Miss Parker sighed and collapsed onto the sofa, a vodka-martini in hand. This would be her fourth. She drained the glass of its contents. Her head began to spin. So soon? She blinked rapidly and focused her attention on the cocktail glass grasped firmly in her hand. Returning her glass to the coffee table, Miss Parker stretched out on the sofa and closed her eyes. The warm, orange glow of the overhead art deco lights worked on her tired, alcohol-addled mind and ever so slowly lulled her into a deep slumber...
The doorbell rang. Miss Parker groaned, rose from the sofa and quickly but purposefully surveyed her living area, making sure everything was in order. The house had been in her family for years. In happier times, it had served as the Parker family summerhouse. Now, it was hers, her sanctuary. The one place she had felt safe from the Centre’s influence, until about a year ago, when her world had been turned upside down.
Miss Parker strode to the dresser mirror by the entrance and practiced her smile while she fixed her hair. It was uncanny how much she resembled her mother, and Emma Peel. She smoothed her jet-black dress, before unbolting the stained-glass wooden door and throwing it wide.
A balding man and a teenage girl stood on the front porch. The man grinned maniacally; the doe-eyed girl flashed her a toothy grin. Miss Parker returned their smiles, which took some work.
“Broots, Debbie! I’m so glad you could make it. Please, come inside.”
She waved them into the living room.
Broots cradled a tray of Christmas puddings. “I brought dessert”, he announced triumphantly. The trace of a smile played across Miss Parker’s lips as she directed him to the kitchen. She and Debbie exchanged knowing looks and embraced each other.
Broots returned from the kitchen. He looked to Miss Parker, and then gulped. His eyes darted around the room as he tried to regain his composure. Miss Parker was not faring much better. She stood there awkwardly, her mind drawing a blank. For a moment, she did not have the slightest clue how to proceed with the evening. Then she remembered something her mother had said while entertaining guests.
“Can I fix you anything to drink?”
Both father and daughter shook their heads and sank onto the sofa. “No, thank you.”
Damn, she was bad at this hospitality bull.
Hope they’re more agreeable when it comes to dinner.
Debbie eyed the Christmas tree sitting in the corner of the room; a rainbow of lights adorned it.
“I like your tree.”
Before Miss Parker could respond, the doorbell rang again.
“I didn’t know you invited others?”
She looked to Broots, then to Debbie, shrugged and turned for the door.
“Neither did I.” Who could it be? She opened the door. A tall, dark-haired man with a penetrating gaze grinned innocently at her.
“Hello, Miss Parker.”
Adrenaline spiked through her body. Miss Parker cursed loudly, stumbled back and scrambled in the dresser drawer for her Smith and Wesson. Her hand grasped the silver handle and she felt the weight of the gun as she pulled it free. Loaded. Good. She had lost her cool. Now, the gun returned some semblance of control to her frazzled mind. She cocked the hammer, raised the Smith and Wesson and levelled it at the intruder, her finger hovering over the trigger. The man raised his hands in surrender.
“Jarod?” Questions bounced around her mind like balls in a pinball machine. She spoke again, but her voice was shaky. “What the HELL are you doing here?”
“It’s Christmas time, Miss Parker! I came to see my dear old family. I hear that’s what people do this time of year.”
“I don’t understand. I...”
Jarod interrupted her. “I think you do.”
She groaned as the truth dawned on her.
“Yes, much as I hate to admit it, the Centre is my family.”
Jarod did not try to flee; he advanced towards her but made no move for her gun. He continued, “I run, you chase. That’s how it’s always been. But not today. Today, I propose a truce.”
Miss Parker backed up and ushered Jarod into the living room with a wave of her Smith and Wesson. She kicked the door shut with her heel and trained her eyes on Jarod. A truce? What was he playing at? Why wasn’t he running?
The others caught sight of Jarod. Broots stammered a hello; Debbie smiled. Jarod winked playfully, and then looked to Miss Parker.
“Yes, a truce. May I take a seat?” He did not wait for a response but sunk into the sofa, satisfied. “You remember the famous 1st World War Christmas story. Axis and Allied soldiers agree on a cease-fire for the night. They meet in No-Man’s-Land, sing carols and share food and drink.”
“What are you saying?” Miss Parker spluttered. “There’s no way in hell I’m singing carols with you!”
Jarod looked her full in the face. “‘Love your enemies.’ I read that somewhere. ‘Pray for those who spitefully use you.’”
Miss Parker’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not the praying type.”
Jarod smiled ruefully and leaned back in the sofa. “Maybe there’s healing in forgiveness, Miss Parker. God knows both you and I need some help.”
“Speak for yourself!”
Jarod motioned with his left hand at her mobile phone resting on the coffee table. “You may want to get that.” The phone rang and Miss Parker’s heart leapt into her throat. How did he know? What was going on? She shook her head, tried to reclaim her sanity. Gun still trained on Jarod, she snatched up the phone and barked angrily into it, “What?!”
In an instant she recognised the gruff, commanding voice on the other end. Miss Parker’s mind raced.
“Daddy?” She croaked, her voice now that of a little girl.
“Sorry about the short notice, Angel, but I’ll be home for Christmas. See you soon.”
The phone went dead.