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The pretender watched the scene of suits and mostly dry eyes from a distance with his own calm demeanor. He had surveyed the area and was surprised to find no sweepers or security of any kind. They really should have known better. How could he not be here for this?
Nearly a year had passed since Jarod and Miss Parker had returned from that cursed island, and yet very little seemed to have changed. Miss Parker, Sydney, and Broots; Raines, Lyle, the triumvirate; everybody still wanted Jarod. And he was still seeking the answers to the questions that seemed so impossible to find.
As usual, nobody had what they wanted.
But things had changed. In a very subtle way, apparent only to some. Months had gone by and no actual sighting of Jarod had occurred. There was the occasional bread crumb, a sniffling of a hint here or there, but they never amounted to anything. Even Jarod's phone calls had become nearly non-existent. To the Centre that is.
When he had called yesterday and there had been no answer, he'd carefully replaced the phone to its receiver. Sitting on top of his current motel bed, Jarod had crossed his arms and slumped back against the headboard behind him. After a moment of contemplation, he dialed again. Nobody was there.
In hindsight, it was relatively unsurprising. After the previous night's conversation, Jarod had been left with a restless feeling. He hadn't been afraid, but had felt like he should be.
"It's a little late, Jarod," Miss Parker had answered her phone on the first ring with that typical hint of annoyance in her voice. Despite her complaint about the time, she was fully dressed and lying with her legs crossed on her bed.
Jarod glanced at the clock on the night stand beside him, "Oh it is. I must have lost track of time."
"Unfortunately not. I thought it was," he replied, his voice unconsciously dipping lower as he spoke.
"You'll catch up to her soon," she said matter-of-factly. She grabbed the bottle of wine on her night stand and tipped it artfully, the red liquid pouring gracefully into the smooth glass in her hand. Miss Parker fingered the stem of the glass between her fingers and took a long sip.
"It is late, Miss Parker," Jarod said. They had exhausted the subject of his mother too many times lately. "I'll let you be."
"No it's fine," was her instant response. "Where did you think she was this time?"
Jarod couldn't help smiling a little. It was nice to have someone to share his frustrations with, someone who could actually understand. "Virginia. She'd left about two days before I got there."
Miss Parker finished a swallow, "That's better than last time."
"Yeah," Jarod stretched out on his bed. "But not as close as the time before that."
"It's hit or miss," she shrugged to nobody in particular. "One day it will be a hit."
"You're right. It's just--"
"You don't have to say it. I know."
Jarod closed his eyes on the other end of the phone line, confident that she did know.
"I guess Lyle wasn't too pleased when he came back empty-handed from Detroit today."
"Yeah, it seems little brother's encountered a string of bad luck lately," Miss Parker put her glass to her lips but retracted it as another thought came to her. "He's too self-centered to consider why I'm not chasing after every pebble you drop for us anymore."
Jarod chuckled softly, "You better watch out. One day he'll catch on and it won't be pretty."
"Not soon enough he won't," she answered confidently. "I've got more tricks up my sleeve than even you realize, genius."
He opened his eyes again, still smiling to himself. "If you say so, Miss Parker."
There was a good silence then. And it was okay to be silent, it was something Jarod always enjoyed when it happened purely because it wouldn't be okay with anybody else.
"I'm glad you called," she uttered, breaking his trance. "I needed this today."
"Why's that? Lyle or Raines?" It was a silent agreement that the two never referred to him as her father.
"Neither." Miss Parker pursed her lips and stared around her room forlornly. "Just a rough day."
"Well I hate to point out that I call you pretty much daily, but am still happy to have helped anyway."
"You have no idea," she replied cryptically. Her beautiful sapphire eyes were brimming with salty tears, but she kept the emotion safely out of her voice. "Thank you."
The 'thank you' tipped him off and Jarod sat up abruptly. "Miss Parker, is something wrong?"
"Just tell me I'm doing the right thing."
"What do you mean?" he asked, especially intrigued now.
Miss Parker shook her head, to nobody in particular, "Nothing. Never mind."
Jarod didn't bother pressing her because he'd always known that force was exactly what wouldn't work with her. "Whatever it is, do you think your mother would have approved?"
She blinked rapidly to control the influx of moisture in her eyes, "Yes."
"Then you're doing the right thing," he said softly. "I'll let you sleep now."
Miss Parker was biting her lip anxiously before the words tumbled out. "Call Sydney tomorrow. You haven't in a long time and I think he needs it."
"Just do it. The old man deserves a little sunshine in his life even if it's just a five minute phone call from you."
"I'll call him."
Jarod waited to see if she would say anything more, but it appeared that she would not.
"Sleep well, Miss Parker."
"Good bye, Jarod."
Miss Parker folded her cell phone shut delicately and placed it on the table by the wine bottle. She stared at it for a moment, a tormented expression on her face. She swallowed her remaining drink and replaced the glass to the table. Then she got out of bed.
People were slowly beginning to drift away from the distant scene. Jarod watched them mingle briefly and then disappear into their bland, expensive vehicles before rolling away. Two people remained at the gravesite a little longer than the rest. One wiped away steady tears and eventually walked away. The other one lingered, allowing a hand to brush over the cherry-polished coffin. Soon enough though, they were both gone.
Jarod waited many moments before emerging from behind the wide oak he'd been shielding himself with. He told himself he was waiting for security reasons, but realized it was also something more. He had felt so much more confident about this five minutes ago, and now with every step he was fighting a more and more violent tempest raging in his stomach.
When he reached the coffin, the dark wood all wrong beneath the brilliant sunbeams, he slowly placed a solitary white carnation on top. It stood out against the expensive bouquets, the red roses, the extravagant tokens of dedication. It stood out for another reason, too, because it was the only one with a piece of paper attached.
Jarod stepped back and shoved his hands in his pockets, staring up at that mocking sky once again. Tears were gathering in his eyes even though he knew they shouldn't be.
"If you're watching, I'm not crying because I don't understand. It's just that, I'm still going to miss you," he took a deep breath and looked around, hoping. "Good luck out there, Miss Parker."
Jarod turned to leave just like Sydney and Broots had, but he knew his feelings were completely different than theirs were. There'd been no doubts in his mind, from the instant yesterday when he called Sydney, just as she had asked, and he'd been given the news, to this very moment when he could finger the crevices of her name carved into a cold tombstone.
Miss Parker may be dead, but soon, a beautiful brunette would be wearing white and disregarding speed limits on a long highway. Jarod knew that coffin was empty without opening it. He knew this was all part of her plan, maybe even her mother’s plan, and that she would read the words he'd left with the flower, white and blank like the new life ahead of her.
I hope you find your happiness again and that one day you might find me, too.