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Authors: Helen Douglas

After Eden

BOOK: After Eden
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For Jack and Eden

Contents

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Prologue
Perran, England—June 2012

She was dancing with somebody else.

She looked different. Her auburn hair had been pinned up so that the waves that usually fell below her shoulders fell just below her chin. The beads on her green dress swayed as she moved across the floor. She caught his eye and smiled.

Flicking his hair out of his eyes, he pushed through the crowd toward her without thinking, without allowing the fear to stop him.

“Will you dance with me?” he asked.

She grinned. “Thought you’d never ask.”

She placed one of her hands loosely around his waist, the other one lightly on his shoulder. She was close, but their bodies didn’t touch, not the way Amy and Matt were pulled together so that every inch of them joined. Connor pulled her gently toward him, encouraged her head toward his shoulder. He breathed in the green-apple scent of her hair. The warmth of her skin. The faintest smell of soap or perhaps perfume. All around him was the music, the swirling
lights, the mass of people dancing and laughing and shouting over the music. But all he knew was the feel of her warm breath on his neck, the thumping of his own heart, his hand as it moved around her waist and settled on her rear.

“Connor?” she said quietly.

He looked down, found her neck with his lips, and began kissing her—small light kisses.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Something I should have done long ago.”

He kissed his way up her neck toward her lips. This was it. The moment he had dreamed of for the last two years. The moment when he would finally have the courage to kiss the girl he’d loved forever and tell her how much he loved her.

“Stop!” she shouted above the music.

He froze. This was not the way things played out in his daydreams. Out of the corner of his eye he could see some of the couples near him staring, waiting to see what would happen next.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Connor, you’re my best friend. I don’t feel that way about you.”

“But you’re my date,” he began.

“I thought you understood.”

She had raised her voice loud enough for him to hear it over the music, but it felt like she was broadcasting it to the whole world. Tears tickled the back of his eyes. There was no way he was going to stand there and cry in front of just about everyone he knew.

He pushed past her and headed out of the room. He would have gone outside, but Mr. Chinn, the science teacher, was between him and the door and the last thing Connor needed was some teacher asking him if he was okay.

Instead, he went in the other direction.

Chapter One
Perran, England—March 2012

Megan was late. The five-minute bell had rung and everyone else had made their way to assembly. I was standing at the front gate waiting for her.

It was a frosty March morning with a clear blue sky. High above the school campus, two buzzards were circling counterclockwise, like the hands of a backward-turning clock. As I squinted into the distance, searching for a glimpse of Megan’s purple coat, I saw him for the first time. He emerged from the dazzling whiteness, a tall boy with light-brown hair that glinted silver in the pale winter sun. Striding toward the school gate, he unzipped his leather jacket to reveal his school sweater and white shirt, then draped a school tie around his neck and loosely knotted it, as though avoiding the discomfort for as long as possible.

He glanced in my direction before heading into the main building. It took about thirty seconds for him to pass through the school gate and into the main entrance. It took
considerably less time for me to figure him out: gorgeous, confident, unattainable.

By the lunch break, it seemed that the entire female population of Year Eleven was talking about the new boy. I heard snippets of conversation all the way from my appointment with the careers adviser to the cafeteria.

“He’s Canadian.”

“He’s South African.”

“Apparently he’s so good at soccer that Mr. Tucker wants him on the team.”

“He has a tattoo.”

“He has a really hot blond girlfriend who lives with him.”

“He drives a silver sports car.”

“Chloe Mason is going to ask him out.”

My careers session had run over and the cafeteria was nearly empty by the time I arrived, but there was still a small line at the register. I waited impatiently, running back over the meeting in my head.

Mrs. Mingle’s office was hidden away upstairs in the admin block, away from the rest of the rooms. She was a middle-aged woman with flamboyant glasses and a frizzy head of red Afro curls. “So, Eden,” she had said enthusiastically, once we were both settled in our armchairs with a plate of chocolate cookies and two mugs of tea balanced on a footstool between us. “Tell me where you see yourself in the future.”

I hadn’t given much thought to the future. Not the
long-term future anyway. I’d thought as far as taking my exams in the summer and then going to the local college in the autumn. I would study hard during the week, and on Saturday nights I’d go to parties. Not the sort of parties that Amy liked—the sort where everyone drank beer out of cheap plastic cups and fumbled in dark corners with boys from school—but the sort where people drank wine from real glasses and talked about books and politics and tried to change the world.

“Imagine yourself as a ninety-year-old woman,” said Mrs. Mingle, dunking her chocolate cookie into her mug of tea—she held it there so long I expected to see the cookie break away—”and you’re looking back over your life. What sort of story will you have to tell?”

I tried to imagine myself as an old lady, gray and wrinkled, with my life behind me. And suddenly I knew what I wanted. Not in the details, but the broad sweep of things. I wanted my life to be like one of my favorite books: a big, fat novel, each page filled with small typewritten words as though the only way to cram so much life in was to make the writing really small. I wanted to be brave, take risks, make a difference, fall in love. The characters would be colorful, the landscapes exotic. I wanted my life to be a page-turner.

