood across from him. How, he wondered, now that the words had been spoken, would he keep his promise to Jarod?
With those thoughts on his mind, he was surprised to look up and see that Parker had walked over to him. He searched her eyes and saw that she had pulled something akin to a steel mask around herself. Steel was perhaps all that would protect her. Certainly even the strongest curtain of ice would have melted and left the famous Ice Queen drowning in her pain. Sydney could see in those eyes that she had a plan, and he knew he would follow it wherever it led.
It led back to the Centre. He had carried Jarod’s body out of the cabin and placed in the backseat of the car Parker and Jarod had driven here so recently. Then he had taken the wheel and driven silently back to Blue Cove as Parker stared out the window, lost in a place that he darednot disturb. She did not speak until they arrived at the Centre.
“Stop in front of the building.”
He glanced over at her, uncertain she meant what she was saying, but that one glance told him that there was no doubt she meant him to do exactly what she had instructed him to do. So Sydney stopped the car and waited to see what she would do next.
“Let me see your phone, Sydney.”
Sydney nodded and handed her the phone. She dialed a number into the pad quickly and waited just a moment before speaking.
“Come outside. The front lot. Come now.”
With that, she disconnected the line and then handed the phone back to Sydney. He watched, fascinated, as she climbed from the car, seemingly unaware that her designer clothes were now covered with the blood of the man she loved. He had never seen Parker so cool or composed, and it terrified him to see her this way now.
As he thought about his feelings, the front doors of the Centre opened, and Mr. Parker walked out, flanked by Raines and a crew of sweepers. Sydney noticed that Sam was among them, which surprised him a bit. Since when did Sam do anything for Mr. Parker?
“Angel, what is it?” The chairman spoke, his eyes not registering his daughter’s appearance for several moments. Once he did, once he saw the blood all over her, his brow furrowed and he narrowed his gaze. “What’s happened?”
Parker walked around to the driver’s side of the car then, and she opened the back door. Without looking down, she reached out and grabbed the blanket that covered Jarod, throwing it back. She then watched with no emotion as looks ranging from shock to disbelief crossed the faces of everyone who had joined them from the Centre. The chairman stepped closer, looking at the body and then up at his daughter.
“You – you killed him?”
“No, your son did. And Jarod killed him. If you want his body, you’ll have to call the FBI.”
“Lyle did this?”
“Don’t act so surprised, Daddy. And don’t act so disappointed. Dead or alive, isn’t that what you said?”
Mr. Parker took a step back from his daughter as her bitter words radiated out at him. She was not yelling, her voice still even and unemotional, yet somehow that seemed worse than when had she railed at him like a shrieking harpy.
“Angel, I... You’ve done your job. You brought him back. Let the sweepers take him inside and –“
That was when Sydney figured out why Sam was there. At some point during the last few hours, perhaps when he’d been in the cabin saying his goodbye to Jarod, Parker had called her trusted sweeper. Sydney knew this because the moment her father mentioned taking Jarod’s body, Sam moved to stand between his fellow sweepers and the car in which the fallen pretender lay.
“No, Daddy.” Miss Parker took a step closer to her father as she spoke. “You will not take Jarod anywhere. He’s dead, end of story.”
“We have to do tests, Angel, make certain that –“
“You will do nothing more to him, do you understand me? You and your son and this monstrosity have done enough to him. You will not get the chance to defile his body, too. I brought him here so you could see with your own eyes that your pretender was gone. Now that you have, I’m taking him.”
This is a sequel to a series of stories entitled “The Not So Wonderful Life,” “A Special Valentine,” and “Afterglow.”
At some point in the last four weeks, Parker had tried to calculate just how many days in her 32 years on earth she had spent grieving. She hadn’t reached an exact figure, mostly because she’d become exhausted just from the thought. That was all she did now--think.
She thought about the look on Jarod’s face as his life slipped away from her. She thought about the way his laugh had echoed through the cabin just an hour before his death. Mostly, she thought about the emptiness she felt in her heart. Nothing could convince her that she would ever feel anything else again but the hollowness she felt now.
Sydney kept trying, and so did Ben and Broots. Even Debbie’s smiles had failed to rouse Parker’s spirit in the weeks just passed. She understood why they tried, knew that it came from their love for her, but she could not return it to them, not anymore. So to protect herself from doing so, she had just stopped living. Were it not for the brief periods of time when Sydney forced her out of bed and onto the porch each day, she would not have even left her bed. No, her mother’s bed, she reminded herself, another person whose life she had been left to grieve forever.
Now as the sun made its way up into the morning sky, Parker knew it was almost time to face Sydney’s loving, cheerful smile once again. A part of her was beginning to hate him for that smile. How dare he, how dare anyone expect her to feel again, to want to go out and live again. Never. She could not afford to endanger the small sliver of her heart that remained alive. It was all that she had left. It was all she thought of. Eventually, she would need what little feeling she had left to muster her strength for one last task that needed tending, but for now, she chose to simply remain in her quiet, protective web.
Parker heard Debbie saying something to her father as they passed by her door, and then the familiar footfalls of Sydney climbing the stairs. She was about to yell out and tell him to leave her alone when a wave of nausea washed over her. Moving more swiftly than she had in four long weeks, Parker raced to the bathroom, barely making it before what little she’d eaten the day before came back out into the world. After several moments, the terrible vomiting finally stopped, and just as she reached out to flush the toilet a towel dangled near her face. She didn’t need anyone to tell her that Sydney was the one holding it.
“Sydney, please spare me the lecture today, all right? I feel sick enough as it is.”
“You need fresh air, Parker. Exercise. Why don’t you take Debbie for a walk to the lake? She’s been wanting to go, but she’ll wants to wait for you.”
As Sydney spoke, Parker had stood up and rinsed her mouth out at the sink. She took the towel Sydney had offered earlier and wiped her face with it, then tossed it on the counter.
“Tell Broots to take her. I don’t feel up to it.”
“Parker, she needs you. We all need you.”
Sighing heavily, Parker let her eyes fall on Sydney’s face. For the first time in a month she looked at him, really look at him, and a twinge of guilt struck her heart when she saw him. Sydney had aged 10 years in four weeks. She knew a big part of that was Jarod’s loss, but she also knew that another part was his worry over her, and Parker hated that almost as much as she hated the cavernous hole in her heart that she was only beginning to learn to live with.
“I’m sorry, Sydney. I want to...I just can’t. Not yet.”
Sydney saw the honesty reflected in Parker’s eyes, and he knew she was telling him the absolute truth. At the moment, she had no concept of how to let anyone need her or love her. It would take time for that. But she had said she wanted to, and that meant they hadn’t lost her, too. He nodded, and Parker lowered her eyes, and then headed back toward the bedroom. By the time Sydney followed, she had returned to her bed and was settling underneath the covers. Sydney walked toward her and eased himself down on the side of the bed.
“Sydney, please just let me sleep.”
“Do you sleep, Parker? I don’t. I stay awake and I think about all the times when I could have done something that would have made a difference to you or to Jarod. I think about how in the world I’m going to keep the promise I made to Jarod.”
“What did you promise him?”
“That I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. How will I make certain of that, Parker, when you don’t care about what happens to you anymore?”
Parker had no answer for Sydney, and she lay quietly until he finally gave up and left the room. She hid there all day, her mind working on sorting out all of the bits and pieces of tattered emotion that now made up the sum total of who she was. By the time the sun began to set, Parker had come to a decision. She could feel nothing any longer but hatred, and so she would act on what she felt and hope that somehow in doing so she would find some way to survive.
She waited until she was certain that all of the rest of the inn’s occupants had long since gone to sleep, then she climbed from the bed and dressed. She packed nothing. Anything she needed, she would find along the way. It would be best to travel light anyway, for what she had in mind. Still, there was one stop Parker had to make before she could drive away from Maine.
It amazed her how easily she found her way in the darkness. She knew instinctively when she had reached the right place, and she knelt down, her hands touching upon the last remaining petals of the season’s wood anemones. Parker caressed the small shrubs and thought about the beautiful spirit that now lived inside of them.
That was all she said. What more was there? Knowing that, Parker stood and quietly made her way back to the inn and down the driveway. It was hours before anyone realized she had gone. Sydney had woke and gone to her room, and there he found note that read simply, “If you want me to go on living, then let me be. Don’t try to find me, and don’t try to stop me.”
Anguish is a horrible thing to watch. One would think there is no such thing as anguish in heaven, but when someone has been ripped out of a life they truly loved at the very brink of a long-awaited happiness, it’s impossible for them to accept such a thing without also shouldering a great amount of despair. Nothing, not even the beauties of the universes mysteries can make it run its course any faster than that particular person will allow.
Jarod was not allowing his grief to end quickly or quietly. Thomas, Catherine, Faith and Kyle stayed with him in shifts, often watching from the shadows because when Jarod saw them, his rage seemed to increase rather than diminish. He screamed at them for allowing it to happen, though they all knew that it was only his anger that caused him to blame them. He needed to blame someone, and despite all the evidence before him, Jarod couldn’t seem to acknowledge God enough to be angry with him.
