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Authors: Helen Douglas

After Eden (4 page)

BOOK: After Eden
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I shrugged. “It would seem those rumors about him driving around town are true. He drove past me last night and he gave me a lift.”

“Why would you, of all people, get in a car with an underage driver?” Connor asked, locking eyes with me.

I met his gaze. “Because I was cold and alone and the road was dark.”

“Why didn’t you get the bus?”

“Because I had to wait thirty minutes for the bus.”

He turned to Megan. “You left her alone at the bus stop?”

Megan looked at me uncomfortably. “Eden said she was okay.”

okay,” I said. “Stop acting like you’re my dad, Connor.”

Connor shrugged. “No worries. You want to get in a car with an underage driver from another country, you go ahead. It’s none of my business.”

I looked at Megan and she rolled her eyes. “Connor was just telling me about astronomy club,” she said, clearly attempting to move the conversation onto safer ground.

“Was it a good night?” I asked.

Connor pushed his hair out of his eyes. “Different. Usually it’s just five of us and Mr. Chinn. Yesterday, Westland showed up and eight Year Eleven girls also decided to join. Quite the coincidence.”

“So what did you do?” I asked.

“We looked at Venus and Jupiter.”

“That sounds good,” I said. “I’d love to do that.”

Connor smirked. “Yeah, right.”

“I would.”

“That’s why you’ve always shown such an interest in the past.” Connor lay back on his elbows. “To be fair, Westland was mostly interested in the telescope and talking to Mr. Chinn. He more or less ignored his groupies. Chloe Mason was throwing herself at him all evening. He didn’t seem to notice. I think he paid more attention to me than any of the girls.”

“Maybe he’s gay,” said Megan.

Connor shook his head. “I don’t think he’s interested in boys or girls. He’s a science geek.”

Megan snorted. “He doesn’t
like a science geek.”

Connor pulled himself back up into a sitting position. “And what exactly does a science geek look like?”

“It’s just that he’s pretty muscly,” she said. “He looks as though he belongs on the rugby team, not in the astronomy club.”

“So you can’t be muscular and into science? The two are mutually exclusive?”

“Of course not,” Megan sighed, rolling her eyes.

Ryan was making his way across the sand to us, swinging a full bottle of beer in one hand.

“Hey, Ryan,” said Connor. “Did you enjoy astronomy club last night?”

Ryan sat on the blanket next to me. He pushed the bottle of beer into the sand so that it stood upright. “Yeah. It was good.”

I nudged Ryan with my elbow. “According to Connor, the membership tripled yesterday.”

Ryan grinned and nudged me back. “
haven’t signed up.”

“I don’t know anything about astronomy. The only object I can identify in the night sky is the moon.”

“Maybe you should join then. You might learn something.”

Connor scowled. “Don’t waste your breath. Eden will never join. She thinks science is for geeks.”

“I didn’t say that!”

“It’s true though, isn’t it?” said Connor.

“Not at all,” I said, beginning to get annoyed.

Megan stood up. “Come on, Connor. Let’s go and get a drink.” She grabbed him by the arm and dragged him over
to Matt and the cooler full of bottles. Ryan and I watched in silence.

“So you and Connor have been friends for a long time,” he said eventually.

I nodded. “I sat next to him in preschool. I’ve actually known him longer than anyone. Even longer than I’ve known Megan.”

“He really likes you.”

It was a statement, not a question.

“We’re close,” I said, sifting the cold sand through my fingers. “We’re like brother and sister.”

Ryan smiled. “I’m not sure Connor thinks of you as a sister.”

“Oh, he does,” I said. “We know each other much too well for anything else.”

Ryan raised an eyebrow. “You’re very unperceptive.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He has a huge crush on you. It’s so obvious. Just the way he looks at you.”

I shuddered involuntarily. “Ugh! Don’t say that. Connor is really great, but he’s like a brother to me. Anything more would be …” I paused, trying to find a word that explained how I felt. “It would feel disgusting.”

Ryan laughed a short, strange laugh. “Poor guy. No wonder …”


Ryan was gazing out to sea, his eyes glazed, as if he were miles away. He spoke softly. “You are going to break his heart.”

“Actually, I think Connor and Megan would be good together.”

He gave me a flicker of a smile. “If you say so.”

