Hotel some time later. . .

“Hm.” The hotel manager looked at the huge clan of family that was checking in. Not surprising. Not only was it Christmas, but it was a huge lot. “Holiday plans fall through?”

“You could say that. I’m Jarod and we need a place to stay,” Jarod said, speaking for them. “Do you have enough rooms available?”

“I have three. I think I have enough. Who wants in what?”

“This here’s my brother.” Jarod yanked Broots over. “These two kids over there are his children.” He gestured to Gemini and Debbie.

“A single bed and a double bed, or two double beds. We’ll see in a minute.” The hotel manager wrote some information down. “Who else?”

“My wife and I,” Jarod said as he gestured toward Miss Parker. “We’ve got our two babies.”

“I don’t do cribs,” the Hotel Manager warned him.

“Of course, uh,” Jarod looked at the Hotel Manager’s nametag. “Dave, no problem. We’ve got small bassinets for them. We just need a double bed.”

“Okay. I got one of those.” Dave wrote down the information.

“Then there is my wife’s family,” Jarod said finally. “Her brother and parents.”

Margaret smiled calmly along with Sydney while Ethan waved.

“Okay.” He tallied up the damages, gave out the keys and Jarod took them.

It wasn’t the best hotel out there. There wasn’t a breakfast, a hot tub, a swimming pool or anything like that. There was no laundry service. It was in a decent living area though, which meant less chance of crime.

Jarod usually stayed on the lower end when he didn’t need to be found, but he also had a lot more people to consider. The sooner he figured out how to get them all squared away, the better.

Each of them moved to their rooms. Miss Parker took a moment to sit on the bed.

“Relax,” Jarod insisted as he joined her in sitting on the bed. “This place will do.”

Miss Parker moved and went over toward the small bassinets. They looked out of place on the cheap, hotel floor. She knelt down and looked in on them. “At least they sleep.”

“Long day,” Jarod insisted. “Hell of a Christmas?”

“I usually don’t do this much over the holidays,” she said. “Harbor Centre fugitives might need to stay off the Christmas list.”

“At least it happened much later. Makes me feel like Christmas was a success.” Jarod looked out the window. “Nice and dark.” He came over to the bassinets beside her. He knew she was physically moving away, distancing herself from him. “I grabbed our DSA cases too. I always have those not too far away. But, I never watch yours,” he said. “How do you usually end your Christmas?”

“Oh? After bringing fugitives into my home, capturing your mom and going for a sleigh ride, getting kidnapped by some high school sweetheart kind of clone, and running from my life from the Triumvirate?” She shrugged. “Usually a cup of cocoa right before bed.”

“Great to see I kept on track with the holiday,” he said. “You’re scared, Parker. I can see it. The Centre’s gone. Your power is gone.”

“Just a building,” she said. “I’ll be fine. I’m always fine.”

“No. We’ll be fine,” he assured her. “I don’t know about you but it’s been a hard day.”

“Hard?” She touched Onyssius’ hand, gently playing with it. “What was the hard part? Catching another clone, or dealing with your dad and sister?”

Oh. If only he could accuse her of lying. “We’re not all on the same page right now. Maybe at a different date.”

“Oh, well. For a first Christmas, not half bad for them.”

Not half bad for Jarod either. It turned out even better than he planned. He just had one more thing he wanted to try. He reached into his DSA player, the one place she wouldn’t look. He hesitated for only a few seconds. “I don’t have cocoa, but I have something.”

He held the small sprig of mistletoe over Miss Parker’s head. She didn’t see it yet.

“What do you have?” Miss Parker asked lazily.

The many ways he had wanted to play it. He knew the way he should play it. He scooted up close to her and gave her a small kiss on the cheek.

Now she looked up. “You’re getting weird again, Jarod. Grabbing mistletoe for a kiss on the cheek?” She looked toward him. “What are you trying to do?”

“Nothing.” He pulled the sprig back, rolling the tip between two fingers. “Being festive. It’s a tradition thing. I like to sample everything.”

