A New Life, A New Identity by Staceysedge
Summary: A crossover between the Pretender and Less Than Perfect
Categories: Crossovers Characters: Jarod, Lyle, Miss Parker, Original Character, Other Centre Character, Sam, Sydney
Genres: General
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 7 Completed: Yes Word count: 11513 Read: 22085 Published: 23/06/05 Updated: 23/06/05

1. Chapter 1 by Staceysedge

2. Chapter 2 by Staceysedge

3. Chapter 3 by Staceysedge

4. Chapter 4 by Staceysedge

5. Chapter 5 by Staceysedge

6. Chapter 6 by Staceysedge

7. Chapter 7 by Staceysedge

Chapter 1 by Staceysedge
Disclaimer: The proceeding has characters, themes, and phrases borrowed from the television program "The Pretender." I am not using them to make money, only for my enjoyment. In addition, should I be sued for 'borrowing' the shows elements, my defense will be that they are only my opinions, very detailed opinions, that reflect my thoughts on the direction the show should have taken. If they do not reflect that, then they reflect where I would have wanted the show to be taken. Anywayz, I apologize in advance to the writers/owners, and any other person in the category of 'Not knowing a good thing when it jumps up to bite you on the ass', if you're offended by my writing.

Author's Note: I don't watch Less Than Perfect that often, so if there are any mistakes regarding that show, I apologize. This is a crossover between the Pretender and Less Than Perfect (standard disclaimer can be applied to this show as well), in case you're wondering and didn't actually read my summary.



A New Life, A New Identity
Chapter 1




There is no way her day could've started any worse. First her blow dryer broke -- it appeared to have something stuck in it -- and she had to let her hair air dry. Walking out of the coffee shop on her way to work her heel got caught in a crack on the sidewalk, causing her to stumble. Instinctively, she threw her arms out to regain her balance and spilled the rest of her coffee. Instead of going back inside the coffee shop to get another five-dollar cup, she continued on to work, deciding that she could swallow the muck her office called coffee for today.

The minute she stepped off the elevator, Owen came tearing around the corner, a jelly doughnut in his outstretched hand, and collided with her. He apologized profusely. Lydia shot him a fake smile telling him it was ok. Had someone stained a new outfit of hers a year ago, she would have instantly jumped down their throat. Instead, Lydia shrugged it off, accepting that it was just going to be one of those days, and headed for the rest room to clean up.

Now, still in the rest room, she found herself staring at her reflection in the mirror. She noticed the obvious changes: the lighter hair and makeup, the less intimidating apparel. Awareness soon spread though, that despite the events of the morning, she was smiling. For once, her face was relaxed. There were no pressures or stresses from the job, and she was happy -- more than happy -- with her personal life.

Tossing the used paper towel into the wastebasket, her moderate sized heels began clicking over the tiles as she exited the restroom. Lydia tossed greetings to co-workers that she had never acknowledged before while heading to her desk to get to work.

Before she sat down, her gaze fell across a man -- a very familiar looking man -- standing by the conference room doors.

He wouldn't show up here would he?

She had to find out.

With a purpose, she marched over to him. The closer she got, the more certain she was that it was him. He was dressed in a business suit, his back to her as he read the memos on the wall.

The realization of her happiness with her new life had disappeared. It was now replaced with mild anger for the disruption he was about to cause.

"What are you doing here?" Lydia placed her hand on his shoulder and led him into the empty conference room. After shutting the two paneled doors, she whirled around, placed her hands on her hips, and challenged him to answer her.

Jarod ignored her question and beamed at her. If she gets to pretend, there was no law that said he couldn't pretend as well.

Lydia advanced on him and raised her eyebrows.

Jarod rolled his eyes, "I wanted to see you." A simple answer.

Lydia cocked her head and waited for more.

"Par-"

Lydia abruptly cut him off.

"Lydia." She said rigidly.

Jarod apologized and repeated after her, "Sorry, Lydia. I guess I forgot."

A quick flash of his hands later, he had pulled her body up against his. Parker's startled eyes met his and she squeaked out, "Here?"

Jarod grinned at her perceptiveness and replied with false graveness, "I'm afraid so."

* * * *


"Hey, Claude, c'mere." Ramona waved her redheaded friend over wildly.

"I just saw Lydia shove some man in here. You won't believe what they're doing." Ramona was giggling as she pressed her ear to the conference room door.

A curious expression on her face, Claude joined Ramona. She pulled back quickly in disbelief and gasped questioningly, "They're not?"

Ramona's head bounced like a bobble-head in confirmation. "They are."

Claude tactfully moved away from the doors, and dragged a reluctant Ramona away with her. Lydia and her boy-toy could come out any minute and she didn't want to be caught eaves-dropping.

Ramona, not wanting to miss any of the action, waited impatiently at Claude's desk for Lydia to reappear.

Almost ten more minutes went by when Ramona finally spotted a disheveled Lydia slinking back to her desk.

"Hey Lydia" Ramona approached her cheerily.

"Where have you been?"

When it appeared that Lydia wasn't going to answer her, Ramona leaned in and snapped her fingers in Lydia's face to get her attention.

Startled out of her reverie, Lydia raised her head to find the source of the interruption, and found Ramona perched on her desk. She flinched when Ramona reached a hand out to her hair.

Ignoring her reaction, Ramona asked, "How'd this get there?" She held up a paper clip.

Lydia's lips parted in remembrance of what she had just been doing, and how the paper clip must have ended up in her hair.

Quickly snatching it from Ramona, she tossed it in her desk drawer.

"Don't know." Lydia clipped off quickly before standing and heading for the elevator.

"Lydia? How about you have lunch with Claude and me? We can go for a walk in the park, and get to know each other. What do ya say?" Ramona was not about to let this juicy gossip slip through her fingers.

Not really paying too much attention, Lydia agreed off-handedly as the elevator doors shut.



Author's Note2: I don't know how good this is, so I would appreciate any Reviews. Let me know if I should continue. Don't worry, if I do continue, I have plans for another chapter under way as we speak. Even if you don't like it, I'll probably finish it for my benefit. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 2 by Staceysedge
The Park. Such a beautiful, peaceful place. A reminder of childhood… not her childhood, just a reminder of what it should have been like. Exuberant kids playing, birds chirping all around them, the chatter of parents as they sat watching their children, and of course, the gossip of the men and women on their lunch break.

Lydia was chagrined to be partaking in that office gossip, even if it was passively. Broots would get along so well with Ramona and Claude, she thought.

The two ladies were talking her ears off about the boss on the 15th floor, whose son had inadvertently slept with his dad's new girlfriend.

