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Author's Note: I do not intend to claim that Miss Parker's name is Melissa, I just needed to come up with one in parts where it was necessary for a first name to be used.


“Daddy?" A little Miss Parker grabbed her father’s arm. The man looked down and shook the girl’s hand off.

“You’ve got the wrong guy," he stated and moved away.

“But Daddy," Miss Parker followed.

“I told you, I’m not your father!" The man said, aggravated. Miss Parker looked up at the well-known face. It was her father.

“Daddy, please!" She whined, reaching for him again.

“I’m not who you think I am. Not, get lost kid!" The man screamed with anger and rushed away, leaving Miss Parker behind. She stared after him. Confusion evident in her face. He left her. Alone. Always alone.

“Come back!" She shouted after him as he disappeared in the crowd.

Miss Parker woke with a start. The feelings from her dream cloaked her body as she shivered in the cold room. She had kicked her sheets off. She gave her eyes a moment to adjust to the dark so she could locate her sheets.

It was then that she noticed the dark figure in her room. Before she could reach for her gun under her pillow, she saw the figure raise his and point it at her. He had not caulked it, so she moved for hers, only to find empty space.

“Don’t bother looking," the familiar, calm voice of someone in control broke the silence in the room.

“How’d you get in here?" She asked, knowing it was a dumb question. The confusion of her dream still lingered in her mind. “What are you doing here?"

“I’ve come for you, Miss Parker. I’m tired of being chased by you. I’m tired of playing games."

“Welcome to the club," she responded shortly, craving a cigarette. “Well, what do you want with me?" She thought to delay movement so she could gain time to think of a way to turn the situation around.

“You don’t think I know how your mind works by now? You know better than that." He threw some clothes at her, not her own, and said, “Put these on, it’s cold outside."

She looked at the jeans, bigger than the skin-tight size she liked to wear, a shirt, and a baggy sweater. All were blue, but didn’t quite match. The jeans and shirt were new, but she could smell cologne on the sweater. She looked at him. “Yours?"

Jarod turned around and repeated, “Put them on."

Miss Parker pulled the jeans on with ease and slipped the shirt over her head, but when she put the sweater on, she inhaled the sweet smell and her heart skipped. ‘Probably someone I had a love affair with long ago wore this cologne,’ she thought. She could think of no better excuse for her uncontrollable reaction.

“Now what?"

Jarod turned around and studied her, standing across the room, wearing his sweater. Even in the dark she was beautiful. Perhaps it was because her mouth wasn’t going. He handed her some socks and sneakers, holding onto a thick coat meant for her.

Quickly, Miss Parker put on the socks and shoes, the clothes feeling so foreign on her. What was he up to?

Jarod held the coat up for her, but she snatched it from him, letting him know she wasn’t going with him willingly. Then she realized her mistake. Jarod no longer held the gun in his hand. She could see it on the bed with her peripheral vision. How could she get between him and the gun now? When she was finished putting the coat on, she held her hands out. This motion baffled Jarod and the confusion showed on his face. His emotions had taken over and he forgot, for a second, who he was dealing with. The confusion left his face and he was, once again, two steps ahead of her.

“I don’t think I need to handcuff you," he stated calmly, picking up the gun. He flipped it in the direction of the door, signaling Miss Parker to get moving. Watching him, she moved towards the door, Jarod now behind her. When she stopped, she felt the tip of the gun pressing on her back between her shoulders. She opened the door and stepped out in the morning air.


The Centre

“What’s up, Sydney?" Broots walked into Sydney’s office.

“Close the door," Sydney answered quietly once Broots was standing in front of him. “Miss Parker is missing."

“What?" Broots was shocked and confused.

“I’ve called her house and her cell phone. She was supposed to be here two hours ago. Her father is asking for her. I want you to go to her house and see if you can find any clues there. I will try to hold Mr. Parker as long as I can. I told him she was doing research on Jarod’s last move.

“You…you want me to go to her house?" Broots swallowed hard.

“Yes, and don’t let anyone know where you’re going. Call me if you find anything."

“Ok," Broots said, still unsure of the actions he was to take. He had never been invited inside Miss Parker’s house.


New Jersey Airport

“David Morley and Jessica Hurst?" Miss Parker studied the tickets to Chicago. She had ample opportunity to escape, but she was curious as to what Jarod was up to, and she had hoped to turn the situation around and bring Jarod home.

“Just so ‘Daddy’ can’t find us. It’s in your interest to not try and escape. I am going to do one last favor," he explained, acknowledging the fact that he couldn’t watch her closely all the time. “I am going to take you to the answers you are looking for."

“Answers?" Miss Parker’s mind raced. What could he know?

“Yes. The answers you have spent your life looking for."


“My answers are there too. Those ‘Red Files’ may have brought up more questions than answers, but this is sure to be the end of it all."

“How can you be so sure?"

“Call it a ‘gut feeling.’"

“I think I’d rather go with woman’s intuition," she mumbled.

They boarded the plane and prepared for a long flight to Chicago.


The Centre
11 am

“Nothing?" Sydney asked, more worried than before.

“No hard evidence, but a few people saw a man of Jarod’s description with Miss Parker at the gas station."

“Jarod’s got Miss Parker? What would he want with her?" Sydney calmed a little and searched his mind. Remembering the last conversation they had had over a week ago, Sydney made a connection.

‘I’m close, I can feel it. Just a short time now,’ Jarod had said.

“That’s it! He must have found something."


“Jarod! He must have found some answers. He’s taking her to them."

“What do we do then?"

“We sit and wait."

“About Mr. Parker, I mean?"

“We’ll tell him that she’s after Jarod. I’ll go tell him now, that I just heard from her."


Chicago, Union Station

“Now what?" Miss Parker was getting impatient. She hated waiting. Jarod seemed to be enjoying this. She needed a cigarette. The cab they had taken from the airport to the train station reeked of smoke. She wanted to strangle someone. She looked at Jarod with a hungry grin.

“Now we wait. My contact will meet us here." Jarod saw her grin. “What?" Then the savage look in her eyes registered in his mind. “Oh, no, Miss Parker, you hurt me and you aren’t getting anything from me."

Miss Parker was disappointed, but tried to get a hold of herself. She searched around for an excuse to go after someone else.

“Who is your contact?"

“A woman named Michele Jones."

“What do you know about her?"

“She knew your mother. She was a child at the Centre. One that your mother was able to save, before she…."

Miss Parker’s eyes widened as she looked at Jarod confused.

“She’ll explain everything," he nodded his head towards a woman walking their way.

Michele was about 5’7" with long, curly golden brown hair of medium build. She was about their age, maybe a little younger. Miss Parker studied her as she greeted Jarod.

“Jarod! My God! I can’t believe you’re here!" She gave him a big hug and a kiss. Jarod blushed.

“Hello. Thank you for finding me," was all Jarod was able to get out.

Michele looked over to Miss Parker and studied her for a second.

Taken aback, she said, “You look just like her."

The next thing Miss Parker knew, Michele had her arms around her and was giving her a hug. For a strange second, Miss Parker found herself hugging back. Who was this woman?

“Oh, forgive me," Michele said, pulling back and sticking her hand out. “I’m Michele Jones. I, I knew your mother. I knew both your mothers."

“I thought you said you were a child at the Centre?"

“Oh, I didn’t mean to confuse you. I was a child from the Centre. I will explain everything. Not here, though. Let’s go."


The Centre

“He…he wants us to go after her?" It was Broots’s turn to be worried.

“Mr. Parker believes that his daughter might need our help."

“So, what are we going to do? We don’t know where they are."

“As far as he knows, we do. So let’s act like we do. We’ll follow our last lead, do what we always do."

“You’re the boss." Broots muttered.


Northshore, Chicago

Miss Parker fell in love with the beauty of Michele’s home. It was not as large as some of the homes they had passed, but it was large. She must have seen Miss Parker’s expression.

“My husband’s a lawyer, as was his father, and we were given this house when his parents moved to Florida. It’s too big for the three of us, but David doesn’t want to upset his parents by selling it. They say we should just have more kids, but one’s enough for me," she stated warmly.

“Mommy?" A voice called from the back. A little girl with blond pigtails came bouncing towards them with flowers in her hand and hair.

“There’s my baby girl!" Michele swept the girl into her arms, both hugging each other.

“Mommy, these are for you!" The girl smiled and handed the flowers to her mother.

“Why, thank you, Marisa! But look, we’ve got company."

The girl looked at the other two for the first time.

“Quien son?" Marisa asked.

“This is Jarod and Melissa."

Miss Parker looked at Michele in shock. How did she know her name?

“Hola," the girl said, getting down, she took a flower from the bunch she gave to her mother, and handed it to Miss Parker.

“Thank you," Miss Parker smiled, still very confused.

“Do you want to see my kitchen?" Marisa asked, grabbing Miss Parker’s hand.

“Not right now, honey," Michele responded. “We’ve got some very important things to talk about. Why don’t you go see if Katrina can play."

“Ok! Bye!"

“That your daughter? She’s beautiful," Jarod said as Marisa ran off.

“Thank you, Jarod. Let’s go sit in the garden," Michele said and guided them around to the back. “I’ll have Sandy bring us tea."

After the tea was served and all distractions were gone, Michele started answering their questions.

“I was Prodigy material," she explained. “But my mother found out about it and protected me. She gave me up to a good friend of hers. Someone who had lost her own child."

“My mother?" Jarod gasped. “You were given to my mother?"

“Yes, your mother took care of me Jarod. She had a big heart. She had lost you, yet she took me in and cared for me as if I was hers. My father could not know of my existence. He was told that I was a miscarriage. I never met him. I never wanted to. The bastard. He hurt my mother. He killed her." Anger was bubbling inside of her. She took a breath.

Looking at Miss Parker, she said, “Our mother."

Miss Parker was unaware she had stopped breathing until it started hurting.


“Yes. We are sisters. Born of the same blood." A sad smile crossed her face as she took Parker’s hand in hers. “You were seven when I was born. I saw our mother every now and then, until I was three. That’s when she…." Tears were in her eyes as well as Miss Parker’s.

