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Disclaimer: The characters of Jarod and Miss Parker continue to thrive – to the extent that they do – in the minds of strange people like us TNT, of course, for as long as they see fit to continue airing reruns and FINALLY (it’s about time) on DVD. I don't know who owns them and don't really care. I will love them forever.

Warning: Please note the rating. This one is SMUTTY!

If there's one thing that every woman needs it's a good hairdresser.

For Parker, one of the few lasting, successful relationships in her life was the dozen-year-long association with Jerry, who was not only highly competent but also loyal and adoring. "You, my darling, are a goddess," he would offer unfailingly, and without the slightest hint of irony, on each and every visit. And this morning was no different, well, except for the part when she responded by dissolving into an unsightly puddle of body-wracking sobs and cascading tears.

It wasn't like Parker to so thoroughly lose her shit in public and, fortunately, the sole witness to this lapse was one of few people outside of the Centre she could call friend. It was 8:30 on a Saturday morning, she was his first appointment of the day and, as he often did when there wasn't a large wedding or prom party
scheduled, Jerry had intentionally left the appointment after hers open so that they could spend a little quality time sharing coffee, fat-free muffins and conversation.

Thank God for you, she thought, meeting his sympathetic eyes in the mirror.

As though reading her mind he smiled warmly and offered, "I'll call my 10:00 and tell her I have to reschedule."

* * * *

It had been a long, miserable week culminating in yet another humiliation at the paws of Wonder-Rat. It wasn't a particularly distinctive stunt, resulting as it did in the destruction of a $400 pair of shoes and, despite the passionate vow from the dry cleaner to do everything he could, probably spelled the demise of one of her
favorite suits as well. It was more or less par for the course. Her reaction, however, was anything but.

In her wake, a pale and cringing Broots scurried away at the earliest possible opportunity. And apparently following the keen self-preservation instincts that had served him well over four decades at the Centre, Sydney actually refrained from interrupting her homicidal tirade to deliver that tiresome they-want-Jarod-back-alive routine. Instead he listened in pensive silence, punctuated only by the
occasional sigh, frown and shake of his head.

But most surprising was her father, who generally preferred that she sacrifice everything, including food, water and sleep, in the pursuit of Jarod. Entering her office at the end of the day, Mr. Parker gingerly approached her and, using that gentle but firm tone that indicated it was an order not a suggestion, observed that she was exhausted and, therefore, he was authorizing a week's vacation
for her… to begin immediately.

This only served to compound her humiliation but she was simply too fed up to argue. Instead she went home and cracked open a new bottle of single malt, enjoying more than one glass with her favorite chaser, liquid antacid. Choosing unconsciousness over self-reflection, she collapsed into bed after midnight without pondering why she had let Freud's trained chimp upset her so much.

* * * *

And, thus, it was only upon hearing Jerry's perennial compliment that the pieces fell into place with sickening clarity, prompting her present emotional outburst and explaining her murderous rage of the day before. Being called a goddess drove home the point that she was anything but.

Goddesses were powerful, commanding the forces of nature and guiding the fortunes of men and nations. She, on the other hand, had very little control over the circumstances of her own life, let alone anything or anyone else. Hell, she didn't even have the option open to most people (well, most highly-skilled, financially-solvent people, anyway) who despised their jobs: namely, deciding that enough was enough, telling her boss to "go to hell," walking away and never looking back. And there was a word to describe someone with no options – trapped.

It wasn't the specifics of the latest prank that had so offended her, but the creeping realization that nothing was ever going to change. Parker would continue to suffer indignities by Jarod's hand while following each and every bread crumb he deigned to leave behind to yet another horrific revelation about her family or (on a good day) a dead end. Just as he would continue to rail against the Centre's evil ways while striving to find, bring together and shape five
individuals, largely strangers to one another and probably all emotionally scarred, into some kind of "Ozzie & Harriet" fantasy of a happy, well-adjusted family. Meanwhile, and in spite of the existence and efforts of either one of them, business in Blue Cove would likely continue as usual long after they'd both shuffled off this mortal coil.

Such were her thoughts as Jerry handed her a mug of coffee, pulled up a chair and offered, "So tell me, gorgeous; what can I do to make it better?"

"Take me away from all this," she sighed then sipped her coffee.

"Well, why didn't you just say so?" he said with an exaggerated huff.

