Jarod entered the hotel room quietly. His mother coming with him? A dream come true. He never had much time with her. It had taken so long to find her. Having her there, every day with him. Seeing her every morning? He never could have imagined a more perfect sight.
On that same token though, Sydney would be there. They did get along well, but their friendship was still tempered at best. Wanting so much more when he was little, and kept on the outskirts of Sydney’s feelings left a gaping hole within him. His real dad helped fill that gap a little, but it could never be fully repaired.
And he . . . had to call Sydney, Father-in-Law. At least, it was more tolerable. Some people loved, some people hated, and others just tolerated In-Laws. He could still call him Sydney too. The level of Pretend shouldn’t fall that hard, and Jarod’s mom would pick up the rest of the slack for him.
Then, there was Miss Parker. She was already dressed and lying down in the hotel bed. He came over, took off his coat and laid there beside her.
“Your momma’s blackmailing me, you know,” she grunted from her side.
“Well. My mom’s a little different,” he said, relieved that she started the conversation. “What all did she get out of you?”
“Don’t even act like you don’t know,” she said.
“Sydney and her are joining the family,” Jarod said. “Your mom and dad.”
“Sydney as Father-in-law,” she said almost too low. “Surprised you didn’t put your foot down on that, Jarod.”
Not going to work. “Sydney as Father-in-law isn’t that bad. I mean, if I married you, Raines would be . . .” His stomach started to churn slightly.
“Pretending that way hurt your head for a second, didn’t it?” she said knowingly. “Yep. I’ve got one sick family tree someone should have put out of its misery years ago.”
“If anyone can help you or mom, it’s worth it,” Jarod said, not letting her get to him. “That’s that, Parker.”
“Never agreed to anything with him,” Miss Parker warned him. “All I agreed to was being in the same house and being . . . a loyal Pretending wife. What the hell is your mom’s problem, demanding that of me?”
“Old-fashioned?” Jarod teased. “She does come from a more decent era.”
“Your mom’s favorite song is Ragdoll, Jarod, don’t feed me that baloney.” She curled her pillow up tighter. “She thinks that we are just supposed to end up as one happy family. Probably trying to land me as an obedient wife for you since she missed so much time with you. That’s not healthy you know, you should help her with that? Aren’t you the guy who always helps?”
“Well?” Jarod crept up closer to her. “You could tell me what she’s blackmailing you with, then I could help. After all, the truth will set you free.”
“Just go to sleep, Pretender.”
“And a good night to you too,” Jarod said, a little more smug than he should have been.
Morning . . .
“Okay,” Broots said to his daughter and Gemini. “Miss Parker is meeting us out front. Let’s go.” They each obediently started to go down the elevator. When Broots started to head outside though, something occurred to Debbie.
My coat. It would be freezing out there. “Dad, I forgot my coat.”
“Oh, okay,” Broots said. “Just go up and get it real quick. Okay?”
“I’ll come too,” Gemini said.
Debbie’s dad gave a little sigh, but nodded and headed on his way. Debbie moved back toward the elevator. If she were still real young, her father wouldn’t have let her go. She just turned 15 though not more than a week ago. Her dad babied her a lot more than he needed to. Miss Parker helped that balance though. She helped her become more independent.
She hit the elevator button with Gemini right beside her. “It’s just my coat. You didn’t have to come,” she admitted. “I don’t think my dad likes you very much.”
“I sense . . . disfavor,” Gemini admitted. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, Debbie. I honestly didn’t think I’d get a second time to see you,” he smiled. “It was serendipitous. I don’t know if that will happen again.”
Debbie shrugged. “I know.” She felt the elevator go up. “Are you going back to that little cold area where you have no one around, or back to Africa?”
“I imagine Africa,” Gemini said. “That’s where Major Charles should have gone back to. In retrospect, Ethan and I should have gone with him. It would have saved a trip. But, I wanted to stay as long as possible. Christmas was fun. Stringing the popcorn, eating the confections, sharing time with family and friends, plus adding and observing all the symbolic ornaments that hung on the pine tree that was brought indoors.” He nodded. “It was the most fun time of my life so far. I tried to remember every single thing that I could. I don’t want to lose a single memory of it.”
