Table of Contents [Report This]
The sun had lowered just halfway over the city’s skyline. The rose-petal reds, mandarin oranges and lemon-drop yellows reflected off the chrome buildings and the thousands of horizontal windows. There wasn’t a tree in site, unless you counted the occasional dead shrub and everyone was dressed in a tired business suit or fishnet stockings and a leather corset. The latter hit on the former on nearly every street corner.
“And the sun hasn’t even set yet.”
She turned her head to the side as an acknowledgment of the person now standing next to her.
“Do I know you?”
“I’m Kim,” she answered. She didn’t make eye contact with her, or even so much as spare a glace away from the setting sun. “Sad, isn’t it?”
“What?” Conversation wasn’t normally anything she indulged in, especially with strangers.
“The people here. They sell themselves for nickels.”
“It’s L.A. What’d you expect?”
“Nothing less,” Kim replied, adjusting her sunglasses. “You been here long?”
“Paid vacation,” she answered wryly. “Not my choice, either.”
“I gathered. People come here to make a fortune. For fame and money and power. The majority of them end up like that.” She gestured down from the rooftop at the sidewalk dealers and hookers.
She smiled and turned her face, lowering the glasses. Her eyes were gray and bleak, glossed over in a fog. “I wouldn’t last a day out there.”
She nodded and pushed off the wall, picking her own glasses off the rail. “Well, it’s been fun.”
As she started away, the faint staccato of heels on the concrete filtered through Kim’s ears. She smiled.
The heels stopped.
“You’re Parker, aren’t you?”
The heels approached, and she leaned against the wall. “You know Jarod.”
Kim smiled again, a dimpled, freckle-sprinkled smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “He’s gone now.”
“I gathered.” She saw the woman’s mouth about to open, but she held up a hand, knowing she could sense the movement and intervened,
“Yeah, I know- he’s a Godsend. If it hadn’t been for him some terrible atrocity would have occurred or some terrible atrocity did occur and he stepped in to play jury.”
“You sound like you’ve been doing this a while.”
“It’s the same story every time. It never changes. So, what did Wonderboy do for you?”
“The county hospital had been extorting money from the local children’s centre and he found the guy behind the puppets. He also gave me the money for an eye operation.”
“Worked well,” she commented sarcastically.
Kim laughed. “No, but it was the thought that counts. He was sweet, but a bit strange. Like he’d been-”
“Living under a rock for twenty years?”
“I was going to say cave, but… I guess there’s not much more I can say that you haven’t already heard.”
“Or seen or smelled or stepped in.”
The last ray of light hit the windows and seemed to hold several minutes before setting. Parker sighed and watched it disappear, slipping the letter of day into the envelope of night. She was about to walk away when Kim’s grainy voice spoke the one thing she hadn’t expected.
“He talked about you a lot.”
Parker froze and waited.
“He said you grew up together, that you were best friends.”
Parker swallowed. “Another lifetime.”
“He said that you’re fighting for the same cause and battling the same demons but on opposite sides of the street.” She paused. “He spoke highly of you.”
She scoffed. “I doubt that.”
Kim sighed and turned back, resting her elbows on the rail and staring at Parker blankly from behind the sunglasses. “He misses you.”
“You can’t miss something that wasn’t there to begin with.”
“He loves you.”
Parker choked. “Excuse me?”
“It was in his voice. Every time he talked about you, which was often, that feeling was always there.”
An unsettling feeling grew in her stomach. “Son of a bitch,” she muttered. “Did he put you up to this?”
“No, of course not. I’m just calling it like I see it… no pun intended.”
“You’re seeing wrong.”
She shrugged. “Maybe. But I’ve been in love before, and I’ve been loved before and I’d recognize that tone of voice anywhere.
“When you lose one sense, all the others come on stronger to compensate. You learn to understand people, without having to see them. You learn to recognize anger, and jealousy, joy and hate, love and fear.”
“Well, good for you,” she snapped, folding her arms across her chest.
“Of what?” she sighed, exasperated.
“Good,” Parker snapped. “Let the rat scurry.”
Kim listened to the retreating footsteps and slumped against the night. “But you are too.”
“Wow, you made it back in one piece,” he laughed, embracing the younger man.
Ethan chuckled. “She’s not that bad, once you get to know her.”
