Before you get your hopes up, this isn't a sequel or another chapter of TSYSK. It's more of a one-shot that takes place in the TSYSK universe ... yeah, I was feeling nostalgic the other day. I hope you all like it. Also hope you get it xD
Happy New Year!
Sometimes it was so lonely she felt like she would cry.
There. There it was. She'd thought it out loud.
The concept of thinking something out loud was ridiculous, she knew. So she never told anyone about it. But when it was just her – and it was often just her – she would understand it. Because when you know something, know it subconsciously down to your very core, then you think it. But when you decide something, or confirm something that you've always known, then you'd thought it 'out loud.'
And today there was no denying it. She was lonely enough to cry.
At first, her loneliness had been a relief. No more pressure to face the horrors of another day. Nobody to answer to. Just herself.
But after a week or so, the novelty began to fade. Waking up on your own every day, wandering around an empty house every day, looking at plants in the garden every day – well, on your own, it got dreary.
The worst part was the smell. It just wouldn't go away.
She had been eleven when they'd finally sent her out here. Twelve, that day she had decided her loneliness. Her birthday had come and gone. One of the reasons she had been so unbearably lonely was because of that. Because her birthday had come and gone, and nobody had noticed. Nobody had cared.
Nobody was there!
Send Claire out to the countryside to visit her aunt, they had said. She'll have fun there, they had said. And into the countryside she had went, with nothing but a small bag next to her and a train that wouldn't come again for months.
The smell in the house was rank. She couldn't go in there anymore. She would pinch her nose closed, dart in to grab a tin of food, and then dart out and sit by herself in the garden, lying on her back and staring at the sun.
One day, she went into the house, pulled out a pack of playing cards – it had taken a while to find them. She'd been forced to breathe in, and it had been horrible – before she sat outside for hours, trying to build a house of cards before the wind could blow it down. She wished she knew how to play solitaire.
Around two weeks after she'd thought out loud, it no longer became a thought. She wasn't just lonely enough to cry anymore. She was crying.
She cried all the time. Everywhere she went. Into the garden. At the train tracks. Inside the house, for brief moments. While she built her incessant card houses. The tears would stream down her face and she'd think, what has become of my life? How did I end up here?
Some people live to be famous. She thought about that, as she stared at the sky, tears pouring out of the corner of her eyes and into the grass beneath her. All she wanted was just one person to acknowledge her existence. God, was that so difficult? To have somebody else to talk to, instead of the horrible house with the horrible stench she could never get rid of?
And then it happened.
She was sitting, lonely and miserable, building her fifth house of cards that day. It had only three floors. Always three floors, before she ran out of cards. She wished the old lady had had more cards in her home. And then – footsteps! A rustle of grass in the trees surrounding the house. And best of all – a dirty face emerging from the greenery, blue eyes shining brightly.
A boy, her age. Maybe a little older.
"That smell," the boy declared, scrambling out of the bushes ungracefully and glaring at her, "is vile. Is that you?"
She stood at him for a moment, her eyes wide with disbelief, unable to comprehend that her prayers had finally been answered. That she wasn't alone.
"Well?" he demanded. His face was smeared with dirt, she saw. A raggedy old coat and a pair of patched trousers. But at that moment, she loved him. She loved him more than any other human being on earth. It was strange, but his eyes were such a bright blue. The exact same shade as the sky above her, the one she had spent days staring at idly.
"The smell isn't me," she said at last, smiling widely at him. He blinked. "That's … that's from the house."
"Why does your house stink?" he demanded. "Does nobody clean it?"
"I don't like being in there," she said, her smile fading slightly as she looked down. Her house of cards was beginning to blow away. "So nobody cleans it."
And then it occurred to her that she, too, had not showered in weeks. The need had not really come up.
"Why are you sitting here, all by yourself?" asked the boy, his voice a little kinder, and he sat down next to her. Her stomach swooped slightly. He felt very – warm, somehow.
"They sent me out to the countryside to live with my aunt," she explained. "She was old and ill. They thought I would make pleasant company."
"Who's 'they?'" he asked, frowning slightly. She picked at a bit of grass near his coat.
"My grandparents," she whispered.
"Where are your parents?" he asked.
"Abroad," she said uncomfortably. They were dead, of course, but she didn't want to seem like she wanted sympathy. She was pathetic enough as it was. "They like travelling, very much. My mum – she loves the ships and the balls and the parties. And my dad, he hates them, but he goes along just to please her."
He looked at her, his eyes knowing. "Are they dead?"
She stared at him. "How did you know?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I get feelings about things, you know. Just like I have a feeling about you."
That made her feel nice. She wasn't sure why. "What sort of feeling?"