Not surprisingly, the spirit who had the most success in getting close to Jarod was Catherine. Though she was still subjected to the Pretender’s rages, her resemblance to his love seemed to get her nearer to him than any of the others, and in truth, she had the most patience with him. So it didn’t surprise Thomas that he found Catherine with Jarod when he went to tell her of Parker’s latest mission.
Jarod’s heaven, the one that had been created for him upon his arrival, was a replica of Parker’s house. Thomas’ was the same. Faith had explained to him that the last thought a person had as they died was of what had made them happiest in life. By the time your soul reached heaven, a place that would always remind you of that happiness was waiting for you. At first, Thomas had thought this the cruelest trick. To see that house everyday and be reminded of what he’d lost...but now, after a long time, he saw the beauty in it. All he had to do at any point in his day was close his eyes and imagine Parker sitting on the chaise in her mother’s studio, and suddenly all of his sadness disappeared. He would always hate that he had not been meant to live out her life with her, but imagining her alive and happy had become the joy of his new existence.
He walked up onto the familiar porch and opened the door of the house. Jarod was curled up in front of the fireplace, his back to Catherine, who sat on the sofa watching over him. She looked up at Thomas’ entrance, and stood up to go greet him, knowing that Jarod would not acknowledge either action.
“Hi. How is he?”
“The same. He just won’t talk to anyone.”
“Well, I’ll stay with him now. You better get back to Parker.”
“Why?” Catherine asked.
“She’s gone after them. She’s going after the Centre.”
Catherine sighed heavily. Though she had expected this, a small shred of hope had remained that her daughter might take a different path. Of course, that path would have been easier, which meant her girl would have none of it. Easy had never been the style of Parker women.
“Catherine, did you hear me?”
Blinking, Catherine looked up and realized had stopped listening to
Thomas and had, in fact, not heard what he’d just said.
“No, I’m sorry.”
“I said ‘isn’t it time we let her know?’”
“Soon, Thomas. She needs more time. I better go find her.”
Thomas nodded as Catherine headed out of the door. Thomas made his way to the sofa she had just occupied and sat down. Jarod did not turn to look at him, instead focusing on the fire, but to Thomas’ complete surprise, his friend actually spoke.
“Are you my babysitter for the rest of the day?”
“I guess so, Jarod, if that’s how you want to look at it.”
“Is there some other way to look at it?”
There was a small silence as Thomas thought about what to say next. Jarod had literally not spoken a civil word to anyone in the weeks he’d been here. Thomas finally had an opening, and he didn’t want to blow it.
“Well, you could look at it as a chance to talk with someone who knows exactly how you feel. And before you tell me I can’t understand, remember how I ended up here, Jarod.”
And then Jarod did something else he hadn’t done in days...he turned and looked at Thomas.
“I knew while it was happening that I couldn’t fight it, that I had to give in, but...how am I supposed to do this? How am I supposed to be here and know every day for eternity that I can’t be with her anymore?”
“The same way I did. The same way Catherine has. You do what you can to help Parker live without you. It’s all you can do for her now.”
Jarod closed his eyes and turned back toward the fire. After a few long moments, he opened his eyes, but kept them fixed on the flames.
“Is it true?”
“Is it true that she’s...are they really with her?”
“Yes, Jarod, they are. She doesn’t know yet. Catherine says she needs to deal with more of her grief before she knows. But they are with her, and they are all going to be okay.”
Thomas watched as Jarod nodded quietly. They didn’t talk anymore after that, but Tommy felt as if part of the wall that Jarod had put up around himself had finally come down. Now all they had to do was hope Parker didn’t have any success in rebuilding the walls that both of these men had helped her pull apart not so very long ago.
It happened slowly, carefully and methodically. At first, no one was even worried. A substation exposed to local authorities...things like that happened. An FBI investigation at one of their genetics research labs...an unhappy occurrence, but nothing that couldn’t be managed. No one seemed to realize until it was too late that a pattern was emerging. That before each ripple broke in the still waters that were the Centre, a tall, stunning brunette in high-heels and dark sunglasses had been there first.
Parker had counted on that. With Broots gone, security at the Centre was at her mercy, and she used that and her experience as head of the division to take the Centre apart a piece at a time, just as she had Jarod had planned it all along.
She had been gone from Maine for three weeks now, and in that time she had managed to begin local law enforcement investigations at eight different Centre facilities. During that time, the FBI and Naval Intelligence had both been alerted to problems in the “research methodologies” of several covert simulations they had purchased from Parker’s former employers. And while Centre staffers ran around crazed, trying to figure out what was causing all the leaks in their “well-run ship,” Parker was secretly tipping off media outlets about the sick experiments they were conducting at three research hospitals in the southwest.
It all should have made her happy, but it didn’t. Being alone as all of the dominos she and Jarod had built together began to fall into a nicely patterned row did nothing but remind her how alone she would be for the rest of her life.
Now Parker sat in her hotel room, feeling once again as if she were death warmed over. She knew her upset stomachs were probably a result of the terrible eating she was doing, but half the time she was too sick to eat, and the rest of it she seemed to only want to eat things that were bad for her.
She also felt terrible in her heart. When she managed to push her own grief aside for a few moments, Parker knew that Sydney and Broots must be worried sick about her, but she couldn’t bring herself to call them, mostly because she knew they’d try and convince her to come home, and right now, she just couldn’t.
Sighing, Parker stood up from the table where the remains of her spaghetti dinner were left to sit. She crossed the room and climbed into bed, pulling the covers around her. No sooner was she snuggled into her blankets than she heard a loud thunder crack outside, and suddenly a pouring rainstorm began. Good, she thought. The rain suited her mood.
From the corner, Catherine and Jarod watched her. His conversation with Thomas had proved to be the breakthrough for Jarod. Though his heart still ached every time he thought about Parker, which was every moment of every day, he had started to accept that by learning to help her, he could learn to watch her live life without him.
Now here he was, standing in the same room with her, and he could feel her pain like a pulse inside of his own body. God, she was so lost. He had to find some way to help her. The question was, how. And then Catherine gave him the answer.
“You know, whenever she misses me too much, I give her a good dream. Sometimes, it’s us walking together in the woods. Other times, it’s of the future I hope she’ll have. It’s not hard. You just see what you want her to see, and then she’ll see it too.”
Jarod nodded, then walked over to the bed where his love lay sleeping. She had drifted off under their gaze, but he could see that she was restless. Parker was clearly not having a good dream, and when he reached out to touch her, Jarod saw why. She was reliving his death. He could see what was happening in her mind as easily as if he were watching a movie, and it stunned him at first. Then he remembered Catherine’s words, and so he forced his mind to focus in on what he wanted to give to her.
Parker was on the ground, holding Jarod in her arms, her tears washing over his body. She felt him slipping away again, felt him leaving her, but she knew she could not stop it. Then she heard his voice utter those words that she still didn’t understand.
‘It’s not over. Our dream isn’t finished.’
Why had he said that to her? How could their dream not be over when he was gone? Parker saw herself holding him, saw the blood everywhere, and her heart beat faster and faster as the pain and confusion of that moment returned to her. Then suddenly it all disappeared. She was no longer in the cabin with Jarod’s lifeless body. Instead, she was in her mother’s studio at home, a big soft quilt laid out beneath her on the floor. And she was looking at something. Parker waited as it all came into better focus, and she took a deep breath as she realized what held her attention so. Two tiny faces...perfect, happy baby faces with blue eyes and Jarod’s smile. They were lying on the quilt side by side, and Parker saw that she was leaning over them with a toy, making the babies giggle.
‘It’s not over. Our dream isn’t finished.’
Parker woke with a start, her blankets still tightly wrapped around her. Suddenly dates began to rush through her head, and though she had been through hell these past two months, two decades of remembering the all important start date made it easy for her to remember how long it had been since she’d had one.
“Oh, God. Oh, my God.”
Parker threw back the blankets, her hands instantly moving to her abdomen. And suddenly she knew what Jarod had been trying to tell her.
Broots sat in the passenger seat of the car, his wireless modem hooking him up to the records he’d been searching for all morning. Miss Parker was nearly as hard to track as Jarod had been, and it had taken them every day since she’d disappeared to get any kind of lead on her. Actually, it had taken Major Charles. Broots still remembered how he’d stood there, mouth open, as he sat on the front porch of Ben’s inn and watched Jarod’s father walk up the driveway. Thankfully, Sydney had been there to utter some kind of intelligent speech, because it had taken nearly fifteen minutes for Broots’ brain to get over the shock of seeing the major there.
From the look on Charles’ face, it was obvious he’d heard about his son. Apparently, one of the things Miss Parker had done after disappearing was contact a few of Jarod’s old friends, those he’d made while out helping the little guy. She told them of Jarod’s death and asked them to please make sure his father was told where his son had been laid to rest. It had taken barely a week for the man to show up here, and Sydney led the major away to the path that led toward the field where they had spread Jarod’s ashes.
Later that night, Broots had sat with the three other men, Ben, Sydney, and Charles, and they all filled the pretender’s father in on the way Jarod and Miss Parker had come together to defeat Lyle and to try and work against the Centre. Charles listened intently, rarely interrupting with anything more than a nod. When they had finished, he leveled his eyes at Sydney.
“Where is she?”
Sydney shook his head. “I don’t know. She left a little over a week ago, and I have no clue where she’s gone, though Broots does think he knows what she’s doing.”