The problem was, I knew no colorful characters, had never been anywhere exotic, and courage was something I lacked. As I sat there in the armchair in Mrs. Mingle’s office, I had a dawning realization that if I didn’t start to think about my future, my life story would end up like a half-empty
notebook, blank page after blank page, interrupted only by an occasional shopping list or note for the window cleaner.

“What’s that?” said a low, male voice beside me.

I looked up, startled from my daydream. It was the new boy. He was frowning at the special of the day.

I shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. I’m guessing it’s supposed to be curry.”

“What about that?” he asked, pointing to the pizza. “The round thing with the red stuff.” His accent was difficult to place. Something between American and Australian.

“Do you mean the pizza?”

He nodded. “What’s on top?”

The cafeteria food was often a terrifying mixture of unidentifiable ingredients, but pizza was a recognizable and generally safe option. I turned to him, looking for a sign that this was a joke of some sort—perhaps a wink or a smile—but he was staring at the pizza slices, a crease between his eyebrows.

“It’s just normal pizza. Tomato sauce and cheese.” Did he really not know what pizza was?

“Yeah,” he said, grinning suddenly. “I knew that.”

I took a baked potato and some sweet corn and an apple. He took exactly the same.

“That looks nicer,” he said, shrugging one shoulder.

I paid for my food and strode across to the table where Megan and Connor were sitting. We were an odd bunch. We weren’t part of any of the main tribes at Perran, like the surfer and skater crowd, or the pony-club girls, or the
musicians, although we hung around on the periphery of the main groups from time to time. Megan had a beautiful singing voice and mixed well with the other musicians. Connor was learning to surf—although he wasn’t part of the surfing crowd—and he went to astronomy club on Fridays after school without being an official member of the science geeks. As for me, I was part of the crosscountry team but avoided all other sports and everything to do with them. Connor and Megan were sitting with Connor’s neighbor, Matt, and Matt’s girlfriend, Amy.

Matt was okay. He played guitar and was pretty laid back. Amy was a drama queen, always performing, always reinventing herself, always the center of attention. Her latest look was, in her words, vampire chic. She had dyed her naturally fair hair jet black, which made her pale skin look almost green. It was an improvement on her last persona, when she had bleached her blond hair platinum and affected a Southern Californian vocabulary.

“I’m thinking, like, a beach party would be totally awesome?” Amy was saying, as I pulled out a chair.

Megan looked at me and surreptitiously rolled her eyes. Amy had been planning her sixteenth birthday party for weeks. Megan didn’t really like beach parties, but I could already picture the fire burning bright in the inky night, a skyful of stars and, with a little luck, the moon.

“Amy, it’s the beginning of March. How can you have a beach party in March?” Connor asked. “It’s practically the middle of winter.”

“Actually, it’s spring,” she said. “Anyway, it’s not going
to be bikinis and swim trunks. Have you never partied on the beach outside of summer?”

“No,” said Connor, shrugging. “Why would anyone do that?”

“Because there are no parents on the beach. I could have my party at home with Mum and Dad in the next room—I’m sure they’d just love to serve pizza and lemonade—or we can party at the beach with no parents and drink whatever we like.”

“I get your point,” Connor said. “But it’ll be freezing.”

“We’ll build a bonfire,” said Amy. “It’s going to be so great.”

I tuned out and sliced into my potato. Out of the corner of my eye I watched the new boy sit alone at a table in the corner. Three Year-Ten girls at the table next to him giggled, flicked their hair, and upped the volume of their conversation. Something told me he wasn’t going to have any trouble fitting in, even at this late stage in the school year.

“What do you think, Eden?” Amy was asking.

“Huh?” I hadn’t been listening. “Sounds great.”

Amy turned to where I’d been looking. She winked at me. “Checking out the new guy?”

Connor groaned. “Not you as well.” He nudged me. “Is he dreamy? Does he make your heart flutter?”

“Get lost, Connor,” I said, nudging him back. “You’re just jealous.” I bit into my apple, embarrassed to have been caught.

“He’s clever,” said Amy. “He was in my science class this morning.”

“He’s not that smart,” said Matt. “I had history with him
and he’d never heard of Hitler. For God’s sake, who hasn’t heard of Hitler?”

“Or pizza?” I muttered under my breath, but nobody heard me.

“It’s not his mind I’m interested in anyway,” said Megan with a giggle.

“I don’t get it,” Connor said, shaking his head. “What does he have that I don’t?”

“Muscles,” Megan began. “And great cheekbones. And …”

Connor groaned again.

Megan ignored him. “And gorgeous hair.”

“You have to be kidding,” said Connor. “It sticks up in every direction. Doesn’t he know how to use a comb?”

“Says the boy who doesn’t even own a comb,” I said, tousling Connor’s shaggy blond mop.

“Maybe that’s how they wear their hair in America or wherever it is he’s from,” said Megan.

BOOK: After Eden
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