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Lancaster, South Carolina
Ethan watched from his position at the window while his newfound family moved around the spacious home happily. His father, Major Charles, Jarod, Emily, and Jarod’s clone, Jonathan, were all preparing dinner for the evening, just another thing they had been deprived of doing as a family before. They had yet to reunite with Jarod’s mother, Margaret, but the voices told him that it wouldn’t be long now. He tried to connect with the light feeling all of them seemed to emit, but he just couldn’t. He couldn’t stop thinking about his sister, Miss Parker. He was lucky to have Jarod and everyone else, but he knew Miss Parker didn’t have anyone and probably never would as long as she was at the Centre. He needed to talk to her, needed to know what kept her at such terrible place.
Turning his attention back to the dreary rain outside, Ethan watched as a long, red convertible came into view, traveling slowly up the long drive.
“Someone’s here,” he announced to the room.
Jarod was the first to arrive at the window next to him, ever conscious of the fact that they were never completely safe from the Centre, but he was fairly certain he had covered their tracks well enough that they would have refuge for a while yet. As the car crept nearer, a large grin broke out over Jarod’s face.
“Do you know who it is?” Ethan asked, practically hearing the smile on his brother’s face.
“It’s Zoë,” he said racing to the front door along with the rest of the family.
“Zoë? Are you sure, son?” Major Charles asked.
Ethan stayed at the window and watched as a young woman with bright, wavy, red hair got out of the car and made a dash for the porch in order to get out of the rain. Jarod had only mentioned the lively woman to him a couple of times, but there was no mistaking that it was her.
“Zoë, what are you doing here?” Jarod asked excitedly as he pulled her into a tight hug. It had been nearly a month since he had last spoken to her by way of email, but nearly a year since he had last seen her. Her hair was only slightly longer and she was dressed in a pair of snug fitting jeans, a tight baby-t, and her red, leather jacket had been slung across her shoulder until she reached around to return his embrace.
“I’ve missed you so much, Jarod.” She pulled out of the embrace just enough to lean back in and plant a kiss on his mouth.
After a few moments, Jarod pulled out of the kiss and looked over at his family with a slightly reddened face. “Uh, Zoë, I want you to meet my family,” he said smiling as he led her into the house. She greeted Major Charles with a hug, forever grateful to him for saving her life. Jarod made all of the necessary introductions and Zoë was quickly accepted into the group, everyone no doubt charmed by her easy going personality.
As they sat down to dinner, Jarod explained that he had told Zoë where they were staying. After the incident with Cox and Lyle, he had helped her to create a new identity, not wanting her to be forever dodging the Centre.
Once dinner was finished and the kitchen cleaned, everyone went their separate ways in the spacious home, wanting to give Jarod and Zoë some time alone to catch up.
“What have you been doing with yourself for that past month?” Jarod asked as they walked hand in hand through the huge backyard. The property was nearly three acres total with plenty of trees for coverage and a midsized pond that was perfect for swimming. The rain from earlier had stopped and the sun was peaking out through a few straggling clouds. The thick, humid air made for a romantically hot end to the day.
“You know me, Jarod. I just try to enjoy life as it comes,” she said swinging their joined hands. “What about you? Are those people still after you?”
Jarod frowned slightly as he thought about the Centre. “I’m afraid they’ll be after me until the day I die,” he told her. He had shared some things with her about the Centre, but she still had no idea the depth of the evil the place would stoop to.
“Hey, none of that,” she said noticing his frown. Stopping and placing her hand on his handsome face, she leaned in for a kiss, which Jarod readily returned. He had missed the companionship of a woman over the past year and she was just what the doctor ordered. Things were simply with Zoë. She wasn’t contaminated with the lies of the Centre. She was one of the few pure things left in his life. “I have an idea,” she said as her kisses moved from his lips to his jaw and neck.
“What’s that?” he said all ears.
“I have Motown’s Greatest Hits in my car. Do you have a stereo?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he croaked as her tongue danced across his skin, “in my room.”
“Perfect,” she smiled.
Anyone who passed the bedroom door would only hear the sounds of The Temptations or the soulful voice of Smokey Robinson, but anyone with half a brain would realize the true goings on inside. Jarod and Zoë had retired to the room hours ago after a quick goodnight to the rest of the family.
