Two Moments, One Breath

By Mandy

Starring:

Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots

Guest cast:

Jamie Denton as Mr. Lyle
Ethan Embry as Trevor Jones
Lara Flyn Boyle as Dr Lily Nixon
Robert Duvall as Dr Jason Fairfield
Marina Sirtis as Laura Trioli


Act I

December 26
Seattle, Washington

Jarod stared with amusement at his new friend, struggling to lift a shovel loaded with snow. A thin young man, Trevor was not cut out for this sort of work.

“Did you want some help?” he asked tentatively. Trevor cast him an amused glance.

“You’re not that grateful, Jarod. This is my job,” Trevor muttered around his heavy scarf. Jarod stepped forward indignantly.

“I am grateful! It’s so hard to find somewhere to stay this time of year!” he protested. Trevor rolled his eyes.

“There’s another shovel in the closet just inside the door,” he told Jarod. Jarod grinned and bounded up the stairs into the hall of the apartment block he was staying in, owned by Trevor. Jarod had wondered at Trevor’s ownership at first, considering he was so young -- only twenty-two -- but discreet questions had revealed the old house, which had been converted into several neat apartments, had been left to him by his father, who had died of a heart attack a few months ago. Jarod dug around in the closet until he found the wide, shallow shovel, then headed back outside to help Trevor with the path. Snowfall had been unusually heavy for Seattle at this time of year. Silently they worked side by side, Jarod’s contribution making a big difference. Their breaths puffed in the cool late afternoon air as they worked.

“So, have you always lived in Seattle?” Trevor asked after a while. Jarod, out of breath, straightened up, propping his shovel up and leaning on it.

“No. I like to travel a lot,” he replied enigmatically. Trevor nodded.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. I used to travel heaps, before…” Trevor faded into silence, and Jarod nodded sympathetically.

“Sometimes… sometimes I just want to go, you know?” Trevor asked, also stopping work. He studied his feet, then looked up at Jarod. “Leave all this behind.” Trevor waved at the building behind them to emphasis his point. Jarod smiled gently. Trevor sighed, tilting his head back and staring at the winter sky. Then he turned back to Jarod. “So, tell me about your travels.” Trevor said with a smile. Jarod grinned.

“Well there was this one time I was in Texas, at an army base….”

* * * * * * * * *

Miss Parker’s House
Blue Cove, Delaware

Miss Parker pushed open her front door, balancing a sack of groceries in her arms. Stepping inside, she kicked the door shut behind her, moving to dump her provisions on the kitchen bench. She put the frozen food away, stared longingly at the rocky road ice cream she’d bought, then put that away, too. She put the few remaining supplies away, most of which, she noted despairingly, were designed to last longer than a day or two in case she had to leave town suddenly. She’d had more than one bad experience with coming home to a fridge full of rotten food.

Miss Parker kicked off her shoes, hitting the play button on her answering machine as she went past. One message, from Broots.

“Miss Parker? Um, well, I forgot to ask you at work today but, ah, Debbie and I were wondering, uh, if you weren’t doing anything on New Year’s eve, though I’m sure you have plans, but, um, if you didn’t, we were wondering if you’d like to… to come and watch the fireworks with us? Together? Just asking. I mean, I’m sure you have plans, but, you know, if you didn’t… I’m going to go now. Bye, Miss Parker. I mean goodnight… bye Miss Parker,” Broots finally stammered out. Parker chuckled to herself as she fixed a drink.

“First prize for taking the longest time in history to get to the damn point,” she muttered to herself, flipping through her mail, tossing aside the bills. There were a few late Christmas cards from people she avoided, a catalogue and a plain white envelope addressed to her by hand.

Intrigued, Miss Parker took her drink and the envelope to the sofa, sinking down on it as she studied the envelope. She was surprised to realise it had come from Rome, it had been such a long time since she had heard from anyone there. Delicately peeling it open, Miss Parker extracted a single sheet of thick white paper, unfolding it and reading it quickly.

“Oh, God,” she moaned, her hand beginning to tremble. She put down her glass with a heavy thump, raising her hand to her mouth in shock. Her eyes tearing up, Parker lunged for the phone, dialing quickly. She chewed her lip as it rang, impatiently drumming her fingers on her leg. The line was answered, several pips sounding and a sad male voice answering.

“Michele? Tell me it isn’t true,” she whispered. There was a heavy sigh on the line, and Miss Parker choked back a sob.

“Parker. It is true. I am sorry. It happened a week ago. I’m sorry. I would have called but… it is better this way, Parker,” Michele said, his voice thickly accented. Miss Parker nodded her head dumbly, ending the call.

Lying down, she began to sob.

* * * * * * * * *

“Jarod, wake up.”

Jarod groaned, sunlight warming his skin.

“Come on sleepyhead! I want to play in the snow.”

Jarod rolled over, burying his head under the pillow. The one time he got a decent night's sleep and somebody had come in to drag him out of it.

“Need enticement, hmmm?”

Cool hands joined him under the blankets, trailing across his back. Jarod attempted to slap them away, but they persisted, running across his shoulders. Jarod gave up, flipping on his back and pushing off the covers. He reached out, grasping Zoe by the waist and pulling her into bed with him as she squealed…

“Zoe!”

Jarod sat up, gasping. It was cold. It was dark. No sunlight, no warmth and no Zoe. No Zoe ever again. Jarod pushed the quilt off his sweat covered body, sitting up in his bed. Trevor had given him the only room available, an attic that had been outfitted as a loft apartment. Because of the drive from Baltimore to Seattle, he hadn’t arrived until late afternoon, and had been very lucky to meet Trevor in a supermarket. They had been discussing the values of different PEZ flavors when Jarod had mentioned he needed a place to stay. Trevor had offered, Jarod had accepted. Unfortunately, the loft was very sparse on furniture, a problem Jarod intended to rectify within the coming days.

“Table,” Jarod muttered, swiping a hand across his eyes. “And chairs.”

