Scrap Metal

Excerpt

 

We didn’t talk for the rest of our way down the rock-strewn climb to the sands. Once on the beach and not struggling to find our footing, the silence became electric, and I knew I had to speak, though my heart was beating harder than the wings of the raven I could see fighting the wind to regain his cliff-face perch. “Listen,” I began, roughly, as if I were about to tell him off. “When I went to Brodick last night – ”

“Nichol, don’t.”

I stopped. Cam had stopped a few feet behind me and was watching me miserably. “I want to explain,” I said, but he held a hand out to me.

“No. You don’t have to struggle to tell me things I already know. Let me talk.”

“Okay, but…”

“Hush up. You got back together with Archie last night. I’m glad about that, because somebody like you should never have to be lonely. All I want to say is – I’m sorry I didn’t find you sooner in my life. I’m sorry I didn’t know you while there might have been a chance.”

I took a breath. For a moment I studied the ripples in the sand at my feet. The air was rich with the tang of seaweed. No wonder my ancestors had lugged it up to the clifftops to revive their land – it smelled of life, of brine and blood. For me from now on it would always mean happiness, the dawning of a joy so great I wasn't sure I could contain it. “Let me tell you about last night with Archie,” I said, not looking up. “It was meant to be drinks with a whole bunch of my friends. But when I got there it was just him, and – yeah, I got drunk, and I went home with him and I got into his bed. It was what we always did. Then I started thinking about you, and I got straight out again.” Cam's mouth had fallen open slightly. I thought I'd better clarify. “I couldn't let him touch me. I don't think I could let anyone but you touch me now, and I don't care how long I have to wait for that.”

What had I been expecting? For him to jump into my arms, or make me a little speech in return? As it was, he walked straight past me and carried on towards the sea. The sun was in my eyes and I couldn't make out his expression. I followed, stumbling over the long strands of kelp. “Cam? Are you all right?”

“I'm fine.”

His stride was powerful, elastic. He was moving like a man with huge weights lifted off from his shoulders, and I didn't dare imagine that what I'd just told him had produced this effect – just jogged to keep up with him. He was wearing the jumper I'd given him on the night of his arrival. It almost fit him now, and a moment later I saw why. Without breaking stride he pulled it over his head, exposing a torso still pale but warm as new milk in the sun, skin smooth over compact muscle. Helplessly I thought of the seal-bride again, how she'd cast off her human skins and returned to the ocean. Her people were there to greet her today, heads and tails held high as they basked, making the shapes of smiles or crescent moons. “What are you doing?”

“It's a beautiful day.”

His words came to me in tatters on the sharp sea wind. “Not that beautiful. You'll catch your death.”

“No, I won't. Not now.” He tied the jumper round his hips and suddenly took off at a flat run. The seals, safe here for centuries now, gazed placidly as he made for the water's edge and pelted along the shore, sending spray flying. I wished I shared their insight. There was a child in me that wanted to strip off too and dash around on the sand, but I'd had to move so far away from boyhood pleasures that I couldn't close the gap. Cam reached the deep inlet that bounded this stretch of the beach and circled back to me, still at top speed. I'd had no idea how strong and fit he'd become. He was beautiful in motion, his feet barely touching the sand. Automatically I put out a hand to catch the one he was extending to me, and he grabbed me as he passed, pulling me after him. I gasped and burst into laughter, letting myself be hauled round in a huge half circle. “What are you doing, you bloody nutcase?”

“Running.” He reeled me in and I went willingly, a fish jumping out of the water to be caught. “The sun's so bright. I just want to run, or...” He threw his arms around my neck. “Or dance. Dancing would do. What'll we dance to, Nichol?”