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Arcadia rhythm, being out in the sunlight during the day was already working. Mary fell asleep on the bed with Oliver hanging over her. Long day. Exciting day.
Time to make that phone call. Jarod watched as Oliver shifted his hand, slightly bumping Mary’s necklace too. He made sure the boy stayed asleep a little while longer, and then moved outside to the rails to make that phone call.
“This is Sydney.”
“Sydney,” Jarod said. “Exciting day over here.”
“I imagine so from what you sent in your email. Is everything okay so far?”
“Yeah.” Jarod looked back in through the window. “Both of them are a lot of work. My dad wondered if he needed to take them yet. I wouldn’t let him,” he said. “I don’t want to ever let him.”
“It’s reasonable, Jarod. Oliver is your son and Miss Parker is his mother. These emotions are perfectly normal to want to keep both of them close, especially considering they were both raised in a Centre setting.”
Helpful? Yes. Sydney answer? Yes. Fatherlike? No. “Thank you,” Jarod said. “Really. I? I never said it. I didn’t think I would ever say it.”
“Thank you for what, Jarod?”
“You were my teacher. I always wanted more. I always wanted. A father. And.” Hard. “I know we were very close, but you never crossed a line. Seeing Oliver, and hearing how he described himself with Gil. Just? Thank you.” Now? “What I said in the email. Did you get a hold of him?”
“As soon as I heard, I had Broots locate his home address. We both went to go see him,” Sydney told Jarod.
“And?” Jarod “Well?”
“He admitted as she was growing up she used to be very forthcoming. She wanted a relationship, but he said no. He said that someone was even delivering something to their room that was sexual attire at first. He kept trying to send it back. Hearing that, Broots checked it out. It was true. They were out in a couple of days of being fetched. A Centre signature coming in, his signatures returning them back out.”
“Just tell me what you think of him. Did you think he really crossed that line?”
“He confessed to thinking of her as his daughter, and . . . Oliver as his son. He never pressed the line because he thought of her as a daughter. And honestly? He wasn't there, from the ages of what you told us? He had to complete a Centre Re-eduction Program. They claimed he was unfit for her.”
Jarod propped himself up higher. He didn’t like the son part, but he already knew he’d discover that from his talk with Oliver. “Are you sure you believe him?”
“Well, not only did Broots find all of the proper evidence to support it. I didn’t see a single sign of . . . he was nervous, very nervous, but I . . . I’m sorry, Jarod. I just don’t see it.”
“Yeah. I was angry at first. Enraged actually, I mean that was just absolute betrayal. Then I thought about it,” Jarod said. “The ages. On the recording, she said he wasn't there at the college times. And? You’d want to have a college dorm in a separate place from college activities.”
“I? Then you don’t believe it’s him? You believe?”
“Michael Patrick, do you remember an old friend of hers called Michael Patrick?” Jarod asked. He was just about to call it. “Be in 1996 or 1997. Early days of catching me. You were eating at a restaurant and she saw him.”
“Ah? Yes, yes I know who you are talking about. An old friend.”
“How did she react when she saw him? Did he make a move on her, or did she just fly to him?”
Yep. Flew. Cut dinner short with Sydney. Didn’t even want to come to The Centre, more interested in the sheets.
Jarod gave himself a minute. “I know how it works Sydney. How she became a ‘Lesser’.” It was going to break her heart when she found out.
“Can it be reversed?” Sydney asked Jarod.
“Yeah. It can. Broots made the crack that can’t stop, but I have to break it open, and it’s going to hurt.” He hung up the phone.
Mary felt herself getting jostled awake. She saw Jarod in front of her. Oh great, did they have to finish that conversation now?
“I have something to tell you. I know how you and the other side of you works,” Jarod said.
“Of course,” She chuckled. “You’re a pretender. Any problem solved within 24 hour guarantee.” She smiled wide. “They could have used that as advertising.”
Yeah, he wasn’t going for her happy mood. “It’s not going to be easy to hear. I am going to let you know a couple of things before I tell you. One, this can be a hundred percent reversed. I believe that. It might even happen tonight. Two, if you start to slip, I will make sure that you are safe. Nothing will happen to you, I promise that.”
Oh no. “I am going to really hate this, aren’t I?” She stared at Jarod. “What?”
“Do you remember anything about being Miss Parker at all in your head between 1996 and now?” Jarod asked her seriously. “Besides Michael Patrick.”
Hm. “No.” This Miss Parker side of her, it was like she wasn’t really there. Just her anger flared up sometimes, but Mary could subside it.