Lacking a place to sit, Jarod made himself comfortable on the floor instead, loading up his laptop and connecting to the internet. He accessed the local papers, scrolling through recent articles, looking for anything interesting. Opening another window, he also went looking for a New Year’s surprise to send to Miss Parker. Anything designed to surprise, he figured. Maybe fireworks off her roof. A knock at the door had Jarod checking his watch in surprise; it was after three in the morning.

“Who is it?” Jarod called, scrolling through a list of article headers.

“Jarod, it’s me, Trevor. Can I talk to you a minute?” came the muffled reply.

“It’s open,” Jarod called back. The door opened and Trevor sidled through, looking tired. Jarod clicked on a header that read “Runaway Girl Comes Home.”

“Jarod? I wanted to talk to you. About what I said before. You know, about going away, leaving all this behind,” Trevor said hesitantly, dropping to sit opposite Jarod.

Jarod frowned. The picture that accompanied the article, the girl, it looked like….

“It sounds like a good idea, Trevor, everybody needs a change sometimes, a holiday,” Jarod murmured, his eyes glued to the screen. Trevor shifted uncomfortably.

“No, Jarod, I mean for good. I think I’m really going to go away. Life just isn’t the same without Dad,” Trevor emphasized.

Jarod reached out a trembling finger to touch the screen. The shape of the face was the same, the hair was longer, a bit thicker, but the resemblance really was uncanny…

“Sure Trevor, sounds great," Jarod murmured absentmindedly. Trevor sighed deeply, standing up and heading for the door, defeated. He paused in the doorway, looking back at Jarod, still preoccupied.

“Goodbye, Jarod,” he called softly. Jarod didn’t answer back. Trevor closed the door behind him. Jarod drew his finger away from the screen and bit back a sigh. He raised his eyes from the laptop, looking around in confusion. He thought back a moment, then bit his lip at his own insensitivity. Trevor had been trying to tell him something…

Jarod looked back at the girl on the screen; who looked just like Zoe. “Night, Trevor,” he mumbled, then clicked for a close-up.

* * * * * * * * *

December 27
The Centre
Blue Cove,
Delaware

“M… Miss Parker?” Broots asked nervously. Sydney smiled over his coffee at his nervousness. The younger man visibly flinched when Miss Parker wheeled around to glare at him from behind dark glasses.

“Well?” she growled, and Sydney frowned at the sound of her voice.

“We have a possible sighting in New York… I just thought you’d like to know,” Broots added defensively. Miss Parker took a wobbly step forward, and Sydney rose.

“Miss Parker, are you all right?” he asked with concern.

“Fine!” she snapped angrily, tottering over to a seat and perching precariously on the edge of it. Sydney sighed. He wondered what had upset her enough to be drunk so early in the morning.

“Miss Parker…?” Broots tried again. “New York…?”

“What? Oh…yeah. Research it, Broots. I’m not going to fly off to New York without anything solid,” she grumbled, swiping one palm across her brow. In the process her glasses fell off, clattering to the floor just as Lyle entered. He smirked, eyeing her bloodshot eyes.

“Morning, Sis. You must have had an early morning today. Or are you just still drunk from last night? No, wait, let me guess. You drank til five am, took a fifteen minute power nap, then started a new bottle?” Lyle said viciously. Miss Parker’s face tightened, her eyes narrowing on her brothers face.

“I see you crawled out of Philly,” she muttered.

“You know, I wish I had a liver like yours Sis,” Lyle continued. “It might be nice to stay drunk twenty-four seven,” he sneered. Sydney sighed at the malicious attack. He was, however, still surprised when Miss Parker rose to her feet in barely suppressed fury, yanking her gun out of its holster. She pressed it against the buckle of Lyle’s belt, aiming down.

“I’d shut the hell up if I were you, Lyle. Wouldn’t want to lose a valuable piece of equipment. All those mail-order brides would be left lonely,” she snarled. Lyle paled, realizing he’d gone too far. Broots squeaked in sympathetic fear. Miss Parker withdrew her gun slowly, and Lyle backed away.

“Let me know if you find something,” he muttered before escaping out the door. Broots murmured his excuses and went scurrying after, afraid of being next in the line of fire.

Wearily, Miss Parker settled back on her seat, and Sydney studied her silently. Parker caught his gaze.

“What?” she demanded, leaning down to scoop up her fallen sunglasses. A slip of paper fell out of her pocket, fluttering to the ground beside her.

“Is there something you’d like to talk about, Miss Parker?” Sydney asked gently. She cast the older man her iciest stare, rising to her feet.

“When I want my head shrunk, I’ll let you know. I’m going to check up on Broots,” Miss Parker growled, storming from the room.

Sydney blinked at her manner, which was even more abrupt than usual. He stepped forward, picking up the piece of paper Miss Parker had dropped. He unfolded it carefully, frowning as he read its contents. It appeared to be a short letter, written in sharp, masculine handwriting.

Parker.
Laura has drowned. My condolences.
Michele.

Sydney closed his eyes briefly. If there was one thing Miss Parker didn’t need in her life, it was more loss.

* * * * * * * * *

Package tucked securely under his arm, Jarod bounded up the stairs in his new building. Trevor’s apartment was on the second floor, and Jarod preferred the exercise of climbing stairs rather than taking the lift. Halfway up he almost dropped his package, but he tucked it under his arm more securely. He’d been searching for a small table and chair he could use at a department store in the city, when he’d come across a major find that he knew Trevor would love.

In his package were four Looney Tunes PEZ dispensers, which came complete with playing cards and extra PEZ refills. Jarod had felt bad about his preoccupation the night before, and had bought the set to make it up to Trevor and to find out what the young man had wanted to ask him about. Jarod grinned to himself as he reached the third floor landing. He’d shaken off the nostalgia of the night before, and was ready to talk to Trevor about whatever he wanted. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the remaining snow made the streets glisten and sparkle.

Outside apartment 2C, Jarod caught his breath, straightened his jacket and plastered a big smile on his face. He knocked on the door, staring directly into the peephole. He'd cheer Trevor up, and by doing that he’d cheer himself up. Jarod waited a few minutes more then knocked again. He knew Trevor was home, he’d seen his car parked near the building. After a third knock, Jarod began to grow worried.

