Disclaimer: “The Pretender” and all it’s characters don’t belong to me, but to some wonderful people. Please don’t sue me, I am making no money from this. I just really enjoy the show. Also, the song is owned by its respective artist, I don’t take credit for it.
Note: This is the sequel to “After the Facts”
and "Life After Death"
. Read those first I wrote this to appease my mind. It takes place directly following “Life After Death” written in third person. Enjoy! “The World After”
It was around 10AM the next morning when they arrived together on a farmhouse porch. The night had been spent in tears and comforting slumber, so pure, she had refused to let him depart from her presence.
Lesser people would have fallen under the spell of a forbidden evening and the miracle of a second chance while letting lust run its twisted course leaving their tired bodies to pant mindlessly. Not Jarod and Parker, for them that night was about friends... children hiding from the demons.
Reluctantly, he had allowed her to accompany him. Jarod rang the bell and turned, taking her hands in his.
“Trust me and you’ll be fine.” Parker nodded. Just then the door opened.
“Dad.” Jarod embraced Major Charles for a long moment. Parker recalled the video tape from the first time Jarod had found his father.
She stood in the doorway watching the confusion of hugs and greetings from the Major, Emily, Ethan, and the clone, named J. C. Soon Zoe rushed in, launching herself against Jarod. He returned the embrace, but as he set Zoe back on her feet, didn’t attempt to kiss her. The funny thing was she didn’t attempt to kiss Jarod either.
“We’re so glad you’re here. Are you okay?” she said, pushing back a lock of hair from her face. Jarod saw it immediately, even though Zoe was trying very hard to hide the change. She had matured since he had seen her last. The fire still burned in her, but her whole appearance gave away the internal growth. Her hair was a longer, softer red, her original color, and while the length of her dress wasn’t beyond her knees the design was more sedate than usual. Being on the run had sobered the girl into a woman.
“I am now.” Jarod smiled back. The masquerade would be fine for now. All the players were on even footing, Jarod observed in a glance of Ethan.
“Miss Parker!” J.C. exclaimed, noticing her. She hesitated before entering to hug him and Ethan. All the while, eyeing Charles for signs of disapproval. He quickly understood her fear.
“You’re welcome here, Miss Parker. All Centre refugees are.” Parker tried to hide her smile and saw Jarod wink at her.
“Any problems finding the place?” Charles asked.
Jarod spent the day with his father triangulating new places to stay and playing in the Mainframe. J.C. had a few good leads on Margaret that he eagerly reviewed with his brother. Parker had a long talk with Ethan about their mother because he wanted to know more than the Mainframe could provide. Emily and Zoe, who resembled mothers and sisters at the same time, tried to induct Parker into the sorority they had created amongst all this masculine drama. Parker had been quiet and uncomfortable at first, but Emily and Zoe refused to give up.
Now, the females of the house were watching tv in the living room. Jarod made the mistake of passing through only to be summoned by his sister.
“Hey, Jarod, could you get our popcorn out of the microwave?” Emily asked. She was resting comfortably in the armchair next to a matching couch were Zoe and Parker were seated.
“Sure,” he happily resigned himself to waiting on them.
“And the butter?” Parker added without looking at him.
“And the cheese?” Zoe lengthened the list.
“Anything else?” Jarod inquired, with a playful annoyance in his tone.
“Yeah, could you...?” Jarod’s cell-phone rang and silenced Emily.
“Hello,” he answered it.
“Jarod, it’s Sydney,” the voice on the other end sounded troubled. Jarod placed a hand over the speaking part of the phone to address his sister.
“I’ll be back in a minute...” he tried to assure her. It was too late though, Emily saw the look in his eyes. She had only known him a few days at most, but she knew that look.
“For once you’re calling me,” Jarod said into the phone as he slid halfway down the hall between the livingroom and the kitchen.
“Yes, unfortunately, it’s with bad news,” Sydney replied. He was sitting at his desk in the Centre and watching the door. Jarod sighed.
