Every so often, she was able to lose herself in the moment; the smell of burgers grilling and her cold beer. The sun was divinely warm on her face, and she found herself shutting her eyes and soaking it in. There was a playful breeze, perfumed with pine, which ruffled her dark and curly hair. The voices and laughter of the others would bring gentle smiles to her lips.
Then she would remember her jeep was still parked at the Leeds post office and it all came spilling back; the façade she’d built up around her life for the last few months was torn apart. The monster she’d run from had found her once more. Memories would come back in flashes; the moment of across the street eye contact, predator and prey through the business district, being grabbed in the library, and crying for what felt like days in a set of strong arms.
Upon recollection, she found herself wanting to start crying again. The feeling of defeat was as palatable as the taste of bile in the throat. Then the anger would come; anger at being chased so far, at running, at feeling like a victim.
“I do not see you as a victim, Just Sydney,” Lankin told her as they drove back to Marrakech. She found his statement of little comfort.
Her mind flashed to when they first pulled up to Desdemona’s and Marty’s house. She was almost afraid to get out. Visions of Darcy standing just behind Lankin’s vehicle, watching and waiting, strobbed across her mind’s eye. It was enough to make her nauseous.
“It’s okay, Just Sydney,” Lankin said gently when he opened her door. “Come on.”
“I don’t know,” she said in a small voice. “I’m still rattled.”
“You just need to relax. Breathe.”
“Easy for you to say,” Sydney muttered.
“Easy to do,” Lankin said, leaning in so close the tips of their noses touched. “Here, let me show you; in…out, in…out, in…out. Just like that.”
She wasn’t sure what to call the feeling, which caused her to all but greedily gulp at the air as she looked into his gray eyes. There was similar confusion when she exhaled, the sound coming out as more of a sigh. Lankin smiled broadly at her.
“See? You can do it!” And with that, he pulled away and started to walk toward the house. “Come on, we’re expected.”
“I’m either falling in love with you, or I’m discovering you’re just a thorn in my side,” Sydney whispered to herself.
“Well, flip a coin and tell me what the decision is,” Lankin called glibly over his shoulder, not even bothering to turn back and notice how she deeply was blushing at the realization he heard her.
A few hours and drinks later, in last bits of warm daylight, the burgers were served. She was amazed how hungry she was. Back when she was making ready to leave Prague, her appetite vanished. From the standpoint of sheer vanity, it was great to lose twenty pounds. But knowing what caused it reminded her there were far better ways to diet.
They talked about jobs and families. Small town and country gossip and tall hiking tales. What happened in Leeds seemed to disappear again. The spell was working quite well until Sydney looked out into the drive and saw Lankin’s vehicle; an ancient mud-splattered thing that looked like it was more suited for going up the steepest part of mountains than driving on pavement. Her face flushed as she remembered where her jeep still was.
“Fuck!” She grumbled perhaps a little too loudly. “My jeep…”
“We’re going to take care of that, Syd,” Desdemona said. “Don’t worry. It’s fine.”
“Great, rescue me like I’m some fucking damsel in distress!” she spat. “All because of that bitch. I thought this was over, and now, she’s fucking here!”
“She doesn’t know you’re in Marrakech,” Dessy observed.
“For now,” Sydney argued, finishing her beer and starting another one.
“My sister says when you run away, your monsters will chase you,” Lankin mused.
He was sitting away from the others, thoughtfully nursing a bottle of wine one slow glass at a time. Since arriving, he would disappear for extended periods. When he was around, it was at a distance. His bearing was pensive, like that of big cat on the hunt.
“Of course she was going to chase me!” Sydney snapped. “She’s got it in her head she needs to ruin my life! You think I wanted to fucking run? Do you think I fucking enjoy this?”
“That’s not my place to say,” Lankin remarked with a smirk. “However, I’m enjoying listening to you talk dirty.”
“Fuck you!” She turned away, but not before noticing how he raised an eyebrow at her.
“Oh, you two,” Dessy broke in, hoping her amusement at their interaction wasn’t too obvious. “Syd, please calm down. And, Lazarus, perhaps this isn’t the best time to be joking.”
“If you think I’ve been joking around, Desdemona, than you need to reassess how well you think you know me,” he said with a sudden narrowed-eye seriousness that got them both to shudder.
“Any brilliant suggestions?” Sydney asked in a mix of defeated cynicism and desperation.
“You need to breathe,” Lankin replied. “And you need to clear your head.”
“That’s easier said than done, given what’s happened.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Lankin said with a shrug. “I know for a fact you have the next couple days free from your job, Desdemona told me. To that end, I say we go for a little stroll.”
“’Little stroll’ in your world means a day-hike, Lazarus,” Dessy giggled.
“I am proposing we go up the Death’s Head,” he continued, unphased. “I could even take you up Hell’s Watchtower if you think you’re up for it.”
“I’m up for anything you have to offer, Lazarus Lankin,” Sydney said defiantly.
“That’s the spirit!” He raised his glass and took a hearty gulp, before refilling it.
“But do you really think it’s going help?” She inquired.
“Immeasurably,” he said. “I assure you, being up in the tundra can be quite cathartic.”
“You should trust him,” Dessy added.
“I think I do.”
“Wonderful! Desdemona, why don’t you take Just Sydney to get her gear and have her stay the night with you and Marty?” Lankin said. “I think we can all agree it would do wonders for her peace of mind if she had some company overnight.”
“Of course,” she said. “And you?”
“I should get myself ready,” Lankin replied making to leave. “We’ll have an early start, after all.” He stepped over to place a firm hand on Sydney’s shoulder. “Get plenty of rest tonight, Just Sydney. Tomorrow promises to be a big, big day.”