Sydney’s phone rang at an inconvenient time, which usually meant Jarod. Three in the morning. “Sydney.”
“I’m having nightmares again,” Jarod revealed. “I know that they tried to kill me, Sydney. They stopped my heart. Lyle and Raines. October 1995.”
“Yes, I know,” Sydney agreed. “I was away in Europe. I remember, Jarod. You’re dreaming of it again?”
“It’s longer now. It’s more complicated. Before I die, I’m in my apartment. I’m crying out. I can’t make out what I’m crying out but I see her.”
“See who?” Sydney asked.
“I see her. Miss Parker,” Jarod said. “She was there the day I died.”
The grind. Again. This time? The grind was harder. Raines threatened to have The Centre kill her if she didn’t bring in Jarod. With her father now gone, a weird mind and heart confusion on Carthis, and Raines in charge? Her mind felt like jelly. It was now January 2001 and she was back in the office. Looking for Jarod. Again.
“Miss Parker?” Sydney grabbed a chair and sat down right next to her. Right next to her, almost in a breathing position down her neck. “I have a question for you.”
“Good for you,” she said with a sneer, “and why are you this close to me, like I’m an evil witch you’re trying to corner?” Did Jarod tell him about her little weak moment? Putting things together, and almost? No. Not that soon. “What?”
“Where were you the night Jarod almost died?” Sydney asked her.
“He’s outrun the gun I don’t know how many times. Be more specific.” And she’d be nicer if he’d give her some space. What was his problem?
“The night Lyle and Raines stopped his heart. October 1995. Where were you?” he asked again.
“I don’t know. Selling girl scout cookies, how the hell should I know some random date in 1995?” Geez, that was six years ago. “Why?”
“Jarod.” Sydney gestured to her. “He sees you in his nightmares.”
“Visuals are mutual, we must travel the same dream plane,” she said back. “I don’t know where I was, but I wasn’t killing Jarod. I had better stuff to do. Like live my life,” she said.
Sydney still didn’t back off that day. She didn’t care. Jarod’s brain was just getting twisted. Everything was just twisted.
To keep herself on schedule though, she kept all of her activities the same. Same eating time. Same waiting time. Same everything. Except? She wouldn’t have a wish daddy goodnight time. Not that he was even there usually, but she would wait in front of those big beautiful doors to his office and just whisper goodnight before heading off to home.
She rubbed her eyes and stuck with sorting a few things.
“Miss Parker. Aren’t you going to come upstairs and say goodnight to your daddy? Angel?”
Don’t. Glare. She glared anyhow as she saw Raines waiting by the door. “What do you want?”
“It’s the fifteenth? What else?”
She felt something strike her arm.
I did it. I did it. I knew I could do it. Oliver looked at his work. It was a little higher than his normal load, but he was a growing boy. He was born on the Fourth of July, 1996. Gil wanted to name him July or maybe Independence. Momma already had his name picked out though. His dad picked it. He sighed, waiting for her. He’d done the extra long work for that day. While other children ran around and played, he was a special child. He couldn’t have too much stimulation so he lived in a quiet room of white. He could choose to do nothing all day, but he always tried his best to do the work given to him by Gil.
Because when he did good, he was always rewarded. If he did good overall, every fifteenth of the month, he would get something incredible. He even made some planet shapes, fifteen in a row, that he would take on and off the wall, to keep track of time. She should be here. He was on the end of his apartment, almost even to the door. Waiting for her pretty face. While he waited though, he also knew he wouldn’t see it yet. He couldn’t feel her near yet. Not yet. Then? He felt her. He didn’t need to wait for the window, he rushed over to the door, knowing she was coming. He could hear the door open and there she was!
She was the most beautiful woman in the world. To him, but he’d overheard Gil say it too. That she looked just like her own mother. His grandmother, Catherine Parker. Although, he wasn’t supposed to use last names. Those weren’t for lesser pretenders.
“Oliver?” Her soft voice was heard as the door opened. Then, her brilliant smile lit up her face. “Hi, did you miss me?”