“Yeah. Christmas was fun,” Debbie agreed. “Maybe you can come back next year? Oh wait.” Debbie stopped and remembered. “I won’t see Miss Parker again. Dad said we have to move away. I can’t contact anyone we used to know. Not even my grandparents.”
“With the Triumvirate out there, it’s safer that way,” Gemini said as they walked back toward the room. While they did that though, Gemini spotted Jarod around the corner. “Hang on, Debbie.”
Jarod motioned to them. Debbie grabbed her coat while Gemini came toward him. “The Triumvirate are already onto us,” he said in a hurry. “It was too dangerous to leave anyone else behind. Here, take my hand, and we’ll get out of here.”
Gemini nodded. “Come on, Debbie, be careful and be quiet.” He took her hand, while he gave Jarod his other hand. Jarod led them down the stairs quietly and out the back of the hotel.
“We’ll meet up with them soon, just get in for now,” Jarod insisted. “Back seat.”
Debbie easily got in, but something twitched in Gemini as he looked around the back seat. Something felt off. He’d never been in Jarod’s rental, so it couldn’t be the feel of the car. It was the same black car he had expected.
“Are you okay?” Debbie asked as Jarod pulled away. “Gemini?”
“Yes, Debbie.” He smiled, trying not to lend on that something was wrong. It wasn’t the car. “The Triumvirate was starting to scout the hotel, Jarod?”
“Yes,” Jarod answered. “Mom spotted them, Gemini. They are blending in, trying to take us down.”
“Hm.” But. “Then why didn’t Broots stay with you? Did he get in the first car?” Gemini asked.
“Yes, Broots is fine.”
“That car only seated five,” Gemini said. “Debbie’s father would have been six.”
“Then he took the second car.”
Second guessing? Jarod didn’t do that. Even if he did, he wouldn’t do it so openly. “Why would he waste a whole second car? Why wouldn’t he just stay with you? Having two vehicles get away would be more difficult than one.” Jarod didn’t answer. Gemini was getting a terrible feeling now too. He had given his sense more of a break the more he was out in the real world than the isolated areas he usually found himself in. But now, he was paying more attention.
Everything inside of him was tingling it was wrong. He looked toward the front and saw Jarod’s hands on the steering wheel. They were relaxed at the bottom, not up on the sides or in the middle at all. In intense situations, especially with the Triumvirate out there, Jarod would have wanted to be ready to make some intense turns.
He remembered watching Jarod’s accuracy and precision through the streets of Las Vegas. The hands on the wheel did not have the same experience. “You are not Jarod.”
“Technically I am,” Jarod said back at him. “What gave it away? My driving?” He looked back toward Gemini. “I never got to Pretend to be a racecar driver. My skills are kind of meager.” He shrugged. “Gets the job done.”
Gemini felt Debbie grab his shoulder, and Gemini felt his own breathing get out of control. “Are you Jarod Hades?”
“No,” he answered back. “No, don’t worry. I’m not going to kill you.”
Still, Gemini was starting to try and figure out the lock system on the car.
“Well, that’s not going to work anymore. I’m not a real good driver yet, but I’m going to have to try again.”
Gemini felt the car speed up faster. “This is too fast for your experience level. If you have to make a maneuver, we could get hurt!” he yelled. “Please, slow down!”
“Are you going to stop trying to escape?” the clone of Jarod asked. “I promise, I won’t kill you, but if this car is going fast, then I know you can’t escape. However, you are right. My speed and my skills don’t match up. Do you want to put the little angel next to you in trouble?”
“No, Sir.” Gemini stopped messing with the locks. He looked toward Debbie. “I’m sorry. We can’t go. If we do, he could get us killed.” He looked back toward the clone. “Don’t you have any regard for your own life?”
The clone sighed. “I have regard for life. I don’t wanna hurt anything or anybody, but that’s not an option for me. I was created to carry out missions. I have a lot of focus in me, and if I try to disobey, things get bad. They take away my Miss Parker.”
“Your Miss Parker?” Gemini asked, trying to see if he could reach him on a more psychological level. “What do you mean? Do they threaten Miss Parker?”
“My focus is to be with her,” the clone said. “To love her and be with her. Without at least seeing her face, there’s so much pain. If I don’t do what they want, they won’t let me even see a single photo of her.”
