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Why Jarod said no more pretenders on the recording. No more pretenders . . .
Jarod had rented a double bed and a single bed in one room for the night, but Oliver wasn’t leaving his mother’s grasp. Or she wasn’t letting go of him. Either way, they weren’t leaving each other.
Oliver watched Jarod move toward the bed with them. “You look wide awake,” he said to his mom. “Oliver looks like he’s ready to plunge into bed.”
“Sleeping habits, Jarod,” Oliver said to him, leaning back on his mom and looking straight at him. Wow. His dad. From earning his pictures and working diligently for simulations, he had actually somehow ended up with the real him. In real life. “I mostly worked on simulations during the day because momma didn’t visit until night on the fifteenth, and that was always 9:00 PM. Then I go to bed at 10:00. Then it changed and mom was awake. She could see me more. I changed a little so I could see her more.”
Talking. He was really talking now to Jarod. Amazing. “That makes sense,” Jarod said. “You’re tired. She’s not.”
“The running and shooting and killing of people woke me up for awhile,” Oliver insisted. “This world is big and it feels dangerous.”
“It is, but it’s free,” Jarod said quickly. Very quickly, like he said something wrong. “You don’t need to worry about the dangers, just the freedom. I’m here to handle the dangers. So is your mom. Okay?” He nodded. “That’s what parents are for. We are here to protect you from anything that wants to hurt you out here.”
“And to teach,” his mother added. “To teach you how to avoid some danger as time goes by.” She patted his hair. She always loved doing that when he was upset. It made him feel better too. Jarod looked hesitant about something though.
“Mary?” he asked lightly. “Can I please try holding him?”
“Oh.” Nervous of course. “Gentle.”
Whoah. Jarod wanted to hold him? His dad wanted to hold him. “He does like me.” He looked up at his mom. “The man with the oxygen tank was wrong. Right? Or is it because he doesn’t know my scores yet?”
“Scores?” Jarod leaned in closer to him. A little unsettling. “What do you mean? The man with the oxygen tank?”
He could tell Jarod knew. He wants something else. Oh. “Raines, he’s my grandpa, but I can’t call him that. I’m a disappointment.”
Jarod glanced up to Mary. “What?”
Oliver felt his mom stroke his cheek lightly.
“I countered as I could,” she told Jarod. “I tried to counter the hate. He was no more with him than I was, so he’s more confused than converted,” she said. “Raines used to tell him a lot of negative things, Jarod.”
“I’m not a very good pretender,” Oliver confessed. “I can only run 6 minor sims a day.” Hesitant. Real hesitant. “At my age, you were running 20. And, he said.” Jarod’s eyes were glued to him. Should he keep going? He looked back up at his mom and saw her give a solid nod to him. “He said until I meet at least 20 a day, you wouldn’t want to leave your sim room to see me.”
“No. No!” Jarod’s eyes were wide, like they were terrified. “Never.”
Oliver felt himself getting shifted over to Jarod. He was holding him now. Which was different. His mom’s body was nice and light. His dad was strong and muscular. More than he thought.
“Oliver. I don’t care about that, I had left The Centre. I didn’t know about you.” It sounded like he was pleading. “It wouldn’t matter whether you did 6 or 20 or none. I don’t even like The Centre or it’s sims, that’s why I left. Understand?” He nodded. “Never let Raines make you feel or think different. He might be your biological grandfather but he isn’t there to love you. He was only there to control you. Okay?”
So, his mom was right. “Okay, Jarod.”
“Any father that would ever put that as some milestone to see his son, is no father worth having,” Jarod added. He touched the top of his head. “Don’t call me Jarod. Call me Dad. I’m your dad.”
He felt Jarod wrap his arms around him tighter, but saw his mother getting nervous. “Oh, not too tight, Jarod. I mean, Dad,” Oliver said. “That’ll unsettle Mom. That’s how Faith was lost.”
“Faith?” His dad looked toward his mom. “What does he mean? You remember Faith?”
His mom looked confused. “You said you didn’t remember the three weeks. So, how would you know about her?” She raised her eyebrow at him.
“You knew a Faith. Oh he is talking about a different Faith,” Jarod said. “Of course.”