“Hm.” She seemed to have bought that one as she got up off the ground and headed toward the hotel bed. “Another strange hotel.” She looked back toward Jarod. “Another strange bedmate.” She climbed up on the right side. “It’s like my college days all over again.”

Jarod lost his smile on that one as he came back over to her.

“Well, The Centre is gone. Hades is out there, but I can’t block him. He’s not killing anyone or screwing with any identities yet. It looks like you completely won, Jarod.” She sighed. “After we ditch everyone, how do we handle this two house thing?”

Uh. Oh. That’s right. Jarod made that offer to her. “Soon. You’re still breastfeeding anyhow, you should be right beside them.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “I can stop and see them, Jarod, that was part of the deal. That’s not an excuse.”

Not ready, I’m not ready for this part. When she went out on her own, into her own house, she would be bringing different men into her bed, and he wasn’t going to let that happen.

Not anymore.

“Jarod?” She raised her voice slightly. “Jarod, damn it, you better not have been lying.”

“There wasn’t enough time.” Jarod looked back toward her.

“Enough time for what?” Ooh. She was tired of being yanked around. With everything that already happened, he could understand that. “Jarod, now is not the time for teasing me.”

Jarod would never break a promise. He didn’t want her going off on her own yet, he was still trying to reach her. He tried twice in the past with love. Valentine’s day, which failed miserably. Carthis which . . . was also just too fast. There was too much friction that way. He had to gain her trust, to find out what she was hiding, to reach into her.

Then, he could be with her. I’m not going to get a choice. Men are going to be holding my Miss. “I don’t lie, but . . .” but he remembered something. New variables added to the equation. He got out of the bed. “But I’ll be right back. I’m working on something right now. Okay?” He moved out of the hotel room.

His Genius did have an idea. He moved over toward the hotel room where Ethan, Sydney, and his mother were in. He knocked on the door rapidly.

Sydney answered it. “Yes, Jarod?”

Sydney. “I need to talk to my mom.” Sydney nodded and moved away. Jarod looked straight at his mom. “Mom.” He moved over to her bed. “I need to re-ask you again to come with us.”

Margaret sighed. “Jarod.”

“You said once that . . . well, you thought I deserved my own angel. Remember?” He said. “I need your help. I can’t just up and tell Miss Parker anything. I’ve tried it. Twice before. I have to start slower.”

“With friendship. Mmhm,” she agreed.

“Well, I did promise her when we would Pretend again, and the babies were born-“

“Separate houses. Oh dear.” She patted her son on the leg. “The Centre blowing up on Christmas wasn’t on anyone’s agenda.”

“I am a long way from my goal. If I give into this, then . . .”

“Strange bed fellows?” His mother wasn’t making fun of him.

“I made a promise though, to her,” Jarod said. “She doesn’t want to be a stay at home mom while I’m out pretending.”

“Ah. So if dear old mom decides to come, then she’ll feel more free?” His mom crossed his legs. “I’ve played the stay at home mother already, Jarod. Certainly Miss Parker is not going to believe that I’d be happy with that arrangement either.”

Jarod rubbed the top of his forehead. “Something. I must be missing something.” He squeezed his bottom lip between his fingers, trying to think. There had to be a way to keep her from ending up with different men every night without making it sound like he was trying to contain her.

Because that was exactly what he was doing now.

“I’ll try talking to Miss Parker,” his mother said. “You stay here with Ethan and Sydney. Let’s see what dear old mom can come up with, shall we?”

Margaret looked at the room Jarod shared with Miss Parker. She could feel it. Somehow, it would happen. She opened the door and saw Miss Parker. She was already dressed for bed. “Hello, Miss Parker.”

“Oh, Margaret.” Miss Parker gave her a warm smile. “Come on in if you want. Jarod went to who the hell knows where again.”

“Mm. Talking with Sydney, so I figured I would take a little time with you?” She closed the door behind her and approached Miss Parker. “I believe Jarod is free again to go Pretending with you?”