“How do you…?"

“Jarod’s mother told me when it happened. She never knew exactly what happened, but she was sure Catherine was dead and it was her husband that was to blame. Catherine feared him. He became a different man from the one she married. He hurt her, when she told him she miscarried. A few weeks before she was killed, she had a feeling that he knew something. She was scared and gave Margaret instructions. If she was killed, Margaret was certainly in danger, as was I. Catherine said that we had to separate and disappear. When we didn’t hear any more from her, we did just that."

“Why didn’t Catherine get me out as well?" Jarod asked.

“She was going to. She had found your mother just days before I was born. You mother offered to take me, to keep me out of danger, and so my mother could go on with her plans of getting the other children out of the Centre, along with her other daughter."

“You know where my parents are?" Jarod interrupted.

“I do."

Jarod’s eyes widened and his breath quickened. Miss Parker watched him as Michele continued.

“After you parents burned their house down, they left me with the nuns at St. Lutheran Church in Massachusetts. The nuns knew where your parents went, but they would not tell me. Finally, one day, I got an answer out of them. The nuns told me they were in Louisiana, New Orleans, to be exact. They told me they lived in a house on the corner of Louisiana and Camp. They gave me an address and I was on my way. But when I got there, there was no house. It was a cemetery. Then, I understood."

Jarod’s face dropped as sadness overtook his body. Miss Parker found herself reaching for his hand. All that searching… for what?

“They died in a freak accident. A boat crashed into a mall, the River Walk Mall, and they were in the mall at the time. In the wrong place at the wrong time. All I could be glad for was that the Centre had nothing to do with it."

Tears were in Jarod’s eyes. “They are there, then. In the Cemetery?"

“Yes, but under the assumed names of Elizabeth and Jonathan Martin."

“How do you know it’s them?" A bit of hope flickered in Jarod’s eyes.

“The nuns told me their names and I talked to some locals that knew them. I brought flowers to their tomb. I can take you there, if you’d like."

All Jarod could do was stare in hopeless belief. Miss Parker squeezed his hand and felt him clutching to hers as if he was holding on to reality, afraid of falling into oblivion.

Michele gathered the cup and stood saying, “Well, I think we’ve gone through enough emotions for the day. Let’s got inside. I’ll show you to your rooms."

Sandy, the maid came and grabbed the cups from Michele. “Oh, I can bring them in," Michele assured her.

“No bother, ma’am."

“You two don’t have bags? No clothes?"

“We didn’t plan on staying," Jarod said, letting go of Parker’s hand and standing up. Miss Parker followed.

“Oh, you must stay! You two haven’t told me about yourselves and I’m not finished telling you two about me. I mean, I’ve just met my big sister! I have so much to ask you guys. And by the way, when are you two getting married?" Michele asked as they entered the house.

Both pairs of eyes widened in disbelief.

“What?!" Parker was the first to speak.

“Well," confusion entered Michele’s face. “You two are getting married, aren’t you? I mean, that’s the way it was decided, wasn’t it?"

“Decided? I don’t understand…." Miss Parker was baffled. Her father had never mentioned any such idea.

“Well, yes. Most all Pretender kids had matched parents. That was my father’s idea. With each generation, the bloodline would become stronger. Didn’t they…? Well, I just assumed that since our father is still alive and at the Centre, that he would continue…. Maybe not."

The questions were plain to see on their faces, so Michele continued to explain.

“First, the Centre looked for the special trait at sperm banks. They were surprised to find quite a few there. Then, they started making babies. To strengthen the blood, the special blood of all Pretenders, they called on all their outside employees to find mothers. And with the new generation came the birth of the Centre, as we know it today. The children, the new ones, would be excelled in their special abilities. Jarod was taken because he was a natural. Well, we were all natural, but his parents met by chance."

“I wasn’t adopted, then?" Jarod interrupted.

“Goodness, no. Your parents conceived of you themselves. What made you think that you were adopted?"

“My parents were patients at NuGenesis. Weren’t they?"

“Oh, no. They had thought about adopting, but decided that they really wanted to have a child of their own. That’s how the Centre learned about their special blood. They’ve kept close tabs on you, Jarod, even before you were born. "

Michele led them from the entrance to the second level of the house.

“So that’s why Daddy wants Jarod back so bad." Miss Parker was still thinking about having been matched with Jarod. “He wouldn’t dream of me marrying Jarod, after having to chase him for so long, but he would still create a child from us. But I would never…."

“Well, I’m sure you are both very tired from traveling. I’ll show you to your room," Michele said, seemingly tired her self. “I will get you two some clothes and towels. Then I have to go get my daughter. After that we can have dinner."

Michele stopped in the first room on the left and gathered some clothes, handing them to Jarod and then some to Parker. She smiled and said, “I never thought I’d be lending my big sister my clothes." Then she turned and led them down the hall past two more doors. Stopping, she opened a door and showed them in. “Jarod, you can stay in this room."

“Thank you, Michele. For everything. I’m pretty tired, so, if you don’t mind, I think I will turn in for the night."

“Are you sure?"

“Yes, but thank you."

“Alright," Michele said, reaching up to give him a hug. “Good night."

She and Miss Parker walked out of the room and back towards the way they came from. Michele stopped at the door next to Jarod’s and opened it, leading Miss Parker inside. Miss Parker looked around and noticed Michele was watching her. She turned to face the woman.

“It’s good to have you here," Michele said, tears in her eyes. Then she closed the gap between them and squeezed Miss Parker in a hug. Miss Parker lightly returned the motion. Michele let go and stepped back, looking Miss Parker over. “You sure do look exactly like her."

“So I’ve been told."

“You don’t remember her? You were with her for a long time."

“And separated from her for even longer."

“I’m glad at least one of us got to know her. I just had a picture to talk to. There are so many things I would have liked to share with her."

“Me too."

“Will you be joining me for dinner?"

“No, I think I’ll go with Jarod’s idea. Thank you, though."


The Centre

“Where we off to, Syd?" Broots was beginning to like working with Sydney, minus the time bomb, Miss Parker. Oddly, though, he missed her and hoped she was all right.

“Dallas, Texas."

“What’s there?"

“A whole bunch of space to search for Jarod."

“How long do you think we will be able to cover for them?"

“Hopefully as long as it takes."


Next Morning

Miss Parker sensed that someone was watching her. It was not the normal feeling of being watched by the Centre. Somehow, this was different, so she instinctively slid her hand under pillow where her gun normally sat, but found the space to be empty. Then she remembered where she was. Opening her eyes, she was greeted by smiling eyes of a child.

“Good morning!" The little girl chirped.

“Yeah," Miss Parker mumbled in response. What time was it?

“You’re pretty, you know that? Mom says you’re my aunt. Maybe I’ll grow up to be as pretty as you are. I never knew I had an aunt. I’m glad you’re here," she rambled on, causing Miss Parker’s head to ache.

“What time is it?" She asked, trying to start the day out easy.

“It’s 11am. You sure do sleep late. My mom said that you needed the sleep, so I thought I’d come and wait for you to wake up. Would you like to see my kitchen? I could make you breakfast.... I know!" She shouted, Miss Parker winced. “Stay here! I’ll bring you breakfast in bed!"

Miss Parker did not object, glad to be rid of the child. The relief that came with the absence did not last long, when soon, she returned, a trey in her hands. Walking steadily towards the bed, Miss Parker sat up to see what Marisa had brought her. She smiled, and tried not to laugh when she realized what was on the tray. There was a little pink plastic plate on top of which sat a plastic hamburger, with pickles and all. Next to it was a bowl of multicolored plastic ice cream and to the side of that was a piece of what looked like plastic apple pie. The only thing edible was a glass of water, which Miss Parker took and drank, placing it next to her bed.

“You know what, Marisa? That breakfast is fit for someone else. I bet Jarod would die to have that brought to him," Miss Parker smiled at the girl.

Marisa shrugged her shoulders and asked, “You sure?"

Miss Parker nodded her head.

“Ok," the girl turned and left the room with the tray.

Miss Parker got out of bed, threw a robe on and left her room.


“Good morning!" Michele sang when she saw Miss Parker walk into the kitchen.

Miss Parker held up her hand and headed straight for the coffee. Once she had half the cup down, she observed everyone. Jarod was playing some sort of drawing game with Marisa and Michele was reading the paper. She returned her gaze to Jarod, but her mind was a million miles away. The Centre had planned on hitching Jarod and her together? For profit, she thought bitterly.

Jarod looked up to see what Miss Parker was doing. She was staring at him, but he could tell she was somewhere else. He wondered what she was thinking about. Memories of times spent with her in and out of the Centre flashed through his mind. She always was so beautiful. He wondered why she had not gone and married instead of returning to the Centre.

“I thought maybe we could go on a picnic today and I could tell you more," Michele brought both of them back to the present.

“Sounds great," Jarod responded.

Miss Parker nodded her head.

“YEAH!!! A picnic!" Marisa jumped up from the table and ran out of the room.

“I’ll go get dressed," was all Miss Parker said and left the kitchen.

“Can I help you get lunch ready?" Jarod asked Michele.

“Will she be ok?" Michele was gazing at the door Miss Parker had gone out of.

“She’s just still trying to digest what all has been thrown at her. She doesn’t take to change well. She’ll be fine."

Michele changed her gaze to rest on Jarod and smiled. “You sure do seem to know her well, Jarod," she said suggestively.

“We kind of grew up together," Jarod missed Michele’s implication.

“You make the sandwiches," Michele handed him a jar of jelly.


“You did a good job with the sandwiches, Jarod," Michele commented.

“Thank you!" Jarod was elated about the compliment.

“Who knew Wonderboy could handle such a task," Miss Parker’s tone dripped with sarcasm.

“Mommy, can I go feed the ducks now?" Marisa pleaded with her mother.

“Sure honey, here’s the bread," Michele handed her daughter a bag of old bread.

“You said there was more?" Miss Parker didn’t waste any time as soon as Marisa was gone.

“Yes," Michele looked at Miss Parker. “I guess I should start at the beginning. The beginning of the Centre."