Oh, Oliver shouldn’t have done that. He was trying to save his mom her nerves. Now he had better explain. “Faith was my sister,” he said to Jarod. “My older sister. She died at birth.”
“Oh.” Jarod sighed. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah,” Oliver said. “Her dad Alex snapped her neck.”
Jarod absorbed that for a second. He looked back toward Mary.
“I don’t remember,” Mary said in her defense. “Gil remembers. I was taken away for another mindwipe. I only know because Gil told me.” She looked at her hands, making them into fists. “He said after that, that’s when the real difference started to come in. Between me and the rage of the Miss.”
“You don’t need to say anything, Jarod, it’s involuntary, the slight.” She scratched her head. “I know you won’t hurt him. I’ve seen you enough with him.”
He wanted to know more. Why was Alex there? Why couldn’t he have been with Oliver?
“Contract,” she said, like she could see what he was thinking. “Gil thought Alex was fine. He never hurt me in that three weeks. At first, he was grabby when we first met. He’d never seen a girl before. Then, he eased up more. We met more.” She shrugged. “I blank out after that, but Gil said he was nice enough that he let him be at the birth.”
“I didn’t get to know about Oliver, because of Alex.” Oh. He rocked the boy gently. “Sorry.”
“I don’t remember, but it might be like you said on the DSA,” she said. “It was enough that Miss Parker couldn’t contain it alone.”
Now, his last words made sense in the DSA. His pleading to keep her away from all of the pretenders. “I told Lyle never to let you near another pretender.”
“Yeah,” she said. “When she was born, Gil said he started to cry. He said he thought that it was normal and healthy. To cry. Gil said he even cried after he did it.” She wiped her eyes. “I don’t remember, yet it’s still not easy to accept.”
“I know that,” Jarod said.
“He said ‘Death was better than The Centre’. After that, Gil never trusted anyone with me ever again. They had to yank me away to do their testing when Gil wasn’t around. But. He should have done more. He could have done more, somehow. He shouldn’t have just signed a contract for Oliver never to see you, and I shouldn’t have-!” She stopped.
“The Centre controls, and takes away control.” Jarod touched her hand. “I will never harm Oliver. Ever. I will never harm you either. We are all going to be okay.” He looked down at his son.
“I know. Like I said.” She shrugged. “I really shouldn’t have punched Gil. Twice. Not his fault he was a moron.”
Jarod smirked. There’s a little of my Miss Parker. Just on the underbelly of the surface. He looked back down at Oliver, now content in his arms. Actually, he was feeling his arms.
“You’re really strong.”
“I have to be,” Jarod said. “I outrun The Centre.” Heh. He remembered how much he always wondered how strong his dad would be. A part of him used to think Major Charles could take down the whole Centre. That thought always kept him going. “Your grandpa is very strong too.” He felt a fidgeting in Oliver. “Not Raines. My dad.” His dad. He would want to meet Oliver. Everyone would want to, once he got all their numbers. A new member of the family.
He looked back at Mary who was starting to fade. Even though she wasn’t close to her bed time, outrunning the Centre with the adrenaline of her mind and abilities kicking in along with all the stressful thoughts had worn her out. He wasn’t too far behind either. “Maybe we should get some sleep. We have a busy day tomorrow.” Definitely. He had to show Oliver the good parts of the world.
And Mary. If only I could remember those weeks. More pieces fell into place at least. As much as he hated that Gil kept him away, now he understood why. He was lucky he even got into that room with Oliver.
His phone started going off across the room. Probably Sydney. Jarod moved across the room to answer it. That wasn’t Sydney’s number? “Hello?”
“Dad.” Oh! “You? How’d you get the newest number?”
“The Centre had my newest in the file ‘til a man named Broots scraped it. Sydney just called me on it to give me yours. A last minute kind of thing considering we always run across each other again sooner or later. So what is it, Jarod? Why did Sydney say I’d want to call?”
Jarod looked back at Mary, now sleeping side by side to Oliver. Curled up. “Because. You’re a grandpa.”
“You’re kidding?” He sounded shocked. “Are you kidding?”
“No. His name’s Oliver. He’s five,” Jarod said.
“Oh no.” His dad’s voice deadpanned. “Centre involvement.”
