"The Pretender" and its characters don't belong to me (unfortunately!), they belong to their creators and owners and are being used without permission, but for no profit, just for fun.
Don't sue – you know, I have no money at all!
I came up with this idea while I was re-watching episode 4.09 "'Til Death Do Us Part".
The first time I saw that 'twisted little model of Parker's first meeting with Thomas' and Jarod hidden in the warehouse, dressed up like a clown, I felt like I could cry for days.
I don't know why he would have wanted to hide this secret from Miss Parker.
I guess he was worried about her reaction, and maybe also a bit ashamed. But you know what? I've always thought Tommy was a great guy, and so I started picturing conversation that Jarod and Thomas might have been sharing before the pretender's decision to introduce the man to Miss Parker.
Were they close? Were they friends? Did they often talk about Parker?
You're going to find out by reading this. I hope you like it.
Oh, and last but not least, English is not my native language, so please: be kind.
My total gratitude goes to Danielle SmileyFace, my Beta for this fiction. She's one of the sweetest persons I've ever known on the web and she's always very helpful and patient with me. Thanks a lot!
1. Chapter 1 - 01/10/1999 by missparker87
2. Chapter 2 - 02/09/1999 by missparker87
3. Chapter 3 - 02/21/1999 by missparker87
4. Chapter 4 - 04/05/1999 by missparker87
5. Chapter 5 - 04/15/1999 by missparker87
6. Chapter 6 - 04/25/1999 by missparker87
7. Chapter 7 - 05/07/1999 by missparker87
8. Chapter 8 - 05/08/1999 by missparker87
Mr. Goldsmith was hanging from a rope dangling over the unfinished balcony of the fourteenth floor of the Wellington Hotel, in Dover. When he had first started to construct this building, he would have never imagined that one day it would become the place where he would die.
His screams couldn't be heard anywhere, not from that height, not at that late hour.
"Yell all you want, nobody's going to help you, Patrick!" a voice above him shouted to cover his screaming.
"Help! Please! Jarod, you're crazy, pull me up!"
"Uh-uh. I think I'll let you fall, then I'll take all the money your insurance company is going to pay for your filthy life. That is, if you don't survive. If you have the misfortune to survive the fall, well – let's think about that later!"
Jarod let the rope go loose for a few of seconds, listening to Goldsmith's screams of terror. Beside him, a man was helping to keep the rope steady, waiting for Goldsmith to confess his crime. After letting the man fall for a couple of feet, Jarod and his companion blocked the rope once again. Goldsmith was still dangling, hung by his feet, and crying in despair.
"Jarod! Thomas! Let me go! Please, I'm gonna do anything you want! I'll give you every single penny I have!" Goldsmith yelled, still whining.
"Like you did with Martin Anderson?" Jarod yelled with animosity; he wanted Goldsmith to hear him well. Thomas stared at him, sweating for the pain and fatigue he was experiencing during that weird night. He knew Jarod was doing the right thing: Goldsmith was a liar, an impostor, a greedy man who deserved what was happening to him. And yet, he realized at that moment that maybe Goldsmith was right: Jarod was crazy. That light in his eyes was almost terrifying.
"What are you talking about? Thomas, I know you're my competitor in this business, but please, help me!"
"Sorry Patrick, I'm following Jarod's orders at the moment."
"Oh my God!" Goldsmith shouted.
Jarod glanced at Thomas, who smiled at him in answer. Jarod knew that Goldsmith would be tough to convince, but he had his own methods of persuasion. He grinned back at his friend, then started his longest speech.
"That man lost his legs because you hid his accident from the Insurance Company. You were afraid it would have stopped the work at the hotel, weren't you? Your creditors were already breathing down your neck and you had to open the hotel as soon as possible to pay them back. So, you left Martin alone, facing his destiny on his own, and this cost him both his legs!"
Still crying in desperation, Goldsmith screamed, "I had no choice! I would have lost everything I had, they wanted to take my hotel from me. I – I had no choice!" he repeated.
Thomas was becoming more aware of the situation, so he was the one who answered, "Martin has a little girl. Her name is Sarah; her mother is dead, and her father was working hard to ensure her a future. What is she going to do now?"
Jarod noticed that Thomas was getting emotional, maybe he had personal motives to help him in this, more than he had realized before. The pretender stared at him only for a second, then he focused back on Goldsmith, waiting for his confession.
"Yes. Yes, I did it! God forgives me, yes, I did it! I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Please don't let me fall, Jarod!"
"Is that what you would have done?" Jarod's crazy voice came from above.
Goldsmith rustled up all the strength he still had in his bones. He bent to look at his two persecutors, then he implored them, "Jarod, Thomas, please."
"No!" Jarod shouted.
A glance at Thomas, and then they both let the rope go. Thomas was sure that Jarod would stop it in time, not to let Goldsmith hit the ground. But the more he fell, the more he screamed, and the more he screamed, the more Jarod waited.
"Jarod!" Thomas wanted to catch the rope, but Jarod took him by his arm and stopped him.
"Wait." he said. He seemed calm and conscious of what he was doing while Goldsmith fell. Frightened to death, Thomas leaned over from the balcony and looked at the man. Right then, the rope was blocked by a locking device, and the man's fall stopped around five feet from the ground.
"Sorry, Goldsmith." Jarod intervened, "Not enough rope, I suppose."
Thomas smiled, and Jarod shook his hand.
After spending some time with the authorities, Jarod was already packing his things. All his belongings consisted in his DSAs viewer and a bag containing some clothes and his relatives' pictures. Thomas shook an officer's hand, then he approached Jarod.
"Well, my friend, I'm sure Martin would be very glad to tell you in person, but I'm the one who's going to thank you, for both of us."
Jarod smiled, "You're welcome, buddy."
He loved calling Thomas that, when they talked. Jarod never had a "buddy" companion before, it was a nice feeling. He'd known him just for a couple of weeks, and yet he felt like he'd been his friend for a lifetime.
Thomas was a nice guy, he'd helped him take down Goldsmith, it was because of him if Jarod had been able to save Martin's life and his daughter's, too. It felt good to work with him.
Jarod had immediately realized how much Tommy reminded him of himself. Not the darkest sides of his persona, but the brightest ones. He was funny and smart, and very generous. He couldn't figure how he could possibly not have a girlfriend, yet.