Miss Parker nodded. “Seems that way.” She rubbed her eye. “I don’t know. He’s ducking out on me. He’s hiding something.”

“He isn’t hiding anything you don’t know,” Margaret said. “And you know.”  She wasn’t surprised when Miss Parker knowingly looked toward Angel and Onyssius then back at her. “You have everything you actually want right now. Jarod has everything he could ever want right now. He knows he can’t pull you in, and you refuse to come in yourself.”

Miss Parker backed away toward the bed, moving her hair behind her ear.

“He doesn’t know I’m saying this. I’m just supposed to be doing something clever from wanting you to go into a separate house from him. Because, you know, that-“

“That he doesn’t want others touching me,” she said softly. “He took his little crush and escalated it full time. I know. I haven’t been blind.” She moved around the room. “I told you before, Margaret. Jarod and I . . .”

“The Angel? The Angel that carried the angels?” Margaret said as she came closer. “Feels the hell of the world around her. Whether she is doing good, or whether she is doing bad, she feels no inner peace.”

“Are you reciting the scroll?” Miss Parker asked. “You said you shouldn’t do that.”

“It’s confusing, but, when you know when something is certain, you can go back and see it.” She stepped forward and touched Miss Parker’s face. “Jarod can try a thousand years and never reach where he wants. He’s trying to start as a friend now.”

“I knew it.” Miss Parker walked across the room. “Why does he keep doing this to me?” She turned to look back at Margaret. “Seriously. This is crazy.”

“It is. He’s nuts.” Margaret shrugged. “After all, he is the sweetest man on Earth who is always out there, doing everything he can to make the world better. And oh my goodness? When the one who raised him, comes to hunt him? He bears no ill will. When the little girl comes that he once knew to hunt him and drag him back? No ill will. Even when someone he never met who hunted him ended up in trouble. He helped him. Nothing in return.” She sighed. “And yet, he keeps chasing something . . . with a pitch fork?”

Miss Parker chuckled and started to choke at the same time. “You know, don’t you?”

“There were no secrets between Catherine and I.” She stepped closer to her. “The Centre was cruel, Miss Parker. I am very sorry that you can never use your first name.”

She looked back at Margaret again. “I had a beautiful Hippocratic nickname.”

“It’s not Hippocratic. You hide yourself so well because you’d been taught from the other side, Miss Parker,” Margaret said. “Everything inside of you will always fight him. Even if he’s your friend. Even without focus treatments. Even . . .” She looked toward Angel and Onyssius. “Even if you have the whole of destiny pulling you toward him. You’ve been told before, about Hades, haven’t you?”

“I didn’t know if he existed,” Miss Parker said. “In whatever shape or form. I certainly didn’t know Hades would be Jarod’s clone. Who had him, how old he was, if I knew? I never would have even tried to leave The Centre. Involved anyone else in my life.” She moved toward her children. “They are good, deep down, my sweet Angel and Onyssius. They will be good.”

“You are good too,” Margaret said. “You aren’t a devil, Miss Parker. You’ve been the angel trapped in hell. That’s the real reason that even someone like your father had to give you a nickname. Why your mother couldn’t call you it either. No one did. Not even that treacherous man Raines dared to do it. The Triumvirate saw a sign, and it was not right.”

Miss Parker stayed in front of the bassinet. “Jarod. At most, maybe, we can be friends. I . . .”

“You met Hades, during the birthing. Jarod said so.” Margaret placed her hand on her shoulder. “Did you feel any kind of attraction at all?”

“Not a blip,” Miss Parker said.

“See?” She took her hand off of Miss Parker’s shoulder. “It’s true, you can’t deny the scrolls. They come true, no matter what. But what they had for you? Was read wrong. That is why they are sooo dangerous,” Margaret warned her. “Do not rebel against anything because you believe in a destiny written for you, that was wrong.”