“He was at The Centre,” Jarod admitted. “He wasn’t, uh, made by The Centre. He was an accident between me and someone.”
“Miss Parker,” he admitted. “I had my mind wiped though. Basically, the day they stopped my heart.” He had told that to his dad before.
“Miss Parker is the mother of your son?”
“Sort of. It’s complicated,” Jarod said. “From what I’ve pieced together, in 1970, her dad was dealing with her mom's death. Only a month later, he loses his adopted daugher Faith too. Not wanting to deal with anymore, Miss Parker was taken away. I’m guessing Mister Parker wanted more control of her, so she'd never run or he'd feel like nothing could ever happen to her. Seal her away from the world He put his own daughter into a pretender program. Called her a lesser, a pretender that couldn’t have much stimulation to the outside world. Only, weren’t as gifted as pretenders. They didn’t run sims. Sims ran them, made their fake worlds seem real.”
“You’re kidding? That’s a load of bull, Jarod!”
“I know. She was there as Mary, and they were experimenting on her. Trying to create two people. One that was obedient and sweet and calm no matter what. She was called Mary. The other was supposed to be nothing but rage and anger as a kind of soldier for The Centre. She was Miss Parker. After 1970, that was the only side I was allowed to see until 1995.”
“Oh. My. The Centre never stops surprising me. You’d think I’d learn after the Gemini project.”
“It’s not like Project Gemini.” Jarod watched Oliver nestle closer to Mary. “He’s not a clone of me at all. He has mom’s eyes. He has . . . Miss Parker’s floppy hair that she curled below so no one knows it’s not perfect.” He smiled again at them. “He has my chin too. He’s just a combination of us. He’s not me, he’s us. He’s . . . beautiful, Dad.” He didn’t hear his dad answer back. “Dad?”
“Gaw, Jarod, you are really a father. He’s there with you, isn’t he?”
“Yeah. He’s free with me,” Jarod said. He leaned back against the wall. “The Centre will never get a hold of him again. They won’t try so hard anyhow.”
“What do you mean, son?”
“He’s a pretender, but he’s lower in ability than they want,” Jarod explained. “The Parkers only kept him because he was Parker but Raines was trying to put him someplace else. He was trying to sell Miss Parker too. To either Africa or apparently the yakuza.”
“Ugh. I’m sorry, Jarod.”
“They are safe now. I have them both. No matter what, I’ll take care of them,” Jarod said.
“So, which is in control? Mary or Miss Parker?”
“The Centre didn’t make it,” Jarod explained. “She seemed like two different people, but she’s not. Tonight, the obedient Mary just busted out of The Centre with our boy. Miss Mary Parker broke through to abilities she never had. Her mind is frazzled, like a story board with missing pieces. But she is a great mom, I have no doubt about that.”
“That’s good, Jarod, that’s good. Does she remember that time with you?”
“No.” Jarod paced the room looking out the window. A little more paranoid than usual now. “She watched the DSA’s. Her instructor, her Sydney? His name was Gil. He’s the one that knows what she doesn’t get to.”
“Sorry, Jarod. I’m trying to understand. You are the smartest of boys, how did this happen?”
“The Centre saw to my education. Since they weren’t going to use me in things that would require much female participation,” he said bitterly, “it was more limited. I didn’t even see a girl until I was a teen. What they did give me was more like . . . how invitro worked. And. I don’t know. After I left The Centre. Oh, I could have messed up,” he admitted, “but I learned very quick. Each of them were okay.” He sighed. “I guess during that three weeks, we crossed a threshold. I know that I loved her. Or I thought I loved her. It was three weeks, alone, no outside influences into behavioral guidance. I mean?”
“No other women, I get it, Jarod. Not your fault.”
“His name’s Oliver. I don’t know when they wiped her mind, but he said I named him,” Jarod admitted. “Because Oliver sounds like ‘I love her’. I was never supposed to forget that. Or she wasn’t.”
“Yikes. How are you with it?”