“How would you know about that?" Miss Parker was doubtful. None of them were alive when the Centre rose from the ground.

“It’s all in here," Michele produced a book.

Miss Parker took the book from Michele and opened the cover.

“It’s a journal." Miss Parker studied the first page and her eyes fell on a name that proclaimed to be the journal’s owner. “Catharine Parker," she whispered.

Jarod scooted from where he was so he could get a better look at the journal. Even he had not known such a thing existed. What a well kept secret. All of Miss Parker’s answers could be in this little book, perhaps even some of his.

“Where did you get this? Did she give it to you?"

“No. She left it with the nuns and asked them to only give it to me when they thought I was ready. That’s how I found out I had a sister." Michele pointed to the journal. “You can read it later, when you’re by yourself, but I’ll just sum up the important things."

Michele took a deep breath and looked out to the lake where her daughter was.

“Originally, The Centre was an experimental school. Not in any way like it is now. It was a science experiment for the better. It is believed that if children are educated right, they will grow to have brilliant minds."

“That’s exactly what it is now," Miss Parker interjected with disappointment.

“ANY child." She still wasn’t getting the message across clearly. “Ok, you both know that Thomas Edison was home schooled?"

She got blank stares. “The concept was," Michele was a little aggravated that they weren’t catching on, “the theory was that if kids were taught in just the right way, not in the normal compulsory schooling way, they could become geniuses. Like Jefferson, Einstein, Franklin? It’s been proven that compulsory schooling crushes creativity, leaving kids to follow the norm. Then Centre was trying to break that pattern."

“So by changing the way of learning, the Centre hoped to encourage ideas," Jarod was catching on.

“Why would the Centre do that?" Miss Parker pretty much already knew the answer, but asked anyway.

“Could you imagine the profit if the Centre had raised Einstein and had the theory of relativity in its hands? Or patented electricity?"

“They were trying to see what ideas their children would come up with and how many of those would be profitable?"

“Exactly. They thought they had everything perfected. They isolated the children so they wouldn’t waste time trying to be like each other. And all the children were there voluntarily, might I add. Well, their parents volunteered them. There were quite a few successes. Mom was one of the main mentors to the children as was our father."

Miss Parker felt strange to hear Michele claim Catharine as ‘Mom,’ though she knew Michele had every right.

“That’s where they met. They married and both continued working at the Centre. But then everything changed. Accidentally our father stumbled upon the first child of Jarod’s kind. A born child genius. Not because of how the child was raised and schooled, but because of the child’s genetic makeup. Dad made it big with all the people that counted, as you can imagine, and he changed with greed. You were born right around that time," Michele turned her gaze to Miss Parker.

“Wonderful." Miss Parker’s tone was nothing but contradictory.

“He became the man he is today. The man who killed his own wife for money."

“You’re saying that Daddy killed Mom," Miss Parker had chose to deny it when Michele had first claimed the fact.

“Yes, I said before...."

“Bull shit." Miss Parker got up and walked quickly away.

Michele turned to Jarod with pleading eyes. “Does she love him?"

“He is her only blood relative. He’s her father. She’s blind to all the bad things he does. She figures that her mother must have loved him, so she turns her head when it’s convenient. This is all very hard for her to accept," Jarod tried to explain. “He was not much of a dad to her, but he was her father. I have tried to open her eyes, but she refuses. She’s spent too many years closing them. It’s nothing that’s going to change over night."

“I just can’t see how...."

“No, I’m sure you can’t. Let me help you a bit." Jarod jerked his head in the direction Miss Parker had gone. “Her whole life she has been fed lies. Lies of the Centre. Her whole world, everything that she knew was a lie. Her only constant was her mother. And even that was just a memory, after she died. I have tried to be someone she can rely on and trust, since she no longer has her mother, but she just can’t see the truth. You’re not supposed to trust the enemy, which is what the Centre has made me to her. You, on the other hand, grew up knowing just who your father was. And even though they were not your birth parents, you had my parents. Two loving people, who cared for you."

“I see," Michele looked down. “Do you think she’ll ever accept the truth?"

“I don’t know. I can only hope." Jarod sighed.


Michele’s House

“Aunt Melissa?" Marisa crept into Miss Parker’s room.

“What are you doing up?" Miss Parker was having a hard time getting used to the new title.

“I couldn’t sleep," Marisa rubbed one of her eyes and walked over to Miss Parker who was sitting up in bed, reading her mother’s journal. “Whadyou reading?" She studied the book carefully.

“My mother’s journal," Miss Parker sighed.


Miss Parker could tell that Marisa wanted to ask something, but she held back. Maybe if Miss Parker didn’t ask, the girl would go away.

“Would you tell me a story?" Marisa pleaded with her eyes.

“I don’t know any stories," Miss Parker could feel her outer coolness breaking away from the look Marisa was giving her.

“You can make one up," Marisa begged. “Pleeeeez?"

“All right," Miss Parker sighed and almost laughed at the look that followed on Marisa’s face before she jumped into bed with her. Marisa practically landed on Miss Parker, knocking the breath out of her. Without asking, she crawled under the covers and snuggled next to Miss Parker. “Comfy?" Miss Parker asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Uh-huh," Marisa nodded her head.

“What kind of story would you like?"

“Um, a fairy tale."

“Well, if it’s a fairy tale you want, you’ll have to go ask Jarod. I don’t know how to conjure up those sorts of stories. Why don’t I tell you a story about my mother?"

“Ok," Marisa shrugged her shoulders. She turned around and grabbed Miss Parker’s arm, placing it around her back so she rested under Miss Parker’s arm and laid her head on Miss Parker’s shoulder.

“Ok," Miss Parker was not used to being this close to a child. Somehow her mind jumped to the time when she went into Jarod’s clone’s room and comforted the child. “You know what, I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t I tell you about this kid I know."

Marisa nodded her head while stifling a yawn.

“Well, there was this little boy who didn’t have any family."

“Why not?"

“Um, his parents died in a car accident."

“This isn’t a very happy story."

“Do you want me to tell you a story or not?"

Marisa was silent.

“Ok, then. He lived in this special school."

Marisa turned to look at Miss Parker and was about to interrupt again, but was silenced with a raise of an eyebrow from Miss Parker.

“Good. Though the school was not a bad place, there were some bad people in the school that treated the boy poorly. They didn’t let him play with toys and they made him work all the time. Then one day, someone at the school realized what was going on and decided that she would help the little boy. She was going to get him out of there." Miss Parker was not sure where to go from there, but she realized when she stopped that Marisa was already asleep. “Just as well." Miss Parker wondered if she should just leave the child where she was of take her back to her room. A sigh came from the door, startling her.

“Michele?" Miss Parker whispered.

“No, it’s me," Jarod said from the door. He had been passing in the hall when he heard voices coming from Miss Parker’s room. The door was open enough for him to catch a glimpse inside and was somewhat shocked at what he saw. “Can I come in?"

“What are you doing here?"

“I was passing by."

“Were you listening?" Miss Parker accused.

“I overheard some, yes."

“She just asked me to tell her a story. I was telling her a story."

“I gathered." Jarod stood five feet from the bed and just stared at the two.



“What do you want, Jarod," Miss Parker’s voice had an edge but she was still trying to whisper as not to wake Marisa up.

“Oh, I was just going to ask if you wanted me to take her to her room."

Miss Parker was trying to think of what she wanted. She didn’t want Jarod to think she was going soft, but she felt comfortable with Marisa there. How could she answer Jarod?

“No, just leave her. If you move her she’ll probably wake up and want another story. I’m all out."

Jarod nodded his head and stared for a moment longer, then turned to leave. “Goodnight Miss Parker," he said before he closed the door behind him.

Miss Parker felt she got off easy. She was sure there was another reason Jarod had come into her room. She knew it would eventually come out, but she wondered why he left her alone.

“Great, now he’s got me feeling deprived of his scrutiny. Thanks a lot, Jarod," Miss Parker mumbled to herself while she turned the light off and pulled the covers over Marisa and herself.


Americana Hotel
Austin, Texas

“You know, Syd," Broots commented as he walked into Sydney’s hotel room. “I’m surprised that Mr. Parker has not seen nor spoken to his daughter in a week and he does not seem in the least bit worried."

Sydney looked up from his book and studied Broots.

“Are you really that surprised, Broots?"

“Huh, no, I guess not. What I don’t understand is if he obviously doesn’t care about her, why does she care so much about him?"

“That’s a good question, Broots. Maybe you should ask her the next time you see her."

“And get my head blown off? No thank you." Broots shook his head vigorously.

“Broots, do you still love Debbie’s mother?"

“Well, yeah, sort of."

“Even after all she’s done to you and Debbie, you still love her. Perhaps it’s not the same love you had when you married her, but you still care. It’s sort of the same thing for Miss Parker. He’s her father and her only family."

“Oh. I guess I understand. A little."

“Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to my book...."

“Oh yeah, I just came to see if you wanted to go swimming."

“No thanks."

“You sure? Last chance."

“I prefer to read. You go enjoy yourself."

“Ok, see ya Syd."


Michele’s House

Miss Parker woke with the sun and could not get back to sleep. She put a robe on over the sweats Michele had lent her and went to the kitchen for coffee. She poured herself a cup and went outside to sit on the porch in the back. From her spot she could see Lake Michigan. It was nice and peaceful, for a change. Miss Parker was beginning to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere away from the demanding life of the Centre.

“It’s nice, isn’t it?"

Jarod had snuck up on her again.

“Do you ever make any noise when you approach someone?"

“Sorry," Jarod realized his mistake, that if they had been anywhere else, he’d have a hole in his body somewhere. He was glad he decided to hang onto her gun. “Sleep well?"


“Where’s Marisa?"


“She really likes you, you know."

“I guess."

“Did you notice she had her hair styled like yours yesterday?"

She had. It touched her and caused her to smile when she realized what was going on. She remembered the time when she had gotten stuck babysitting Debbie and they ended up getting matching outfits. Miss Parker was sure Michele would react just about the same as Broots did when he saw them, if Marisa started dressing like her as well.

