—————–

Broots relaxed with Debbie watching TV, when he heard the sound of a plane again. Miss Parker was supposed to be gone with Jarod. They didn’t even call again. He went ahead and made his way past the hallways. The house was so big, that most of it felt awkward. Him and Debbie ended up hunkering around the smallest room in the middle of it.

He opened the door, and saw Miss Parker marching toward him. Fast. “What’s wrong?”

“New plan,” she said.

“Slow down,” Jarod reminded her. “Speed walking isn’t good.”

“A little speed walking will do good. We only have so much time to get this done.” She felt Jarod clasp onto her hand. Of course. She knew what she was doing. “I can talk this out on the plane, so we can get out. We don’t have much time.”

Broots watched as Miss Parker scooted him in the house.

“Change of plans, Broots,” she said to him. “Big change. Lyle can only rule The Centre for five days. I am betting Adama wasn’t so fond of him, and after two ‘unfits’, called the shot not to let him take charge.”

“Oh. Uh oh.” Broots looked at her eyes. They didn’t look too worried. “Now what?”

“I can explain more in a second. Grab Debbie. We are all heading back to The Centre. Oh, wait.” She pointed her finger at him. “Can you do anything with Centre only live video from here?”

“Not all the way from here.”

“Okay then, let’s go. I’ll get Debbie.”

“Huh.” Broots looked back toward Jarod. “So, what’s the new plan?” Jarod wasn’t speaking to him. “Um. Okay. Used to getting thrown around to and fro.”

“Do you have treatments?” Jarod’s voice sounded bitter.

“Oh. I didn’t take them,” Broots said. “Yeah, right over here.” He walked over to the suitcase.  He put in some kind of code on the side of the briefcase, causing it to unlock. Jarod moved him aside and opened it up.

“So. This is focus.” He picked up one of the vials and looked at it. He placed it back in the suitcase, and then took it. “No more of this. I’m taking it to be analyzed.”

“Yeah, I-I don’t want anymore,” Broots agreed. “Y-you don’t think I have to outrun a lion, do you?”

“I heard it’s good for the heart rate.” Jarod moved away from him, picking up his laptop. “Centre plane. Move.”

“I’ve got her.” Miss Parker came back over with Debbie.

They all started to march to the front door.

“Miss Parker?” Debbie asked. “Where are we going now?”

“Back to The Centre to lock Jarod up.”

Debbie had a funny look on her face.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Jarod smiled at her. “It’s willingly.”

Broots tried to walk on the other side of Miss Parker, but felt himself getting yanked over to Jarod’s side. Strangely. Okay?

As they moved onto the plane, Jarod immediately headed for the cockpit.

“Two hours. Barely. Let’s hope Lyle isn’t early,” Miss Parker said as she looked at Broots. “Okay. New plan.” Now that they were finally in the air. “Jarod is coming in and out of The Centre over the comings months,” she said to Broots. “He’ll be here on Saturdays, Sundays and some minimal appearance between. You need to make it look like he’s always in there, including special locking.”

“Special locking?”

“I need it to be like a maximum security prison, where even we can’t reach him all the time,” she said. “Because he won’t be there, he’ll be out Pretending or searching for the clone.”

“Okay. I could loop footage,” Broots agreed. “If he wears the same thing, it should work. Um. But how long will it take to find the clone?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “This is just the plan so far.”

“Oh.” Broots nodded. Then, he had a funny look in his eye. “Wait. But, what if it’s not found before . . .” Ohhh. “Yikes. Uh, okay. We could find a way to track Mutumbo or Adama?”

“They won’t take us to Bhekumbuso’s domain,” Miss Parker said. “When Bhekumbuso’s replacement is announced, if we are lucky, he might come to the wedding. Then, we could track him and see if he’ll go to the Pretenders.”

“The um? The?” Broots voice was kinda dry. He chuckled. “Uh? I um.” He rubbed the back of his head. “I-I-I . . .”

“Don’t worry, Broots, we can divorce later once this is taken care of,” she said.

