Jarod’s New Pretend Home

Margaret finished cleaning the dishes. They were on the third night of Jarod’s new pretend. Felt a little odd, not really doing her own pretend and following someone else’s lead. But, it wasn’t too bad. She could work on her own thing between, but it was nice to have a place to fix dinner for people and take care of it. As long as she didn’t feel stuck, it was nice to have an actual place to call home. If even for a week at a time.

As she heard clinking on the side of her though, she was surprised to see Sydney there. He was drying dishes. “I would have done that.”

“I don’t mind at all,” Sydney said. “Earn a little keep around here.” He stepped away to put the bowl away as her phone rang.

“Hello,” She answered it haphazardly. It was her phone. Only the people she wanted to remember and stay in touch with had the number.

“Margaret.”

Just like that, it felt like the dishes faded away. “Major Charles?”

“I’ve been talking to Emily, and . . . and Jarod too. Um. You know, it’s . . . forgiveness is a hard step to take.”

I read the scrolls wrong. It’s possible. It’s always possible. Maybe Sydney is simply a confidante I felt close enough to discuss things with? A Kindred spirit? Maybe it’s . . . “Yes?” she said timidly.

“I think that . . . that maybe if we talk a little. It would be a good first step.”

“Yes, yes it would.” She felt her heart beating faster.

“Can you promise me that this is the end of it? That there will never be any more pretending from you?”

“Oh.” Margaret looked at the dishes again. “I make a difference when I pretend.”

“Margaret I don’t want a pro con thing, just say never again, and we can start from there.”

“Oh. Uh.” Pretending. When she lost everyone, and she could pretend, it kept her going. She found her heart again. Her spot in life. If she agreed, maybe he would take her back? But never again? It’s who she was. The marriage. The children. All she craved during those years . . .

She felt Sydney’s hand on her shoulder. She looked toward him. His large, warm eyes were filled with concern again. “Are you alright?”

“No,” she admitted. Then, she remembered that she was on the phone.

“No?! After everything Pretending has done to this family, did you just . . .”

She could correct herself. She was talking to Sydney. She could easily say it. But. I helped ten people avoid suicide alone this year, I saved the lives of at least thirty five, and I helped so many between there with relationships and . . . “This is me,” she said. “I won’t change who I am anymore.” She heard the dial tone and hung up. She looked back toward the dishes.

“I’ve dried what I have,” Sydney said, not mentioning her conversation. “I am simply waiting.”

Margaret nodded.

“Can you two watch Onyssius and Angel?” Miss Parker said as she came between the two of them. She looked at each of them. “ . . . or am I interrupting something?”

“No, that’s fine,” Sydney said. “I don’t mind babysitting for a little while.”

“Great, I’ll be back soon.” She patted both of their arms.

“Where is my daughter going?” Margaret asked distracting herself from the conversation she just had.

Miss Parker let go of it again. “Sydney, I need some advice.”

“Well, I am here for that,” Sydney said. “Advice on what?”

“Do you tell Jarod before or after you do something that’s gonna piss him off?” she asked. “It’s after, right?” She pointed at Margaret right away. “Don’t concern no guys, don’t even ask. Well, it might, but not in that way. More like a service.” She pointed at Margaret again. “Not that kind of service. Could be a girl.” This time, she gestured toward Sydney. “Not that kind of service either.”

Margaret laughed at that one. “What are you doing?”

“Momma needs a tattoo.” She left out the door.

When Jarod came home early, he saw Angel and Onyssius with Sydney and his mom on the floor.

“Saving the day?” she asked him.

“I try.” Jarod moved across the room and bent down to see them. They were playing in a small gym. Angel was staring at a giraffe above her head while Onyssius was batting a blue ring. “You two are hard at work too, huh?”

He moved Angel and placed her on her back to see how she was raising up her head. He heard her start to cry and he picked her back up. “Developmentally, you’re not on the fast track.” He smiled. “But you are just fine. Everyone moves at their own speed.” He held her against him.

Being able to Pretend, and yet still come back home to them? The world felt right. Having his mom there. Even . . . Sydney, though he didn’t want to admit why. Only one person was missing. “Where’s Miss Parker?” He saw the expressions on their faces. Dead giveaway. “What’d she do?”

“Not the best thing,” his mom said. “She hasn’t come back home yet. She said two hours and it’s been almost two hours. You were supposed to be four hours. Still, with proper care, I mean many women go out and get tattoos, as long as she-“

“She what?” Jarod interrupted her. A tattoo?