Oliver ran to her and hugged her with all his might. He’d only get one hour with her and only once a month. He made it count as much as possible. “I love you!”
“I love you too,” she said, holding him so tight. She picked him up and held him in her arms.
From the outside, Oliver saw the man with the oxygen tank and Gil. The man with the oxygen tank was his grandpa, but he never called him that. He’d rarely ever said one nice thing to him. He waved at Gil. “I did six!”
“Your father did twenty a day at your age,” the man with the oxygen tank said. “You’d be useless if you weren’t my grandson.” He was never a very nice grandpa.
Gil on the other hand was always nice. “He is growing up fast, Raines. Last month he did five, and before that he was averaging four.”
“Then maybe he is getting more propped up,” the man with the oxygen tank said. “Still. Nothing to get excited about. Miss Parker is starting to become a bother too. She can’t seem to do her job anymore.”
“Does that mean she can come back?” Gil asked. “Can Mary come back?”
“I’m thinking about it. A little birdie in a car made it sound like Jarod and her got close. Too close. If that’s the case, this project failed.”
“What project?” Oliver asked.
“Nothing, Oliver,” his mother said. “Nevermind them. This is our time, remember?” She took him further away from their conversation. “Our time. This is our time.” She pulled out a picture of Jarod. “Not to keep. Just to see.”
Oliver’s eyes lit up as he stared at a picture of his dad. “He is in a CIA uniform.”
“Yeah. Daddy loves to pretend,” she said weakly. “You can thank Gil for the extra look. And Mister Raines.”
Oliver studied the picture. “He’s really tall. He’s really brave.”
“That he is.” She took the picture away again, but it was okay. Oliver definitely put it into his memory banks. His daddy changed and grew just like him. Every picture was always different, making it always worth the reward. Although his room was always white, he had a small area of stimulus he was allowed to have. That’s where he put his rewards he’d earned. He’d been earning them even before he knew how he earned them. Besides the planets, he had DSA’s. Three of them, of his dad in The Centre. He had to earn so many sim points to get a DSA. It was hard to accumulate though because he could earn a picture for only twenty simulations and that number didn’t fluctuate. He decided to try and split up his points between them. That way he could accumulate his dad’s modern day pictures, and his old DSA’s to see him. Hear his voice. Watch him move. One day, if he got really good? The man with the oxygen tank said he’d get to meet his dad. But he’d have to get really, really good.
“I’m going to earn the picture too next month. I’m going to do seven simulations a day,” Oliver declared to her. “Will that make him happy?”
“Honestly? No,” his mother said. “Makes The Centre happy, not Jarod.” She looked back a moment at Gil and the man in the oxygen tank. “What I mean is, you do good work for your reward. Daddy doesn’t care how many you do. As long as you do your best. Okay?”
“Okay.” He hugged his mom. “Can you sing me a song, momma? Before you have to go? Something that I can sing when I miss you?”
She closed her eyes and held him so tight. It wasn’t fair. Life was never fair. As much of a genius as Jarod had been, he still hadn’t figured it out. He didn’t even suspect anything. It was a shame. “Next time, Honey. It’s only a day away.” That’s what it felt like. One hour every month. The rest of the time, unable to know what was happening. She would just find herself back in her room with Gil and Raines, ready to see her son for one hour. Then the next month on the 15th. Then the next month on the 15th. She didn’t remember to eat, shower, or anything else. She would just come in and spend time with her son and that’s all she got. When she tried to stop and take two seconds to ask Gil, it always ended bad because Raines was there.
If the conversation they were having was true? If they were letting her come back and stay? It would be so nice.
It would be soooo nice. While she told Oliver to not listen, she was spending every minute trying to appreciate Oliver while listening to Gil and Raines. She wanted her life back.
Miss Parker did not deserve it. She deserved it. She rocked Oliver quietly back and forth, letting him enjoy the time that most children took for granted. She knew he wouldn’t. He’d memorize as much about that moment as possible, as well as the humming of a new song. Oliver liked it. He worked hard. He worked so hard for such little things. He deserved to see her more. He deserved to see her fifteen minutes through the panel everyday, and spend time with her for one hour per week again. Not one month.