“The kind I left the veggie aisle in Africa for. What’s happened?”
“Lyle sent a sweeper team to Port Chester this afternoon,” Sydney informed him. ‘That’s just a few towns away,’ Jarod realized.
“Not convinced the mouse is back for another game?” Jarod remarked.
“He’s sticking to the mass hallucination explanation.” Lyle seriously didn’t believe Jarod was now back among the living.
“We’ll be safe for tonight, but tomorrow is moving day.”
“Understood.... Jarod?” Sydney said hesitantly.
“Yes?” Jarod urged him to continue.
“.....Nothing, just be careful.” Sydney backed out of telling his student that he missed him.
“I’ll call when we’re settled.” Jarod knew what Sydney wanted to say, but it was best left unspoken.
“And Miss Parker? No one can find her today.”
“I don’t know yet,” Jarod replied. He hadn’t really wanted to think about how long she would stay or the realistic implications of her hiding out with him.
Hanging up the phone, Jarod walked into the kitchen and leaned against the counter. J.C. was sitting at the table, working on his laptop.
“Almost seems normal from here,” he observed, not really meaning to say it aloud. J.C. pushed his chair back and peered at his brother.
“Nearly a year has gone by and we’ve all changed. Despite the coma, I think you have too.”
Jarod nodded. Such wisdom which he never possessed at that age from a boy supposedly his clone.
“Yes,” Jarod admitted. J.C. mirrored Jarod’s knowing expression.
“Well...” J.C. encouraged. Jarod pushed away from the counter with a start and regarded J.C. as he retrieved the popcorn from the microwave.
“How’d you get so smart?”
“It’s all in the genes,” the boy proclaimed, not able to prevent a smirk from forming. Jarod entered the living room and was greeted by Emily who stood ready to take the food from his hands.
“Zoe, can we take a walk together?” Jarod asked, pressing his palms into the back of the couch. Zoe’s laughter stopped as she caught sight of his expression. Glancing at Ethan, who was seated on the stairs, she rose and straightened her dress.
“Sure, the show’s almost over anyway.”
“I like this series. The guy’s sexy,” Parker remarked.
“Yeah,” Zoe replied while she throw on her denim jacket.
“I don’t know. I kind of like the evil one, Mr. three-piece-suits,” Emily argued playfully, snuggling back down into her armchair.
“Well, he’s got that Ken doll quality, but the lead actor has that uuuummmhhhh….rrrrrrrr! You know?” Parker countered. She really enjoyed Emily’s company.
“I’d prefer to be his friend though, while trying to reform the other one,” Emily said.
“Which episode is it?” Jarod inquired with slight interest.
“Oh, it’s the one where the rich girl, he starts to really like, turns out to be the real killer of her husband and she tries to murder him in a cabin,” Emily explained.
“Yeah, meanwhile I’d give anything to be that actress licking his lips,” Parker replied. The look she received from Jarod was a cross between ‘Hey, what about me?’ and ‘He’s not THAT cute, is he?’ She savored his jealousy, only to realize too late why he wanted to talk with Zoe.
Strolling along the dirt road with only the light of a quarter moon to guide them, neither spoke until the view of the house became obstructed by the trees.
“Okay... now what?” Zoe asked. Jarod searched the air for an excuse not to reply.
“I don’t know. I love you, Zoe... but I’m... in love with Parker.” The last part he almost murmured, so hard was the truth to admit. Still it was the truth, Dawn had taught him that.
“It’s not fair to you and I should never have...” he began to apologize, all the time wanting her to hit him. He could deal with the physical pain, but not this emotional torture. Zoe silenced him with a hand caressing his cheek. She forced Jarod to focus his eyes on hers.
