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Authors: Helen Douglas

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BOOK: After Eden
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Amy frowned. “I don’t think he’s American. I think he sounds Australian.”

“Definitely not Australian,” Megan argued back. “There’s a hint of a twang there. Maybe he’s Canadian.”

“Or South African,” said Amy. “Their accents sound similar to Australian.”

“Why don’t you just ask him?” said Connor, a hint of irritation in his voice. “He’s coming this way. I’m sure he’ll put you out of your misery.”

Sure enough, he had finished his meal and had to walk past our table. I studied my apple, hoping Connor wouldn’t do or say something embarrassing.

Connor stood up, just as the boy approached, blocking his exit. “Excuse me. I wonder if you would mind settling a discussion.”

The boy smiled warily. “If I can.”

“The girls here were just trying to place your accent. We’ve got Australia, Canada, and South Africa.”

The boy smiled a little more. “Close,” he said. “America.”

“America. Now that’s settled. Thank you so much for your assistance.”

The boy raised an eyebrow. “You’re welcome.”

The bell rang for fifth period and I sighed. Double art with Mrs. Link.

“What class do you have next?” Connor asked the boy. “I’ll point you in the right direction.”

In his hand the new boy was holding a map of the school, which he had clearly folded and refolded several times already that morning. “Art. Mrs. Link.”

“Eden has art with Mrs. Link,” Megan said, winking at me.

I cringed. Why did Megan have to be so blunt? I swallowed the piece of apple I was chewing and picked up my tray. “You can walk with me.”

“Eden. That’s a beautiful name,” he said as we walked toward the Godrevy Building. “Is it popular in England?”

“No. I don’t know anyone else with my name.”

“Is that so?”

I didn’t reply. I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I glanced at him from the corner of my eye. He was looking at me with an amused smile. The warmth on my face told me that
I was blushing. I have reddish-brown hair and the palest skin that blushes fiercely, all the way from my chest to my forehead.

“What brings you to Cornwall?” I asked eventually, as I held open the door.

He hesitated. “Work. My dad’s work.”

“It must be tough arriving halfway through the school year. With exams and stuff.”

“It’s not so bad. Everyone is so friendly.”

Mrs. Link was in the classroom, meeting and greeting and watching us swipe our IDs to sign in. As usual she was wearing a caftan that accentuated her enormous hips. And she reeked of the hazelnut coffee that she always drank.

“You must be Ryan Westland,” she said, shaking his hand vigorously and beaming. “Now, where are we going to put you? Eden here doesn’t have a partner. You can sit with her.”

I sat down in my usual seat and looked away while Ryan sat next to me. I heard the scrape of stools and whispers as several of the girls angled themselves for a better look.

“So you’re from America?” I said after a while.


“My aunt’s boyfriend is from America. His accent is way different from yours.”

“It’s a big country.”

“Which part are you from?”

“You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”

I got the hint so I took out my sketch pad and flicked
through the last few pieces we had worked on. Hands, feet, eyes. All embarrassingly badly drawn. I closed the pad with a snap, afraid that Ryan would see.

“I’m from New Hampshire,” Ryan said softly. He was smiling. “A small town in the countryside.”

“Take out your sketch pads,” Mrs. Link interrupted, handing a blank one to Ryan. “Today we will be sketching portraits. Face and upper torso.”

I felt my stomach clench. This was awful. I was going to have to sketch Ryan’s face. I was terrible at art in general, but I was particularly bad at drawing people. Mrs. Link chose a boy from the front of the room as her partner and then modeled how to approach the task.

“Thirty minutes each,” she told us.

“Do you want to model first or draw first?” Ryan asked.

Both options sounded bad. I figured that if I sketched last, I might not have to show him my effort. “I’ll model.”

I didn’t know where to look. I looked out the window. I looked at the art on the wall and then at the door.

“Do you think you could keep still?” Ryan asked.

“I’m sorry. I find it hard not to fidget.”

“Maybe you could find something to look at.”

I shrugged and looked around the room, trying to find something interesting. “What would you like me to look at?”

“You could just look at me.” He must have spotted the look of horror on my face. It would be impossible for me to maintain eye contact with him without blushing brightly. “Or you could look out that window.”

