Authors: Lucy Christopher
Tags: #Law & Crime, #Juvenile Nonfiction, #Australia, #Action & Adventure, #Adventure and Adventurers, #Juvenile Fiction, #Australia & Oceania, #Social Issues, #Fiction, #Physical & Emotional Abuse, #Interpersonal Relations, #Kidnapping, #Adventure Stories, #Young Adult Fiction, #General, #People & Places, #Adolescence
For Mum and Simon who helped,
and for the desert that inspired
You Saw Me Before I Saw You.
You saw me before I saw you.
In the airport, that day in August, you had that look in your eyes, as though you wanted something from me, as though you’d wanted it for a long time. No one had ever looked at me like that before, with that kind of intensity. It unsettled me, surprised me, I guess. Those blue, blue eyes, icy blue, looking back at me as if I could warm them up. They’re pretty powerful, you know, those eyes, pretty beautiful, too.
You blinked quickly when I looked at you, and turned away, as if you were nervous … as if you felt guilty for checking out some random girl in an airport. But I wasn’t random, was I? And it was a good act. I fell for it. It’s funny, but I always thought I could trust blue eyes. I thought they were safe somehow. All the good guys have baby blues. The dark eyes are for the villains … the Grim Reaper, the Joker, zombies. All dark.
I’d been arguing with my parents. Mum hadn’t been happy about my skimpy top, and Dad was just grumpy from lack of sleep. So, seeing you … I guess it was a welcome diversion. Is that how you’d planned it—wait until my parents had a go at me before you approached? I knew, even then, that you’d been watching me. There was a strange sort of familiarity about you. I’d seen you before … somewhere…. But who
you? My eyes kept flitting back to your face.
You’d been with me since London. I’d seen you in the check-in line with your small carry-on bag. I’d seen you on the plane. And now here you were, in Bangkok airport, sitting in the coffee shop where I was about to order coffee.
I ordered my coffee and waited for it to be made. I fumbled with my money. I didn’t look back, but I knew you were still watching. It probably sounds weird, but I could just feel it. The hairs on my neck bristled when you blinked.
The cashier held on to the cup until I had my money ready. Kenny, his name badge said; strange how I can remember that.
“We don’t take British coins,” Kenny said, after he’d watched me count them out. “Don’t you have any bills?”
“I used them up in London.”
Kenny shook his head and pulled the coffee back toward him. “There’s a cash machine next to duty-free.”
I felt someone move up behind me. I turned.
“Let me buy it,” you said. Your voice was low and soft, like it was meant only for me, and your accent was strange. The short-sleeved shirt you were wearing smelled like eucalyptus, and there was a small scar on the edge of your cheek. Your eyes were too intense to stare into for long.
You had a bill ready. Foreign money. You smiled at me. I don’t think I said thank you. Sorry about that. You took the drink from Kenny. The paper coffee cup bent a little as you grabbed it.
I nodded, too flustered by you being there, talking to me, to do anything else.
“Don’t worry, I’ll do it. You sit down.” You gestured to where you’d been sitting, at a table between the fake palm trees, over by the window.
I hesitated. But you’d anticipated I would. You touched me gently on the shoulder, your hand warm on my skin. “Hey, it’s OK, I won’t bite,” you said softly. “There’s no other seats anyway, not unless you want to sit with the Addams family over there.”
I followed your gaze to the empty chairs next to a large family. Two of the smaller kids were crawling over the table, the parents arguing across them; I made eye contact with a girl about my age. I wonder now what would have happened if I had sat next to them. We could have talked about kids’ holidays and strawberry milk shakes. Then I would have returned to my parents. I looked up at your face, with the smile creases around your mouth. The deep blue of your eyes had secrets. I wanted them.
“I only just escaped my family,” I said. “I don’t want another yet.”
“Nice work.” You winked. “One sugar it is, then.”