An image of Brigitte and Lyle assaulted her inner eye causing her sure strides to falter.

When Claude and Ramona realized she was no longer in between them and they were just talking to themselves, they stopped and turned back. Lydia looked sick, as if she was going to throw up.

Concerned, Claude asked, "Are you ok, Lydia?"

Lydia nodded that she was fine. Ramona and Claude resumed their pace and continued with their story.

Resuming the fašade, and clearing her mind of the past, she quickened her pace and caught up with them at the benches.

"So, Lydia, tell us about him?" Ramona asked excitedly.

Lydia had been expecting this, so was not caught completely off guard. However, she already knew she did not want to go down that road with them. They were genuinely nice people and if she ends up telling them about Jarod, they may learn to coerce other information, that she would rather kept hidden, out of her.

"Tell you about who?" She asked innocently, and began twirling a strand of hair between her fingers.

Playing dumb with Daddy always seemed to work. She would give it a go here too.

"Unh-uh, girl. You're gonna spill it. Tell us everything." Ramona urged, intent on breaking Lydia's insistent denial.

The joyous hollering of a little boy cut off her continued attempt to deny Ramona's allegations "I really have no clue what --". She had to turn her body around to see where Claude and Ramona's gazes were fixed to spot him.

"Mommy, Mommy!" He screamed happily.

Ramona and Claude looked on in curious wonder as he launched himself into their co-workers arms.

Pleasantly surprised by his appearance, Lydia stood and hugged him tightly to her. The presence of her two colleagues was quickly forgotten as she began to concentrate on the warm, squirming body that she now held.

"Mommy, put me down." He demanded, wiggling out of her grasp, unwilling to be held any longer.

She kneeled down to his eye level and brushed the hair out of his face, deciding that she would take him with her to get his hair cut when she visited her stylist this weekend.

"You're not here alone, I hope?"

The boy shook his head in answer.

"Alright, then, where's your babysitter?" She just might have to get upset with the young woman for leaving her son unattended… although; he does have a tendency to run off. She threw a cursory glance around them looking for the babysitter.

"Daddy sent her home, he took me and Katie to McDonalds for lunch, and then we got to eat our ice cream here."

She frowned at this, because she distinctly remembered Jarod promising he wouldn't feed them ice cream anymore today, if she would just let them have some for breakfast that morning. As an early dessert, he said.

Kyle shifted from one foot to the other. Placing her hand in his, Parker stood, "Come on, let's get you to the bathroom… and then we'll find Daddy." She added with a gleam in her eye.

Ramona and Claude continued to sit there bewildered, trying to place this woman with the one they knew as Lydia Weston.

"It's like she's a different person." Claude remarked amazed, eliciting a nod of agreement from Ramona.

If they only knew.



* * * *


Sticky fingers were attacking him. It was his fault though. 16 month olds tended to make a mess with their food. Glancing at the men's room to see if Kyle had finished yet, Jarod produced a wipe from the diaper bag. He made a valiant attempt to clean Katie's face of the ice cream residue. Deftly avoiding the wipe, Katie swayed in her father's arms.

"Come on, Katie. You're all sticky, Mommy will kill me if I bring you home like this."

Sitting her down on the three-foot high stone wall, he gave her a stern look as if to say, 'Daddy means business.'

A delighted giggle erupted from the child at her father's funny face… it was certainly one she had never seen before. She clapped her hands delightedly. A frown pulled at the baby's face, as she felt the sticky sensation of the ice cream. She dropped her hand to her pants to wipe them off. Jarod was too late to stop her.

There were now chocolate smudges streaked down the pants that Parker had deemed "perfect" for her little girl. 'I should have had them change into play clothes first' Jarod mused.

While Katie busied herself with her hands, Jarod quickly stilled her head movements, by placing his hand under her chin and swiped the wet wipe across her mouth and surrounding areas covered by chocolate ice cream. He then quickly grabbed her hands while she was distracted with getting him away from her face and scrubbed them off as well.

Jarod grinned at his success, "Done!" He beamed.

A tap on his shoulder prompted him to turn around, but not before picking Katie up. He didn't want her to fall.

"How can I help y-" He faltered at the sight before him. There was his son holding onto Miss Parker's hand. A very annoyed Miss Parker. He only had to make one guess as to why she was glaring at him now.

"You can tell start by telling me why my children are eating ice cream, for the second day in a row, with breakfast and lunch." Parker seethed in a remarkably soft voice. She didn't want to upset her kids by yelling at their father any more than was necessary and she would definitely prefer to do that in the privacy of their own home.

Jarod shifted uncomfortably under her cold stare, and shifted Katie to his other side. Then his stuttering began as he tried to explain away the early and often desserts he had been feeding their children. His eyes had somehow found a line of ants marching between him and Parker on the ground and he concentrated on them while he spoke.

Parker was having trouble staying mad at him as he so cutely lost his train of thought whilst studying the ants, and with a sigh, relented to forgive him for his blunder. His face remained transfixed in a downward position while the ant's movements increasingly mesmerized him, and he eventually stopped speaking. Kyle was the one to finally get his attention.

"Daddy! Mommy's talking to you, pay attention." The child scolded his father.

Jarod looked up sheepishly and shared a look with Parker over their son's insight. He obviously knew better than to ignore his mother.

"Sorry, Parker. Let's discuss this when you get home tonight? Over dessert perhaps?" He questioned hopefully, raising his eyebrows suggestively. His dessert and the kids dessert were entirely different.

"I don't think so. As long as you feed Katie and Kyle dessert at any other time than after dinner…" She paused for dramatic effect. "Then you are risking the privileges of your own dessert." She suggestively implied that this was about their dessert, not the children's.

"But Park… you wouldn't… I mean." He was beside himself. He could not allow this to happen. Was she serious?

"I'm dead serious Jarod. When I get home tonight, I want to see remnants of a nice, balanced meal that you prepared and no empty ice cream containers in the sink. Got it?" He nodded solemnly. "Good."

Taking a step closer she nudged her baby girl, who had fallen asleep in her fathers arms and gave her a kiss on her cheek. Then raising her head, she gave Jarod a kiss too as his face still registered shocked disbelief at her demands.

"Mommy, are you going back to work now?" Kyle asked quietly.

"Yes baby, but I'll be home early tonight, so I can tuck you in, and maybe read you a story. How does that sound?"

"Ok Mommy."

"See ya later alligator." Parker said.

Kyle gave her a hug and quickly dropped a kiss on her cheek before running back to the playground.