“When daddy first called me up,” Miss Parker admitted. “He said Jarod left. I just, I wanted to catch up to him. I wanted to make him see that he needed to get back. I didn’t want to be weak, I couldn’t be weak because I didn’t want to do it. I never wanted to do that. But, it was hard. I never saw the scrolls.” She gulped. “But I was told of my future from such a young age, Margaret. To this day, I’m still scared I’m going to make everything come true.”

“I saw that. But you can’t deny it. Look what you had, and with whom.” She gestured to Onyssius and Angel. “And there’s no way Jarod would care so deeply for someone so evil. Let him in? At least, let him see the DSA’s. The past that was taken from him. Let him understand.”

“It’s all sooooo screwed up. When he escaped, why did he keep leaving things for me? Why did he just stay a step above The Centre, why not so far out that he lost that ability to stay connected? I mean, why me? Why not just Sydney?” She was starting to break down. “And why’d he have to take my focus away? That was . . . my best-“

“Defense against him.”

“Not to mention he won’t . . . make me mad,” Miss Parker said. “He won’t tease me. He doesn’t mention my mother carelessly or try to whisper secrets I don’t understand. Just because he understands why I chased him, he’s . . . virtually tryingnot to annoy me.”

“It’s made it harder?” Margaret closed her eyes briefly with a smile. “Your role is not going to come true. I think you know that now.”

“I’m . . . hoping you’re right,” Miss Parker said. “I want to see Angel and Onyssius grow up.”

“You are such a sweet woman, Miss Parker.” She chuckled as she caught Miss Parker in surprise and touched her nose. “Sweet to the touch. Jarod will start to understand, once he knows your first name.”

“No,” Miss Parker said firmly. “No way, that’s not happening.”

“Mm. Yes it is.”

“No, it’s not!” She shouted. “You can’t do that. You can’t tell him my name is . . .”

“Then . . .” Margaret clicked her tongue. “You’ll keep living in the same houses with Jarod, and not take any strange bedfellows at any time, unless Jarod agrees to it.” Oh, fire.

“You can’t just , that’s not right. Broots wouldn’t play at all, too scared of Jarod. Before that, I was stuck in a cell for six months,” Miss Parker complained. “I’m not a whore, but . . . it’s been nine months.”

“I guarantee, he won’t play around on you,” Margaret winked. “When the tension and stress gets too high, you two can figure it out for yourselves.”

Miss Parker glared at her, her bottom jaw pulling inward. “There’s no way anyone’s getting any kind of mystical happy ending by the time either of us reach our limits.”

Margaret just bit her bottom lip. “No one said happy endings come first. Even a sexual relationship with you not leaving his bed will make him feel better.”

Miss Parker touched the temple of her forehead, her eyes wide. “I can’t believe this.”

“One other thing,” Margaret said. “I’m moving in with you. Jarod’s been trying to get me to stay, and I have a feeling I am going to have to watch you. Not only that. The more you rebel against the scrolls, the worse things get.”

“What do you mean rebel?” Miss Parker asked.

“I want someone to tell things to, Miss Parker. I have had these secrets building up inside me for so long. Once I do, he’s going to want to talk to you too.”

“Oh no.” Miss Parker took a step back. “Not Sydney. Not Sydney, please not Sydney. He’ll tell Jarod.”

“No, he won’t. He has his own secret,” she said. “He won’t risk it being exposed.”

“Blackmail all around?” Miss Parker scoffed. “It still feels like The Centre. Home Sweet Home.”

“I want him to come with me too. You and I, if we are ever going to get past this, Pretending the time away won’t get us anywhere.” She placed her hand in Miss Parker’s. “Let me tell him your first name, and I’m sure he’ll come.”

Miss Parker winced. “Jarod, me, you, the twins, and Sydney. All under one roof?”

“Yes, dear,” she smiled. “I am going to be your mother, and Jarod’s Mother-in-Law.”

“Mine?” Miss Parker groaned. “Why not be your own son’s mother?”

