A Not so Perfect World (Part 7) 02/22/03
By Phenyx

Parker stepped out onto the wooden porch. Even with the shade from a nearby maple tree, the pine planks were warm beneath her bare feet. The day was unusually hot for late June. Parker wore a faded t-shirt and an old pair of shorts. Inside the air conditioner was performing adequately but the view from here was much more interesting. As the afternoon had worn on, a breeze had started to blow across the fields making the heat more tolerable.

Carefully setting a second glass of lemonade on a low table, Parker curled up on a rattan chair next to the rocking chair occupied by her mother-in- law.

"Thank you, dear." Margaret said as she picked up the glass and sipped at the refreshing liquid.

Parker and Mrs. Lambert had managed to put aside the animosity between them. In the eight years that had passed since Parker freed Jarod from The Pines mental hospital, the two women had actually become good friends.

Not that Jarod's mother had much choice in the matter. Within a month of Jarod moving into Parker's house, she had found herself to be pregnant, undoubtedly a result of the first night they had shared the same bed. Jarod had declared it a sign from fate that they were meant to be together. It had still taken him another two months to talk Parker into marrying him. As much as the entire concept scared the hell out of her at the time, Parker now had to admit that matrimony to a slightly off-kilter pretender had been one of the smartest things she'd ever done.

Though the pregnancy had been a normal one, with no complications, Parker had spent the entire nine months in a state of low-level panic. Amorphous, undefined fears of men snatching her child from her had tormented her dreams on a regular basis. But Parker had valiantly hidden much of her concern from her new husband. As nervous as Parker had been about impending parenthood, Jarod had been nearly manic.

Nothing escaped Jarod's scrutiny. The security system at the house was redesigned and installed by Jarod personally. Items of baby paraphernalia were researched and brands were comparatively tested for safety and dependability. Diapers, car seats, cribs and blankets, powders, oils and stuffed animals were all sliced, burned, submerged and dropped in a variety of tests that would have surpassed a NASA safety inspection.

Jarod's mania had worried Parker for a while. But when her labor had started, Parker's own paranoia had flipped into high gear while Jarod had managed to stay relatively calm. Parker hadn't allowed the doctor's to give her any pain killers for fear that she wouldn't be able to protect her newborn once it arrived. Nurse's had to wear their staff identification to be allowed in the room during delivery. Only Jarod's calming presence had kept Parker from bringing her handgun to the hospital with them.

When their daughter slid into the world twelve hours later, Parker and Jarod were too busy admiring the miracle of the tiny child to notice the collective sigh of relief from the hospital staff. For the day and a half between her birth and their discharge from the hospital, Jarod never left his little girl's side. In a wordless communication between Parker and Jarod, they took turns sleeping so that the child could be watched continuously.

Catherine Sydney Lambert was a well-loved child. Her grandparents and uncles all adored her and she was watched more closely than a royal heiress. Presenting the Lamberts with their first grandchild had gone a long way toward earning Parker acceptance into the inner circle of their family.

Being a father had taught Jarod the ability to focus his love and affection on multiple people. It wasn't so much Kate that had taught her daddy this skill. Parker felt that for the first two years of the little girl's life, Jarod pretty much saw the child as an extension of her mother more than as a separate person in her own right. It was the birth of his twin sons that had taught Jarod this special talent.

Three children, each demanding unconditional love and affection had managed to do for Jarod what psychiatrists and counselors couldn't. They had taught the pretender that you can love someone more than anything else in the world, and still love another someone just as much.

Gazing across the yard at her family now, Parker was amazed at how easily and how well he interacted with the children. Jarod still occasionally demonstrated signs that he had led an unusual life. He tended to be more than slightly over protective of his children. Kate, having just finished the second grade, had yet to see the inside of a school bus. Jarod dropped the children off at the front door of the school every day and watched until they had entered the building. Each afternoon, he was waiting at the door when the children flooded out.