Parker stood up said goodbye to Jarod, and prepared herself for the questions that were bound to come from Claude and Ramona. They had followed her and hid behind a tree to see what she was doing, but she had spotted them easily. This time they had seen just about everything. There were going to be questions about Katie and Kyle and of course Jarod. And definitely, why Kyle was calling her Mommy. She breathed deeply and took a path through the trees so she could sneak up behind them.

She leaned over their shoulder as they tried to relocate her, "Find anything interesting?" She said startling them.

TBC…
Chapter 3 by Staceysedge
It was still early when she got home that night. The sun had not set yet and dinner was just being served as she entered their spacious apartment.

Parker unbuttoned her jacket and dropped her briefcase by the door.

"I'm gonna change, Jarod, set me a plate." Parker called backwards as she walked to their bedroom to change.

"Already did." He chirped while dishing out a heap of peas onto Kyle and Katie's plates.

It was not the bravest thing she had ever done. Nevertheless, faking a migraine had served its purpose today. It wasn't natural for her to feel obligated to tell the truth. She wanted to answer their questions honestly, but that could only lead to trouble. Unwilling to face that, she had grabbed her head in agony and left work early.

This was all after convincing Claude and Ramona to go back to work after their lengthy lunch break. They had extracted a promise from her before leaving the park that she would have to clue them in later.

An hour after she had sat down at her desk, Ramona appeared and began grilling her with Claude by her side. Thankfully, Ramona stuck to her initial inquiry of the day about "the man in the conference room."

Lydia refused to acknowledge anything until Ramona baited her. It was entirely unacceptable to make the mistake she made. There was no excuse for letting them wear her down like that either.

"Tell us about the man in the copy room." Ramona demanded for what seemed like the fiftieth time.

Inexplicably Lydia responded, tiredly correcting Ramona, "You mean the man in the conference room, don't you?"

Ramona grinned evilly and excitedly urged her to continue. Two seconds later is when her "migraine" hit.

They had never been interested in her personal life before. 'Why now?' she thought unhappily. She knew why though. It was because the more she has gotten to know them; the harder it was to remain cold and distant, rude and disinterested. It was the same problem she had suffered form with Broots.

The sight of a complete meal set out on the table made walking into the dining room a new experience.

Jarod had made steak, baked potatoes and peas. Katie was already smushing the peas onto the table in front of her.

Kyle scooted his chair closer to his mother's. She hardly ever came home early enough to eat with them. He was so excited. AND she was still going to read him a story tonight.

Jarod too was delighted that Parker would get to share dinner with them. It was a rare occasion when she made it home this early; she had an obligation to keeping up appearances. He loved these family moments so much though!



* * * *




"Jarod?" Parker whispered against his skin. Her head was trapped, tucked under his chin. "Are you awake?"

"No," he answered back softly, and conspiratorially added, "my dessert wore me out tonight." Jarod smiled and squeezed Parker tightly to him.

"So…you're asleep?" Parker smiled and waited for him to respond.

"Yes."

"That's too bad then. I guess the rest of your dessert is just going to have to go to waste." She teased.

He growled playfully and rolled them over, "Never."



* * * *




Shivering slightly, Parker slipped a robe on and tucked the covers up around Jarod. Tiptoeing out of the room and shutting the door, she started the coffee in the kitchen to begin her morning routine.

After a quick shower, Parker heaved herself into a kitchen chair and let Jarod serve her breakfast. She was glad he couldn't sleep without her body-heat this morning. She needed some advice.

"I'm going to have to tell them something." She pouted unhappily.

Jarod looked questioningly into her eyes, "Who?"

"Claude, Ramona. They saw me push you into the conference room, and they saw you at the park with the kids."

Jarod's face broke into an amused grin, "So? Why do you have to tell them anything? Lydia Weston is supposed to be rude and inconsiderate. She would never tell them anything about her personal life." Jarod reminded her of the personality they had created for Lydia Weston.

"But…" She paused mid-response and looked over at Jarod's smug face.

"Did you get emotionally involved in your Pretend Miss Parker?" Jarod's mouth dropped open dramatically in shock.

"Shut up, Wonder-boy. I would not even be having this dilemma if it weren't for you. First you have to come to my office, a direct violation of my rules, and you were spotted. Because of that, I had to agree to lunch with Claude and Ramona to pacify their suspicious natures, and again you show up and they spot us together. This is all your fault!" During her tirade she had made her way to stand in front of him, and forced his back against the fridge.

Jarod was biting his lip to stifle the laugh that could earn him bodily harm, when Parker wearily leaned her head forward to rest on his chest.

He sighed wrapping her in his arms. "I'm sorry." He mumbled against the top of her head.



* * * *




Ramona barely waited for the elevator doors to open all the way. Squeezing through against the crowd of people trying to get on the elevator, she stumbled forward. Walking past Lydia's desk, where Lydia was busily typing, she made her way to the workstation Claude shared with Kip.

She had news to share and needed to tell someone before her excitement bubbled over. Ramona also wanted to run by Claude, an idea for how to get Lydia to confess what exactly was going on.

Without Lydia explanations for recent events, they were beginning to conjure up all sorts of scenarios. Ramona's favorite was where Lydia was married with kids to the man in the park, and she was having an affair with the man from the conference room. It seemed to be an accurate assessment of Lydia's personality; something she could be expected to do. By hiding the marriage from them, her husband would never be the wiser about her affair.

Spotting Claude exiting Will's office, Ramona caught her attention and began right away.

"Claude, guess what? I met these two fine, -- and by fine, I mean take-and-bake delicious -- men at the bar. We've got a double date tomorrow night." Ramona squealed.

"Oh, Ramona." Claude whined. "I wish you would stop setting me up. I'll find a man on my own."

Ramona waved off Claude's attempt to weasel out of the date and then told her about the plan she'd devised to extract answers from Lydia.



* * * *




Seeing Parker walk wearily through the door, Jarod assumed she had told her co-workers the lie they had planned on.

"How'd it go?" Jarod asked softly.

Pushing away from the door where she was leaning she huffed sadly, "It didn't. They avoided me all day. Nothing, no questions, no remarks… nothing." She spat disappointedly.

"At least you didn't have to lie to them." Jarod consoled his wife, who gave a small smile at his attempt.

"What did you guys have for dinner?" Parker steered the conversation away from the downer she'd been experiencing all day.

Jarod looked nervously about the room not meeting her eyes.

"Jarod?" Parker questioned nervously, as she tried to remain calm.

Jarod continued to search the room for something to occupy his attention, not once meeting his wife's eyes.

