'08 was the year Kate started in primary. Watching her baby girl walk away from her, Parker couldn't believe she was still breathing.
The little girl was not scared even a jot, simply terribly excited, but Parker thought that her heart may fail her as soon as her little girl disappeared into that classroom.
It was lucky Sam was standing beside her with his arms around her, because she thought that had he not been there, she simply would have fainted. She made to run inside and snatch up her baby and never let her out of her sight again, but Sam took a firm hold on her waist and dragged her back, turning her to him and kissing her so that she forgot all about Kate. When he pulled away, Parker had the most horrible glare upon her face, but Sam simply laughed and took her hand, leading her back to the car.
On the evening of her first day at school, as she was tucking Kate into bed at night, Parker sat down and kissed her daughter's head and asked if she had made any friends. Kate nodded and explained that he was a boy and that he had a funny name. Parker smiled and assured Kate that she would make many more friends still, and maybe even some girl friends.
Sam was away at a conference on the day on the prep circus. Parker, along with Deb, Morgana and a boy named Danny (Deb's boyfriend, who worked in an ice-cream van) arrived at ten, the show due to start at ten-thirty.
Parker was sitting on a blue plastic chair in the school library when she recognised a familiar face. Charlotte Fulton stood by the door, looking a little lost.
The forty-five year old was dressed in a pair of faded jeans with patches of strawberry-patterned material, the hems turned up, over which she wore a tight short-sleeved red check shirt. Her hair was cut in a boyish fashion so that it framed her face in a spherical manner, and her eyelids shone faintly smoky, her lips done simple with balm. As to what Charlotte Fulton was doing there, she was quite in the dark. She hadn't so much as approached the woman in almost five years.
Across the room, the preps filed in dressed all in their costumes, their teacher in the lead. Parker spotted Kate and waved. Kate saw her mother waving and reciprocated, waving back to her mother frantically with both hands. A little boy following Kate grabbed her from behind and hugged her.
Parker smiled warmly to her daughter, who was now having difficulty waving with the boy holding her arms pinned to her sides, and made a note of the boy. He had a strawberry snap clip in his hair, which struck Parker as plain creepy, and was how she might have mistook him for a girl if her Perception hadn't told her otherwise. Her Perception was weak, but it still existed, as a separate from her Inner Sense, the Voices that sometimes spoke to her. Perception was an aptitude for picking up on vibrations and feelings, and to the best of her knowledge, it was the only thing common to all individuals with the gene regardless of its expression, whether it be Pretender, Healer or Empath.
Of all the expressions of the gene, Perception was the weakest in Pretenders, and in some it never fully established itself, simply remained dormant their whole lives.
Parker never talked with Sam about these things, just as she never talked with him about his own abilities; for ever since she was seven, she had known there to be something terribly wrong with his father. She sometimes remembered bits and pieces of her mother, how she had cut herself but yet there was never any scars, how – once in Maine visiting Ben – she had drowned herself in the lake.
Ben, Parker recalled, had been almost too calm as though in shock. William had brought Catherine down to stay with Ben for some reason that remained unexplained, and Parker had never been able to pluck up the courage to ring Ben and ask how William had even known about him and Cat.
Kate and the boy who had grabbed her turned out to be mimes. The little boy fell over when they were playing imaginary tug-of-war, straight on his bum, and a lot of the other children along with some of the parents laughed. The boy bounced back up just as Kate was about to run over and pull him to his feet.
By lunch the circus was over and the preps and their parents were invited to stay for a barbeque lunch. Parker spotted Charlotte sitting with the boy from her daughter's mime act and walked over, Kate sipping her cordial at her heels. Charlotte was eating a hamburger and coleslaw sandwich at one of the plastic chairs, the boy sitting next to her, eating grapes.
Parker waved. "Hi! Don't you work at the Centre? It's just that I've seen you around."
Charlotte looked up at Parker, picking a bit of chewy lolly out of her son's hair. "Yeah, I work in Med Space," Charlotte told her cheerfully, holding out a hand for her to shake.
Parker shook the younger woman's hand, introducing herself. "Melanie Parker-Raines."
Charlotte's smile seemed to fade a little but she hitched it back in time. "Charlotte Fulton."
Parker grinned. "This is so great! Both our children in the same grade!"
"You're disgusting, Julius!" Kate told the boy.
"Oh, I'm sorry! This is my son, Julius," Charlotte beamed, patting the youngster on the head.
"Kate," Parker replied back, nodding to her daughter.
Kate had sat down in a chair next to Julius's and the pair were now having a contest on who could fit the most grapes in their mouth. It looked as though Parker had finally met Kate's little friend.