"Jarod, do you really have to go?" Thomas asked him, not for the first time.
"I'm sorry Tommy, but – he sighed - I'm needed somewhere else. And I'm not supposed to stay too long in this part of the world."
"You mean in Dover? Or Blue Cove?"
Jarod smiled, "I've never been very comfortable in Blue Cove. I spent my childhood there and – well, let's just say it wasn't a great experience. I grew up on my own, without ever knowing my family."
"It's terrible, I'm sorry, man."
"Yeah." Jarod hesitated, then he spoke, "Wanna see their pictures?"
They started to walk towards Jarod's car. The pretender put his bag on the car hood, then he took a bunch of photographs from his diary.
"Is this your mother?" Thomas asked, looking at Margaret's picture. Jarod nodded, his heart aching every time he thought about his mother.
"And that's my brother Kyle. He died almost a year ago." he explained, his voice a mere whisper. Thomas sighed.
"You know, my folks died when I was twenty."
"I'm sorry." Jarod answered honestly, he knew too well the feeling of losing someone you love.
"Well, I was so – angry, and hopeless, that I just walked away. I don't have any photos of them."
"It's just a bunch of pictures, but I don't know, they make me feel like – like they're still with me. Like Kyle's never gone, like my mother's watching over me."
Thomas nodded in agreement, "Sometimes I feel so lonely. I would like to – just find someone, you know? Someone who truly understands what it feels like to be – alone."
Jarod sighed. He felt the same way, but he knew he would never find that kind of connection to someone, not unless he got rid of The Centre, first.
Jarod messed up his pictures and a new one came into view.
"Hey, who is she?" Tommy asked.
Jarod glanced at the photos and immediately realized which one had caught Thomas's attention.
He would never admit it, nor with Sydney, neither with her, but he always kept her photo with him. He knew she would shoot him, should she find out, and yet he couldn't help but bring that picture wherever he went.
"That's Miss Parker."
Tommy's eyes were almost sparkling. He'd never seen such beautiful eyes before, not that he remembered. Jarod looked at the picture, his breath getting faster, then he looked back at Thomas.
"Who is she? Your girlfriend?" Tommy asked, secretly hoping for a negative answer.
Jarod's grin became a sad smile of resignation, "It's complicated."
He'd lost count of how many times before he'd said something like that, when talking about his relationship with Miss Parker.
"You're not together? Why?"
"Miss Parker was my best friend when we were young. We grew up together, we were – well, kind of one thing."
"Then what happened?" Tommy realized that he was discovering another secret of Jarod's past.
"Things changed. She went away and became a – he sighed – well, let's say she's not the easiest person to get along with, these days."
Tommy smiled, "Wait a second, this is the Miss Parker who lives up on Brier, isn't she?"
Jarod smiled, "Her reputation precedes her."
Tommy laughed, "God, I've heard stories about her, but I never thought she was real."
Jarod was now chuckling in appreciation. A new idea was taking shape in his mind. It seemed so easy. Tommy – and Miss Parker.
I feel so lonely, sometimes.
'That's what he said', Jarod thought. 'Maybe this is crazy, but, what if…'
"So, you know the evil Miss Parker who lives in Blue Cove. The world is small, after all!"
"Miss Parker isn't evil. She's just lost. And she feels lonely, too."
"What do you mean?" Thomas asked, his eyes fixated on her picture.
"She lost her mother when she was a little girl, and she still suffers for her loss. Her father – he never helped her through it."
"But you did." Thomas understood at once.
Jarod smiled, thinking about his childhood and all the nights spent trying to console Miss Parker.
"Yes. Yes, I did." He answered solemnly.
"Then why aren't you guys together? It seems to me that she means a lot to you, doesn't she?"
"Yes, she does. But – Jarod sighed – We're simply not meant to be. It's never gonna happen between us. I already gave up."
"Do you still see her?"
'Yes, whenever she tries to catch me', Jarod thought.
"Not as much as I'd love to. But it really doesn't matter because she hates me."
"Hates you?" Tommy was now confused. How could she possibly hate a man like Jarod?
Jarod realized he had to come out with something, fast. The fairytale about The Centre wanting him back because he was a pretender didn't feel like something he really wanted Tommy to know. Not yet, anyway.
"We had kind of a huge fight a few years ago. I wanted her to confront her father, she didn't, and since then we – we don't talk anymore."
"I'm sorry, Jarod."
"I'm afraid she will never forgive me. But hey, I'm a young, handsome bachelor, there are hundreds of girls ready to make all my wishes come true!"
Tommy chuckled, "Well, if it were me, I'd never let go of a woman like this."
'I totally agree with you, buddy', Jarod thought.
"Well, I hope so, because you're going to meet her."
"What?" Tommy asked him. Now he seemed even more confused than before.
"I want someone to take care of her. And I'm not the man she needs to heal."
"It didn't seem to me that you were willing to share her with someone, a few moments ago."
Jarod grimaced. Tommy understood him well. Too well.
"Listen. I do care for her. A lot." Jarod clarified. "But if I really want one thing, it's to finally see her happy. I've known you for a while, Thomas, but I feel like we met a lifetime ago. I trust you."
Tommy wasn't still understanding where his friend was going with that.
"I trust that you can make her happy. You two would be great together."
Jarod tried to imagine Miss Parker with Thomas. His mind was filled at once with nice thoughts and feelings. Yes, this could work.
"I don't know, Jarod. I don't want to spoil our friendship over this. I mean, she looks amazing, but – Tommy sighed – You're one of the best friends I've ever had, I don't wanna lose that."
Jarod smiled and grabbed his hand, the one in which Thomas was still holding Miss Parker's picture.
"You won't. I promise."
Thomas waited a second, thinking that Jarod was the best person he'd ever met in his whole life. He'd helped him save Martin, and now he was rewarding him with the woman who was likely to be his soul mate.
"If you make her happy, then I'll be the one who's going to be in debt."
Jarod had never been surer of anything in his life. He wanted Thomas to meet Miss Parker. He wanted him to help her.
He knew he could make it.
"Where can I find her?"
Jarod smiled in relief and happiness.
"There's a gas station down in Blue Cove where she always goes…"
Tommy was still recovering from the meeting.
