As a general rule, Jack didn’t like other people. Horses and animals, he was fine with. More than fine with, actually. He’d prefer a wild herd over a large group of people any day. But there were a few exceptions to this rule. One was currently missing, which is why the normally-reclusive Jack was currently wandering around Moorland looking for her.
“Zelda,” he called, feeling like he was calling out to an animal. She wasn’t an animal, she was his friend. He resisted the impulse to add on “here, girl” or “kitty, kitty, kitty” to her name. She wasn’t a damn cat or dog.
“Who are you looking for?” asked one of the annoying girls who seemed to spawn around Jorvik. She wasn’t a Bobcat, though she wore a ratty Bobcatz sweater. A Bobcat wouldn’t be seen dead with such dirty hands or mud on her face.
“Zelda, obviously,” said Jack. What, was she deaf or just stupid?
“Oh! Well, I’m new here, so I don’t really know anyone,” said the girl.
“Then why did you offer to help?” asked Jack.
“Cos it’s good to help people! Now, where do you think she’d be?” asked the annoying girl. She was awfully chirpy.
“I don’t know,” said Jack. “Would I be looking for her if I knew where she was?”
“Well, you must have some idea,” said the girl.
“She might be up on Nilmer’s Highland, why don’t you go look there?” Jack suggested, having already looked and found the place empty. He planned to disappear while she was gone.
“Okay!” the girl agreed enthusiastically, and rode her horse at a gallop up the hill. Jack rode his own horse into the stableyard and dismounted where the cavaletti was set up. Zelda wasn’t anywhere nearby, so maybe she might be in the inn.
Feeling stupid, Jack knocked on every door. Occassionally, someone would answer. But it was never her. Jack was getting sick of muttering “sorry, wrong room”. The last door. Jack almost didn’t knock, but then he did. Silence. He knocked again. “Zelda?”
“If you’re looking for the girl who’s staying there, she left a while ago,” said the man in the room next door. He was quite old, probably someone’s grandfather. But not Justin’s, since he was- oh. OH. Why hadn’t he thought of that to start with? But he thought he’d better ask, just to be sure.
“Did you see where she went?” asked Jack.
“Sure,” said the man. “She went over to the stable and got her horse, then rode off in the direction of the beach. I only noticed because she looked a bit sad.”
“Thanks,” said Jack, already jogging over to his horse. He climbed back into the saddle, giving his horse a pat on the neck, and rode off down to the beach. It wasn’t a huge beach, but there were still plenty of places to hide away from everyone when it all got too much. Jack knew the signs better than anyone else, having suffered with the darkness for a long time now. Zelda was withdrawing from everyone, she wasn’t answering her phone, she wasn’t doing anything except riding around the fields of Jorvik. Jack could relate. But not for the good reason. And that was why he was so worried.
A ride along the beach revealed nothing, which was exactly what he didn’t need. No, it wasn’t his fault that she was like this, he hadn’t infected her, it just didn’t WORK like that. And feeling sorry for himself wasn’t going to help him find Zelda any faster. So he shoved those thoughts to the back of his mind where they’d fester, and began searching every bush.
He found nothing, until… at one end of the beach, close to the previously-broken bridge, he heard sniffling.
“Zelda?” said Jack. “Where are you?”
“On the other side of this rock,” Zelda mumbled. Jack felt relief wash over him. But, that raised another question.
“How’d you get there?” asked Jack.
“The first time, I fell down here,” said Zelda. “Don’t worry, I didn’t get hurt. But why do you care, anyway?”
“Because you’re my friend,” said Jack. “One of my only friends.” Zelda sniffed again.
“Well, you’re friends with a failure,” said Zelda.
“Move, I’m coming over,” said Jack. Standing a little in his saddle, he launched himself at the large rock, then scrambled up to the top of it. On the other side was a steep incline, which he slid down, and just barely missed the fence of this weird little place. Instead, he landed rather heavily on a pile of sacks. “Ow.”
“You know, there is a trail,” said Zelda. “You didn’t have to hurt yourself for me. I’m not worth it.”
“Yeah, and if I had found the trail, would you still be here?” asked Jack. Zelda looked down at her shoes. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
“You didn’t have to come looking for me, I’m sure you must have plenty of other things to do,” said Zelda.