“Okay.” Jarod nodded. He looked down at Oliver and then back toward her. “You’re two sides of the same coin.”
“Split personality.” Did Jarod admit to it now?
“No, because you are there against each other. It works both ways.” He sighed. “College. You remember training in the dark, and your father coming to see you sometimes. Miss Parker remembers the actual college. Driving lessons, you learned at a video game wheel. Miss Parker saw the bright lights of Japan.”
“No, I remember seeing the bright lights of Japan, but it started as a wheel.” What was Jarod getting at?
“Miss Parker knew people at college that were ‘old friends’ like Michael Patrick.” He visibly changed from okay to not looking so sure of himself now. His eye even winced, like he didn’t want to say it. “She wouldn’t just be with them in training rooms. She’d have a dorm room.”
“Okay?” She still didn’t understand.
“From 19 to about 23, you had a relationship with Gil.” He shook his head. “You had no relationship with Gil.”
Denial. “I agreed to drop it,” she said to Jarod. “We haven’t talk about it in a long time.”
“Those were college times. See? Your even counteracting yourself. On the recordings you said he wasn't there at the college times. He never said you did anything, did he?”
“No, but I know that I did.” What was Jarod driving at?
“He never agreed to it once because he never did anything.” Jarod was quiet for a second. “A college needs a dorm room. Miss Parker knew who she met. In your life, you only knew Gil and no one else. What else would . . . fill in the gaps.”
Her breath grew steady. Her eyes opened wider as she realized what Jarod was signifying.
"Your not split. The part that isn't active, fills in memories and stimulus as best it can."
"I? I?" She got up from the bed and headed to the bathroom. She needed to be alone.
She looked in the mirror. Miss Parker. Mary. Miss Parker. Mary. I am no different. I am not good or bad, I am neither one. I am both! She started to breakdown and cry over the sink. Miss Parker saw college. I saw training darkness talking to objects. She saw the lights of Japan, I saw a wheel. She had old friends in a dorm room. I had Gil in my Centre room. I didn’t remember the wheel at first. She looked in the mirror. I didn’t remember training in darkness, I didn’t remember it at all. I wasn’t supposed to. One side on, one side off. But. But. “That Broots man cracked me!” She yelled as she hit the floor.
Whatever he did to those lights, whatever he triggered. Her breasts rose and fell so fast as her breathing paced up. Never the twain should meet.
The twain were meeting. The twain were meeting.
///“Well, another day, huh?” Mary said to a stuffed dummy beside her as she started to do exercises.///
///“Well, another day, huh?” Miss Parker said to Britney as they both started to exercise together for their warm ups of the day.///
///Mary stared ahead. Dazed and confused. She kept driving behind the video game wheel, saying nonsensical gibberish she didn’t understand. What was this simulation? What was she doing there?///
///Miss Parker opened her eyes. How far had she gone away from The Centre now? Thousands of miles at least. She was in a different country. Yet, it still felt so close. Maybe it would always feel like that. Maybe until she had someone to run away with?///
///“Mary. I don’t think I can take much more of this,” Gil said from beside her on the couch. “Seeing you each day. Seeing how much you’ve matured over time. I wonder, if you aren’t ready, to finally take that step with me?”///
///“Miss Parker. I don’t think I can take much more of this,” Michael said beside her from the couch. “Seeing you each time in that room? And wow, seeing how much you’ve matured. Your father said I’d be a decent first practical choice. Do you think you’re ready to take that step with me?”///
Jarod heard that ear piercing scream that he knew he would. He’d been right there at the bathroom door, timing for it. He opened the door and saw her, crouched down and miserable on the ground. Sorting it out. He went near her, carefully.
When her eyes shot up to meet his, he definitely saw Miss Parker with hints of the tame Mary behind it all. She didn’t say anything as she just stared at him. Not knowing what really to say. Until? “I am going to be pissed for awhile. You may want to leave me alone.” Her words dripped thick.
“You are going to be mad for the rest of your entire life about this,” Jarod said to her. “Miss Mary Parker.”
“Just give me a gun so I can find that Broots man and drive him out to the middle of nowhere, shoot him in the head, set the car on fire and throw it off a cliff afterward!” She pushed him away. “You don’t touch me right now, give me a minute!”
Theeeeeere was Miss Parker. Thaat’s where all the anger was really coming from. All those years. All that pain, unable to break or be taken away. Unable to control what was happening, just running the role. “Hello, Miss Parker.” He watched her reach up for a bottle of toothpaste on the sink and aim it at him like a weapon. Then realizing how senseless that was she just dropped it to the ground along with her head. “Do you prefer Mary now or Miss Parker?”