I chose the window. There wasn’t a lot to focus on—just
a palm tree swaying slightly and a cinderblock wall. Mrs. Link put on some slow jazz that was clearly designed to be relaxing. Piano and trumpet. I tried to think myself somewhere else. I thought about the beach party that Amy was planning. I thought about my aunt Miranda and her boyfriend, Travis, who she was crazy about. And then I thought about the good-looking boy opposite me who was intently sketching my image. I could feel the color still burning my cheeks.

“Why don’t you take off your sweater?” Ryan said after a few minutes.

“Excuse me?”

“You look like you’re burning up. Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just a little hot.”

His attention was making it so much worse.

“Then take off your sweater.”

“Won’t that mess up your sketch?”

He shook his head. “I’m still working on your face.”

Slowly, I pulled my sweater over my head, ensuring my school shirt didn’t rise up with it. I unbuttoned the top of my shirt and loosened my tie, knowing full well that it wouldn’t make the slightest difference to the color of my face.

“I have high coloring,” I said.

Ryan skimmed his eyes from my chest to my face, finally resting on my eyes. He smiled and continued drawing. I tried to focus on the music, but it was slow and achingly romantic and, ridiculously, I found myself imagining what
it would be like to dance with Ryan, the two of us barefoot, the sun setting over the sea, while this piece of music played in the background. I picked up my sketch pad and waved it in front of my face, trying to cool myself down.

“Does the school have a science club?” Ryan asked.

“There’s a review club after school. It’s for people who need to improve their grades.”

Ryan frowned. “Isn’t there anything else? A club for people who love the subject?”

“Not really. Unless you count astronomy. I guess that’s science. My friend Connor goes.”

Ryan put down his pencil and looked at me. “Connor?”

“You met him at lunch. He’s the blond boy who stopped you and asked about your accent.”

Ryan nodded. “That sounds perfect. When does it meet?”

“Fridays. Mr. Chinn runs it. Connor will be able to tell you more.”

Ryan was looking at me intently. “That’s just what I’m looking for. What’s Connor’s surname? I need to catch up with him.”

“Penrose. He’s one of my best friends. I’ll introduce you.”

“Thanks.” He picked up his sketchbook and began to scratch his pencil across the paper. I looked at the palm tree again.

A whiff of hazelnut coffee alerted me to Mrs. Link’s approach.

“Very good, Ryan,” she said. “You’ve captured her expression beautifully.”

After thirty minutes of unbearable self-consciousness, Mrs. Link told us to switch roles. I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or mortified.

“How do you want me?” Ryan asked, his eyes twinkling playfully.

“Doesn’t matter.”

I didn’t know where to begin. I looked at his eyes: brown. Not muddy brown or coffee brown or dirty brown. His eyes were all-the-colors-of-autumn-leaves brown. Closest to the pupil they were a rich chestnut, farther out a deep copper. Near the whites of his eyes they were almost gold. They were the most beautiful eyes I’d ever looked at, and they were looking at me with amusement.

“Actually, maybe it would be better if you looked out the window,” I said.

“At that tree?”

“That would be fine.”

“What sort of tree is that?”

“Just a palm tree,” I said with a shrug.

I tried to capture the shape of Ryan’s eyes. But I couldn’t. They were just eye shaped. I could explain in words that they were open, warm, smiling, but I couldn’t transcribe those thoughts onto paper.

I tried to sketch his hair. It was light brown, with a rich warmth. If I were talented, I would have chosen twelve different shades of brown and blended them together. It was pushed back from his forehead so that it fell in all directions. I used my pencil to try to show the various directions that his hair fell, but the result on my pad just looked chaotic.

I went for a generic oval face shape, confident that I wouldn’t be able to capture anything resembling his cheekbones and square jaw. The face on the page looked like the efforts of an eight-year-old child and I toyed with the idea of ripping my pad into shreds. Sighing inwardly, I moved on to his body. He was angled slightly away from me, gazing at the lone palm tree outside the art room window. He had taken off his sweater and rolled up his sleeves and I noticed the golden hair on his forearms. His arms were slightly clenched and his hands in fists. The muscles stood out, like taut rope. I followed his body upward. The shape of his chest was clearly defined through his shirt. It looked hard and muscular.