“Jarod, don’t worry so much. I knew. I knew when you first left that we weren’t doing the white picket fence deal. I care about you....” she explained, “I love you, but we weren’t suppose to be and from what I’ve learned through your family and friends, you and Parker might be. Besides, Ethan and I...... we have this connection.....” She dropped her eyes to collect her thoughts, then continued, “I don’t know how to say it. He’s like everything you are, but he touches my heart differently. He needs me as much as I need him. With us, you never needed me and I always needed you.” Zoe stepped away from him then and began to walk again. Jarod saw an insecurity he had never detected before in her feelings.
“That’s not true,” he said, catching up to her and blocking her path, “Ever since I can remember I have been starved for love. I didn’t even really know what it was for a long time. And you were so safe for me. You were one of the rare people who never asked anything of me. You never questioned me about my life or pushed, you knew only what I told you, but that was enough for you to trust. Beyond that, you gave me back something I thought I lost.”
“What?” she asked.
“Passion. Not just for love, but for life. I started to become jaded by my world. Every little thing wasn’t new like it was when I first left the Centre and you came along wild and free with that fire in your heart, which I had let die down. Then you reminded me how precious life was, another thing I had nearly forgotten.” His overtures to her value overwhelmed Zoe.
“I did all that?”
“Yeah.” He smiled down at her, adding, “Which is why it’s so hard to let you go...”
“Can I have one last kiss?” Zoe whispered devilishly.
“Yes.” Jarod leaned in, softly touching her lips with his. Zoe quickly pulled him against her and deepened the kiss as old ambers where fanned into fire.
“Mmm……..Why are we doing this?” she mumbled as the kiss fell away and she pressed the side of her head into his chest.
“Because it’s the right thing... the only thing we can do.”
“... Jarod how do I..?” Zoe started to ask for a method of closure.
“I love you very much, don’t ever forget that. Goodbye, Zoe,” Jarod said, kissing the back of her hand. She understood in an instant.
“I told you, I’d kick your butt if you ever said that word again.” She smirked.
“Zoe...” Jarod wished to be serious, but she refused to end this on a mushy note.
“I love you too, Jarod and no one will ever touch the part of my heart that belongs to you. Goodbye,” she satisfied her part of the bargain. Gazing at his face for another moment, Zoe placed her hands in the pockets of her jacket and walked back.
Jarod remained there in the darkness until he heard the screen door open and close as she entered the house. Sighing, he began his journey, suddenly very tired.
Jarod was trying to figure out how to get to the bedroom they had set up for him without being debriefed by Parker, when he passed his black convertible. He was now in the mood to take a drive and deliver a message.
Major Charles and Parker both stood when they heard the engine start. Glancing out the front window, Charles turned to Parker and said,
“I’ll go see what he’s doing.” He stepped outside just in time for Jarod to notice him.
“Where are you off to?” Charles asked his son as he reached the side of the car. Jarod hesitated and then spoke.
“I need to take a drive and I have an idea about our latest problem with Lyle.” Jarod avoided details.
“What’s happened?” Charles knew better than to ask about the drive, but he paused at the name of Kyle’s killer.
“He has a team in Port Chester, New York,” Jarod explained.
“Is he still in Blue Cove?”
“Yeah..” Jarod buckled his safety belt and added, “Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll be back in a few hours.” The Major just nodded and watched his son pull out of the driveway.
Jarod could barely concentrate on the road as he headed to the highway and Blue Cove. He had to make the rules of the new game extremely clear. Still, Zoe and Parker clouded his mind. Soon his thoughts even drifted to Dawn. Deciding that music was a good distraction, he again placed the CD, Carol had given him, in the player and tried to focus.
“Harry got up
Dressed all in black
Went down to the station
And he never came back
They found his clothing
Scattered somewhere down the track
And he won't be down on Wall Street in the morning
He had a home
The love of a girl
But men get lost sometimes
As years unfurl
One day he crossed some line
And he was too much in this world
But I guess it doesn't matter anymore
In a New York minute
Everything can change
In a New York minute...”
