My name is Lily. Come through, please,” a pretty woman instructed, then
turned on her heel, leading the way down several corridors. Jarod followed,
tugging his jacket off. When they reached a small office the woman led the
way in, adjusting the blinds on the windows so nobody could see in. Her
office contained a desk, several book shelves and two comfortable looking
chairs with a coffee table between them. She motioned at Jarod to take one
of the seats.
“What? No couch?” he muttered sarcastically, easing down into one of the chairs.
“No couch, Jarod.” Lily replied evenly. She opened a folder, glancing through its contents.
“I see you haven’t provided much information about yourself. Not even a last name.” Lily raised her eyes to look at Jarod, who had his jacket folded over one arm.
“Barrows. Jarod… Barrows,” he murmured quietly. Tom Barrows. Sim results are inconclusive, he thought. Lily crossed her legs, watching him intently.
“Can I see your arm, please, Jarod?” she asked. Jarod’s gaze flickered down to his arm. A bit of his sleeve was poking out from under his jacket, the white cuff stained red. Jarod set aside his jacket, drawing up his sleeve. Lily leaned forward, her face expressionless as she examined his arm. Several long cuts marred Jarod’s forearm, not deep enough to do any real damage. Lily sat back, raising her eyes to Jarod’s.
“Did you do that, Jarod?” she asked.
“Yes.” Jarod mumbled.
Jarod didn’t have an answer. Lily sighed.
“What do you do, Jarod?”
Jarod closed his eyes, trying to think of an occupation, but his mind was blank. He realized, distantly, that Lily was trying to keep him grounded by using his first name with every question. Gestalt therapy, forcing him to remain a part of the events that were occurring instead of separating himself, or disassociating. Sydney had used this technique in simulations.
“Lots of things. I do lots of things. Are you a real doctor?” he asked, changing the subject. Lily regarded him stoically.
“I have a doctorate in psychology, Jarod. Why are you here?” Lily asked. Jarod ignored the question.
“I suppose you’d have a certificate or something. Framed on the wall. Am I right?” he asked, opening his eyes.
“Above your head,” Lily replied. Jarod twisted around in his seat, looking up. Sure enough, on the wall above his head were several important looking pieces of paper, framed and hung neatly.
“Do you know how easy those things are to fake? A lot of things are easy to fake. Make an ID tag and stick your face on it and suddenly you’re somebody else,” Jarod whispered, so quietly that Lily had to lean forward to catch the words.
“Have you faked these things Jarod?”
“I have.” Jarod turned back, looking her in the eye. Lily met his gaze unflinchingly. “I like to help people. I like to find a wrongdoing and right it. I’ll do anything to go about it. I Pretend to be other people,” Jarod explained, and chuckled mirthlessly at the double entendre. Lily remained silent.
“I… I failed.” Jarod’s voice cracked on the word, his throat tightening with tears. Lily waited, in silence.
“I met… I met a young man. He… he came to me. For help. I brushed him off.” Jarod dragged his hand over his mouth, twisting his head away, tears filling his eyes.
“This young man, you were close?” Lily asked. Jarod shook his head.
“No. But we were friends. And he came to me!” he cried suddenly, passionately. Jarod relaxed himself slowly, sitting back in his chair. His gaze met Lily’s, but skated away.
“Trevor, that was his name,” Jarod muttered, running his hand through his hair. Lily frowned at his words.
“You use the word was?”
“Trevor. Yes. He died, you see.” Jarod let out a short bark of laughter. “Everybody dies,” he hissed, shifting in his seat.
“Yes, Jarod. Everybody dies. It’s natural,” Lily told him. Jarod brought his fist down on the arm of the chair, leaning forward, his eyes burning into Lily’s.
“It’s not natural for a boy of twenty-two to wrap a sheet around his neck and hang himself with it! It’s not natural for my brother to die from a bullet that should have been for me! It’s not natural for a--” Jarod broke off suddenly, turning away. Lily’s face registered shock at his outburst.
“What else Jarod?” she questioned gently. Jarod’s voice was hoarse with tears when he answered.
“It’s not natural for a cancer patient to die of something other than cancer,” he muttered.
“You’ve suffered a lot of loss, however that’s no reason to blame yourself--” Lily began, but Jarod leaped to his feet in anger.
“But it is reason! They all died because of me!” he growled. He shook his head abruptly, pressing one fist against his temple. Lily edged her seat back, wary of Jarod’s changing moods. She was reaching for her bag and the pepper spray she kept there when Jarod let out a brief cry of rage, storming out the door. Lily jumped to her feet, chasing after him.
“Jarod? Where are you going?” she called. Jarod turned back, miserable.