“Miss Parker!” She yelled. “Miss Parker.” Her teeth grinded against each other. “I’m not a single name, I am Miss Parker!”
Girl has teeth again. That was the end of her apologies and hugs. Well, he enjoyed it while it lasted. “Do you know what happened at The Centre? Do you know why you can’t go back to it?” She didn’t answer, but she didn’t need to. It was written in her eyes. The easiness of the Mary phase was now over. There was no separation anymore. He gave her room to move as she scrambled against the wall and went out into the room.
She stared at Oliver on the bed. Regarding him. She looked outside the window. Confused. Maybe frightened, but ready to kill anything that went after her.
“Easy,” Jarod said as he came out of the bathroom. “You don’t want to wake Oliver up.”
“He snapped her neck like it was a piñata.” She glared at the window. “He’s lucky he’s already dead that son of a bitch.”
Even Mary couldn’t remember her daughter Faith’s death. “Are you better now?”
She just glanced back at him. She looked toward Oliver. She looked back at him. “Oh! Jarod? You’re the boy I used to visit in Sydney’s lab, aren’t you?”
Okay, not fully there. Maybe she would say something else.
She moved closer to Oliver, watching Jarod like he was an unweary predator. “I.” She didn’t answer at first as she kept near to Oliver. “Okay, yeah. Ooh, I don’t know. You were good. You were a friend, the dearest. But, Alexxxx was good to me too. Until he took my Faith,” she muttered. “In more ways than one.”
Jarod held his hands out. Steady. He had no idea where she was at in her mind, just that she was close. She recognized portions of Mary and Miss Parker now. She recognized their son, but recognized Alex’s time with her and Faith’s death too. She didn’t remember chasing him yet though. “Where are you right now? What do you remember?”
“That crack. So soft yet so sure.” Her eyes were circling the room again, falling on Oliver. Do I trust him? What am I doing here exactly? How did we get out of The Centre? Jarod seemed okay. Oliver was right there and he wasn’t making to hurt him. Jarod would never hurt him, she’d known him since they were kids. Yeah, but I knew Alex too. Gil knew Alex. We all knew Alex, it didn’t stop him from doing it!
Jarod was just waiting. He wasn’t making a move. Good, or bad? Alex didn’t do anything fast at first. He just went into the room so casual. Picked her up so casual in her little blanket. That soft bone snap hit her head again. That sound, she couldn’t run away from it. It would haunt her forever. It would be taken to her grave. Her daughter was dead before the pain of the birth was even over.
Okay, she had to think logically. Number one, they were clearly not in The Centre. Number two, Jarod was strong enough if he wanted to hurt Oliver, he could have. Number three. I’m nuts, I trust Jarod with my life! He’d never, no matter what. How dare my scatterbrain even stop and think that. Even now, while she wandered around clueless, he was just waiting. Still. “Six years is a long time, I’m sorry,” she finally addressed him. “I don’t want to be against you, Jarod.”
“You don’t need to be,” he encouraged her. “Do you remember the hour on the fifteenths you spent with Oliver?”
“You already knew that.” She softened her stance. Her body started to relax. “We are in a hotel. Away from The Centre?”
“Yes. You and Oliver are safe,” he said.
Yes. Of course. He’d never hurt him. I know him differently. I know those eyes. She relaxed down on the bed. “Sorry, Jarod. I don’t know where my mind goes to somehow. Well. Actually, now I do.”
“It’s okay. I don’t imagine you’d want to be real friendly after having all this coming back to you,” Jarod said.
“Hm.” True. His understanding never ceased. She stayed next to Oliver, hoping that something would come to her. She remembered talking to people in college and talking to inanimate objects. She remembered her old college buddies, while remembering her time with Gil. “Ah, and there it is. I escaped with a man called Broots. We met your dad today. Yep. We just went full circle again. That must bore you, huh?” She smiled.
“Full circle? So we’ve discussed this before?” He edged closer.
Discussed it before? Oh no. “You don’t remember the three weeks, do you?” Her body slumped. “Oh.”
Yeah, now he was moving to her a little faster. “But you do? That’s. Interesting. What do you-“
“I know a little.” Jarod gestured toward Oliver. “What else?”
“What?” she asked. “Like some secret you don’t know about happened?” Oh was there ever, but if he didn’t remember? “I’m missing at least a night in my head. I don’t remember escaping. Where’s Gil?” Oh, he didn’t like Gil now. “You don’t like Gil? I thought you used to say Gil was the best thing for me.”