“I’m. I’m getting used to it actually,” he said. “When I looked inside that little locked white apartment. I knew it. I could see it written in his face, he’s mine.” Jarod beamed. “Tomorrow, I’m taking him for his first real world breakfast. We’ll go for a ride to somewhere special. Maybe a park. He can play, he’ll be able to play.” Jarod chuckled. “Yeah, he’s a kid. He should play. Kids should play. Can we meet up?” It just fell out. “I just, I want you to meet him.”
“You bet, Jarod. First flight out, me and Gemini will be wherever you want to meet. Where do you want to meet?
“Well.” Shoot. “Mary’s skittish. I mean real skittish, dad. Bad things happened, real bad.”
“Mister Parker put her in there so she wouldn’t run away like her mother,” his dad said. “Then he pulled her out as Miss Parker, commanding and manipulating her. Yeah, I can guess bad things happened, Jarod.”
“That’s not everything. The Sims. Just. I’ll tell you more later.”
“That’s fine. You can talk to her then. Oliver. A grandson named Oliver. How about that?”
“Well, then tomorrow, we’ll see? I’ll come with Gemini, and you can talk it over with her. If she’s comfortable, we’ll come up. If she’s not, we’ll back off, unless you say otherwise, Jarod.” His dad chuckled. “My first grandson. Five, right?”
“Five,” Jarod confirmed. “Five.”
“Then I hope I see you tomorrow. Get some rest, son.”
“I will. Thanks, dad.” He hung up and moved toward them, staring down at them. Mother and child. So content. He went over to the other bed to lie down, not wanting to disturb them.
Jarod looked from the bed. “Still awake?”
“Your father can see him. Just don’t hold him. I just have a problem with holding.”
“Yeah. I know,” Jarod said. “Thank you, Mary.”
“But not with you. I’ll get used to it.” She moved her position and looked at him. “I don’t know you any better than Alex. I hate to say that, but it’s true. Everything that happened with you was the same with Alex. Gil knows it too.” She swallowed. “Another reason I slugged him. After that he just locked me away tighter, but he still didn’t teach me. He wants me to stay this innocent naive little girl.” She looked like she was getting mad again but he gave her a second. “There’s something. I have to trust my gut. I think it’s . . . the part that chased you. I don’t know for sure, but I have nothing but instinct anymore. So? He’s your son. You’re not Alex.” She gestured for him to come over.
Jarod left the spare bed and went over toward the other side of Oliver. He lied down at the edge, turning on his side. It was a little trickier but worth it. He touched his moppy styled hair.
“I trust you,” she said to him. “I don’t know you. Did she trust you?”
Ooh. Everything was a complicated answer. “Not always,” he settled with. “Eventually, she started to believe me. Eventually, she was . . .” Starting to like him back. “In the end, I think she trusted me.” She just still couldn’t break free.
And now he knew why.
She wasn’t the part that could.
Jarod woke up with a stir when he felt something small beside him move away. He reached involuntarily. It was hard for him to sleep hard. He turned and watched Oliver heading toward the window. He was climbing up the couch. And? And he missed many firsts. First words, first steps but he realized he was going to see one of the most important firsts of them all.
Jarod watched his son open the curtains and see the sun for the first time. Oliver’s eyes blinked unused to the same kind of light that the sun gave off. He reached his hand towards the glass, feeling for the warmth. It gives off heat, he can feel it. When he got off and headed for the door though, he had to stop him. Not alone. “Oliver.”
Oliver jumped like he did something wrong. Usual Centre response.
Jarod got off the bed and went to the front door. “You need to ask to leave. A little bit of limit on your freedom. We need to stay near you to protect you. Okay?” He nodded as Jarod opened the door. “The sun.”
“The sun,” he heard behind him. Not surprisingly, Mary didn’t sleep heavy either.
“The sun.” Oliver stuck his hand out again as he went out. “It’s hotter than the lights of home.”
“The Centre, not home,” Jarod corrected him. “Yeah, it is.”
He watched Oliver walk closer to the railing. Easy. His boy didn’t go too far over though. He just reached out, probably to see if he could feel it warmer above. Jarod went outside beside him and bent down to his level. “We are going to be leaving soon to get some breakfast. If you like the sun? You are going to love breakfast.”
Oliver just looked at him, his eyes still winking and adjusting to the sun. “What’s different about breakfast?”