When they had decided to move their family to the ranch three years ago, Jarod had built a house about 500 yards from the house that his parents lived in. The house was deceptively simple in its basic layout but the place was virtually a fortress. There was shatterproof glass in windows that only opened a few inches. In case of fire, the entire pane could be released with special latches located inside the house underneath the windowsill. But no one standing on the outside would ever be able to open those windows.

Once the house had been completed, Jarod had started a new hobby. He had learned everything there was to know about breeding and training dogs. After only a few years, Jarod's dogs were earning reputations as being the best-trained police dogs in the state. People were beginning to call from all over the country to vie for the opportunity to buy one of these specially trained creatures. Little did these customers realize that Jarod only sold the dogs he didn't think were good enough to protect his children. The three animals that had achieved this remarkable status currently sat at attention near the corral.

Kate was in the corral with her father. She was riding a small filly in circles while Jarod taught the little girl to ride properly. Horseback riding is more than just climbing onto a horse's back and hanging on, Jarod always said. Kate's dog, a toffee colored bitch, sat watchfully at Jarod's side.

Beta, like the other dogs, was a bastardized mixture of Golden Retriever, German Shepherd and Rottweiller. Bred for loyalty, intelligence and tenacity, the dogs were trained to protect all three children but each was distinctly assigned to one child. No one was going to sneak into any bedroom at night with one of these barrel-chested, fanged monsters sleeping on the foot of each child's bed.

The other two dogs, a big black creature named Rusty and a brown and black mottled one name Opus, sat just a few yards from the corral looking up at their masters warily. The twins, nearly identical except for the color of their hair, sat perched precariously on the top of the wooden fence surrounding the corral.

Timothy Jarod, TJ to his friends in Kindergarten this year, listened intently to everything his father said. Knowing her son the way she did, Parker knew full well that the moment their backs were turned, TJ would be on that horse himself, doing his best to prove that he could ride better than any girl. TJ was an ornery scamp of a child. He was completely fearless and rarely quiet. He found it necessary to run everywhere he went. Whenever Parker found something broken, she could be pretty sure than TJ had broken it.

But the boy had his father's big brown eyes and lovable crooked grin. Just like his father, it was impossible for Parker to stay mad at the boy when he turned on the charm. And the little con artist knew it. When TJ was in trouble, he knew that if he could make his father laugh about the situation, he'd get off the hook. More often than not TJ managed to get away with it.

The children rarely saw Jarod angry. He had never lost his patience with any of them. But there had been that ugly scene at the school in early March. Jarod had gotten angry enough to swear in front of the children. His fury had radiated from him in waves of such intensity that all three children had been in frightened tears. The children hadn't done anything wrong, they had simply been present when Jarod's temper had gone off. The brunt of his anger, Jarod had taken out on Kate's second grade teacher. But in the end, once he realized he was over-reacting, Jarod had sent Parker home with the children while he walked the fifteen miles back to the ranch in order to calm down.

In second grade, all public school children in the state take their first scholastic aptitude test. Kate had scored very well. Very well. As a result, her teacher had asked for a conference with Jarod and Parker to discuss special educational opportunities for the little girl. When the poor woman had suggested an IQ test as a preliminary step for enrollment in a special school, Jarod had gone off.

"Take your god damned test and shove it up your ass." Jarod had hissed in a low, dangerous voice.

The teacher had probably thought they were both insane as Jarod and Parker both frantically denied their own child's intelligence. But the woman had finally relented. Kate would not be given any test that was not administered to the entire school population.

Parker knew her daughter was smarter than most kids. But Parker also knew that Kate was not the smartest of her children. The youngest was also the most incredibly brilliant of the three. Charlie, younger than his brother by a whopping two and a half minutes, was as quiet as TJ was boisterous. Wide-eyed and ever watchful, nothing escaped the little boy's attention.