Matt came running over, kicking up sand in his wake. “Frisbee. Girls versus boys. No excuses, Eden.”

Ryan leaped to his feet and offered me a hand up.

“You go ahead. I’ll just enjoy the view,” I said.

I lay back on the blanket and shut my eyes. Although it was only the beginning of March, there was enough strength in the sun to warm me through my jeans and sweater. After a few minutes a shadow fell across my face and I heard someone sit down next to me.

“Well, well,” said a voice. I didn’t have to open my eyes to tell it was Connor. “It’s always the quiet ones.”

“Get lost,” I said, shoving him playfully.

He didn’t move. “Aren’t you going to sit up and watch your boyfriend showing off?”

“I don’t have a boyfriend.”

“You could have fooled me.” Connor and I teased each other all the time, but this seemed different. He seemed really annoyed by all the attention Ryan was getting.

I sat up. “I hardly know him. We couldn’t even be described as friends.”

“But you like him, don’t you?”

I could feel myself blushing. Even if I hadn’t, Connor knew me well enough that I wouldn’t attempt a lie. I shrugged. “Too much competition. I wouldn’t want to have to try that hard to get a boy to notice me. I’ll leave him to the sharks.”

“Oh, I think he’s noticed you,” Connor said. “He came to this party with you.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. We live near each other. Anyway, he’s way out of my league. I haven’t even thought about him that way.”

Connor smiled and leaned toward me. “He’s not out of your league. You’re beautiful.”

I couldn’t speak. I thought back to what Ryan had said just a few minutes earlier.

“Well thanks, Connor,” I said, in the end.

I stood up to put some space between us and Connor stood up too.

“I’m going to go and start the grills,” he said. “You want to help?”

When the frisbee game ended, Ryan walked up to the grills and stood next to me. “Thanks for the invite,” he said. “I’m having a good time.”

“I can see,” I said, pushing veggie burgers around the grill and deliberately not looking at him.

“What are you cooking?”

I was reminded of the first day I spoke to him, at lunchtime when he had seen the pizza. “Veggie kebabs and veggie burgers.”

“What are veggie burgers?”

I smiled. “You don’t know what veggie burgers are? Are they all hunting, shooting, fishing types in New Hampshire then?”

Ryan looked at me as though he didn’t know what to say.

“They’re made from soybeans,” I said. “You should try one.”

“Okay. Is Connor cooking the same?”

I shook my head. “No, he’s grilling beefburgers.”

“As in cow?”

I laughed. “What planet are you from?” And then I noticed his expression. He looked sickened. “Are you a vegetarian?” I asked.


I couldn’t figure him out. He seemed so normal and yet at times, so strange. How could he not know what burgers were? He was American. Burgers were like their national dish or something. And Matt had said something about Ryan not knowing who Hitler was. Maybe he was a member of a strict sect like the Amish who didn’t allow any connection with the modern world. But that didn’t make sense. He didn’t look Amish and he drove a car. Or maybe he was part of a religious group that forbade the eating of all animals? Animal rights campaigner? Child of commune-living hippies? Member of a cult? I checked out his shoes, which were on the sand by his backpack. They looked like they were made of tough leather, like his jacket.

“How long have you been vegetarian?” I asked.

“Always.” He breathed in deeply and looked me straight in the eye. “What will you be eating?”

“The veggie stuff like you—I’m a vegetarian too.”

He breathed out. “Good.”

“Does it matter that much?” I asked.

He was still looking at me intensely. “It matters to me.”

The afternoon passed quickly. We ate and then Matt and
Amy lit the bonfire and everyone drank bottled beer or Juiska, little pink or blue bottles of vodka and juice.

As the sun slipped below the horizon and the temperature dropped, everyone gradually drew their blankets closer to the bonfire. Connor and I were alone on our blanket, sitting as close to the fire as we dared. I was ready to go home.

“There’s Venus,” Connor said, staring up at an unblinking point of light in the sky.

“How do you know that?” I asked. “It just looks like a normal star to me.”

“Do you see any other stars in the sky?”

I looked around. It wasn’t yet dark enough for the usual spread of stars.

“Venus is the brightest object in the night sky after the moon,” said Connor. “And she doesn’t flicker like the stars do. Her light is steadier.”