Jarod found himself singing softly along with the chorus, as he turned onto I-95 South leaving New York State.
“Things can get a little strange
In a New York minute
Everything can change
In a New York minute
Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody going to jail
If you find somebody to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door...”
He enjoyed singing late at night to songs which were forever new to him.
“And in these days
When darkness falls early
And people rush home
To the ones they love
You better take a fool's advice
And take care of your own
One day they're here;
Next day they're gone
What the head makes cloudy
The heart makes very clear
The days were so much brighter
In the time when she was here
But I know there's somebody somewhere
Make these dark clouds disappear
Until that day, I have to believe
I believe, I believe
In a New York minute
Everything can change
In a New York minute
Things can get a little strange
In a New York minute
Everything can change
In a New York minute...”
(“New York Minute” - Don Henley)
A few hours later, when Jarod had reached his destination and pulled into the graveyard packing lot, he had replayed the song 49 times.
Tired and confused Lyle arrived at his apartment, lazily unlocking his door and stepping in. He never heard the man behind him, until hands pushed him inside and stole his gun in one motion. Lyle whirled around. He could just see the illuminated edges of the figure’s face as he shut the door and moved toward Lyle.
“Who..... What the hell is going on?” Lyle asked. He looked around and saw wilting bouquets of flowers he had set on Jarod’s grave now placed on his kitchen counters.
“It’s a wake.... Mine,” Jarod growled moving in the moonlight from a window.
“Jarod?” Lyle shouted. He backed into the counter in the middle of the room. Jarod held the gun firmly and pointed it at Lyle.
“So you do remember me?” he replied in that quiet menacing tone of his.
“Of course, I visit your grave every two weeks... which you obviously know.” Lyle was backing up and around the kitchen with Jarod’s every stride.
“Yes. Clever, incidentally,” Jarod paused, picked up one of the bouquets, “....Irises for “a message”, Clematis meaning ‘mental beauty”, Hyacinth for the “game”, Nasturtium symbolizing your “victory”, and my favorite..... Orange Lily for “hatred.” The finale indignity and the one no one suspects.” He threw the flowers at Lyle’s feet.
“Well, you must admit...” Lyle started to say when Jarod darted forward and grabbed him by the throat. He used the kitchen wall to support Lyle’s weight and lift him an inch or two above the ground.
“Let me make it excruciatingly clear to you. I’m alive and that means I’m the target. You go after my family again and I’ll personally remove you. The world may change, Lyle, but you and I and all of this hell doesn’t,” Jarod hissed in his face.
“Jarod... Jarod.. Look, I just...” Lyle tried to speak as he struggled.
“I should just shoot you right now.” Jarod brought the gun up to Lyle’s temple.
“No, Jarod... I..”
“Save the excuses for your eulogy.” Jarod anticipated his pleas and hit Lyle on the side of the head with his own gun. The man fell limp on the floor as Jarod released his grip.
“The wolf is always at the door...” Jarod whispered. With these words, he reached under his jacket and retrieved a bouquet of flowers. Placing them next to Lyle’s head, he left. Narcissus for egotism, Hydrangea for heartlessness and callous, and White Chrysanthemums for truth. When Lyle came to, he would pull the note from among them, open the simple white card and read the black letters: ‘You’ve been warned. J.’
Falling onto the bed upstairs, Zoe closed her eyes, willing everything to go away. The talk with Jarod had been hard emotionally. Her feelings for him had burned through her with his reappearance. To lose him even voluntarily was difficult.
“Hey.” Ethan in the doorway, didn’t dare to enter without permission, which he received in the form of Zoe’s hand patting the bed. After he closed the door, Ethan gazed down at her. Their’s had been such a crazy affair, starting in traditional nurse/patient fashion. Zoe had been thrown into a life of running and drama. Surprisingly, she adjusted well by focusing her attention on his care. Still, she stayed faithful to Jarod until his supposed death. Then Zoe could no longer deny Ethan’s affection for reasons of loyalty.