“Not really,” said Jack. “And anyway, even if I did, you’re more important than the useless residents of Jorvik.”
“No I’m not,” said Zelda. “I’m a fuck-up, a failure.”
“You’re literally the only one who thinks that,” said Jack.
“How can you say that?” asked Zelda, not bothering to wipe away any of the tears she was still crying. “I’m the reason Justin disappeared. The best thing on this island, and I ruined it!” She curled her hand into a fist, and Jack grabbed it before she could hit anything.
“Oh, yeah? Are you the one who told him about his grandfather?” asked Jack.
“I gave him that stupid letter,” said Zelda.
“Only because Sabine told you to,” said Jack.
“Yeah, and I believed her,” said Zelda. “Like the stupid idiot that I am.” Jack wrapped an arm around his friend. Normally, he was very hands-off. But Zelda needed comfort right now. He couldn’t count how many times an embrace had brought him back from the brink. Like the one Ydris had given him the other day… but talking about his own love life wouldn’t help Zelda in this situation.
“Look, you didn’t force Justin to get on that boat,” said Jack. “And neither did Sabine. He made that decision himself.”
“That’s not what Loretta says,” said Zelda.
“Oh, that- I’m gonna strangle that bitch when I see her,” said Jack. Zelda didn’t laugh.
“Well, she’s right,” said Zelda. “If I hadn’t come along, Justin wouldn’t have ever disappeared.”
“Sabine would’ve got the message to him one way or another,” said Jack. “Even if she had to kidnap him and force him onto the boat.” Zelda sniffled again.
“Yeah, but I-“
“You made Jasper change his mind about Thomas and Justin,” said Jack.
“I delivered him letters that Thomas could’ve delivered himself,” said Zelda.
“No, he couldn’t,” said Jack. “Jasper would’ve shot Thomas the minute he set foot on his property.”
“Maybe he should’ve shot me instead,” said Zelda. “Saved us all the trouble.”
“Oh yeah, leave me alone,” said Jack. “I wouldn’t be here if not for you.”
“You have Ydris,” said Zelda.
“But I didn’t always have him,” said Jack. “Before that, you were literally the only good person on this island.”
“You had your horses,” said Zelda.
“Horses don’t talk back to you,” said Jack. “It gets a bit lonely, talking to someone who won’t respond. And sometimes you need to talk to someone.”
“I don’t want to bother anyone else with my problems,” said Zelda.
“You can bother me with them,” said Jack. “I don’t mind. I wouldn’t have spent the whole morning looking for you if I didn’t care.”
“I made you waste your morning,” said Zelda.
“Zelda, I know a lot of people say this, but I know how you’re feeling,” said Jack. “And I really do. You’re feeling like the whole world is darkness and it’d be better if you weren’t here, aren’t you? Like you being here makes everything worse, and everyone would be happier without you. Like… like you wish you never woke up.”
“I…” Zelda trailed off.
“But it won’t always feel like that,” said Jack. “And you never know, Justin might come back one day.”
“Yeah, might,” said Zelda. “But how can I go on knowing that he’s not here because of me?”
“Well, first of all, him being gone is not your fault,” said Jack. “Justin could’ve done what he wanted with that information, and he chose to just leave without even a text message. What a dick.” A tiny smile tugged at the edges of Zelda’s lips before it vanished.
“But I ruined everything,” said Zelda.
“No, Sabine ruined everything,” said Jack. “You were just the messenger. And you don’t shoot the messenger. Everyone knows that. So stop shooting her. Leave her alone.” Zelda let out an involuntary giggle.
“That’s all well and good, but… how do I stop feeling like this?” asked Zelda.
“Do something else you enjoy,” said Jack. “Or wait, hang on. First of all, avoid Loretta and everyone who reminds you of Justin. And everywhere that reminds you of him, too.”
“That’s a lot of people and places,” said Zelda.
“But there are plenty more people and places to be discovered,” said Jack. “I can show you some if you want. And, just for you, I won’t talk about Ydris.”
“Wow, you’re willing to make that sacrifice for me?” asked Zelda. “Gee, you must be serious about this. You never shut up about him.”