“Because the other way around, my Pretend husband? Would be Jarod’s dad.” Margaret blinked. “Do you think Jarod or Sydney could handle that? Should handle that?”

Miss Parker rubbed her mouth with her hand. “And if I say no to anything?”

“I’m telling Jarod everything I know. With no grace period, I am walking out that door and-“

“Okay!” Miss Parker agreed. “Fine. How are you going to explain it to Jarod though?”

Margaret shrugged. “The truth. I’m using blackmail.” She turned. “Miss Parker.”

“What.” Miss Parker was far from having any pleasant feelings for her right now.

“The more you rebel against the scrolls, the worse it gets. If I could, I would. I’ve tried,” she said. “I am sorry to everyone. What will be, will be.” She turned to leave the room. If only she could.

She walked past Broots’ room. If only she could. She continued walking back toward her hotel room. She stretched out her arms in front of the door before opening it.

Fooling someone who already knew she was a Pretender was a feat. While she did know Miss Parker’s true first name, and some basic details, she didn’t know anything else. All of the learning she would have to endure was past Catherine’s time. Honestly, Jarod probably knew more what happened after Catherine’s death than she did.

Margaret smiled at Jarod, her loveliest smile she could muster. “She agreed to stay in the same Pretending house with you, as well as to be ‘a good girl’.” She winked. “With other men at least. Since your so protective of your image.”

Jarod looked amazed. “How did you manage that?”

“Blackmail,” she said. She scratched her cheek. Jarod didn’t look as pleased. “Oh, Jarod. It’s just a little blackmail with some pretending that I knew a lot more kind of blackmail.” She gestured toward Sydney. “I want Sydney to come with us.”

She wasn’t surprised both Jarod and Sydney acted like she just said something extremely wrong.

“Mom.” Jarod was slowly working out what she said. “I am more than happy to let you come with us. Thrilled!” he said standing up from sitting on the bed. He went over and gave her a giant hug. “Really, that’s great. But.”

“I am not qualified for that,” Sydney said. “I will relocate myself soon, just as Broots will do. I don’t feel that is the direction I should take in life.”

“You don’t?” Margaret finished her hug with Jarod. “Are you sure, Sydney? I bet I could whisper one word in your ear. One tiny, little word, and make you change your mind.”

Sydney looked doubtful. “One word?”

“One word.” She stole a glance to Jarod. “Even something Jarod doesn’t know.”

“Mom.” Jarod tried again. “The more people on a Pretend, the harder it becomes.”

“One word.” Margaret held her finger up to him. “On the condition that you can’t tell Jarod. It’s part of the blackmail.”

Jarod winced his eyes and looked away half a second, before looking back at her. “Do you have to be so bold about it?”

“I’m not going to hide it,” Margaret said. “It wouldn’t be right to lie and tell you as well. Because, believe me, she’d know.”

“She’d know what?” Jarod asked.

“She’d know, Jarod.” Margaret’s eyes found Sydney’s again. “That you knew her real first name.”

Both Jarod and Sydney looked at each other.

“Miss Parker’s real first name?” Sydney asked. “That’s the word you think that will make me insist on coming with you?”

She gave a light nod. “Just one word. One first name.”

Sydney looked doubtful, yet curious. “A first name that would make me want to come with you?” She slowly came forward to him, scooting him back some. She also covered her mouth as she spoke. Knowing her son he could probably read lips.

She whispered it.

As she looked back toward Sydney, he looked like he’d been shot. She watched  his Adam’s apple go up, then back down. “More discussion?”

“More discussion,” Sydney insisted. He looked toward Jarod. “I need to talk to your mother alone, Jarod.”

“About Miss Parker?” Jarod was less than pleased.

“It’s not a nice name, Jarod.” Ethan’s voice came from his bed. Jarod thought he’d been sleeping. “If you know, it’ll make things more difficult.” He moved from his bed. “Let’s let Margaret and Sydney talk.”

Jarod walked around outside the hotel with Ethan. “Mom knows stuff. She doesn’t even pretend to try to hide it.”

