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Authors: Helen Douglas

After Eden (10 page)

BOOK: After Eden
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On a whim I searched for Wolfeboro, Ryan’s hometown. Like the previous searches, it brought up thousands of results. Wolfeboro was a small town of about six thousand people and claimed to be America’s oldest summer resort. I scanned through images of the town, which was surrounded by blue lakes and huge forests of green trees. I remembered Ryan telling me that all the trees had died due to some sort of industrial accident. I added that to the search.

Nothing.

I tried again with a different search engine. I searched
the news. There was no mention of an environmental disaster in or near Wolfeboro.

By the time I clambered into bed at eleven thirty, I had devised a theory. Although it seemed impossible, the evidence was staring me in the face. The book written sixty-nine years in the future. The fact that the book was written by Connor Penrose and my best friend was Connor Penrose. Ryan showing up at school just weeks before school ended. Ryan not recognizing commonplace food such as pizza and burgers. Not knowing who Hitler was or Gandhi or Mandela. Ryan telling me that an industrial accident had wiped out all the trees in Wolfeboro when that hadn’t happened. Yet.

Only one thing could explain all these things.

Ryan Westland was from the future.

Chapter Nine

The wind shrieked around the corners of the house, shook the windowpanes, and howled down the chimney in my bedroom. I saw the clock strike midnight and one in the morning. After a few minutes of tossing and turning, I gave up trying to sleep. I took
The Journey to Eden
out from under my pillow and turned again to the photos in the middle. I half expected them to have changed.

I grabbed a pad of paper and a pen from my desk and began to list what I knew.

Ryan, Cassie, and their father are from the future
.

They have brought with them an autobiography of my friend Connor Penrose
.

Connor will one day discover a planet that he will name Eden
.

My name’s Eden, and I’m Connor’s best friend
.

Connor will get a telescope for his birthday next week
.

Connor will go on to study at Manchester University
.

Connor will visit the planet Eden
.

Connor will write an autobiography called
The Journey to Eden.

Connor will live to be more than eighty years old
.

It wasn’t a lot to go on. But one thing stood out brighter than the lightning that flashed across the night sky: the name Connor.

I might be overwhelmed, I might be confused, and I might not have all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. But it was obvious that Ryan was here because of Connor. The question was: Why?

In the clear light of day everything seemed absurd, the product of an overactive imagination.

“You look terrible,” said Miranda, pouring milk onto her cornflakes.

“The storm kept me up.”

Miranda nodded. “I was awake half the night myself. You should go back to bed and catch up on your sleep. Those bags under your eyes are huge.”

Miranda left for work at eight thirty. I waited ten minutes and then shoved
The Journey to Eden
into my backpack and headed down the lane to Ryan’s house.

The wind bent the trees horizontal. Rain began to fall, stinging my skin. In my rush, I hadn’t thought to grab a coat. The rain began to fall harder. I thought about heading back to get a coat, but I was halfway there. My tight black jeans were stuck to my legs and my white top was rapidly becoming transparent.

Three cars were parked in front of the large, detached double garage. Ryan’s silver car, Cassie’s red one, and a metallic blue one. Presumably Ryan, Cassie, and their dad were all at home.

I knocked hard on the heavy front door, suddenly nervous. Yet I wasn’t the one with a huge secret. I exhaled slowly, trying to keep my nerve as I listened to someone on the other side of the door fiddling with a bolt.

It was Cassie.

“Oh. It’s you,” she said, her eyes running over me from head to toe and back again.

A raindrop ran down my forehead and into my eye. I wiped it away, conscious how I must seem to her with my rain-soaked hair and clothes.

Sheet lightning lit up the dark, shadowy sky and was quickly followed by a growl of thunder. The storm was back.

“You’d better come in,” she sighed.

I stood in the hallway, while water puddled around my feet.

“I need to see Ryan,” I said.

“Don’t you own a coat?”

“It wasn’t raining when I left the house.”

“Ryan’s in the shower. Follow me.”

