Flying High

 

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Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne
Victoria, Australia

“I wasn’t kidding about looking like a new man, was I?”

Jarod turned at the sound of the vaguely familiar voice as a man sat down in the seat next to him and laughed.

“No, you weren’t. And I agree with everything else you said that day as well.”

“Glad to hear it.” The man eyed his face. “Where were you to get a tan like that?”

“Your favorite monolith,” Jarod laughed. “Among other places. But I spent the last couple of nights up there.”

“And did my ‘favorite monolith,’” the man replied with a grin, “get yet another photo taken of it?”

“Oh, of course. Several in fact.”

“Glad to hear it.” The man looked at him closely. “You know, I could almost believe I’ve seen your photo in the papers up that way recently?”

The American smiled. ”It wouldn’t have been about the two doctors who crashed out in the middle of nowhere, would it?”

Reaching into his bag, the man pulled out a copy of the paper and unfolded it. He looked from the photo of the man on the front page to the grinning person in the seat next to him before laughing.

“I doubt that sort of thing was what the people who were worried about you would have picked as an ideal ‘break,’ would they?”

“I’m hoping they didn’t find out about it,” Jarod replied honestly. “Not until it was over, anyway.”

“Want a picture of yourself in the paper to make your family proud?”

Jarod thought of the articles in the red notebook that was stowed in his bag and shook his head, laughing. “Thanks, it’s fine. I already got a copy.”

* * * * * * * * *

International Arrivals Hall, John F. Kennedy Airport
New York, N.Y. USA

Jarod leaned against the wall with his arms folded, his face covered by the Akubra, and watched his father examining the people disembarking from the plane. Finally, as the last of them passed and not having seen his son among them, the man was about to turn away.

“G’day.”

Major Charles turned to stare at the man whose dark eyes twinkled out of an equally dark face.

“She sent the wrong person back!”

Jarod laughed and hugged him. “Something like that, Dad.”

He looked up to see Jordan standing a short distance away and could see the hesitation in his eyes. Walking over, Jarod removed the Akubra from his head, placing it on that of his younger counterpart and slipping an arm around his shoulders as they began to walk towards the exit.

“Looks like I’m not the only one who’s improved in the past two weeks.”

Jordan tilted up the hat so that he could eye the man but remained silent. As well as the concern he had originally felt at Jarod’s possible condition upon his return, the awkwardness of not really understanding what he actually felt about this man was quickly reasserting itself. Jarod glanced at him as if surprised at not receiving a reply and his father filled the gap.

“I wasn’t that wrong before. She did send a different person home.”

Jarod grinned. “Just a little different. But it’s enough.”

“So what now, son?”

“Give me some time to adjust to being back!” the pretender protested as they reached the car.

“And you’ve ‘adjusted’ fast enough to drive us?” his father laughed and Jarod looked down to see that he was, once again, standing at the driver’s door.

“Like I said,” he commented with a grin, firmly thrusting his hands into the pockets of his long coat to keep out the cold as he walked around to the passenger side. “I need some time to adjust.”

* * * * * * * * *

25 Washington Avenue
Blue Cove, DE, USA

Sydney lifted the kettle from the stove and carefully poured the water into the mug, his eyes fixed on his watch. Jarod’s father had promised to call once they got back from the airport and let him know how things had gone; whether the trip had had the desired result. To say that he had been waiting impatiently for the call all evening was, Sydney thought to himself with a wry smile as he carried the mug into the living room, probably an understatement.

Lifting the mug to his lips, he had just tasted the first mouthful when the cell-phone on his coffee table rang. The exchange of objects in his hand took him less time that he had believed humanly possible.

“This is Sydney.”

“Miss me?”

There was a second of silence before the psychiatrist could actually respond.

“Jarod?”

“No, Sydney, it’s a Bunyip,” the voice responded dryly. “Who else would be calling you at four in the morning?”

“Well, according to your internal clock it should be six in the evening, shouldn’t it? After all, that is the local time in Melbourne, Australia.”

“That’s very impressive,” Jarod retorted. “I had to wonder if you even knew I was out.”

“Can you doubt it?” the man replied quickly. “Who do you think’s been put on the hunt for you yet again?”

“Some things never change.” There was a moment’s pause. “And some do. Sydney, I didn’t just call to let you know I was okay. I was also wondering, how are…?”

“…the children?” the psychiatrist prompted gently as the other man stopped abruptly. “Not bad. But according to what I was told, they’re missing you, Jarod.”

“They miss what I was, what Aurora made me,” the pretender snapped. “Not what I am now.”

“Aurora changed part of you,” the older man chided gently. “But not the real person you are, and at least one child knows that.”

There was a long silence on the other end but he could hear a sound of irregular breathing, as if the pretender was fighting for emotional control.

“It’s good to hear you sounding so well,” Sydney finally commented quietly.

“Well, knowing that I’d have to keep ahead of the game again,” Jarod responded, forcing a lighter note into his voice. “I thought I should wait until I was back to my fittest before I resurfaced.”

“After all those days in the Australian Outback, I’m impressed that you’re even able to walk again, let alone run,” Sydney smiled. “But as for the ‘game,’ I think the rules may have changed a little.”

“You know,” Jarod mused thoughtfully. “Somehow that’s not a surprise.”

“I sent you a little something,” the psychiatrist told him before the other man could hang up. “Consider it a ‘welcome home’ present.”

* * * * * * * * *

New York City, NY. USA

Hearing the dial tone in his ear, Jarod disconnected the call, staring up into the stars that shone, clear and cold, in the sky, before wrapping his coat more firmly around him and going back inside the tall apartment building. Softly entering the room, he glanced at the boy who lay asleep on one of the twin beds and then sat down at the table, starting up his laptop.

Activating the attachment on the email he found in his inbox, Jarod stared at the picture that was slowly revealed. He was unable to prevent the tears that filled his eyes as he looked down at the image of the small boy, the large, brown eyes that he had inherited from his father staring up into the camera and a wide smile on his baby face.

Sydney was right.

The rules had definitely changed.

End of Episode
Flying High

*With thanks to Mandy for the original idea

* The Royal Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air are genuine, non-profit organizations that operate all over Australia to assist those living great distances from standard medical and/or educational assistance. Several of the small details were fudged slightly to fit the story. For more or accurate information about the RFDS, please check out their website: http://www.rfds.org.au/

 
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