Having to deal with the situation at the department store had set them behind schedule, but they could eat afterwards. Jarod was not missing the opportunity for Oliver to meet his grandpa. Whenever they were together, it never seemed to take long before they had to be separated again. It just seemed to make it that much easier for The Centre to find them when they coincided together. They still met. Still kept in touch how they could, but meetings were more reserved except for risks that were worth it.
Major Charles was meeting his grandson. Even he felt like it was worth it.
Jarod tried to show Oliver how to swing, and then watched Mary to see if it was familiar to her. Certain things hit. Other things didn’t.
Oliver tried to swing, but his feet didn’t touch the ground easily. They were placed a little higher, so Jarod pulled him back slightly. It didn’t take very high to get a reaction out of him. He was playing, like a real kid. Jarod as a child, even as an adult, usually placated his whole new experiences in huge amounts of large, complicated words most people couldn’t follow.
Oliver didn’t do that. It was always just written on his face or the most simplistic of words found their way out of him. “It’s like riding a pendulum!”
Absolutely ridiculous. Jarod was falling for his son every minute more they were together. I’ll find a way. They have to stay. I can do my pretends with them, why not? They don’t need to pretend, they can just be my family. Why can’t a doctor or a lawyer or a bouncer or anyone have a woman and a kid? They do. Everyone does. It’s more authentic. It’s family.
Speaking of family? His dad. “Dad!” Jarod waved excitedly at him, his heart racing as he slowed Oliver down on the swing.
He watched his dad’s eyes as he came over with Jarod’s clone, Gemini. He looked at Oliver and realized he was watching his clone instead.
“Hi there,” Major Charles greeted Jarod. “So? This him, huh?”
“Yeah. This is Oliver.” Jarod looked toward Mary. She was quiet in the corner, but very observant. Giving his family some time, but still watching out for him.
Major Charles bent down in front of the swings, but Oliver bent more back. “Hey there. My names Major Charles. Do you know who I am?”
Oliver glanced up at Jarod like he was scared.
“It’s okay,” Major Charles said to him. “I’m your grandpa. Grandpa Charles.”
Grandpa Charles. Jarod gestured for Oliver to look at him. “Say hi to your grandpa.”
Oliver looked in front of him at him. Still, uncertain.
Damn it, Raines. Oliver must still be thinking about Raines judging his smarts. “Dad. Tell him you don’t care how smart he is.”
“Oh yeah.” Major Charles smiled at Oliver. “Hey there? Kindness goes a lot further in my book than smarts. Don’t you worry about me being like your other grandpa. I’m happy to see you. I’m happy to meet you.”
Oliver put up his hand and waved once. It was a start. He looked toward Gemini. “I earned DSA’s when I did good on so many sims. Your dimensions all seem to fit Jarod.”
“Yeah, family is complicated,” Jarod said to Oliver. “He is family though.”
“He’s not a clone at all,” Gemini said. “He has different structural aspects composed of both you and Miss Parker. He’s neat.”
Oliver leaned away from him too. He looked back at Major Charles again. Then to Gemini.
“Don’t surround him on three sides,” Mary spoke up firmly. “He’s got problems with it.”
“Oh. Right, The Centre. I’m sorry.” Gemini went over behind Major Charles. “You worked with Raines, right Oliver? It’s okay. I worked with him too.”
Oliver got off the swing and stared at Gemini. “Man with the oxygen tank? You worked with him too?”
“Yeah, but it’s okay now,” Gemini smiled. “Freedom makes it all easier to accept.”
“He never laid a finger on him, he was right beside my room,” Mary interrupted again. “Only thing Gil did right. He could never visit without me finding out. No one could.”
“Hey, that is really good to hear!” Gemini looked at Jarod. “That is really good!”
Never again. Jarod had Sydney, but Oliver had Raines. Sometimes he forgot the difference, especially since he had no bruises on him. It wasn’t so easy for his clone.
“Thank you very much,” Gemini smiled at Mary. “For watching over him so closely. I always knew you’d make a good mother.” He tried to move back more, so that Major Charles could talk to Oliver. Still, Oliver was hesitant.