Jarod chuckled. “I wonder how Michele would react if she started dressing like you."

Miss Parker was not surprised his thoughts had wandered in the same direction as hers.

Jarod sat down next to her and looked out to the lake.

“You want to talk about it?"

“No." Miss Parker was not quite sure what “it" was, but she didn’t want to talk about it anyway.

“It might help."

“What do you want from me, Jarod?" Miss Parker turned to face him.

Jarod equally returned her gaze. “Do you believe us now?"

“Us who?"

“Michele, your mother, and I."

“Believe you about what?"

“Parker." Jarod’s voice was a warning tone.

“My mother didn’t say a thing about it."

“She suspected."

“It could have been anyone."

“You don’t believe it then?"

“Damn it, Jarod. He’s my father."

“But he’s not the man your mother married. Michele pointed that out."

“That she did."

“I don’t think it’s fair for you to blame her. You can blame me all you want, but she’s your sister. Now ‘Daddy’s’ not the only family you’ve got anymore."

“Jarod, do you know what kind of position you’ve put me in?"

“Enlighten me."

“If Daddy finds out about Michele and Marisa, everyone else at the Centre will know, including Raines. They’ll try to take Marisa."

“Parker, have you a soft spot for the child?" Jarod said in an astonished tone, receiving a deadly glare from Miss Parker.

“They might even kill Michele," Miss Parker whispered.

“So leave then."

“You think everything is that easy. You’re so naive."

“Everything IS that easy."

“Are you two fighting?" Michele came out onto the porch.

“Good morning, Michele," Jarod chirped.

“Good morning, Jarod. Melissa. I noticed my little bear crawled into your bed," Michele placed her hand on Miss Parker’s shoulder. “Was she bothering you?"

“No." Miss Parker knew that her cover was blown with Jarod as far as Marisa was concerned.

“Don’t let her little puppy eyes talk you into anything you don’t want. She’s a pro at that. I have a hard time myself."

“I don’t think that will be a problem with Parker," Jarod chimed in, receiving yet another glare from Miss Parker.

“David is flying in tonight, I thought we could all go to the Pier. We could eat dinner there and then go listen to the music that’s playing. Marisa has wanted to go with Katrina and David thought it would be nice if we showed you guys part of the city at night. What do you think?"

“Sounds wonderful," Jarod stated warmly.

“Sure," Miss Parker tried. Maybe it would do her some good to get away from all this seriousness for awhile.

“Good, then. Melissa, you and I can go do some shopping on Michigan Ave. You can get some clothes of your own, if you like.

“Ok, I’ll go get dressed." Miss Parker got up and went inside the house.

“Anything?" Michele asked Jarod.

Jarod shook his head. “I’m sure she’ll decide the right thing, now that she knows Marisa is involved."

“I hope so," Michele answered nervously. Jarod had explained to her the night before of what might happen to Marisa if the Centre found out about her. Michele had always known that the possibility was there, but she had never had to face it like this. Marisa’s safety depended on Miss Parker’s actions and there was not a thing Michele could do about it. She hoped Jarod was right. “You don’t mind watching Marisa while we’re gone? She’ll be in a terrible mood because she can’t go along. She loves to shop, that little one. She’s going to make me go broke."

“No problem at all. I think it will be good for you two to spend some time alone together."

“Thanks, Jarod. You know, if I weren’t taken, I’d marry you in an instant."

“Ha! I doubt that...." Jarod blushed.

“Now if I could just get my sister to think the same way...." Michele mumbled as she went into the house. Jarod could not hear what she said.


“I WANNA GO!!!!!" Marisa cried as she clung to her mother’s legs. Michele and Miss Parker were just about to leave.

“Honey, your aunt and I have some important things to do with little time to do them. It won’t be a leisure shopping trip," Michele tried to convince her daughter that it was not going to be fun.

“I don’t care! Take me with you!"

“Marisa Josephine Darch! Do you want to ride the Ferris wheel tonight?"

Marisa stopped crying and slowly let go of her mother. Her eyes were still watery, as she looked from her mother to Miss Parker in a silent plea.

“I said no, Marisa. You will stay here with Jarod. You two can play with your kitchen, you can go for a bike ride, you can show him all your toys."

“Jarod’s a boy. He won’t want to play in my kitchen."


“Fine." Marisa finally gave in.

“If you’re good, we’ll bring you something back," Michele promised.

This caused Marisa’s eyes to light up.

“Bring me something too," Jarod pleaded.

Michele laughed and Miss Parker stifled a grin. The two ‘kids’ were probably going to have more fun then they were.

“Goodbye!" Michele yelled as she closed the door.

Marisa turned to Jarod, wiping a tear from her eye.

“Let’s play dress-up," she suggested.

“Dress-up? But I’m already dressed." Jarod was confused.

“Common," Marisa grabbed his arm and dragged him off to her room. “I’ll put on a fashion show for you."


“You are welcomed to continue to borrow my clothes, but I thought maybe you might want to buy some for yourself. Either way, you should get yourself a dress because David usually takes me out to a nice place for dinner when he gets back from a case like this. All four of us could go; it would be nice if you and Jarod went with us. Marisa spends the night over at Katrina’s. But, it’s your choice."

“I’ll just get a few things, I guess."

“Marisa really likes you, you know?"

“I gathered."

“She’s always wanted an aunt or uncle. She gets jealous of Kat because Kat’s real close to her Aunt Jenny. They do lots of great things together, Kat talks about it all the time. Sometimes they invite Marisa to go along."

“I don’t really know how to be an aunt. I don’t have much experience with kids," Miss Parker was uncomfortable with this subject.

“Well, you’re doing rather well. Marisa doesn’t seem to notice."

“Michele, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to talk me into staying."

“The thought had crossed my mind...."

“I realize you are aware of the ramifications if I got back, but give me time, ok? I’m trying to work it out. I can’t just leave my whole life behind."

“You would still have Jarod."

“HA! You think he’s going to stick around? He’s got his own family to find. No, he just dragged me here in hopes that I would quit my job."

“Dragged?" Michele was hurt.

“Michele, I had no idea where I was going when he kidnapped me."


“I would never go anywhere with him willingly." Maybe that wasn’t true, but Miss Parker didn’t feel like going into details with Michele, sister or not. Wherever Jarod was concerned, things were too complicated.

“Why not? You two seem rather close."

“We grew up together. Up and then apart."

“He still knows a lot about you."

“As he should. He would never get wherever he wants to go if he didn’t."

“I don’t understand."

“No, I don’t think I really do either."

“Well, if you two aren’t together, do you have a boyfriend?"

“Not at the moment."

“Have you ever been in love?"

Miss Parker turned her face so Michele could not see the pain in her eyes.

“I think I’ll look in here for a dress," Miss Parker entered a store.


“Jarod? Marisa?" Michele walked into the house, setting her bags on the table. Miss Parker took hers up to her room.

“There you two are..." Michele entered Marisa’s bedroom and stopped in her tracks when two faces turned towards her. She burst out laughing.

“Mom! Did you bring me something? I was REALLY good! Ask Jarod! Tell her, Jarod, I was really good. What did you bring me, Mom?"

“Yes, she was good. I was too. Did you bring me something?"

Michele could not stop laughing. “Jarod, what have you done to your face?"

“I made him pretty, Mom. Didn’t I do a good job?"

“I knew getting you that makeup kit was a bad idea. Jarod, I can’t believe you let her talk you into that!"

Jarod had bright blue eye shadow on his eyelids, pink circles of blush on his cheeks, and dark red lipstick on and around his lips.

“It’s all right. I had fun. I’m not sure I understand the point of this stuff though."

“Mom!" Marisa was pulling on Michele’s shirt.

“You’re surprise is in the kitchen."

“Yeah!" She ran out of the room.

“Mine too?" Jarod asked hopefully.

“You look like a clown. Stay here for a second." Michele left and returned with a camera. She took a picture of Jarod, then sent him to the bathroom to wash it off.

On his way to the bathroom, Jarod passed by Parker’s room and heard strange noises coming from within. He knocked on the door and opened it. Miss Parker was had her back to the door and was looking out the window on the other side of the room.

“Parker?" Jarod asked gently.

“Did I say come in?" Miss Parker accused.

“I was just wondering if you were ok."

“I’m FINE, Jarod."

Jarod could tell her voice was about to break.

“What happened?"

“She asked about Thomas." Miss Parker wasn’t sure why she was sharing, especially with Jarod. She didn’t want anyone to see her cry, least of all him, but it was too late. She turned around and was about to say something when the sight of Jarod registered in her mind. She stared for a moment and then burst out laughing and crying.

Jarod was confused for a moment, then remembered why he had been passing by Miss Parker’s room. He blushed a little, which wasn’t noticeable through the makeup.

“Yeah, I think it looks better on you," he shrugged his shoulder’s.

“Ha! I don’t know about that."

“So, you’re going to be ok." Jarod felt awkward saying this to Parker.

“I know. I don’t even know why I’m crying."

“Maybe because you miss him?"

“No, it’s not that. Well, it’s a little of that. But mostly something else."


“Go wash your face, Jarod."

Jarod nodded and turned towards the door. Before he stepped out, he turned his face back to Miss Parker.

“If you need to talk...."

“I know."


“DADDY!!!!" Marisa ran from the back room and flew into her father’s arms as soon as he stepped inside the door.

“I missed you too Kiddo," David embarrassed his daughter full-heartedly.

“Did you bring me anything?"

“Now what kind of question is that? Of course I did!"

“Where is it?"

“You’ll get it as soon as I get a chance to say hi to everyone else."

“Hi David," Michele greeted her husband with a kiss and hug. “How was your trip?"

“Fine, but it’s good to be home, Honey."

Jarod and Miss Parker stood awkwardly in the doorway between the back room and the entranceway. David looked up and smiled.

“And these must be the two who were keeping my wife from missing me," he joked.

“David, this is Jarod and Melissa. This is my husband David."

David and Jarod stepped towards each other and shook hands. Then David moved over to Miss Parker and hugged her. It was the last thing Miss Parker had expected from this stranger. But then again, it had been the same when she first met Michele.