That was when Broots showed Charles the chart of the “problems” the Centre had begun having almost immediately after Miss Parker had disappeared. Charles looked the data over and then he looked at Sydney and Broots.
“She’s gone after them.”
“I think she feels she has to,” Sydney said, his voice tired and low, “in order for her to find any peace, she has to make certain no one else can be hurt by the Centre.”
Charles looked at the data again, then he straightened his shoulders, shifting the grief he was only beginning to feel into the background.
“Then we have to find her. I’m not going to let anything happen to Parker. She’s all I have left of my son.”
And with that, they had begun their search. It was a challenge to say the least. Miss Parker was too smart to use credit and her ability to generate fake Ids and to blend into the general public definitely made Broots wonder again why the Centre had never trained Miss Parker as a pretender. She would have been an amazing one.
She was also timing her strikes beautifully. By the time they even heard a whisper of another problem at a Centre facility, Miss Parker had come and gone, which left them in the same position they’d so often been in with Jarod...a day late.
They’d gotten more help in their effort when Sam had sent Broots an e-mail alerting the former Centre technician that he had finally gotten clear of the Centre. The group had been cautious in meeting with Sam, hesitant they were walking into a Centre trap, but they had found only Sam, a few pounds thinner after spending more than a month on the run from the Centre, but none the worse for the wear. It was Sam and the major who had come up with the idea to use Broots’ probability program to pick the two places Parker would be most likely to target next and then split into two teams and put the locations under surveillance. Ben would stay at the inn in case she decided to return and to take care of Debbie.
That had been a week ago. Broots was with Major Charles in Seattle, and Sydney and Sam were in Dallas. Both had targets that fit the profile of those Miss Parker had already struck. Broots and Charles had done reconnaissance on the Seattle cryogenics laboratory for four days when they’d noticed her. She was dressed in the typical lab coat of the other SeCry employees, but there was no mistaking those legs or that walk, not after Broots had spent so many hours learning every detail of both in the past five years. Unfortunately, they’d lost her in the crowd of employees trying to leave for the day and they’d been worried they had lost their chance. But the next day, when no news stories broke and no police cars showed up, they realized that Parker had not yet put her play into action.
That had led them back to SeCry today, and they had planned to do surveillance the entire day until Broots probability program came through again. His system had picked the five most logical places Miss Parker could be staying, and Broots had finally hit pay dirt on location number four. A woman named Jamie Dover was staying in a local hotel. She had also recently started at SeCry.
They pulled into the hotel parking lot and headed inside. Rather than bother trying to fight with the front desk over a room number, Broots had hacked into their system, and he now looked over at the major.
The major nodded and they both headed toward the elevator. They climbed to the third floor. They approached room 341 to find the door open, and a bellboy walking out with two suitcases. The bellboy nodded politely to them, and the two men walked inside, hoping they were too late.
This time, as it turned out, they were right on time.
Miss Parker was putting a few last items into her briefcase when she realized someone was in the room with her. She turned around to see her friend and the father of the man she loved. Broots smiled nervously at her, and Parker returned the smile to him, then all of her attention turned to Charles. Slowly, she walked toward the older man, and soon she was right in front of him. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, she burst into tears and Broots had to turn away before his own waterworks began to flow.
Charles immediately pulled Parker into his arms, his strength holding her up as her grief flowed freely for the first time in weeks. She was no longer fighting it, trying to hold it in or push it away. She knew now that she couldn’t do that. The realization she’d had last night was one too powerful to allow for selfish thought anymore.
“I’m sorry, Charles. I’m so sorry.”
Parker felt his arms close tighter around her, and then she felt the rumbling of his chest as he spoke low and soft to her.
“It wasn’t your fault. I’ve known since that day in North Carolina that my son’s love for you was too strong to let anything but death keep him away from you. If I had to lose him, I’m just grateful I have you to remind me of how amazing he was.”
Parker smiled then, and she pulled back, looking at Charles and seeing all the tiny things about him that were Jarod.
“You’ll have more than me.”
Broots turned back to look at them, wondering what his friend had meant. Parker saw him step closer, and she reached out, taking his hand.
“And I’m going to need all of you. I’m pregnant.”
Both men stood shocked, but that shock quickly turned to joy. For the first time since Jarod had died, Parker was smiling, really truly smiling, and they all suddenly had reason to hope again.
“Oh, Parker, that’s wonderful.” Charles spoke as he hugged her again, his heart suddenly feeling a bit of its pain replaced with a sliver of joy. “I’m just glad we found you before you disappeared again.”
“I wasn’t disappearing, I was coming home. I don’t just need your help with the baby. I need your help with the Centre. I have to speed things up. I will not let them hurt Jarod’s child.”
And both men nodded, knowing they would do whatever it took to help her.
Across the room, Jarod and Catherine stood watching the scene unfold. Catherine could see the mixture of happiness and pain that played on Jarod’s face, and she leaned over close to him, letting him feel her presence.
“You see, Jarod. You will always be part of her life. You will always be there to help her.”
Jarod nodded, but his voice came out choked with emotion as he responded.
“It’s not the same.”
And Catherine, with full understanding, put her hand on his back and tried to comfort him.
Disclaimer in Part 1. This concludes the series that began with "The Not So Wonderful Life." The characters of Alex and Cole Mallory and Lucas C. Redmond are borrowed, with permission from "The House that Jarod Built," by Trish (thanks, Sweetie).
by N.R. Levy
The sun streamed through Parker's open window, warming the breeze that she'd been enjoying for the past few hours. She should have been sleeping of course, but that was getting more and more difficult to do. Eight months into her pregnancy, Parker had discovered a level of physical discomfort she'd never imagined. No position was comfortable for more than five minutes, and the array of pillows that she constantly shifted from place to place on the bed did little to help. So, as was often the case, she had finally given up trying to sleep around 3 a.m., opened her window, and then lay back down to read one of the stacks of baby care books that she'd asked Broots to order her.
Now, with the bright sun alerting her to just how many hours she'd already been awake, Parker carefully climbed from the bed and wrapped herself in her bathrobe. She then made her way into the kitchen to turn on the tea kettle and to grab breakfast for Bunny. As the water in the kettle began to react to the stove's heat, Parker padded out to the rabbit's new cage on the back porch - he'd outgrown the one Jarod had originally sent him in - and placed two big juicy carrots inside. Bunny eagerly chomped away at the offerings, and Parker spared the furry creature a few gentle pats before closing the door and returning to the shrill whistle now emanating from the kitchen.
In moments, Parker had a steaming cup of apple-cinnamon tea in one hand and a chocolate croissant from her favorite bakery in the other. She used her expanding belly to help steady the plate as she opened the door to her mother's studio and made her way inside. After settling down onto the chaise, Parker baked in the warm sunshine that filled the room and enjoyed her breakfast.
Enjoyed...it was still a hard word for her to accept in her life, but she was learning that she had no choice. Jarod was gone, and though she would never have believed it possible for her to have one happy moment the rest of her life, small snippets of enjoyable, almost joyous things kept creeping into her world, reminding her that, no matter how much she didn't want it to be true, life had and would continue to go on.
Absently, Parker's hand ran over her stomach as she turned her gaze away from the window and toward the contents of the room. A brief flash went through her mind, and she could see the room as it had been during her childhood - full of easels and canvases, her mother standing in the middle of it all in a pair of old jeans and a white cotton shirt she'd loved to paint in. The memory made Parker smile - another one of those moments she had no control over.
The room was now filled with boxes and envelopes from all over the country. They had begun to arrive nearly six months ago - just after Charles and Broots had found her in that hotel room in Seattle. She hadn't even known about them at first. It was only after their work against the Centre had been completed that Sam had even broached the subject. God, that seemed like such a long time ago now.
She had returned to Maine with her best friend and the father of the man she loved determined to close the dark chapter of her and Jarod's past with the Centre. It was the only way she could ensure the future safety of her children, and she had known from the moment she'd accepted her condition that she would need help to accomplish her goal. Within days of her return, Sam and Sydney had also made their way back to Ben's inn, and the planning of the Centre's downfall had begun.
Much discussion had been devoted to who would be a part of the mission they were planning. Though his help would have proved invaluable and probably would have sped them along even faster, Parker and the Major had vetoed involving Jarod's clone Jeremy in their scheme. He was still just a boy, and he was having a hard enough time dealing with his brother's death. Thankfully, during the months since Charles had last seen his son, he'd found Emily, and Jeremy and she were together to share their grief.
Parker also wanted Broots out of the equation, not because she didn't need him, but because she wanted he and Debbie safely away from any potential Centre plots. The technician, showing more backbone than he'd displayed in nearly five years, had slammed his hand against the table and told her in no uncertain terms that she had risked her life for him and his daughter, and he'd be damned if he was leaving her now. Sydney had almost burst out laughing at the force of his friend's outrage; it was so out of character. Parker remembered that moment with a smile and a tiny sense of pride - Broots had stood his ground well, and she'd been forced to admit that she really did want him to stay.
The truth was that as Charles and Broots reviewed all the little pretends Miss Parker had launched as offensives against the Centre, and thanks to the groundwork Jarod had lain prior to his death, the Centre was already extremely vulnerable. Coupled with Lyle being out of the picture, their task was far easier than they could have imagined.