Jarod heard the front door and got up as he saw Miss Parker. “Tattoos? Really?” Didn’t she understand the risk? “Really stepping up your independence, aren’t you? That’s fine, in most cases, but now you need to use extra caution while you are breastfeeding or you could . . .”

She leaned against the door, obviously not prepared for him to be there. She held her purse in one hand too, while she had a paper sack in the other. Jarod approached her and grabbed the six pack of beer. Fantastic.

“Tattoos and beer?” Jarod was practically wincing at her. “I haven’t seen any kind of weaning support for Angel  and Onyssius and research on both of these is . . .”

He dragged on again. Miss Parker rubbed her ear, waiting. Waiting for his little tantrum to go over. The beer was fine for most people. A tattoo while nursing was riskier, but it could be done. But Jarod? Risk with his kids was out the window.

That’s exactly what she planned on with her geek. When he looked like he was done, she took over. “Done?”

Ooh, that look. “Yeah,” he said sharply.

“Good. Then?” Miss Parker grabbed the beer. “Stop being so stupid. The only thing that graces these lips is not this stuff. Sorry for the bad remarks, Margaret.”

“None taken,” she said. “Not everyone drinks my kind of beer.”

“And as for the other?” Miss Parker said as she took down her coat some. “It’s henna. All natural. They decorate two year olds with this stuff.” She put her coat back on and proceeded to see Onyssius. “Hi, sweetie. How are you?”

She was hoping she wouldn’t have to deal with that side of Jarod, but if he came home early, she needed to be prepared. His mind was on the beer and tattoo while she was breastfeeding. So hopefully she distracted him enough out of the situation to-

“Could I see those again?”

“They are just festive. Something simple, Jarod.”

He just smirked. That knowing smirk. “They last longer if they are uncovered.” He came over. “Allow me to assist?” She rolled her eyes as he helped her remove her coat.

“Wings?” Margaret said first. “You got angel wings on one side, and devil wings on the other?” She chuckled. “You going to some kind of party, Miss Parker?”

“I don’t know. Are you going to some kind of party, Miss Parker?” His ever smirking, knowing, geeky smile.

“It wasn’t expensive,” Miss Parker insisted. “So I like wings. What’s the big deal?”

“Oh, I don’t know, just a little odd.” Jarod rubbed his eyebrow. “Scrolls keep talking about angels and devils, and you are getting an angel wing, and I am betting mom’s right, that that’s supposed to be a devil wing? On your other shoulder?”

Hm.

“With henna? A week to four weeks, maybe. I’d say two or three.”  He closed one of his eyes. “What would we be doing in that time span?”

“Sometimes things just don’t concern you,” she finally said. “Temporary, all-natural, you can’t complain.”

“Why didn’t you tell Sydney and my mom it was going to be Henna?” He wasn’t dropping it. “And you just happened to pick up my mom’s beer?” He shook his head and placed his hand against the wall beside her. “There’s something going on that you aren’t telling me.”

Oh. Not that stare. She hated that stare. She had always gotten it when she was trying to hunt Jarod. “Fine,” she said. “It’s . . . a precaution.”

“The Hades and Angel clone of me?”

“He’s not Hades, he’s the Devil, he just doesn’t like the name,” Miss Parker said. “I can’t fault him there.” Oh no. “It’s fine.”

“You knew there were two?”

“Yes and no. No one told me they were clones of you,” Miss Parker defended herself. “Just, stop. This doesn’t concern you.”

“Something sharing my DNA is a very big concern to me,” Jarod said. “Why do you have wings on your shoulders?”

“Because I felt like being cool, Dad.” No. She was not getting into it with him. If she confided in anyone, it would not be him.

“Your ‘Dad’, is over there.” Jarod gestured toward Sydney. “Why do you have the wings, Mrs. Porter?”

“Jarod.” Sydney stood up from where he’d been with the children. “I don’t believe that mere temporary tattoos is something you should get that worked up about.”

Jarod turned to look at him. He looked back toward Miss Parker. “Part of the blackmail?”

“A little,” she said. “Is the third degree over yet?”

Jarod turned away finally.

“Miss Parker?” Sydney gestured to the other room. “Could I talk to you for a moment?”