“I guess.” Ethan looked toward Jarod. “I don’t think you can get everything, Jarod. Your mom. If she wanted to give that information to you. My sister might be lost to you.”

Jarod shoved his hands in his pant pockets. “I hate secrets.”

“She has good reason, Jarod,” Ethan said.

“I know.” Miss Parker wasn’t ready to open up to him yet.

“Sydney should go with you,” Ethan said. “My sister has such demons, all the time. Maybe he can start to help her, if she lets him in.”

“Is that why mom wanted him?” To start working with her? “Would Miss Parker accept his help?” He thought about that as he continued to walk. He’d been a psychiatrist before. But the passion for it, the renewed interest, and the time it took. All of that lied in a real one. Like Sydney. “If he could help . . . reach her.” Then, it’d be worth it. More than worth it. “Let’s go back.”

Sydney tried to hold it together as Margaret spoke to him. He learned all she knew about Miss Parker, as well as about the scrolls, and the tragedy and events that would fall for it to come true. Jarod’s mother had the same kind of capture memory as Jarod, which meant she remembered every line of the scroll that she had dared to see.

Starting to talk about Miss Parker, Margaret had to share more about the scroll for him to understand why certain things were done and by whom. Yet, there was still so much she held back.

“Is that enough for now?” she asked him. “I can’t cover everything yet, Sydney. I can’t.”

“I understand.” Sydney heard a knock on the door and answered it. Before him were Jarod and Ethan. “Jarod. If you do not want me on a Pretend with you, then I need to at least keep up along beside you.” That was firm.

“If I have you along with me,” Jarod said, being very clear, “will you try to help Miss Parker?”

“I will help not only Miss Parker,” Sydney announced, “but the turmoil that your mother has borne by herself for many years also must be addressed. I know but a tiny fraction, Jarod. It’s too much for one person to handle. She is drowning in her knowledge.” He held his fingers together. “We are at the visible part of the iceberg, with the rest underneath the murky water that must be reconciled before better things can come to pass.” He stuck his hands in his pockets. “The only way I could say that I could not come, is if you could give your mother and Miss Parker the full psychological and emotional attention and-“

“Handle my Pretends,” Jarod finished for him. “No, and I don’t think I should try.” He looked back toward his mom. All the years of separation, of the abuse of the Centre on her own mind. He glanced back at Sydney and held out his hand. “I’ll trust you, Sydney. Do not let me down.”

Sydney accepted his handshake. “I believe it’s time I go see my daughter now.”

Sydney knocked on the hotel room door that Miss Parker shared with Jarod. He steeled himself to be strong, yet gentle. He had imagined several things happening to her. Yet, he never imagined . . . not in his wildest dreams that . . .

Miss Parker’s voice finally rose. “Just get in, you know you won’t leave this be.”

Her voice was deep, but broken. Trying to stay and hold the strength of herself, while at the same time, knowing that he knew one of her deepest secrets. He came in and closed the door behind him. She was in front of the bassinets. “Miss Parker.”

“Sydney,” she said in turn. “Margaret says she wants you to follow with us. Considering everything she has on her shoulders, I think a professional yet friendly voice would be good.”

“Miss Parker.” One step at a time.

“She lost her son while he was simply a child, a true child. She hid parts of herself from the world, and while everything is coming together, her world is still falling apart.”

“I will help her,” Sydney said, “but I need-“

“Sydney, please.” Almost breaking. “I can’t deal with this right now.”

He came closer to her, looking down toward her children. “They are the sweetest of angels,” Sydney said firmly to her. “And so are you.”

Her face was staring so straight he could only see one side of it, with most of it hiding behind the coldest, shut out eyes that she could muster. It was time to break this though. “I will be proud to Pretend to be your father, Miss Parker. I will help you in any way that I can.”

He could see it finally. A tear was starting to trickle down her cheek. It was quick, unwanted and quickly wiped away by herself. But, it was at that defining moment he knew he had to say it. “I know why Mr. Parker really nicknamed you Angel.”