"The feeling that there's more to it than you're telling me. What happened when you got to your aunt?"
The pain. The yelling, the bruises. The bitterness of a sick old woman who had been left on her own too long. The taunts about parents whose memories had not yet settled. The slaps on a cheek that was still swollen. Claire shuddered.
"There was … it was very bad," she was no longer smiling. "My aunt – she'd been so alone – I can understand that now. But she hated me. For never asking about her. For not knowing she'd existed until they'd decided to send me here. For being the child of people who had not asked about her."
"And then?" his voice was calm. Her own was beginning to tremble. She began to cry again.
"She was really angry, one day," she sniffed. "She was asking me to cook her lunch – I – I'd never cooked before! I wanted to learn! I tried so, so hard! And I know I wasn't nice to her, but she wasn't nice to me, and she was horrible. She kept on calling me sick. Sick child. Retard child. How I wasn't right in the head." She looked at him beseechingly. "I only get moments. I'm not all right for moments. But I'm all right after, I swear I am. And it helps when people are nice to me."
He pursed his lips, nodding at her. His blue, blue eyes were encouraging her to go on.
"And I was holding the knife to cut the bread," her eyes had widened slightly as she remembered. "She hobbled into the kitchen – she could never walk, you see – and began to poke and prod and call me horrible names. Of course you can't cook, you imbecile girl!" Claire's voice took on a sudden, harsh quality that made him jump. "You can never learn how to cook! Only decent girls can cook, and you're – not – decent! And then she was swinging the saucepan at me – and it was full to the brim with boiling water – I remember that … I remember the water boiling."
"What happened after?" he asked quietly.
"I killed her, of course," she looked at him, puzzled that he did not know this. Surely he'd had a feeling about it. "I'm awful, and I'm going to go to Hell. I didn't mean it. She was trying to hurt me, and the knife was in my hand, and she was dead. And then, I was alone. I thought it'd be better than being with her, but it wasn't."
"You're not going to Hell," he said after a moment's pause. "You're not."
"I am," she said, looking down at her house of cards sadly. It had been flattened by the wind. She picked up the joker idly. "I've a wicked soul. Everyone knows that. I expect when the train comes around again I'll be carted off to jail."
He laughed. "A wicked soul?"
She stared at him. "Yes. You must be dense. I thought you had feelings about people."
He smiled at her. "Do you want to know a little secret?"
She was lost in the blueness of his eyes again. It wasn't just something physical. There was something otherworldly about him.
"I can see people's souls," he confided in her. "And yours is beautiful."
A year passed. He came to see her every day. They became sort of friends, closer than friends but somehow more distant. His name, he revealed, was Gabe.
No last name. Just Gabe.
He would come and play cards with her. He helped her clean the house – the both avoided the kitchen, where her aunt's corpse lay sprawled and decaying on the floor – and he would sometimes bring her food. Nuts and berries from the woods.
She had intended to catch the train that came once a month, but somehow, she never did. She just wanted to stay with Gabe, in their little corner of the world forever. He helped her, she knew. In ways she couldn't understand. She was just better with him around. He explained things to her, so gently, and he kept her from feeling guilty about things she'd done. He was so confident. She noticed that. She noticed how the world glowed around him.
And then, a year later, they came looking for her. It turned out her existence was acknowledged after all. Officials came in suits, sent by her grandparents. One look at the body in the kitchen, and she was dragged away from the house, kicking and screaming for Gabe.
But he didn't come that day. And she was torn away without saying good bye.
"She was killed, by a knife to the heart –"
"The girl's fingerprints were all over the knife –"
"She's not quite right in the head, a retard, her grandparents said – I do believe she shouldn't be tried, she's only thirteen, for God's sakes –"
" – keeps asking about some boy – there's absolutely nobody in the area – must be hallucinating –"
"I'm not a retard!" she tried to say, again and again. Nobody would listen to her. Nobody took her seriously, like Gabe had. And worst of all, they blamed her.
"You have been a very bad child," one man kept telling her sternly, as though she couldn't understand clear English. "You have done something very bad."
"I didn't mean to," she said, weeping with newfound guilt. "She was so horrible to me –"
They were in a small, closed room. God, if only someone would rescue her. If only Gabe would arrive. She didn't know where she was, or what else they wanted. It felt as though she would never be out in the fresh air again.
And then the impossible happened. Jus like the first time he had appeared, he was simply there. And this time there was a look of grim anger on his face. It made his blue eyes glow eerily.
"Gabe!" the joy made her voice crack. The two men who were interrogating her spun around, confused.
"Who on earth is she talking to?" one demanded, staring exactly where Gabe stood.