“It’s so good to finally meet you. Michele just hasn’t been the same since she found out she had a sister. She’s wanted you here for a very long time. I’m glad you came."

Miss Parker was flushed. She’d never felt so wanted before by so many people.

“She’s my aunt, Daddy!"

“I know, Kiddo. And she’s my sister."

Miss Parker was shocked at hearing that. He had not bothered to add –in-law and he sounded as if she were related by blood to him as well. Then she realized that he probably understood how his daughter’s life hung in the balance of her hands. How could she ever be sure if they all really wanted her here or if they were just trying to save their daughter?

“So, who’s ready to go ride the Ferris wheel?" David asked.

“ME!!!" Marisa jumped up and down. “I’ll go call Kat!" She ran off into another room.

“I’m not feeling very well," Miss Parker said softly and instantly felt flushed when all eyes turned towards her. “I think I’ll just stay in tonight and take it easy."

“Oh, Melissa," Michele went to her sister and placed a hand on her forehead. “You do feel a little warm, maybe we’ve worn you out."

“I’m going to go lie down, but please don’t let me stop you from going out. I will be fine on my own. I’ll probably just sleep anyway."

“No," David said. “We can go another night, when everyone is up to it."

“But Marisa..." Miss Parker protested.

“Don’t worry about Marisa. You go lie down."

Miss Parker looked once at Michele and David, then left the room without looking at Jarod.

“Do you think she’s sick, Jarod?" Michele asked once she was sure Miss Parker could no longer hear.

“I’ll go see if I can find out," he answered. Before he left the room, he looked at David once more. “Nice to meet you."

“You too, Jarod."

“Wow, Michele, you weren’t kidding when you said they had a bond or something. I’d say it is ‘or something.’ Did you see the look on his face when she said she wasn’t feeling well?"

“No, but I know if it’s not because she’s sick, he’ll be able to fix it. They belong together, I think, David. But one is as naive as a child and the other won’t admit it or is just too blind to see."



“Jarod, I’m too tired for your questions. Could you just leave me alone?"

Jarod entered Miss Parker’s room and walked over to stand next to the bed where she was sitting.

“How about if I just sit with you then?"

Miss Parker said nothing. She knew she wouldn’t get rid of him easily and she didn’t feel like pushing him away.

Jarod took the silence as a good sign and sat down next to Miss Parker. He thought for a moment, wondering what brought this on. He was sure she wasn’t physically tired, because he had seen her endure a lot more than shopping in a day. Something was running through her head that was brining her down and if he wanted to get her to talk, he’d have to guess what it was, so he played the day over in his head. She had seemed a bit excited to go shopping, probably because she wanted some of her own clothes. When they came back, she had been a little upset about Michele mentioning Thomas in someway, though Jarod knew Michele didn’t know about Thomas. Jarod didn’t think that was what was bothering her now, because she had seemed fine when she came down to watch TV with them while they waited for David. She had even laughed at some one liners thrown from the actors. There was something else, what could it be? Something that triggered... Then it hit him. She had seemed awkward in David’s embrace, and a look of confusion passed in her eyes shortly after. She was worried.

“They really are happy that you are here, Parker. You’re their family. Family they never thought they had."

“How can you be so sure?"

“I just am."

“Well, I’m not," Miss Parker hissed.

“I don’t know how to fix that..."

“You can’t, Jarod. You can’t fix every damn thing."

“Do you think they would have brought you here if they didn’t care? You have to realize that by bringing you here, they were the ones that put their daughter’s life in danger. They understood what they were taking a chance on, but they did anyway. Now, do you think they would do that if they didn’t want you?"

Miss Parker thought about what Jarod said. He was right, as usual. They had to of known the risk they were taking by asking Jarod to bring her with him to them. Could it be possible that they really wanted her there? There was no other reason she could think of.

“I guess not," Miss Parker whispered.

Jarod smiled. She hadn’t even argued stupidly with him. She didn’t even bother to challenge his line of thinking or belief. Was this a new Miss Parker sitting next to him? He hoped that maybe it was just his friend returning to him.

“Will you go, then? Marisa has locked herself in her room and refuses to talk to anyone, unless they are going to tell her that we are going."

“Ok," Miss Parker didn’t really want to go, but she didn’t want to disappoint Marisa.

“All right!" Jarod quickly, but gently, patted Miss Parker’s hand and then went to leave the room. Before he was out the door, Miss Parker called to him.

“Thank you, Jarod." She said it softly, hoping he wouldn’t hear, but then also hoping that somehow he’d know she was thankful. If he had heard, she wasn’t sure.


Navy Pier

“Daddy, can we ride the Ferris wheel now?" Marisa begged her father, pulling on his arm.

“Yeah, Marisa said you promised!" Katrina chimed in.

“Alright, alright," David gave in. “We’ll all go ride the Ferris wheel."

David looked over towards Jarod and Miss Parker.

“I hope neither of you are afraid of heights. The thing goes pretty slow and rather high."

Jarod had been amazed at all the lights and festivities that went on at the Pier. He had been to Chicago before, but never got a chance to come here. He shared the excitement with Marisa and Katrina. Miss Parker, on the other hand, had been quiet all night.

“Ok, two to a chair. Kat and Marisa will go together, Jarod and Melissa can go in the next one, then Michele and myself. When you girls get off," David warned Katrina and Marisa, “you wait right here until the rest of us are off. Is that clear?"

The two excitedly nodded their heads, then ran to get in line. They all watched people get on and off of the Ferris wheel. Jarod was surprised at the fact that the wheel never stopped moving. It was going just slow enough so that people could get on and off easily.

“I’ve never been on a Ferris wheel before," Jarod admitted to Miss Parker once they were on.

“It’s no big deal," Miss Parker replied quietly.

“You’re not having fun, are you?"

“I’m just tired."

“No, something’s bothering you."

“Jarod, remember when we used to have those long talks in the dead of night, after my mother died and I ended up staying so many nights at the Centre while Daddy worked late?"

“Yes." Jarod remembered their talks vividly and often called upon them when he was feeling down. He liked to remember the good times he had spent with Parker.

“And how you would keep watch for me while I slept, so I wouldn’t get caught spending time with you?"

“You would talk in your sleep."

Miss Parker nodded. Jarod would often relate to her what she said if she had talked while sleeping. They would laugh about it all.

“Then you remember the time you fell asleep and one of the sweepers caught us together."

Jarod nodded his head and his eyes turned dark. It had been the last night visit he received from Parker. He had failed her and fallen asleep on watch. A sweeper had walked into his room and found the two. Miss Parker’s father was called. He had walked into the room screaming, waking Jarod and Miss Parker. Mr. Parker was furious. He had slapped Miss Parker straight across the face and called her horrible names. Jarod had been horrified but still tried to stop Mr. Parker. Jarod ended up with a needle in his arm for his efforts and a cut in his food for the next three weeks. He never heard anything more from Miss Parker. That was when she had gone away from the Centre. When she came back, she was not his friend anymore.

“I was so mad at you for falling asleep," Miss Parker admitted. Daddy sent me away to school, which only made me madder. For years the anger grew inside me, through all the shit I went through. I blamed it all on you. The girls at the school made fun of me because somehow they found out my mother had committed suicide. They said she was dead because of me. They said she killed herself because she didn’t want to be my mother. That my mother would rather be dead then be seen with me." Tears streamed down Miss Parker’s face as she fought to control her emotions. She could hardly talk.
“And they said that Daddy sent me away to school because he didn’t want to have anything to do with me either. I didn’t dare let them know the real reason Daddy had sent me away. But I hated you so much for doing that to me. If you hadn’t fallen asleep, I would have still been home, not at that sorry excuse for a school. So many nights I had wished you dead, so I would never have to see you again." Miss Parker looked into Jarod’s eyes and saw the pain there that was mirrored in her own. “Jarod, I was so angry at the world, and I blamed you for everything. When I returned home during a semester break at college, Daddy forced me to work with him at the Centre. I was half a year away from getting my law degree. Daddy refused to pay anymore for my college and said that I should forget about wasting my time getting a degree when I should be learning how to work at the Centre. He told me that some day I would be taking his place. That was the last thing I wanted, but I had no choice."

“You were going to major in law?" Jarod was incredulous.

Miss Parker nodded her head. “Everything about law intrigued me. Especially how the point was to make everything seem black and white. I was sick of gray."

“Are you still mad?" Jarod asked softly, looking away.

“Jarod, I was angry for so long, a part of me will always be mad at you. But I am not so much anymore, because I know that we did nothing wrong but be brought up in a horrible place. I know that none of what happened to me was your fault, though at the time you seemed like the only scapegoat. I can say that now. It was not all your fault. But it all seemed like it was. When you escaped, I found myself prisoner. My life just went downhill since then, and I never thought that possible."

Jarod nodded his head. He had felt terrible when he learned that Parker was assigned to bring him in. Though she was not his friend any longer, he still loved her and wanted her to be happy, which he knew she was not.

“I was mad at you too," Jarod confessed.

“I’m not surprised. I gave you enough reason to be. Sometimes I did things on purpose to get you mad at me, so capturing you would be even easier."

“I could never understand how you could even think of working for your father. I thought that for sure you knew by then what the Centre was doing to me."

“I didn’t, Jarod. That was none of my concern. My job was to catch you. I had no idea."

Their chair was nearing the ground again and they prepared to get off. Once they were cleared and were moving towards the place that Katrina and Marisa were waiting, Jarod grabbed Miss Parker’s arm and stopped her.

“Thank you for explaining to me," Jarod stared into Miss Parker’s eyes.

Miss Parker shrugged her shoulders.

“I thought you deserved to know why I was so angry at you. You often asked, but I never truthfully answered."



“Sydney!" Broots burst into Sydney’s hotel room and the older man looked up, alarmed.

“Lyle! He’s here!" Broots breathes heavily.

“Mr. Lyle?"

“Yes, I just saw him pull up in front of the lobby. What are we going to do?"

“Let me do the talking, Broots."

Sydney got up to answer the person pounding on the door. Lyle stood smug on the other side of the door, flexing his fingers in his black leather glove, two sweepers behind him.