“Jarod said you were born in The Centre. First taste of freedom today,” Major Charles said. He brought out a small gift from his pocket. “I got you this.”
Oliver took the little gift.
“It’s a present,” Jarod explained. “Take off the paper and it’s got something for you inside.” Dad got him a present.
Oliver fumbled with the paper. When it was off, it was a box.
Major Charles opened it and smiled at Oliver. Inside was a heart segmented into three chains. It said Family. He picked the small chain on the bottom. “That’s yours. You always wear it, okay?”
Oliver nodded and put it around his neck.
Jarod watched as his dad stood up and looked at him.
“You always wear yours too. Don’t ever forget, no matter what happens.” He took the chain and looped it around Jarod’s neck. “One for his dad.”
Jarod looked down and touched it. He held it together so far, but he was losing it. He wiped his nose and his tears away. Connecting heart.
Major Charles was as strong as iron though. “One for his mom.” He went over toward Mary and looped it around her neck. “No matter what the future holds, you are the mother to my grandchild. You take care of him. Okay?”
Mary looked at the little charm around her neck too. He whispered something in her ear Jarod couldn’t make out. He was still rubbing tears out of his eyes. “Yes, Sir.”
“Good,” his dad said to her, apparently finishing their little conversation.
“Eat with us,” Jarod said. “Just, a quick bite? Oliver hasn’t eaten a real breakfast. We were going to do that before but, life happened.”
“Life always happens when you aren’t looking,” Major Charles said. “Sure, let’s go eat.”
“That’s. Jarod’s clone?” Mary checked back with Major Charles again. “The Centre made clones. I can’t believe it.”
“Yeah,” he whispered back to her. “It’s strange. They are each still a little different. They weren’t raised exactly the same.” He looked back at her a little longer while Jarod and his clone were at the counter, working something out with Oliver in the middle between the two. Mary was trying to give Jarod some room with Oliver. It still wasn’t easy.
“Mary. Miss Mary Parker. I guess I’m more used to cloning, because it’s hard to believe what The Centre did to you.”
Oh. He really was a nice man. “It.” She swallowed.
“It’s alright.” He patted her hand. “Just take care of Oliver and Jarod. Don’t run off as Miss Parker.” He gestured toward the chain. “I hope that is a decent reminder for you if something happens.”
“I won’t run off.” She already knew that. “I’m twisted and confused, but I’m learning. It’s just different,” she admitted. “I know things that I shouldn’t know, and I don’t know where I learned it from.”
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Charles said. “Don’t leave Jarod. I think with him, you’ll find yourself. He’s a good judge of what’s going on inside. If he thought you were trouble, he wouldn’t be with you right now. Oliver or not.” He looked to the front. “Wonder if we are going to eat any time soon?”
“There it is again,” she said. “Just a thought that I don’t know why I would ever say it.”
“What?” He asked.
“Only Jarod would turn breakfast into rocket science.”
The Major chuckled. “Your instincts right on the ball.”
Oliver just looked between his dad, and the guy who looked like his dad when he was younger. Each of them were playing with weird looking food like it was something scientific.
“That might be pushing it, Jarod.”
“Well, everything’s pushing it.”
“He needs to try it.”
“It does strengthen the more he tries.”
“But I don’t want him to get sick.”
“He’s going to. We did, didn’t we?”
“Changing The Centre diet isn’t easy.”
Oliver just looked back at his mom. She was still talking to his new grandpa. Weird. To actually use the word grandpa. He waved back at her.
She looked at him with delight and waved back. Oh, his mom was always so beautiful. Especially in her new dress. He moved away from the two genius minds and went over to her. He started to climb up into her lap.
“Still working on breakfast?” she asked.
“Guess so.” He took his chain and squished it against hers. “Jarod’s is the missing piece.”
“Dad, sweetie. Jarod wants you to call him dad,” she reminded him. “Why are you over here?’
Oliver shrugged. He chuckled. “Dad enjoys talking to himself.”
“Can’t hide nothing from you,” Major Charles smiled at him. “The Centre did a lot of things.”
Oliver just hugged his mom. “You’ve been sad today.”
“Hm.” She rubbed his back. “Nerves. I’ll be okay. Don’t you worry about mom. Go back over to your dad.”