Ethan took Zoe’s fingers in his hand and watched her face. He knew she couldn’t stand that, and she almost immediately opened her eyes. She pushed up on her elbows, yet a melancholy expression remained.
“Do you think I’m a stupid little...?” Zoe started.
“Don’t. You may not be a genius, but you are sweet and caring. Okay, you’ve made some mistakes, but I’ve made many more,” Ethan assuaged her fears. Cuddling against him, Zoe hoped he would learn to forgive himself.
The car lights flashed in the front windows. Emily stood guard and was relieved to greet her brother at the door.
“Everything’s quiet?” he asked stepping inside. She took his coat with care and nodded.
“I’ve been listening to her pace in your room. She’s waiting,” Emily informed him.
Kissing Emily on the cheek, he wished her goodnight and proceeded up the stairs. Jarod closed the bedroom door and glanced over catching Parker’s eyes.
“You should get some sleep,” he said, passing her causally to sit down in the chair in front of the desk. Parker had her black silk robe on and her arms across her waist. She wasn’t mad, just anxious. He noticed the way she let her dark hair fall on her face as if to hide the nervous expression.
Parker waited to speak. She had so many questions to ask him, yet she remained silent watching him undo the top three buttons of his shirt. He knew her game of course. She made him wonder whether she would stay and let him undress or leave if he didn’t begin the conversation. There was no really reason for her to spend the night in this house, let alone his room. They hadn’t done anything last night. They literally slept together; that could easily mean nothing to her.
Somehow to Parker, it meant more. Jarod didn’t make it a competition of endurance or domination. He just held her.
“Did you...?” Parker lost the quiet war.
“Yes,” he answered anticipating her question was not about where he had gone but rather as to whether Zoe and him were officially over. He assumed Zoe hadn’t been in the gossiping mood either after their little walk. Jarod rested his elbows on the desk and sighed.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, placing her hands on the back of the chair. Jarod abruptly stood and moved to the bed, pulling back the covers.
“Necessity to an end.”
“That end being?”
“She loves Ethan,” Jarod stated matter-of-factly. He didn’t look at her.
“Was that the only problem?” Parker asked carefully. Jarod turned to see all the ice that usually protected her had melted. She was afraid of losing him.
“I’m poison, Parker,” he whispered, once again moving away from her and attempting to avoid further talk by pulling his shirt off.
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit poisonous myself,” Parker teased. She needed to know he cared. Running her fingertips over his sides and around his chest, she leaned her head on his shoulder blade. Jarod could drown in her presence, but before he let himself fall, he had to know something.
“Why are you here?” Parker lost her smile. He wanted truth and she just wanted to play.
“Jarod...” she whispered and began kissing his neck. Parker planned to seduce him and prove she was above the one man, who always out smarted her. At least that’s what she told herself. Besides, she was happy he was alive and this would be a much better celebration than last night. She.. she had been tired, that was it, simply too exhausted to play last night. She hadn’t liked the protection of his strong arms or the safety of his touch.
“Tell me,” he demanded, removing himself from her grip.
“You’re the genius,” she tried to deflect. He would have none of her tactics.
“That’s not an answer. The truth.” She flopped onto the bed with a scowl.
“You go away and leave me alone for nine months and think you can ask anything of me?” she growled. Jarod didn’t want to get into a fight with her defense mechanisms, but the statement angered him too much.
“You left me for ten years! Or did you forget me?” Jarod meant to ask if she had forgotten “that”, however, suddenly he wasn’t thinking clearly.
“Yes, I did leave, but when I came back, I never ventured near your room.” ‘Honest answer,’ Parker thought, ‘Why did I come here?’
“That’s right, you ignored me, like I was nothing to you.” Jarod stepped in front of her and gazed down.
“YES!” she hissed in his face.
“So I’m asking you...” he began and knelt down to her level.
“Jarod, what do you want from me?”