You guided me toward where you’d been sitting. Other customers were near your small table, making me feel more confident to approach it. It took me ten steps to get there. I walked in a kind of daze and sat in the chair facing the window. I watched you take the drink to the stand and lift the lid off. I saw you pour the sugar in, hair falling over your eyes as you bent your head. You smiled as you noticed me looking. I wonder if that was when it happened. Were you smiling as you did it?
I must have looked away for a moment, to watch the planes taking off behind the glass. There was a jumbo jet teetering on its back wheels, black fumes hanging in the air behind. There was another lining up to go. Your hands must have been quick, tipping it in. Did you use any kind of distraction technique, or was nobody looking anyway? It was some kind of powder, I suppose, though not much of it. Perhaps it looked like sugar. It didn’t taste any different.
I turned to see you walking back, smoothly avoiding all the coffee-carrying passengers who stepped out in front of you. You didn’t look at any of them. Only me. Perhaps that’s why nobody else seemed to notice. You moved too much like a hunter, padding silently next to the row of plastic plants as you made your line toward me.
You put two coffees on the table and pushed one in my direction, ignoring the other. You picked up a teaspoon and twirled it idly, spinning it around your thumb, then catching it again. I looked at your face. You were beautiful in a rough sort of way, but you were older than I’d realized. Too old for me to be sitting there with you really. Early to midtwenties probably, maybe more. From a distance, when I’d seen you at the check-in line, your body had looked thin and small, like the eighteen-year-olds at my school, but up close, really looking, I could see that your arms were hard and tanned, and the skin on your face was weathered. You were as brown as a stretch of dirt.
“I’m Ty,” you said.
Your eyes darted away then back again before you reached out your hand toward me. Your fingers were warm and rough on the palm of my hand as you took it and held on to it, but didn’t really shake it. You raised an eyebrow, and I realized what you wanted.
“Gemma,” I said, before I meant to.
You nodded as though you already knew. But, of course, I suppose you already did.
“Where are your parents?”
“They’ve already gone to the gate; they’re waiting for me there.” I felt nervous then so I added, “I said I wouldn’t be long—just getting a coffee.”
One corner of your mouth turned up again, and you laughed a little. “When does the flight leave?”
“‘Bout an hour.”
“And where’s it going?”
“Vietnam.” You looked impressed. I smiled at you, for the first time, I think. “My mum goes all the time,” I added. “She’s a curator—kind of like an artist who collects instead of paints.”
I don’t know why I felt I had to explain. Just habit, I guess, from all the kids at school who ask but don’t know anything.
“He works in the city—stockbroker.”
“Suited and booted, then.”
“Something like that. Pretty boring, looking after other people’s money … not that he thinks so.”
I could feel myself starting to babble, so I took a sip of coffee to shut me up. As I drank, I watched a small trickle of sweat travel down your hairline. You couldn’t have been hot, though; the air conditioner was beating directly onto us. Your eyes were flicking nervously all over the place, not always able to meet my gaze. That edginess made you seem shy, made me like you even more. But there was still something about you, hovering in my memory.
“So,” you murmured. “What is it you want to do, then? Get a job like your dad? Travel like your mum?”
I shrugged. “That’s what they’d like. I don’t know. Nothing really seems right.”
“Not … meaningful enough?”
“Yeah, maybe. I mean, they just collect stuff. Dad collects people’s money and Mum collects people’s drawings. What do they really do that’s theirs?”
I looked away. I hated talking about my parents’ work. We’d been talking about it on the flight from London, Mum going on and on about the paintings she wanted to buy in Vietnam. Right then it was the last thing I wanted to discuss. You half laughed at me again, your voice breathy. The teaspoon was balancing perfectly on your left thumb, hanging like magic. I was still wondering whether I should be there, sitting with you. But it was weird, you know, it felt like I could tell you anything. I probably would have, too, if my throat hadn’t been so tense. Often I wish it had ended just then, with your smile and my nerves all bundled up tight.