The bottom line was that Jarod and Parker had figured out together that destroying the Centre wasn't about getting rid of its leadership. To destroy that house of horrors, what they had to do was shine light inside of it. They had to make certain that none of the inhabitants that thrived in darkness could escape the bright glare of microscopic investigation they would turn onto the place. That would finally break the back of the Centre, keeping it from reforming because each and every person associated with it would be publicly identified, and thus, unable to operate in secret.
It wasn't that things had become simple, though they were certainly working in less dangerous territory with Lyle already burning in hell, but still, their work had been cut out for them. No, it was more that Parker felt such a definite sense of purpose now, and nothing, not a connection to her "father," not the pain of her past, none of it would stop her from finding a way to protect her family.
Ironically, it was a pretend Jarod had completed just before the insanity with Lyle had gotten out of control that led to the Centre's downfall. He'd worked as the home administrator at The Sutterfield Home for Children for several months, gaining access to their files. In those files, he'd found the historical records of the facility, and there he found the truth about the origins of the prison where they'd spent their lives.
Those origins had chilled them all to the bone once Broots had decoded Jarod's files. She understood while reading the reports why Jarod hadn't told her about what he'd found during those dark days...it truly would have sent her over the edge. The truth was, she wasn't certain if it was her morning sickness or finding out about how sick and manipulative the Centre's founding fathers had rally been that had sent her running over and over again to the restroom to empty her stomach.
The records from the Sutterfield Home indicated that it had been used for years as a "staging ground" of sorts for genetically manufactured children. Long before in vitro and artificial insemination had become standard fare, the Centre's founders had been using the techniques to create parentless children with superior genetics. Though the records didn't say it clearly, Jarod had suspected that the procedures had been taken from the notes of concentration camp doctors famous for their terrifying experiments in Nazi Germany.
Those "special" children had been placed, through the Sutterfield, in homes with parents who had higher than average intelligence so that their natural gifts would be fostered until the Centre, which had still been in the planning stages at that time, was ready to bring the children "home." Two of those children had been Catherine Jamison and Margaret Campbell. Even then, Parker realized, she and Jarod's fates had been linked to one another's.
It turned out that Jarod had discovered the Delaware corporation's connection to the Sutterfield home during the pretend where he'd met Thomas. He'd found out that the founders of the orphanage had not been working in concert with the Centre, but had been easy targets because family tragedies had kept their involvement limited. By the time one of the relatives had taken over again, all of the Centre's children were gone.
Parker had spent several nights reading through Jarod's notes during those first few days, piecing together the past and deciphering what it was Jarod had intended to do with the information. Though he hadn't explained it completely, it became clear to Parker that everything hinged on the real identity of a man named Victor Hamilton. She had heard her father mention the name when she was young, but Parker hadn't heard the name in years and had no idea who he was. That meant she knew what their first step had to be.
The group contacted Bailey Malone and arranged a meeting. He had been surprised to hear from them, but was more than ready to help them obliterate the Centre. Though he hadn't yet been privy to the whole truth behind the evil conglomerate, he had learned enough about them from the VCTF's pursuit of Lyle to know that it needed to be destroyed.
Malone had set his associate George to work with Broots and the two of them had "accessed" several databases all over the globe in search of the information they needed. They had hit the jackpot in the records kept by Mossad, the Israeli secret service, on suspected war criminals who had disappeared with new identities. Victor Hamilton had been one of those men. His real name was Gerhardt Ghimler, and he had, in fact, been one of the infamous doctors from those terrifying days in the German camps.
At the end of the war, he had used his considerable resources to escape to Canada, where he took on the name of Victor Hamilton. Under that name, he married and began a family. But when the Mossad had gotten close to uncovering his identity shortly after its formation in 1951, Hamilton's family had vanished into thin air, and no one seemed to know what had happened to them.
Charles and Broots focused on searching for the truth about Hamilton. The subject matter was far too sensitive for Parker to want Sydney involved, and so it fell to him during that time to be her personal support system. It had helped them both. Sydney was still fighting his grief over Jarod, and all that seemed to help was spending time with the woman the pretender had loved.
He had watched as she struggled with the odd mixture of emotions she faced every day-happiness over her pregnancy, pain over Jarod's loss, anger fueled by each new discovery they made about the Centre-it was a dangerous tightrope she walked, and Sydney had often feared she would misstep and fall. But she never had, and Parker knew that was in large part to the support he had given her during that time.
While checking into the decades long hunt for Victor Hamilton, Charles had stumbled onto the name of an American CIA agent who had worked with Mossad to try and nab the fugitive. Because the man was also an ex-Marine, he agreed to speak to Charles about the case. What the Major learned had changed everything for them, making the destruction of the Centre even more of a moral imperative than it had been before, though that had seemed impossible until Herb Stanley revealed his story.
Herb had been assigned by the CIA to help three Mossad agents set up Hamilton for capture in Quebec. At the time, Hamilton had been involved in the formation of an elite research facility. The group had purchased land to build their new lab in the small community of Blue Cove, Delaware. They had followed him for days, preparing to capture him when they observed Hamilton at a meeting with a black man and an Japanese woman they had never been able to identify, and man they knew only as Mr. Parker. Within hours of that meeting, their quarry had vanished, and Gerhardt Ghimler nee Victor Hamilton was never seen again. Though efforts had been made to stop the opening of The Centre based on their possible connection to Hamilton, someone had decided to let it exist - and that had set Parker and Jarod's lives in motion.
Agent Stanley copied all of the files he'd kept on the case and gave them to Charles. Those files included something many of the others had not...the last known photo of Hamilton. And it was that photo that sealed it. Because the moment Parker saw it, she knew exactly where Victor Hamilton had gone, and why it was no one could find him. Gerhardt Ghimler/Victor Hamilton was the sole surviving member of the original Triumvirate.
That was all the group needed to bring the Centre down like a house of cards. They contacted Mossad and let them know where Ghimler could be found. His exposure allowed Malone to crack the Centre like a rotten egg, letting the black, runny insides leak out for everyone to see and cringe at. Mr. Parker, Mr. Raines and the two remaining Triumvirate members were arrested, and their trials were still ongoing. The United States attorneys prosecuting them were salivating at the stacks of evidence they had to use against the defendants. The subordinates of the Centre, doctors, nurses, technicians, secretaries, and a legion of men known as "sweepers" all turned on their former bosses in an effort to save themselves, and it meant certain ruin for those who had once sent waves of terror through the halls where Jarod and Miss Parker had lost their innocence and their childhoods so long ago.
In all of this, however, no agency ever found a record of Mr. Parker's daughter, not even a birth certificate, nor did they ever find mention of a men named Sydney Green, Jonathan Broots, Sam Turk, Jarod, Kyle, Jeremy, Emily, Charles or Margaret Russell, nor did they find anything to indicate that a man known as Angelo but who's name was really Timothy Sullivan had ever existed. Broots often thanked the heavens that Jarod had managed to complete the record-wipeout program and given the disks to Miss Parker long before he lost his life. He had given them all a second chance.
Then it had finally been time for Parker to come home. She of course did not come alone. As Jarod had done before him, Charles took up residence in the house Thomas had remodeled during the final months of his life. The Major was soon joined by Jeremy and Emily, and the home Tommy had loved so much was finally filled with a family's love. Broots and Debbie came home as well, picking up their lives as best they could. And of course, there was Sydney, who managed his never ending grief over Jarod by doing the only thing he could do - look after Parker.
Then there was Sam. Smiling, Parker wondered again when that man ever slept. Whether it was five in the morning or five in the evening he was always outside her home, keeping watch, making certain that no dangling tendrils of the Centre reached out to ensnare those whom he cared about.
It was Sam who had arrived in Blue Cove first, securing all of their houses and making certain it was really safe for them to return. He had found the mountain of packages at Parker's house and, realizing what they were, hidden them away in the studio until he could warn her of what they were. She'd gone pale when he'd explained his theory - that they were mementos sent from people Jarod had helped over the years -- a theory he'd formed from the familiar postmarks and addresses on the packages. Hell, he'd met most of the people who'd sent them during their years chasing Jarod. Packages continued to trickle in even up to yesterday, and Parker continued to stack them up in the studio until she felt ready to deal with them. Because the truth was, it had taken every bit of strength she had to simply live her life.
Despite her continued grief, Parker had allowed herself to settle into an easy rhythm with this strange, rag-tag little family of hers. Generally, she woke in the morning and came into the studio to have her breakfast and then Charles would come by to visit, sometimes alone, sometimes with Jarod's siblings. Later Sydney would come to visit and they would go for a walk or play chess, and then Broots and Debbie would come for dinner, or she would meet them somewhere in town for a change of pace.
As these little encounters became a string of moments that became a life, Parker had learned to function again. She bought groceries and began to shop for baby clothes. With a little encouragement from Debbie, she'd even picked out paint and wallpaper for the nursery. And as her anticipation of the babies' birth grew, Parker marveled that her nightmares were slowly being replaced by peaceful, sweet dreams. That is when she managed to sleep, of course.
