“You’re kidding, right? I mean, you’re just joking aren’t you?”
That was what Kathryn and Callie said when Anna had finished, despite the evidence of the approaching darkness, condensed into one small area.
“It’s all true. Every word of it.” Matt’s voice radiated authority. “Tell me, has Anna ever lied to you before?” her friends had to admit that she hadn’t - it could not be denied that Anna was scrupulously honest.
The four of them looked around. For a moment they had forgotten their surroundings. The area was still full of people, but they hadn’t noticed the intense discussion going on the other side of the fire, and no one had been listening. For the moment, they were safe.
“Thanks, Matt,” whispered Anna, smiling at him shyly. She knew that without him, it would have been impossible to convince her friends, who were the least gullible people she knew.
The fire had finally gone out. Everybody let out a huge sigh, and then laughed, which was another tradition, something that happened every year. No one else had noticed the approaching cloud, although it grew every nearer and bigger. Anna guessed it would only take another half-hour or so to reach them. No one else seemed to have noticed that the stars were going out, either. They were all too busy gathering their things and getting read to depart.
“You coming, Anna?” said her mother. Anna turned. She was still standing close to Matt, Callie and Kathryn, but they were now almost alone.
“No, we thought we’d stay for a while. That okay?” she said. Her mother nodded.
“Just don’t outstay your welcome.” That was what Angie always said. She always worried about bothering other people, and was far too polite ever to commit such a crime.
Although there was plenty of time to make good their escape, both Matt and Anna knew that this was where they were needed. They could not let the Celryn escape this meeting, because if they did they would roam the area, hunting. It would be too late.
Anna joined Kathryn and Callie by the ashes of the fire, followed closely by Matt. He sat on Anna’s right hand side, and his hand was so close to hers … almost touching. She felt her heart miss a beat, and turned to smile at him.
“Hey, don’t get excited,” he whispered to her, so that her friends would not hear. “It’s for your own safety, remember? I’ve got to stay close.” He smiled his special smile.
“Yeah, right,” she replied. “Of course. That’s what they all say.” Her light-hearted words fell flat, clashing with the mood, and they lapsed into silent companionship. The ‘cloud’ was drawing ever closer - now they could see just how many of the Celryn there really were.
“Get out of here, Anna!” cried Matt, as soon as he saw, diving at her and bringing her to the ground. A corner of her mind took advantage and used that minute to savour the closeness, when he pushed her under a bush.
“Matt, I can fight! I know what to do!” she cried indignantly.
“No, you can’t!” he replied. And then, a moment later, “Oh, damn it. This looks like a bit more than I can handle.” He pulled from his pocket seven silver crosses, but Anna could see that in that group there were far more than seven of the Celryn.
“Matt! You can’t do this alone!” called Anna, tears streaming down her cheeks unchecked. “I don’t want you to die.” He turned towards her, his face white in the dim light of the moon and the stars.
“I don’t want to die, either, Anna,” he said. “But I am Telcontar, and this is my duty. I am not going to be a shirker.” He paused. “Anna?” he said. He was blushing. “I don’t really know to tell you this … but I think I might be in love with you.” He smiled awkwardly.
“I love you too, Matt!” she replied, also blushing furiously, not knowing whether the words were true or not. Could it be possible that she had fallen in love? Could she really be in love … with an alien? Why couldn’t the difficulties of her first romance be with someone normal? Anna pondered this, but only for a minute. Time was too scarce. Because your life isn’t normal, a voice in the back of her mind replied. I know, she told it. Look at this mess, for example.