My heart lurched at the thought of Ryan in the shower, and for a moment I thought she was going to take me to him, but she took me into a large room on the left, a kitchen and dining room all in one with a massive farmhouse table in the middle. A man of about forty was sitting at the table with a pile of newspapers and magazines in front of him. He appeared to be cutting articles from them.

“You must be Eden,” the man said, standing up and striding over to me with his hand outstretched.

“Pleased to meet you,” I said.

He pumped my hand vigorously. “I’m Ben. I’ve heard a great deal about you.”

His hand was warm, his smile friendly. “Cassie, get Eden a towel.”

Cassie flounced from the room.

“Take a seat. Ryan will be down in a few minutes. I’ll make you a hot drink.”

I sat at the table and glanced at the articles Ben had cut from one of the newspapers. The headline on the topmost article read
Most Earth-like exoplanet gets major demotion
. The article had yesterday’s date.

“What’s an exoplanet?” I asked.

Ben carried two mugs of coffee over to the table. “A planet outside our solar system.”

My body tensed. “I didn’t think there were any planets outside our solar system.”

“Careful, it’s hot,” he said, passing me one of the mugs. “There are probably millions of planets out there. New planets are being discovered almost every day.”

“Really? So why isn’t it headline news?”

“They’re usually gas giants like Jupiter. Uninhabitable. I don’t think there will be headline news until we discover an Earth-like planet populated by little green men.”

I laughed. “Is that your job then? Looking for planets.”

“Not exactly. I’m a science writer. I’m writing about the hunt for planets in our galaxy.”

Cassie flung the door open and threw me a white towel. I dabbed my face and squeezed the water out of my hair.

“There’s fresh coffee in the pot,” Ben told her.

It suddenly occurred to me that I had interrupted their breakfast.

“I’m sorry to just show up like this,” I said. “But I really need to speak to Ryan.”

“There’s no need to apologize,” said Ben. “It’s not a problem.”

I heard the sound of Ryan barreling down the stairs and into the kitchen.

“Hi,” he said. A big smile spread across his face. “What happened? You missed me so much you couldn’t bear to wait until this afternoon?”

He was dressed in jeans and a white shirt, his hair wet from the shower. Despite everything, I could feel myself blushing. This wasn’t how I’d planned things at all. I’d run down the lane, hyped up and ready to confront him. Now, after all the waiting around, and Ben’s friendly chatter, I was beginning to lose my nerve.

“I need to speak to you about something,” I said. “It’s important.”

He nodded and poured himself a mug of coffee. “Let’s go up to my room.”

I had never seen a bedroom so sparsely furnished. There was no color. No mess. Nothing out of place. No posters on the wall, no dirty clothes on the floor, no empty glasses or mugs. The room of someone who hadn’t been here long. And then I realized: the room of someone who didn’t plan to stay.

“Take off your clothes,” he said.

“Excuse me?” I said, certain that I must have misheard him.

“Take off your clothes,” Ryan said with a smile. “I’ll find something of Cassie’s for you to wear.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Ryan insisted. “You’re drenched. Don’t be ridiculous.”

When he left the room, I stripped down to my underwear and quickly wrapped myself in the towel Cassie had given me. His room was cold. Looking around, I could see no heater. There was a soft knock at the door.

“Is it okay to come in?”

“It’s fine,” I said.

Ryan gave me a pair of black trousers and a black sweater. He left the room while I dressed. Cassie’s trousers fit okay, but her sweater clung very tightly to my body.

“Okay, I’m decent.”

He came back in and smiled. “What was so urgent you had to walk through a thunderstorm? I’m glad you did. I’m just wondering why.”

Watching him, I tried to sort out my feelings. Was he the same person? Did I still like him?

“I’ve been up all night thinking,” I began, sitting next to him on the bed.

“About what?”

“You,” I said.

He raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure whether to be flattered or alarmed.”

“When are you from, Ryan?” I asked, my voice shaking as the absurd question left my mouth.

“Wolfeboro,” he said, looking at me with a bemused smile. “I’ve told you before.”

“Not where,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. “When? What year?”

The smile faltered, just for a nanosecond, and then lit up even brighter than before. “What are you talking about?”

