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He cruised around the hotel parking lot in his restored ’66 Ford Mustang. He had found the car in a junk yard and had spent a lot of time between Pretends restoring it. Jarod had even taken the monumental risk of renting a storage unit and small studio apartment for the last 2 years. This became Jarod’s refuge between Pretends and the car gleamed from the attention Jarod had paid to it. The bright red paint was waxed and polished regularly and the slightest misfire in the engine drew Jarod’s attention the same way a faltering heartbeat drew a cardiologist’s. Nothing was too good for his baby.
He looked around, but there was no sign that Miss Parker or Lyle were hiding nearby, waiting for the chance to jump him and his family. Hopefully, Jarod had finally lost them. Miss Parker was getting very good at tracking him down before he was ready for her and that was really starting to aggravate him. Maybe his Pretends were becoming predictable, but that didn’t matter now. He was taking time off from his Pretends to devote to his family.
He found a parking spot close to, but not directly in front of, their hotel room and backed in. Backing in, he had found, made leaving quickly a lot easier. There would be no wasted time in backing up, turning around, and then leaving if they needed to escape in a hurry. His grip in the steering wheel tightened for a second before he forced his sweaty hands loose. His heart was pounding. His mother was just feet away and he couldn’t make himself leave the car. All of his insecurities rose up. Would she like him? Was he what she expected? Did she blame him for the destruction of their family? All his answers were 30 feet away. He took a deep breath to try to stop the butterflies in his stomach and left the car.
Seconds later, he was in the room and hugging his father. It felt so good to have those strong arms hugging him. He knew it was silly, but when his dad hugged him, he felt like nothing could ever hurt him. Finally, reluctantly, he let go of his father and looked around the room.
Emily was the next in his arms. He was afraid to hold her too tightly, in case he hurt her. His mind flashed back to when he found her outside her newspaper office just after Lyle had found her. He knew that was over 2 years ago, but she was his baby sister and wanted to protect her from everything. He knew that wasn’t a reasonable goal, but that was his job as her big brother.
Ryan wormed his way into his big brother’s arms. Jarod, his father and his clone had decided together to forget the clone business and just concentrate on being a family. Jarod had come up with the idea of the boy being his younger brother and the boy had finally picked out a name of his own: Ryan Anthony Russell.
The sound of the bathroom door opening drew his attention and there she was. His Mother. He felt his whole body tense and he couldn’t move, not even when his father gave him a gentle shove. He just stood there staring, absolutely paralyzed with fear. What if this was all a dream? If he hugged her, would she disappear? Was the Centre going to disrupt their reunion the way they had in Boston? He was finally able to take a step towards her and that broke his paralysis. Her arms opened wide and he ran into them. And, finally, after a lifetime apart, her arms were holding him tight to her. And, for the first time in a very, very long time, the Centre was now the furthest thing from his mind.
Dinner that night was better than Jarod could have ever dreamed. The last time he had sat down to a family dinner was the night he was kidnapped. He had seen how families got together on the television and he had read about it in the psychology books Sydney had assigned to him as a child, but his brilliant mind had been unable picture himself sitting in the scene. But now he was sitting in a restaurant with his family. He sat next to his mother with Ryan on the other side of her. Emily and his father completed the family circle as they laughed and dined together. By unspoken consent, the Centre, Kyle, and the time apart were never brought up. Even the way Jarod and Ryan attacked their ice cream desserts had the family laughing as if this were an everyday occurrence.
Later that night, while the rest of his family slept, Jarod went over the day. He was having a hard time believing that this whole day had really happened. But his sister’s soft snores, echoed by those of the sleeping figure of his brother on the rollaway bed, went a long way into convincing him. And Jarod savored over and over the joy of once again being tucked into bed by his mother and the new feelings that followed that joy. Feelings of love and security, of home and childhood. Feelings that Jarod didn’t know he knew. Life just couldn’t get any better. And that feeling was starting to worry him.