He couldn't believe his eyes when he'd seen Miss Parker in front of that cigarette machine. He'd been visiting the gas station for days since he came back from Dover. He'd been waiting for Miss Parker to show up, and finally she had arrived. He'd never seen a more beautiful woman. She was even better than in Jarod's picture.
When he'd noticed she was craving for a pack of cigarettes, he'd understood that was the right time. Jarod hadn't mentioned her smoking problem, but being an ex-smoker himself, had given Tommy an advantage.
His heart had been beating so fast while talking to her.
What had she said?
I don't have any friends.
That was the only moment he'd wanted to spell the beans about Jarod, he had struggled to stop the words coming out from his mouth. He had managed to keep the secret when he had remembered the only condition that Jarod had imposed.
"Whatever she tells you, wherever the conversation leads, it doesn't matter. You must never – ever – talk about me with her."
Jarod sighed, "She wouldn't understand. This is –"
"Complicated, I know." Tommy answered with a smile.
"It's very important, Thomas. Promise me."
Jarod was hanging on his words.
"Not a word about you, Jarod. I promise."
And Thomas had kept his promise.
Even if their first encounter hadn't been as agreeable as he had hoped, Tommy had the feeling that Miss Parker had been surprised. He had that strange feeling she would come back.
And in fact, she had.
And a couple of minutes had been enough to figure out how she really was. Every sentence spoken by that woman had reminded him of all the adjectives Jarod had used to describe her.
"Here, let me get that for you."
"I can do it myself. Thank you."
"So, you live up on Brier, don't you?"
"Careful. They have stalking laws in this state."
The sharpest tongue ever.
"I'm restoring a split level just north of you."
"That dump on the hill?"
"There's nothing quite like discovering a 17th century hardwood floor under a sheet of lime green linoleum."
"I can only imagine."
"Don't you have any passions, Miss Parker?"
"You know my name."
Uses jokes as a defense mechanism.
"Gates Restoration. Where everything old is new again."
"I wrote that myself."
"Move over, Hemingway."
That she was, indeed. She looked like an angel, even if she was more like a devil, inside.
Tommy knew he had a hard job to do. Helping her lowering the walls she had built to protect herself would be harder than he had imagined.
While he was waiting for Miss Parker to come back, he called Jarod. He wanted to let him know he'd finally met her.
After a couple of rings, the pretender answered the phone.
"What?" he asked. Tommy would realize only later that Jarod often answered the phone like Miss Parker used to.
"It's me, man. I met Parker."
Tommy told him everything they had said to each other while walking inside the shop at the gas station.
"That's great, buddy, when are you asking her out?"
"I don't know if she's ever going to accept, Jarod. She's so – God, she's so beautiful."
Jarod felt his heart breaking into a thousand of pieces, but he couldn't blame Tommy for that. He'd been the one to push him towards Miss Parker, hadn't he?
"Don't worry. If I know her well, and I'm sure I do –"
"She's wondering who you are and why you approached her."
"And then she's coming back."
Tommy ended the call with a huge grin on his face.
A couple of hours later, he was getting ready for his night to the bluffs. He truly wanted to try his new telescope, but he had a strange feeling.
'What if she doesn't come?'
Their last conversation had been abruptly interrupted by that weird woman, and since then he'd been wondering what Parker had to do with her.
The February sky was amazing. The evening wasn't very cold, but the sky was very clear, with no clouds in sight. He thought that Parker would enjoy this, should she come.
He'd almost implored her.
"Do I look like a hanging out in the woods kind of gal to you?"
"Well uh, not in those shoes, no, but uh, you can never tell when people are ready to dive into a new experience. Know what I mean?"
And he really hoped that she would kick off those shoes, that night.
When his phone rang, he answered as fast as he could, "This is Thomas."
"Hey buddy, how's the night going?"
Jarod was really hoping that Miss Parker would show up at the appointment.
"I don't know, Jarod. She's not here yet, and it's almost midnight. I think she's not coming."
Jarod sighed. He was still at the Luna Park where he had just left Rachel and her kids. So, the music around him was very loud.
"Where are you?" Tommy asked.
"Uhm, spending the night in a Luna Park." he replied. 'Well, it's true!', he thought.
Tommy smiled to himself, "You always surprise me, Jarod. So, what should I do?"
Jarod knew what he had to do. But he couldn't tell Thomas he intended to call Miss Parker. Tommy didn't know about their weird relationship and the late-night phone calls.
"Have faith, buddy. I'm sure she's coming."
A minute later, Jarod dialed Miss Parker's office number. Hoping not to hear her picking up the phone, he was really upset when she did.
Forgetting his real intentions, Jarod put on his pain-in-the-ass façade.
"It's midnight, Miss Parker. What a shock to find you still at the office."
Obviously, Miss Parker couldn't know that Jarod was upset for her decision not to get out with Thomas, he needed to change her mind with a different kind of approach.
"I was just on my way out." she replied, more gently than usual.
Jarod looked inside his mind – and heart. He inhaled slowly and decided what were the best things to say to her.
"I met a woman who reminds me of you. She was smart, compassionate…and tortured."
He lingered voluntary on the last word.
"Is that what I am?"
Jarod felt he could talk more.
"Like you, she was a prisoner of her past, of people who wanted to control her future. Instead of fighting back, she almost let them destroy her."
"Doesn't sound like a happy ending."
Jarod felt her disappointment and realized there was still hope for her. She was still caring. For everything. For her life. For her future. For her happy ending.
"Oh, it all worked out in the end. I hope the same thing happens for you." he confessed to her, and he meant it.
Jarod could hear expectation in Miss Parker's voice. Even if they were enemies, even if they pretended to hate each other, he knew she listened to every word he said. He knew she still cared about him.
Then he told her the most beautiful thing she'd ever heard in her whole adult life.
"Trust your heart Miss Parker. Don't let them take away your happiness."
When she hung up, Jarod was really hoping that his words had done the trick.
Later, when Thomas saw her coming, he couldn't believe his eyes.
"I didn't think you'd come."
When Parker smiled, Thomas felt his heart almost exploding in happiness and emotion.
"Tell me about yourself."
"What do you want to know?"
Tommy honestly didn't know where to start.
Thomas had spent the toughest week of his life with Miss Parker.