After the hour was up, she wished him goodnight, and tucked him into his bed with a hug and a kiss. “Goodnight, Oliver. Pleasant dreams.”
“Pleasant dreams, momma.” He sighed contentedly as he closed his eyes. Ready to put the day away so late.
She left the room, hearing the sound of the stiletto heels she’d always found herself wearing. She closed the door and heard the security bell sound that the room was safe and secure.
“Mary?” Raines addressed her. “Miss Parker has outlived her usefulness. Gil and I think it’s time you get to come back.”
She held her breath. The words she had been waiting to hear for so long. Ever since September 1996. She hadn’t even said a word, but she could feel tears forming in her eyes. “More than an hour, once a month? I could? Live again?” she asked. “Please?”
“One more try with Jarod,” Raines said. “Using you. Miss Parker gets two total shots. If she can lure Jarod to The Centre, we’ll get him.”
“And if he doesn’t?” Mary asked timidly, knowing that so far Jarod had outwitted The Centre at every turn.
“Then I guess welcome home,” Raines said sourly. “Gil will take care of you again like he’s been taking care of Oliver.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it greatly.” She bowed down her head graciously, trying not to make a big deal of it. She couldn’t let her emotions get out of control. “If Jarod is brought back to The Centre? This time? Can he know about Oliver?”
“Oh fine,” Raines said to her. “If he is officially here again, fine, but Jarod won’t care. He’d find him a disappointment. Oliver is a low rated pretender, lower than even Eddie. He’s not even worth experimenting for.”
While he was saying terrible things, they were good things to hear. The lower her son had been to him, the less Raines felt any interest in him. Still? Something slightly boiled inside her. An irritation.
“Another doctor might do him better,” Raines added. “He’s the only pretender left in The Centre right now, he should be kept at his best.”
“You mean Sydney would take him on?” Gil asked.
“There is more than one doctor. We’ll see. Don’t make waves, Mary.”
“Excuse me?” Miss Parker stared at Raines. “Why would you ever say goodnight?”
“If a daughter can’t say goodnight to her father, then the father should come say goodnight to her,” Raines said, sending a small crawl up her spine. “Goodnight, Angel.”
I hate you. You have no right to use that name. She picked up her things, looked at the time and started to head out. Except something was different this time. Parting from the office, she took another path down to the front to get to her car from her father’s office in the past. She had always ended up top and went down. It should be no big deal, except some office doors were open and she saw something. She didn’t notice it at first. Just one lone clock in the darkness barely even peeping through. As she moved though, she saw it more and more. “Impossible.”
She checked her watch. 9:00. She checked her phone. 9:00. It didn’t make any sense. She found herself now peering into the dark offices. None of the offices were ever left opened before to peer in on. Unsettling. Your paranoid. Your just back from losing dad and losing . . . and almost catching . . . She couldn’t even process her thoughts. She went out to her car and turned the ignition to start the car. The time blinking back was 9:00. “That’s the time.” It was the time. Still? She yanked out her phone and called Sydney. “Syd? I know this sounds strange. What time is it?”
“Look at a watch.” Sydney was still mad about earlier. Her in Jarod’s dream, like she was there watching over his death. She did a lot of things in her past, but she’d remember standing around and watching Jarod be put to death.
“My watch, my car and my phone say 9:00,” she said. “The offices in The Centre that weren’t closed, most of them say 10:00.”
“It’s 10:00, Miss Parker.”
“But all of my things say 9:00. I have to go home, Sydney. I have to check my clocks at home.” She hung up and drove the short way home.
She checked all of her rooms. She checked her stove. She checked everything. She dialed Sydney back up. “Every single clock says nine something, not ten something.”
“It’s 10:15 Miss Parker.” Now Sydney started to sound concerned. “Are you okay?”