Ethan nodded his head as he passed by and headed to the kitchen. He didn’t mean any ill will toward his brother, and he was glad that he could find some happiness with Zoë, but he seemed to have completely forgotten about Miss Parker and the fact that she was still stuck in the claws of the Centre, surrounded by people who had no qualms about killing another human being to gain an advantage. He hadn’t seen her since their return from Carthis, but both she and Jarod seemed reluctant to discuss what had happened and he didn’t want to pressure either of them.
Dressed in his bedtime attire of a white tank top and gray boxer shorts, Ethan made his way through darkened kitchen and to the refrigerator for something cool to drink. The voices wouldn’t let him get any decent amount of sleep and he knew that the time for him to leave was coming soon. He sat down at the kitchen table and cracked his soda open. The stairs creaked as someone else came down and Jarod appeared in the doorway a few seconds later.
“Hey, little brother,” he said with a smile in his voice. “Anymore of those left?” he asked referring to his soda while flipping the lights on. Both of them blinked against the sudden brightness and Ethan could see that Jarod was dressed in only the khaki, cargo shorts he had on earlier.
“Sure, there’s plenty,” he answered, watching as his brother leaned into the fridge and pulled out the leftover fried chicken they’d had for dinner and two sodas. “You and Zoë must have worked up quite an appetite,” he teased.
Jarod grinned widely and set about heating up the chicken. The clock on the stove read 1:16AM and he wondered what Ethan was doing up so late. “We didn’t wake you, did we?” he asked slightly embarrassed. Ethan’s room was right next to his after all.
“No. It’s the voices,” Ethan told him. “I’m going to be moving on soon, brother.” He watched as the smile fell from Jarod’s face.
“Is there something wrong, Ethan?” he asked suddenly worried.
“No…at least the voices don’t say there is, but I need to be with my sister. She doesn’t have anyone.”
“Ethan, it isn’t safe for you to go near her. If the Centre catches you with her, they won’t show any mercy.”
“I can’t just abandon her,” he said quietly, but with conviction as he brushed a finger through the condensation forming on the aluminum can. “I have to go to her…even at the risk of the Centre.”
“Well, if you’re determined to go then maybe I should go with you,” Jarod offered.
“I appreciate it, brother, but I have to go alone…I don’t want this to sound wrong, but I think I need some time away from everything. I’m happy to have found my family, but I’m still not used to all of this…togetherness,” Ethan said sheepishly.
Jarod smiled. “I know what you mean,” he said placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. He had been alone for most of his life in the bowels of the Centre and he often felt the need to get away from all of the commotion of having a family. Sometimes, he would even set up camp somewhere on the property, away from the house. Luckily, no one questioned his need for solitude. He was appreciative of the fact that his family had learned to deal with his strange ways. He remembered the first time his father had made fried chicken for dinner. He had eaten it everyday for two weeks straight and after that, they had it at least once a week.
His thoughts turned to Miss Parker. He wished things could have turned out differently after the events on Carthis, but he couldn’t force her to leave the Centre no matter how much he wanted to. He couldn’t even remember how many times he had simulated a plan to take her away from there, but he knew it was no use. Forcing her to do something would only serve to make her angry rather than enlightening her. He just wished he knew why she was so determined to stay in a place that would surely be the death of her one day.
Two days later, Jarod, his family and Zoë, watched reluctantly from the front yard as Ethan drove away in one of the three vehicles the family owned. He told the rest of them that he just needed to get away for a while, but Jarod was the only one who knew the full truth. He was worried, but he knew that he couldn’t stop him.
Blue Cove, Delaware
Broots scurried through the hallways of the Centre on his way to Miss Parker’s office. After the incident on the Isle of Carthis, Mr. Raines was put in charge by the Triumvirate and things had changed dramatically. The Centre had never been a safe place to be, but when Mr. Parker was in charge, and Miss Parker had more authority, there was a certain sense of protection he had from being on her team. No matter how much she snapped at him, he knew she would protect him from people like Raines as best she could.
