"Wish me luck," the elderly gentleman next to Izzy said.

His eyes sparkled with excitement, like a young boy about to find out if he'd won the biggest toy at the fair. Izzy couldn't help but smile at his contagious enthusiasm.

"Good luck."

Then the horses burst out of the stalls and the shouts of the crowd became deafening. The race was only three-minutes long, with the mounts galloping along the horseshoe-shaped turf.

Although she had no interest in the sweepstake, Izzy's heartbeat sped up and matched the horses' hooves pounding of the track. Finally one jockey got ahead of the others and crossed the finish line. The crowd applauded, and the gentleman next to Izzy clapped in delight.

"Well," he said with a wide grin, "I suppose you brought me luck. I'm very grateful, thank you."

He tipped his hat to her and she beamed. This day hadn't been such a complete waste, after all.

***

Back in the car, no one talked. They were stuck in traffic, and the rain hammered down on the windshield, with condensation forming on the windows. A huge traffic jam blocked the roads from the Downs, with all manner of vehicles moving at a snail's pace. Constables directing the circulation tried to get the horse-drawn carts to move out of the way to let the motorcars, buses and coaches go first, but the result wasn't evident to the naked eye.

At the front, Archie gripped the wheel with tense fingers, while Mr. Lawrence kept his gaze on the chaos outside. Izzy glanced at Vita's muddy gloves.

"So," she asked, "what happened to you?"

"I slipped and fell at the fair," Vita said, her face expressionless.

Anger made Izzy's nostrils flare.

"Are we just going to all pretend that this isn't a lie and that everything is normal?"

Vita sighed and fell silent. Mr. Lawrence shot a worried look at Archie, whose jaw was working quietly.

"I mean," Izzy said, undeterred, "it's obvious something happened."

"I'm all right," Vita replied, too quickly.

"No, you're not," Izzy shot back. "It's the elephant in the room, isn't it?" She waved at Archie and Mr. Lawrence's nervous composures to support her claim. "You haven't been 'all right' since your disappearance, and that's the whole point."

Her cheeks reddened as the words tumbled out. She grabbed Vita's arm to make her meet her gaze.

"Vita, look at yourself! You keep having these unexplained fainting spells and heatstrokes and blackouts --"

"I don't have blackouts," Vita said.

"-- You drew marks on your skin with black ink and you don't even remember doing it!" Izzy exploded. "You need help, Vita, you need to see a doctor and to stop fooling yourself."

Vita's lips tightened in an irritated line, and she snatched her arm away. "Well, thanks for your support."

Her voice was ice-cold. Izzy shook her head.

"I am supporting you, don't you see? I'm your best friend, that's why I'm telling you: you need help. For heaven's sake, your presentation is a week from now! You can't faint or blackout in front of the King!"

Vita let out a derisive laugh.

"No, we wouldn't want that, would we, ma chère?"

"This is serious, Vita!" Izzy replied.

She resisted the urge to shake some sense into her. Instead, she called out to Archie.

"Say something!"

To her relief, he turned around to look at Vita. "What happened at the fair?"

Vita threw her hands up in surrender.

"There was a fight between the travellers and some stupid farm boys. I was knocked over and fell, and Mr. Lawrence picked me up and we left. Happy?"

Archie's brows furrowed, far from happy. A car horn sounded behind them, forcing him to turn his attention to the road again, and to move the Sedan forward in the slow traffic.

"How did she get knocked off her feet?" he asked Mr. Lawrence. "Where were you?"

"He was right there," Vita said. "There's nothing he could have done."

"I got shoved to the ground too," Mr. Lawrence said between his teeth. "It all happened very quickly."

"So this was just an accident?" Archie asked Vita.

She nodded. "It was a fair. It was crowded. People get stupid. This kind of things happens."

Archie didn't reply, and Izzy said, "I still think you need to see a doctor."

"Fine," Vita said, her tone bored. "I will, if you want it this badly. But I can assure you, nothing's wrong with me."

The way she said it, confident and on edge at the same time, convinced Izzy that this was most definitely not true.

***


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