Stifling a yawn that reminded her how little sleep she had actually gotten the night before, Parker shifted on the chaise and looked out at the packages filling the room. All of them were tiny parts of Jarod's life, and while she wasn't without curiosity about what might be in them, she knew that fear was keeping her from opening them. After all, what if seeing things that belonged to him brought back the crushing grief she'd only recently been able to push away? Still, there was something about the idea of seeing these missing parts of his life, and on this morning, despite her fatigue, Parker was feeling strong and happy and brave. And so, without really thinking about it too much, she reached out and picked up one of the packages.
The brown paper wrapped box was from George Harper. Parker remembered the name well. Jarod had been forced to impersonate the man to save his son from kidnappers after Harper himself was struck by a car. Cringing a little, Parker remembered how close she'd come to stopping Jarod in his mission. She'd even considered shooting him that day, but thankfully Sydney had interfered just long enough to let reason take over.
Carefully tearing at the paper, Parker freed the box from the brown wrapping and, with shaking hands, she lifted the lid off of the box. There was a note taped to the top of the tissue paper which lay inside. Taking a deep breath, Parker opened the note and began reading.
"Dear Miss Parker, I can't tell you how sorry I was to hear about Jarod. It goes without saying that he meant the world to me and my son. I know it might also surprise you that I'm writing to you, given your history with Jarod, however, Patrick, my son, related a story to me that made it clear you were the only person Jarod would want to have this.
"After Jarod rescued Patrick from the kidnappers, he was trying to calm him down. He told Patrick about a scary place he'd been trapped in for a very long time with lots of frightening men. Jarod told Patrick that he'd been very scared then, but that he'd had a special friend whose face he always thought of when things got very bad. He would imagine her blue eyes and her dark hair, and he would know that if he could just hang on until he saw her again for real, that everything would be fine. He told Patrick to imagine the person who made him feel that safe, and that everything would be all right then.
"Patrick didn't know who Jarod was speaking of, but the moment he told me the story I remembered meeting you. I don't know what it was that separated the two of you, but I do know that, no matter what else happened, you never stopped being that person for him. If you doubt me, look inside the box. Jarod left this with Patrick as a reminder of, how did he put it, 'all that was beautiful in the world.' Regards, George Harper."
Tears stinging her eyes, Parker reached inside the box and, under layers of protective wrap, finally found the treasure that lay inside. Her breath caught in her throat as she looked at what she held in her hands. It must have taken him hours to make, and yet she knew that to Jarod, it had been but a few moments. He had taken a piece of black granite-perhaps a tribute to her cold, hard heart in those days-and upon it, he had carved a profile of her face. It was an intricate, delicate portrait, and it touched her heart deeply that he had cared so much even before she had given him reason to do so.
Contrary to what she might have believed, the emotion of the first gift inspired Parker to search on. She unwrapped journals and drawings and knick-knacks he'd left in the safekeeping of his many friends. For nearly two hours, she opened and marveled and cried and laughed, touched by the reminders of her and his family, amused by the silliness of his collection of Mickey Mouse figurines and his Groucho Marx eyeglasses.
Parker carefully grouped the items together, arranging them according to what they meant to Jarod; more personal items in one pile, sillier, childish discoveries in another. Both of the piles had grown large by the time she stretched and glanced up at the clock. She was about to call it a morning when one of the packages, a nearly flat, bookish-looking one, fell over in front of her. Picking it up, Parker eyed the address, but found that this name did not ring any bells. She opened it, and found yet another note attached to a paper wrapped picture frame.
"Miss Parker, you won't know me, but my name is Alex, and my friend Thomas Gates and a man he knew named Jarod..."
Parker stopped reading and took a long, slow breath. She moved, taking the still-unseen photograph with her, so she could lean back against the chaise fully. Somehow, she felt she needed the support. Once she was settled, she picked up the note again.
"...my friend Thomas Gates and a man he knew named Jarod helped my brother Cole through a very bad time. One day, Cole and I were over at a house that the two of them were renovating together, and we took this photo of them. They were both very happy that day. I heard recently that Jarod had passed away. I would have given this to Thomas, but since he's gone, too, I thought I'd send it to you. I'd heard Jarod and Thomas talking about you, and it just seemed like the right thing to do."
Parker released the note and the frame as her body sank back even more against the false sense of support the chaise offered. The pain of losing both of them-Tommy and Jarod--seemed to well up and weigh her down in a way she had not expected. And with a wince she realized that this was the joke of it all. She would move forward, living as best she could, just as she had after that horrible day when she'd found Tommy's body, and then something would drag the hurt up from the depths where she tried to hide it away.
She'd tried to imagine a million times how they had met, what they must have been like together. She guessed they had spent a lot of time laughing together-God, they both loved to laugh so much, and they had both made her laugh. When she had really focused on it, Parker could even see them working on a house together, strengthening its foundation, putting in supports that would last long past their lifetimes...lifetimes that proved far shorter than anyone could have guessed.
As she released a deep breath, Parker let her hands move over her pregnant belly. Not lifetimes in vain, though, that was what she had to keep reminding herself. She had loved them both so dearly, and she knew without a doubt that her love for Thomas had prepared her to surrender to her true feelings for Jarod. It was because of that gift that her children were about to be born, and she couldn't lose sight of that no matter how much her grief still haunted her.
Slowly, she let her hands move over the picture frame, removing the tissue paper and uncovering her treasure. And it was a treasure. Despite what Parker might of thought her reaction to the photo would be, it brought a smile to her face. The two of them, their eyes beaming with pride and their own smiles wide, were standing on a part of a roof in front of a stunningly beautiful stained glass window. The window showed off to perfect yellow roses entwined by the stems.
"So, you finally did it, hmm?"
Parker looked up at the masculine voice and was not surprised by who it belonged to. Major Charles stood in the doorway with his eyes surveying the room full of discarded boxes, envelopes and paper.
"Had to start sometime."
Charles nodded and crossed to her, sitting on the edge of the chaise so he could face her.
"Are you all right?"
She knew there would be no sense in lying. There had to be tear-stains on her cheeks, and besides that, the man in front of her had proven to be as good at reading her as his son had been.
"It's been hard, and good. Jarod was loved by a lot of people."
"And obviously they all seem to know how much he loved you."
Another smile graced Parker's face, and she let her eyes drift back down to the photo. Looking back at Charles, she extended the photo toward him. As he took it, Parker saw that his own hand was trembling a bit, and she was silently grateful she was not the only one still struggling to come to terms with Jarod's loss.
"He looks very happy, very proud. They both do." Charles left his commentary at that. He'd seen photos of Thomas Gates around Parker's home, and Broots and Sydney had filled him in on all the details of the poor young man's fate. He didn't want to mine the open wounds of his daughter's pain anymore than opening these packages had already opened them.
His daughter - he'd begun thinking of her that way almost the moment he'd found out she was carrying his grandchild. He knew that she would have been his daughter by now if Jarod had lived. The two of them would be married, waiting for the birth together. Now he would stand by her side in his son's stead. But God how he missed his boy...
Parker sensed the shared pain in Charles' heart, and she decided it was time to tell him a secret she had been keeping to herself for sometime.
"Charles, there's something I need to tell you."
Blinking away a few tears, Charles looked up and put a look of false concern on his face.
"Oh, no, who do we have to go put in jail now?"
She laughed, a deep, spontaneous laugh that Charles wished he heard more often.
"No one. This is about the baby."
"Ah, so you do know what you're having. You've been holding out on me, haven't you?"
"Yes, I have, but not because I didn't want you to know, I just..." Parker trailed off, not certain how much truth she should reveal. She decided there was a way to tell him without sounding as crazy as she sometimes felt when she remembered the strange discovery that she and Jarod had literally had the same dream, a dream that predicted the monumental change that was coming in her life.
"Jarod and I dreamed about our life together, and one of the things we hoped for was this pregnancy. I...I think I just needed some time to realize how 'real' it all is."
Charles reached out his hand, taking hold of hers. "I understand."
"Well, anyway, um, what I wanted to tell you is that you're going to have a granddaughter..."
If a man's face can truly light up with joy, then Parker saw it in that moment. She could imagine all of the thoughts racing through Charles' head...thoughts of pink ribbons and baby dolls and all the silly things men lavish on little girls. She couldn't wait to see what he'd say to the rest of her news.
...and a grandson."
Shock. His face turned from a look of total joy to a look of absolute shock. And that made Parker laugh as she hadn't laughed in so long she couldn't even remember when the last time had been. Charles blinked a few times then he moved forward, pulling her into his arms.
"Oh, Parker. Oh, Parker!"
"I know, believe me, I know. Two of them, and they'll probably both be able to outwit me at every turn just like their father."
Charles sat back, looking at her. Despite the pain he knew still filled her heart, he could see real happiness in her eyes, and for that he thanked the heavens.
"So, do my grandchildren have names yet?"
"Olivia and Eli. They're the names we...well, let's just say we picked them out together once up on a time."
"Olivia and Eli," he repeated. "I love it, them, oh, you know what I mean. Now, come on and let me feed the three of you. I brought stuff to make Chicken Marsala."
"Have I mentioned lately that I love you?"
Charles winked at her and stood up, but Parker kept tight hold on his hand, and he looked back at her. He was stopped cold by the look of deep emotion in her eyes.
"I really do, Charles."
He leaned down and gently touched her cheek with his hand. "I know."