Sighing with relief at making it to her office without incident, he tapped lightly on the door and stuck his head inside. His nose was immediately assaulted by the heady scent of her Chanel. She was sitting at her desk with her chair turned to the side in order to prop her impossibly long legs up on the corner. She was dressed immaculately as usual. A pair of black, high heeled boots climbed up her legs to just past her knees and a short, leather, gray skirt left little, but plenty still, to the imagination. She had on a sleeveless, black top and a long, gray, leather jacket to match her skirt was resting on the back of her chair.
Broots took his sweet time enjoying the view. His eyes traveled slowly from her feet to her head full of long, thick, dark, shiny hair and not one was out of place.
He snapped his eyes to her cool blue ones and shuffled into the office. “Sorry, Miss Parker.”
“Anything on Jarod?” she asked.
“Nothing. He hasn’t contacted the Centre in almost six months. Maybe he’s finally decided to disappear for good,” Broots mused.
Miss Parker sat quietly while Broots chattered on. No matter the danger that lurked around her in the form of Mr. Raines and his henchman, she had never been so bored in her life. The search for Jarod was futile and her heart wasn’t in it anymore. Truth be told, it never was. For years she had been stuck between a rock and a hard place. Catch Jarod and maybe be allowed to leave the Centre for good, which probably didn’t stand anymore now that Raines was in charge, or be stuck at the Centre forever until she did catch him. She couldn’t imagine being at the Centre for the rest of her life. Didn’t want to. Life was depressing enough already.
“Let’s call it a night, Broots,” she said suddenly rising from her chair. “There isn’t anything else to be done. The only reason we ever caught up to Jarod before was because he let us.”
Broots watched as she turned around and slipped her jacket on, making her outfit that much more impressive. Man, she was beautiful. He caught a glimpse of the 9mm holstered at her back and she reminded him of some dangerous heroine out of a comic book. He came back to reality as she began talking again.
“Lyle and Raines can twiddle their three thumbs all night for all I care, but they aren’t any closer to catching Jarod than we are,” she finished.
Goodbyes were exchanged for the weekend and after locking her office, Miss Parker made her way to the parking garage. It was nearing six o’clock and most of the employees had gone home leaving the hallways quiet and eerie. She had grown up at the Centre and no matter how much time she spent at the place, the spookiness never quite abated.
“Leaving so soon, sis?” came the nasally voice of her evil, twin brother Lyle. She chose to ignore him and kept on walking at a steady pace, heels echoing. “In case you didn’t get the memo, dad says he wants to see us…now.”
Her jaw tensed at the use of his term ‘dad’. She didn’t care how many blood tests were done; never in a million years would she call or consider Raines her father. Her fear of him as a child had turned into a loathing hate as she grew older and it made her nauseous to even think about them being related. The image from the DSA of him shooting her mother in cold blood after she gave birth to her little brother Ethan was forever engrained into her memory and she would never forgive him for it. Not one night passed where she didn’t entertain the thought of killing him and now to be stuck at the Centre under his authority…a person could go insane.
She stopped walking suddenly and gave Lyle a cold stare. “What does he want?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said with his usual innocent air.
Miss Parker sighed and together they headed to the elevators.
Lyle knocked on the door lightly when they arrived at Raines’s office and entered once instructed to do so.
“My children,” he said with a smile that looked more like he wanted to eat them rather than greet them. “Have a seat.” Lyle did so while Miss Parker defiantly stayed rooted to the spot she was in.
“So, what’s this all about?” Miss Parker asked impatiently.
“The Triumvirate has informed me that the search for Jarod must be stepped up. If someone doesn’t start making headway soon, I can’t be held responsible for the consequences that are sure to follow,” he hissed.
Miss Parker half expected a forked tongue to flicker out, tasting the air. She noticed that he was looking pointedly at her and the threat was loud and clear. Her eyes shifted down to Lyle who was sitting smugly as if he hadn’t a care in the world. She had yet to show Raines a sign of loyalty and she didn’t plan on doing so any time soon. It was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped and she knew that she would have to watch her back now more than ever.