“Heh, yeah,” said Jack, blushing. “He’s pretty great.”
“Sorry I worried you and made you give up so much to find me,” said Zelda.
“It’s fine,” said Jack.
“You nearly gelded yourself on the fence,” said Zelda.
“It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for my friend,” said Jack. Now Zelda did smile, and hugged him.
“Thank you,” said Zelda. Jack knew that it would be a long time before she was fully happy again, and even then it would only be fleeting, but the clouds seemed to be dispersing somewhat.
“You’re welcome,” said Jack. “Now, I’m gonna go get my horse and then we can go for a ride somewhere. Sound good?”
“I should probably eat and drink something first,” said Zelda.
“Oh yeah, good call,” said Jack. “See, you learned that from me.”
“Too bad I can’t take my own advice,” said Zelda. “I tried telling myself it was going to be okay, but they seemed like such weak arguments in comparison to… well, you heard what I was saying.”
“I know,” said Jack. “But sometimes, hearing it from someone else really helps.”
“And if it doesn’t?” asked Zelda.
“Then there are plenty of other alternatives,” said Jack. “Actually, on second thoughts, let me get up behind you on your horse.”
“Okay,” said Zelda, and held her horse still while Jack climbed up behind her. As they rode off, she spoke again. “It’s like… like he was the sun, and now he’s gone away.”
“The sun always comes back,” said Jack. “After a storm, after an eclipse, even after the night. The sun always returns.”
“I can’t believe he just left me like that,” said Zelda. “Wasn’t I important enough for him to stay?”
“You’re not the only one he left,” said Jack. “He hurt so many people by leaving. His dad, who was the only family he had, his grandmother, who feels guilty enough and so she damn well should, his other grandfather, who had just decided to build a relationship with him…”
“Gee, I sure know how to pick ‘em,” said Zelda. “And here I thought that Justin wasn’t like other guys.”
“It is kind of out of character for him to just leave like that,” said Jack. “Maybe he was hypnotised.”
“Or maybe Sabine said that they’d only be gone for a short while,” said Zelda. “You’re right, it is strange that Justin just up and left like that.”
“The point is, it’s not your fault,” said Jack.
“It kind of is,” said Zelda. “But don’t worry, I’m feeling better now.”
“Are you sure?” asked Jack. “Don’t just pretend for my sake.”
“Yes,” said Zelda. “The feelings of failure are going away, and instead I just feel… mad. But not at myself. At Justin, and Sabine, and Loretta, and everyone else who made me blame myself.”
“You’ll be okay, Z,” said Jack. “Ride up to the highland and you can wait up there while I go and grab my horse and buy a picnic basket.”
“Okay,” said Zelda. “Maybe Ydris will help me feel better. It seems to work just fine for you.”
“You’ll have that one day,” said Jack. “I promise. You just have to tell that dick in your mind to shut the hell up. Or drown it with other things.”
“I tried all of that,” said Zelda. “But you shut it up when you were talking to me.”
“Good, then I’ll talk your ear off,” said Jack. Zelda laughed.
“What would I do without you?” said Zelda, smiling back at him.
“Same thing I’d do without you,” said Jack. “Instead of being two solitary sad sacks moping around, we’re a pair of sad sacks who just have to reach in and shake the other sometimes.”
“It’s good to have someone who actually understands this, though,” said Zelda. “Even if I’m only feeling like this because I grew too attached to someone.”
“Falling in love is a risk,” said Jack. “It’s another thing that the dick can use against you. But you shouldn’t give up on happiness just because it hurts sometimes. You told me that.”
“I know,” said Zelda. “I remember.”
They stopped up on Nilmer’s Highland near the abandoned farm, and Jack climbed off the back of Zelda’s horse.
“I’ll be back with my horse and lunch,” said Jack. “Don’t go anywhere.”
“I won’t,” said Zelda.
Fortunately, when Jack returned, Zelda was still there. He felt relieved, but also a little guilty. He had someone who understood, which was a good thing, but he felt guilty for feeling good about that. It never really went away, it was just… hidden sometimes or squashed down by good things like Ydris and riding and being in nature. Or, apparently, by spending time with a friend and trying to cheer her up after she’d lost the one who meant everything to her.