“Oh, good! I mean not that, it was a bad thing, but-“ Broots sighed. “Oh man.”

“In the meantime, it’s going to be way too hard to have them next to me in my office, and to let Jarod find time to see them.” Miss Parker said toward Broots. “So, you need to stay at home and watch them on the weekdays.”

“Huh? But, they are Jarod’s . . .” Oooohhh. Broots winced. “Is Jarod planning on killing me in the future? I-I mean, first, there’s this you marriage thing, and there’s his family which I’m sure he does not want me involved in, at all.” He was starting to sweat.

“He’s not going to kill you, Stooge.” Miss Parker shook her head.

“I don’t understand?” Debbie looked to her dad, then back to Miss Parker. “Jarod would never hurt anyone.”

“Broots? If it hadn’t been you, it’d be Angelo,” she reminded him. “How do you think that would have gone?”

“Y-yeah. Bad.” That wouldn’t have worked in any way.

“Nothing is for certain,” Miss Parker said. “Just, if they haven’t found the clone by then. When they do, this’ll all be over.”

“Good. Good. Cause. I really don’t want to be a Parker,” Broots said looking toward Debbie. “I mean, I-I might not wear the nicest things, o-or I’m not super tough, but I . . .”

“Not everyone’s cut out for it,” Miss Parker said. “Broots?”

“Yeah?” What else could she possibly have to add now?

“After this is over, I’m leaving with Jarod on the rest of his Sim atonement for good. I promised him that.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Broots looked toward Debbie. “We won’t be staying once you go. New city. New job. New everything.”

Debbie nodded and grabbed Miss Parker’s hand. “New start.”

“New starts can be good,” Miss Parker said as she patted her hand.

——————-

Four Hours Later at The Centre. . .

“I know for a fact, that he wasn’t in there before,” Lyle complained as Jarod ate Halloween cookies behind the glass.

“Looks the same to me,” Miss Parker said, her arms crossed toward Lyle. “Jarod has a big room. He likes to move. He’s not a fish that’s going to stay in one spot. So stop complaining.”

Lyle sighed and looked toward Jarod. “I know he wasn’t in there.”

“Well, Sydney said he was,” Miss Parker said, “and I trust him a lot more than I trust you.” She flared her nostrils at him. “One simple vacation, and you can’t even handle a week?”

“I can handle five days,” Lyle said. “I just need to convince Adama for more.”

“Hm? Two unfits in less than three months doesn’t make your record shine,” Miss Parker reminded him. “Now, I had Broots put something special in this security system. He won’t be able to get away.”

“Oh, right. Put him in his old room, where he has escaped before, and don’t expect him to?” Lyle questioned her.

“It’s a riveting piece of work,” Broots said next to Lyle. “It’s so tight, even we can’t come in.”

“Without an access code. On certain days. Otherwise, Broots has to override it.”

“Well. That’s not half bad at all, Parker.” Lyle looked from Broots to her. “Why didn’t we ever try this before?”

“Because Jarod was a little more psychologically there,” Sydney said coming over toward Lyle. “We had to grab him from Miss Parker’s house this time. He is getting better, but it’s clear now that he must be behind the glass, back in a quiet element.”

“So he doesn’t steal your kids?” Lyle chuckled as he looked back at Jarod. “Or he doesn’t steal his kids?” He bit his lip. “Honestly? I seriously doubt Broots caught your attention.”

“I seriously doubt you ever use mouth wash,” she said back to him. “You should, with all the disgusting slime that comes out of there all the time.”

“Yeah, well. Maybe it was a lonely call in the middle of the night,” Lyle said. “Maybe.” He tapped on Jarod’s glass. “Either way, I guess you would want him sealed up tight.”

“Tighter than a can of pickles,” Broots said as he scratched his chest.

“It will be better when he is more mentally aware again,” Sydney said. “He is aware of many things, just he’s not quite . . .”