"Jarod, what did you feed my children?" Her tone was low and provoked Jarod into cleaning the mass of toys spread on the floor between the couch and the television.

"I ordered Chinese for you." He informed distractedly, as he separated the Lego's from micro machines and various other toys in front of him.

One would think that after repeatedly disobeying specific mandates of Miss Parker's, that it would earn them--at the very least--a derogatory remark. However, putting up with Jarod's childish antics for the last year had not driven her to that particular breaking point. If anything, the more time they spent together, the more Miss Parker became accepting of Jarod's personality. For this, Jarod was thankful of the child-like charm he possessed. He knew Parker found it irresistible.

Daring to look her in the eyes now, he pulled himself off the floor stuffing the toy bins under the coffee table.

She was still staring at him, but at least the look on her face had softened…somewhat.

Parker avoided his puppy-dog face. It would only distract her. So, instead she turned her attention to the kitchen where the dishes from Jarod's "dinner" sat unwashed.

Jarod noticed her gaze. "At least it wasn't ice cream this time." Jarod's venture at levity earned him a chilling silence before she retreated towards their room.

Jarod was sitting on the couch watching cartoons when she returned to the living room. She plopped down next to him and waited for him to notice the pajamas she was wearing were his.

During a commercial, he glanced over at her, and feigned annoyance that she was wearing his pj's again. It was really rather adorable. Joe-Boxer pajama pants and one of his black T-shirts adorned her smaller frame. His shirt hung off her shoulders alluringly and he missed Parker reaching across him to grab the remote. She smiled victoriously and turned the TV set off. Jarod's complaint was cut off when her lips covered his pouting ones.

A knock at the door interrupted their increasing passion, and Jarod sat up.

"That must be your food." He attempted to get up while pulling money from his wallet only to have Miss Parker pull him back to sit on the couch.

"Why don't you let me get it, I don't think you should be walking to the door in your condition." She held her hand out for the money.

He hesitantly put the currency in her outstretched hand. "You have to promise to give the delivery boy a tip this time." Jarod said.

"Fine, as long as he doesn't undress me with his eyes again, I promise to give him a tip." Parker relented and grabbed the money before Jarod could rethink his decision.

"You're imagining things Parker. He was a nice boy, he didn't undress you with his eyes."

"You weren't the one being undressed, so you wouldn't know." Parker replied and flung the door open ready to chill the delivery boy with a glare before he even thought about looking her up and down again.

A startled gasp escaped her lips. She was about to shut the door in their faces, but Ramona had already barged into the apartment. Claude entered right after her. Feeling completely bewildered and surprised, she stalled the questions they would undoubtedly shoot at her by closing the door with her back to them. Another surprise awaited her, however, when Owen's yelp of pain sounded from the other side of the door. She opened it again to find him holding his nose.

"Do you have any ice?" Owen asked in a nasally voice.



TBC…
Chapter 4 by Staceysedge
She could feel their eyes on her. The appearance of her three co-workers was unexpected and unsolicited. The only redeeming aspect of their arrival was the assurance that they did care about her personal life and, therefore, her.

It was never her intent to make friends with them, and she would never admit to them that she thought of them as friends, but that's what had happened. Her previously inflexible self-control had deserted her as of late. She was never able to remain distant to the people she had vowed to avoid. Just look at Jarod.

He was the culprit of her new weakness. Now she couldn't even remain aloof to perfect strangers. If it had been her decision, though, Jarod would never have been far from her side in the first place. That was her father's doing. Placing ideas in her head that Jarod was bad for her. What a crock! Now that she was with Jarod, her life had never felt more complete.

Now ready to face the music, she let go of the door handle and turned around. Jarod was no longer sitting on the couch; in fact, he was no longer in the room. Silently outraged that he would leave her to the wolves, she resolved to get through this, if for no other reason than to ream him out for this.

The two women intent on interrogating her were now perched on the couch, and Owen was making a racket in the kitchen looking for ice.

Parker plastered a calm repose on her face and prepared to address her audience.

"What a surprise! What are you guys doing here?" She asked with feigned delight at their presence.

Ramona narrowed her eyes at her and Claude answered. "We're here to find out who you are." She spoke matter-of-factly. Parker gulped at the determination she saw on their faces. Determination is usually a good thing, something she could admire in people. Not now though. Now their determination was only being used to help clear up the mystery they felt surrounded her.

Her confidence for facing off with them was slowly crumbling, until Owen interrupted the awkward silence.

"You guys, that's Lydia… from work." Owen said from the kitchen.

The Chinese food also served to provide a small reprieve for her when it arrived. She grabbed the bags and shoved the money into the startled delivery boy's hand. She wouldn't get to eat it though, she thought sourly; she had guests to attend to.

After setting the bags on the table and cursing Jarod again for leaving her alone, she grabbed an ice pack from the freezer. She sauntered up behind Owen, and pressed it to his chest, guiding him back into the living room. Owen chose to sit with his friends and leaned his head back on the couch while pressing the ice to his nose. The only seat left for "Lydia" was the chair to the left of the couch.

Parker primly sat down and under the pretense of getting comfortable avoided looking at her co-workers.

Jarod chose that moment to return from his hiatus, carrying a wide-awake Katie with him.

"Honey, we have company." Parker sweetly informed Jarod. She reached for Katie and watched the tension at the mention of company drain from Jarod when he finally turned around and was able to recognize her co-workers.

Forming a plan in her head, Parker tried to make eye contact with Jarod. If he could just tell them their "story", it would make things so much easier for her.

Oblivious to the look she was trying to establish with him, Jarod introduced himself.

"Hi, my name is Jarod." He smiled as he shook each of their hands, genuinely pleased to be meeting the people Parker thought of as friends… not that she had ever said that aloud.

Claude offered her hand to Katie who was now sitting snugly in Miss Parker's lap. "And this lovely little lady would be?"

Parker rolled her eyes.

Jarod noticed and knew instantly that she hated the "baby" voice Claude was inflicting upon their daughter. His idea to tell Miss Parker that she herself still speaks that way to Katie was squashed when he realized she was cringing. That was when it registered to him that Claude was still using the same tone as she tried to strike up a conversation with the baby.

"This is our daughter Katie." Jarod cut Claude off, to which Parker huffed in disbelief moving herself and Katie into the kitchen.

Excusing himself, Jarod followed his wife to the kitchen and found her starting in on the sweet and sour pork. Actually, she was viciously stabbing her fork at the pieces of meat. She wasn't eating it.

" 'She's our daughter.' " Parker mimicked the gushing pride with which Jarod had used to introduce Katie. She shot him an accusing glare.