She had asked him to renovate her living room and to fix a wall damaged by water. Thomas had then seen her mother's picture for the first time, which had reminded him of Jarod's advice. His friend had told him not to push the subject with her, should she not feel like talking about her mother. He'd also mentioned that Miss Parker looked just like her mother Catherine.
Tommy had been enchanted to realize how much she really resembled her mother. However, following Jarod's suggestion, he hadn't gone too far.
"That's gotta be mom."
"I look just like her, I know. She passed away when I was a little girl."
"Oh. Must have been tough."
Then he had diverted their conversation, trying to make her change her mind about the paint color she had chosen for the wall. He had defined her a "doer", and Parker had made him notice that she always got what she wanted.
Anyway, she hadn't been offended by his comment, because later she had said to him that she was indeed a "doer", because she thought that stability breeds success.
Then he had almost freaked out when he had seen her gun. He didn't want to let it show, but he was really scared. Parker's excuse for the fact that she carried a weapon was as lousy as her lies about her job. What kind of sick "corporate risk assessment" company would make her carry a gun?
And when he had told her he had found another room behind the wall, she had put the walls up again, and all the chemistry between them had suddenly disappeared.
So, he was now calling Jarod for advice.
"Hey buddy, what's up? How's Miss Parker?"
"I, uhm – I saw something that really scared me, today." he confessed.
"What, her sharp claws?"
Jarod chuckled, but Tommy didn't.
"She carries a gun."
Jarod shut up at once. Another thing he hadn't mentioned before. How could he explain such a thing to Tommy?
"Well, she uses it – her company –"
"Yeah, she told me the story about the company that wants her to use a gun."
"Well, it's corporate policy."
"Oh, come on, Jarod! Jeez, you two come from the same planet! You really are meant for each other, you know?"
Jarod now felt a lump growing in his throat, "What is that supposed to mean?"
Tommy realized he'd just said a stupid thing.
No, not stupid. He thought what he had just said, but he shouldn't show his insecurity with Jarod. By now, he knew Jarod and Parker enough to know that they were very much alike, but he didn't want to admit that Jarod was the right person for her. Most of all, because he had been very clear about this: they weren't meant to be, were they?
"I'm sorry Jarod, please, I – I was just disappointed. Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Because you must know her on you own. There will be dark places inside her. Very dark places. And you must be ready to accept them if you want this to work."
"You are afraid that I would reject her, should I find out she's too – weird?"
"Not weird. Tortured." Jarod corrected him. Miss Parker wasn't strange; she was just an outcast. She was a very lonely woman grown up in the wrong place. Just like him.
"Ok. You're not hiding something from me, are you, Jarod?"
He didn't like lying to Thomas. He was his friend, one of the best he'd ever had. But he couldn't tell him about The Centre, he wasn't ready to understand. And he didn't want to put him in danger.
"Look, I can't tell you. But I'm sure of one thing. You got to be strong if you want to win Miss Parker's heart."
And he had tried, indeed. Even when she had come back from her work and got frightened at the realization that he had found her mother's studio. She'd been very upset, and that wall had become the symbol of her sorrow and resentment.
She had accused him of being a "stranger", that she didn't want to bare her soul to a man she didn't really know. So, he had tried to follow Jarod's advice and hold on, even when she had yelled back at him.
"Is that what the gun's for? Hmm? To keep strangers away? I'm guessing your life is filled with them, starting with her."
He had pointed at her mother's picture.
"Put the wall back up while I'm gone."
Tommy was afraid that might be the end. He didn't know what to do. Everything was so difficult. Parker was difficult.
Jarod was right, he had to be strong if he really wanted to win her heart.
And the idea came to him while he was putting the wall back up. If that was the end, then he wouldn't leave without a fight.
'Every room deserved a door', he thought.
So, he put a door in the wall. And he locked it.
Then, he waited for Parker's return.
He didn't know where she had been, but he didn't even care. All he knew was that he didn't want to lose her.
And when he saw her face when she noticed the door shape, he understood he'd done the right thing.
He heard her apologies, and her tale about her mother about how that room used to be her "sanctuary".
But Tonmy knew that if that space was her sanctuary, it wasn't just for the room. It was because of what she did with her daughter inside that room.
"When you closed off that room, you closed off a part of your soul. The part that came from her. Get it back."
"I can't do it alone."
"Come on. It'll be okay."
The moment he stretched out his hand and Miss Parker let hers inside his, he realized he was in love with her.
'Oh my god, now I'm in serious trouble', he thought.
They spent the whole night inside that room. Catherine's studio was full of dust and memories of the past. Parker felt like she was coming back home after decades of absence. She could feel her mother's presence throughout the place, and she liked that feeling. She even allowed herself to cry a bit in front of Thomas, who kept holding her hand while she wandered inside the studio.
And then Tommy saw the picture.
An old black and white photograph portraying two children together. One was recognizable as Miss Parker; he'd seen other pictures of her as a child. The other was a boy. Dark hair, dark eyes, very sweet smile.
"Who's that boy, your brother?" he asked her.
He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer, he was afraid he already knew. And he didn't like lying to her.
Parker turned around and looked at the picture. She didn't even remember when it had been taken, maybe before her mother's death. It portrayed Jarod and her, happily playing together.
"No, he's just…"
Parker sighed. Thomas noticed a slight and imperceptible smile appearing on her lips. That was the moment he realized that the feelings Jarod had for this woman were absolutely returned. Parker was visibly miles away, while looking at that picture. She even touched it slightly and sighed a second time.
"He's just a boy I used to know when I was a kid." she finally explained Thomas.
"A friend?" he asked her, feeling a pain dictated by jealousy.
Parker glanced at him and smiled, "The only one I've ever had."
Tommy and Miss Parker had spent a wonderful month together. They'd even decided to leave for a couple of days, during a weekend of ostensible calm.
Tommy was so glad that she had accepted to join him for this trip that he called Jarod to tell him the news.
"You know, Parker always answers the phone the very same way."
"Thomas! Long time, no see! How's life treating you?"
Jarod knew he was telling him the same words he had told Miss Parker during a phone call he had made almost a year before. There was a certain irony in it.
"Life is amazing, and I owe you for that, Jarod."
Jarod felt happy. He had been trying not to call Thomas too much, and he had noticed his friend's calls had become more occasional, too. That was a good sign.
"How's Miss Parker?"
"She's doing well. But I feel like – she's living in the moment. I always talk about the future, but she seems detached whenever I try to touch the argument."