“Trying to cut up Miss Parker at six months to get the kiddies?” Lyle chuckled. “Yeah, I’ll say he’s got something missing.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t help,” Miss Parker said to Lyle. “I don’t want you coming in here to see Jarod without my say-so. That’s an order.”

Lyle seemed deflated. “What?”

“Having the person here that may or may not have murdered his brother is not good on Jarod’s psyche,” Sydney agreed.

Lyle stared at Jarod for awhile. Jarod just waved, and then twiddled his thumbs in the process. “ . . . fine. If that’s what Miss Parker wants, who am I to squabble?”

“Nobody, that’s who,” Miss Parker said. “Get out.”

Lyle shook his head and left the area.

“Crude slime.” Miss Parker looked toward Jarod. She stepped forward. “Anything else?”

“Yes.” Jarod smiled and gestured toward Broots. “I’d like to have a little talk with him. We were in too much of a hurry and I was driving the plane. Didn’t get to chat too much.”

Miss Parker approached the door.

“Um? I get the plan,” Broots said. He looked toward Sydney.

“Private talk. Please,” Jarod insisted.

Sydney shrugged. “If you need anything, Jarod, let us know.”

Broots looked back toward Miss Parker, who sealed up the door behind them. “O-okay.” He waved to Jarod. “Hi, Jarod.”

Jarod waited for Miss Parker and Sydney to leave before he put down his cookie. This. This jittery man in front of him, was supposed to be watching Miss Parker if anything went wrong. And, if things were exceptionally hard, raising Angel and Onyssius when he couldn’t be there. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever  a man sows, that shall he also reap. Galatians. Know it?”

He stood up, and watched Broots almost jump out of his skin. “Those treatments do wear off fast. Good,” he said. “Sit down, Mister Broots.” He moved over to Broots and brought him to the chair to sit down. “You know the plan we have to follow, right?”

“Uh, yes?”

“Yes, you do.” Jarod spun his chair around once, stopped it and continued talking. “It’s not something I’m looking forward to, but with Miss Parker’s ulcers and Ethan’s words, I know this is the best thing I can do for her, and still do what I have to do. Of course, what I would rather do is get her and raise my family away from The Centre. But you know why that can’t happen.”

“Right. Your clone will assume your identity and kill someone you knew again.”

Jarod spun his chair around halfway and looked toward him. “Do you remember what I said earlier? I told you a statement that needed to remain true. And . . .” his face winced. “You didn’t keep it.”

“Uh?”

“Don’t be shocked, Miss Parker’s never been able to hide anything from me. Well, not when it was right-right in front of me.” He turned him to face away again and leaned against the chair. “This really puts us into a predicament, Mister Broots. Number one, I have no choice but to trust you with the most important thing in my life.”

“Miss Parker?”

“Family,” he corrected him. “Now, you are a fitting dad. You did great with Debbie. Good manners. Great personality. Very sweet and loving girl, even Gemini was taken with her.”

Gemini? “Your clone?” Broots looked up toward him. “What do you mean?”

Jarod shrugged. “Young love?”

“What?!” Broots shot right out of the chair. “Y-your clone is, no. Uh uh.”

“Not up to you to decide. It’s their lives,” Jarod reminded him. “Gemini’s not anywhere near her right now after all, but you can’t really change the heart. And, apparently your daughter and Miss Parker both have a thing for ‘funky talk’. Amusing.”

“Not amusing!” Broots mouth opened. “Not amusing at all! H-he better stay away from her, I mean, she’s still young a-a-and no! No way, I forbid it!” He spread his arms out. “No way!”

“Ah. So that’s where the fire is,” Jarod said. “Good. Because I fed Debbie, clothed Debbie, sheltered Debbie, and did everything I could to keep her safe and sound.”

“Yes, um. I thanked you for that?” Broots didn’t understand what he wanted.

“You are going to have to do that for me too. I’m going to have to trust you to do that,” Jarod answered. “Angel and Onyssius.”

“Sure, I get it,” Broots said. “I’ll be good.”