“What does it look like through a telescope?”

“She, not it,” said Connor. “Venus is named after the goddess of love and beauty. Through a telescope you can see her disk shape. Right now, she’s a crescent shape.”

“Connor!” I heard Megan call.

I looked up and watched as Megan slurred her way over to us. She half stumbled onto the blanket and put her arm around Connor. “You ready to walk me home?” Her words tumbled over themselves.

“Yeah. It looks like you’ve had enough.”

Megan leaned against his shoulder.

“How are you getting home?” Connor asked me.

“I’m not sure,” I said, looking for Ryan.

“You’re not going to let him drive you home I hope,” said Connor. “He was drinking beer earlier.”

He didn’t need to say Ryan’s name for me to know that was who he was talking about.

“He hasn’t been drinking,” I said.

“I saw him with a bottle of beer.”

“He hasn’t taken a single sip.” I pointed to the full bottle of beer, still standing in the sand.

Connor snorted. “How do you know that’s the same bottle?”

“I just do. Anyway, his sister’s going to drive us home.”

Connor pulled Megan to her feet and put an arm around her. “Are we still studying tomorrow or have you made plans with Westland?”

“Of course we’re still studying tomorrow,” I said. “I wish you’d stop making assumptions just because I happened to get a lift with Ryan. It’s ridiculous. Anyone would think you were jealous!”

“I’m not jealous of him. I’m just bored with you and Megan—and every other girl within a ten mile radius of Perran—acting as though there’s a total eclipse every time Ryan Westland sits down.”

I rolled my eyes. “Next week he’ll be old news. We’ll all go back to worshiping you.”

“If only that was true. I’d better get Megan home. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

I nodded. “Feel better, Megan,” I said.

“I feel fine,” she said, her words thick.

I watched as she stumbled along the sand, leaning hard against Connor. If I didn’t know better, I might have
thought they were together. Megan had left her red blanket behind. I shook out the sand and folded it up.

“You ready to leave?”

I turned. Ryan had crept up on me. I nodded.

“I’ll call Cassie.”

“Why don’t we walk home?” I said. “It’s a beautiful evening.”

As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized I’d made a huge assumption. There was no

“I’d really like that,” he said. “Let’s get your bag and say our good-byes.”

We followed the coastal path above the beach until it was too dark and then headed inland to the road that wound its way along the cliff edge to the village.

“That’s Venus,” I said after a while, to break the silence that had grown between us.

Ryan laughed. “I know. I thought you said you couldn’t identify anything in the sky except the moon.”

“I can’t. But Connor pointed it out earlier at the beach.”

“Venus?” He laughed again. “I wonder why he chose to identify Venus, named for the goddess of love and beauty.” He stopped and looked up. “He could have identified Jupiter or Sirius or Polaris. But he chose Venus.”

“Oh stop,” I said through chattering teeth.

“You’re cold,” he said, slipping off his jacket.

“I’m fine when we’re walking.”

He helped me into his jacket, which was much too big but warm and smelled like lemons and metal.

“So you don’t mind wearing leather?” I said, zipping up his jacket.

“The jacket’s not leather.”

I ran my palms down the front of it. It was supple like leather and felt super strong. “Is it plastic?”

“It’s a synthetic material similar to Kevlar. It’s strong, but also flexible.”

“So,” I said. “Connor showed me Venus. What would you have shown me?”

I could see his smirk in the moonlight, but he didn’t make any of the obvious innuendoes, the way the boys at school would have. He looked around. We were passing the golf course that lay halfway between Perran and Penpol Cove.

“Come here,” he said, taking my hand. He helped me climb over the low wooden fence and we walked to a sand bunker just a few meters from the road. “Lie down.”

Something about the serious look on his face told me that he wasn’t about to suggest we hook up out here in the cold winter night. He lay next to me, close, but far away enough that no part of our bodies touched. Above us, the sky was a hard black, thousands of pinpricks of light shimmering.

“You can’t really blame Connor for starting with Venus,” Ryan said. “It’s the brightest object after the moon. You can also see Jupiter tonight.” He pointed to another bright light in the sky. Like Venus, it shone steadier and brighter than the surrounding stars. “You need good binoculars or a telescope to see her moons. But I would start there with Orion.”

BOOK: After Eden
4.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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