Oh. “You’re Jarod Angel.” He had deduced that some time ago. Jarod had already told him about that. This Jarod though, there wasn’t anything evil in his eyes. Instead, there was an increased misery. “You don’t have to live like that. You don’t have to do what they want. Jarod, he freed me. He can free you. Just, let us out, and we can work this out.”
“Trust me. If I could, I would other me,” Jarod Angel said. “Two days without her picture is insanity on my mind. I have to have my focus in front of me. No matter the consequences.”
Gemini sat back more in the seat. He looked toward Debbie. “The Triumvirate wants me back under their control,” he said. “Mutumbo, he wanted me. Jarod said Bhekumbuso controlled the Pretenders, but Mutumbo was in charge of me.” More conversation. More humanity. More feelings. More of a chance of breaking through to him so that Debbie and he could get out.
“Adama. Mutumbo. Bhekumbuso.” Jarod yawned. “They are all fighting against each other. Mutumbo had his right to you when he joined the project in The Centre. Although he couldn’t add technology, he was offering The Centre some tasty bits for you. You see,” Jarod Angel said, “The Centre was the middle. The Center, the place where everyone could meet on common grounds. Explore new things. Join each other to experiment on new things, even if it wasn’t in their exact field. The Centre was the . . . management of different experiments between the three. Without it, the Triumvirate heads would be at each other’s throats to seize power.”
“The Centre was a mediator?” Gemini asked. How odd. “Then, are you from Mutumbo?”
“Mm?” Jarod Angel yawned again. “I should be sleeping at this time. I’m still getting used to this huge time change. Anyhow, yes and no. I was born in Mutumbo’s area, but I was taken to Bhekumbuso. He’s the only one who’s supposed to have Pretenders. But, The Centre was the mediator, and Mutumbo is trying to fight for some right. After all, I bet Adama is the one that fried The Centre.” He looked in the back seat. “Are you hungry? I can get some food for you.”
“Actually, yes,” Gemini said, knowing that if he stopped, there was a good chance Jarod could catch up. Jarod Angel would be easy to spot, he had now rented an identical car to Jarod. He would see that right away and stop. “I must use the bathroom as well. Debbie?”
Debbie had been very quiet since he said that wasn’t Jarod. She was staying invisible so that he could figure out a way out for them.
“That is a very funny joke,” Jarod Angel chuckled. He reached into his compartment and pulled out two foiled hamburgers. “You wouldn’t be leaving a hotel just to need to use a bathroom. You’d do that before you left.” He handed the foiled hamburgers to Gemini. “Don’t worry, trust me. You’ll need your strength.”
“Where are you taking us?” Gemini asked. He didn’t want to jump into that real quick to lose his trust.
“Africa,” he said. “Sorry, kids.” He looked back toward Gemini. “You’re about fifteen now, aren’t you?”
“I will be soon,” Gemini mentioned, wondering why he was asking about age.
“You are?” Jarod Angel questioned Debbie.
“She just turned it,” Gemini said for her, knowing she would not want to talk to someone who just kidnapped them. “Why?”
Jarod Angel just gave a big sigh but didn’t answer.
Gemini looked toward the back. Jarod. He should be arriving soon. Right? “You don’t have to do this,” he tried again. “You and me, were the same,” Gemini said. “I’m a clone of Jarod too. But, I don’t have to do what Jarod does. I’m not going to grow up to be Jarod. I’m me. So, Jarod’s Miss Parker? You can beat that. You can find someone else to make you happy.”
“That’s not for me,” Jarod Angel said. “Even Miss Parker is probably not for me. No one really understands the scrolls,” he admitted. “Yet, I’m stuck like this. Cruelty.”
“Maybe not. Maybe Jarod can help you break the focus?” Gemini said. “Jarod broke Miss Parker’s focus on him.”
“Aw.” Jarod Angel smiled in the front view mirror at him. “You really are a good one. I’m really sorry that I have to do this. Honestly? Just because I never killed someone, Jarod let me go. Punched me out and let me go. He’s going to sadly regret that. Too bad. In another life, maybe we could have been friends. But after this is done, he’s going to want to kill me just as bad if not worse than Hades.”