“Trevor?” Jarod called. Silence.

“Trevor!” Jarod yelled a little louder. Nothing.

Jarod looked up and down the hall, making sure nobody was watching, then pulled a pocket knife out of his jacket, prepared to pick the lock. He was surprised when the door swung open, unlocked. Jarod stepped inside, smiling in wry amusement at the posters of scantily clad girls pinned to the walls. Books and CDs were overflowing off of some shelves against one wall, and a pile of dirty dishes was mounted in the sink.

“Trevor?” Jarod called softly, stepping inside the apartment and closing the door after him. He took a quick look around the dining nook, then crept down a short hallway to the bedroom.

“Trevor?”

Jarod halted abruptly, his mouth hanging open. For, hanging from the ceiling fan by a sheet, was Trevor.


Act II

December 28

Sitting cold, tired and unshaven, Jarod contemplated the phone. He was tempted, unbelievably tempted, to pick it up and dial Sydney, who he had always turned to for advice. But the truth of the matter was that he didn’t want Sydney to know. He didn’t want Sydney to know of his failure to save young Trevor Jones. Jarod had failed. He had failed to help this troubled soul. He had ignored the warning signs, Trevor’s unhappiness, his cry for help. Jarod had been selfish, and somebody had died.

Trevor was dead. Wrote a note and hung himself with his own bed linen. And all because Jarod was too late, too slow, to help the despairing man who wanted to "leave it all behind." Too blind to see the devastation in Trevor’s eyes, too insensitive to realize that Trevor was perilously close to the edge.

“I should have helped him,” Jarod told the world out loud. It didn’t answer back. “I should have gotten there quicker,” he told the phone. It sat and silently mocked him. He glared at it.

Jarod drew his knees up to his chest, hugging his arms around them and rocking slightly on the cold hardwood floor. He didn’t have a chair to sit in. Just an empty loft with a bed, a kitchen with two dirty cups and a few old utensils in the drawer. A bathroom that needed cleaning, but he didn’t have the effort to do it himself. And, of course, the DSA case and his own duffel bag, full of a few clothes he had thought to grab and his laptop.

In his mind, Jarod imagined calling Sydney, spilling out the whole sordid story. In his mind, Sydney spoke harsh whispers of accusation, telling Jarod that, as usual, he had not done enough. He shivered. Sydney wouldn’t say such things, but fear overtook common sense.

Jarod picked up the phone and threw it at the wall, satisfied when it shattered.

* * * * * * * * *

“Jarod, wake up.”

Jarod squeezed his eyes shut, clasping his hands over his ears.

“Come on, sleepyhead, I want to play in the snow!”

Jarod moaned, writhing on the bed.

“Need enticement, hmmm?”

Cool hands, cold hands, dead hands.

“How’s this for enticement, Jarod? Get out of bed, you murdering son of a bitch!”

“Trevor?” Jarod asked. Trevor’s dead hands.

“You killed me, Jarod. It’s your fault I’m dead. Why didn’t you save me? You should have saved me! You should have saved both of us!”

Jarod threw back the covers. Zoe and Trevor, holding dead hands.

“You should have saved all of us, Jarod.”

“Kyle?” Jarod whispered. Kyle stepped from the darkness, a hole where his heart should have been.

“You took my heart, Jarod! I was still alive! You could have saved me!”

Jarod began to sob.

“I asked for help, Jarod. You should have helped me!”

“I’m sorry, Trevor!” Jarod cried. Zoe stepped forward. Cold hands.

“It’s your fault, Jarod.”

Jarod screamed. Zoe was gone, replaced by Miss Parker, aiming a gun at him. “Time to pay, genius.”

Three pairs of dead hands pulled the trigger.

“Zoe!”

Jarod fell out of bed. He grimaced at the pain, automatically checking for broken bones. He sighed, sitting up slowly. Then he remembered the dream. Jarod choked on his breath, pressing his fists into his eyes. He shook his head and bit his lip, moaning softly.

It was his fault. Suicidal people often made a cry for help before they attempted the act. And Jarod had ignored it. Jarod crawled over to where the DSA case rested, choosing one disc and sitting back to watch.

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod
For Centre Use Only

“Jarod? Tell me what is going through your mind.”

“I… I’m cold. And I… I’m alone, so very alone.” Jarod squeezed his eyes closed, taking deep breaths. To one side Sydney watched, an expression of concern marring his features.

“Everything hurts, Sydney. It hurts to think, it hurts to breathe. I just want it all to end.” Jarod edged forward on the low construction he was standing on.

“You have a job, Jarod, a beautiful wife and two young children. Isn’t that enough?” Sydney asked, and Jarod shook his head, grazing his palms lightly across the wall behind him. He shuffled forward a bit more.

“It’s not enough. They don’t understand, nobody does. I’m so tired,” Jarod mumbled, tears making slow tracks down his face.

“What tipped the balance, Jarod? Why now, what caused you to go on the ledge today?” Sydney questioned urgently, stepping forward.

“I… I can’t, not any more. I can’t do this, the stupid façade. I’m not all right. I need help!” came a strangled whisper, and Jarod began to sob openly.

“Why haven’t you gotten help, Jarod? Why are you on the ledge?”

“My wife… she called me silly. Nobody understands me! Don’t you see? They’ll say I’m crazy, lock me away! I just… I just want to die,” Jarod whispered with finality.

Then stepped over the edge.

Sydney moved forward, bending over Jarod, where he lay on some soft mats under the small mock up of a building ledge. Jarod opened his eyes. “I’m dead,” He told Sydney, and laughed quietly, bitterly. Sydney straightened up, looking directly into the camera.

“Sim results are inconclusive. Tom Barrows' suicide remains unexplained. As an observer, my conclusions on the matter lead me to believe that Mr. Barrows was manic depressive, faced with an opportunity to end it all. Sim terminated.”