“Everything.” Jarod had been concentrating so hard on Oliver, that he almost missed Mary. She came out, staring at the sun, almost like in a dream. Her brow was furrowing, trying to make sense of it, but not staring directly at it. She put her hand up too, but not to feel the heat. To block most of it so she could concentrate on it.
“Sun exposes all. Gil always said that.” She put her hands down on the railing. “Dangerous exposure. SPF. If you ever go. Liar. Nothing at all.”
“Depends on the heat level and time of day,” Jarod said holding some defense for Gil. “Not remarkable?”
“No. I guess I’ve seen it before.” She looked toward Oliver. “It’s nice though, isn’t it? Against the skin?”
Sun exposes all. Hang on. They were in low lighting last night, even the movie theater lighting on the outside was florescent. The sun was always so bright, even the smallest details came out. Jarod reached out for Mary’s hand. She took it and he dragged her over to Oliver. “I’ll be a second.”
He kept himself in check as he went to his only bag of clothes. He had to sacrifice his clean shirt of the day for Mary. She wasn’t kidding when she said the yakuza was a choice. Underneath her white dress, he could see the outlines of something red and not a common slip. Tanaka gets in, takes off her simple Centre dress and off they go, making the decision so much easier. Unsettling to say the least. He went back out. “Here, Mary, put this on.”
“Over my dress?” she asked. She started to look at her own dress more carefully in the bright sun and quickly grabbed it. It was a simple button down shirt but it would work. She didn’t look happy at all as she buttoned it. “Thanks, Jarod.” She still said her thanks and reached out for Oliver’s hand. “Exciting day today I hear?”
Yeah, after shopping. Nothing major, but each of them would need clean clothes. And in that thin white dress, even his shirt looked better on her than it should. If she had nothing on. No, she must usually wear a slip. Right? Yeah, he would have said something about it on the DSA if she didn’t wear a slip. She had to wear a slip, The Centre just replaced it for something that day. “You usually have on a slip, don’t you?”
She looked back at Jarod. “If I leave the room. Otherwise, no.”
Jarod started to scratch the rail slightly. Low level lighting, nothing could really be seen. Surely Gil was like a father to her. A father figure. Like Sydney had ended up being to him. “You have more solid white dresses that don’t need slips?”
Yes, that annoyance was trying to shine through, but she was still nice. “They’re all the same. Thanks for lending me the shirt.”
Move on. It was time to get some clothes. “We are going clothes shopping, first,” Jarod said. “and then we’ll pick up some breakfast. Sound good?”
“Oh no.” Mary seemed to just have a notion strike her. “I’m going to have to accumulate money, I can’t just mug people for theirs. That wasn’t very nice in the first place. Oliver didn’t like the bloody noses either.”
A healthy cross between Mary and Miss Parker. At least the anger didn’t fall against him. “No problem, I have more than enough.”
“Eventually.” She looked toward Oliver. “You can’t take us on pretends, Jarod.” She looked back toward him. “You can’t slow down. The Centre won’t be after us nearly as bad. I will have to find a place for Oliver and I. Don’t I?”
Oh. “I.” No. She’s right, I can’t slow down. The Centre is only mildly after them, they don’t care enough. But? Oliver was his. It wasn’t like leaving behind a nice dog or good friends or an environment he grew to like. It wasn’t even like leaving the women he always had to leave. Just the thought, hitting him like that, it didn’t even occur to him last night. “No.” No. “No. You have to come.”
Never. No. Oliver was abandoned, left in a white room all that time by The Centre! Visited briefly by his mom once a month, no! He went over to the other side of Oliver and looked at him again. “Sun is nice, huh? Let’s go get you some clothes. Something nicer than The Centre, okay?” He grabbed his hand, not even wanting to visit the thought again. He latched onto Mary’s hand too. “Let’s all go, okay?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. No matter how many times she said it, Jarod wouldn’t get used to those words coming from her. Especially to him. “I was thinking out loud. My mind, I don’t trust thoughts within. I didn’t mean to make you anxious, Jarod. I’m not taking him away- I wasn’t at college.”
Jarod glanced over at Oliver. He didn’t understand what was happening with her. “You’re having different firsts, learning about the world,” Jarod said. “Your mom is having other firsts from you. She’ll be okay.” Oliver nodded.