I glanced around, checking to see whether my parents had come looking for me, although I knew they wouldn’t. They would be happy enough waiting at the gate and reading the selection of journals they’d brought, trying to look intelligent. Besides, Mum wouldn’t want to admit defeat over our clothes argument by coming to find me. But I glanced around anyway. There was a swarm of nameless faces slowly being drawn toward the drinks counter. People, people, everywhere. The grind and hum of the coffee machine. The squeal of small children. The smell of eucalyptus coming off your checkered shirt. I took a sip of my coffee.
“What does your mother collect?” you asked, your soft voice grabbing my attention back again.
“Colors, mostly. Paintings of buildings. Shapes. Do you know Rothko? Mark Rothko?”
“Well, that kind of stuff. I think it’s pretty pretentious. All those endless squares.” I was babbling again. I paused to look down at your hand. It was still on top of mine. Should it be there? Were you trying to pick me up? No one at school had ever done it quite like that. As I looked, you lifted your hand up quickly, as if you’d only just realized it was there, too.
“Sorry.” You shrugged, but there was a twinkle in your eye that made me smile back. “I guess I’m … a little tense.”
You put your hand down again, next to mine this time, inches away. I could move my little finger across to touch it. You didn’t have a wedding ring. No jewelry at all.
“What do you do?” I asked. “You’re not still in school, then?”
I winced as I said it. We both knew how stupid it sounded. You were obviously older than any other boy I’d talked to like this. There were tiny sun-wrinkles around your eyes and mouth, and you’d grown into your body. You were more confident than the awkward boys at school.
You sighed and sat back. “I suppose I sort of make art, too,” you said. “But I don’t paint squares. I travel a bit, garden … build. That sort of thing.”
I nodded as if I understood. I wanted to ask what you were doing here, with me … if I’d seen you before. I wanted to know why you were interested. I wasn’t an idiot; it was easy to see how much younger I was than you. But I didn’t ask. I was nervous, I guess, not wanting you to be weird in any way. And I suppose it made me feel grown-up, sitting there with the most handsome man in the café, drinking a coffee he had just bought for me. Maybe I didn’t look all that young really, I thought, even though the only makeup I wore was lip gloss. Maybe you just looked old for your age. As you glanced out the window, I untucked the bit of hair from behind my ear, let it fall over my face. I bit my lips to make them redder.
“I’ve never been to Vietnam,” you said eventually.
“Or me. I’d rather go to America.”
“Really? All those cities, those people …?”
Your fingers twitched then as you glanced at me, your eyes darting to the hair I’d just released. After a moment you leaned across the table to retuck it behind my ear. You hesitated.
“Sorry, I …,” you murmured, unable to finish, your cheeks reddening a little. Your fingers lingered on my temple. I could feel the roughness of their tips. My ear went hot as you brushed against it. Then your fingers moved down to my chin. You pushed it up with your thumb to look at me, almost like you were studying me in the artificial lights above my head. And, I mean, you
looked at me … with eyes like two stars. You trapped me there like that, kept me stuck to that spot of Bangkok airport as though I were something small drawn to the light. And I had wings fluttering away inside me all right. Big fat moth wings. You trapped me easily, drew me toward you like I was already in the net.
“Wouldn’t you rather go to Australia?” you said.
I laughed a little; the way you’d said it sounded so serious. You moved your fingers away immediately.
“Sure.” I shrugged, breathless. “Everyone wants to go there.” You were quiet then, looking down. I shook my head, still feeling your touch. I wanted you to keep talking.
“Are you Australian?”
I was puzzled by your accent. You didn’t sound like any of those famous Aussie actors. Sometimes you sounded British. Sometimes it sounded as though you came from nowhere at all. I waited, but you didn’t answer. So I leaned over and prodded your forearm.
“Ty?” I said, trying out your name, liking the way it sounded. “So what’s it like anyway? Australia?”
You smiled then, and your whole face changed with it. It kind of lit up, like there were sunbeams coming from inside you.
“You’ll find out,” you said.