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod closed the DSA case, staring reflectively at its lid. He had performed the Barrows sim half way through 1985, two months after Tom Barrows, General Manager of a security corporation which had aided and assisted the Centre, committed suicide. He still recalled the pain and overwhelming despair that had consumed him, forced him to take that final step.

From the open window Jarod could hear the filtered noises of the people below. Snow was falling outside, but that didn’t prevent the rest of the world from getting up and going about their business. He could hear children laughing. Three days before the New Year, and everybody was in a good mood. Except him, of course. He felt numb, and tired, very tired. Tired like he wanted to sleep forever. He could have spent all day in bed, sleeping. Or crying.

Jarod was, of course, aware that something was wrong with him. Very wrong. And he was also aware that he should probably seek help. But he was afraid. A completely irrational fear, most unlike him, but a fear nonetheless. He was afraid he would be laughed at. He was afraid that he would be turned away, or worse yet, told that he was right. That it was his fault. Jarod didn’t think he could take that.

Some distant, logical part of his brain told him he had fallen into a state of depression. He had all the signs. Loss of appetite, oversleeping and a case of disassociation. In other words, he hadn’t eaten, he’d slept too much and nothing felt real. The numbness was the worst. The feeling that nothing mattered, because it wasn’t real. Jarod was getting desperate for things to feel real again, instead this hazy state of consciousness he was currently existing in. And then there were the dreams. The painful, frightening dreams, most of them including Trevor. All of them with Zoe.

The day before, Jarod had hit his elbow quite hard on the wall. He’d been climbing out of bed, with the sole intention of lying on the floor, when he’d knocked his arm. Careless of him. But he’d gasped in pain and held his arm for a few moments, letting his breath out in a slow hiss as he waited for the pain to pass. In those few moments, Jarod had held onto a complete clarity of thought. The pain had made it real again. When he’d fallen out of bed, the same clarity. Checking for broken bones, a normal response. Jarod had very little normality left in his life.

Jarod was desperate. He rose from the hard wooden floor he’d been sitting on and walked into the bare kitchen, resting his hands on the Formica bench. He stared at the grubby drawer directly below him. He slid it open slowly, staring at its contents. He rolled up his sleeve, once white but now grey with grime, and ran his fingers over his forearm. Then he picked up a knife.

* * * * * * * * *

December 28

“Laura Trioli, touch that phone and your ass is grass!” Parker shouted. Laura merely smiled, lifting the receiver, flicking her dark curls off her neck. Parker flushed hotly, making a wild leap over the sofa. Laura laughed, a tinkling, musical sound, waving a scrap of paper with Peter Winston’s phone number on it and dodging away.

“You know I can’t make a date with him, I have to study! Daddy will kill me if I don’t pass my mid-terms!” Miss Parker pleaded. Laura giggled again, her black eyes flashing with amusement.

“Mid-terms, schmid-terms. He’s a babe, Parker! Blonde hair and blue eyes…mmm!” Laura cooed enthusiastically.

“I’m sorry, Miss Arts-Major, but I intend to get somewhere in life! I have to pass! If I don’t, you know my father will haul me back to the States!” said Parker defiantly. Laura sighed, dropping the piece of paper onto the nearby kitchen bench.

“Come on Parker, just this once…The four of us will go, Michele, you, me and the babe,” Laura pleaded, her voice lilting with an English accent. Miss Parker smiled, moving to hug her friend.

“All right. But only for a few hours…”

Miss Parker sat up, gasping. She pushed sweat dampened clumps of hair off of her face, listening to the pounding beat of her heart.

“Laura.” Parker whispered mournfully.

Switching on her bedside lamp, Miss Parker rose from her bed, draping a silk wrap over her shoulders and wandering out to the kitchen. Yanking open a cupboard, she pulled out a glass, filling it with amber liquid from the crystal decanter on the sideboard. It got half way to her mouth before she stopped. She checked the time. Six AM. With a low groan Miss Parker tipped the contents of the glass down the sink, setting it down on the bench with a heavy thump.

“I will not go to work drunk today,” she said aloud, then snorted with disgust. Parker rested her forehead flat on the bench, sighing wearily and stretching her arms out on the cool surface. She hadn’t gotten to sleep until after two, only to have dreams filled with Laura.

Filled with intent, Miss Parker pulled herself out of her lethargy and headed back to her bedroom. She dressed quickly in a pale blue power suit, even found some shoes that matched, then sat on the edge of her bed. Tiredly she picked up the photo of her and Tommy, tracing her finger over the outline of his face. She smiled.

“You would have liked Laura,” she told him.

Miss Parker replaced the photo and pulled out the bottom drawer of her bedside table, rummaging through the collection of papers and photographs. Triumphantly she pulled out an envelope. Postmarked Rome, the edges were crumpled and the paper was thin with age. Parker pulled out the contents, catching a photograph that threatened to slip. She turned it over and studied the smiling faces. Laura, Michele and her, from their college days. On the back was Laura’s scribbled writing, giving a small caption. For old time's sake, it read. Miss Parker smiled, then flicked to the page accompanying it. A wedding invitation, Laura’s wedding invitation. She’d been happy, gushing on the phone when what's-his-name had finally proposed, spilling all her happiness over a transatlantic phone call. To Parker it had felt like a knife in the gut.

Parker ran her fingers over the page gently. She turned it over, where there was a barely decipherable message. I know you’ll come. Love, Laura. Five years ago now. Maybe six. Laura had been married in a small church in Rome during Spring, beaming for the camera and laughing happily. Miss Parker had not attended. She had called Laura and made up some pathetic excuse about her father being sick, but Laura had known. Laura always knew. Laura had known the first time Miss Parker had put off her annual trip to Italy. Laura had known the last time she had ever invited Miss Parker.

Laura had always sent a deluge of letters and photos, which over the years had shrunk to a slow trickle. Invitations to Christmas and New Year parties had gradually faded away, and Laura’s visits to the States were spent in hotels, ‘doing lunch’ instead of shacked up with Miss Parker, doing girl stuff. Miss Parker had not been invited to Laura’s first child’s baptism. Nor her second’s. In fact, Miss Parker had seen Laura only once during the last four years, and then only in passing. The chase for Jarod had consumed everything.