“Why, hello, Sydney," Mr. Lyle smiled coyly. “It’s been awhile. Is this where you have been hiding yourself?" He asked as he walked uninvited into the room.

“What do you want, Lyle?"

“I came to see my sister. But, amazingly enough, she’s not even registered for a room." Lyle turned to Broots, who takes a protective step back. “Unless there is something going on that I should know about? Huh, Broots? I heard you were sweet on my sister."

“Uh, no, I mean, there’s nothing. I mean....."

“Miss Parker isn’t here." Sydney tried to get Lyle’s attention back to him.

“Oh?" Lyle turned to study the old man. “And where would she be, then?"

“She followed Jarod to a neighboring town and ordered us to stay here, incase he came back this way."

“I see. Then you won’t mind if we stick around here with you, until she returns. Unless you know where she is?"

“No. She took off on a chase. But she lost him. When she called to report, she didn’t say where she was."

“You know, it’s strange," Lyle was trying to make the two men more nervous. “She left her cell phone at home. She never goes anywhere with out it. Would you happen to know anything about that?"

“Don’t have a clue," Sydney answered truthfully.

“We’ll be down the hall," Lyle turned and left the room.

“What are we going to do now?" Broots nearly whined, once they were alone again.

Sydney responded by putting his finger to his mouth to silence Broots and motioned that they leave the room.

Once they were downstairs and out of the lobby, Sydney resumed conversation.

“I wouldn’t put it past Lyle to have bugged the room. We’ll have to ask for new rooms."

“What are we going to do about Miss Parker?" Broots repeated his question.

“We just keep pretending we are waiting to hear word from her. If Jarod calls, we’ll ask him to talk care of it."

“What makes you think Jarod will call if he hasn’t yet?"

“I’m sure he will. He will want to know what the Centre is doing about Miss Parker being gone."

Just as Sydney finished his sentence, his cell phone rang.


“Hello, Sydney," the familiar voice came through on the other end.

“Jarod," Sydney turned smiling at Broots.

“So, what’s new at the circus?"

“Funny you should ask now, it seems our Lyle is only beginning to suspect. He’s hot on our tails. Jarod, you’ve got to throw them off track. We told him that Miss Parker went off after you to a neighboring town. You think you can make that believable?"

“Piece of pie. Or cake, was it?"

“How is she?"

“I can only hope she’s seen better days."

Sydney hung up the phone after Jarod ended the conversation.

“We have nothing to worry about, Broots."

Broots’ sighed and color began to appear on his face again.


Michele’s home

“Good morning, Melissa. There’s some coffee on the table for you and you can help yourself to anything in the kitchen. I have to go settle some things at work, but then I’ll be back later this afternoon. Marisa is staying over at Katrina’s, so you don’t have to worry about her. David’s invited us out to dinner tonight, ok? I hope so, because I already told him yes. Is it?" Michele stopped in front of the front door, which she had already opened.

Miss Parker nodded her head. She was looking forward to wearing her new dress and it had been a long while since she had been out to eat like this. Her father had canceled so many dates.

“Ok, I’ll see you around 3:30. We’ll be leaving around 5:30, so that should give you plenty of time to get ready. If you need anything, the neighbor’s phone is on the fridge. Bye!" Michele rushed out the door and left Miss Parker in a quiet empty house. Where was Jarod?

Miss Parker made her way to the kitchen and drank her coffee. What was she to do? She rarely had so much time to herself. Usually she was either sleeping or working. Miss Parker let her eyes roam the kitchen as she tried to think up ideas. Finally, she decided to finish reading her mother’s journal. Slowly, she made her way back up the stairs to her bedroom.


Miss Parker was jerked awake when she heard a door slam shut. She looked around her room in a daze, then sat up, moving her mother’s journal from where it rested on her stomach to the bedside table. On her way out of her room to investigate the noise that woke her, she picked up a vase from a stand by the doorway of her room and plucked the silk flowers out, tossing them to the floor. Cautiously, she walked down the hall and then the stairs. She could hear someone stirring in the kitchen.

Lifting the vase, ready to swing if need be, she flung the kitchen door open and rushed in, startling the perpetrator.

“Jarod," she was first to recognize as she lowered the vase.

“Why Miss Parker," Jarod grinned, realizing what she had been thinking. “Lovely choice of weapon!"

Miss Parker huffed. He would dare poke fun at her.

“Yeah, my first choice is just a tad out of reach," she motioned towards the block of knives.

“I would have thought you gun was your first."

“It would be, had you not taken it from me. Where have you been?"

“Aw, did you miss me?"

“Jarod," Miss Parker warned as she slowly advanced towards the knives.

Jarod took precaution and stepped between her and her destination.

“I had some business to attend to."

“I thought you were on vacation, or something."

“I was until your brother decided to meddle in your business."

Miss Parker did not bother to hide her surprise at the mention of her brother.

“Lyle is looking for me?"

“He probably thinks you’re with me."

“I am with you," she bluntly pointed out.

“Voluntarily," Jarod specified.

Miss Parker thought about what Jarod was saying. It was the perfect opportunity for Lyle to bring her down, if he found out that she was here with Jarod and had not bothered to contact the Centre or bring him in. She hated the fact that Jarod thought he still had control over her.

“I am here voluntarily," she said angrily.

“I know you are," Jarod backed off. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it."

“So, what did you do?"

“Basically I was leaving a paper trail to support what Sydney told Lyle. I don’t think either of us wants to see Sydney or Broots get caught up in all of this. I never asked them to cover for us, but they did anyway."

“How long do you think we have?" She was not ready to make such a decision so quickly.

“Not long, Parker."

She knew that. She knew her brother and his short patience. She had to make a decision and make it soon.



Broots knocked nervously on Sydney’s hotel room door.

“Hello, Broots," Sydney answered in a calm that always had Broots admiring him.

“Any word on Lyle?"

“He’s started a search of the neighboring towns. Jarod said that it was all taken care of, though, so no need to worry."

“That’s easy for him to say. What did he do?"

“He said he left a paper trail to support what we told Lyle. I believe we have gotten Miss Parker three more days, at the most."

“Miss Parker? I thought Jarod was the one who needed the time."

“Jarod informed me that Miss Parker has a very important decision to make. One that will either bring her back to the Centre or keep her away. Let’s hope she makes the right one."

Broots nodded his head in agreement, until his eyes met Sydney’s and then he fully understood what Sydney was suggesting. Broots’ eyes widened.

“Sydney, you, you don’t mean? You want her to?"

“Yes, Broots. Miss Parker deserves a better life. And maybe when she goes, we will be free as well. I would only hope."

“Sydney, you’re talking about leaving the Centre!"

“Think about Debbie, Broots."

“I AM thinking about Debbie! Sydney, NO one leaves the Centre!"

“Jarod did."


Michele’s House

“Pleeeeeese, Aunt Melissa?"

“I said no," Miss Parker answered the begging child calmly.

“But why not?"

“Because your mother would kill me."

“No she wouldn’t. Honest!"

“What on earth is going on in here?" Michele walked into Miss Parker’s bathroom, from hearing the screeches of her daughter.

“Nothing!" Marisa quickly slid down from her seat on the counter and walked out of the bathroom.

“What was she so desperately wanting?" Michele asked Miss Parker, who was in the midst of styling her hair.

“Oh, she just wanted me to do her hair and makeup like mine."

“That little rascal!"

Miss Parker chuckled and turned to Michele.

“Are you and David sure you want Jarod and me along tonight? I mean, it seems somewhat of a private tradition, between the two of you."

Michele smiled warmly at her sister.

“We would like nothing better than to share it with the two of you. Besides, you’ve already bought that beautiful cranberry dress. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste!" She left the room in seemingly high spirits.

Miss Parker wondered what had the woman almost singing happy day songs or whistling. They were only going out to dinner.

Then her thoughts wandered to Jarod. She had never done anything social with him as an adult until yesterday, when they went to the Pier. He was pleasant company and she felt oddly at ease with him. He seemingly had torn down her protective walls and she felt, even if it were only for a short while, that she actually had a true friend. It was a feeling she had not felt in a long time, but it felt damn good.

A gentle knock on the door brought her back to the present.

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll burn your hair with that thing?" Jarod was referring to the curler she had in her hair.

“What? Oh," Miss Parker lightly pulled it out and rolled another lock of hair around it.

“Where were you? Apparently it was far from here."

“I was just thinking about you," she admitted.

“Oh? Really?" Jarod was instantly intrigued and earned a strange look from Miss Parker.

“Yes, really. I was just thinking about what a pain in the ass you are, Wonderboy!"

She insulted, but her voice was teasing.

Jarod winced, then smiled and leaned against the doorframe.

“Well, then, let me ponder about what a pain you are!"

Miss Parker shook her head incredulously.

“What now?" Jarod wondered.

“It’s just that everyone is in such a strange mood tonight."

“It’s called being happy, Parker. Watch and maybe you’ll learn some."

“Doubt it." Miss Parker turned her attention back to her hair. She expected Jarod to get the message that she was done talking and he would leave, but when he did not, she turned to face him.

“Was there something you want?"

“Mhm." He kept staring in what seemed to be a daze.

“Well? What then?"

Jarod snapped his head back to the present situation and tried to remember what it was she had asked.

“Oh, yes, Michele said you have ten minutes left to get ready."

“Ok, thanks."

“And you look very pretty."

“Jarod, I’m not even dressed yet."

Jarod shrugged his shoulders and left the room.

Miss Parker shook her head and sighed. “That boy," she said silently to her self.


David, Michele, and Jarod were putting their coats on when Miss Parker rushed down the stairs. Everyone turned to look; she was making such a noise in her rush. Michele was standing next to Jarod and heard his sharp intake of breath. Unfortunately, it was in surround sound, so Michele turned and smacked her husband in the stomach with the back of her hand and gave him a dirty look. David blushed and shrugged his shoulders.

Miss Parker did not notice any of what transpired and called their attention once again.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t get this necklace on. Michele, would you help me?"