Yeah. Even if he had to lose Oliver, it couldn’t be to Mary right now. She was scatterbrained, still learning. He didn’t need to worry about that yet. Her eyes seemed glossy. Shiny. She wiped a tear from her eye.
“We should go, I have to get out of this.” She hung onto the railing like it was her only support in life. “We have to go Jarod.”
Small Shopping Department
“First thing, I’ll just get the first thing that fits,” Mary insisted as she went into the small department store. She tried to work quickly to find her size, but she could already feel eyes on her. Luring eyes. On her. She quickly went through the hangers, trembling slightly as she went. Jarod said not to worry about the price tag so good. Whatever fit, just something that fit. Make, model, color, she didn’t care about any of that.
“Mary, are you okay?” Jarod asked her. He placed his hands over hers, probably trying to calm them. “Hey?”
Ask. No, don’t ask. Just ask. No, I can’t ask. “Fine.” There, that dress seemed about her size. Maybe? She looked at the rack behind her. Perfect, those were correct. She picked up the first dress she saw. “This one.”
“Okay.” Jarod grabbed it. “Come on. Let’s get this one first.”
Yeah, of course, so that she wasn’t sticking out like a sore thumb in nothing but his top and an almost see through white dress with a red teddy underneath it.
The attendant at the register smiled at Jarod and Oliver, but gave her an odd look. “Checking out?”
She placed it on the counter. While Jarod paid for it, she glanced around. At least three eyes were on her. An old woman that looked absolutely appauled. A younger woman that seemed to have negative thoughts of her. Why does the counter have to be in the sunlight? Did it matter though? Hiding it with Jarod’s shirt just made it more obvious she was hiding something. The last person was a young man, twentyish, tapping his friends shoulder, like he found something for his friend to see. It’s all in your head, Mary. How many times did Gil say that? Everything is in your head. They only had one outfit, shouldn’t they have been paid up yet?
Oh. Maybe it wasn’t in her head.
“For the last time,” Jarod said to the lady at the counter. “If she was going to steal something, it wouldn’t be that obvious. Secondly, she came in wearing that because of an awkward situation. Stop, just let me buy the dress, she can change and you can see for yourself whether she has any unpaid for items from your store besides the dress we are buying. If she does? I’ll pay for them.”
The woman at the counter sighed and stared at Mary, like she just knew she stole something. “Let’s go to the changing room.”
In the changing room, Mary took off Jarod’s shirt, her old dress and the . . . lacey red outfit she shouldn’t have been wearing under that white for any circumstances. She put the new one on. Solid, one color. Simple. She came back out and handed the items over to the attendant, who now also had someone else with her. They checked the room she just got dressed in.
They kept looking over the red outfit to match it to something at the store but couldn’t find it. Finally, they gave up.
“Happy?” Jarod didn’t sound happy at all. “Scan the price so we can pay and go.”
Oliver was right next to Jarod. He looked at her oddly then up to Jarod. He wiggled his hand, which Jarod was holding. It caught his attention. “This still feels like The Centre.”
“That’s because this isn’t a good place.” Jarod said.
Mary watched the attendant scan the tag on the new dress. Jarod came over, paid the bill, and ripped the sale tag off. Geez, he is mad. It was a good thing she didn’t ask what she wanted to.
Jarod flung the tag to the ground. “There, paid for. Let’s go.”
“Less violent, Sir,” The attendant said to him.
Jarod ignored it. Each of them walked out. Jarod helped Oliver back in the car. “We’re going to shop at a nicer place. Don’t worry.”
Mary got in but didn’t say anything. At least that was over. She looked decent now, they shouldn’t get hassled about anything.
“My fault,” Jarod said. “I should have gone in and got something. I just don’t want to leave Oliver’s side.”
“Don’t worry about it.” It wasn’t the first time she felt out of sorts. “Thank you for the dress.” She looked at Oliver. “Let’s see what we can find for you that The Centre never had in stock.”
“One new rule,” Jarod said to them. “We need to ban the word ‘The Centre’ in public. Find a different way to say it. It’s best not to leave even the slightest hint of involvement. Okay?”
Mary and Oliver nodded. It was a good rule.