Miss Parker sighed, setting aside the envelope and its contents aside and standing, preparing to go to work. She headed into the bathroom, but found her hands were shaking too much for her to apply her make-up with any efficiency. Miss Parker bit her lip, squeezing her eyes tightly closed.

“Laura,” she whispered. But Laura didn’t answer back.

* * * * * * * * *

Piedemonty’s Groceries

Piedemonty’s Groceries was a well established grocery store that had upheld traditions for over a century, located in the bottom floor of a graceful old five story building. It was a generously sized store on a nice street, which still sold mince pies, fresh made everyday, and had liquorice stick stuffed in a great glass jar next to the counter.

Jarod, however, didn’t give a damn. On another day, he would have thought it quaint, and explored the thick black ropes of liquorice in further detail. Instead he wandered in a daze through the widely spaced aisles, fighting wave after wave of dizziness. He had not eaten in two days. He was cold, despite the heavy coat he wore, and confused. Had he been in a position to understand all this, Jarod would have instantly diagnosed himself as suffering from shock.

Instead, Jarod examined shelves full of candy. It had always cheered him up before. Several other patrons were shopping, and Jarod was conscious of the fact some were staring at him. He drew his jacket about himself tighter, wincing when he knocked his arm. He wondered if the blood had seeped through the sleeve of his shirt yet.

“Jarod,” a voice behind him whispered. Jarod closed his eyes tightly.

“He’s not taking the break-up real well,” the voice murmured. For a moment Jarod was back in the ’67 Ford, the sun shining and Zoe driving, and Jarod was confused and a bit excited by the turn of events…

Jarod opened his eyes. He stared blankly at the shelves in front of him. Then he turned around and strode out of the store.

* * * * * * * * *

Seattle City Mission
Counseling services
Seattle

Dr. Lily Nixon closed her appointment book with a sense of finality. She’d had to see two clients that day, even though it was the holiday season, and was now looking forward to nothing more than going home and curling up in front of the fire with a good book. First, she decided, a cup of tea to soothe her hectic nerves.

Lily gathered up a few files and her appointment book, tucking them neatly inside her briefcase. Striding through the nearly empty corridors of the mission, she sighed. Around the holiday she always felt nostalgic, remembering happier years. Idly she rubbed her ring finger, thinking of the time, four years ago in a divorce court, when she had taken off her wedding band for the last time.

“Hey, Lily,” a voice said as she entered the staff lounge, and looked up, smiling warmly. Dr. Jason Fairfield had been her good friend for many years, and even put in the good word for her when she had applied at the mission for a job.

“Hey Jase, how are you?” She sighed, grabbing her cup and setting the jug to boil.

“Not so bad. Been better,” Jason replied, almost in a grimace. Lily smiled, while Jason watched her speculatively.

“You finished for the day?” he asked. Lily nodded, smiling, while Jason kept watching her. The implications of his question set in and she raised her hands, backing away.

“Oh no you don’t, Jason Fairfield. I’m going home!” she protested. Jason stayed silent. Lily noted that he looked unusually tired, and sighed in resignation.

“I can’t believe this!” she muttered. Jason shrugged.

“I wouldn’t ask, but I’m full up all week… he seems desperate, Lily,” he said finally. Lily nodded, adding sugar and cream to her tea and stirring thoughtfully.

“Where is he?” she asked, blowing on the hot drink before taking a slow sip. Jason smiled, coming over to give her a quick hug.

“Thanks Lil, I knew you’d help. He’s in the waiting room,” Jason told her. Lily nodded.

“I’ll see him as soon as I’ve finished this,” she told Jason. He smiled gratefully, then checked his watch.

“Anyway, I have to go, I’ve got someone at two.”

Lily watched Jason’s retreating back, then heaved a deep sigh. Although she enjoyed her work, the long hours were often a strain. It didn’t help that the lost souls who came in usually wanted to see someone straight away. Finishing her tea, Lily rinsed out her cup and headed back to her office, unlocking the door and switching on the lights before heading off to find her latest client.


Act III

“Jarod? 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.

“Why?”

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.

“Jarod?”

“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.

* * * * * * * * *

December 29

“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.

“Friends forever.”

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.”


Act IV

“This is it,” Lily announced, checking Jarod’s file. She and Jason looked up at the house before them, at the scattering of lights that were on.

“You sure you want to go through with this?” asked Jason in concern as they entered, pausing in the spacious foyer to check the list of names. Lily pointed at one, J. Barrows, on the third floor.

“He needs my help,” she stated confidently. Jason shrugged as they climbed the stairs. On the second floor landing, Jason paused.

“What’s that?” Jason asked, pointing to one of the apartment doors. It was covered with police tape, proclaiming it to be off limits. Lily sighed, closing her eyes tightly.

“I think… I think it’s Trevor’s apartment.” She sighed, opening her eyes. Lightly she ran back down the stairs, checking the name for apartment 2C. She jogged back up to where Jason was standing, a frown marring her delicate features.

“T. Jones,” she stated, breathing hard. Jason’s eyes widened.

“What sort of a man stays in the same house where the guy he feels responsible for committed suicide?” he asked gruffly.

“A confused one,” Lily stated. She led the way up the second flight of stairs, wandering down a narrow hall until she found the stairs leading to the attic. Outside Jarod’s door she listened, but heard nothing. She turned back, casting a glance at Jason, then took a deep breath and pounded on the door. She waited a few moments, then knocked again.

“Jarod? Are you in there? It’s Dr. Nixon, Lily, from the mission! I wanted to see if you were OK!” she yelled. There was no reply. She was just about to bang on the door once more when it opened slowly. Jarod stood in the doorway, looking weary.

“What do you want?” he demanded, leaning against the frame.

