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

1) Paper Snowflakes (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)


~~~~~~~~~

The Trick Is To Keep Breathing
Part I
by Orinana



Parker stumbled into the elevator, not quite awake enough yet to fully function. She didn't even want to get up; spending the morning with Mr. and Mrs. Perfect Hosts was enough to re-awaken her nausea, which thankfully had subsided when she woke up. There was exactly one reason, and one reason only, that she was headed up two floors: coffee.

She still couldn't believe she'd slept all night, though really she shouldn't be surprised. The exhaustion was bound to come--it was just rather frightening to realize that she was progressing that quickly. Last night she'd ignored the weariness, but the pounding in her head refused to subside, so finally she'd relented to lying on the bed, on her back; while it'd helped her headache, her mind was more stressed than before, as she lie staring at the ceiling, contemplating her fate: the rest of her life, the next 72 hours--it was no comfort to realize that those two ideas were now the same.

The elevator bell dinged, the doors slid open slowly, just like usual. She opened the door to the penthouse, went ahead inside. She passed Syd and Broots on the balcony, and though she gave the latter the same snappy attitude, it was merely out of habit, and as she walked on past, Parker couldn't even remember what she'd said.

Moving on to the kitchen, she truly felt like she was going to throw up, not because of nausea, but the sight of Julia bustling about, hair and makeup immaculate -even at this god-awful hour- and humming sweetly. She looked up from the cookbook in her hands, and smiled as she spotted Parker -a tone paler than she recalled- in the entranceway. "Good morning. Get enough sleep?"

"Unfortunately," she muttered. "Coffee?"

"Over there, next to the fridge."

Parker mumbled thanks, then made a beeline for the pot. Not until after many heavenly sips did she bother to speak up, asking, "Where's Jarod?"

"Downtown, getting eggs and a few other things I needed."

"For?"

"Breakfast. He loves my pancakes."

Parker looked up from her mug. "You cook?"

"Absolutely--always from scratch. Things always taste better that way, don't you think?" Parker didn't reply, just drank more coffee to keep her mouth shut. She was beginning to hate this girl more and more...

When Julia began to hum show tunes, Parker slammed her mug down and headed out of the kitchen. Five more minutes with her, and Parker wouldn't be the first die.

"Where are you going?" Broots asked as she stomped past.

"Jogging!" she snapped, slamming the door behind her.

~~~~~~~~~

She'd thought that a long walk along the bay would help to calm her way-too-frayed nerves. In the end, she never even left the building. Parker was so lost in her thoughts, she'd been wandering around the basement floor 20 minutes before even she even realized where she was. Entering one of the apartments, she remembered what Julia'd said about them just being completed. She was right--the carpet was freshly laid, the smell of paint was just beginning to fade, and there was no sign of decoration, an odd change from the furnished penthouses upstairs.

Feeling the throb increase, she looked down at the sleeve of her blue silk shirt with dismay. Her clothes of preference were always tight, showy, and the ones she'd packed for this trip were no different. She'd been grateful at first this morning, finding that Jarod had dropped her luggage off in her living room, but now, seeing how clear the tight shirt made it that her shoulder was swollen, Parker regretted the choice. With a sigh, she slipped back on her business jacket.

Parker sat down in the middle of the large living room, and stared around her. It reminded her of the Centre, so empty, and lacking life.

~~~~~~~~~

It was another half hour before Parker returned to the top penthouse. In the dining room sat the other four, about to begin breakfast. Jarod looked up, and his face lit up. "There she is."

"Wow, that must've been some run," Julia commented.

"What?"

"You're sweating," Julia replied. With a look of surprise, Parker raised a hand to her forehead, and felt moisture. She'd been so lost in contemplation of the Centre, she hadn't even noticed that she'd broken out in a cold sweat.

"Oh, yeah," she answered weakly, taking a seat at the table. While Julia hurried back into the kitchen, Jarod looked at her questioningly, but she offered no explanation, just looked down at the mahogany table.

A moment later, Julia returned. "Here you are," she said brightly, putting a steaming plate right beneath Parker's nose. With one look at the food, her stomach clenched, and she shot up and ran to the bathroom.

~~~~~~~~~

After a few minutes of gagging -and worse- Parker returned, offering no explanation, just smiled and assured everyone that she was fine. She was grateful to note that her plate was gone. Trying to get back to normalcy, she tried to get into the conversation with everyone else. As Syd and Jarod began to discuss some foreign stock market, Jarod frowned and looked around. "Where's that tapping coming from?"

Parker realized her leg had begun to shake, and placed a firm hand on it under the table. Figuring it had quit, Jarod shrugged and continued his conversation. Feeling the nausea return as the smell of everyone else's food wafted towards her, she got a glass of water from the kitchen, then headed out to balcony. More than anything else, she just wanted to go downstairs to her bed, but even the idea of an elevator rushing her down two floors made her head swim.

With Broots and Syd helping out Julia to clear the table and clean up the kitchen, Jarod saw his opportunity. He walked out to the balcony, being sure to close the glass doors behind him, and moved next to Parker.

"Hey."

"Hey." Well, that got him far. He waited a moment, but she didn't start to talk, so Jarod decided to go for the more direct route. "Feeling all right?"

Her head shot up. "What?"

"We had a tough night."

She tried to read his face, but couldn't get anything. Had he caught on, figured it out somehow?

Seeing that she wasn't going to offer up any information, Jarod spoke what was one his mind. "Parker?"

"Yeah?"

"I know."











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