Gemini tried to read him. “You’re not going to kill us. You wouldn’t go through all this trouble just to nab us to do that.” He looked toward Debbie. “If Debbie’s insurance for me to be good and cooperate, I promise I will do that. Please leave her here for Jarod. She’s not involved in this. You can even handcuff and rope me off. She’s not necessary.
He heard another sign from Jarod Angel. “Sorry, Gemini. The Triumvirate are taking any and all paths that they see. Anything remotely even slightly hinted or mentioned in the scroll. So, Debbie Broots is very important.”
“Debbie?” He looked back toward her. Her expression was the same. He looked back toward Jarod Angel. “I don’t understand. She’s not a Pretender. She’s just the kid of someone who works at The Centre. What does she have to do with anything?”
“Everything,” Jarod Angel said. “The scrolls are so old. Even reading them can be tricky to the eyes. And no one could ever decide whether it was an angel carrying angels, or angels carrying angels. While Miss Parker did name one of her children ‘Angel’, the second was named after a god of retribution. Technically, not an angel.”
Gemini still didn’t understand. “I don’t think I comprehend what you are trying to say, Jarod Angel. You don’t think Miss Parker has the twin angels?”
“Oh. One of them, maybe. Maybe not,” he said. “But you are the twin to Jarod. No focus. You are as Jarod had been the most. The Triumvirate has always believed he needed a twin. No advanced growth. No meddling. Just one, solid, twin.”
Gemini was starting to sit back further in his seat. He felt around for Debbie’s hand and squeezed it tight.
“You already worked it out, didn’t you?” Jarod Angel said sadly. “Yeah. I know.”
Gemini started pulling at the locks again, even harder. He started to bang on the windows. “Let us out! Please, please let us out!” He took off his seat belt and tried the same thing on Debbie’s door.
“I’ll increase speed, Gemini,” Jarod Angel warned him again. “It’s not worth the life of your angel, is it?”
“She’s not an angel!” Gemini yelled as he tried even harder to get anything to work.
Jarod Angel started to increase speed. “She is the one you affectionately know, around your age. She is the only one you have come to know. There couldn’t be another one.”
“Gemini?” Debbie asked him. “What is it? What’s wrong? What’s he going to do?”
Gemini looked toward her. His eyes were filled with dread and worry. She didn’t know how to take it. Usually, his eyes held a hint of sadness, but he was so happy. He’d been happy to be out in the real world.
Oh no. “Is he going to kill me?” she asked.
Gemini took several deep breaths, and sat in the middle, buckling his safety belt. Then, he brought her close to him. “I am so sorry.” Jarod! “W-we’ll figure a way out of this, I promise. We will. I-It’ll be okay.” He kept screaming Jarod’s name in his head, over and over. Where was he? Where was he?! He watched as the car finally stopped.
Before Debbie even felt the pain, she’d been stabbed with something in her leg. Gemini tried to stop it, but he was too weak compared to the other one. “What did you do?!”
“Her shot?” Jarod Angel said again. “Nothing’s on accident. Even accidents aren’t accidents with the scrolls. Destiny’s written. I just gave her a shot that reboosted her condition again. It won’t take a year though, I’d say a good three months, give or take. Now, Mister Parker can tell you firsthand that, after so long the shot to cure it doesn’t work.” He shrugged. “The shot to cure it is in Africa.” He put the syringe down. “Told you that you should have been good. Now, sit back and relax. Jarod’s not coming.”
“Why?” Gemini said softly. “He always comes.”
“For the same reason,” Jarod Angel said. “no one ever dies at The Centre,” he chuckled. “Now, I guess that you know that, we can stop for some real food. Especially for Debbie.” He waved at her. “She’s going to need all the strength she can get.”
Gemini held onto her tighter. Debbie practically clawed back to hold him.
“He-he!” She was so distraught. “I was cured, and he!” She tucked her crying head onto the crook of his shoulder.
“It’s okay,” Gemini said softly. “It’s just insurance.” He looked back toward Jarod Angel and did something he never did before.
He never dared to try that with Raines. It could get him hurt or worse. He never did that with Major Charles, there was no need. He never had done it all in his whole life, but it came naturally.
He glared at Jarod Angel. “You’re never getting away with this.” He patted Debbie’s back. “Trust me, Debbie. He has the cure. They have the cure.”
“How do you know for sure?” She asked him.