“We, that is, Dr. Fairfield and I, we were concerned about you,” Lily told Jarod. He looked over her shoulder, at where Jason gazed up at him broodingly. Then he stepped aside, allowing them both entry. Lily stopped in the middle of the large loft, noticing the lack of furniture. On the kitchen bench she saw an old towel, stained with fresh blood. She rounded on Jarod.

“The same arm? Or a different one?” she hissed, furious. Jason stepped back, watching the scene unfold. Jarod looked away.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he muttered. Lily snatched up the towel and waved it at him. Jarod grabbed it off her, stuffing it in a drawer. He was caught off guard when Lily stepped forward, pushing up the sleeve of his black shirt on his right arm; the arm which had remained untouched when Lily had first seen him. There were now shallow cuts up and down his forearm.

“You just want the pain, don’t you Jarod, the blood is just messy, isn’t it?” she asked, glaring at him. Jarod wrenched his arm away from her, and Lily clenched her fists in frustration. “Why come to me to help you, if you have no intention of helping yourself?” she demanded. Jarod gathered an edge to his gaze.

“I could take you to court for breaking confidentiality, you know,” he muttered, casting a meaningful at their observer, Jason.

“I had good cause, Jarod. I can break privilege if I feel you are a danger to either yourself or others. At the moment, I’m not sure whether it’s one or both,” Lily said, her look hard. Jarod’s expression turned anguished, and she softened. “Talk to me, Jarod,” she pleaded. Jarod stared at her mistrustfully, and began to pace.

“What about him?” Jarod asked, cocking his head at Jason.

“He stays. It would be asking for trouble to stay alone with a distressed client. You’re smart, Jarod, I got that. Don’t make me justify the obvious.”

Jarod ran his hand through his hair, doubt whispering in his ear. He had an underlying fear that Lily was just here to cause him more pain, which was completely unfounded. An inner battle waged within him, but the pain and darkness threatening to consume him made his mind up for him.

“Make yourself comfortable,” he said wryly, waving at the bare room. With a thump he sat near the bed, resting his back against it. Lily chose to sit cross-legged opposite him, while Jason remained standing.

“I saw the police tape downstairs, Jarod. Was that Trevor’s apartment?” Lily asked gently. Jarod nodded in silence.

“Why are you staying here? Why torture yourself this way?” she asked.

“Rent control,” Jarod muttered, and chuckled. Lily was not amused.

“It can’t be nice to be reminded of your friend’s death every day, Jarod.”

Jarod twisted his fingers together. “You know, I was a psychiatrist once, and it’s overrated--”

“Stop procrastinating.” Lily interrupted. Jarod closed his mouth with a snap. He stared at his hands for a few moments.

“It’s my fault he’s dead. I stay here because I don’t want to forget that its my fault,” he said finally. Lily nodded, relieved they were finally making progress.

“You blame yourself for his death. That’s natural, you’re suffering from survivor syndrome. You feel guilty because he’s dead while you are still alive,” Lily said. Jarod shook his head impatiently.

“It’s my fault! I should have done more, I could have…” He trailed off, shifting uncomfortably.

“Guilt is a healthy emotion. It stops most people from doing bad things, or at least makes them repent. You are not suffering from guilt. You are shamed. Shame is an unhealthy emotion,” Lily stated decisively. She leaned forward, attempting to make eye contact with Jarod. “Why are you ashamed of yourself Jarod?” she asked softly. Jarod’s face flashed emotions, ranging from fear to fury, and he scrambled to his feet, pacing once more.

“What the hell do you know?” he yelled. Lily stood slowly. “A head shrinker, that’s what you are, drawing answers from the air!”

“Answer the question, Jarod!” Lily thundered. He whirled to face her, his face flushed with anger.

“I’m ashamed because I killed my lover,” he snarled. A moment passed, where Lily stared at him in stony silence.

“You’re a liar, Jarod,” she told him softly. She sat down, her back against the wall, watching as all the fight left the man in front of her. He sat down once more.

“Her name was Zoe,” he mumbled. Lily nodded for him to continue, inwardly pleased with the breakthrough.

“She was beautiful. Tanned skin and dark eyes and red hair, which had this kink to it. She was so carefree. Not the smartest girl… but smart when it came to people, you know?” he asked. Lily nodded, smiling. Jarod, having finally stopped fidgeting, stared down into his lap.

“I have… enemies. Enemies who would do anything to hurt me. That’s why I travel so much.” Jarod, his eyes bright, rubbed his hand across his jaw, turning his head and staring off into space. “They… they killed her,” Jarod explained, tears streaming down his face. “They killed her because they knew it would hurt me. They did it to get at me. It’s my fault she’s dead!” he choked out. Lily watched him in silence as the dam seemed to break, and Jarod buried his face in his hands, sobbing uncontrollably. Lily leaned forward, placing a consoling had on his back.

“People can be cruel, Jarod. You mustn’t blame yourself for something you couldn’t prevent,” she murmured soothingly. Jarod shook his head, his body shuddering with grief. “You can’t carry that guilt around forever Jarod, it will break you. You have to keep on with your life.”

“I have these dreams… Trevor and Zoe, or just Zoe, with her dead hands… I was thinking about Zoe when Trevor came to see me,” he said, raising his head. “It didn’t click, what he was saying. I was so preoccupied with my thoughts about her that I didn’t realize his intentions. I could have helped him, that night, but I ignored him. I was so consumed with my own needs that I ignored somebody else’s.”

Lily frowned, troubled by Jarod’s need to help others. He was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, and seemed to think that he could save everyone if he only tried a bit harder.

“You’re right, Jarod, you could have saved him. Once. You could have stopped him from dying a few days ago, but the truth of the matter is, if he really wanted to die, you could not have helped him. People who are suicidal almost always make more than one attempt, Jarod, no matter what sort of help they receive.” Lily explained. Jarod looked up at her, his expression dubious.

“Jarod, you have to be prepared to deal with your grief. If you continue to bottle it up, I can’t help you. Nobody can.” Lily rose slowly, staring down at Jarod in sympathy. “Can I come back tomorrow, Jarod?” she asked gently. Jarod nodded slowly, and slowly Lily and the silent Jason withdrew. Lily cast one last look at Jarod as she closed the door behind her. He was staring reflectively at his hands, his shoulders slumped. Lily sighed, sharing a grimace with Jason as they headed out to his car.

