Modern Crusaders, Book 2
Disclaimers in Chapter 1
"Sure, no problem," Ally said into the phone. She listened for a moment. "Of course… Okay, I'll see you soon. I love you. Bye." Hanging up, she turned to her two companions. "That was Sophia. She's going to be a bit late tonight. Apparently they're really busy at the bar." She looked out the window at the slowly deepening darkness. "I think I'm going to head down and walk her home."
Corey punched a button on the console before him, freezing Claire's avatar in mid-flying kick, and his own in mid-cower. "How about we come with you?" he said, glancing at Claire. "I don't like you walking around out there on your own."
"You don't have to," Ally protested. "I can take care of myself."
"Yeah, but I'd just feel better," Corey said firmly. He looked at the frozen TV screen. "Besides, it'll let me refresh my reserves of manliness."
Claire laughed. "You just don't want us kicking your ass any more. Time to own up that you're pathetic at this."
"Hardly," Corey said, sniffing dismissively. "I merely have a natural and entirely civilised aversion to such barbaric gladiatorial pastimes. I am engaging in passive resistance, ultimately making me the winner. Gandhi would be proud."
Ally and Claire both laughed. "Listen, Gandhi would be kicking your ass right about now," Ally stated.
Corey paused for a moment. "True," he said slowly. He brightened. "But wouldn't that mean that I've gone beyond even him?" He looked at his companions' faces and his own fell. "No, huh?"
"I feel so much better now that you're coming along to protect me," Ally said dryly.
"Do you mind if I come, too?" Claire asked.
"You want to?" Ally asked in surprise. Claire only rarely went out anywhere, and had visited the Sixth Age only once since Ally's birthday.
"Well, I might not go in," Claire admitted, "but I could use a walk and some fresh air. To clear my head."
Ally nodded. Claire had experienced a fairly major attack that afternoon, the chaotic images and sounds leaving her with a headache and little energy. It wasn't surprising that she wanted a change of scenery. "Okay. I'm just going to change and then we'll head out."
"Ally, hi," Evelynne greeted enthusiastically but with some distractedness. Given the crowded nature of her workplace this evening the distraction wasn't unexpected. She was still focussed enough to kiss her lover briefly but fully, earning a series of whistles and cheers from a particularly inebriated group just down the bar. Evelynne scowled at them playfully as Ally blushed. "Ignore them," she said. "Oh, hi Corey." She looked around. "Claire didn't come?"
"No, she did, she just decided to stay outside and read for a while. She's not ready to face the masses yet," Corey explained, his eyes roving over the crowd.
"Oh, all right," Evelynne said, feeling sympathy for the other woman. However, she knew that Claire was enough like Ally to truly prefer her solitude. "So right now we're swamped, as you can see. I'm going to be a while yet. I'm sorry for getting you down here too early. Do you want to stay around? I don't know how long I'll be."
Ally looked at Corey. "I'll stick around," she said. "I might go out and keep Claire company in a while. I think she wants some time alone right now."
Corey nodded, his eyes still browsing the crowd. "I'll stay." Seeing a particularly attractive man on the small dance floor he whistled soundlessly. "Mmm, it's better than shopping!"
Evelynne laughed. "Have fun. Oh, Sammy and Josh are—" She squinted into the semi-darkness. "—ah yes, right over there." She pointed. "If you want to hang out." She noticed Erin, her fellow server, signal in her direction. "Well, I have to get back to the oricalc mines. Enjoy!" She kissed her lover again, and then headed back to the fray.
Narmin came up behind Evelynne as she stood behind the bar and tapped her shoulder. "Sophia, I think you can go now," she said, looking out over the establishment. "We've quieted down a lot." Evelynne nodded. While still busy, the bar had lost the unusual density of earlier in the evening. "Good job tonight. You're really getting into this."
"Thank you," Evelynne replied. "It's fun, actually." She was surprised by how much she had come to enjoy bartending and waitressing.
"Good to hear. Anyway, I think we're going to open a bit late tomorrow so that the cleaners can really go over this place after tonight, so you can take the morning off. If you can come in around two that would be great."
"Of course," Evelynne agreed, getting her light jacket from under the bar and slipping into it. "I'll see you tomorrow then. Good night!" Waving a farewell to Hal and Erin, she headed out into the bar to find her partner.
She quickly found Corey deep in spirited, if incomprehensible, conversation with Sammy's brother, Timothy. They were both obviously very inebriated, and from the way they were sitting close to each other Evelynne thought it possible that Corey would be staying elsewhere that night. She was a little concerned by Timothy's possible reaction to Corey's real status, but not too much so, since she had spoken with him previously and knew him to be a kind and gentle man. Of course, if he was presently considering a tryst with an apparent male, Timothy was obviously more open than she thought. Who knew, the revelation of Corey's physical status might be a pleasant beginning to a longer-term relationship, if he was this accepting of Corey's present appearance.
Evelynne shook her head to still her babbling thoughts. She was feeling a little strange, and put it down to exhaustion and the tiring evening. Looking around the table, also occupied by Josh, Sammy, and another couple she didn't recognise, she didn't see her partner anywhere. "Hi. Do you know where Ally is?" she asked.
"Sophia, hi!" Corey said brightly. He frowned, trying to collect his fuzzy thoughts. "Uh... she went off to get us some drinks a while ago." He pouted. "She didn't come back. I think we saw her dancing out there. Didn't we?"
"Yeah, I think so," Josh affirmed, less under the influence than most at the table. "She seemed to be having fun."