“Because, they can’t lose you.” Gemini looked back toward Jarod Angel again. “They think the angels aren’t twins, but between twins of Jarod. That’s why they made an angel and devil of him. And that’s why.” He looked back toward her, trying to find the words.
He wanted to tell her something. Tell her the reason they weren’t going to let her die. She had believed for so long that she’d be cured, the thought that everything was beginning again? That she wouldn’t live for very long spiraled around in her mind again.
Why did they keep torturing her like that? Why her? Just because her dad worked for The Centre, they thought her life was perfectly fine to mess with? She wasn’t a toy! “Why do they keep doing this to me?”
“The first time was just to keep Jarod in The Centre,” Gemini said. “They couldn’t have known. I didn’t even know you.” They wouldn’t have known that he would get out with Jarod and face Lyle with him. That he would stick around to help with the cure to Debbie. “Scrolls. Destiny.” He was starting to hate those words. They had hurt so many. Miss Parker. Jarod. Jarod’s brother Kyle, whom everyone thought had been dead.
But that? Was small. Small, compared to what it wanted with them. At least, to him. The others were sad, but this? This would affect him. Him and her. Changing their lives forever.
“Gemini?” she asked again. “How do you know they won’t just let me die?”
“Because, you’re just as important as me.” He pulled her face back to the crook of his shoulder. “They need you.”
“The twin angels.”
“I don’t get it,” she said, her tears not stopping. “Gemini?”
“Debbie.” He tightened his hug. “I’m so sorry, I can’t explain it all to you right now!” His tears were pouring almost as much as hers, he could barely speak. He needed to tell her so much, explain what the concept was, but he didn’t. He didn’t need to do that yet. Just let her know. “They are going to make you and me into a mom and dad.” Simple. Concise. Final.
“Wait, like Miss Parker?!”
“Yes!” He didn’t know she could start crying any harder, or that he himself could. But for several minutes, each of their souls poured into one another. They each went through their emotions, and through the physical effects of worry and stress.
Jarod Angel had to stop the car so that the angel could vomit. He didn’t want that riding around with them. He looked behind them. Jarod was nowhere to be seen. By the time he figured it out, he’d be in the clear, his task done. While Debbie got out the last of her reserve, Gemini had watched over his angel. Helping her get through it, and having his own tribulations a little too.
In the end though, it was over. In a day or so, those kids would be in the hands of Mutumbo. Yet, he felt uneasy himself as he found himself staring at Gemini’s eyes.
It was a look that he never caught in Hades eyes. He’d only seen them in pictures of Jarod that he had to study. It was a look, a hard look, that only Jarod could give. It was something he could never master, or come close to hoping to master.
It was the look that had been photographed during his retribution. The more sinister the sinner, the harder the look.
It said with extreme clarity to him: I will fucking kill you.
Jarod Angel just looked away, unable to match it back.
Truly, the twin the scroll was talking about was Gemini.
Airport . . .
“We’re almost home free, Pumpkin,” Broots said as he looked at his daughter. She seemed extra perky today. “A new life is just around the corner for us.”
“I’m really excited,” she said. “Dad. I can’t wait.”
“Me either,” Broots said. “A little scary though. The Centre was there for a long time. But, new start. Just like Miss Parker said.”
“A new start,” Debbie replied. “We’ll be like regular people.”
Broots looked back at her. He thought she felt like a regular person? Had all the years at The Centre made her feel worse than he had known? “Yeah. It’ll be okay.” He looked back toward Gemini. He was just staring out the window. “You’re going to have to say goodbye to your friend soon.” Yes! Okay, so his daughter had just turned fifteen and boys were over the horizon. At least it wasn’t Jarod’s clone. The sooner he was in Africa, the better. He tried not to hold anything against him. He didn’t seem to understand his own feelings as well.
He seemed to think that all brothers and sisters held hands. Or that they did everything together with a smile. Or that some fought, but some didn’t, and they just were the kind that didn’t. Nope, nope, nope. He didn’t have to think about that anymore.
And she would start slow. New town. No interference from The Centre. A couple months at least to cool down. Then, maybe then, he’d follow Sydney’s advice and, if she took an interest . . . maybe . . . he’d let her date. Growing up so fast.
Besides, Gemini didn’t seem like himself much in the car. He didn’t speak much. Mostly looked out the window. Maybe he was thinking about how he missed Africa? Hopefully.