"Your mom's a bit hot," Kate told Julius, who promptly choked on his grapes and had his mother in tears from laughing, leaning over to pat him on the back gently.
"A job? You call that drudgery a profession? I say slavery, my dear man!" Alice exclaimed, passing a nineteen-year-old William a piece of tea cake. Alice no longer wondered about William. He was an odd fellow, she knew, but he was someone with which to converse, and she realised, being dead, it was not everyday she got to talk to someone as terribly interesting as an undead.
Of course, there was nothing mentioned in the Scriptures he had taken from T-Corp as a young boy to indicate that such a thing might happen, simply that Healers – whatever they might be – lived longer lives than other humans and were not often sick.
700 years he had said, and Alice had laughed. She would have said he was out of his mind, loopy, demonically possessed – heck, she wouldn't even have believed him the same person but for that he felt the same. As one of the dead, she liked to think herself perceptive to these sort of things, but for all she knew, it was just the energy signature she was picking up on and had nothing to do with spirits or souls.
William rolled his eyes, rather eerily blue now for one of such a young apparent age, and proceeded in explanation of his occupation. "Well you hardly expect me to announce myself a Neuro-surgeon and apply for a position at Grace, do you now?"
Alice sniffed in a snobbish manner. "Anything would be better than a dingy supermarket!"
"It isn't dingy," the young man told her. "It's rather sterile in reality."
Alice narrowed her eyes and gave her chin a little upward toss as though to say she was onto him and his compulsive lying. "You're a doctor, for God's Sake, man! They are two completely different things!"
William sighed. "I was a psychiatrist. I'm not anymore. End of story," he told her in French.
"You're not actually trying to speak French, are you?" the girl asked, incredulous.
"Oh no!" the young man assured her.
Alice narrowed her eyes in scepticism. "I'm watching you!"
"Not inappropriately, I hope?"
Alice snorted, shaking her head with an accusing finger pointed in his direction. "You, young man, are depraved!"
William sighed despairingly. "Yep!"
Alice stuck her tongue out at him.
Emily turned over in bed and watched Ethan sleeping. Mo lay on the bed by the window, sleeping off his hangover.
The week previous had been Zoe's birthday, and the whole family had gone bowling and then to dinner at a family restaurant. Mo, who held no special affection for Zoe, had been annoyed when Jarod had continuously let Zoe win in the bowling.
But it had only gotten worse when Jarod had proposed to her later. The reason they were holed up in some dingy little motel room in the middle of God-Knows-Where, was a little more complicated and had mostly to do with Emily.
Margaret, not having been a big fan of Zoe in the early days of their meeting, had now taken to the girl as though she were her own daughter, seeing as her son had chosen her as his bride, and had quite forgotten her own daughter.
Emily had never been quite enough. Female and with no extraordinary intelligence. She was no replacement for Margaret's baby boys and Margaret thought it cruel that the girl should think herself worthy of such affection only for that she was the only remaining child. She wanted it all and never gave any back. As if Harmony wasn't already enough of a burden? She worked her fingers to the bone to support the two of them and they never paid her any heed. The woman was temperamental, forgetful; the girl raucous and unruly.
Emily had known from the time her mother had found her in police detainment, a teenage runaway, and knocked-up to boot, that this was one rip she would never be able to mend.
She had woken five days after her baby's birth to find the child gone and her mother had sent him away.
On her eighteenth birthday she was packed off into a job at a shopping complex, cleaning detail, and had spent half a year in this job to please her mother, before she decided that she wanted to become a nurse, in hopes of finding her baby boy and reclaiming him. She didn't care if she had to abduct him, he deserved to be with his mother and his mother with him.
She had tried so hard not to hate her mother for sending Lyle away, for that was what she had named him, had tried to convince herself that her mother had only had her child and grandchild's best interests at heart, but she woke so many mornings with such a gaping emptiness inside that when the day was done and night was come she never wanted to open her eyes and wake again.
She worked her hardest, hoping that the work would drive all thought of heartache from her mind for a while, but it never worked. No matter how hard she worked, her mother had nothing but disdain for her. She would go to university and make something of herself, she told her mother proudly. The woman only scoffed and left the room, to make tea, she said. She was not her brothers. She would amount to nothing. She could only amount to nothing. They had not come for her, after all.
Charles, himself, had been so disappointed with the girl that he had left, but he had left his wife too.
The girl only reminded her of all she had lost, but still she tried so hard to be a mother to the child. The child had grown up to be nothing but a disappointment. Boarding school had only served to cause her to rebel more than ever. Margaret had spent ten years working herself into the ground to be able to pay for a decent education for her baby girl once she reached secondary level, but the girl had thrown it all in her face, all her efforts trampled.