Oh shit. Jarod was eyeing her too. If she didn’t go, Jarod would go digging for the answers if he didn’t think Sydney was getting them. “Fine, I’m coming.”

Sydney led her to his room. She stayed standing up. “I don’t want to rush your progress, Miss Parker. But, this strange and quite unexpected change is-“

“I can use it against the devil and angel,” Miss Parker licked her lips softly. “The signs. They may be henna, but when the angel comes after me, if I show him the devil wings, he won’t come. He’ll think ‘Hades’ has me. Vice versa with the devil,” she said. “Like I said, a precaution.”

“Then why didn’t you tell Jarod this simple information?” Sydney asked.

“Cause the reasons behind it ain’t so simple,” she said softly. She looked toward a distant wall.

////”Miss Parker? Do you know who I am?”

Young Miss Parker looked at the strange man in front of her. “You are from the Triumvirate.”

“Which. Part.”

“I do not know, Sir.” She tried to remain still but upright.

“I am Bhekumbuso. I named you.”

Young Miss Parker held her breath.

“I am sorry about the passing of your mother, but it was inevitable anyhow. A hard crack is needed for severe changes. Now, I am sure at some point someone has discussed your name?”///

“I wasn’t just a random devil,” Miss Parker confided in Sydney. “I was a made-up devil. A fake devil. People hear it and they think it is a true devil’s name.” She continued to look away. “I am not the true devil. I . . . am just the illusion.” She gulped a little and made eye contact with Sydney.

“You do not belong to Hades,” Sydney said. “You know that.”

“Illusion. Straight from Faust, not the bible. You said it yourself,” Miss Parker reminded him. “I’m an illusion. The meaning of that . . .” She moved herself toward a small mirror in the room, looking at her Henna. “I’m not good. I’m not bad. I’m . . . for both.” She finally said it. “Bhekumbuso has the ‘other halves’. I never understood why or where they came from. I had no pictures, no idea of cloning, and of course not of scrolls.” She clicked her tongue. “I was just told, over and over, like the alphabet to a child.”

Sydney remained silent, giving her time to finish.

“One day I would be taken from the Centre, casted into the depths of hell, and rescued by the arms of heaven.” Could he put that together?

“You are to be with Jarod Hades and Jarod Angel?” Sydney asked.

“Not just be. I, according to destiny, will end up in their heaven and hells. I assume that is their Pretenders’ area, in their cages. No rescue ‘til the end,” she said. “No kind words. I must survive by being all I can be.” She grabbed at her mouth briefly and then took away her hand. “At least, according to him. It may not be Angel carrying Angels. It could be Angel carry twin angels. Twins’ angels. Twin Angels’. Angels of Twins. Nobody has it accurate.”

“Angels of Twins?” Oh, he definitely got it now. “You mean from fourteen onward you were taught to-?!”

“I was taught, Sydney, my place. How to be the allure to the devil, and to be the angel’s calling.” She closed her eyes. ”Hearing it. Having to learn how to appease each of them to survive.” She casted her eyes downward. “Was it any wonder I sought out my only real friend?” She changed the direction of the conversation again. “However, Margaret says it’s dangerous to assume anything about the scrolls.”

“Very!” Sydney said firmly, seeming to grasp onto its meaning. “You belong to no one, Miss Parker. You are not a devil, nor do you belong to either of these clones of Jarod.”

“An image of what they represent placed upon me is a simple message, Sydney. To let them know, that I know who they are now.” She stared at herself in the mirror. “While I won’t assume, I can’t duck out either. To rebel makes things worse. Margaret said that too. So, I’m doing what I do best.”

Sydney simply stared at her. “And what do you think you do best, Miss Parker?”

“Are you kidding?” she asked. “Playing both sides of the boards of course.”

Sydney’s gaze lingered on her longer, until he smiled. “A precaution.”

He got it now. “Sydney. I . . .” She sighed. “That was Bhekumbuso. I don’t know exactly what the others believed. Everyone seemed to have their own thoughts.”

“But?” Sydney pointed out. “No one thought you’d be with Jarod?”

“Not Bhekumbuso,” she said softly. “I don’t know what that means. I’m just, I’m taking it a day at a time. And if it all ended up as malarkey and it really is just my twins’ now, that would be wonderful. If it’s not?”

Sydney smiled for her. “That would be even more fantastic?”

“Screw the scrolls, Sydney, just live, but don’t live it in ignorance.” She looked away from the mirror. “Better?”