“I get ready to leave The Centre at 9:00,” she said. “Unless I have extra work, it’s 9:00. I’m always there past the sun, always. I go up and I tell. I told my Daddy goodbye. I’d walk out. I didn’t have him to say goodbye too.” She wiped away a tear. “Raines came down to say goodnight to me. That was about twenty minutes ago, Sydney. How can it be past 10:00 when it was past 9:00.”
“Okay. I think you need to relax, Miss Parker,” Sydney encouraged her. “It’s been a difficult time.”
“Difficult, nothing, Sydney. Every clock in my house says just past 9:00. My car. My phone. It’s all past 9:00. Nothing said 10:00 except The Centre clocks. Offices, the offices are always closed. I went a different way, it was faster.” She kept looking around her house.
“It’s past 10:00, Miss Parker. Every clock here says just past 10:00.”
“Then where the hell is my missing hour?”
“There, what is that?” Miss Parker pointed to the recording with Broots. She had him look into her missing hour first thing that morning. “What’s that glitch, Broots?”
“Between when he says ‘What else’ and ‘saying goodnight?’ I don’t know, Miss P.” She knew Broots was trying his best to help. A missing hour didn’t just happen between a conversation. Everything was almost the same, but. “You’re shifted too much, so is he. Right there, between those lines.” He made the simple transition movement loop between ‘what else’ and ‘saying goodnight’. “Your whole body jumps slightly to the left.”
“Then this was cut.” Miss Parker watched Sydney come in. “I wasn’t crazy. The recording, it’s already been sabotaged since last night.”
“Since last night.” Sydney came over and Broots showed him. “This is a fresh recording.”
“Yeah, exactly. What is going on?” she asked more to herself, watching the jump over. “This is fresh footage, straight from the recordings. How is that possible?”
“Someone was there when it was cut for records,” Broots said. “I need to be directly into the recording room, into the live recordings itself to see if I can find out what that glitch is.”
“No can do,” Lyle said from the door. “You need to be working on Jarod. Or, you know, die? Did you think Mister Raines was joking about that?” He looked toward Miss Parker. “I’ll miss you.”
“I’m sure if you die, I won’t miss you,” Miss Parker said. “I won’t even pay anyone to put a flower on your grave.”
“Warm tidings, straight from the heart,” Lyle said. “The battles already won. You just don’t know it yet. Next time, you really need to check for, I don’t know, recordings inside Centre cars?” Then, he was off.
“What was that about?” Broots asked. “Man, he’s a strange one.”
“The world is all kind of weird right now,” she agreed. “Broots, do what you can. I’m going to go bug a family member to see if he knows what’s going on.” And by bug, she meant torture.
Broots and Sydney waited.
They continued to wait. They chatted about her. Broots left to look for her while Sydney worked on Jarod’s whereabouts. Sydney left and helped Broots. They resigned themselves to asking Mister Raines about her.
No one knew where she went.
Broots got into the recordings as soon as possible, trying to get in the exact room with Sydney. Once he lured the guard out, he went in to make a fresh copy of her way to Lyle, and of last night.
They snuck out before they were spotted again and ended up back in the office.
“I hope this isn’t a goose chase just to make me work faster,” Broots said as he checked the fresh recording. She had walked out of the office toward Lyle. They talked and she disappeared with him someplace. “She’s with her brother.”
“The missing hour, Broots,” Sydney insisted. “What happened in that missing hour?”
Broots watched her up until the point of the glitch last time. “Whoah! Hey. Someone was waiting behind her, Syd.” They watched her get carry off, and Lyle came around the corner with a sweeper too. They all left the area. “Oh no. She’s right, this is bad. Raines took her for an hour. She’s somewhere in The Centre. He fast forwarded about an hour ahead, watched her being placed in almost the same spot and people working to change any clocks. “I used to have nightmares about people doing that when I was a kid. Just, changing time so I’d be late in the world to everything. For her, it’s true.”
“Where did they take her to, Broots?” Sydney insisted. “Find that out.” Then, he saw a strip of handwritten paper on the desk next to the computer. In the style of Miss Parker.
There was always something missing in my life. I’m going to go and find it.
Miss ???? Parker