‘Tis the ninth, and that means it is cookie time! And it is Alan’s turn to have a cookie of his very own.
Alan dropped his bow at her feet.
“I’ve got to go,” he said, his voice tight.
“What?” Sin asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Alan snapped, and turned on his heel. Sin noticed that he was not heading for his car.
She might not know Alan well enough to recognize when he was lying. Probably nobody knew him well enough for that.
But she could always recognize a bad performance. And Alan was excellent at pretending everything was all right: if he was turning in a bad performance, then something was really wrong.
Sin intended to find out what.
She couldn’t think of what she wanted first, though. Toby and Lydie came first. She ran over to Jonas and asked him to watch the kids for a minute, bring them to Trish if she was gone too long, make sure they were fed. Toby was playing with a tiny bow and looked happy, so she didn’t disturb him, but she stopped and hugged Lydie and told her she was just going to ask Alan if he would like to stay for dinner, after all.
Then and only then was she allowed to run, and she ran, sure and fleet, legs carrying her in easy motion over the fields in the direction Alan had gone. There were a few fences in her way: she ran at them, sometimes clearing them, sometimes hooking a foot in them and launching herself over them without breaking stride. She knew where she was going and what she was doing. Chasing Alan was easy.
Catching up with Alan was hard, because she had no plan of action for what to do when she drew level with him as he limped determinedly along another fence.
He whirled on her, face very pale, and demanded: “What do you want?”
“What did you think you were doing, running off like that?” Sin asked. “You should’ve known I’d come after you.”
Alan’s mouth twisted. “And of course, I can’t outrun you.”
“Nobody can outrun me,” said Sin.
It was just the truth. But it seemed to knock Alan back a little. He almost smiled, and ran one hand roughly through his hair. It made his hair stand up on end, a glinting riot of curls.
“Cynthia,” Alan said. “Trust me, you don’t want to be here. Will you just go?”
“Trust you?” Sin echoed. “Aren’t you, like, a compulsive liar? No, I think I’m going to stay right here.”
She illustrated her point by perching herself on the fence.
Alan almost smiled again, but insisted: “You really don’t want to-”
He’d been pale before, but now he went grey, his face locked in a spasm of pain. He gritted his teeth for a moment, lips skinned back, grimacing helplessly, and then he fell face forward on the grass.
Sin scrambled off the fence and onto her knees.
“Alan,” she said. “Oh my God, Alan-”
He could not answer, that much was clear. He was moaning into the grass, but they didn’t sound like conscious moans. They sounded like the long guttural cries of an animal in agony.
Sin manhandled him onto his back, careless of his leg, too desperate to be careful of anything. He screamed once when she was doing it, but she was a dancer and that meant never hesitating once you were committed to a course of action.
When she had his head in her lap, she realized that she’d trapped herself there, but it wasn’t like she could have abandoned Alan while he had some sort of fit. She couldn’t leave him, not like this, not all alone. So she couldn’t get help.
All she could do was watch his body seizing with what seemed like hundreds of separate convulsions, shaking with another rush of pain before the first had completely passed, face turning away from her even as she stroked his hair. The terrible moaning sound seemed to be ripped right from his chest after a while. It went on and on, helpless and exhausted.
She thought it would never end, and then it did. The sky was grey with evening, and Alan’s skin looked ashen as the fading light. His body was still shuddering a little with the aftershocks of pain, but the terrible strained tautness had finally gone out of it.
He blinked up at her. His glasses had gone crooked and he looked a little confused.
“What,” Sin said, “the hell was that?”
I hope you enjoyed.