Charles released her hand and headed out toward the kitchen. Parker watched him go, then looked down at the photograph of Thomas and Jarod, which now lay on the chaise. She picked it up and gently touched both of the smiling faces. After a few moments, she stood and crossed to the mantle. Carefully, Parker set the photograph in the center of the marble piece. As she prepared to leave the room, she left a soft whisper behind her.
"And I love both of you, wherever you are."
Jarod and Thomas watched silently as Parker left the room. Neither of them could move or speak. The photo had been unexpected, and watching Parker's reaction to it...well, that had been downright overwhelming. It was one of those rare moments when they couldn't comfort each other, when their mutual longing to be with Parker seemed to outweigh their friendship. Yet even as they were feeling a rivalry in their emotions, both of them felt the seeds of an idea forming...one that would hopefully grow into the happy future they so wanted for the woman they both loved.
FIVE MONTHS LATER
Early morning sunlight streamed into the studio as Parker knelt down, spreading a large quilt over the floor. When she was done with that, she stacked several toys around the blanket, brought two bottles and added them to the collection, and then placed a large pillow on the ground next to the quilt.
Satisfied with the setup, Parker walked out of the room and returned shortly with two soft, sweet bundles in her arms. Carefully she again knelt down beside the blanket. From her left arm, she lowered Olivia to the quilt, her tiny legs kicking excitedly and straining the closed-toes of her lilac sleeper. Once Olivia was settled, Parker eased Eli from her right arm, a sparkle of excitement in his four-month old eyes as he flashed them around, taking in his surroundings as much as an infant can, though Parker suspected that with their parentage, her twins took in far more than anyone could really guess.
The babies both smiled and kicked their little feet out to show their mother they approved of this location a great deal. Parker laughed softly as she sat down on the pillow beside them, her legs curled under her. Quickly, she set up the matching baby gyms that Broots and Emily had picked out for them and within moments, the babies were happily making music as their toes danced over the little lighted control bar they attacked with gusto.
After several minutes of just enjoying the sight of her children, Parker reached over and picked Eli up as Olivia continued to play, her feet continuing to bounce off of the musical baby gym, her hands now occupied by the plush lion rattle that had been a gift from Jeremy. After settling Eli into the cradle of her left arm, Parker reached for one of the bottles and let her little boy suck down his breakfast.
She loved these few hours of every morning when it was just her and her children. Not that she minded having her family around, actually, she didn't know how she'd do it everyday without them, but still, it was nice to sit alone and listen to her babies giggle and make their sweet baby sounds. So now, instead of spending her mornings alone in the studio, thinking of all she had lost, Parker now spent them with the two most important people in her life, and in that, she found a joy she had never thought possible, not even before she'd lost Jarod.
Olivia and Eli were everything she'd ever needed and been afraid to want. She now understood so completely why her mother had risked everything, and ultimately paid with her life, in order to save the children from the Centre - no parent should have ever had to lose these moments that now filled up her life and made it worth living.
The sound of air being sucked from an empty bottle caught Parker's attention, and she looked down at her son and laughed. Eli had been the smaller of the two, and he'd had trouble gaining weight the first few weeks he'd been home. Then Jeremy had developed his own special blend of formulas, and now Eli was as a chubby cherub baby with very pinchable cheeks. Parker hummed softly to the little boy as she burped him, then she returned him to his own set of toys and lifted Olivia into her arms to repeat the process.
Olivia liked to play with her food, and she would often pretend to be finished only to suck like the devil the moment Parker began to pull the bottle away. Even though she was onto her daughter's game, something about it reminded Parker so much of Jarod, that impish, silly side of him, that she couldn't help but play along each and every time.
As she again fell into this comfortable pattern with Olivia, Parker sighed and let her eyes come up and scan the room. She had finally finished unpacking all of the packages that people had sent to her following Jarod's death, and some of the more special items were placed around this room and in the twins' nursery. She was thankful for the "gifts" now, because they gave her something of Jarod to pass on to his children, and, she hoped, to help them know who he had been.
The one gift that for some reason seemed to haunt her was the photograph of Jarod and Thomas together. It still sat on the mantle here in the studio, and every morning she found herself staring at it. At one point, her curiosity about the picture had grown so great that she'd asked Broots to find out something about the man who had sent it to her. At the time, all he'd been able to discover was that Alex Mallory had moved to Gaylord, Connecticut because it was the location of the rehabilitation center best suited to help his brother Cole, the young man who had inspired Jarod and Thomas to take down the contractor responsible for his injuries. Alex had proven difficult to nail down, and Broots and Sam had finally located him working on a house renovation on Long Island. The two had spoken with the man and returned with some notes, but Parker had by then lost her nerve and never read them. The notes sat, still waiting for her, in her desk.
She wasn't certain why she hadn't looked at the information. Maybe it was because the twins had only been two weeks old then, and she'd just pushed everything else aside. No, she knew that was too easy. She hadn't looked because part of her had grown afraid of knowing...afraid that hearing someone talk about the two men who had changed her life would tear open her grief again, and she just couldn't face that.
Yet as time went on, as she settled more and more into her life as a mother and, by extension, a daughter, sister and friend, thanks to her odd-ball little family, she found herself feeling stronger. In fact, staring at the photo again this morning, Parker felt as if she just might be ready to find out more about this still undiscovered time in the history of both Jarod and Tommy's lives.
After burping Olivia, Parker placed the baby back on the quilt, then stood and walked quickly into the living room to her desk. She reached in and grabbed the notes, then returned to the her place in the studio. Taking a deep breath, she opened the file Broots had compiled and started to read.
So, it had been in Southhampton. That seemed right to her, looking at the photo again. The house seemed to belong there. Parker cast her eyes back down and began reading the report aloud, since she knew the babies loved the sound of her voice, and, as Tom Selleck had pointed out in "Three Men and a Baby," babies didn't care what you read, as long as you were talking.
"After Thomas and Jarod exposed Braydon, the Sutterfield Foundation gave the contract to finish the renovations to Thomas, who had apparently been the first choice of the owners, Lucas and August Redmond, all along. (For clarification, Lucas is Lucas C. Redmond, doctor, and August is his twin sister. They are the remaining heirs of the Sutterfield family.)
"During their investigation of Braydon, Jarod had found a missing stained glass window, which had been made specifically for the main house on the Sutterfield property, known as Seawyn. Braydon had tried to pass off a copy of the window, but, not surprisingly, Jarod foiled that plan.
"Jarod stayed in town to help Thomas and his crew complete the construction since they had a very short window to complete the job, which now included the restoration of the Widow's Retreat, a second home on the property, and the re-installation of the stained-glass window into Seawyn. According to Alex Mallory, Dr. Redmond had planned to take up residence in the home known as The Widow's Retreat."
Parker took in the information, her mind beginning to churn with an idea as she heard the front door open. Several sets of footsteps moved toward the studio, and while there was a time when that might have once terrified her, it now made her smile. The door to the studio was pushed open wide, and in stepped Broots, Jeremy and Charles. Jeremy immediately raced to the quilt, dropping to his knees next to the babies.
"Hey, it's uncle Jeremy. You guys want to play?"
Parker smiled and stood up, taking a moment to let her hand reach out and fluff Jeremy's hair. He adored the twins, and somehow she knew that between him and Debbie, finding a babysitter would never be a problem. Taking advantage of the twins' being fully occupied, Parker led Broots and Charles toward the kitchen.
"I sure hope you were planning to cook me breakfast, Charles, because I'm starving."
That got a laugh from Broots. "Told you you spoiled her too much while she was pregnant."
And that earned him one of the famous Miss Parker glares that used to make him cower. He no longer feared them, well, not really, but he gave it a good show and soon all three of them were laughing. Parker started a pot of coffee as Charles set about whipping up some blueberry pancakes. When she was finished with the coffee, Parker walked over to Broots and handed him the file.
"Can you do some more work on this?"
Broots looked at the file folder quizzically, and he had to open it and read a few lines before he knew what "this" was.
"Oh, finding out about the job, sure. What do you want to know?"
"I'm was thinking I might want to see that house. Just get me the lowdown on this Dr. Redmond...I'd like to know who he is before I head up there, especially since I'll have the kids with me."
Charles raised his eyebrows and glanced over at Broots, who was doing the same thing. Parker picked up on this and was soon looking back and forth between the two with a less than happy face.
"What? Is there some secret plot going on I should know about?"
"Sweetheart," Charles started, "you haven't let the twins out of your sight since they were born."
Parker narrowed her eyes, her temper flaring for the first time in months.
"Meaning," said Sydney, who walked up behind her from the living room, "that you need to have some time to yourself. Sorry I'm late, Charles."
Charles nodded toward Sydney as all three men fell under Parker's heated glare. How dare them all gang up on her. She was a grown woman for goodness sakes, and if she wanted to spend all her time with her children, then it was her choice. Sydney, as if reading her mind, quickly countered her argument.
"You have a life to live, Parker, and you can't do that hidden here in this house with the babies. It won't be good for you or for them."
She was rendered speechless, though her mouth kept opening as if she meant to speak. Damn them. She thought she had been living...and she didn't need this.
"I appreciate the concern boys, but the next time the three of you want to fix someone's life..."