"That is not what we agreed to tell them." Parker exclaimed.

She held up her hand to silence him, noticing that Katie had started yawning in her arms. From experience, she had learned that a tired Katie was a very rare treat and she must always take advantage of it.

Parker gently laid her child down in the finely crafted crib Jarod had made their first night in the apartment.

"Sweet dreams, baby." She dropped a kiss on Katie's forehead and searched inside the crib for the stuffed bear her daughter needed to sleep with. After placing the bear within Katie's reach, she tiptoed out of the room.

Re-entering the kitchen moments later, she encountered it empty. Even the food was no longer on the table.

Pushing through the kitchens swinging door, Parker gaped at the sight in front of her. Jarod was feeding them her Chinese food. 'Her' Chinese food. The food that he had ordered for her as a peace offering… looks like Jarod's back in the doghouse.

"-caused her shoes to stick to the floor." The group burst out laughing as Jarod finished his tale.

Parker had only heard the end of Jarod's story, but knew instantly he was referring to the 'roach motel' incident. She had almost forgotten about that. Too bad for Jarod that he had reminded her… she had had ample time to devise the perfect scenario for revenge for that particular incident.

She smiled evilly at that thought and cleared her throat. Four heads instantly popped up.

"What's so funny?" Parker played her hand evenly, not hinting that she was aware of Jarod's recounting of the apparently hilarious prank he had pulled on her.

"Nothing. Have a seat Lydia, we're not leaving until you answer our questions." Ramona said it so sweetly; it almost didn't sound like a threat. It was though, and Parker was none too pleased.

She complied anyway, and plopped herself on Jarod's lap… it really was the only seat left available.

"Fine." Parker mumbled her acquiescence.

Claude was suspicious. "You'll answer our questions?" She asked.

"I said I would, didn't I?" Parker snapped back in aggravation. Jarod tightened his hold on her. She sank back to her original position, dialing down the intimidation that leaning forward with her sharp reply had added.

Claude's eyes widened and she nodded her head.

"Well then, can we assume that you two are married?" Ramona blurted, eyeing the ring Parker had replaced on her finger after work.

Jarod grinned merrily and nodded causing Parker to frown in agitation.

"You can assume whatever you would like." She said icily.

"And the two kids that were in the park with you both, are yours? We already know that Katie is, what about the little boy?" Ramona asked.

"Yes, he's ours." Parker answered stonily.

"How long have you been married?" Claude tried to distract the two women who had locked eyes in a staring contest.

"I don't think that's any of your business." Parker responded without breaking her stare.

"I can make it our business." Ramona threatened.

Jarod sensed that the tension was not going to abate on its own and hastily made a decision.

"We've been married for almost a year now." He intervened, delicately offering an escape for Ramona's quickly fizzling stare. She was no match for the Ice Queen.

Claude was confused. "I thought you said they were your children."

"They are." Parker was becoming incensed. If Jarod kept answering their questions with such candor, she might have to break out her 9mm to remind him of the consequences their interaction with others could generate. As it was the two ladies weren't stupid and would soon ask a hazardous question. The one that came to mind was: "So, how did you two meet?"

She could see it now. Of course, they wouldn't believe her if she told them the truth. The more people who knew who they were and why they were there, the more dangerous it would be to stay. And she was very fond of her new life.

"Why'd you wait so long to get married?" Ramona asked.

That was an easy question for Parker to answer… and she would be able to do it honestly too!

"My father never was able to reconcile the idea of me and Jarod together. In fact, he tried just about everything to keep us apart… short of attempted murder that is." She looked down at Jarod for approval. "My brother handled that for him." They ended up sharing an amused smile.

The joking tone she had used was the only reason Claude and Ramona were able to chuckle at the thought. Claude had detected a dark undertone at first, but attributed that to Lydia's earlier coldness. This line of questioning was getting them no where… she needed to get Lydia alone to ask about the man in the conference room… if it was Jarod, then fine. But if it wasn't, she wasn’t going to be the one that caused their presumably happy marriage to fail. Since Lydia had finally conceded that responding to their inquiries was the only way to shut them up, she would still probably be willing to talk tomorrow. They could wait until then.

"Oh, gee, look at the time. We've all got work tomorrow, don't want any of us to be late. Come on Ramona, Owen… Owen, wake up. We're leaving. Thanks for having us Lydia, see you tomorrow." Claude hastily made her retreat after her nervously cheery goodbye, followed by a stumbling Owen, and quizzical Ramona. Ramona's head was still turned staring at Parker; her expression clearly stating that she was not satisfied with the answers they had received.

The door closing coincided with Parker smacking Jarod upside the head.

"Ouch, that hurt." Jarod rubbed the back of his head.

"Trust me, that's nothing compared to what will happen if this inquisition of theirs goes any further tomorrow. Although, I'm almost certain that's exactly what they have planned. I'd watch my back if I were you." Parker threatened, her face serious, her tone lacking any real bite.

"It'll be my pleasure to watch your back… when can we get started?" Jarod smart-mouthed, and avoided her backhanded attempt to thump him on the chest.

"As soon as you can come up with a good reason for telling them the truth." Parker responded snobbishly, raising her nose exaggeratedly into the air.

"Aww, honey, come on. Don't tell me you don't want to be able to talk to those two about your crazy life. You need someone, other than me, to confide in. I have someone who knows all about the Centre. Trust me, it's a sure-fire way to relieve stress; unburdening your soul on someone who isn't or wasn't personally impacted by the Centre's depravity." Jarod preached.

She had been willing to listen to his reasoning. Then he had to go and say he had someone he confided in. 'If it's a woman, he's dead' she swore to herself.

She stood there unfazed and in a lethally quiet voice, slowly asked, "And who, exactly, do you confide in, Jarod?" She had stepped impossibly close to him, and had begun to finger the buttons on his shirt.

He didn't trust his voice to answer; she always gave him the chills when she used that tone… it still didn't intimidate him though. In the past, he would allow her to think it did, but now he could not hide that the husky lilt of her voice was really just turning him on. He rolled forward on the balls of his feet, and snagged her around the waist.

Parker resisted his attempts to drag her into the bedroom easily, and serenely repeated her question.

"Who?"

He knew that she thought it was a woman. He absolutely loved it when she got jealous; she was always more possessive of him then.

"Argyle."

She considered his answer for a second before nodding and smiling seductively at Jarod. In return, he lowered his head to capture her mouth, while simultaneously swinging her up into his arms as he made his way down the hall to their bed.
Chapter 5 by Staceysedge
Miss Parker had almost made it through the day without being badgered. She got off in a little less than half an hour, and so far hadn't been bothered by Claude or Ramona.