“Sydney.”

“Why your mother could never share it, or want to share it.”

“Sydney, please.” She shook her head. She was breaking down. Fast.

“Margaret is right,” he said firmly. “I know a hundred percent she is right. The Triumvirate was wrong!” Without a word of warning, he grabbed her and held her in his arms. “No one should ever have the first name . . . Mephistopheles.” The visible sound of the shatter of all resolve was felt.

He moved down with her on the ground, slowly. “The Centre demanded the name, I know that. I know Catherine Parker would never name you something from Faust,” he declared. “Even your father abhorred it so much, he gave you the exact opposite name.” He held her tenderly. As tenderly as he would have when she was a child, if he’d found out then.

All the years between them seemed to fade away within that reveal. “You are not a devil in the scrolls. No matter how many times the Triumvirate taught you it. Made you think that,” he said firmly.  “Tried to make you become that. You are not supposed to end up with Hades. You ended up with Jarod and had your wonderful children. Whether they are the angels of the scrolls, or simply wonderful, ordinary children? That is your life now. They. Were. Wrong.”

“It was all. They didn’t call it scrolls. It was, they just knew.” She couldn’t get it out. “I am Mephistopheles Parker, Sydney. And I never . . . as much as I told them I wasn’t . . .”

“You were, and are, a lovely normal female woman,” Sydney said as he looked back at her tear-stricken face. “That anyone would have been proud to call their daughter. Their sister. Their friend.”

“Momma,” she practically squeaked. “Dad tried, but he couldn’t fight them. No one fights the Triumvirate, but momma . . .”

“Was the only hope. The only one who never straight out agreed about your role,” Sydney said. “When she was gone, you were left without a soul . . . to defend you.” He closed his eyes. “I can’t imagine the psychological torture they must have put you through. I can imagine enough . . .” he paused. “To seek out a place of purity and safety. To find the purest in The Centre. That is why you ran to Jarod, isn’t it?” She smacked his elbow. “Yes, I saw one of the DSA’s of yours, Miss Parker, I didn’t tell Jarod about it, nor anyone else. Even though Raines would erase his memory, you were still so careful never to tell him anything. Not even for a night. How many times did you run to him? Twenty? A hundred? Hundreds?”

She couldn’t answer or wouldn’t. Sydney helped her back up to her feet.

“Jarod’s mother and I, we are right here for you.” He moved her wet hair from her face. “I suppose I should say, your mother and I are right here for you. And one day, so too shall Jarod.”

“She thinks it’s wrong,” Miss Parker said. “She also said you can’t avoid the fate, and you can’t read it right.”

“It’s quite dangerous to decipher anything as vague as what it says before it’s time,” Sydney agreed. “No names are given in it. None, except Jarod. Margaret told me that. It’s one of the reasons she doesn’t recite them to anyone. It’s why people go mad with the power of seeing it. They want to know what is what and who is who, and it is impossible. Maddening.”

“Only after something comes true can you make the connections,” Miss Parker said.

“Even that is dangerous,” Sydney said to her softly. “All I know is, the Triumvirate is wrong.”

“Maybe.”

“Will you let me help you?” Sydney asked. “Anything said between us will be strictly confidential. I never revealed anything about my patients, and I will give you that same loyalty.”

“No,” Miss Parker said. Sydney thought he had to try harder, but she pushed him slightly away. “If, and only if, I tell you something and it could help save someone? Save a life from misery or despair or death. Otherwise, I demand silence, Syd.”

“Agreed,” Sydney said.

“That’s if I open up much,” she said. “It’s my right to change my mind, or to stop, or even to start.”

“Of course,” Sydney agreed once more. “Well?”

“Well.” She shrugged. “I guess it’s getting closer to bedtime, Dad, so go tuck Mom in. Merry Christmas. Give me a few minutes before sending Jarod back in here.”

Sydney nodded.