‘I want you to know that I still see you. This life, this world, it’s amazing, but only because I’m living it with you.’
Extract taken from Outcasts
By Claire McFall
Published by Kelpies Edge
Tristan was already parked on Dylan’s bed. He held a large pad of paper, the blue front cover decorated with intricate black swirls. His drawing book, the one he’d never, ever let her peek at.
It had driven Dylan near-demented wondering what he was sketching when he’d disappear off to a corner with the thing tucked tight in his grasp, but he’d been shy about her seeing it and, although she’d had a few horribly tempting opportunities, she’d never looked. She wanted to; she really, really wanted to. But she hadn’t.
Tristan had never had anything that was his before, had never had any privacy. It was a small gift, but it was something that Dylan could offer him.
But ohh, how it had niggled at her. The pad sitting on her top bookshelf (the one she’d given over to Tristan because she couldn’t reach it without standing on a chair anyway), waving at her day after day. Taunting her, tempting her.
Art was a recent discovery for Tristan. Dylan didn’t take it at school – she couldn’t draw. Or paint. And she’d dropped it as soon as she could – but Tristan had expressed an interest so Dylan had bought him some basic art equipment for Christmas. He’d taken to it like a duck to water… or so it seemed. As she’d never seen any of his drawings, Dylan had no idea if he was any good, but he enjoyed it, and that was all that mattered.
She was curious, though.
He tapped his fingers once, twice against the spiral binding running down the spine, before holding it out to her. ‘Here,’ he said. ‘Your reward.’
‘Seriously?’ Dylan raised her eyebrows in mock astonishment, but in truth she was surprised. ‘You’re going to let me see?’
Not giving him an opportunity to change his mind, Dylan sat down on the bed beside him. Taking the pad carefully, she flipped the cover over to reveal the first drawing.
Her own face stared back up at her. Her eyes dominated the image, looking out from the page beneath sweeping eyebrows. Her lips were quirked up in a half-smile that made her look teasing, secretive. And pretty. In the picture, she looked pretty.
Glancing up, she saw Tristan was watching her carefully. It was hard to keep her face impassive but she tried, working to keep her embarrassment in check and off her cheeks.
Slightly clumsy fingers swept the picture away to reveal the next sketch. This one was charcoal, a side-on view of her standing staring at something off the page. Her hair was blowing out behind her in long, sinuous waves.
Another page. Another picture. Dylan in the wheelchair, her face clouded over with frustration as she fumbled with her cast.
The lines of the wheelchair were slightly off, the perspective not quite right, but the mulish look on her face Dylan certainly recognised.
The next sketch wasn’t a picture as such, but six rough pencil sketches of—
‘Is that my ear?’ Dylan asked, tilting her head in confusion. She didn’t necessarily recognise it as her ear, per se – an ear was an ear, wasn’t it – but that was her little daisy earring.
‘Uhm, yeah.’ Tristan reached over to take the pad back from her, but Dylan twisted to keep it out of his reach.
‘Hold on,’ she said. ‘I haven’t finished.’
She flicked another page over and saw herself, laughing. Her eyes were scrunched up and her chin was tucked in a way that wasn’t all that attractive, but Dylan smiled anyway. There was joy in the picture, it radiated out at her.
‘Tristan, these are really good,’ she said quietly, realising that she hadn’t said anything bar the ear comment. If it had been her in Tristan’s place, she’d be wriggling like she had ants in her pants, wondering what he thought. ‘I mean, they’re really, really good.’ The next page was blank, the start of drawings still to come, so she flicked back through the ones she’d seen. ‘How did you get the details so accurate? You can’t have seen any of these for more than a moment!’
‘I don’t know.’ Tristan shrugged. He reached again for the pad and this time she let him take it. ‘I just saw something I liked and then, later, when I was drawing, sketched out what I remembered.’
‘You’re very observant, then,’ Dylan commented.
‘I had a lot of practice,’ he reminded her. ‘At night, in the wasteland, there wasn’t a lot to do but sit and stare.’
‘True,’ Dylan said softly. She didn’t like thinking about the long years Tristan had spent ferrying soul after soul, trapped in a never-ending cycle. No, not never-ending, she told herself. He was here now, with her. He’d escaped that life.
She watched as he flipped back to the first picture. The one of just her face, gazing up at them both.
‘Why now?’ she asked quietly. ‘Why show me today?’
Tristan shrugged. ‘I just…’ He flicked to another page, the picture of Dylan in the wheelchair. ‘In the wasteland, it was just the two of us. But here, there are so many people, so many distractions.’ He closed the pad and set it aside, fixing his full attention on Dylan. ‘I want you to know that I still see you. This life, this world, it’s amazing, but only because I’m living it with you.’
Dylan opened her mouth, but nothing came out. How was she supposed to respond to a declaration like that? She’d never been good with words.
‘I love you,’ she managed to blurt.
Tristan grinned, reaching up to tuck a lock of hair back behind her ear. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘I love you, too.’
Then he kissed her, his mouth hot against hers as his arms wrapped around her. Dylan closed her eyes and allowed herself to melt into his embrace. They were safe, and together. Nothing could change that.
Outcasts by Claire McFall is published by Kelpies Edge, priced at £7.99
‘We have been living on a knife-edge for so long I know this is something big.’