There they were now, sitting at Claude's desk, chatting cheerfully with each other. Sighing unhappily, she rose from her chair ready to bite the bullet and talk to them.

"They're gonna pick us up at 7." Miss Parker heard Ramona inform Claude.

"Where?" Claude asked, raising her eyebrows.

"At your place."

Miss Parker almost laughed. Claude was outraged and if her following outburst didn't convince Ramona, nothing could.

"You told them where I live! Why didn't you give them your address? We don't even know them, they could be homicidal maniacs for all we know!" Claude exclaimed emphatically.

Miss Parker felt a chill crawl up her spine at Claude's words, but shook it off to interrupt them instead.

"Hey, guys, do you have a minute? I think we should talk." Miss Parker initiated what was to be her first honest conversation with them.

Looking slightly bewildered, Claude and Ramona readily agreed despite needing to get going to meet their dates.

Unfortunately Will poked his head out of his office then, and asked, "Lydia, can I speak to you for a moment?"

It had taken her all day to build up the courage to offer them the truth, now she would have to start all over tomorrow. This reprieve she was being offered, however, would give her even more time to decide how much of the truth they really needed to hear.

Shrugging her shoulders, she moved to follow him inside. "I guess we'll just have to talk some other time." She smoothly pacified Claude and Ramona before closing Will's door behind her.

* * * *


"What's up, Will?"

Moving around his desk, he retrieved a folder marked urgent and handed it to her. "This is."

Curious, she opened it and pulled out photos. The chill that was elicited earlier by Claude's remark "'… they could be homicidal maniacs for all we know!'" came creeping back. This just could not be happening.

"That's from the bar's surveillance camera across the street. It looks like your gig might be up Parker."

Swallowing the nausea that was rising, she stood and shakily handed the folder back to him.

"Not yet." A determined look on her face she stood and offered, "I really appreciate you looking out for me like this. Thanks for all the help, Will. Jarod and I appreciate everything you've done for us."

Will stepped around his desk to deliver a hug. "Speaking of Jarod, did I or did I not see him here the other day?" Will teased.

"You know he doesn't know how to follow the rules." Will released her and ushered her out the door.

"You should probably get going, you and Jarod need to disappear again, adopt a new identity, start a new life."

"I know, but first there's something that needs to be taken care of."

"Well, good luck with whatever it is!" Will wished cheerily and watched her leave.

Miss Parker grabbed her purse, and dashed to the elevator. Cursing as the doors closed in her face, she turned and headed for the stairs scrambling down them at a break neck pace. She was in the lobby before she knew it, breathing heavily from her mad-dash down the stairs. She looked around for Claude and Ramona but didn't see them. They had already left.

Popping out her cell phone, she dialed a rarely used number to find out if this information was real or just a coincidence. Impatiently waiting for him to pick up, she exited the building and hailed a cab. She gave the driver the address for Claude's place, and prayed she'd get there before their dates did. Especially if their dates turned out to be the "homicidal maniacs" Claude had been so worried about.

When a sleepy voice answered, she desperately asked, "Where is my poor excuse for a brother?" 'Please say he's there, please' she thought tightening her eyes and her grip on the phone, wishing for anything that the pictures she had seen were just a trick of the light.

He knew better than to ignore her question to exchange pleasantries.

"He left a few days ago with Willie. He said something about business. But I'm not sure where he went Miss Parker." He answered gently.

"I do. They're here." She hung up and chewed on her lip anxiously. Feeling the cabby stop, she looked up.

"What are you doing?" She hissed impatiently.

"It's a red light miss." The cab driver was used to dealing with the impatience of passengers. He brushed her off gruffly and returned his attention to the road, and the now green light.

Leaning forward, Parker scanned the road ahead of them. "There are no cars in front of you, will you step on it!" She demanded.

"Little lady, I think you need to sit back and relax before I let you out right here." The driver threatened.

Grinning viciously, Parker reached into her bag. Her life may have become more stable, but she was still far from trusting. The only thing that had changed in regards to her trust issues was the size of her gun. This one was much smaller... easier to conceal.

"I don't think so. Now move!" He looked in his mirror and shuddered at the look on her face and the weapon aimed at his head. He slammed his foot to the accelerator, and expecting her to be slammed backwards, found her holding onto his seat when he ventured to look in his rear-view mirror again. She wasn't paying him much attention now, she was concentrating on the road, and waiting to arrive at her destination, so he continued to drive according to her wishes. She was a very intimidating creature. He would need a new pair of pants after this ordeal, he thought miserably.

As soon as the car came to a stop, Miss Parker jumped out and threw her cab fare back at the driver. She climbed the stairs into the apartment complex and headed for Claude's door. She started banging her fists and demanding for Claude to open up.

Claude threw the door open to stop Lydia from causing such a ruckus in the hall.

"Lydia, what is going on?" Miss Parker pushed through the door once Claude had opened it, and franticly searched for their dates. Not finding them, she turned her attention to the two confused women that were staring at her as if she had grown another head.

Finally able to let out a calming breath, Miss Parker attempted to explain.

"You can't go out with your dates tonight. From personal experience, I know that they are both very bad people. When they get here, just send them away. Say that something came up, and you can't make it. Do not go anywhere with them." She warned worriedly, searching their faces for understanding.

Ramona was still not sure they knew enough about Lydia to trust her. So, when she heard the knock at the door she ignored the pleading look Miss Parker was giving her.

Miss Parker stood rooted to the spot behind the kitchen counter as Ramona invited evil incarnate into Claude's house. The feeling of fear that she associated with her brother was present, but it was being buried beneath her cold, Centre persona. When Lyle looked at her, the dangerous, maniacal sparkle, that is always present in his eyes, was reflected back at him. Of course, being the psychopath that he is, he didn't even seem to notice. He grinned viciously at this little present being dropped right in his lap.
Chapter 6 by Staceysedge
"Well, well, well. Look what we have here!" He was practically beaming. "Business is about to pick up, wouldn't ya say?" He directed his question at Miss Parker who was still firmly planted behind the kitchen counter.

Ramona and Claude had no idea what Lyle was talking about and shrugged their shoulders at each other. Ramona took the initiative to introduce Lyle to his date, Claude. She grabbed his hand and was about to lead him over to the couch where Claude was sitting but he resisted, instead snaking his gloved hand around her wrist and pulling it behind her back enough to cause discomfort.