“I do know her,” he answered, moving away, farther into open space. “I’ve known her my whole life,” he added sullenly, then turned suddenly with a bright smile and questioned, “So, what’d you think of Delaware?”
Ethan sensed his avoidance and played along. Shuddering, he followed his brother into the kitchen; between the two of them, they were always hungry. “You mean besides the dark, looming representation of Hell seen from every window?”
Jarod laughed and put frozen pizza in the microwave and leaned against the counter, gulping down a soda.
“It was little too close to the Centre for comfort,” he answered honestly.
“I know what you mean.”
Ethan grinned. “You’ve been to her house before.”
“Only a few times,” he defended himself. “Just for really, really important things.”
“Like stealing her perfume?”
“What! No, I didn’t— she knows about that?”
Ethan laughed harder the redder Jarod’s face became “She knows about everything. It’s uncanny.”
Jarod tilted his head. “What’d you mean?”
“She knows about every time you’ve ever been there, even when you didn’t leave anything.”
“But I haven’t been there since-”
“Oh, come on. ‘Taking the car for a test drive’? Even I’m more inventive then that.”
Jarod lowered his head, and then snapped suddenly at the popping sound from the microwave. There was red sauce all over the sides, the bottom was gooey and the pepperoni had shriveled. Ethan suppressed another laugh at his brother’s expense. He slid the slice onto a plate, hissing and waving his fingers after prodding the bubbling cheese. He dumped it into the garbage and starred at it helplessly.
Ethan watched, sighed and decided to take a chance. “She wants you back, you know,” he reiterated.
“Some things never change.”
He sighed, exasperated. “I thought you were the genius.”
Moving into the living room, he dropped himself onto the couch, waiting for the footsteps that followed: “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“She wants you back. Not for them, for herself,” he continued once his brother had entered the room. “She misses you.”
“Not likely. I’m nothing more then a big thorn in her side she’s been trying to yank out for five years.”
“Then how else do you explain it?”
“How she knows. Jarod, she knew, every room you went in, and everything you touched.”
“She’s my huntress. She has to know. It keeps her alive.”
“It keeps her sane. You called nearly every night I was there. And after every phone call she slept better then she had in the hours before.”
Ethan sighed and stood, pacing several steps before turning. “How often do you call her, on a regular basis?”
“I don’t know… a few times a week.”
“Have you ever not called her, for say, over a month?” he questioned.
“Probably. Why? Where are you going with this?”
“And how much more hostile was she then usual?”
“I don’t know, um… borderline menopausal?”
“Exactly, what? So, she was angry what’s that got to do with anything?”
“God, you are dense. She was angry because you didn’t call her.”
“She’s angry all the time, whether I do or don’t call her. If I do call her, it’s usually to torment her, and if I don’t it’s usual because something bad has happened.” Jarod waved his hand in the air. “And anyway, how did we get on this conversation?”
“You asked me about Delaware.”
“Delaware, not my relationship with Parker.”
“Then you admit it’s a relationship.”
“Of course! It’s an extremely screwed up, obsessive compulsive relationship we should both be in therapy for!”
Jarod sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “Look, I’m going out. I need… I’ve got to clear my head, or something.” Picking his jacket off the arm of the chair, he slung it over his shoulders.
“Here,” Ethan said, extending his hand, holding Jarod’s cell phone. “Don’t forget this.”
Jarod looked from the device to Ethan, who had one eyebrow raised knowingly. Jarod set his jaw tightly and spun, leaving the object in Ethan’s hands and stomped out the door.
“Boy, is he whipped.”
Parker paced the length of her office so much Broots’ head began to spin and his stomach had tied itself in knots from watching her. He excused himself quickly, leaving her alone with stacks of paperwork, a telephone and Sydney, whose scrutinizing gaze was not lost on her.
“Just say it, Sydney.”
“You’ve been acting…different ever since L.A.”
She sighed and stopped pacing, much to his relief, and stared silently out the window. Rising, he stepped over the notebooks and papers tracking Jarod’s movements across the country. He stood beside her, watching her face in the reflection.
“I don’t know what it is you’re wrestling with, Miss Parker,” he said, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. “but whatever it is, my only advice to you is that you follow your own voice, not theirs.”
Ethan jumped at the sound of the phone ringing and rattling against the desk. He blinked through dust induced from sleep, trying to ascertain where the noise came from. Jarod’s cell, still on the glass countertop where he’d left it, rang one more time before going to voicemail. Ethan shrugged and lay back down, closing his eyes, and falling instantly back asleep.