Emily got to studying nights, working days, and no matter how much she didn't want to get out of bed some days for the tiredness she felt, she knew she would never give up and just resign her child to his Fate. She hardly saw her mother or Harmony for the study, but somehow it helped her to forget all the pain held within her young heart.
She worked on nursing for six years before she realised that she could not bring herself to steal the child away from his family. They would be all that he had known and she was damned if she would hurt her baby that way. If he hated her for it later, that was the sacrifice she had to make.
At 25 she quit nursing and took up university again, determined to once and for all prove to her mother that she did exist. She would make something of herself. She would become a reporter. She would do something for the world. She would make her parents proud.
She put her fanciful childhood ideals aside, of saving the Earth, and focussed on her studies.
She made a friend once, but then she'd gone and scared her away when she'd kissed her on the mouth. She brought boys home for her mother to meet, as though thinking she could make it up to her mother, although she was sure her mother didn't know the reason her friend and her no longer talked. She tried so hard to like them, but she always ended up drinking too much and passing out on the floor.
She gave up on that endeavour and partied too much. Her mother came to wake her one morning, and even she could not dispute that which she saw. She refused to speak to her daughter for six months. Emily moved out and rung only to speak to Harmony. Her mother never picked up the phone, and beside, the girl would only have hung up, had she.
When she turned 27 in 1996, Emily took to writing romance under the name Courtney McCarty, where girls liked boys and girls never liked other girls. Her mother was hardly approving of this, but she seemed somehow consoled, her consolation extending to three or four words a week.
She got a small job working for a newspaper. Her mother bought the paper in the off-chance one of her daughter's articles would appear, and when they did, she cut them neatly out and pasted them into a pretty polka dot scrapbook she had bought at the newsagents. Emily got promoted and Margaret wrote her a congratulations card. The girl shortened Courtney to Kurt and the card was never sent.
Emily woke up one morning curious and thought that if she could bring her family back together, everything could be better, just as it was meant to. She found out about a corporation named the Centre located out of Blue Cove, Delaware. She felt sick and realised she had to find her brothers. She packed up her things and left in the middle of the night. Her mother got a letter in the mail two days later and Harmony cried for two days.
Margaret sat the woman down and told her that she was not helping anyone, least of all that girl, by sulking. Harmony got to writing romance again and found consolation in the loves and lives of her characters.
Emily got herself thrown out a window and somehow managed to bring her family together. But then there was Jarod and Margaret knew her baby had come home. Emily finally met her father, with whom she remembered having three-hour phone conservations as an eight-year-old. She met Mo, her eldest brother's clone, unnatural in his mother's eyes, and Ethan, the child of her father and another woman who heard voices that told him to do bad things. Emily took the two in and introduced them to Harmony. She wanted to be strong, but she realised she was a little scared.
Ethan tried to reassure her and Mo bought her pretty stuffed things, perfume and chocolates. They read magazines together and Mo told stupid jokes. They read Harmony's romance novels and took Harmony ice-skating and bowling. They talked about love and things from their past. Emily found herself a little scared of Mo, of her father, Jarod, but she knew there was no logical reason for it. She tried to ignore it and woke up in the middle of the night in the dark and couldn't get back to sleep.
She spent her hours hating Lyle Parker and found a point of common interest with her two friends. The three spent whole evenings in effort to dig up the secrets surrounding Ethan's mother, Catherine Parker, sure this one woman was somehow they key to it all. Emily leant Japanese and wrote Lyle hate-mail. She swapped sleeping for researching, and pretended she was fine.
Ethan got up one night, unable to sleep for worry, and tried to convince Emily to get some sleep. Emily dismissed his worry and persuaded him to dance with her, putting Elvis on over the stereo. Ethan was very bad at dancing and Emily laughed. Emily finally wore herself out and fell asleep at five in the morning. Ethan took her to bed and lay down beside her. They played soccer and Emily showed them how to pole dance, having once worked as a pole dancer part-time. And that was how Ethan and Mo knew that they had to protect their sister.
Ethan woke to darkness and a scared voice. He blinked in the depressing heat.
Mo appeared beside him.
"I can't find her!" Mo rambled.
Ethan sat abruptly and realised that Emily was indeed missing. He jumped off the bed and walked to the window, lifting the window easily. The latch had been left unlocked.
"Shit!" Mo swore loudly, upset with himself.
Ethan turned to Mo, worried. They both knew what the other was thinking, it went unsaid. Two years ago she had run away. She had been back for no more than six months.