Willie took this as his cue to pull his gun, motioning at Claude to stand up. When she was within his grasp, he grabbed her by the hair to hear her scream before he put the gun to her head and yelled, "Shut up!" He brought his head up from watching his new captive to look at Miss Parker's eerily calm face. Lyle must have noticed too, because he threw Ramona to the couch. She sat there stunned as the viciously cruel man pulled his gun and aimed it at her head. He cast another look at his sister to see if she was going to stop him.

Grounding her teeth in frustration, Miss Parker stepped out from behind the counter, slowly so as not to alarm the two armed men. Unfortunately her gun was in her purse again and that had been thrown haphazardly onto the chair when she had first entered the apartment.

"It's been a while." Her voice sounded a little to calm even for her, but seeing Willie start to sweat was very rewarding. She smiled coldly and winked for good measure, causing Willie to fidget some more.

Lyle now had his gun aimed directly at Miss Parker's heart allowing Ramona's pulse to come back to earth despite her best friend still being held by the other gun-wielding lunatic. Figuring that there was no other way out of this unless Claude and Ramona were out of her way, she addressed Willie.

"Why don't you let her go sit on the couch? We don't want anyone to think you two are monsters, do we?" Her steely-eyed glare convinced the Sweeper to let Claude join Ramona on the couch. Sparing one last glance at the very frightened ladies holding hands in shared terror on the couch, Miss Parker addressed Lyle resolutely.

"You let them go and I'll do whatever you want." 'Like that'll happen' she thought silently to herself.

Lyle threw his head back and laughed. Willie too thought her offer was ridiculous and cracked a smile.

Ramona chose that moment to speak up. "What is going on? What do you want?" Lyle met her cry of frustrated confusion and misery with a challenge.

"I think you're more suited to tell them than I, Parker." He grinned evilly at the glare he received.

"Lyle." She warned in vain, because he wasn't ready to stop.

"I mean, I have no idea why my sister would be traipsing around making friends with these two," Ramona and Claude cringed as he waved his gun at them. "when she's supposed to be DEAD." He took a step towards her and trailed his gun down the side of her face then whispered so only she could hear, "I shot you Parker, so why aren't you dead?"

She shoved him back when he started trailing his ungloved hand over her neck. Miss Parker looked at Claude and Ramona in deep remorse, wishing she had never met them, if only to spare them this ordeal. Ever since Lyle had said sister they had been shooting her dagger filled glares and she couldn’t exactly blame them. They were probably thinking along the same lines as her, only they were wishing that they had never met her. She sighed and fretted silently over what to do to get them out of this mess and make it up to them.

Lyle had moved over to the door to listen in on Willie's phone call back to the Centre. When someone knocked at the door, Lyle pushed Willie over towards Miss Parker ordering him to keep her under control. Meaning, hold the gun behind her back to obstruct the view of whoever was at the door. Lyle warned them all to stay quiet and put his gun in its holster to open the door with a smile. Miss Parker could only see Lyle, but whoever was at the door had a mean right-hook. With Lyle knocked out cold on the floor, she took the opportunity to disarm Willie with an elbow to the gut that made him bend forward. She grabbed his gun hand and flipped him while keeping a grip on the gun for herself.

When she looked up from her task, she saw that it was Jarod that had come to her rescue. He cast her a panic-stricken stare to question that she was all right. She smiled to reassure him.

"How did you know?" She wondered out-loud.

Jarod grimaced in remembrance of the phone call he received. "Sydney called me." He stated simply and walked away leaving Miss Parker confused as to how he ended up finding them at Claude's. Shrugging it off, she kept the gun trained on Willie and the now unconscious Lyle, waiting for Jarod to come back inside the apartment.

He had brought some rope with him and was now retrieving it from the bag he left outside the door. When he reentered, they snugly tied up Willie and Lyle, temporarily forgetting they had an audience. The fact that they were talking to her didn't even dawn on Miss Parker because she didn't recognize Lydia as her name. Ever since she saw Lyle walk through that door, it felt as though she was Miss Parker again. Her pretending skills weren't working the same in this stress-filled situation. Jarod noticed, and got Miss Parker's attention for them.

"Parker." Jarod called out loudly.

She whipped her head up at the name and realized she was in a daze.

"What?" Her voice sounded weary as she responded to her name.

He just swung his eyes over to the couch, where the two women had remained. He took the gun from her and waited for Lyle to wake up while she calmed her friends.

She sat down gingerly on the opposite end of the couch, aware that they were still shell-shocked and most likely debating whether they thought she was one of the good guys or not. She cast them a nervous smile before attempting to explain. A commotion at the front door caught her attention, and again she was distracted from being honest with them.

"Jarod, Miss Parker… I got here as fast as I could." Sam skidded to a stop with his weapon drawn ready to charge into battle, and took in his surroundings. The second he saw Lyle and Willie subdued, he re-holstered his weapon.

Miss Parker just looked at him, baffled as to his appearance there, until Jarod spoke up.

"But you took care of the kids first, right?" Jarod asked sternly.

"I did exactly what you said, Jarod. They're safe." Sam responded seriously.

"Good, then get over here. I think we're going to have to make these two disappear for a little while, while we make our great escape." Jarod chuckled to himself, but received no other laughs from the other occupants of the room. He cleared his throat, "Help me get them down to the car."

Given another chance to talk and explain what just happened, Miss Parker got right to the point before she was interrupted again.

"Look, Jarod and I are on the run from a place called the Centre. This place has no respect for anyone, and will perform cutting-edge experiments on anybody they can sink their claws into, no matter the consequence to that person. I was one of the Lab-Rats they experimented on and so was Jarod. He was their prize possession, a Pretender, a genius who can become anyone he wants to be." Building her courage up she pushed on somewhat haltingly. "Before that however, I worked there and led a team to bring Jarod back. I'm not proud of that, but it happened and I have to live with it."

She paused for a breath, registered the disbelief on their faces, and continued her spiel.

"My brother, Lyle, thought I was dead and was no longer looking for us… well, me. He was still hunting for Jarod. I thought we were safe here, apparently we weren't. I'm sorry you two were brought into this, but I really need to get going." She caught her breath, said goodbye and left them there on the couch, stunned.

She knew she had left a lot out, but she didn't really have the time to itemize all the horrible things she had witnessed at the Centre just to convince them of what she was saying. If nothing else, the events of the evening and her subsequent disappearance should lead them to believe that her story wasn't the plot to a TV show, but that it was actually her life.