“I told you.” The words caught her and she couldn’t turn away from him. The Valentine’s Day memory attacked her mind. He had sent her a beautiful box with a single candy heart inside reading ‘BE MY VALENTINE.’ So much had happened between then and now, she wasn’t sure what to believe.
Jarod took her silence as fear instead of confusion.
“Damn it, Parker...I... I love you,” he declared in frustration and pulled her by the hands into a kiss. The good news was the kiss shook her from the trance his words had put her in. The bad news was everything was happening too fast.
“Please, Jarod, we can’t...” Parker whispered, pushing him from her body. She started for the door, but he caught her easily and spun her around.
“We can. If you want to..... ” Jarod wasn’t promising as much as he was pleading. Parker didn’t say anything, her eyes focused on him for a long moment. Then she closed the distance between them, allowing her hands to wander to his sides and her lips to his collar bone.
The next morning, Broots was in the Centre tech room, wondering where Miss Parker could be. Sydney said she needed to take a few days off, but then Lyle didn’t come into work on time and the scenario worried Broots. The ringing of his cell-phone startled him.
“Broots speaking,” he answered.
“Hello, Mr. Broots,” Jarod greeted him.
“Jarod! I thought you were dead,” Broots shouted, then quickly lowered his voice. Looking around, he didn’t think anyone heard him.
“Singed, but triumphant.”
“How... where have you been?”
“Down and out. I’m feeling much better now,” he replied, enjoying the honesty of his own words.
“Oh. Should I get Sydney?” Broots was a bit confused.
“No, just thought I would warn you about the dragon,” Jarod explained, with a hint of humor in his voice.
“BROOTS!” Lyle yelled, walking into the room.
“Thanks,” Broots said and hung up quickly.
Jarod felt bad leaving Broots to deal with Lyle, however, he let the guilt flow out of him as he pulled the newspaper out of the mailbox and returned to the kitchen. There stood his father pouring coffee for the two of them. Jarod smiled, handing the morning paper to Charles.
The Major glanced up and reflected on his next statement. They had to discuss a strategy, but things were changing a little too fast... and yet...
“We need to move soon.” He forced himself to sound casual. Jarod paused before taking a sip from his cup.
“I know.” Yeah, it was official; back to hide and seek, or was it more like tag?
“At least now we can all stay together.” Charles placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. Jarod’s thoughts fell on Parker.
“Almost all of us...” he whispered.
Jarod soon left the house headed toward the brook where Ethan had said Parker was.
“Yes,” he answered the ringing of his cell-phone and stood just in front of the back door off the kitchen.
“I heard you weren’t dead,” Dawn’s soft voice greeted his senses. A flash of Africa touched his heart.
“Yeah. Good luck, Jarod. And if you need some help, we’ll be here,” she promised. Jarod caught sight of Parker through the trees.
“I’ll remember.” He hung up and placed the phone back in his jacket pocket.
“Hey.” He moved closer to where she was standing. Parker looked up from her thoughts.
“Hi,” she replied. Strange.... he was different. Was this him, the way he would be without the Centre? Living with this family with this house with that shy charm? Sadly, Parker could sense the storm brewing in his mind.
“It’s beautiful out here, isn’t it? There’s something about Spring that....” he began trying to avoid the issue.
“You have to go with your family.” She never could master subtly.
“Leave the Centre,” Jarod suggested.
“I’d love to, but I have to know what my mother’s plan was. When I find the truth, then I’ll come running.” Parker knew what she wanted and knew the price there was to pay.
“What do I do in the meantime?” he begged for guidance. She slid her fingers up and down his shoulders seductively.
“Sneak into my house at odd hours of the night.”
“Oh, fun.” Jarod smiled, so she understood he was all right.
“It won’t be that bad.”
“Maybe.” He took a step toward the house before she caught his arm.
“Hey..... I love you.” Parker admitted for the first time. Jarod leaned in and held her close, whispering in her ear,