Jarod entered the room a few moments later, drying his hair with a towel. He glanced at his brother, rolled his eyes, and picked the phone up off the table. He hit the speed dial and send while traipsing back into the bedroom. He tucked the phone between his chin and shoulder, thumbing through the choices of a black or black shirt to go with his black or black pants. He dropped and fumbled the phone when her voice filtered across the line.
“Jarod, it’s me… obviously, which is probably why you didn’t answer… because you knew it was me… anyway-” She took a deep breath at the same time he did. “It’s a secure line, I promise. I’m at a payphone about twenty miles outside Cape May; nobody followed me.”
“Why is she telling me this?” He murmured, sinking down on the edge of the bed and clutching the phone tighter.
“Listen, this, is going to sound crazy, but I… I need to talk to you- in person. No sweepers, or Lyle or… well, I’ll have my gun, but” She laughed nervously, a sound he never expected to hear, but found he liked. “I need to tell you something, kind of important, in a way, and I can’t do it over the phone, but it sort of depends on you. On how you feel.”
“About me,” the recording answered. Jarod felt his heart stop.
“I’ll be in Cape May for a few days, and I know you’re close, so… once you get there you’ll know how to find me.”
The phone clicked and the voice stopped. He listened to it several more times before realization hit him in the face and he literally jumped into the first shirt, socks, shoes and jacket he found, scribbled a note to Ethan and snuck out the back door.
He didn’t stop to think about what he was doing until he was there.
The road was winding with steep cliff bottoms on one side and a sharp drop on the other. Everything was wood and leaves and gravel except for the two-lane road that led in and out of Cape May. Her eyes carefully noted everything around her and she focused all of her attention on the road ahead and behind, afraid of where her mind might take her if she focused on anything else.
“What the hell have I done?”
Her fingers drummed against the steering wheel that she gripped so tight her knuckles bled.
“Get a grip, it’s just Jarod,” she muttered, glancing briefly in the review mirror. She scoffed. “Right. When has it ever been ‘just’ Jarod?”
Her head so full of thoughts, she couldn’t hear the soft scrape of metal against tar in the distance.
She continued talking to reassure herself, and slowed as she neared the sharp bend around the cliff.
“God, what am I doing? What am I doing to say? ‘So, Jarod, after chasing you for five years and treating you like nothing more then a sewer rat, I found that I have feelings for you!’ Great. Yeah, that’ll go over well. Is it this difficult for normal people?” She took a deep breath. She wasn’t supposed to get nervous. She was supposed to say in control. She was a Parker. And that was the problem. “How hard can it be? I, love, Ja-” her throat caught and she choked, hacking suddenly. “Okay, harder then I thought.” Another breath. “Jarod, I… oh, Jesus. What the hell am I doing?" She shut her eyes momentarily. “I love him. I love Jarod.” Her face pulled slightly and the skin on her knuckles cracked.
“I’m so screwed.”
It was dark and she was blind sighted by the large rocks.
The man was drunk, weaving between the two lanes, and as he came around the corner, smashed the small black convertible into the railing and over the drop off. His car stopped, and the driver was knocked unconscious with nothing more then a gash to his forehead.
Parker’s car rolled all the way to the bottom before smashing sideways into a large oak that held its ground. And in the middle of the night, no one saw a thing.
She didn’t have a chance.
Jarod decided that pacing was to be his new hobby. Whenever he was bored, or annoyed, or stressed, he could pace to help him clear his mind. The planks of the boardwalk creaked beneath his weight as he paced in front of Angel, the newest edition to the local fleet.
Everything was right, he was positive. May had been her favourite month, until Thomas. Midnight was her favorite time of day. She’d always loved the water. Angel was what her father called her. Jersey was just far enough away for it to be safe, but close enough to stick it in their faces. Everything was there.
He looked at his watch again. 12:05
“Maybe she’s late.”
But Parker was never late. Maybe she wasn’t coming.
“What am I doing here? This is insane. It’s probably a trap.” His head snapped up and he listened. Nothing. “This is suicide,” he muttered. "But what if it’s not? What if she really DOES want to tell me something? What if she’s in danger? What if-”
She wants you back, you know.