Quickening her steps as she saw Jarod shutting the trunk of Sam's car, Miss Parker cut across traffic and stopped in front of him. He wrapped her in his arms, kissing the top of her head and for the first time since talking to Sydney, he was able to breathe easy again.
Chapter 7 by Staceysedge
A month had slipped by since Lydia had vanished. Claude and Ramona just plucked away at their work doing what they needed to do. There were many times that they found themselves thinking of that awful day when they were held at gunpoint. The day that saw them rescued by their co-worker who had never appeared to give a damn. Lydia's little run down of what her life had been like before when she had worked with the two insane men they had almost gone out with was hardly believable… but the longer Lydia stayed away the more confused they became. Could it really be that the insanity she spoke of was real? Or maybe, and this was Ramona's favorite supposition, Lydia just ended up in an asylum.

But Claude was starting to believe Lydia's rantings. The first piece of evidence surfaced when, after much sweet-talking, she had convinced Ramona to pay Lydia a visit at her apartment again… three weeks after Lydia had stopped coming to work. The door was swinging wide open, and inside people were milling about, going in and out of the bedrooms and bathrooms, inspecting the kitchen counters and windows for defects. Claude spotted a man holding a clipboard with business cards clipped under it and made her way over to him in time to hear him praise the beautiful hardwood floors this apartment offered. Was it for rent? If she had to guess, she'd say so.

"Excuse me sir, but do you know how I could get in contact with the Westons'?" She asked with a pleasant smile.

He smiled right back at her but he lifted his brow in confusion. "I'm sorry, but who are the Westons'?"

"The family that lived here before." Claude's stomach did a strange flip-flop in apprehension because she knew what his answer was going to be.

"Miss, I think you're confused… This apartment was occupied by a nice old man up until three months ago, and his last name was Wilson. Maybe you have the wrong address." He patted her shoulder and walked away already making his sales pitch to another couple.

What was going on?

Now a week later she was confused as ever. But she was going to get to the bottom of this mystery. Eventually.

Claude got up from her seat to deliver a typed report that Will had asked for earlier that morning. In her musings however, she forgot to knock on his office door. His voice floated over her like honey and she paused with the door only open half an inch to listen.

"Ok, you too Parker. I'm glad everything's working out for you guys." He lowered his voice and crooned deeply, "On a side note though, I'd just like to say that if you're ever in town I've always got a room available for you." His face blanched two shades whiter. "Oh, Jarod, how's it goin' buddy?… No, I did not know that Parker had me on speakerphone." Will offered uneasily and pulled to loosen his tie. By his office door Claude cocked her head and tuned in for more gossip.

That is until the names Will had just uttered registered in her brain. Jarod was Lydia's husband. And if she wasn't mistaken, Parker is what those men were calling Lydia. She pressed her ear to the doors opening and waited for Will to speak again so she could gather more info.

"Yes, I received it this morning… All right then, call me if you need anything else. Bye." Will leaned across his desk to hang up the phone, pressing his tie to his chest so it didn’t fall into the lunch he had laid out in front of him.

"Claude, you have something for me?" He asked folding his hands together.

Claude stepped meekly into the office and closed the door. She deposited the typed report into Will's outstretched hand and plopped herself onto the couch by the door. She caught Will's stare and held it. She knew that he knew that she had overheard his conversation. So, she wasn't about to front on that. Her plan was to come right out and ask about it.

She smiled mightily, "So, who was that you were talking to? Was that Lydia? Where is she?" She was on the edge of her seat now.

Will chuckled and sipped at his bottled water, shaking his head at Claude's enthusiasm. He reached into his desk drawer and removed an envelope.

"I can't discuss that with you. What I can do, though, is inform you that you will be going on vacation for a week. You and your friend Ramona. I have the airline tickets right here. Your flight leaves tonight, enjoy!" He pushed the envelope at her, grabbed his jacket and followed her out of his office.

Bewildered, Claude stared at the envelope in her hand and walked distractedly down to the office Ramona shared with Owen. Ramona looked up when Claude came through the door, and immediately was at her side concerned.

"What's wrong?" She asked and helped Claude sit in her new swivel chair.

Still unsure as to why Will gave her the tickets, she opened the envelope to see where she and Ramona would be going tonight. A slip of paper dropped, unnoticed by Claude, to the floor. Ramona picked it up though and palmed it waiting for her friend to speak.

When a small smile broke out on Claude's face Ramona relaxed and unfolded the paper but didn't read it right away so she could hear Claude's cheerful voice.

"We're going on vacation, Ramona. Will is sending us on vacation to the Bahamas." Claude squealed.

Ramona jumped up, pulling Claude with her and squeezed her hands tight in excitement. "Are you serious?" When Claude nodded, Ramona laughed happily and dropped the paper into her pocket. She was too busy reveling in the knowledge of a free vacation to read it now.

Several hours later after their initial excitement had subsided and they had come back from a quick shopping excursion, they dropped exhausted onto Claude's couch to eat their frozen dinners. Their flight left in four hours and they had already packed, so there was nothing left to do. As soon as they were done with eating, they grabbed their bags, making their way to the airport in a cab.

While waiting in chairs, Ramona remembered that she was supposed to be taking care of her soon-to-be vacationing neighbor's cat in three days. She made her way to a phone and dug in her pocket for the change from the coffee she had bought ten minutes ago. Her fingers brushed up against a piece of paper as well as some coins. She dug both out of her pocket and deposited the coins in the slot, while unfolding the piece of paper.

She left a message on her neighbor's answering machine, informing him that she would be out of town those days. She slipped the phone back into its cradle, and read the note right there. Eyes widening in surprise, she hurriedly made her way back to where Claude was guarding their carry-on bags to show her the message.

"Claude, did you see this?" Ramona asked, handing the paper to Claude.

Claude cautiously took the piece of paper from Ramona, concerned as to why her friend was acting so shocked. "No." Claude answered and then read the note.

She looked up sharply into Ramona's face. She was saddened that Will wasn't sending them on this vacation, but knew she would finally find out where Lydia (or was it Parker?) had disappeared to. The note said that they were not to get back on board when they stopped over in Chicago. It instructed them that they were to go to the information desk, give their names, and then be escorted onto a private jet. For safety purposes, their final destination would not be known until they landed, at which time a man named Sam would be waiting to pick them up in a white limousine. It was signed at the bottom, Lydia / Miss Parker & Jarod.

Because they hadn't read the note until then, they didn't have much time to think it over before they their flight's first boarding call. They looked over at the gate as the first-class passengers, of which they were a part, were making their way on board. Shrugging, Claude stood and shouldered her bag forcing Ramona to do the same, and handed her ticket over at the gate.



The End!
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