Mo started to stuff all of Ethan's things back into his cardboard suitcase. He wasn't going to let her go this time. "She isn't safe," he protested to the silence.
Ethan understood. She was his sister, his friend. He would never forgive himself if something happened to her. Some secrets went too deep. Both Ethan and Mo knew this. They had their own. Ethan placed a hand on the younger man's arm. "Blue Cove, Delaware."
Mo wanted to smack Ethan, but then, Ethan had the alien antennae. "Why?" he demanded angrily.
"Catherine didn't say."
Mo refrained from insulting Ethan's deceased mother in front of him, and snatched up his own things and headed for the door. Ethan followed the younger man out of the room.
Mo was tired and the confines of the bus made him claustrophobic. He rubbed his face and leant his head against the cold glass.
Ethan was not consoled by the boy's morbid mood. Mo was cheap and obnoxious and sweet and silly, and a whole lot of things beside: drunk, angry, loud, flirty, childish... the list went on. But the one thing that was not Mo was depressed. A song played over the radio and Ethan wanted someone to hug. Mo would have sung along, and if he knew none of the words, he made new ones up. The boy was perfectly silent. Ethan ignored his wobbling lip and closed his eyes, tired himself.
1989 was the year Ethan turned eighteen, and the year Ethan first met his half-brother, Lyle. Lyle, having left Canada in '87, had taken up in the Air Force for two years. He was back working for the Centre in '89 and was assigned to Field.
Ethan's first impression of his half-brother was a strong scepticism that this twenty-something was a psychologist as he said. There was a time that he thought the man perpetually drunk, but then he couldn't wake him, and the attending doctor said that diabetes was nothing to worry about if managed properly. Ethan listened to Lyle's heavy metal and wondered how he could stand it.
He was back from the hospital the following day, but then he had an older man with him who had introduced himself as Dr. Raines.
Ethan was unsure of this Raines. And then when he heard Lyle had been given an active transfer and this Raines was going to be looking after him instead, he was scared. He didn't like this new doctor.
He had not been at all consoled by his half-brother's reassuring smile, but then he had felt a little calmer with the hug, until the point Lyle reached the door and he didn't want him to go because he knew he wouldn't come back the same. He didn't do anything, though, never even said anything, because what good were the words of a crazy boy.
Ethan remembered a story Lyle had once told him when Ethan had been reluctant to talk. Ethan didn't like to talk to people who weren't his family, and he didn't like to remember the woman with the pretty brown eyes and fair curls. She was gone now, and he would have been upset to think on her, so he didn't.
"I knew a boy once, and he didn't like to talk much either, didn't like to do much of anything that wasn't watching. Watching was his favourite thing of all to do in the whole wide world. Watching wasn't like talking, talking meant offering something of oneself up to the exchange, meant articulating that which one felt. He had spent much time in observation of this talking, leant the things that went along with certain moods, feelings evoked, unspoken, but he was scared. What if he said something that caused them to dislike him?"
"So he stayed huddled in his own little world, and whenever someone should come to take him from the place in which he felt safe, he would throw the most horrible fit as though he were a wild animal and not in fact human, for humans saw themselves above other animals, saw themselves as tamed and civilised. And then he had to go again even though he didn't want to because he had grown used to this new set of humans. He knew then that he would only go on this way for the longest time, and he knew too that if he never came out and volunteered a part of himself he could go on lying to himself, go on telling himself that those other people couldn't hurt him, all the while knowing that it was only himself who was causing the hurt. Nobody would truly know what he felt or thought if he did not say so, because they could not gauge all by just one glance."
"And there at once was too much and it confused the child, but the child never gave up on his mission, because now he was determined, and he knew he would be lonely if he were to go back to that place again. And if he thought on it, if he thought on those feelings and thoughts he discerned as his own, he realised he was lonely, and if he missed just one thing, one person, he knew he had to do something to make him forget that something or someone, had to take something to replace that. You see, he did not understand yet why one could not simply replace a hole in the heart with some new object of affection as one might replace parts on an engine.
"So you see, he was pleased for a time, or as pleased as he knew how to be, and he never wanted to think anything displeasing of these people who had kept him, because he loved them and he just wanted them to love him back the way families were meant to love each other." Lyle looked up into Ethan's eyes suddenly as though awaiting comment, but Ethan had none, so Lyle went on.
"You are the only one who can speak for you, little one. The doctor can give you pills, but he cannot feel your pain. The preacher can give you forgiveness, but he cannot know your thoughts. You can sit there without any words, but how will I know you if you never give me a chance. Whether it end in heartache, whether it end in happiness, whether it end in nothing at all, it is the way of everything. You see, society expects certain things of us, and we can listen and take note, but we are all unique and society is so big, it cannot know us all, so we must shout it out, and then perhaps another someone will shout back and that is how we will truly know how it is acceptable for us to be."