Tommy sighed, "Well, the other day I told her – that I love her."
Once again, Jarod felt his heart burn from beneath.
"What did she say?" he feigned indifference.
"Nothing. Well, she didn't say it back. I don't know if I should worry about that."
Jarod felt a weird feeling of satisfaction when he heard that news. So, Miss Parker hadn't told Thomas that she loved him, yet. Was it just because she wasn't ready or…
'Stop torturing yourself, Jarod!' he thought.
"Miss Parker is just scared, Thomas. I know she loves you, too. She wouldn't have let you inside her life, otherwise."
"Well, remember Mark, the realtor I was in touch with?"
"Yes, I do remember Mark. He's such a boring man!"
Tommy chuckled, "Well, he is, but he just bought the house I've restored."
"He found me another house to work on. It's in Portland. I would work out there for a while."
"Maine is a lovely state." Jarod replied.
"Portland Oregon." He clarified.
Jarod shut up for a moment. That was something he would have never seen coming. What would Miss Parker do? Would she go with him?
And then Jarod had another revelation.
Miss Parker had to go with him.
It was her chance to be happy. It was her chance of redemption. She could leave The Centre, once and for all. She would be happy. Far from him, sure, but eventually free.
"Buy the house. And ask Miss Parker to go with you."
"What? Are you crazy? She's never gonna leave her family."
"She will, if you convince her."
"I'm never gonna make it, Jarod. You know her. She won't."
"You must try, Tommy. It's not like you've got something to lose."
Tommy was silent. Jarod felt his heart in his throat.
"Yeah. Parker and I are goin' away for the weekend, so we'll talk when we get back."
"Okay, buddy. I'll see you again soon."
"You take care, Jarod."
Jarod hung up.
He'd never been more hopeful in his entire life.
Maybe this time everything would be ok, even for Miss Parker.
Tommy and Parker were lying in her bed. He hadn't told her about the house he had bought in Portland, yet. It was too difficult. He didn't know where to start. The only thing he knew was that he loved her and didn't want to lose her.
That afternoon, they had talked about death. She had been so scared when he had told her he would leave her all his shirts, should he die. Then he had promised her not to go anywhere, but he was still thinking about the house that was waiting for him in Oregon.
No. Not only for him. For them.
And now, they were talking about her mother. Parker explained she was her whole life.
While looking at Catherine's picture, Tommy felt sad because he didn't have any photos of his family. So, he told Parker the truth about his own tragedy.
"My folks died when I was twenty. You know, I was so angry I just walked away. I don't have any photos of them. I wish now that I did."
"It's just a picture. It does make me feel connected to her, like she's protecting me."
At that moment, he remembered Jarod's words about his mother and brother's pictures.
"It's just a bunch of pictures, but I don't know, they make me feel like – like they're still with me. Like Kyle's never gone, like my mother's watching over me."
Parker and Jarod were so similar, even if they had never realized.
Thomas was happy because Parker loved him, or at least she seemed to. But deep inside his heart, he knew that she felt something for Jarod. There was a very strong connection between them, and it was a pity that they couldn't see it, too.
"I'm sorry, baby."
It was the first time that Parker called him baby.
It felt so good.
While she was sleeping, Thomas stood up to call Jarod. He had to talk with him, and he really hoped to find him awake.
"Hope I didn't wake you."
"I don't sleep much at all, you know."
Jarod was happy to hear from his friend, "I heard you bought the house, I'm glad. Did you tell her?"
Thomas sighed, "Not yet."
"What are you waiting for?"
"A few moments ago, we talked about her mother's picture. The one she keeps on her bedside table."
"The one with Catherine's smiling and holding a baby Miss Parker. That's her favorite."
Thomas didn't really want to find out how Jarod could possibly know that detail.
"Yes. She told me the very same things you said about your family's photos. That she feels like Catherine's protecting her."
Jarod smiled. He knew the feeling. And he knew her. Better than anyone else.
"You two are so connected, Jarod. Sometimes, when she talks, it's like I'm listening to you, not to her. You think the same; you feel the same about so many things. It's like you were two…pieces of the same puzzle."
Jarod smiled for the analogy. He liked it.
"We grew up together, we had the same…background –"
"You had each other. I'm so thankful that she had you. She's the most amazing woman I've ever met."
"I know. And she deserves the truth. So, tell her about Portland. And hope she won't shoot at you."
"What do you mean?"
But Jarod had already hung up. He couldn't talk more because he felt lonely and desperate. And yet, he knew he was doing the right thing. He was letting her go, and she was in very good hands. Thomas's hands.
Tommy was angry and desperate. He had decided to follow Jarod's advice, once again. He'd spoken with Parker the morning before, he'd told her about Portland and his intention to leave. Portland was already waiting for them, and he needed to go soon.
The realtor had been very nice, seeing that he had known Thomas for most of his life. He still had to sign the papers, but he was the new owner of the house, by now.
Parker's reaction had been exactly the one he had been expecting of her. She'd gotten scared. She was terrified, and Thomas knew. The idea of leaving her job and family was unacceptable to her; and yet, he couldn't understand her behavior. Parker was almost panicking.
So, when he'd she had showed up to his place to "talk", he'd figured out her intent at once: She had come to break up with him.
Their quarrel had been fast and final, Parker had left him no choice. She had put on her Ice Queen façade – a nickname he had once heard Jarod use to define Miss Parker's usual self – and she had excluded him from her life.
Thomas hadn't slept at all, that night. He wanted to call Jarod, but he hadn't found him. So, he had opted to do what Jarod would have suggested. He had decided to settle things once and for all, so he had gone straight to The Centre, waiting for Parker to show up.
She had been upset to see him there, she hadn't expected to have to face him again. But she had also looked a bit – worried?
They'd fought, again. Tommy wanted her to understand how much he cared for her, that she was following her father's will, not her own.
If Jarod had taught him something, it was that she still behaved like her father wished her to, not like she wanted to.
Jarod's words had been crystal clear about that taboo subject.
"We had kind of a huge fight a few years ago. I wanted her to confront her father, she didn't, and since then we – we don't talk anymore."
Then she had screamed in exasperation, criticizing his life and the fact he didn't have commitments at all.
'This is a commitment. Can't you see that?'