“Did you notice he was always doing something with his hands when he got particularly upset? And his dreams…” Jason mused. “Do you remember that case I had a few years ago? Little Sarah Wilmington?” he asked. Lily nodded, not getting his point.

“Sure. Her dad would get drunk, beat the crap out of her mother and threaten the poor girl until she was scared senseless. You reported him and he got locked up. Why?” Lily asked, confused. Jason smile enigmatically, then turned to watch the scenery fly past.

“She used to draw me pictures of her family. Stick figures, they all were, she was only six, but she always used to draw her father with these big black hands… it’s what first made me realize what was wrong…” Jason said slowly. Lily’s eyes widened, and she looked at Jason in surprise.

“You think he’s been abused?” she asked. Jason shrugged.

“I think he’s suffered something… the hands, it always represents control…”

Lily focused her attention back on the road, saddened by her colleague's insight into Jarod’s psyche.

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod.

Jarod turned around. He was naked, the hard yellow rock hot beneath his bare feet. Zoe looked up at the blue sky, her arms stretched up to the heavens.

Save me, Jarod.

Jarod stepped up beside her, looking over her shoulder at the waves crashing below, a hundred foot drop.

Please Jarod, save me.

He braced his hands on Zoe’s ribs, holding her. He smelled her skin, kissed her neck. It felt natural that they were both naked, under the sun.

Jarod, please!

Jarod smiled, his hands sliding around to Zoe’s shoulder blades.

Jarod?

Jarod lifted Zoe’s cold hand, pressing a kiss to it. Then he pushed her off the cliff.

“Zoe!”

Jarod seemed to be making a habit of falling out of bed. He sat up, rubbing his side. He recalled the dream, and grimaced. He rose to his feet shakily, perching on the edge of his bed, then lowered his head to his hands and wept.

* * * * * * * * *

December 30

Contemplating her phone, Miss Parker couldn’t deny how nervous she was at the prospect of what she was about to do. Reluctantly she lifted it, hitting the power button then dialing slowly. Holding it to her ear she mentally calculated the differences in time zones. Early morning in the States would mean evening in Italy.

“La buona sera, questa è parlare di Michele.” Michele said into the phone. Miss Parker smiled tremulously.

“Hello, old friend,” she murmured.

“Ciao, amico anzian,” Michele said after a pause. Miss Parker sighed.

“Please don’t speak Italian, Michele, you know I’m getting rusty.”

“Then perhaps you should visit more,” Michele chided gently, in English. “Then it would not be a problem.” There was a moment of silence. “Why did you call?” Michele asked finally.

“I… I’ve been thinking. About old times.” She sighed. Michele chuckled, low in his throat.

“Ah, you are blushing, almost twenty years late, si?” he asked. Miss Parker laughed.

“Well, we did do a lot to blush about…” she murmured. “Do you remember the time Laura planted magazines full of men in Ricky Gellan’s room right before he had a party, so all his friends thought he had a secret?” Miss Parker asked, suddenly taken by the memory. Michele rumbled with laughter.

“You did things too, amico anziano. What was her name, Deanne? You convinced her to let you do her hair and she regretted it much.” Michele snorted.

“We won’t mention what you did to the Dean’s car,” Parker reminded him gently. There was a small, comfortable silence.

“Not so long between calls, next time, hmmm?” Michele said after a while. Miss Parker smiled sadly, tears in her eyes.

“Bye, Michele,” she murmured.

“Buona notte, il mio caro Parker.” Michele said softly, and Miss Parker ended the call.

Still smiling a fond smile, she reached into the bag beside her, pulling out the cheap frame she had bought in a drugstore. Opening up the back, she eased the photograph of Laura and her baby in, replacing the plywood backing when she was done. She studied it for a moment, then sat the framed picture on her coffee table. She stared at it for a moment, brushing the tears from her eyes, then gathered up the stack of papers beside her.

Miss Parker then re-read every letter her old friend Laura had ever sent her.

* * * * * * * * *

Lily tried her hardest not to run up the stairs, but her step was quicker than usual as she climbed the last steps up to Jarod’s floor. She gave Jason a quick smile, then knocked on the door. Surprised when it swung open at her touch. Hesitantly she stepped inside, Jason close behind her.

“Jarod?” she called. She looked around, expecting to find Jarod glowering at her in every corner. But the room was empty.

“Where could he be?” Lily cried in frustration. Jason turned around, taking note of details.

“Do you think he’s cleared out?” Lily asked fearfully. Jason regarded her sadly.

“His bag is here,” he said, motioning at the bed where Jarod’s bag rested. Lily chewed on her fingers with worry.

“Why would he leave the door open? Anyone could walk in here and take his stuff,” she muttered. Jason gazed at the door thoughtfully, then turned to look Lily directly in the eye.

“What if he didn’t care? If he’s not coming back, it doesn’t matter what happens to his stuff…” Jason said quietly. Lily squeezed her eyes shut.

“He’s ending it, isn’t he?”

* * * * * * * * *

Jonah Piedemonty, great-grandson of John Piedemonty and the latest of generations of Piedemonty’s to run Piedemonty’s Groceries, had no idea that, high up on the rooftop of his building, a man suffered. In fact, none of Piedemonty’s evening customers, or the stray businessman in the offices above, knew that high above them, a man had managed to find his way out onto the rooftop.

Jarod was cold; he had forgotten his jacket. Jarod was agonized. Jarod was five stories up and moving closer and closer to the edge.

Lily had told him that he had to deal with his grief, but Jarod didn’t want to. It hurt too much. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Trevor, hanging from a ceiling fan, his spine broken, or Zoe, her face full of recriminations, and sometimes he even saw Kyle, a gaping hole in his chest. The world was a great black hole of pain and Jarod was right in the middle. He felt like he had the Midas touch, except instead of things turning to gold, everything he touched, everything he loved, died. The Jarod touch, he thought.