“Get a grip. Just because you love her doesn’t mean- oh, God. I love her. I love Parker. Oh, God.”
But Parker was never late. Not unless…
An uneasy feeling rose in his stomach, and he stopped his pacing and listened. Something wasn’t right. Everything was still. Too still. The crickets he’d been sure were out earlier had ceased, the wind was hovering instead of blowing and the waves seemed to have quieted their lapping. And Parker wasn’t there.
He pulled his cell phone from his jacket, flipped it open, and hit the speed dial. Nothing happened. He tried again and again but all he got was static.
Convinced something was really wrong, he hastily pocketed the phone and took off toward his car. So involved in paranoia, he missed the soft popping sound that came just before the dart lodged itself in his neck. He stumbled and fell, realizing now the truth.
She’d set him up.
He grabbed the dart from his neck and tried again to stand, but the effects of the drug had already made it to his system, and he slumped over into nothing.
They pulled him, screaming, down the halls of the Centre’s sublevel. It took six of them to get one, still drug-fuzzy pretender off the elevator, down the corridor and into the room.
It was eight by ten and all concrete. There were no windows, no air ducts and the only door had a handle on only one side. They threw him into a corner and quickly departed. He was crazed, slamming into the walls, banging his fists against every wall, screaming and cursing at the camera in the corner, at the door, at the ceiling, at himself.
“I’ll kill you for this!”
His knuckles collided with the cement and a loud crack split through his rant.
“I’ll kill you for this! Parker, how could you do this to me! Parker! Parker!”
“She lost a lot of blood,” the doctor informed them solemnly. “I’ll be honest- there’s a very good chance she won’t wake up.”
“And the other man?”
She sighed. “He’ll be out of here in a few hours.”
Broots could see the anger burning in his friend’s eyes.
“He doesn’t work for them, Sydney,” Broots assured him. “I checked him out. This was completely an accident.” He lowered his voice. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Sydney said nothing, staring teary-eyed at the room behind them and the white sheets and the pink blanket that surrounded the small, prone figure.
“Can we see her?”
The doctor nodded and stepped aside. They each took one side of the bed and Ethan, who remained deadly silent stood at the doorway, unable to move any closer. Broots took her hand gently between his own and Sydney brushed her hair away from her face repetitively.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor offered, then quietly backed away.
“Oh my God. Jarod?”
He was so much older. Bags under his eyes drooped purple and red and the flesh on his face was loose. He was skin and bones all over and every part of him ached. His voice was crackly when he spoke and he limped and leaned to once side as he embraced his brother.
“Jarod.” It was spoken like an answered prayer. The whole family was there, and each of them took their turn, gently holding him close and kissing his face. Other then that, there wasn’t really much to say. He was dying.
His mother made him some soup when he woke up four days later and she sat with him silently while he tried to eat. He hadn’t had any real food in over a year.
A whole year, spent in the dark confines of an eight by ten with no windows, no doors, no hope.
This Hell had no furniture at all. There was nothing in the cement box but himself and the camera, and for at least seven hours of each of the four hundred days he was kept below, he was forced to be alone with his thoughts.
Thoughts of anger, hatred, regret, remorse, confusion and ultimately, betrayal. For twenty-eight hundred hours he sat and he thought about every detail of that night, and for the first half of the year tried to explain it.
She was sick.
There was traffic.
They’d found out alone.
But in time his own excuses couldn’t drown out Lyle’s words.
“I really couldn’t thank her enough. None of this would be possible without her. She’s been promoted, you know. Chairman. She sold her soul for six figures and one hell of a benefits package. No, actually, she sold your soul.”
His first goal was to escape. It wasn’t easy, but once it was done, his next was to confront her, give her one last chance, even though she didn’t deserve it. But he couldn’t find her. After that, he gave up and shunned her name. When asked about his past life, he didn’t even bother to try and politely skirt the subject, he flat out ignored it. Avoided her all together; told his life story as if it hadn’t included her at all.
So by the time he found his family, he was tired. He was so, so tired. It took another year to nurse him back to three full meals a day, or at least close to it, and another year after that for anyone to bring up her name.
“There’s something you should know, Jarod, about Park-”
“Don’t say it. It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t exist anymore.”
With a light shove, Ethan pushed his brother back down. “Listen to me- Parker had nothing to do with your capture. She wasn’t even at the Centre at the time, and she doesn’t work there now.”