Like a little parrot, the child could repeat every word he had ever heard. Nothing frightened Parker more than watching her son as he watched television. Charlie would sit in front of CNN with his head cocked to one side as the news stories flashed across the screen. Seeing the little boy sitting cross-legged in front of the TV was eerily similar to watching DSA recordings of Jarod in front of a simulation screen. The only difference between Charlie and his father was that Jarod had learned to do things by reading about them in books. Charlie, though he had been reading since he was two, learned to do things by watching them on the screen in his living room. Charlie even looked amazingly like his father had at that age.

Parker had voiced concerns about little Charlie. Late at night, cuddled in each other's arms, Parker and Jarod would talk in soft whispers about the hopes and the fears they shared about their children. "He'll be okay, Parker." Jarod always told her. "As long as we are all together, he will be just fine. We just need to keep him safe here with us."

"You're worrying again." Margaret's voice sliced into Parker's reverie.

Parker glanced warily at her mother-in-law. "Is it fair to worry about one child more than the others?" She asked.

Margaret smiled knowingly. "You worry about them all." The older woman said with understanding. "But you always worry more about one than the others." After a pause she added, "Granted, the one causing the most concern will change to a different kid over time."

Parker laughed. "When can I stop worrying about them?" she asked.

Now it was Margaret's turn to laugh. "When I reach that point, I'll let you know."

"Jarod is okay you know." Parker said, suddenly serious.

Margaret nodded. "Yes, I know. He's happy. And I'm so glad to finally have him home."

"Look at me, Momma!" Kate abruptly called across the yard.

"Looking good, kiddo." Parker hollered back with a wave.

"Don't listen to her, Kitten." Jarod joked loudly enough for Parker to hear. "You don't look good, you look marvelous. Absolutely beautiful."

"More beautiful than Mommy?" Kate asked with a giggle, joining her father's teasing mood.

"Who? That old hag?" Jarod shrugged as he helped the child down from the horse. "Of course you're much prettier than that old battleaxe."

This sent all three children into peals of laughter.

"Watch it Rat-boy." Parker warned. "I know where you live."

Jarod strolled across the yard with the children and their dogs following in his wake. Parker stood and met him at the steps of the porch. "I know where you live too." Jarod purred as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

Enfolding Parker in a deep embrace, Jarod lovingly kissed the soft curve of her neck. Giggles from below forced Jarod to look up from the task of nibbling at her flesh. With a lighthearted taunt, Jarod blinked down in feigned confusion at his children.

"Where did these little midgets come from and why won't they let me snuggle with my wife?" Jarod growled playfully.

Charlie, a familiar grin lighting up his face chirped, "Snuggling with your wife is where the midgets come from, Daddy!"

Jarod and Parker both burst into laughter. Swinging his youngest son up in his arms, Jarod tossed the little boy over his shoulder. "That's it young man." He scolded laughingly. "You are too young to be talking like that. I think you need to watch an hour or two of Sesame Street."

Charlie squealed in pretended outrage. "No! Please! Sesame Street is for babies." He cried as his father marched him into the house. "Can I watch SpongeBob instead?"

The other two children started hopping up and down yelling, "Aye Aye, Captain!" Kate and TJ ran into the house after their father while they all started singing. "Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? -SpongeBob SquarePants! Absorbent and yellow and porous is he. - SpongeBob SquarePants!"

Parker looked toward her mother-in-law and rolled her eyes in long- suffering anguish. "They are going to sing that stupid song for the rest of the day." She moaned.

Margaret gave Parker a quick hug as she headed across the yard toward her own house. "I know how you feel dear. Jarod used to sing something similarly irritating when he was a boy." The older woman put a finger to chin as she thought for a moment, trying to dredge up the ancient lyrics. "Cree craw toads foot geese walk bare foot." Margaret sang.

"He still sings that song, Margaret." Parker groaned. "Are you telling me that I have to listen to this for the next thirty years?"

Margaret smiled softly. "If you're lucky, you'll get to hear it every day."

Parker smiled in understanding and went inside to listen to one of the world's most irritating songs for the umpteenth time.

She felt very lucky indeed.
The End.