Evelynne was surprised. Ally hardly ever went dancing unless Evelynne herself asked her. "Really? Oh, all right." She looked out to the dance floor, which was still fairly crowded, but didn't see her fiancée anywhere.
"I haven't seen her for a bit," Josh continued. "She might have gone outside. Your friend Claire's out there, isn't she?"
Evelynne brightened. "Oh, that's right." She turned to Corey again. "Are you coming back with us?"
Corey looked at his new companion. "No, I'll stay a while longer."
"Well, call a cab if you're coming home," Evelynne said, smiling. "We'll cover it, don't worry."
Bidding final farewells to her friends, Evelynne made her way outside. Once there she paused a moment to let her eyes adjust to the darkness. She glanced at her watch. Two thirty. Isis, no wonder I'm tired. I've been in there for eleven hours. She saw Claire sitting at one of the small street tables under a light, reading, and walked over.
Claire looked up as the shadow fell across her. "Sophia, hi!" she said, unknowingly echoing Corey's greeting and putting the book into her jacket pocket. She looked around. "Isn't Ally coming?"
Evelynne frowned. "I thought she was out here with you. She hasn't come out?"
"No, I haven't seen her since she went in."
"Hmm. Well, let's go see." Evelynne re-entered the restaurant, Claire in tow. Reaching the bar, she caught Hal's attention. "Hal, have you seen Ally?"
"I thought I saw her a little while ago on the dance floor. What happened? You two miss paths or something?"
"It looks like it," Evelynne admitted. She frowned, less worried than confused. Concentrating on her link to her partner, she tried to find Ally's presence, but either there was some sort of static, or, more likely, the mental bond was being typically erratic.
"You've checked outside?" Hal asked.
"Yes, I was out there. She didn't come out," Claire said. Her voice was distracted.
The bartender shrugged. "Well, you could always try the—"
"Bathroom." Claire's tone was suddenly strained, and Evelynne's head whipped around to stare at her friend. Claire was gripping the front of the bar with both hands, her wide-eyed gaze looking at nothing Evelynne could see. Slowly, with obvious difficulty, she managed to focus on Evelynne again. "She's in the bathroom. And—" Breaking off, Claire started stumbling towards the washrooms at the back of the restaurant, barely avoiding customers as she went.
Evelynne caught up with her, grabbing her arm just in time to lead her around a dancing couple. "Claire? What's happening?"
"She's in the bathroom," Claire repeated. "I can—She's with..." She trailed off as they came to the outer doors to the ladies' room.
The washroom was more brightly lit than the bar outside, and Evelynne blinked in reaction. There was a woman reapplying makeup in front of the mirrors, but Ally couldn't be seen. "I don't think she's here," Evelynne said.
Claire looked confused. "But I thought—I was sure she was here." She looked around, seemingly free of the odd compulsion that had led her here.
"Are you all right?" Evelynne asked, taking her arm gently to lead her out. "You looked—"
She froze suddenly as a sound registered. She had heard something similar several weeks previously, in this same bathroom, when she had been an auditory witness, along with a number of others, to the sounds of two women enjoying each other in one of the stalls. This time she stopped, unseeing, because she recognised one of the sets of heavy breathing and quiet whimpers intimately.
Walking in a daze, Evelynne found herself in front of a stall door and watched her hand go out to push it open, not even surprised to find it unlatched, heart pounding as she feared what she'd find, and hoped she wouldn't.
Her fears were realised and her hopes were dashed.
There were two women in the stall. One was Ally, sitting on the toilet tank, her head thrown back and her eyes closed. The second, whom Evelynne didn't recognise, was standing between Ally's spread legs, straddling the bowl, with her head buried in Ally's neck and one hand somewhere between them. The expression on Ally's face was one that Evelynne knew well, and which she had thought would be hers alone for the rest of their lives.
"Ally?" Evelynne whispered brokenly, her mind and body numb, not hearing the gasp from Claire behind her as she took in the scene.
Ally's eyes opened to see her fiancée, and there was no guilt, no remorse in them. She smiled instead, and Evelynne felt like a railroad spike had been driven through her chest. She stumbled back a step as the other woman in the stall jumped away from Ally, whirling to face them. She was attractive, Evelynne noticed with odd clarity; medium-length blonde hair, a generous mouth, and light blue eyes that were now wide with all the shock and embarrassment that Ally wasn't expressing. Evelynne's eyes were dragged back to Ally as she was fully revealed. Her shirt had been pushed up to expose her stomach, and her jeans had been undone and pushed a little down on her hips. She wasn't fully exposed, but it was obvious where the other woman's hand had been, and another spike drove through Evelynne's stomach.
"Ally?" Evelynne whispered again hoarsely.
Ally hopped down from the toilet unashamedly, smiling as she landed a little unsteadily. "Evelynne," she murmured huskily. She took a step forward, which was matched when Evelynne stumbled back. Ally frowned and looked at Evelynne curiously, while the unknown woman tried to sink through the wall of the stall. Abruptly, Ally stopped, her face going completely blank. Then it animated again, but in confusion, as she looked down uncomprehendingly at herself. She raised a hand before her face and stared at it as though she'd never seen it before. Her eyes rolled as she looked around the vicinity, her gaze never focussing on anything, and she took another step forward, leaning on the wall with her hand as she stumbled again. "Evelynne?" she said again, her voice raw with confusion this time. "I—What—"
Then her eyes widened even further and rolled back in her head, and despite everything Evelynne still caught her instinctively as she collapsed to the floor.
Continued in Chapter 13
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