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Please notice this is part of a series..... here you see all part in the right order:

1) Paper Snowflakesnokia 6310 modem (the original, isn't a sequel)
2) To Dance In An English Garden
3) A Night To Remember
4) The Trick Is To Keep Breathing
5) Life In A Heartbeart
6) With Me (the last in the series)

*Disclaimer: I don't own "The Pretender" or any of its characters. Thanx for not suing! ~Oriana


~~~~~~~~~


To Dance In An English Garden
Part I
by Orinana



Miss Parker slammed the front door behind her, and immediately regretted the action as the noise increased her headache. Tossing her keys on the hallway table, she made a beeline for a glass and the cold bottle of vodka in the kitchen, a welcome treat after the blazing July sun outside.

With a moan she willingly curled up on the sofa, trying to mentally erase the entire day. She hadn't been sleeping well all week, and last night she'd only managed two hours. Lyle'd had the nerve to meet her right at the door to the Centre, and start in on his newest whining. They'd been bickering on and off all day, allowing just enough time for people to keep dropping paperwork off at her office. Around one, after taking her irritation out on Syd and Broots (more than usual) and downing enough aspirin to tranquilize an elephant, Parker decided it was time to go home before she killed someone (where was Brigitte when you needed her?).

Parker was just beginning to doze off when the cordless phone a few feet away began to ring. Much as she wanted to ignore it, the shrill ringing was killing her. Rubbing her temples, she walked over to the phone, picked it up and retreated back to the sofa before bothering to activate it.

"What?" she snapped.

An accented voice stuttered on the other end. "H-hullo? Um, you, you don't know me, b-but..."

Parker looked up to the ceiling and rolled her eyes. This lady was as much a stutterer as Broots. "If I don't know you, then how did you get this number? It's unlisted."

"I didn't--get your telephone number, that is...I mean, you were the first t-that..."

Parker was fed up with this. "I'm hanging up now--"

"No, wait! Please, it's very important." Parker hesitated just long enough for the other woman to continue. "There's a man here...he's not well. I believe you should know him—his name is Jarod."

Parker shot up, and ignored the shots of pain in her head, the other woman suddenly having her full attention. "Jarod? What is it? What's wrong with him?"

"Well, to be honest I don't know. None of us do. But his behavior...it has us all very concerned."

"Who's 'us'?"

"The other workers and I here at the Swan Inn of Lavenham."

Parker reached over for a pen and pad of paper, and quickly scribbled down the name. "I don't recognize the place. Which state is that?"

"State? Oh, you're mistaken. Lavenham is in England."

"England!" What the hell was Jarod doing in Europe?

"Y-yes miss. Eastern England, Essex County."

A thought came to Parker, and she asked urgently, "Did Jarod ask for you to call me?"

The Englishwoman replied a little guiltily, "Well, no, miss. If I've done anything wrong, I'm terribly sorry--"

"No," Parker quickly cut her off. "I'm appreciative, really. I was just wondering how you got my number, is all."

"Well, he left his cellular at his table after dinner last night. I went up this morning to give it to him along with his breakfast tray, and that's when I saw how bad he'd gotten."

"What do you mean?"

"He was pale, dark rings under his eyes. Seemed to be tremblin' a bit. Something told me to hang on to the phone. And then, later when I went to fetch his tray, I found it outside his door. Not a crumb of that food had been touched, miss. And I knocked on the door, to see if he needed anything else, but he didn't answer."

"Maybe he'd just gone out."

"No, miss. He hasn't left the inn since he arrived, two days ago. Anyhow, it got to me so much, I thought I'd try his speed dial, see if someone should come up here. And you're number one on his speed dial, so..."

"You were right to call. Listen, can you give me the inn number?"

"Of course. From the US you can dial 1-800-225-5843. Just ask for Mary, and I'll give you any help I can, miss."

"Okay, thank you. I'll call back in just a few minutes, all right?"

"Right, miss." Parker hung up, then reactivated the phone and dialed Sydney's number at the Centre. After two rings, he answered.

"Syd, it's me. We've got a problem..."

~~~~~~~~~

It had been a long and complicated trip, getting from Blue Cove to Lavenham. After driving to New York's JFK Airport, she'd flown overseas to England's Heathrow Airport, having to put up with some bratty kid kicking the back of her seat the whole way. From there, she'd had to catch the Heathrow Express to London, and find a cab to take her to the North Street Station. The train there took her to Colchester, then there was the connector to Sudbury. At Sudbury, she eventually found Beeston's Coaches, Ltd., which offered buses to Lavenham. Traveling from London to Lavenham alone took 2 1/2.

By the time she arrived at the Swan Inn, exhausted and irritable, Parker had decided that if Jarod wasn't on his death bed, she was going to put him there.

"May I help you?" a kindly man offered as she tossed her luggage down next to the front desk.

"I certainly hope so," she sighed. "I'm looking for an employee of yours, Mary James."

A petite woman with mousy brown hair approached the desk. "Miss Parker?"

"Mary?"

"Yes, miss. I'm glad you've arrived."

"Where is he?" Parker asked, looking around expectantly.

"Upstairs still."

"Still?" she echoed in disbelief. "You mean he hasn't left at all since we last spoke?"

"That's right."

"But it's been nearly 24 hours!"

Mary nodded. "I'll take you up to his room." She led the way up to the second level, explaining as they went, "The second-story bedrooms open onto a tiny cloistered garden, so he requested one of those." Stopping at a door, she turned to Parker. "Here it is. I'll go downstairs and see to your luggage, miss. I've reserved the room next door for you, so I'll just leave the door unlocked."

"Thank you, Mary."

"Yes, miss." Mary headed off down the stairs. Parker took a deep breath, then knocked. No answer. Feeling increasingly concerned, she gave another knock, longer and louder. Still no answer.

"Jarod? Are you there?" There was no reply, but she could sense that he was inside. Trying the door, she was surprised to find it unlocked. Jarod was not the careless type.

Slowly, she opened the door and walked inside, shutting it softly behind her. The room was quite large, but was in a sort of L-shape, so that she couldn't see anything but the bed in front of her. It wasn't until she turned the corner that Jarod came into sight. He sat, with his face only partially in view, in one of two wicker chairs set down near the balcony. His eyes were in the direction of the garden, but he seemed unfocused. Jarod was just a few feet from Parker, but it felt like he was a thousand miles away.

For a moment, it seemed as if she couldn't even breath. She understood now why Mary and the others had been so concerned. His shoulders were slumped, his hair was unkept, and it looked as if he hadn't changed in days.

It was his face that was the worst, though. His eyes, red and puffy, as though he'd been crying for hours on end, were hollow, completely lacking of that warm twinkle Parker had accepted as Jarod's signature. A thin stubble had begun on his chin.

"Oh, god...Jarod." Her voice was just above a whisper, and quivered. This person was nothing more than a shell of the man she knew. His troubled mind was tangible, making the air somehow seem thick.

At the sound of his name, he turned slightly in his chair. Jarod looked at her, but it was a moment before he actually focused, and really saw her. He didn't say anything, but his eyes began to water.











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