Broots got out of the car with Debbie as the rest of them pulled up.
“Okay, Mister Broots.” Jarod shook his hand. Broots noticed it was with a great deal of enthusiasm. In probably seeing him go. “Thank you for all the help you gave me,” he said. “I want you to stay with the safehouse location and people I send you to, until you find your own job. Just, use your money instead to survive on. You’ll be fine.”
Broots nodded. “Okay.” He nodded toward Debbie. “Come on, honey.”
“Coming daddy!” Debbie gave him the biggest hug, making his whole heart come to life. This whole thing had really affected her.
“We’ll be just fine.”
“Yeah. You enjoy your safe house,” Miss Parker said strangely. She knelt down toward Debbie and spread her arms out.
Debbie left her dad to receive the hug from Miss Parker. “Your grip is very strong.”
“Hm?” Debbie never said that during a hug. “I’m sorry.” She lessened the strength in her hug. “Is that better?”
“It is. It’s much softer on my back,” she said softly. “Thank you.”
Huh. “You’re welcome?” She patted her back affectionately. She expected an ‘I’ll miss you’ or ‘I’ll never forget you’. “You take care.”
“You too. I will miss you very much,” Debbie said. She moved back over to Broots.
Miss Parker stood back up. “Enjoy your safe house.”
“Eh. It won’t be that bad,” Jarod said as he waved at Broots. “Goodbye.”
“I hope you have a good life, Broots,” Sydney said. “It feels strange actually having you leave for good after six years of working together. Take care of yourself, and Debbie too.”
“I will.” Broots nodded at him. “Goodbye, Sydney.” He looked toward Miss Parker. “Well?” He chuckled. “I guess no more Parker kisses.”
“Are you kidding?” She stepped right up to him, and wrapped her arms around him. “I want one more. A big one, almost Mister Parker.” She pressed her lips to his almost hungrily.
“Oh dear.” Margaret patted Jarod’s back. “Last time, sweetie,” she whispered.
Broots didn’t hear Margaret’s words at all though, sensing nothing but the sweet goodbye. The past months ricocheted in his mind about how beautiful she’d been, and how he never overstepped a single boundary with her. And even though he felt safe, and it was the right thing, that regret festered up in him and he pulled her closer.
Margaret cleared her throat lightly.
With their tongues and minds both focused on each other, time seemed to just stand still. Until the sound of large luggage landing on the floor quite loud hit Broots ears.
“Whoops!” Jarod said quite loudly in the middle of the airport. “I seemed to have dropped your luggage, Mister Broots.”
“My compassionate Jarod,” Margaret said. “Wanted to carry your luggage for you.”
“Yep, so let’s go.” Jarod practically pulled him away with his free hand. “It’s good to see you leaving, Broots. I mean, from The Centre,” he said. “Debbie, come on! Let’s get you on your plane.”
“Coming, Jarod!” She said excitedly. She waved to everybody one more time as Jarod passed the tickets to the person in charge.
Outside the Airport . . .
Jarod seemed to have a little extra kick in his step. Last time dealing with that. Especially since he already had Broots’ match quite close by. They would either hit it off stupendously, or Argyle would finally take the dive and have Mona marry him. Either way, someone would get a happier ending, and he could work later on the other.
Much later. Right now, his only focus was to get into a better position. The rental car of Miss Parker’s and Broots didn’t do much good now that they only needed two cars. Jarod had his rental, and so did Sydney. Jarod opened the back door. “Come on, Gemini.”
Gemini had a strange overglazed look in his eye. He didn’t answer but came out of the car.
“You can be with us,” Margaret said gesturing to her, Sydney and Ethan. “Go on, in the back seat.” 34
He climbed in the back seat.
“When Jarod leaves with everyone else, we’ll take the last car to our destination. Nothing’s changed about that,” Ethan said to Gemini. “Gemini?”
Gemini looked toward him and nodded.
“Are you okay?” Ethan asked. He was never able to read Gemini half as well. The voices tended to focus on his sister, his brother, and sometimes himself.
Gemini just nodded. “Yes.”
Yet. He still felt uneasy. “Let me know if something is wrong, okay?”
“Okay,” Gemini simply said, then smiled, “but everything is wonderful.”