“I don’t know. I don’t know!” he cried, then was gone. Lily let out a deep breath. Ten minutes later, clasping a cup of strong coffee to her in the staff lounge, her hands still hadn’t stopped shaking.
“How’d it go?” Jason asked from the doorway. Lily jumped, then sighed in relief when she realized who it was. Jason stepped into the room, concerned.
“Are you OK?” he asked. Lily nodded slowly, staring into her coffee cup reflectively. She had stopped drinking coffee two years ago, the same time she had quit smoking. She would have killed for a cigarette right then.
“He was… disturbed Jason. Not in a permanent way…” Lily hesitated, considering her words carefully. “He’s obviously been through a lot, I don’t think he told me the half of it. It’s got to him, his mind just can’t take it anymore. To be blunt, he’s cracking up,” Lily explained. She twisted the cup in her hands, grimacing. Jason nodded sympathetically.
“I think I’ll pay him a house call tomorrow. Will you come with me?” Lily asked, looking up at Jason fearfully.
“You’re really worried about him, aren’t you!” Jason exclaimed. Lily nodded.
“Worried enough to break confidentiality, easily. I don’t think he’s coping very well, Jason.” Lily paused, nervously chewing her lip. “And it’s my honest opinion that he’s a danger to himself.”
* * * * * * * * *
Outside the door to Gabriel’s room, Miss Parker stopped. Laura’s second child would be about his age now, and it pained her to think of that poor little girl growing up without a mother. Donna, that was her name, and Miss Parker was sure she probably had a photo somewhere at home. Laura had been so thrilled, her first child had been a boy, and she’d always wanted a little girl…
Miss Parker choked back a sob, brushing a stray tear from her cheek and turning away from Gabriel’s room resolutely. She didn’t want her little brother to see her like this, distraught with grief. She wanted him to have only happiness in his young life. Instead she headed to the elevator, stepping inside and jabbing the button for the Centre car park. She’d go home, have a bath and cry herself to sleep.
Nodding at the guard at the security desk, Miss Parker hurried briskly over to her car, unlocking it and throwing her bag on the passenger seat. On the drive home she broke all the speed limits, pulling up in front of her house with a screech. Hurrying up to the front door, Miss Parker had just got her keys out when her cell phone rang.
“What!” she snarled into the line. She could hear someone’s shallow breaths.
“When you lost Thomas, did it ever get better? Did the pain get better?” Jarod asked abruptly. Miss Parker dropped her keys and slammed her hand against the door in fury.
“You bastard,” she growled.
“What?” Jarod asked in surprise. Miss Parker glowered at the door, bending to retrieve her keys.
“What is this? Some sort of sick joke? It hurts Jarod! It will always hurt, okay? Your little insights into me and mine won’t help me now because Laura’s dead! No matter what you say and no matter what mysterious words of wisdom you dispatch, Jarod, Laura will remain dead!” Miss Parker hollered into the phone, unlocking the door and shoving it open. There was a long pause.
“Who’s Laura?” Jarod asked quietly. Miss Parker pressed her hand against her head, then ended the call.
* * * * * * * * *
“I missed out on happily ever after.”
“You sure did.” Jarod muttered. He rolled over, facing the wall and dragging the covers up around his neck. He imagined Zoe, wearing those delightful jeans and that little top at the lemonade stand, talking sweetly to those two little girls. She hadn’t realized that he knew she was checking out his ass as he walked away.
“You got a smile so bright…” Jarod sang quietly, off tune. He could taste Doritos and Zoe’s mouth.
“What are you really, Jarod?”
“A failure.” Jarod sighed.
“In some ways it’s a good thing, I got away from Vince, I came to see my grandmother again…it brought me to you.”
“Not such a good thing after all. You should have stayed away,” Jarod whispered.
Steam rising from the water, she’d been so bold, knowing exactly what she wanted, shedding her clothes. He’d been nervous, a bit afraid.
“Falling in love wasn’t part of the plan.”
Jarod’s face crumpled.
“End it my way, go out with a bang.”
“And I saved you.” Jarod’s eyes blurred with tears. He pressed on his arm, the one with the cuts, gasping at the pain. “I saved you just to get you killed!” he cried, sitting up and reaching for the knife.
* * * * * * * * *
“Laura, I’m not coming back next year. Daddy is sending me to Japan to finish my education,” Parker told Laura, clasping her two hands between her own. Laura bit her lip, her eyes growing moist.
“We’ll still be friends though, right?” Laura asked. Miss Parker sniffed, holding in her tears, leaning forward and pulling her friend into a hug.
Miss Parker opened her eyes. Someone was calling her. Raising her head off her desk, she pushed back a few stray locks of hair to glare at Sydney, who was looking worried.