“Do you feel better?” Sydney asked her.

“Revealing to you the only reason I was conceived between my mom and Raines is because I’m supposed to be a stupid carrier of two devils and two angels?” She scoffed. “Yeah, no, like loads.” He stared at her longer. “I’m more than that, Sydney.”

“You are much more than that,” Sydney agreed. “To all of us. To me. To Broots. To Margaret. Even Jarod.”

“Yeah. Well, I am,” she said again.

“I know. I hope, deep inside, you realize that too,” Sydney pointed out. “Don’t go gently into that night. I. Truly believe at some point, you should let Jarod know all of this.”

“Why?” She asked. “Do you think he can do anything else? Wave his arm at them and say ‘back off’? Sydney, I had to work at The Centre when the devil could be contained to save Jarod’s ass. Not because I knew who Hades was yet, but because it was what the Triumvirate wanted. Now, all that information of Jarod’s? Is at the devil’s fingertips. It’s only a matter of time.” She hugged herself self-consciously. “I’m my own hero, I’ve always been.”

Sydney slowly approached her. He couldn’t say anything though.

“Just live,” Miss Parker said. “I will live everyday with Onyssius and my Angel. As long as I can. Whether it’s years, days, or months. I won’t just go, so don’t worry. I don’t give in that easy.” She went back to her children.

Jarod watched as Sydney came out slowly after Miss Parker. He knew Sydney would never break confidentiality, but he could still get away with something. The way he moved. His side glance toward him, his uneasy quiet as Miss Parker came over to Onyssius. The light swallowing. She’s hiding something big. Angel wings. Devil wings. It had to have something to do with the clones’ Hades and Angel.

She wouldn’t tell him though. She wanted it kept secret. It was why she referred to the mere all-natural henna as a tattoo. Why she brought his mother’s beer. She had hoped he’d skip over it and not see.

But, it couldn’t be missed. Even now. The way her eyes looked, almost distant. Uneasy. It wasn’t the cougar eyes of The Centre, or the long lost eyes of the young Miss Parker. There was courage in them, with great fear. Which . . . was new. He never saw that in her eyes before. Open up, to me. Tell me what’s going on with you. He looked back toward Little Angel and picked her back up, but his eyes drifted back toward hers.

Even though she could be with them all day, she seemed to be gripping onto them tighter too. Like she might lose them at any minute. Jarod heard Sydney’s phone ring.

“Jarod,” Sydney called to him. “Broots. He has a hit.”

Of course. How was Hades not out there tormenting his other identities? Jarod had started to make contacts with his old friends, gave them passwords to give them to make sure he could answer. He was essentially putting up blocks between his identities as best he could, but there were still so many. He placed Angel back down and strolled over to the phone, taking it to the other room.

“Didn’t break everything away from The Centre yet?” Jarod asked. “I figured you would have done that by now. It’s been a few days already.”

“Well, uh, just. I’m only keeping my eye on the alerts. Nothing systematic. Um. I just.” Broots faded. “That’s not all I’m calling about. Something’s . . . wrong. Really wrong.”

“Of course, yes, because whoever gets the simple life?” Jarod strolled across the room. “What is it?”

“The alert, or what’s really wrong?”

Jarod sighed slowly. It never ended. “Alert.”

“A woman named Doctor Melissa Blass was taken. The only evidence they could find was your ID of Jarod Kinsey. Authorities don’t know where she’s at.”

Jarod grasped the door and bit his lip so hard he was surprised it didn’t bleed. Melissa Blass had been sexually assaulted twice. It was hard work to get her to open up, to figure out who her real attacker had been. “I. Had to gain such trust before she even opened the door!” He banged his head against the door.

He didn’t just kill someone, he was holding her hostage. “Anything else? I need to know, anything out of place?”

“Oh. There was a tote of, uh, sand and shells. Some music?”

///My grandmother had a beach house when I was growing up. She was my sanctuary. I guess the ocean still reminds me of her.///

“Her grandmother’s address.” Jarod knew exactly where the devil had been at. “Find it. Now. Her grandmother’s address, Broots!”

“Um. Okay, I’ll look real quick, but what about the other thing?”

“One thing at a time.” He couldn’t handle it all right now. “I’m going to the airport. Find her grandmother’s address! If it’s not a beach house, then dig into the history further. I need her grandma’s beach house.”

He was taking care of Hades this time. Once and for all.