"You don't have to tell me one thing, you don't have to say anything at all, but I will just go on guessing and assuming in all the wrong directions and this might make you unhappy because I know it would make me unhappy to be mis-taken."
Of course, after that, Ethan just had to say something, if only for that he would not have to listen to Lyle going on and on, because he seemed to like to do that.
(END OF FLASHBACK)
Ethan awoke with a jolt and straightened. Mo was watching the world slip by in a constant stream of endless blur for every once in a while they would come to a standstill and a glimpse would be caught before it to joined the blur and was lost.
Ethan tapped his shoe in time with the song over the radio. Lyle had always been very loud and opinionated. In some silly way, Ethan realised Mo reminded him of Lyle. It sort of made him smile to imagine the kind of child Lyle had been, and imagined him to be a very difficult one. He remembered the time Lyle had got on to thinking he could sing.
That was about their second session, and Ethan was reluctant to talk, but then he had decided he might just say a little something, anything to shut Lyle up, because he really was not made for singing. Of course, then, Ethan had fallen into that trap, "If you can do it so much better…", and although he really didn't want to be singing, he did somehow want to prove that he could to sing. But then Lyle had started on giggling and Ethan had gone off in a huff, and he had even told his parents so. His mother had frowned, and his father had laughed. "What on Earth were you singing for in the first boy?" Ethan had confused himself a little then, but then, it wasn't his fault. "It wasn't me who started it!" His mother had agreed and his father had shaken his head.
Ethan snorted to himself, and Mo turned to him with a funny look. "Um, I was just remembering something stupid," Ethan told the youngster.
Mo frowned, and then he got a little of that old sparkle in his eye, as in anticipation.
Ethan couldn't very well blurt that out, so he had to think quick, because he didn't want to miss this one chance to cheer his friend up. "Just, um- I was in this stupid school play. I must have been about nine – yeah, nine – and anyway, I got stuck as a rabbit. It was just so silly. My mom looked so proud, sitting out there in the audience, and I hoped to God she wouldn't turn and start on: "That's my boy". It was rather embarrassing for me at that age. I simply couldn't understand what there was to be happy for. I mean, I had tried, but then I just kept thinking- I was dressed up as a frigging bunny rabbit, for goodness sake! What was wrong with that woman?"
Mo smiled kindly, because he knew that woman to be deceased and he knew too that Ethan must have missed her.
Ethan smiled in reminisce, and then he thought that there was another person he missed. He turned to Mo with sadness and confusion in his eyes, and Mo frowned sadly.
"We're going to get her back," Mo assured him.
Ethan nodded and wondered how he had gone from the one comforting to the one being comforted. Life was funny like that sometimes, it turned out in all the wrong directions, but then, it wasn't so bad after all, except that it was.
"Someday I'll wish upon a star, and wake up where the clouds are far, behind me. Where troubles melt like lemon drops…"
Parker left Kate watching cartoons and strolled down the hall to answer the door, cordless phone wedged between her shoulder and cheek. "Yeah, hold on, Sam. There's someone at the door. I've got to get this. Five minutes, I promise, honey." She pulled the door open and her wavering attention focussed.
And then she noticed that the girl was soaking wet because it had rained that morning, and she had likely walked all the way from the train station. She took the girl by the shoulders, phone in hand, and led her inside, nudging the door shut with the back of her shoe.
Dani sat shivering at the kitchen table, blanket clutched to her chest. Kate watched her from across the table, impatient. Her mother was making her a hot chocolate with marshmallows, caramel ice-cream topping sauce, cream and mint-flavoured sprinkles.
Parker came up behind Dani and placed a mug of hot coffee in front of her, but the girl was staring into nothingness as though she could see something there, but perhaps she saw nothing at all and the emptiness had captured her in its web and crawled into her heart and eaten it all away.
Parker was quite lost for what to do. She fixed a glaring Kate's hot chocolate and placed the parfait glass before the girl, passing her a tall teaspoon, and sat down beside her daughter with her hot coffee, stirring in her customary three sugars, a habit she conceded she and Sam shared. "Dani?" Parker tried, and the girl looked up with hollow eyes. "Why are you here?" Parker realised it sounded insensitive, but she knew no other way of asking.
"I was looking for someone," she replied glumly.
Parker smiled faintly, inserting a dash of cheerful amusement into her voice. "Well, I'd say you've found someone."
Dani dropped her face to her drink. "No…"