The echo of his own words was still resounding in his mind. How could Parker believe that she had obligations towards a family that didn't even understand her?
She had spoken about relationships, and he had been so close in revealing his friendship with Jarod, because he seemed to be the only person who really cared for Parker's happiness.
And she didn't even know!
She couldn't imagine that the just-a-boy-she-used-to-know-when-she-was-a-kid was the puppeteer behind this relationship, the one who had lit the torch between them.
And Jarod also wanted Parker to leave, he approved of Tommy's idea of going as far as possible from that damned place.
Parker had said she had a life, but Tommy wasn't sure anymore that she was ready to share it with him. He had begged her not to make him leave without her, but he didn't know if she would finally accept her feelings.
He could only hope.
He continuously tried to call her, but she didn't answer the phone. He also left her a few messages, but she hadn't called him back, yet. He was abandoning all hope.
Suddenly his phone rang, it took him just a second to answer.
"No, it's Jarod. Hey, you sound worried, buddy. Did I miss something?"
Thomas sighed. He was glad to finally hear from his friend, but he'd been hoping it was Parker speaking.
"Well, I – I think it's over, Jarod. Parker gave me the boot."
"What do you mean? She gave you a pair of boots as present?"
Thomas chuckled, not sure if Jarod was serious or just teasing him.
"I told her about Portland, Jarod. I think she won't come."
Jarod couldn't believe his ears. He was sure that Thomas would be able to melt Miss Parker's heart, but now he was realizing he had been too hasty. He had to help him. He didn't know what to do, he hadn't been speaking with Miss Parker for days, he was trying to let her go. It was very hard to talk with her and pretend not to be Tommy's friend, not to admit he'd been the one to introduce Thomas into her life.
Not to tell her what he truly felt about her.
"What am I going to do, Jarod? I've been to that place too, The Centre, but it seems like I've pissed her off even more."
"You showed up to The Centre?" Jarod inquired him urgently, worried for his friend's safety.
"Yes, and you sound as preoccupied as she was when she saw me there. What the hell happens in that place, Jarod? Will you tell me?"
Jarod sympathized with Miss Parker's worries. Thomas was a thorn in her father's side, he shouldn't have gone to the Centre. But it was too late, now. Jarod would take care of this later, should it be necessary.
"Where is she now?" Jarod asked him, voluntarily ignoring his last question.
"I think she's at home. Home. Such a meaningless word to me, now."
Jarod was curious. He'd always dreamed to have a home, to be reunited with his family. How could Tommy deny the importance of having one?
"Because since my parents died, I've felt at home just once: since I met Parker."
Jarod was speechless, threatening tears at the corner of his eyes. This was too much, for him.
"I didn't know anything about love, before meeting Parker. The first time I've experienced that feeling it was when I looked into her eyes. It felt like – like I had found my place in the world again."
Jarod sighed, "Did you ever tell her that?"
Now it was Tommy's turn to sigh, "No. But I did tell her that I love her. And she's never said it back to me."
"Miss Parker's words are never as important as her actions. I'm sure she loves you, too."
"I wish you were right."
"Hold on, buddy. Give her a chance."
"I'll be waiting forever, man. I love her too damn much."
Jarod's face turned into a sad smile. He hung up and decided to dial another number.
He had to help them both. And if Miss Parker needed a little boost, he was the only one who could give it to her.
Miss Parker's phone rang many times. Jarod was afraid she would not answer. He was proven wrong when Miss Parker picked up the receiver and spoke.
"I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you, Tommy."
For a moment, Jarod felt like he was dying. She had never addressed him in such a soft and lovely way. Thomas was a lucky man, indeed.
"No. it's me."
Jarod could imagine Miss Parker's disappointment at the realization that he was the one speaking.
He knew she meant what she just said. She didn't want to hurt Thomas, but she was making him suffer, and not only Thomas. Herself, too.
"Jarod. You got another clever message for me?"
"I only wanted you to know that Thomas was selling. From the sound of your voice, you've already discussed it."
Jarod wanted desperately to tell her the truth. He wanted to shout that he knew because Thomas had told him a few moments ago. That he knew because he was his friend. He was her friend. But he couldn't.
"Yeah. He's moving to Oregon. He wants me to go with him."
She sounded softened, in a certain way. So, Jarod dared even more.
Miss Parker made a half laugh, "You'd like that, wouldn't you? It's too late anyway."
Jarod now was fully aware that she did care for Thomas. That she truly wanted things to be different. She was looking for a turning point, but she was too afraid to see it, even if it was right in front of her face.
"You picked a fight with him, didn't you?"
Both Jarod and Miss Parker remained silent for a few seconds. He wanted her to understand that he knew too much, and probably Miss Parker figured out that this was too weird even for a pretender like Jarod. How could he know that she had a discussion with Thomas?
"This isn't what you want, Miss Parker!"
Miss Parker thought that Jarod sounded just like Thomas when he had told her that she didn't mean what she said, that it was her father talking, not her.
"Why does everybody suddenly know what I want?"
Jarod was scared because he did know what she wanted. He had known for years, decades. He knew her so well that he had sent her the only man who could help her change her life.
"Your mother always knew. She was trying to leave the Centre the day that she was killed. She wanted to take you as far away from there as possible."
He had done his magic. Whenever he mentioned Catherine, Miss Parker lowered the walls she had built years before. He knew that she was listening.
"That's what Thomas wants. It's no coincidence."
Miss Parker hung up. Jarod was very worried for her, but he didn't have time. He was in the middle of a pretend, and he needed to stay focused, even if it was very difficult to let everything go.
He could only hope that his message had reached its destination: Miss Parker's heart.
Tommy couldn't believe his eyes when he saw Parker entering his bedroom.
Had she finally surrendered to her feelings?
It felt like heaven. She was there, with him. Ready to finally open herself to a "stranger".
"There are things about me, things that you need to know before you make me a part of your life."
She hadn't even let him answer. He could only listen to her.
"You were right. It wasn't me talking. I haven't been me for a long time, not since...I think you made me realize that...there are places in me Tommy, dark places."
At that moment, Tommy remembered one of his conversations with Jarod.
"Because you must know her on you own. There will be dark places inside her. Very dark places. And you must be ready to accept them if you want this to work."
"You are afraid that I would reject her, should I find out she's too – weird?"
"Not weird. Tortured."
