Finding YouBy: Lydia Albano
There was no doubt that we were the two most opposite people in the world. But for all my failings, and the ways he balanced them, I loved him with my whole heart.
“Let’s run away,” he’d say when we were younger. “Think of all the amazing places there are, still secret and undiscovered, just waiting for us.” And he’d spread his arms at the stars and breathe in deeply, eyes aglow with the lure of adventure. And if anyone could have ever made me try something reckless, it would have been him.
But I was the girl who took out a book instead: one about gemstones and minerals, industry in the past century, or the life spans of different butterflies. “Research,” I’d tell him. “You know we can’t go anywhere until we have all the facts.”
And he’d shake his head at me and sigh. He’d groan, “You don’t understand, Isla. The world isn’t in books.” He would climb off the roof outside my window, down the iron bars and gutters, and make his way across the street to his own home.
But the next day he’d be back.
I’d see his golden head appear at the railing, and my heart would start to pound, but I’d ignore it. There’s time, I’d tell myself. Time for him to realize I’ve been here all along. Time for him to see me the way I see him. Time for him to love me.
And I was right, for so long. My life—our life—went on. Around us, things changed: Sickness swept through our corner of the city, and my mum died, and his, too. Miles away, someone named Nicholas Carr seized the principal city, Verity, and made himself our dictator. Copper became less valuable and my pa was paid less to mine it. Everyone wanted steel for the steam engines, and every day the noise and smoke of the city seemed to eat up more of the greenery that used to surround it.
Still, we had each other, and we had time.
Some things had changed, and would always be changing, I knew. But not us. Not the lazy afternoons on school holidays, talking about futures that still loomed far off. Not the way he’d move closer to me when we heard footsteps behind us on the street, or the grins he’d flash my way when he saw a funny advert in a shop window.
I would always have him. I was so sure.
Until the hottest day of the year I was sixteen, when the boy—who had somehow become a man, suddenly—climbed the rusty ladders to the roof outside my window, dressed all in brown.
“What are you dressed as?” I ask with a grin, lowering myself onto the hot shingles beside him.
Tam doesn’t smile. “I have something for you,” he says quietly, squinting up at the sun instead of meeting my eyes. I nudge him, and he takes something from the satchel slumped beside him and thrusts it into my hands. I watch him for a minute, my confusion growing.
He’s early; there’s no way he’s done making deliveries for the grocer yet. “Tam, what—”
“Look at it,” he prompts, strangely shy. I begin to unwrap the tiny paper package, which is heavy for its size. “It’s nothing too great, really,” he starts as I uncover a chain, delicate and a little tangled, with a small brass heart at the end.
My eyes widen. “Where did you get it?”
Tam’s smile is proud. “I bought it.” It must have cost a fortune, I think. He must have gone to one of the antiques shops downtown.
“Was it terribly expensive?”
He just shrugs, and I force myself to breathe, waiting for the explanation. The silence seems to last forever. “Oh! I’ve got the other piece, see?” he says eventually, holding up a similar chain that hangs about his neck. This one has a tiny key at the end.
“What’s all of this for?” I ask finally. “My birthday isn’t till winter and I’ve—”
“I might not be here.” He’s quiet, avoiding my eyes suddenly. A whole minute passes, my heart thudding in my temples.
“That’s why I came,” he explains, talking very fast. “I—a man came to our house. A recruiter. He said that if I joined the army, then my family wouldn’t be hungry through the winter, and with my pa not able to work what with his lungs getting so weak, and the kids … anyway, I registered.” He takes a breath, and the silence is heavy on my chest, suffocating me.