“I know you’re from the future. I just wondered how far in the future.”

Ryan laughed a short, hollow laugh. His pale skin went a shade whiter. “You’re not making sense.”

“Fine,” I said. “We’ll just pretend then. You’re from the future and I know you’re from the future and you know I know you’re from the future. But we can just act like I’m insane if that makes you more comfortable.”

Ryan swore. He stood up, opened the door, and scanned the landing, before shutting the door again and sitting back on the bed. He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, head in his hands. I stayed where I was, awkwardly, wondering if I should speak or reach out to touch him or just stay as I was.

After what felt like forever, he looked up at me. “How do you know?” he whispered.

I felt a jolt through my whole body. Ryan had, effectively, just admitted that I was right.

“Lots of little things.”

He looked at me, his eyes strangely fearful. “What sort of things?”

“You were clueless about ordinary food.”

He groaned.

“And you didn’t know things that everyone knows, like who Hitler was.”

Ryan rubbed the space between his eyes. “I looked him up after that history lesson.”

“And then there was the way you asked me lots of things about myself but you were really evasive when I asked questions about you.”

He nodded, as though making a mental list of how to improve his undercover persona.

“You told me that an environmental disaster wiped out all the trees in Wolfeboro, which isn’t true. I Googled it. At first I thought you were a member of a cult or a strange religious sect that kept you sheltered from the world.”

Ryan looked sideways at me and smiled thinly. “So what convinced you that wasn’t the explanation?”


The Journey to Eden
.”

He swallowed hard. “What are you talking about?”

“Connor’s autobiography.”

“You’ve lost me,” he said, but the usual confidence had gone.

I unzipped my backpack and removed the book. “I accidentally took this home last night. I must have mixed it up with my own books.”

Ryan reached out, almost snatching the book. “How much of this did you see?”

“I’ve seen all the photographs and read the first chapter,” I said. “But really, even without the book, I knew there was something not quite right about you.”

“Is it really so obvious?” he asked. “Do you think anyone else has figured me out?”

I shook my head. “No one else suspects a thing. Just me.”

Ryan ran his fingers through his hair, frowning at the floor.

“So, now that I know your secret, are you going to have to kill me?” It was meant to be a joke and I attempted a laugh, but the sound came out all wrong.

“No. You’re safe. I’m the one who’s dead.”

“Why? It’s hardly your fault I figured you out.”

“Ben and Cassie will kill me. I’m not supposed to bring anyone home. And I shouldn’t have left the book out. I was reading it before you came yesterday and I just shoved it under a pile of school books. I panicked.”

“They can’t blame you. You didn’t invite me. I just turned up.”

“I shouldn’t have let you in. I’m supposed to make an excuse if anyone shows up at the door. We have to keep a distance.”

“So why didn’t you?”

He looked across at me. “I couldn’t. You’d walked down the lane in that wind with no coat to bring me my jacket. You looked so cold and I just couldn’t …” He trailed off.

“I would have worked it out anyway,” I said. “There were so many little things that didn’t add up.”

Ryan looked at me and smiled. “You know, for someone in your time, discovering that your friend is a time traveler from the future must be quite a big deal. How come you seem so unsurprised?”

I shrugged. “It has been said that I’m hard to impress.”

“Along with beautiful, smart, and completely unshockable.”

I felt my face begin to heat up. I wished to God that I could learn to take compliments. “So are you going to answer my question?”

“You’ll have to remind me what it was.”

“What year are you from?”

He hesitated, as though considering for one last time the possibility of not telling me. A flash lit up the room and was quickly followed by a rumble of thunder. The overhead lamp flickered and then died.

“Hold on a sec.” Ryan rummaged around in his desk drawer.

He found a pack of twelve candles and a lighter. He put one half of the candles on the desk, the other half on the windowsill. As he moved the flame over the wicks, each of the candles flickered to life, casting a soft pool of wavering light.

Ryan sat back on the bed. “I was born in February 2105. I traveled back in time from 2122.”

I tried to work it out in my head. I had been born in 1995. Ryan was a hundred and ten years younger than me.

BOOK: After Eden
7.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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