“Do you work out?” I asked.

“No,” he said, sounding a little confused. I saw him notice me looking at his chest.

“You seem pretty muscular.” The words slipped out before my internal censor had a chance to stop them.

He raised an eyebrow. “Is that good?”

I blushed. “It doesn’t make a difference. I won’t be able to draw it. Art is my weakest subject.”

“Can I see what you’ve done?”

“Absolutely not.”

All too quickly the minutes passed and it was time for us to peer-assess our portraits. Mrs. Link wanted us to identify what had gone well, and a target for development.

“Here you go,” Ryan said, pushing his sketch toward me.

It was good. The girl in the picture was biting her lower lip while gazing into the middle distance. Her long wavy hair was unruly and her eyes were intense. The shading on
her cheeks suggested a slight blush of embarrassment. It was me all right. A much more attractive version of me.

“So what went well?” Ryan asked, smiling crookedly.

“I like the movement in her hair,” I said. “You’ve captured that really well.”

He smiled and thanked me. “So what’s my target?”

“I don’t know. She looks too perfect. She doesn’t look real.”

“I draw what I see.”

I bit my lip, unsure how to respond. “I wish I looked that good,” I said eventually, shrugging my shoulders and smiling in what I hoped was a self-deprecating way.

“Let’s see your sketch then.”

I pushed my sketch pad in front of him. “I’ll be happy with two targets for improvement. I’m well aware that nothing went well.”

Ryan smiled and met my eye. “Evidently human. But I must do something with my hair.”

“Next week,” Mrs. Link told us at the end of class, “we’ll be taking a field trip to the Eden Project to sketch plant life. You will be excused from your morning classes and we’ll be back in time for the buses at three thirty.”

“What’s the Eden Project?” Ryan asked.

“These large domes, like greenhouses, built in abandoned clay pits in St. Austell. Each of them houses plants from a different biome. It’s cool.”

“And it’s called Eden?”

I nodded. “As in the garden of Eden.”

“I got the reference.”

The bell rang and I put my sketch pad in my bag. Ryan slid off his stool quickly and began to walk out. He hesitated at the door and turned to look at me.

“Thanks, partner,” he said with a smile.

Chapter Two

Megan walked me to the bus stop at the edge of town. After school we’d gone to see a film and then grabbed some fries. Now it was horribly dark and cold. “I’ll wait with you.”

“I’m fine. Go home. I’ll see you at the beach tomorrow.”

“Text me when you’re home safely,” she called when she was halfway down the street. I waved back, suddenly feeling very alone.

In summer Perran was always busy with tourists but in winter it was desolate. A ghost town. You could walk in the middle of the seafront road because the shops were closed and cars had no reason to drive along there.

I didn’t usually hang around after school in the winter, because of the cold and the dark and the fact that there weren’t many buses, but this Friday I didn’t feel like going home to watch Miranda and Travis canoodling in the kitchen while he prepared some gourmet meal for two.

The seafront was empty. There was no sign of life except for the lights shining through the window of the Fisherman’s Arms. I stamped my feet and clapped my hands to get my circulation moving. The next bus wasn’t due for another twenty-five minutes.

For a second I thought about calling Miranda and asking her to drive into town to get me, but I knew she wouldn’t be happy if I disturbed her Friday night date. I thought about a taxi, but I didn’t have enough money for the fare. In the end I decided to walk a couple of miles and pick the bus up farther along the route. It would be a lot less cold than standing around in the drafty bus shelter.

I was only five minutes out of town when a car slowed alongside me. I put my head down and increased my pace. This had been a mistake. I should have stayed at the bus stop. Out here on the coast road, no one would hear me scream. The car pulled up against the curb, then a door opened and slammed behind me. I reached inside my schoolbag for my cell phone.


I turned. It was Ryan.

“You want a ride home?” he said with a smile.

“You don’t know where I live.”

“You go to Perran School. How far can it be?”

“About five miles. I live in Penpol Cove.”

“I live there myself.”

Something occurred to me. “You have to be seventeen to drive in this country.”

BOOK: After Eden
7.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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