“I don’t want to hear this.”
“Too bad, ‘cause you’re going to anyway.”
“Ethan-” the Major interjected.
“No.” He never tore his eyes away from Jarod’s face. “Parker was in a car accident, October 17th, three years ago. She’s in a coma.”
Jarod found speech impossible, so Ethan went on. “She was driving the southbound highway into Cape May when a drunk driver came around the curve and pushed her car over the edge. Police didn’t find her until the next morning and by then… it’s a miracle she didn’t die.
“Parker had nothing to do with any of it, Jarod. I don’t know why, but she was on her way to Cape May, away from the Centre, not toward them. We ran every possible check years ago. She didn’t plan any of it. And I know you’re looking for someone to blame, big brother, but it’s not her. It’s not her.”
“Do you think he’ll be alright?” She touched his arm anxiously.
“Give him a minute,” Ethan advised softly, grasping Margaret’s hand, preventing her from entering the room. He pulled them both gently down the hall.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, staring helplessly at her hand, resting, soft and white across her stomach. “I… I needed someone to blame, someone to direct my hate at while I was in there; there was nothing else for me to do. And- and you were the one who called, you… you lured me there, so I thought… I blamed you.
“Ethan said they didn’t find you for nearly six hours. I would have been at the Centre by then. You… you were dying. I was angry at you, I was blaming you for everything and you were dying.”
He picked up her hand delicately and cradled it between his own. ‘I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah,” came the weak, cracked voice. “You should be.”
The same mocking sarcasm, not quite serious, not quite kidding. He blinked and jumped and clutched her hand tighter.
He smiled, “Parker.” And gently squeezed her hand.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
He reached out and gently brushed her face. “Sleep well?” he asked teasingly to cover for the caress.
“Like Rip Van Winkle.”
“Rip Van who?”
She smiled. “Just like old times.”
She took a shaky breath. “I didn’t do it, Jarod. I didn’t tell them.”
“I know that now,” he answered solemnly.
“I had to tell you myself.”
“I know. Thank you.”
She’d managed to accomplish in three days what they couldn’t do in three years: make him live again; he lived for her.
She stood with her back towards him, arms folded, staring out the window. She didn’t answer him so he came closer, directly behind her, reaching for her without touching her.
“Do you ever think about what might have happened if we had met up that night like we were supposed to?”
“Of course. I had twenty-four hundred plus hours to think about it.”
“Looks like we missed our shot.”
He shook his head. “No, we didn’t. We got another one.”
She turned. “How do you mean?”
“You’re here now. And you’re getting better and I’m getting better and…” His face fell as she turned away, walking around him to the other side of the room. “Parker?”
“I wouldn’t work, Jarod, you know that.”
“There’s too much. Too much has happened. We spent our entire lives being intertwined and then, suddenly we were ripped to shreds. You can’t put that back together no matter how hard you try. And whether you want to believe it or not, some small part of you still blames me, despite the truth.”
He stayed silent. She faced him, and pressed her palm to his face. “You have to understand."
"We’re on different roads now. And this is my off-ramp.”
“I need you.”
“No, you don’t. You never have.”
His eyes searched hers for something to hold onto.
“Don’t make this hard, Jarod.”
He gripped her waist and her hand against his cheek. She smiled. “I got my guy back on track.” She leaned forward on the tops of her toes and placed a kiss on his forehead. Stepping out of his grasp, she moved away, their fingers lingering. “I’ll be seeing you.”
She was halfway out the door when reality caught up with him, and in a moment he was behind her, grabbing, turning her and kissing her. She wrapped her arms around him just as tight and held, terrified of letting go.
“One for the road?” she asked breathlessly. He kissed her again, softer this time, and was interrupted by the phone.
“I don’t... I don’t need to get that.”
“No,” she murmured, stepping away. “That you have to get.”
He nodded, not fully understanding and stepped behind her, reaching for the phone.
“Oh, and you’re welcome.”
“Hello? No, a friend. What? No, that’s impossible, she’s standing right-” Jarod turned with a sweeping arm motion toward the empty space Parker had previously occupied. “Never- never mind.” He cleared his throat and wiped tears from his face. “So, uh… when, when did she die? And she never did wake up? I see.” The phone fell on its own accord back to the cradle. Jarod stared, smiling through his thick tears.
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