"She's hallucinating again …"
And then Gabe spoke. In comparison, his voice was melodic. She was surprised she'd never noticed how pure his voice was before. It had melted into the garden surrounding them so smoothly.
"You will let her go," he said, looking from one to the other with quiet determination. "You will forget she has ever been here. And you will not ask her about this again."
Claire stared from one man to the other, open mouthed. The two men were looking at Gabe with stupefied expressions, as though they were actually listening to him.
But surely –
He reached out, stretching his hand towards her. "Come with me."
And just like that, she'd escaped.
She'd never seen him like this. The panic on his face was scaring her.
"I've done something awful," he moaned. His complexion was beginning to turn slightly green. Even the blue of his eyes were dimming as they ran down the street, then stopped at an alley, leaning against the wall to catch their breath. "What have I done? This is wrong. This is unnatural."
"What is?" she demanded.
"I'm sorry, Claire," he was looking at her with eyes full of guilt, and something else. "I shouldn't have – I shouldn't have dragged you into this. I just couldn't bear – they don't know! They can't see your soul!"
"What have you done?" she said, bewildered. "All you did was save me."
"We're not supposed to interfere!" another low moan escaped him. " We're not supposed to interfere …oh, how could I? What was I thinking?"
"It's going to be all right," she said gently, even though she didn't understand. But he'd been there for her. And now she would try and be there for him, even if she was only Claire, and sometimes not quite right in the head. But only sometimes, and after that she was fine, she swore. And always better with Gabe.
"No," he said, looking at her unhappily. "It'll never be all right again. I've come after you, and now you'll …" he took a deep breath. "It's all right. It's all right."
She shrugged at him. "I told you so. You've cleaned your face."
"I have," he said with a grin. "I had to look sharp to rescue you, didn't I?"
She giggled, then paused suddenly. "You're not a ghost, are you?"
He froze. "Whatever would make you think that?"
"It's just that … those men couldn't see you," she said thoughtfully. "Only me."
He smiled at her again, and her heart lifted. "Maybe I'm your guardian angel."
She laughed. "That would be nice."
For years after, they ran. Together, everywhere. He never left her alone too long. They spent time in orphanages and hospitals and woods and fields. She went back to her grandparents for a couple of years, at his request. He moved in next door to keep an eye on her. Sometimes, when she was feeling particularly skeptical, she wondered how he was always just there for her. Other times she just felt lucky.
But sometimes he left. On those days, she would sit and wait for him on the front steps, feeling a hauntingly familiar loneliness. And he would come back looking harried and often drained. Once he had arrived looking mauled, with huge claw marks on his arms and rips in his clothes. She had asked him what had happened. He grinned wearily and told her that he'd run into some wolves on his way home.
Finally, one day, he took her for a walk in the forest. They were both older now. She had grown into a plain but gentle young woman, and he had become good-looking and strong, and his eyes always shone as bright as the sky.
"I wish we could get married," she said out loud. It was something she'd often thought of, out loud, but never gained the courage to say. Gabe paled as soon as the words left her mouth.
"We can't," he said shortly, looking to the ground. He knelt down to pick an oddly shaped stone. She bit her lip and looked at him, trying not to look hurt.
"I guess so," she said at last. She supposed he wouldn't want to get married to someone people thought of as a retard. She just thought – after all these years …
"I would love to," he said, still looking down at his stone. "It's just – I'm not allowed to. A union between us would be … unnatural."
His voice was pained. Confusion raced through her.
"Unnatural?" she said in surprise. "Because I'm – because they think I'm strange?"
He laughed. "It's me, not you."
"You?" she stared at him earnestly. "There's nothing wrong with you. Except, sometimes, you do glow strangely," she added teasingly. "Sparkle like a fairy!"
He looked offended. "I do not sparkle. It's just good health."
"So what is wrong with you?"
"I'm …" his voice faded. "It's just … if you know, you'd die."
She paused, caught off-guard. "What?"
He looked deeply unhappy. "You don't understand – it's … it's not from this world. So if you know about it, you need to be … removed from the world as well."
She smiled. "I don't mind, as long as I'm with you."
He blinked at her. "I don't want you to die to be with me."
And because she'd always known it and thought it, but never thought it out loud, she dared to say it.
"You're an angel, aren't you?"
There it was. Out loud in all the meanings of the word.
There was a painstaking pause, in which his eyes filled with something that were like tears, but not.
And then, ever so slowly, he nodded.
And she smiled, because how could she have known, that in one short year, she would be dead? That even though he had warned her, she had never really believed it.
But she would come to understand it. She would come to accept it.
And that was the day she began to die.