“Miss Parker, I’ve been calling your name for the last few minutes!” he said, exasperated. He strolled over to her desk, taking note of the dark rings beneath her eyes.
“Sorry. Must have dozed off,” Miss Parker mumbled gruffly. She made a quick attempt to smooth the wrinkles out of her blouse, then gave Sydney an icy glare. “Can I help you?”
“I’m concerned about you.” Sydney replied evenly. Miss Parker shrugged.
“I’m fine,” she snapped, shuffling through some files. It was a poor attempt to make it look like she had actually been doing something before she fell asleep, other than staring off into space. Sydney took the seat opposite her, dropping a piece of paper on her desk. Miss Parker gave him a quick, searching look, then unfolded it. The note from Michele.
“Who’s Laura?” Sydney asked gently. Miss Parker closed her eyes tightly.
“Laura was my roommate in college. Laura Trioli,” she whispered finally. Sydney settled back in is chair, getting comfortable. Miss Parker opened her eyes, pulling out her desk drawer and dropping a photograph in front of him. “That’s the last photo I ever got from her.”
Sydney studied the woman in the photo. She was petite in stature, but curvaceous, possessing long dark hair that curled slightly and liquid black eyes. She was posing for the camera, a baby propped on her hip, a floppy hat shading her from the sun. The woman appeared to be laughing, her smile in her eyes. Sydney slid the photo back across the desk, and Miss Parker dropped it back in her drawer.
“She was Italian?” Sydney asked. Miss Parker shook her head.
“Her father was. He married an English woman, and Laura was raised in England, but her father sent her to Italy to study. The American University of Rome.” A faint smile touched Miss Parker’s lips.
“Laura was an Arts major. She painted beautiful pictures, portraits. She used to ask if she could paint me, but I always said no. I worked so hard, majoring in International Trade, ready for the Centre, while she just sort of… well, she passed. That’s all she needed, all she wanted.” Miss Parker let out a low chuckle, staring past Sydney, into another time.
“Did you envy her that freedom?” Sydney questioned. Miss Parker smiled.
“I suppose so. She always had a date, somewhere to go, a party she just had to attend. Everyone wanted to be her friend. And I studied. For Daddy. He said he wanted to be proud of me.”
“But…” Sydney said, angling for more. Miss Parker smiled wryly.
“But I wanted what she had, Syd. So… I studied less… went out more. She used to set me up with people, on dates, until I started getting them myself. We were indestructible. Laura and Parker.” Miss Parker dropped her head, tears streaming down her face. “Then, in my second year, I dated Michele for a while. He was Italian, his father quite wealthy. We didn’t date for long, but we’d all become such good friends, Laura, Michele and I. The three of us against the world.” Miss Parker scrabbled around in her desk, searching for a tissue.
“Mid-terms came around, and Laura convinced me to go out with some guy rather than study. I did badly. I passed, but still…” Miss Parker shrugged, and Sydney nodded.
“You’re father would have been furious,” he concluded. Parker laughed.
“That’s an understatement. He yanked me out of that school so fast I barely had time to say goodbye. And boy was I raked over the coals. My father made me sorry I’d ever known Laura, never mind gone out partying with her.”
“You felt guilty,” Sydney stated. Miss Parker traced abstract pattern on her desk with one fingernail.
“We promised we’d stay in touch. We did, but it got difficult over the years. I met Tommy Tanaka in Japan, and when I finished my studies and came to work at the Centre… it was so hard, Sydney! For a while I’d had the closest I could get to a normal life, but back in America… I couldn’t relate to her anymore. She’d write letters about boyfriends and commissions and how well her latest dinner party went, while I was here, boning up on the latest weaponry. She would learn how to make the perfect soufflé and I would learn how to avoid government protocol.” Sydney chuckled in dry amusement, while Miss Parker pulled a face. She tilted her head to one side, her features tightening in grief.
“She was the closest thing to normal I ever had, her and Michele, and I blew it. Eventually the phone calls were stilted, and Michele became resentful because of my behavior. I know why he sent a letter instead of calling. He sent a letter so that I would miss the funeral. That way, nobody could berate me when I didn’t turn up. I wouldn’t have to make excuses, because I didn’t know… I didn’t know she had died until after the funeral.” Miss Parker sniffed loudly, then finally looked up at Sydney, making eye contact for the first time.
“Miss Parker, you can’t blame yourself for the changes that occurred in both your lives. What you and Laura had was special, but perhaps never meant to last longer than it did. That time of your life has obviously given you some confidence in yourself, not to mention some happy memories,” Sydney suggested gently. Miss Parker sighed.
“I know that, Sydney. But it doesn’t make the pain go away.”
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