"Huh?" she responded shaking her head.

"I assume you remember Tom and, even if you don't you'd better say you do, sweetie, because that man is the love of my life."

"Of course I do. We met when he was up here visiting a couple months ago. So that's still on, is it?"

"Of course it is," Jerry replied rolling his eyes then continued, "I tell you, I've got it bad, otherwise I wouldn't put up with all this long-distance crap. Tom and Jerry?" He shuddered then went on, "It's simply too horrible. Anyway, we're both too busy to travel this month and every night I have to listen to him whine about rattling around that big, empty house all by himself… yeah, like that beautiful
boy who does the landscaping isn't keeping him company when I'm not around… whatever. Anyway, he thinks you're fabulous and I know he'd love to have you down. I mean, what could be better than a 24-hour infusion of rum in your bloodstream, delicious food, good music and even better company?"

"Oh, and if this will seal the deal…" he tacked on with a playful wink.

"I think the lawn boy swings both ways."

One faint, grudging smile from her and Jerry was out of his seat in a flash and on the phone with Tom, arranging the visit with his usual enthusiasm. She headed straight home from the salon to pack. Leaving messages for her father and Sydney, explaining that she would be away for a few days to clear her head and not to worry, she grabbed a couple thousand dollars cash from the "emergency fund" she kept in a safe on her closet floor then hit the road. Uncharacteristically, she opted for the 20-hour drive and a night's stay at a nondescript-but-clean roadside motel because the open road evoked a sense of freedom that interminable lines at airport metal detectors, uniformed men with rifles and bomb-sniffing dogs did not. And this trip was all about evoking a sense of freedom, illusory as it was.

* * * *

Riding the St. Charles Streetcar early on a Monday afternoon, Parker could almost forget that freedom was an illusion. Having arrived the evening before, stiff and road-weary, she had been the beneficiary of Tom's gracious hospitality ever since. Advised by Jerry of her history of stomach problems, he'd prepared her a light but satisfying dinner before directing her to a beautiful bedroom with an adjoining bath containing, to her supreme satisfaction, a large, deep bathtub,
where she'd spent the better part of a blissful hour before falling into bed to sleep like the dead. She'd awaken to the smell of chicory coffee and French toast, which Tom proudly served under a pile of succulent fresh fruit and boysenberry syrup, gently teasing that she wouldn't balloon to three-hundred pounds by eating once in a while.

Maybe not, she thought, sliding back on the wooden bench and patting her stomach appreciatively, but too many meals like that and before long she wouldn't be able to get into most of her wardrobe. Sighing contentedly, Parker allowed her eyes to drift lazily out the window to the lovely homes lining St. Charles. When she got to the Quarter, she'd start on Royal St. with a visit to her favorite perfumery – she couldn't remember the last time she'd treated herself to a bar of their lovely gardenia-scented soap - then maybe head to that shop by the Cathedral to pick up more of those pretty little lace-trimmed sachets she liked to keep in her lingerie drawers. Oh, and she could DEFINITELY see a daiquiri, or two, in her immediate future…

What caught her eye next, however, was something she never would have predicted, causing her to bolt upright in her seat. She took a second to squeeze her eyes tightly shut and shake her head, hoping to wipe the irritating mirage from her field of vision. Opening her eyes, she stared intently out the window and, as the streetcar passed the object of her attention, felt her blood pressure rise right along with her anger as she confirmed that it was no mirage.

For there was Jarod, strolling down St. Charles and eating an ice cream cone as though he hadn't a care in the world.

Instinctively her hand went up to jerk the cord for the stop signal, consumed as she was with a powerful urge to leap off the car to jam that ice cream cone into a place where the sun couldn't melt it. But then a voice chimed in her head, advising calm rationality instead of going off half-cocked, as she usually did where he was concerned with generally humiliating results. Slowly lowering her arm, she began to ponder the situation.

Nobody but Tom and Jerry knew exactly where she was and, while that hardly precluded the little pain-in-the-ass from finding out somehow, she knew that he would never deliberately place himself in her path in such an uncontrolled setting as a busy city street. The logical conclusion, therefore, was that he didn't know she was there.

Stealing a final glance out the window at his receding form, she relaxed into her seat, a sly smile creeping across her lips as she whispered,

"But rest assured, genius, you will."

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