"Now, Parker, don't get defensive." Charles walked toward her, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders. Neither of them noticed the small pang of jealousy that rang through Sydney at the sight of this. He knew he was still one of the most important people in Parker's life, but since Charles had joined them, he had felt the bond between them growing, and a part of him foolishly resented that. He knew it was good for both of them, and he fought to keep the feelings at bay.
"I'm not being defensive. I just think you're all being ridiculous. Where on earth would I want to go without my children, anyway?"
"A movie, shopping, lunch..." Broots fingered the file folder in his hand, "Southhampton, New York."
Parker turned away from Charles and walked out of the kitchen, heading toward the front door and the empty, and therefore very inviting, front porch. She stood there, staring out at the land surrounding her home, as she thought about what they were trying to tell her. Yes, she had learned to live, and even learned to feel joy again. But she also knew they were right...she couldn't hide away here with Olivia and Eli forever. Eventually, life had to include the rest of the world.
"You know we'd never let anything happen to them."
Parker turned to see Sydney standing beside her. She nodded, and as she felt his arm wrap around her, she leaned against him.
"It just seems like there's always another step to take."
Sydney, understanding, pulled her into a full embrace and he kissed the top of her head as she hugged him tightly.
"It won't always be like that, I promise. Someday, you won't remember that it's the first time you've done something without him, or that a certain place or song makes you so sad. Someday, you'll fall in love again, and let someone else into your heart, and make a home."
"I can't even imagine that. I can't think of any man in my life but him."
"I know, but no one as special as you is meant to live her life alone, Parker. You just have to stay open to what's around you. None of us are expecting it to happen tomorrow, but we all want to see you happy, really and truly happy."
She didn't respond except to nod against his chest. She knew that it was what Jarod would want, what Thomas had wanted before him. Still, she had been so lucky to have them both...how was she supposed to believe that there was anyone else in the world that was so special she could love him as much as she had loved them?
Thomas watched as Sydney held Parker in his arms, comforted by the fact that she was surrounded by so many people who loved her the way that she deserved to be loved. He'd been worried when he'd first come and heard her raising her voice. He didn't come to the house often anymore, and to arrive in the middle of the scene in the kitchen...it hadn't taken him long, though, to understand the goal of the men. It worked perfectly with what he and Jarod had in mind anyway, so he stayed to see what would happen.
The good thing was that it seemed Sydney, Broots and Charles had won their case. Soon after Sydney and Parker had broken their embrace, the group assembled in the dining room, joined by Jeremy, who had put the twins down for their morning nap, and they all dug into breakfast together. Thomas loved seeing these happy scenes, it was only the quiet moments when it was just Parker and her children that were proving too painful for him to watch. He let his eyes lock on her and wished once again that envy was an emotion that died with you when your life on earth ended. If it did, then he could see Parker holding another man's children and not feel that horrible pang in his heart that always came. He hated it, and sometimes hated himself for feeling that way. Jarod seemed to understand, and it hadn't kept them from working toward their goal, but still, Thomas wished it would go away. It had better. If Catherine's information was correct, Parker would be having other children, and it would be due, in large part, to the gnawing curiosity about that photograph that he and Jarod continued to plant in her brain.
As breakfast broke up and the dishes were being cleared, Thomas left and returned to Jarod's heavenly replica of Parker's home. He found Jarod visiting with his brother Kyle.
"She's finally ready to go," Thomas said as he approached them on the front porch.
"Good," came Jarod's response, though Kyle picked up on the small falter that crept into his brother's voice. He leaned forward and looked at both men carefully.
"Are you two sure you want to do this?"
Thomas and Jarod exchanged a long look with each other, and then both of them nodded, with Jarod giving voice to their mutual feelings.
"She deserves it, and he's a good man."
Kyle looked at both of them again, and then, resigned, stood up and stretched.
"Well, then, we better find Catherine and get this show on the road."
FIVE WEEKS LATER
Parker stood outside the bed and breakfast where she had checked in last night and surveyed Southhampton in the early morning. It was a beautiful town, and she understood why Thomas had been drawn here, why Jarod had enjoyed it and become embroiled in the town's mysteries. But lovely as it was, she was anxious to see to her business and head home. The boys had finally won their case and convinced her to come without the twins. So she had packed enough for one night away from home and headed north, glad that she'd decided to come in September since it was still a little warm.
Sighing, she began walking toward the address of Seawyn, the family home of the Sutterfields. She had spoken to August Forrester on the phone, and though the woman wasn't in town this weekend, she had assured Parker that her brother, Dr. Lucas C. Redmond, would be more than happy to show her the house. Anything, she'd said, for a friend of Jarod and Thomas. If that hadn't been the understatement of the year, Parker thought.
The walk was refreshing and nerve-wracking; Parker was enjoying the scenery and the crisp air, but it gave her a lot of time to think, and with her mind focused on this unknown part of Jarod and Thomas' past, it was only natural that her brain began to review all that had happened since that day so long ago when a stop to almost buy cigarettes had changed her life forever.
Thomas, Lyle, Jarod, the twins, all of the anniversaries and firsts and moments she'd had to endure without the two men she'd loved, without the mother she still missed every day...they had seemed so unbearable at the moment they'd occurred, yet now she realized that nearly three full years had passed since she'd met Thomas, and somehow she was still here, nearly whole again thanks to her children, and even ready to face the past.
It didn't hurt that she was surrounded by a gaggle of people who refused to let her go backwards nor stand still. They all kept encouraging her to go on, and with their love and support, Parker found she simply kept moving forward, every day getting easier and easier and closer to the "normal" life she was trying to make for Olivia and Eli. Of course, Charles and Sydney and their obsession with finding her a husband were on her last nerve, but she knew it was only because they loved her, and so she usually just rolled her eyes and smiled when they started up again.
A stunningly beautiful home suddenly appeared in front of Parker, and she knew from glancing upwards and seeing the stained-glass window with the two entwined yellow roses that she was in the right place. She walked through the gate and up to the front door, knocking. There was no answer, and Parker glanced at her watch, wondering if she was wrong about what time she was supposed to meet Dr. Redmond. Then she heard something, and she wandered around the side of the house to try and figure out what it was.
Singing...it was quiet singing; a man's voice. Parker kept walking toward the rear area of the house and soon found herself in a gigantic garden. Roses were the predominate flower, and though there were hardly any blooms left on the bushes, she could tell from the remnants that the gardens were spectacular when in full bloom.
Smiling a little, Parker kept walking toward the singing and as her eyes fell on the man responsible, she burst into laughter. The man looked up and turned around, a bit startled, and then, realizing what he must look like, he began to laugh as well.
"I'm sorry," Parker croaked out in between guffaws, "I..."
The man started to walk toward her, his 6'2" frame covered in a denim shirt and blue jeans and a layer of mud and fertilizer about two inches thick. He started to extend his hand toward her, but then he looked down at his own appendage and thought better of it.
"I think I'll spare you the handshake. You must be Miss Parker. I'm Lucas Redmond, at least I am underneath all this."
Parker finally managed to get control of her laughter and she smiled as she pulled her hand through her hair.
"Nice to meet you, Dr. Redmond."
"Lucas, please. Tell you what, I think my housekeeper has some coffee going back at my house. Why don't you come grab a cup while I get cleaned up."
Parker nodded. "That would be great."
Lucas led her through the garden and away from Seawyn toward the second residence on the property, the one known as the Widow's Retreat. He chatted easily as they walked.
"Sorry about this. I tend to lose track of time when I'm working in the garden."
"It's enormous," Parker replied. "I'm surprised you don't have someone who does that for you."
"I have help, but I consider the roses my personal domain. I almost never let anyone else touch them, though Jarod did convince me to let him do some work on them."
"Jarod had a way of convincing people to do things they usually never did."
They reached the stairs and Lucas turned to face Parker just in time to see a hint of a sad smile leaving her face. He moved to open the door, and stood out of the way for her to enter.
Parker walked into the house, then waited as Lucas tried to bang off some of the mud on the porch. Realizing it was totally futile, he walked inside and shut the door behind them. He walked toward the kitchen with Parker following. The smell of very well-made coffee greeted them.
"I knew she wouldn't let me down. There's a plate of fruit and bagels on the table, too, so help yourself. I'll be down in a bit."
Parker nodded as Lucas disappeared up the stairs. She poured herself a cup of coffee then sat down at the table, which was placed in front of a large bay window. She absently began to nibble on some strawberries with whipped cream and perused the morning paper that was clearly waiting for Lucas and before she knew it, her host returned, clearly fresh from a shower and clothed in a new pair of jeans and a white button-up shirt. Parker couldn't help but appreciate what the clean up had done for him as Lucas moved to get a cup of coffee. Without the mud to conceal his natural good looks, she saw chiseled cheekbones and piercing eyes and his dark hair was closely cropped, but she could tell it curled easily if it got too long. He reminded her of someone, some actor...yes, that was it, she thought. Broots had rented her a stack of movies during the last few weeks of her pregnancy, and one she'd really enjoyed was "An Ideal Husband." Lucas reminded her a great deal of the star of the movie, Rupert Everett.
Suddenly, Parker realized she was staring, and as she forced her eyes away Lucas sat down in the chair opposite her. He made quick work of piling a plate with a bagel and fruit and then he looked disapprovingly at the small amount of strawberries sitting on her plate.