“You’re using him as an excuse, momma,” Oliver confronted her. “Something happened this morning by the rails. Jarod missed it. What was it?”
“Ooh.” Major Charles rubbed his lips a moment. “He’s a little like Catherine.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Mary said. “Catherine Parker?”
“Does he hear any voices like Ethan?” Major Charles asked.
“I don’t know who that is,” she answered honestly. “I. I don’t know?” She just kept her gaze on Oliver.
“Sorry. You are missing a lot,” Major Charles noticed.
“Yes,” she seethed, but held herself back. “I. Know.” Anger was rising again.
“It’s okay, mom. I love you.” Oliver tightened his grasp on her. She still wouldn’t tell him what was wrong and his new grandpa didn’t help by talking to her like she knew information that she didn’t. That never helped with her. He seemed to help her calm down again. “We can walk in the sun?”
“Done, I promise.” Jarod came over with a strange array of things. “Little bit of everything, Oliver. Hopefully not enough to irritate your stomach much.” He put it out in the middle.
Oliver looked at it. That wasn’t his food. It was shaped different. There were different smells. Textures all over the place. Including colors.
“Just pick one thing out,” Jarod said. “Pick anything you want.”
Jarod really wanted him to eat some food. Okay. Let’s not go for yellow brains. White mush. Oliver smelled different things. It was all different.
“His olfactory looks like it’s overwhelmed,” Jarod’s clone said. “Maybe simple is better.”
Jarod went to the front and brought back a flat round piece.
“Pancake,” Jarod said. “Try that.”
Oliver picked up his fork. It smelled good. Hmm. He looked toward Jarod. Jarod missed it. He’s concentrating on me, he isn’t seeing it. Oliver pierced the funny oval thing and cut it. Not rubbery, but strange. When he had a decent sized piece? He looked at Jarod. Straight on. He was watching.
He glanced up at his mom who was also watching, and shoved it in her mouth.
Major Charles started to laugh as he watched Mary’s reaction to being fed by him unexpectedly. “I guess you get first dibs?”
“I didn’t see that coming.” Gemini looked at Jarod. “He didn’t eat. He gave it to her.” His eyes shifted.
Jarod’s was doing the same.
Oliver took his fork and cut another piece. This time. He popped it into his mouth. Ooooooo. He dropped the fork and started to devour it.
“Uh, no, no?” Gemini said lightly.
“No, that’ll definitely give you a tummy ache.” Jarod tried to pull the pancake from him, but no way! Oliver ducked against him taking it under the table and cramming it all into his mouth. Now he just had to chew.
“He has got fire!” The Major just laughed again. “Yeah. He’s definitely got some of his mom in him.”
Jarod looked under the table as Oliver chewed the whole thing in victory. “You’re not going to be happy about that later.”
“You should have waited,” his mom said to him too. “You never even got to experience syrup.”
Syrup? Was it as good as the pancake? Oliver got up from under the table and looked at the middle of it. He saw the word Syrup. He made to reach for it, but Jarod swiped it.
“No,” Jarod warned him. “You’ll have bad enough repercussions from eating that pancake that fast. You don’t need syrup too.”
“You’re going to need some water,” his mom gave over her glass of ice water to him.
Oliver took it and sipped, only to pucker. “Cold! Cold, cold, cold.”
“Well, he’s still getting experiences,” Jarod said. “Your mom’s right. You’re going to want some liquid for when it all-“
Jarod waited outside the bathroom. He knew it would end that way, The Centre’s diet getting dropped for real food wasn’t easy on the gut. However? It definitely didn’t help that he pounded that pancake away like that.
“He’s got a lot of his mom in him,” Jarod’s dad said to him. “He’s got some Catherine too.”
“Catherine?” Jarod asked.
“He asked his mom about this morning. Something about the rails. He said you missed it,” his dad said. “He’s good at reading people.”
“Yeah. He’s good at following his appetite too,” Jarod joked.
“Do you know what it was about this morning?” His dad asked. “You could tell me. We’ve got time. That’s some mess you left her to clean up.”