And so, he had said the only things she'd been needing to hear from him.
"And you're afraid that if I see them, that I'll reject you? Parker, if something is not right, we'll deal with it, together. I'm a fixit man, remember?"
"I guess that makes me your new project."
"And this one I'll never sell."
When Parker finally fell asleep, Thomas called Jarod.
He could tell he was driving because of all the background noise. He was also listening to the radio.
"This is Jarod."
"Hey, man! Where are you going?"
"Thomas! Your voice sounds more relieved. Does it mean that – ?"
"Yes, it does. Parker came back tonight. She's ready to leave with me. And she wants to talk with her father, too."
Jarod sighed in relief. He was so glad to hear that news. And he was even happier because he knew that, in a certain way, it was all to his credit.
"I'm very happy for you, buddy. I'm sure you're going to make her happy."
"What?" he asked, his voice almost a soft moan.
"I know you've got something to do with that. She changed her mind, and I don't know how. But thank you."
"I've nothing to do with that, Tommy. But I must warn you about her father. It's not going to be easy for him to let her go. He's, uhm, very protective."
"She told me. I hope it'll all work out."
"You know, Jarod. She told me almost the same things you said about her. She confessed she's got dark memories in her past. Dark places she keeps hidden inside. She made me think about you."
"I told you, I used to know her well." Jarod tried to minimize his bond with Miss Parker.
"It's not just that. It's like if. Ugh, never mind."
"What?" Jarod asked, with curiosity.
"I don't know. She was afraid I would reject her, should I see those places. Jarod, you were right about her. You were right about everything. And I'm never going to thank you enough for what you did for me. For us."
Jarod smiled. He cared for Thomas and Miss Parker. He truly wanted them to be happy. Maybe, by going so far from The Centre, they would find their happily ever after.
"I told you, you had to be strong, to win her heart. You did it. That's all that counts."
"I'm so afraid you will disappear now, Jarod. I don't want to lose you."
The pretender smiled to himself, "I'm not leaving, buddy. Not yet. I'll be in touch."
"I hope so. You're the best friend I've ever had, Jarod."
Jarod opened his eyes wide.
"Same here, Tommy."
He hung up and smiled sadly.
Thomas knew Parker was going to talk with her father. He wanted her to make the man understand she needed to leave, that she wanted to leave. He couldn't imagine her father's authority over her, he still believed she could convince him to let her go.
So, when he received Mr. Parker's visit, he realized how wrong he had been. He knew this man would be a tough opponent. It was a father who wanted to mark his place in the world. And he also wanted to put Thomas in his own place.
Tommy was trying to act civilly, but when Mr. Parker gave him that blank cheque, he couldn't bear anything else.
"Fill in any amount you want, we shake hands, get on with our lives. All of us."
"I love your daughter, Mr Parker. No amount of money in the world could ever change that."
He was proud. Even if he knew this was like signing an act of war against the Parkers. He didn't care at all. Everything he wanted was to live with Parker, to love her and be loved by her.
He didn't like this man, at all, he couldn't believe that a lovely creature like Miss Parker had come from such an evil person. She probably was her mother's daughter.
And yet, he didn't tell Parker anything when she came back home.
He didn't want her to get worried or begin a fight with her father. He knew they had to handle this situation in the kindest way, he didn't want Parker to leave without her father's blessing, or she would regret this for the rest of her life.
And Tommy wanted their life together to be filled of happiness and love, not resentment and remorse.
That night, Parker was sure her father and brother would never let her go.
Tommy couldn't understand. She was a grown woman; she could make her own decisions. And yet, they seemed to have a power over her. Like they were controlling her life, everything she did.
"It's not that simple". She explained to him.
And once again her words reminded him of a conversation with Jarod. The first they had about her.
"Who is she? Your girlfriend?"
Thomas wondered if, for the rest of his life, he would be reminded of Jarod's words whenever Miss Parker said something about her family, her job, her feelings, or her past.
Then they heard the bell ring and they found Mr. Parker and his son at the door. Parker had never been more scared and surprised in her whole life.
Mr. Parker's words were very careful. It seemed like a script he had been studying all day long.
When Thomas heard him saying that he had been selfish, he almost fainted in astonishment. That man certainly had the nerve.
"The, uhm, Yakuza have a saying that love and fear fly to heaven on the same wing, which means the things we do because we love somebody are also the things we do because we're afraid. Like when Dad tried to pay Thomas to go away."
Thomas felt like he could kill his girlfriend's brother, right then. She was not supposed to know that. He didn't want her to worry about her father's attitude. And he didn't want her to think he was hiding something from her.
Except for the fact he knew Jarod, of course.
"What? Why didn't tell me that?"
"Because it wasn't a big deal. He just.. – he made an error in judgment, that's all."
And after a list of well-prepared apologies, her father finally said the magic words.
"If you think that leaving is the best for you then, um, go with my blessing."
Parker couldn't believe his words, and neither did Thomas. He was sure Mr. Parker was kidding. Even when he heard him saying, "I just want you to be happy, that's all I've ever wanted."
Thomas saw the door closing behind the two weirdest men he'd ever met, he felt relieved and relaxed. That was the happiest moment in his entire life.
"Well congratulations, Parker. It looks like you're finally in control of your own life."
"How does it feel?"
Thomas wasn't ready for what was going to happen. The only thing he knew was that he loved Parker and that their life together could begin, eventually.
And he owed Jarod.
'If it wasn't for him', he thought.
Once again, when Parker fell asleep, Thomas took the phone and called his friend.
When Jarod saw the incoming call, even without reading the id caller he knew it was Thomas.
He wanted to hear good news, and yet he was afraid at the same time. He knew that, should Tommy tell him that they were leaving, Miss Parker would finally disappear from his life. For good.
And even if he was trying to accept this prospective, Jarod wasn't ready, at all.
But it was the right thing to do. He knew he still needed her, he still cared about her. And that was the same reason he had to let her go.
"Hey buddy, why the late call?"
"Jarod, we did it. We're leaving in a couple of days."
Jarod swallowed hard, like he had no more fluids in his mouth. So, that was the end.
"What about Mr. Parker?"
"The old man finally came to his senses. He gave his blessing. I've never seen her so happy and scared at the same time."
