As they turned off the country road to follow a sign pointing to a farm shop and tea room, Karen turn around and eyed Alban critically. Her heart friend was tugging at the yellow T-shirt and blue jeans that Daniel had leant him and from the way his shoulders were hunched, it was clear he was really uncomfortable. But there was no helping it.
“I guess you’ll have to do,” she said after a long moment. “Though you might get teased by some prats for looking a bit ‘girly’ by some standards.”
“He looks fine, Kaz.â€ Lydia was stroking Bennu’s feathers as he sat in her lap in his resting form. â€œYou’ll have to wait outside I’m afraid, Bennu.â€
“That’s okay,â€ he replied.
“We need someone to keep watch, anyway,â€ Karen scowled at Alban. “Can you at least try not to fidget so much?”
“How do you wear this stuff?” he exploded. “It’s so rough. I feel like my skin’s being rubbed off.”
“I know.” Karen gave a sigh. “Our skin is much less sensitive than yours. It’s not ideal by a long shot, but we have to make sure you pass for human and this is the only way.” She took hold of the baseball cap he was wearing and pulled it down to make sure the points of his ears were hidden.
“Would it really matter that much if someone realised that I’m not human?” he asked.
“Unfortunately, yes, it probably would,” she said sadly as her father parked the SUV near the tea room door. She gave him one more once over and then nodded. “You’ll do. At least you could come with us.” She cast a look at Daniel who was staring out of the window pensively. There was no room for even a shetland pony in the SUV so he’d had to leave Ebona behind; it seemed to be getting to him. “Come on, Dan. We’re there.” She pulled open the door and they piled out into the car park.
“Let me do the talking,” Matthias said as he headed to the door. “At first, anyway.”
“Michael?” The brunette woman behind the counter stared at Matthias in obvious surprise as he led them inside. It hadn’t changed much since they’d visited here when she was eight, Karen decided.
“Hello, Cat.” Matthias gave her a warm smile. “It’s been a long time.”
“Eight years since we spoke in person.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Okay, what’s he done? This is about him isn’t it?” She pinched her nose tiredly. “I know he’s up to something. He hasn’t been around for months but business still always dies off when he’s up to something for some reason.”
“It is, I’m afraid, my dear. But first, make us some tea.” He pulled out his wallet and looked around. “And we’ll order lunch, as well, I think. It’s a long time since breakfast.” He picked up a menu and ushered them towards a table.
Lydia looked around the room with a puzzled frown. “Have we been here before?”
“Yes,” Karen said before Matthias could respond. “That time we visited Devon when we were eight.”
“We had ice cream,” Lydia murmured “Because we didn’t have one at Tarr Steps…” She trailed off with a frown. “That was the day-” She broke off as her father put a hand on her forearm. “We’ll talk about it later, Lyd. Let’s not get distracted.”
Lydia’s frown deepened and it looked like she might argue then she shook her head. “Okay,” she said finally. “But don’t you think that it’s an awfully big coincidence that she’s his sister?”
“Perhaps, but I’m not seeing the connection yet,” Matt said. “Now, let’s order before we start bothering Cat.”
Everyone pawed through the menu and ordered something â€“ except Alban, who looked through the menu and then shook his head and said he wasn’t hungry. He never had gotten used to the fact that vegetables on Earth wouldn’t burn him.
After Catherine returned to the kitchen to make their sandwiches, Matthias turned to look at Lucas. “So how do you think we should approach this?”
Lucas rested his chin on his hand and looked towards the kitchen door thoughtfully. “With complete honesty,” he said finally. “She already knows you’ve been talking crap previously and she’s pretty sure you know it as well.” His expression became pensive. “She’s a surprisingly good healer for an ember, isn’t she? I want to introduce her to Sarah.”
“She’s a bit old to be trained,” Matthias said quietly. “She already was when I met her.”
“Normally, yes,” Lucas agreed. “But she’s been using her abilities somewhat. They won’t have rusted as much as they usually do. She might well be able to learn something.” He paused. “She’s been having bad dreams, as well. That’s why she immediately assumed he’d done some-” He broke off as Catherine emerged from the kitchen with a large pot of tea and several cups.
“Here you are. I’ll just go and make the sandwiches.” She turned to frown at Alban. â€œAre you sure that I can’t get you something to eat?”
Alban smiled at her and shook his head. “No, thanks. I’m incredibly fussy, I’m afraid.”
She frowned at him for a moment. “There’s something strange about you…” she trailed off and shook her head. “Never mind. If you change your mind just say.” She headed back in to the kitchen. Alban tugged at his baseball cap self-consciously.
“Are my ears showing or something?” he asked. “Because I’m sure she suspected something.”
“They aren’t, but she does seem to have sensed something,” Lucas said. “It hardly matters since we’re going to have to tell her anyway.”
Reminder: I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month, so Wednesday side stories are on a short hiatus for the duration and will return in early December. The main Dragon Wars and Haventon updates will continue on their usual schedule.