“It was her or me, I let her take charge of Oliver so far, and I can’t go into the woman’s room.” Jarod knew that wasn’t what his dad was concerned about. “She just repeated something we figured out last night. She didn’t go to college. She said ‘I wasn’t in college’ specifically,” Jarod said. “They ran sims on many parts of her life. I thought it was a repeating thought.”
“Well? Just ask and make sure,” he said. “Why did you miss breakfast though? You never miscalculate your scheduling.”
“When we woke up and she was out in the sun, I realized something besides a slip was under her dress,” Jarod said honestly. “I placed my clean shirt on her. I was going to get her a dress real quick and then finish shopping, but? Even with my shirt on her. Maybe because of my shirt on her, they pegged her as a shoplifter, seeing what was beneath. Kept wanting to call the cops.” Unbelievable still. “Got that straightened out and found another place to get another pair of clothes.”
“Hm.” The Major touched his head. “That. Doesn’t sound good. I’m not talking about the shoplifting part.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jarod said. “They were . . . wrapping her up for the yakuza like a . . .” He tightened his lips. “One day at a time.”
“One day at a time is how we do everything,” his dad agreed. “Hey, at least you were smart enough to buy more than one thing for Oliver.”
“I’ve had occupations where I had to handle kids of all ages. Preferably planning three sets of clothes is best per day.” Jarod watched them both come out. “Just, forgot to plan on extra for us as well. Better go shopping again.”
“I can feel anger inside of Mary. Feels like Catherine’s daughter,” his dad said. “Hope things turn out okay.”
“She’s going through a phasing between anger and calm. She’s trying for calm.” Jarod heard his phone and looked at it. Really? “I am trying for calm too.” He put it back away.
“Sydney?” Major Charles asked. “They worked with her for years. Just worried I’m sure.”
“I have nothing new for them,” Jarod insisted. “I’ll call when I have something.” Otherwise? He just wanted left alone. He wanted The Centre to leave him alone. To leave his son alone. To leave Mary alone. Why was it so much to ask?
The door opened with Oliver bounding out like retching was nothing. “Can I have more pancake?”
“Fast recoverer, aren’t you?” His grandpa noted.
“No more pancake,” Jarod said bending down to him. “Take this world a little at a time. That’s why I gave you a sampling to start with.” He watched as Mary came out and stood up. He looked at her straight on. He knew she was fidgety in the store, but that made sense. On the rails though. “Dad? Can you hang out with Oliver for two seconds? I’d like to talk to Mary a second.”
Jarod didn’t go far, he could even see Oliver still in the restaurant. He looked back toward Mary. “This morning, on the rails, you said something. I thought it was a repeating thought from yesterday.”
“Oh. I did?” She looked in at Oliver too.
“Yeah, you said, I wasn’t in college. You already knew that.” Jarod moved closer. “Why did you say that?”
“Oh. Memory.” She looked off in the distance.
“Memory of what?” Jarod pushed a little. “A memory you didn’t have access to before?”
“Sydney. Your doctor,” she said. “I was eating with him.”
“Eating’s good.” Jarod moved right beside her, trying to hold her focus. She was really dealing with something, Oliver had hit it on the nail. His dad was right, he might have had some Catherine in him. Like Ethan.
“I don’t want to, Jarod. I don’t want to remember right now,” she protested lightly. “I don’t, I just don’t.”
“A memory including Sydney. You were employed as Miss Parker at that time, you had to be,” Jarod said. “What is it?” He shouldered her playfully. “Not leaving you alone ‘til I know.” He shouldered her again lightly. “Come on.”
“An old friend. He was an old friend,” she said. “He wasn’t an old friend, he was in my college that was not a-a college.” Mary crossed her arms, actions of Miss Parker again slightly surfacing. “He. Dared to do that to me.”
“Someone visited you as Miss Parker who manipulated you in college?” Jarod asked. “Who?”
“I wanted to kill him. She wanted to kill him. She backed off though, like an uncharacteristic good girl when she found out he worked for Raines.” She bit her lip. “This is not good feelings, Jarod.”
“You can’t stay just even and calm anymore. You have to involve that anger and emotion in you too.” Jarod moved to her other side. “Come on, out with it. Who was he?”