Jarod obviously knew the reason, but he couldn't tell Tommy. The Centre was one of the most dangerous places to deal with. Mr. Parker's blessing meant that his daughter would be able to leave without fearing repercussions or being chased. It looked like she was finally free.
"She will be scared and confused for a very long time, Thomas. You must be ready to accept her attitude. If I know her well –"
"You do. Much more than I do." Thomas interrupted Jarod, he wanted to confess his uncomfortable fears to his friend.
"Don't blame yourself, buddy. You've been a glimpse of a light in her life. Her flame had died, and she's been searching for someone to rekindle that fire for years. And finally, she found you."
Jarod realized what he had just said; He was quoting his own book, the novel he had written for Miss Parker as a Valentine's Day gift.
Back then, he had been sure they would end up together, eventually. Sure that they would find each other again, some day.
And yet, here they were.
Thomas was the man at her side, the one that would make her happy. Not the pretender, her childhood friend. And she would never know that Jarod had been the one behind this.
She couldn't find out.
"I'm afraid Jarod. I can't lose her."
"What about you? Will you be okay?"
Jarod smiled that sappy smile of his, "I'll be just fine. Life goes on."
"Yeah. You know what, Jar?"
Tommy waited a couple of seconds.
"I'm so glad I've met you. You changed my life. And you lead me to Parker. I will never thank you enough for that."
"Just – " Jarod hesitated for a moment. "Just make her happy. And remember, never tell her about me, ok?"
"I swear, Jarod. But it's wrong. She deserves to know the truth. She deserves to know what a good friend you've been to her, you should have told her…your feelings."
"I know you love her, Jarod."
Jarod's heartbeat accelerated slightly.
"I know you let her go because you think she hates you, but you know what? I think she doesn't hate you, at all. She doesn't have it in her heart."
"Or her eyes…" Jarod whispered.
Hadn't he told the very same things to Broots, once?
Thomas was right. He did love her. He couldn't live without her, or with her.
"Are you sure that's how you want things to be left between you two?"
Jarod chuckled, "Well, if I weren't, I'd be a perfect idiot, wouldn't I?"
Thomas burst into laughter and so did Jarod.
"Am I going to see you again?" his friend asked him.
Jarod could hear expectation and sadness in his voice. And he knew this was the last time he was talking to his buddy.
"Perhaps, one day. 'Till then, I want you to promise me something."
"Miss Parker won't have to cry anymore. Ever."
"Are tears of joy allowed?"
Jarod laughed together with Tommy, "Deal."
"Goodbye, Jar. I wish you all the joy you gave to me."
"Bye, Tommy. Take care of yourselves."
The last thing Tommy heard after hanging up, was a dull sound coming from the porch. He glanced at his bedroom, where Parker was sleeping peacefully, and then he exited the house, to see what was going on outside.
When Jarod heard the news and saw Miss Parker on the tv screen, he couldn't believe his eyes. Silent tears came streaming down his face when he realized that Thomas Gates, one of his best friends, the man he had been talking to just a few hours ago, had died.
He felt sad, angry, and desperate.
The first idea that came to his mind was to leave for Blue Cove, wait for Lyle to show up in the garage and kill him with his bare hands. He was sure Lyle had something to do with it.
And yet, he knew that revenge wouldn't help.
Tommy was dead and he needed to keep his wits about him.
He needed to keep his pretender-mode on and try to get through that dirty story on his own.
But what would Miss Parker do?
He could just imagine how difficult this would be for her. Her lover, her partner, the man she was going to build a life with. They'd taken him away from her.
Her father had made her believe they were going to let her go, that she had their blessing. Another lie. Another squalid lie.
Jarod was sure: The Centre was behind Thomas's death. And he would find out how and why.
All Tommy's executioners' faces came to his mind. Mr. Parker was probably the one who had given the order. But how could he prove it? And who was the material author of the crime? Lyle? Raines? Willie the sweeper? Sam? Or maybe Brigitte?
It didn't matter anymore. He just wanted to find the truth. He needed to find the truth.
Because he felt responsible. He had been the one to involve Thomas in their world. It was all his fault. If Tommy hadn't been involved with him in the first place, he would still be alive.
Jarod cried lonely tears; he just couldn't stop.
'Tommy is dead'.
Then it occurred to him. He had something to do. The very first thing to do.
He wiped the tears from his face and took his cell phone. He was going to do what, just a few hours before, he had promised himself he wouldn't do anymore.
Miss Parker's phone rang, and she answered after a few seconds. Her voice sounded sad and empty.
"I saw the news report about Thomas. Are you okay?"
'What a stupid question!', he thought. 'Of course she's not okay!'
"It's too soon to tell."
"They said it was an unsolved homicide. Do the police have any suspects?"
Knowing the authorities as Jarod did, he was already sure of the answer.
"One, if you include me."
'Crime of passion'. The first idea that always comes to every detective's mind.
"You must be close if you saw the local report on television."
Jarod felt his heart beating again. Then, his Parker was still there. He'd been afraid she would let herself go, seeing that Thomas wasn't at her side anymore.
But she was a fighter. She would never give up on him.
"Always the hunter, Miss Parker."
He hated himself. All he wanted to say to her was how much he cared about Thomas, about her. He was almost telling her the truth, but she wasn't ready. He needed to help without telling her of his secret friendship with Thomas. 'One thing at a time.'
"I – barely have enough energy to sleep, let alone chase you around. I appreciate the call Jarod, but if you don't mind, I have a lot to think about."
Parker needed a life preserver, something to help her not sink. Jarod would give her that.
He would help her find out who had murdered Thomas, by using his annoying incomplete clues, his stupid hints, his nonsense messages.
Parker would hate him, as she had always done. And this would help her to go on and find a new reason to survive. By hating him, she would gain new strength.
So, Jarod got back to his old habit. He had to guide her towards the truth, one step at a time.
"Like finding out who did this. You might want to take a closer look at the people around you."
"And what exactly am I looking for?"
Miss Parker was almost grumbling, but Jarod didn't care. He knew she was listening, as she always did when it came to him. While holding a piece of glass, he remembered Thomas's words about their relationship.
"It's like you were two…pieces of the same puzzle."
Jarod knew what he had to do. And he also knew what he had to say.
"Missing pieces, Miss Parker. Missing pieces."
And we all know what happens next.
Thanks for reading. Reviews would be very appreciated!