“But not too good because . . .”

“They are yours,” Broots said. “Absolutely. Live in Nanny.”

Jarod walked away slightly, back and forth. “I want to believe you. Sydney said he can help too, but I need to know that I can trust you, and you already let my trust down.” He looked at Broots. “I don’t like slippery slopes. What did you do with Parker?”

Broots seemed confused. “Lived with her?”

“What. Did Parker. Give you.”

Broots touched his mouth. “Oh. That? Well, it’s a manners kind of thing. I didn’t think you’d mind. What was I supposed to do?”

“Refuse,” Jarod said firmly.

“Oh. I didn’t think it was such a big deal? Um?” Broots winced. “Do you want me to give it to you?”

Jarod took a step backward. “That’s . . . not what you’re supposed to say.” He heard Parker laughing in the distance. “Parker.”

“What’s wrong now?” Broots asked.

Jarod moved forward from the glass and saw Miss Parker emerging. “Ooh. How much is that bitch in the window?”

She pointed at him. “That’s for making my life devoid of any pleasure for nine whole months, Jarod.”

Broots just looked at Jarod. He couldn’t tell if he was beyond mad or wanted to laugh. Or both. “What’s going on?”

“You’ll be fine, Mister Broots.” Jarod brought him to the door while Miss Parker opened it, letting him out. “That wasn’t fair.”

“What?” Broots just looked between them.

“I said he gave me a massage. I just gave one right back. And a blow . . . pop. Lovely suckers. Right, Broots?”

“Yeah, I guess?” Broots reached in his pocket and pulled out the blow pop sucker. “What was that about? Does Jarod really want this?”

“Ah, don’t worry, Broots. You keep it,” Jarod said. “Miss Parker is just being her old bitchy self again.”

“As horrible as I’ve felt lately, I will take that as a compliment.” Smart ass smile. “Come on, Broots, let’s go. There’s work to do.”

Jarod turned and watched them leave, shaking his head. Her stress? Was definitelylow. Just like he wanted.

“Jarod.” Sydney came from around the corner.

“Everyone wanted to see me screw up, didn’t they?”

“No. I didn’t know about that. I just wanted to see how you were doing? If you want, we can probably use some Centre strings to help you get back on track with Pretending. Extra phones. References.”

“Right now, I need a pen, a pencil, a notebook, and time with my DSA’s,” he settled on. “Thanks though.”

“Miss Parker . . . was back to her old self right there.” Sydney smiled. “Did you honestly think Broots betrayed you like that?”

Jarod winced. “ . . . she is pretty.”

“Yes, but Broots also values his life,” Sydney reminded him. “Broots will be faithful. Although, it would have done better to tell him why even that was not an option?”

“It’s a slippery slope,” Jarod answered, “and he’s just not what she needs.”

“And is Thomas Gates?” Sydney asked. “Or are you? I’ll get your things, and leave you alone with your thoughts, Jarod.”

——————————-

There had been what felt like thousands at first when Jarod first escaped. He thought there was a good chance it would take him five years to atone for his simulations. But, starting all over, and figuring out which Sims were which, he only had . . . “42.” Between his Sim Pretends, he had done a lot of saving others that didn’t have anything to do with his Sims. That was what made the number seem so large. As fast as he moved? A year, tops.

Then it would be time to find a place to settle. Covered in snow and away from all civilization like dad and Gemini had been. He would be with his family. But.

///“The life of a man that can’t just be one person,” she said, “and there’s no way Miss Parker is ever going to really want to settle down. She could try. I imagine one day she might have, but her whole life was dedicated to The Centre. She’s never going to be an average mom. She’ll be a good mom, but not average.” She patted his leg. “Don’t screw up like I did. Ask her if she’ll continue with you. You might be surprised at the answer.”///

What a future. Jarod looked out from the glass he was in, wondering about it. Wondering about it harder than ever. Should he pop the question to Miss Parker? Did he have the right to ask her . . .

If she would do Pretending with him . . . forever?