Zoe had been beautiful, a free spirit. With his help she had finally been able to face the death of her twin. Jarod stepped up close to the edge, peering down to the street below. He had left her once, and the pain had been great, but he had left anyway. He had left again, and she had died. Murdered. Jarod climbed up onto the ledge, sitting down, his legs hanging over the side of the building.

Jarod had held his brother's hand while Kyle died, from a bullet that had been meant for him. Jarod closed his eyes, feeling the wind sway his body back and forth. He asked so much, Jarod realized. He demanded that people help him serve up his particular brand of justice, that they adhere to his rules, that they let him walk away when the time came. Zoe had let him walk away.

Opening his eyes, Jarod realized it had begun to snow, soft little flakes drifting down from the sky. Jarod stretched out his hand, catching several snowflakes in his hand, crushing them and letting the moisture seep off his fingertips. Snow drifted onto his face, his clothes, his head. Jarod began to cry, recognizing that, for the first time since he had escaped, he took no joy in the simple pleasure of snow. The cold wind chilled his tears on his cheeks.

Filled with despair, Jarod realized there was only one choice left to him. He closed his eyes, imagining Zoe laughing. He gripped his hands on the very corner of the ledge he was sitting on, Jarod raised his body to the sky, pushing his legs away from the edge, into empty space…

Then he opened his eyes, swung his knees up over the side of the ledge, rolling onto his side and away from the edge. He stood up, raising his face to the falling snow. He closed his eyes once more, and behind his eyelids he saw Zoe, smiling and laughing. Jarod smiled, opening his arms wide.

“Goodbye, Zoe,” he whispered.

When he finally headed back to the stairwell, Jarod wondered if Dr. Lily Nixon’s number would be listed in the phone book… he had some grief to deal with.

* * * * * * * * *

December 31

Outside the mission, standing by his car, Jarod smiled one last time at Lily. He captured her hand, then tugged her into a gentle hug. He had spent most of the day talking to her, and although exhausted from the emotional roller coaster of the last few days, he was feeling much better. Lily had ordered pizza, and he’d eaten his first decent meal for almost a week. Lily had admonished that part of his confusion was probably because of hunger.

“Thank you,” Jarod whispered in her ear. Lily drew back from his embrace, smiling up at him.

“You just make sure you keep eating properly, okay?” she chided gently. Jarod nodded.

“Three square meals a day,” he stated.

“Where will you go now?” Lily asked, just a tinge of concern entering her voice. Jarod shrugged.

“I thought I might drive to New York, spend the night there. After that…” Jarod shrugged again. “Who knows?” Lily nodded.

“If you ever need a friend, Jarod, you have my number,” she told him. Jarod waved her card in the air, then tucked it securely in his bag. They hugged once more.

“Goodbye, Jarod, and have a Happy New Year,” Lily whispered.

“You too, Lily. Do something fun, okay?” Jarod whispered back.

Finally Jarod stepped away, his expression sad but strong as he climbed in his rental. Securing his seat belt, Jarod flicked out his new cell. He dialed quickly, listening to the familiar ring tone.

“Sydney.” A comforting voice answered. Jarod smiled as he pulled away from the curb.

Watching until Jarod had driven out of sight, Lily tucked her arms around herself. Jason came outside to stand next to her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. Lily gave him a quick smile as he led her back inside.

“Lily?”

“Yeah, Jason?”

“What are you doing tonight, around midnight? Bethy and I were going to watch the fireworks together, and I’m sure she’d love to have you…”

* * * * * * * * *

Miss Parker sighed in weariness, easing back against her couch. In her hands she held several photographs. The one of her mother holding her when she was a baby, the photo of her and Tommy on the swing, and finally, the picture of Laura holding her baby. She laid them out on the cushion beside her, smiling with nostalgia. All the people she had loved and lost, and for a moment she was sad that she didn’t have a picture of Faith. The memory would have to do.

When the phone rang, she knew it was Jarod. She retrieved the cordless and raised it to her ear, waiting for him to speak.

“Sometimes we just can’t hold onto things, can we Miss Parker?” he asked. In a motel room, Jarod was throwing away the remains of Chinese takeout. Three meals a day, like he had promised Lily. He turned on the television, but turned the volume down, watching the celebrations on the screen. The New Year was not far away.

“Sydney told me your friend died. I’m sorry.” Miss Parker murmured into the phone.

“He told me about Laura. I’m sorry.” Jarod said. Out of a grocery bag he took some antiseptic cream and a roll of gauze. Trapping the phone between his ear and his shoulder, he applied the cream to the cuts on his arm. They would heal nicely, leaving no scars.

“Seems Sydney knows more than he lets on.” Miss Parker gave a wry chuckle. She picked up the photograph of her mother.

“May we never take him for granted. I’ve found that is the worst thing of all.” Jarod sighed, wrapping gauze around one arm.

“Losing those we have taken for granted is far worse.”

“Would you go back, Miss Parker? Would you go back and change the way your life has been?” Jarod asked. Miss Parker tilted her head to one side.

“I don’t know. I’ve lost so much… but I’ve learned so much. I don’t think I could make that sort of decision if it was offered to me,” she reflected. Jarod finished binding his other arm, then pulled on a clean white shirt.

“Sometimes one decision is all it takes to change your life… or save it.” Jarod whispered.

“All it takes is a heartbeat,” Miss Parker whispered back. She picked up the photo of Laura, biting her lip. “A breath. A moment or two.”

Jarod sat down on his bed heavily, watching the television screen in silence. The countdown to the New Year had begun, the ball in Times Square sliding downwards. The last few seconds ticked over, and Jarod could hear fireworks as the year ended. He smiled grimly. He was determined that this year would be better than the last.

“Happy New Year, Miss Parker.”

“Happy New Year, Jarod.”

End of Episode
Two Moments, One Breath

Special Guest Stars:
Jeffrey Donovan as Kyle
Lisa Cerasoli as Zoe