“Michael Patrick. As soon as she saw him. As I saw him. The usual personality just bled straight out and I just went straight for him. Not even a Sim. In town for a couple of days.” She was chewing on her bottom lip. “I can even be manipulated without a sim, just because I remembered him from there.”
Ooh. “I can’t imagine how that feels. Not knowing what’s real and what’s not. Even when you are in the real world, you can get dragged back in.” He watched her eyes. So hurt.
“Liked him. Liked him in the sims, and liked him out. He lied in the sims, and he lied outside. Man even had a wife and kids.” She looked disgusted. “Said he was traveling salesman or some crap like that. I.” She groaned. “I think I shot him. Good for me. Yeah, it was . . . he got tricked by a dog. You were there?” She looked at Jarod. “Why were you there?”
Hm. “Dog.” Let’s see. “Someone new was after me one time, not my usual hunters. Easily manipulated with a dog.” Ooh. “That was probably him.”
“Well. Good. Hope he got bit and shot and hope he got a divorce and lost all his kids.” She sighed. “No repercussions, still works for The Centre, lovely wife and kids. Doesn’t really matter.” She started to walk away slowly. “Just, a Lesser, even outside as her.”
Ouch. Jarod followed her. “No, it wasn’t right. It doesn’t matter who you are, treating you like that wasn’t right.” Damn. Michael Patrick. He’d remember that name. He already had his face in his memory, just in case he was a new hunter he made sure to keep it there. “Is there a way to counter the sims against you?”
She shook her head. “My last sim, I was riding in a video game wheel area. Up on the screen was just a simple game. When I slid into it? I saw all of the details and colors of the night sky, right before hitting Tokyo. The car, the night. Everything fit except it was a still night. Unless something pulls me out. I stay in.” She looked back at Jarod. “Telling you to stop becoming someone will give you the same results as asking me to stop my lesser self. It’s just part of who I am. Easily manipulated thing.” She started to walk back the other way again.
“I do have power over that.” Jarod didn’t give up yet. He went toward her. “The guy in there serving sandwiches? I don’t want to become him so I won’t become him. It’s my choice. I bet there’s a way to get it turned off for you, so that you choose when and where it happens.”
She just gave an unconvincing laugh. “Suure. Do you want know something?” She said. “I wasn’t going to be Mary at first. They thought it was better to have a name that could flip on itself. The less Parker was addressed to me, the better off I’d be. Only things is? They couldn’t stop laughing long enough to put it in. S-sim.”
Hm. “You can’t think that way. You can’t live that way,” Jarod said. “You need to stay stable, to take care of Oliver. If you don’t-“
“-you wouldn’t take him away from me, would you?” Oh, those eyes. “It’d be foolish. Our boy is more than just a pretender, Jarod. He’s a lesser pretender. You need to watch him, more than you need to watch me.”
“Are you saying when he uses his pretender abilities, he can’t see the difference between reality and what he’s pretending?” Oh. Whoah. No.
“He’s more pretender than lesser, I was just trying to get a rise out of you saying that.” Then her eyes went wide. “Whoah, that was cruel. I’m sorry, Jarod. I-“
“It’s okay.” He needed her to do that. Keep pushing. “I accept the apology but can you explain better?”
“He can be a pretender, just like you,” she said. “However, if he’s left working on a sim for more than two days it could take him a week for him to pull out of it. Just a few months ago I visited him and he hugged me so tightly, believing himself to be an innocent convict from the 1930’s that was two days away from his own death date. That wasn’t a fun visit.”
“Very deep pretending.” That’s where the lesser came in. “He’s the perfect pretender they always wanted, but because his IQ isn’t top notch, they hadn’t even realized it.” Good. Now they never would.
“Well, perfect pretender, lesser pretender he’s a five year old so you better watch his stomach. That was a terrible mess and I’m still soaked trying to get it out of my clothes.” She looked less than enthused and went back in.
Feeling a little more anger and emotion. A few more memories ‘Mary’ wasn’t supposed to have. Sharing more details. It was the road to recovery, of pulling herself back together.
“Your turn, Jarod, I am soaked still!”
Jarod just smiled as he went in too. His son? Definitely not his clone.