"That doesn't seem like much of a breakfast, Miss Parker."
"Just because you're a doctor, Lucas, doesn't make you my doctor. And Parker is fine. And, I ate at the inn before I came. I didn't know you'd be such a good host."
Lucas laughed and took a few bites of his food. Parker stood, somehow extremely comfortable both in the house and in this man's presence, and poured herself another cup of coffee.
"So, August told me you knew both Jarod and Thomas?"
"Yes, I did." Parker crossed back to the table, sitting down with a slight nervousness that Lucas didn't miss, but decided not to mention. "Jarod and I grew up together and I met Tommy after...It's a long story."
"Well," Lucas started, "barring any emergencies, I'm off today, so we have time."
"Actually, I don't have that much," Parker said as she glanced at her watch. "I want to try and fly out at 5:30. I don't really want to spend another night away from my children."
"You have kids?"
The subject of her babies brought Parker's trademark smile to her face, and Lucas couldn't help but notice that, too.
"I have twins. They're just over five months."
"And you have pictures, of course?" Lucas raised his eyebrows and Parker chuckled a bit as she reached into her bag for the photos. She knew this behavior was out of character for her-letting someone she barely knew see this side of her-but somehow she felt she could trust this Dr. Redmond. She supposed it was because Jarod and Thomas had. Resigning herself to simply go with what she was feeling, Parker handed the pictures to Lucas.
"Oh, they are beautiful. They both have your eyes, hmm?"
"Yes," Parker laughed, "and fortunately for me, their father's temper."
"I can't imagine you having a bad temper," Lucas said as he handed back the pictures. He didn't realize that Parker's speechlessness and the small giggle that followed would rank right up there with behavior her friends would have bet one million dollars they'd never see.
For her part, Parker could sense Lucas' curiosity about her and why she was here, and though she'd known talking about the past would probably be a requisite part of today, she was feeling a little anxious now. Still, she'd come here for a reason, and she needed to move forward.
"We, um, Jarod and I...well, I didn't find out about the twins until after he was killed."
Lucas nodded. "I was sorry to hear about that. Jarod had such an amazing capacity to care for people. I kind of imagined him growing old in a house full of children."
Parker lowered her head a moment, the visual something she herself had imagined in her dreams a million times. But she knew now that it was something that wasn't meant to be. Looking up, she returned her gaze to Lucas.
"Like I said, Jarod and I grew up together, but we had a falling out of sorts. I thought I hated him and he wasn't really sure what to think of me. But somehow we were still friends in an odd sort of way. Apparently sometime while they were here together, Thomas got interested in me and came to Blue Cove."
"I remember him talking about a project in Delaware. He said he had to see a woman about a house. That must have been you."
"Guilty as charged."
Lucas waited for Parker to go on, but he saw the faint smile she'd been wearing disappear as thoughts of her past swept through her. August hadn't gotten much information out of his visitor, only that she was a friend of both his former associates, but a call to Cole and Alex had provided more information. He learned that Parker's brother had murdered Jarod - the story of his death had apparently spread all over the place through the many people he had helped. That had made him curious about Thomas' death, and a quick phone call to the Blue Cove Police Department had yielded some information he hadn't been prepared for - though Thomas Gates' murder was officially solved, many detectives there felt the real murderer had never been caught. Lucas wondered if his friend's death had anything to do with Parker's brother or the place they had worked, but he didn't want to ask, especially now that she'd grown so quiet. Clearly both losses had caused her an unimaginable amount of pain, and he didn't want to deepen that.
Deciding it was time for a change of scenery, Lucas gulped down the rest of his coffee and stood, extending his hand toward Parker.
"Since you've got very little time here, why don't we walk while we talk. Since this is the house Jarod and Thomas finished restoring, I'll give you the grand tour here first, then we'll go see the window up at Seawyn. And while we walk, I'll tell you everything I remember about them."
Parker nodded and gratefully took his hand and followed him out of the kitchen. Lucas guided her through the house, and Parker could see Tommy's handiwork everywhere, especially in the small, detailed woodwork around the windows. That had been one of his trademarks.
As she walked and listened, Parker finally began to get a real picture of what that time had been like for the two men she'd loved. Broots had found all the details of their takedown of Braydon, but what Parker had always longed for was to be able to imagine theme together, having fun and getting to know one another. Lucas gave her that. He told her all about their addiction to the pizza at Rosa de Pizza's Restaurant and about them going bowling one Saturday. Jarod had bowled five perfect games, and a plaque still hung up in the lanes with his photo on it. He talked of the pranks they pulled on each other while they worked on the house, and about the bickering they'd done over exactly how to complete their final task - the reinstallation of the prized stained glass window in Seawyn.
By the time they'd finished the tour, Parker felt almost as if she'd been here with them, and she realized that, in a sense, she had been. It had been a moment during those weeks that Thomas had somehow begun to fall in love with her, and that moment had changed all their lives and led her back to this place. Tonight, it would lead her home to Olivia and Eli, and because of that, there could be no regrets, not even, she finally admitted, for doing the 'right thing' and not killing Lyle before he took Jarod away from her.
Lucas insisted on preparing lunch for Parker, and she discovered where Thomas had stolen his recipe for chicken salad. They chatted easily as they ate, no longer about the past, but about themselves. Later, as she thought back over the conversation, Parker would be stunned at how completely at ease she felt with Lucas. He told her stories about medical school and about growing up with a twin sister, and she told him about Broots and about what it was like to suddenly have two father figures plotting endlessly to get you out of the house and on a date.
Before she knew it, though, it was time for Parker to head to the airport. Shockingly, she felt a small pang at having to leave, though it was quickly dampened by her need to get home and hold her babies. She and Lucas left the Widow's Retreat and walked back toward the rose garden and the main house.
"This is a truly stunning place, Lucas. Thank you so much for letting me see it and for telling me about them."
"It was my pleasure. And you are welcome to come back anytime. As a matter of fact, you should definitely make it a point to come back in the spring."
"I should?" Parker said, smiling - she noticed she done that a lot today.
"Mm-hmm. In the spring your namesake will be in first bloom."
"Who or rather what is my namesake?"
Lucas directed her toward a small corner of the rose garden that had been sectioned off with beautiful white marble blocks. Within the enclosure stood four fledgling rose bushes.
"These are. Remember I said Jarod convinced me to let him work in my garden? Well, this was the result. They're hybrids that bloom with the most vibrant color."
"Let me guess, yellow to go with the window?"
"No," Lucas said, shaking his head, "they're the most amazing red I've ever seen. They put American Beauty's to shame. Jarod named them Parker's Splendor, so that should tell you just how beautiful they are."
For some reason, the comment made Parker blush. After a moment of embarrassment, she recovered and looked up at Lucas. He was staring at her, but not in a way that made her uncomfortable. Laughing, she suddenly remembered the one essential question she'd forgotten to ask her host all day long.
"You know, my friend Broots can find out just about anything about anyone, but he couldn't find out one thing about you."
"I'm hardly a mystery man, Parker. What on Earth was it?"
"The C, as in Lucas C. Redmond."
Now it was Lucas' turn to laugh.
"Ah, yes. Well, tell him not to feel too bad. Let's just say I'm a little sensitive about it. I'd imagine a woman who goes by Miss Parker all the time could understand that."
"This is true."
Their mutual amusement casually wore off and now they stood in what had suddenly become an awkward silence. Parker looked down at her watch and then nervously looked around her.
"Well, I really better go. Thank you again." She extended her hand to his and he took it, shaking it warmly, with his other hand placed on top.
"As I said, anytime. Don't forget, early spring. And bring your twins. The butterflies love the garden, and babies love butterflies."
Parker smiled as she began to turn and walk away. "Maybe I will."
She was almost at the gate when she heard him call to her. Stopping, she turned around.
"It stands for Chance."
Lucas chuckled then walked toward her. "The C. It stands for Chance. It's a long, boring story, but let's just say I've never liked it much."
Parker nodded, understanding.
"Well, then I promise next time I see you, I won't even mention it. Though you know, it could be worse."
"You go through life getting teased by your sister with names like Last Chance, Not a Chance, Ghost of a Chance, Second Chance, and so on and so on and see how you like it."
That got him one last laugh. Parker waved and turned back toward the gate. Soon she was on her way back to the hotel and back to the twins, but as she walked away, she was already wondering just what those Parker's Splendor roses would look like when they bloomed next May.
As Parker made her way back toward those who loved her here on Earth, those who loved her somewhere farther away watched and enjoyed the feeling of knowing their precious one was on the path that would take her to the happiness she deserved. It would take time, of that all of them, Catherine, Jarod and Thomas, were certain, but in the end, they would see her marry and raise her family and live a life. Every step of the way, they would be there to lend whatever help they could. And when that life was over, they would all be there - waiting.
Well, everyone, for a story that was never going to have a sequel, (The Not So Wonderful Life) this one now has a sufficient total of 3 (A Special Valentine, Afterglow and Embers.) Consider this one closed, and if you ever want Matter of Blood finished, please, just enjoy this one and don't ask for anymore. Thanks for all the great feedback and encouragement over the course of this one. – Niceole
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.