Miss Parker didn’t arrive home until nearly ten o’clock that night. After the meeting in Raines’s office, a trip to the dry cleaner, the market, and the pharmacy were made. She bought enough groceries for the weekend and filled the prescription for her ulcer. Placing her grocery bags on the counter, she looked around the dark kitchen and immediately decided that she didn’t want to spend another dull weekend at home. She put the groceries away quickly and headed into her bedroom to pack. She remembered a time when she would have loved spending a quiet weekend at home, when Tommy was still alive. Not a day went by where she didn’t think about him. It had been over three years since his death, but the circumstances surrounding it were still so fresh. It was never far from her mind that she worked for the place that killed her mother and the man that she loved in cold blood, but she hoped to remedy that in the near future.
Once her bags were packed, she sat them by the door in the living room. Just as she was turning to retrieve her prescription, which was still in the kitchen, there was a quiet knock at her front door.
Who in the hell would be calling this late, she wondered with a furrowed brow. Before answering, she reached inside her jacket, grabbed the gun at the small of her back, just in case, and looked through the peephole. Her brow furrowed even further when she saw who it was. She yanked the door open and stared at him in shock.
“Ethan?” she said looking around to make sure no one else was with him. She pulled him inside and quickly shut the door. “What in the world are you doing here?” She was happy to see him, but he was taking a huge risk being there.
Before he could answer, she had pulled him into a hug, which he eagerly returned. “I had to see you,” he said softly. “It’s been too long.”
“Are you sure no one followed you?” she asked pulling out of the embrace.
“I don’t think so,” he told her. “At least, the voices haven’t warned me of any danger.”
They stood taking each other in. They hadn’t very much time to get to know each other in the few short years that they even knew of each other’s existence, but the connection between them was there and the gift they shared from their mother made it that much more palpable.
“Why is it so dark in here?” he asked looking around. He noticed her bags by the door. “Are you leaving?”
“Yes, actually. I decided that a little vacation was in order. Why don’t you come with me? I don’t feel comfortable with you so close to the Centre,” she suggested.
“I’d like that,” he told her and after gathering a few last minute items, they were on their way.
“Where are we going?” Ethan asked after they were safely away. Miss Parker decided that it would be best if they used his car and she insisted on driving, which was fine by him after the long journey he had made from South Carolina. Her black Porsche was tucked safely away in the garage.
“I haven’t decided yet,” she answered. “I just need to get away for a while.”
“I wish I could convince you to leave that place forever,” he said softly.
Miss Parker looked over and saw the concern on his face and reached over to grab his hand. “Don’t worry about me. I’m a big girl,” she said.
“Can’t help it,” he said quietly. The long hours he had spent driving were finally catching up to him and he couldn’t suppress the monster yawn that snuck up on him.
“Get some rest,” she said squeezing his hand. “Well have a chance to talk later.”
As she drove along, it occurred to her that in order to find Jarod, all she had to do was ask Ethan where his other family was, but she would never put him in such a position and quite honestly, she didn’t want to know. She would put on a show for Raines as long as she had to, but she was through playing bounty hunter.
As the night wore on, she found herself dying for a cigarette. Sad to say, she had fallen off the wagon nearly six months ago, but she was slowly trying to get back on track. Her cigarettes were in the back with her luggage, but she wouldn’t have smoked one even if they were in her reach. For some reason, she didn’t want Ethan to know that she smoked, but if she couldn’t control her cravings, he would find out soon enough.
She saw him shifting uncomfortably in his seat and decided that it was time for them to find someplace to stay. She paid attention to the highway signs and soon they were exiting into some town. They passed by beautiful homes and buildings and finally came to a hotel that wasn’t as fancy as she was used to, but still decent enough that she would stay in it. She thought it best they lay low anyway while they were together.
Ethan awoke to find that they were pulling into the lot of a nice looking hotel. Looking at the clock on the dashboard told him that he had been asleep for quite sometime.
“Where are we?” he asked looking around.
“Somewhere in Virginia. I’m sure we both could use someplace comfortable to crash,” she smiled.
They made their way inside and Miss Parker paid for them to have adjoining rooms.
“Isn’t it dangerous for you to be using your credit cards?” he asked on the elevator.
“I have bank accounts that the Centre knows nothing about,” she replied vaguely.
He wanted to ask her more, but chose to accept the answer she gave. When they arrived at their rooms, she told him to order whatever he wanted and then excused herself to her own room. He took his time exploring the room. They may have been lying low, but it was still the nicest hotel he had ever stayed at. His big sister definitely had taste.