“Opinions change.” Jarod looked away slightly. “He was calling my son his son, behind your back.”
Oh. She reached out her hand to touch his. Poor man. “I know how much that must have hurt. Gil adopted Oliver, and he did everything he could for him. In fact, he tried several times to fully convince The Centre he wasn’t a pretender so he could take him home. It never worked, he was always slightly above the curve. I know you don’t want to hear that, Jarod, but if Gil didn’t take initiative? Oliver would have been given to Raines. We both know that never would have turned out well. He’s not a good grandpa and I know he has no problem putting his own kids through misery.” He still looked hurt, but a little more confused too. After all, Gil wasn’t there to pretend to become. He had no idea what Gil felt, just like the rest of the world.
Their relationship was built entirely on honesty, so it was best to be completely honest. “I tried, Jarod. At the time, when I was pregnant, I really wanted him to let you and your instructor know instead of making that terrible contract with The Centre. I couldn’t overcome experience and he treated Oliver like Faith and you like Alex. I had no proof otherwise you’d be okay and you know our instructors.”
“Undeniable proof or the solution isn’t a solution. Just a belief in what you want.” Well, he was participating in the conversation again. “I know, we have no control over them. They have control over us.”
Oh, Jarod. She’d kiss him right now if he did remember. “The Centre giveth and The Centre taketh.” Still? Knowing him? She went over and gave him the biggest hug she could. He loved hugs more than anyone else.
He seemed a little surprised she hugged him. Barely hugged her back. “Since when did you become like cement you ass, you love hugs.” There, now he seemed to respond. “Do I always have to get tough with you to make you open up and share?”
“Oh my Clueless Moron,” she groaned. “Of course you shared.” Now his hug was getting tighter. “We both shared so much. We talked about the rabbits we met over casually, not in a sim for the first time. I shared how I really remembered the first time my father took me from our house and up to my new apartment and explained to me my future so young. After so much freedom. I shared how I felt when Raines started to take over the lead on me. You shared how you wished Sydney had actually been your dad. How much you wanted to taste real food and walk on real beaches. How much it hurt wondering if your parents were actually dead or if it was another Centre trick.” She tightened the hug and rocked herself against him. “I even took you into my lesser world, letting you see everything you couldn’t as much as possible. You wanted to risk it all, to get as lost as me. We guided each other as I took you to that other side.”
Yeah. She should let go. He didn’t actually remember her. She needed to stay within the first two weeks of their time together.
“I went to another side? I was able to do that, with you?” He questioned. “That was dangerous.”
“Hey, Genius Boy, you’re the one who wanted to take the plunge,” she said. “Do you remember it?”
He shook his head. “Describe it to me.”
“Uh? Okay.” She bit her lip. “What you knew was more limited so we kept it very small. A gas station and a car.”
Oh. He looked shaken. “I didn’t. That. More details.”
Wow, practically demanded. “There aren’t many more details, Jarod. It was the simplest of settings. We just, wanted to be somewhere else. Where we could feel-“
“Love.” He answered her back. Yet, he didn’t look good about it. At all.
“Like we belonged out in the real world again.” He let go of her. “Jarod?”
What about that had scared him so bad? “Jarod?” He grabbed her for a hug again.
“Don’t tell me I did that, don’t tell me I put you into a simulation too,” he begged her.
Put her into a simulation? “I don’t understand, Jarod.”
“Thomas Gates!” He yelled at her. Then his voice softened as Oliver started to stir. “I didn’t drive feelings into that. I didn’t drive those feelings into that. I didn’t. I didn’t make Gil into Michael Patrick except with him.”
What was he talking about? “You didn’t drop me into a simulation.” She patted Oliver’s head, making it easier as he was waking up from Jarod’s accidental yell. “Jarod, calm down.” He was losing it, starting to pace in the room. Ugh. She went toward him again, standing in front of him. “Hey! Shutup and listen! You can’t set off a simulation by just dropping me off in something. There’s a process with a lesser. Unless the outside world has sequential lights, it won’t happen. That’s why everything takes place on the inside of The Centre. The only one who controls it on the outside is me.”
He wrapped her arms around her this time. He was on the verge of a breakdown. “Lovable Moron, you need to quit. It’s okay. My mind isn’t that gentle. They know what they are doing when they mess with it.”
“Michael Patrick,” he managed to say. “Feelings from simming, it encouraged you on the outside of The Centre.”
“You mean people used in sims? That might retrigger feelings that were felt in a sim, but it won’t be the sim itself. Nor if I go out to a gas station am I going to get lost in a sim. Okay?” Yes, there we go. He was getting noticeably better. She felt him stroking her back.