Michele quickly slipped on her other dress glove and looked up at Miss Parker.

“Sorry, Hun, but I’ve already got my gloves on. Perhaps Jarod could help you," Michele lightly shoved Jarod forward, causing him to stumble a bit.

Miss Parker raised an eyebrow at Michele, but then turned her attention to Jarod. She looked into his eyes for a second, but looked away quickly, surprised at what she saw there. She handed him her necklace, turned around and lifted her hair for him.

Slowly, Jarod leaned over her a bit to drape the necklace around the front of her body and brought the ends together. He easily clasped the chain together, trying not to touch her. He failed and the minute his fingers graced her neck, he felt a tingle move through his body.

Miss Parker inhaled deeply with her eyes closed when Jarod’s warm fingers swept over her neck. The slight touch made the hair on her neck stand and she quickly dropped her hair.

Before Jarod could move his hand out of the way, Miss Parker dropped her hair and it fell like silk over his skin. Jarod blinked hard and tried to remember whom it was that stood in front of him. Quickly, he turned and opened the front door for the others. David and Michele exited the house with wide grins on their faces from bearing witness to the whole ordeal. When Miss Parker passed by, Jarod unconsciously breathed her perfume in deeply.

“Thank you," she said softly as she exited the house.

Jarod hesitated for a beat, then sighed, realizing it was going to be a long night.


During Dinner, David told Jarod about some of his cases while Michele told Miss Parker about some memorable things Marisa had done. Eventually, the two separate conversations joined.

“Marisa used to play hide-and-go-seek with me all the time. Especially around her bedtime. She’s a clever little girl, and it would usually take me 15 minutes to half an hour before I would finder her, or David would finally help me." Michele laughed at the memory.

“Miss Parker used to play that with me all the time. But I didn’t know what it was when she was doing it. She’d run off saying that I would have to find her."

“I did not," Miss Parker was embarrassed by the accusation of playing such a childish game, even from when she was a child.

“Yes you did," Jarod was stubborn. “You used to call me from one place, then move to another, while I went towards the place I thought you were. I think you enjoyed aggravating me. You were the only person who could mess up my mind like that. Make everything so unclear."

“So, you finally admit that I did trick you."

“And you just admitted that you did play with me," Jarod smiled at his triumph.

Miss Parker’s face colored a bit.

Michele and David sat by, smiling at the passing comments between the two childhood friends. When they fell silent, David turned to Michele.

“My dear, would you honor me with a dance?"

“I would love to," Michele beamed and took her husband’s hand.

“Excuse us," David said to Jarod and Miss Parker.

“Perhaps you two should dance as well," Michele pushed a little, then followed her husband to the dance floor.

Miss Parker gave a harsh laugh at the suggestion that she should dance with Jarod. She’d have to be out of her mind for that to ever happen.

“I take it you don’t see that happening any time soon," Jarod commented.

“You are a quick one, Jarod," she hissed.

“They look so well together, don’t they?" Jarod was looking to the dance floor, watching Michele and David dance.

Miss Parker followed his gaze. She had to admit, they did look lovely together. She wondered if she’d ever love someone that much, that she would commit the rest of her life to him, and years down the road, still be as happy with that one person as the day she first fell in love.

While Miss Parker was deep in thought, Jarod sneaked up to her and picked her up from her chair.

“What the HELL are you doing, Jarod?" Miss Parker yelled, causing people sitting in the near by tables to look at them.

“I’m going to dance with you. You can either make a scene and resist, or you can subdue, for just one dance."

“You’ve got some nerve, Jarod. I already told you I would never dance with you."

“Then call yourself a liar. Do it for them," Jarod motioned towards David and Michele.

“I don’t do anything for anyone but myself," Miss Parker replied stubbornly.

“Fine," Jarod set her on her feet on the dance floor. “Do it for yourself, then," he challenged as he took her in his arms. Instantly the memory of the first time he had danced with her flashed in his mind. She had taught him to dance. She was the first person he had ever danced with. He only wanted to remember how it once was between them, though he knew he could only wish for it again.

Though he had forced her in his arms, it felt so incredibly wonderful to be there. The feeling washed over her whole body. All of a sudden her shoulders felt lighter, all her stress seemed to have vanished, and for the first time since her mother died, she felt like she was where she belonged. The feeling scared and excited her at the same time. She weekly tried to pull away once more, before she gave in to him and danced.

Michele and David stopped for a moment to watch the two. It was almost unbelievable how obvious it was the two belonged together. To Michele and David, anyway. Perhaps others seemed to notice as well, because some seemed to stair at the two. Neither Jarod nor Miss Parker noticed, however. They seemed lost in their own wonderland.

Jarod did not notice, but his grip on Miss Parker tightened as they danced around. He was overcome with feelings that had long since been denied; feelings he never realized were there. He thought that if he didn’t hold on tight enough, she would disappear and he would find this all to be a dream. If it was a dream, he wished it to last forever. Jarod closed his eyes and breathed in the smells, her smells. The smell of her hair, her perfume, and he moved his fingers gently, memorizing the softness of her skin. He could not remember ever feeling so at peace.

Miss Parker rested her chin on Jarod’s shoulder and closed her eyes. She completely surrendered to him. She finally let him lead. She was a bit scared at all the emotions that were flooding over her. Feelings she had never experienced before. Though it felt so damn good to be in Jarod’s arms, she was frightened. When the song ended, Miss Parker pulled away with tears in her eyes.

“Melissa, are you ok?" Jarod managed to choke out.

Miss Parker pushed back further and quickly walked away, out of the restaurant.

Jarod rushed to the table and grabbed his jacket, then followed after Miss Parker. Maybe he shouldn’t have called her by her name. How could he have been so stupid? Once out the door, he looked to his left, then to his right. He didn’t see her anywhere. Which way would she have run? Jarod ran down to the left.

Tears streamed freely down Miss Parker’s face. She had gone to the right, then taken another right at the next street. She knew Jarod would come after her, and she just wanted to be alone, so she got out of sight as fast as possible. Once she had made her second turn, she slowed down and ducked into the shadows of the buildings. She had had enough people staring at her tonight; she didn’t need anyone to see her crying. Miss Parker never cried. Well, she wished she wouldn’t. It made her feel weak. And the weak were the first to die. Where the hell had all these feeling for Jarod come from? Certainly she had never nourished them. Maybe she had gone insane. The best thing for her to do now was to return to the Centre. That would clear her mind and soul from all these silly thoughts and feelings. ‘Yeah right, and become dead inside, AGAIN.’ She didn’t know where that thought came from, but she knew it was true.

Suddenly, Miss Parker stopped. The thought had come from the truth. The truth that she had buried deep inside. The truth that her father had killed her mother, that the Centre was a bad place, that Jarod was her friend, as well as Sydney and Broots. But Sydney hid truths from her, truths that Jarod made sure she knew about. She could count on Sydney for help, as well as Jarod and Broots, but Jarod was the only one who ever gave her the clean truth. And she had ignored it.

Miss Parker began to shake and wished that Jarod were there. She was frozen in her spot on the sidewalk. She felt that if she tried to move, she would fall.

Out of nowhere, strong, warm arms encircled her and pulled her close to a body of the like. Miss Parker let go and passed out from the whole ordeal.


Michele’s home

“Will she be all right?" Michele asked, a little panicked.

“Yes," Jarod responded his exhaustion evident in his voice. “We’re both just a little tired from all this. She should be a hundred percent better tomorrow. She has to be, because it’s time for her to make her decision."

“Do you think it’s wise to push her like this?" Michele was worried for her child’s well being as well as her sister’s.

“Probably not, but we have no choice. Times up."

“Oh God, Jarod!" Michele dissolved and pushed herself into his arms. “It’s just all so terrible! What that place has done to all of us and the ones we love. Absolutely dreadful!"

“I know, Michele. I know," Jarod tried to comfort her, but had nothing to say to ease her pain and fear.

After a moment, Michele pulled back, her eyes red and wet with tears.

“You go get your rest, now. I know you will need it to deal with my sister tomorrow. Good night, Jarod."

“Good night," Jarod replied and went to his room, though he did not fall asleep. He spent his night worrying about Parker and what tomorrow would bring her; bring them all. So much was at stake with this decision. What a burden it must be for her.

About an hour before dawn, Jarod finally got some rest, but it did nothing to calm his worried mind and troubled soul.


“Everyone’s gone again," Parker commented to Jarod as he entered the kitchen. She was sitting at the table drinking her morning cup of coffee. She looked about as rested as Jarod did.

“That’s because we have some important things to do today."

“I was afraid of that," Parker said begrudgingly.

“We’re out of time," Jarod informed her softly.

“I know," Parker gave in without a fight. She knew this was something she could not run from and it didn’t help that this whole situation scared her.

“What are my choices?" Miss Parker figured Jarod had grilled this whole thing into his head time and again, had organized and reorganized, taking out everything that was out of the question. She could count on Jarod to make sense of pure chaos.

“You could go back to the Centre and hope that they don’t find out where you’ve been for the past week or you could leave."

“You don’t think I could cover my tracks?"

“I’m sure you could, but never anything permanently. They can always drug you or get their answer by other means. Either way, it’s not pretty."

“I’ve deceived the Centre before, I could do it again," Miss Parker said stubbornly.

“Have you, Parker? Or have they merely let you think that you have? Once you go back, you will never be able to see Michele, David, or Marisa again. Or me, for that matter. If you go back, I will simply just disappear. Because there will be nothing left for me to stick around for."

“Jarod, is this about you or me?"

“Just thought I’d let you know," Jarod lowered his head. He had put all their cards on the table. Tried to push her as subtly in the direction he wanted her to go, but the decision was solely hers.

“How do I leave the Centre?" Miss Parker finally asked after a few moments of silent debate.

Jarod looked up at her with relief in his eyes he could not conceal. His heart was still burdened, however, because she had not officially made her decision yet. She was merely looking at her options.

“There are only two ways, Parker. Either the Centre dies, or you do."

“There’s no other possible way?" Miss Parker’s voice was full of desperation.

“I’m afraid not."