Once inside her room, Miss Parker rifled through her bags and found her cigarettes. She stepped out onto the balcony and lit one, inhaling the smoke as if it were a lifeline. Her thoughts drifted to her and Ethan’s conversation in the elevator and she knew that he had questions for her about why she made the choices she did, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to answer them, at least not yet anyway. She took another pull from her cigarette, when suddenly there was a knock on the adjoining door to Ethan’s room. Before she could even flick her cigarette away, Ethan was rushing into the room, looking scared.
“Ethan what’s wrong?” she asked worried.
“We have to leave,” he said panicked. “The voices…”
Miss Parker didn’t waste any time. She grabbed her bags, thankful that she hadn’t unpacked yet and moved quickly to the door, followed closely by her brother. She made to go towards the elevators, but Ethan stopped her.
“We should take the stairs,” he said.
Miss Parker knew the power of their gift and she wasn’t going to waste time questioning it. She pivoted in the opposite direction and they moved quickly down the hallway.
“We have to hurry,” he said as their footsteps echoed in the stair well. “It’s the Centre. I don’t know how they found us.”
“They must have put a tail on me,” she said. “Damn it! I should have been paying closer attention. When we get outside, I want you to stay behind me. I am not going to let the Centre get to you,” she vowed. She had lost too many people who were important to her already; she wasn’t going to let that happen again.
When they got to the main lobby, Miss Parker turned around and gestured for Ethan to stay quiet. She peeked out and saw three sweepers standing at various points in the lobby: one by the check-in desk, and two by the front entrance. Unfortunately, it was still early in the morning and not many people were in the lobby to give them cover. Looking around desperately, she spotted another entrance off to the side.
“You’ll have to go ahead of me and get to the car,” she instructed digging the keys out of her coat pocket. “Go through the side entrance. I’ll be right behind you.” She gave him her smallest bag to carry and discreetly un-holstered her gun. Taking one final look out the door, she gestured for him to go and then waited a few seconds before following him.
As she made her move, she saw that Ethan was safely out the door, but not before one of the sweepers spotted him. Knowing that it wouldn’t be smart to reveal that she had a gun, and praying that the sweepers wouldn’t be dumb enough to pull theirs in such a public place, she focused her efforts on getting to the car. Her heals clicked loudly in the parking lot and she saw Ethan waiting at the driver’s side door for her with the car already running.
“Hurry!” he yelled frantically.
She glanced behind her to see that the three sweepers were gaining on her.
Ethan ducked into the car and pushed the passenger door open for her.
Just as she reached the car, she felt the sting of a bullet ripping through her upper right thigh and yelled out as she fell into the car.
“Miss Parker!” her brother said looking at her rapidly bleeding leg.
“Ethan,” she panted, “Drive!” He snapped out of his panic and they sped out of the parking lot just before the sweepers made it to the car.
They had been driving for nearly thirty minutes with only the sound of Miss Parker’s heavy breathing. Ethan had tried to stop someplace in order to tend to her leg, but she wouldn’t let him, saying that they needed to make sure they were far enough away. He had ended up taking his belt off so she could tie it above the wound to try and stop the bleeding.
“We need to get a different car.” Ethan said quietly. Her face was looking pale and her brow was damp.
“I know,” she breathed. She opened her eyes and forced herself to focus on the road signs. “We should be able to stop for a few minutes and figure something out,” she sighed. She had been up for almost 24 hours now and, with a gunshot would on top of that; fatigue had caught up with her. She hadn’t had anything to eat either and she was sure that wasn’t helping matters.
“What are we going to do about your leg?” Ethan asked worried. “We can’t just leave it like that.” Her exposed flesh was covered in blood and no doubt the seat was soaking some of it up.
“I’m fairly certain that they know they got me and they won’t give up easily,” she explained. “They’ll be checking all of the hospitals. The best we can do is stop somewhere and get some supplies and bandage it.”
“Why did they shoot you? Surely, they would want you back at the Centre alive,” Ethan asked.
“I guess my usefulness to the Centre has run out, little bro,” she said softly. She knew it was only a matter of time, but this wasn’t how she expected it to go down.