“I’m sorry. I was scared I did that. I don’t ever want to set you off. I want to protect you from that happening to you, not make it happen.” He took several deep breaths.
“Jarod.” She leaned against him. “I need to be prepped like a cake to make me do what they want. The only time I broke without it. Against my will and against theirs. Was. Faith. I didn’t even remember her name when I named her with Alex, I just remembered I liked the name Faith. You were the one that helped me work it all out.” She held his hands after the hug. “You helped me work a lot of it out. Just like now.” There. Aw, look at that face. She placed her hand on his cheek. “Better?” He grabbed her hand and rubbed it against his cheek. She wasn’t surprised at all.
“You are almost whole and you’ve touched me more than anything in the last fifteen minutes.” He still held her hand.
“Of course,” she said. “You not only have to stay in The Centre, you are a pretender. So many times you have to become someone and you can’t reach out and touch them to get the most understanding. You get pictures and data and diagrams but you can’t get what you want most. Touch. Touch keeps you happy, feeling alive. You wished everyone touched you more.”
“How do you know that?”
How would she know that? “Because you told me, Jarod.” She smiled. “That is why you are the Boy Genius, or the Lovable Moron. You can only get skin deep into people because you can’t do the simple act of feeling them and it drives you crazy.” She pulled her hand away. He looked better. “We should get to bed.”
“How long were we friends? How much was I doing simulations compared to talking with you? Sharing with you? Did I share with you more, or did you share with me more?”
Oh goodness. “Oliver’s practically awake, Jarod. We need to get some rest. We can talk more tomorrow, okay? I promise, I will cover the entire three weeks if you want over time.” Silly Goon. “I’ll be fine. Mary. Miss Parker. Call me whichever again, doesn’t matter, but I need rest. Okay?”
“No. But. Us.” He gestured to Oliver as she took the initiative to go to the bed. “Him.” He followed beside her. “How much did we talk verses other activities?”
“Activities?” She laughed softly, trying not to stir Oliver awake anymore. “What, do you think we just went at it for three weeks because of a boy girl situation? Hm, Pretender?”
Jarod had thought so. By that look, they didn’t. They talked. A lot. He looked at Oliver again.
“Oh yeah, he’s ours,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we were conceiving him for three weeks.” She leaned against the bed. “That was Faith and Alex. Learning. All the bads and all the goods. I didn’t want to learn again with you,” she revealed. “I didn’t want anything. You accepted that. You even wanted to show me that trust by sleeping next to me. You got to hold someone all night long. I felt protected in an apartment that wasn’t mine and without Gil. It was a win/win.”
“We never tried anything?” Jarod asked.
“Not for a long time, no. We were just friends.” She tried to close her eyes. “I really can’t go deeper than this, Jarod. It’s not fair if you don’t remember.”
“I want to remember. Just. I’m-“
“If you say, I’m a Pretender, and expect me to let you do your little thing on me? You’re going to be upset. I’m warning you, Jarod,” she said. “Let it come naturally.”
“It doesn’t come naturally.” Didn’t she get that? “You forgot for the longest time and I still don’t remember.” He tried to keep his voice low, but it was hard. “Three weeks, and the last day, I went in for a sim to stop my heart.”
Her head popped right up on the pillow. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me? Are you serious? Was he really sooo upset he put your life on the line?” Her eyes darted out. “You know, he was the one who put me in the program, he’s the one who risked me! He should never have blamed you.” She grabbed his hand. “I’m so sorry.” She squeezed his hand. “If he did that. I dread what he planned afterward.” She looked straight at him. “What happened afterward, Jarod?”
Years of chasing me. “Guess I wasn’t on par with his favorite chosen bedmates.”
“No. Jarod. No.” She just shook her head, like he was still clueless. “It’s my fault, the way I acted with Oliver just now. Everything was just flooding back to me too quick.” She groaned. “Fine. Lyle knocked it away when I was leaving. It should be under the white seat in your apartment. Tell Sydney and he’ll decide. Instructors know best.”
“Instructors don’t know best all the time.” What was it?
“Well, okay, you go over to The Centre and find it. Otherwise, let me rest, and just wait.” She rubbed his hand okay. “It’s okay, Jarod. Let’s just get some rest?”
Nope. Jarod pulled out his phone and got off the bed. She dropped something. The Centre must have scanned his apartment a hundred times. It would be something small, meaningless. Under the white seat. Jarod managed to get a hold of Sydney, but Broots was the one working late at The Centre. So? Whatever, as long as he could find out what it had been.