“Figures that the better choice is the near impossible one," Miss Parker chuckled sadly.

“You’re sure about this?" Jarod’s heart raced when he realized that she had in fact made her decision, perhaps even long before this conversation began. She had just gone through this ordeal to argue with herself and reassure herself that this was the right decision.

Miss Parker looked deep into Jarod’s eyes and nodded.

“I’m sure, Jarod. I’m sure it needs to be done, I’m not sure of having to be the one to do it. I wish I were someone else."

“No you don’t."

“I guess I need to die, then."



“Well, Sydney," Lyle approached the man in the hotel restaurant. Sydney had long since finished his meal and was reading a book. Once he heard Lyle approach, he marked his place in the book and set it down out of view, giving Lyle his attention. “Looks like your story checked out. We found the town Miss Parker followed Jarod to. However, neither of them is there any longer. You have to admit that it is quite suspicious that she has neither shown up here nor called. Or has she."

“No, she’s not called me." Sydney was short. Time was running out for Parker and there was nothing he could do.

“Perhaps, then, she finally ran off with her rat, huh? What to you think, Doc?"

Sydney was unaccustomed to being called a doctor and it unnerved him a bit, though he hid it well. He would not give that satisfaction to Lyle.

“Or maybe she just got tired of working for her father."

“We’ll find her, don’t worry, Sydney," Lyle stared at the man for a moment, then turned and left.

Sydney felt helpless. He had no way of helping his friends. All he could do was sit back and watch the show.


Michele’s home

“Jarod, are you sure this is going to work?" It was obvious that Michele was nervous, perhaps even more nervous than Miss Parker was.

“It will have to. It’s the only way."

“I only wish there were another...."

“You and me both," Miss Parker walked into the living room. “Is everything set, Jarod?"

“Yes. Are you ready?" Jarod grabbed a firm hold of Miss Parker’s shoulders and stared into her eyes, trying to read any doubt.

“Jarod, I made my decision, I’m not going to turn back. I only wish I...." Miss Parker looked down sadly at her mother’s watch on her wrist.

“I know, Parker, but it’s got to be believable. Perhaps we can get it back later."

“If it survives."

“Ok, Michele, wish us luck. Do you remember the plan?"

Michele nodded her head.

“We sit tight until we get word from you. If we don’t hear anything within seven hours, it’s time to go visit David’s Parents in Florida."

“Goodbye, Melissa," David leaned in and swiftly hugged Miss Parker. “Take care."

As soon as David stepped back, Marisa knocked into Miss Parker at full force.

“Ooph!" The air was knocked out of her, but Jarod stood behind to keep her from falling.

“Don’t go! Don’t go, Aunt Melissa!" Marisa pleaded.

“I have to, Honey. But I’ll be back. Don’t you worry."


Miss Parker choked back her tears. The last thing she wanted to do was lie to this girl, her niece, but she saw no other way.

“I promise."

“Ok," Marisa let go of Miss Parker and stepped back to cling to her dad.

“All right, Parker, let’s roll."

“Oh, Melissa!" Michele threw her arms around Miss Parker and squeezed her tight. Miss Parker hugged Michele back lightly, then let go, thought Michele was still holding on.

“Michele, I would like to get this all over with today," she said patiently.

“Right," Michele pulled back and straightened up. “Sorry."

Michele turned to Jarod and gave him a big hug as well. “You take care of my big sister, you hear me? Promise me you will bring her back to me, in one piece."

“I promise," Jarod returned the hug.

“Get out of here, then, and hurry back."


On the road

“Ok, call Lyle," Jarod told Miss Parker, who took out her new cell phone and dialed her brother’s.


“I’ve got Jarod, bring a sweeper team."

“Where are you?"

“I’m in Chicago at the Ramada Hotel on Belmont, you imbecile! Get a sweeper team and you ass over here!" Miss Parker hung up the phone with a wide grin on her face.

“If I didn’t know any better, Parker, I would say you enjoy insulting the man."

“How long do you think it will take them to get here?"

“We’ve got about an hour and a half. First you have to check into the hotel. Then we can decide what to do with our time. Are you hungry?"

“Jarod, how can you be hungry at a time like this?" Miss Parker was amazed.

“Just thought I’d ask," Jarod shrugged his shoulders. “What should we do then? We can’t just sit around and wait."

“We go shopping."

“Shopping?!" Jarod said incredulous. And she thought eating was a dumb idea?

“Yes, it’s the only thing that calms my nerves. Well, that and practicing at the range. Besides, if I’m going to die, I’m going to spend the last hours of my life spending money on myself. And NO one’s gonna stop me," she turned her grin towards Jarod, who could only shake his head. “Michigan Street, please."


An hour later

Miss Parker waited in the spot Jarod had dropped her off, a block from the hotel, and waited for him to call. He had gone to double check everything. Fifteen minutes later, he called her to let her know everything was set and it was time to move into action. Lyle’s plane had landed and was almost to the hotel.

Miss Parker entered the hotel through the front and sat down on a couch in the lobby, looking exhausted. Only a few minutes later, she sat bolt right up and jumped off the couch, racing out of the lobby, yelling.


She tried not to smile at the stir she caused as she ran out the door, chasing after Jarod down the block. She ran after him for three blocks straight and turned into an ally. She could hear tires screeching behind her and hoped that it was Lyle. There was no way she and Jarod could pull this off again.

The ally was short and at the end of it was a small abandoned warehouse. Jarod ran in as the black sedans turned into the ally.

Just as Lyle’s car screeched to a halt at the gate of the warehouse, he saw Miss Parker run inside after Jarod. Lyle jumped out of his car, his sweepers in tow, and had just squeezed through the opening in the gate when a blast pushed him back, right into the gate. The warehouse burst into flames and loose pieces rained all around. Lyle looked up and watched as the place disintegrated in a fiery blaze. Could his sister have escaped that? Lyle did not think it possible, but they would have to search the remains. Perhaps, if they were lucky, Jarod had been inside as well. Lyle let a grin form on his face as he turned to his car, past the sweepers that looked on at the sight before them.

“What!" Mr. Parker screamed into the phone once Lyle explained what had happened.

“She ran into the warehouse, just after Jarod and only seconds later, it exploded!"

“Find her. If she’s in there, find her!" Mr. Parker demanded and hung up the phone. Lyle leaned up against his car and watched the flames engulf what was left of the house.

Just a hundred yards from the house, Jarod and Miss Parker sat in a hole in the ground that was about twelve feet deep and six feet wide. They were in complete darkness, but it was necessary in order to evade Lyle and the sweepers. There was nowhere they could have run without the chance of being spotted, so they stayed on the grounds of the warehouse and waited silently.

It took fifteen minutes for the firefighters to get there and forty-five minutes for them to kill the fire. Lyle informed the police that he had been hired to demolish the warehouse, but somewhere along the lines something went wrong and the warehouse caught fire. He assured the police that there was no one inside the building, as he had just escaped with his own life after checking to see if anyone was inside. Half an hour later, the place was cleared of cops and Lyle ordered his sweepers to begin the search

From their place in the ground, Jarod and Miss Parker could only hear muffled sirens and yells that seemed so weak, once the sounds reached them. Jarod looked at his watch, showing off its Indiglo feature and reported to Miss Parker that they had been there for roughly an hour and forty-five minutes. To Miss Parker, however, in the damp, dark, smelly ground, it seemed like they had been there forever. She was ready to scream.

An hour later, a sweeper rushed out of the house carrying something in his hands. He located Lyle and showed it to him.

“It’s our mother’s watch. Miss Parker wears it all the time. She must have been... Where did you find this? It looks hardly damaged."

“It was under an inverted sink. The sink protected it, I think."

“Ok, call off the search," Lyle ordered, then entered his car and called his father.

Two hours later, Jarod started to squirm. They had long since heard any yells, other than Miss Parker’s muffled ones. After being in the hole for two and half-hours, she could not take it any more and began to scream. Jarod quickly covered her mouth with his hand and whispered good memories into her ear to keep her sane.

“Can we get out of this hell hole yet?" she asked hopefully.

“I’m going to go check."

“Do you have to leave me here at the bottom by myself?" Miss Parker pleaded.

“You can come half-way up with me, but that’s it."

“It’s better than nothing."

The two slowly made their way to the top.

Jarod carefully lifted the makeshift lid to their hole and looked around. He did not hear, nor see anyone. Slowly, he slipped out and cautiously walked around the grounds. When he could get a clear view of the front gate and saw that all cars were gone, he raced back to the hole and flung the lid open.

“Come out, Parker! They’re gone!"

Miss Parker flew out of the hole and knocked Jarod over in her haste.

“Woah! Watch it!" He laughed.

Miss Parker glared at him in anger.

“You DARE laugh at me, you jerk!" She spat out and pushed herself off of him. She stood up quickly and brushed herself off. She began to sway, feeling nauseous, as her vision began to go black. “Oh God," she murmured as she fell back to the ground.

“Parker! Are you ok? Parker?" Jarod rushed to her and checked her out. She blindly flung her arm out to swat him away, but missed.

“I’m fine! I just stood up too fast. Get away from me."

Jarod obediently stepped back and stood watching her, waiting.

After a few minutes, she looked up at him, exhausted.

“Sorry," she whispered.

Jarod moved forward and helped her up.

“It’s quite all right, Miss Parker. You took it better than I thought you would."

“I guess now I know how you feel," she admitted and Jarod only nodded his head.

“Let’s get back to Michele’s house so we can clean off and rest. We have all the time we need now. I wouldn’t be surprised if they believe, after a few months of not hearing from me, that I died in that explosion as well."

“We can only hope," Miss Parker responded as she let Jarod lead her to their getaway truck. At least she had new clothes to look forward to.

Once they were on the road, Jarod took out his cell phone.

“Would you like to call her with the good news?"

Miss Parker grabbed the phone from him and dialed Michele’s number.

“Hello?" The voice was rushed, nervous, and edgy.


“Oh, thank God!" She shouted when she recognized the voice.

“We’re coming home." Miss Parker handed the phone over to Jarod and turned to lean her head against the window. It was not long before she fell asleep.

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