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Authors: Helen Douglas

After Eden (6 page)

BOOK: After Eden
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“But he does like you and he will ask you out.”

I let it go.

We arrived at the Eden Project just after ten. Mrs. Link gave us our pads and assignments for the day and told us to be back at the bus at two o’clock.

“Do you want to eat or drink or go straight to the biomes?” I asked.

“The biomes,” he replied immediately.

“Which one do you want to visit? We have a choice of the Mediterranean or the tropical. I like the tropical dome because it’s exotic and warm.”

“Show me the way.”

We strolled through the café to the tropical biome. Immediately we were hit with the thick humidity and the rich smell of damp soil.

Ryan shut his eyes and breathed in deeply. “Whoa! This place smells amazing!”

I laughed.

He walked ahead of me, up the path, through the lush green foliage and sultry air.

“Look at that.” He’d stopped in front of a large plant with thick shiny leaves. He rubbed one of the leaves between his fingers. “It’s so glossy.”

“You’re really into plants, aren’t you?”

He tilted his head toward the roof of the biome. “Is that a waterfall up there?”

Without waiting, he strode ahead, along the path that twisted through the steamy jungle up to the canopy level at
the top. I caught up with him by the waterfall that crashed down from the summit of the biome.

“Let’s start here.” He pointed to a large-leafed plant. “We can sketch this and let the waterfall cool us off.”

Ryan sat cross-legged on the ground, flipped open his sketch pad, and began to move his pencil across the paper.

“The green is so vibrant,” he said. “This is such a healthy plant.”

I laughed at his enthusiasm. “What is the vegetation like where you come from?”

Ryan paused, his hand hovering over the sketch pad. “Where I’m from there’s a lake,” he said, his eyes far away, as though searching through his memories for a picture. “Once it was surrounded by trees. Maple and birch and pine. In the fall the maple trees would turn yellow and gold and red.”

“I’ve seen photos of New England in the autumn. It looks amazing.”

Ryan nodded. “It was. People would come on vacation in the fall to see the colors. And in the winter they would come to ski. And in the summer they would come to fish and swim and boat in the lakes. And everywhere there were trees.”

“It sounds great,” I said. “What’s it called?”

“Wolfeboro,” he said. “But it’s not like that anymore.”

“What happened?”

He shut his eyes. “I don’t know. Pollution. Some sort of industrial accident, I guess. The trees are all gone. Just the rotting remains of what was once a tremendous forest.”

“That’s terrible,” I said. “But one day they’ll grow back.”

“I hope so.”

We continued sketching. From time to time, I glanced at Ryan’s pad. He was sketching the shape of the plant, somehow capturing the glossiness of its leaves and the sun pouring down through the hexagonal panels on the roof of the dome. He flipped the pages of his pad and began another drawing. This time he drew the same plant, but closer. He described the shape of the leaves, the veins in each frond, little details I would never have noticed. I focused on my own sketch. I was attempting the same plant. I had an outline that was roughly the same shape as the plant itself. It was probably the best sketch I had ever produced. The next step involved filling in the details.

Ryan leaned over and grinned. “Do you want me to do your sketches for you?”

“It would be pointless. Mrs. Link would know it wasn’t my work. I am officially the least talented artist in the history of Perran School.”

“Did she say that?”

“Not in those words, but she’s made it plain that she doesn’t believe anyone can really be this talentless without trying hard.”

He looked back at my drawing. “She does have a point.”

I smacked him over the head with my sketch pad and stood up. “I’m hungry. Shall we go and get some food?”

He snapped his pad shut and we strolled back to the café.

“I have to warn you, Ryan,” I said. “They will be serving meat here. Cornwall is not as evolved as Wolfeboro.”

“You must think I’m strange,” he said, smiling to himself.

“A little,” I said as I took a hummus sandwich for myself and one for Ryan. I picked up two bottles of sparkling water and pushed the tray to the checkout. Ryan insisted on paying. I made a mental note to pay next time we went out. Next time? Maybe I was imagining it, but it did feel as though there was something between us.

“Can I ask you something?” I asked, as we took a seat by the window. “And do you promise not to be offended?”

Ryan smiled. “You can ask me anything you like, but I can’t promise not to be offended.”

I decided to take the risk.

“Are you and your family members of a cult or religious group or something?”

His face paled and he stared down at his sandwich. “Sort of,” he said. “My dad is part of an environmental group. It’s committed to protecting indigenous species and vulnerable habitats. So we spend a lot of time campaigning and planting trees, and very little time watching television or eating out at fast-food restaurants. Which is why I’m not always
au fait
when it comes to popular culture.”

When he had finished speaking, he looked up and met my eyes. The whole speech had sounded wooden and over-rehearsed, as though he knew I was going to ask him that question.

“I’m sorry if you think I’m rude,” I said. “I’ve just never met anyone like you before.”

He shrugged. “I don’t suppose you have.”

After we had finished our lunch, I made a quick visit to the loo. I was locked in a stall, thankfully, when I heard Chloe Mason’s voice.

“Undeniably gorgeous,” she was saying. “And he looks even hotter in his own clothes.”

“That T-shirt he’s wearing is really clingy,” said another voice I recognized as Melissa’s. “You can see his muscles. I bet he has a six-pack.”

“He could have had any girl in the school,” said Chloe. “Why is he wasting his time with Eden Anfield and her loser friends?”

I stopped breathing when I heard my name. I thought about opening the door and walking out, but quickly changed my mind. It was too late. To walk out now would be awkward for all of us.

“She’s pretty,” said Melissa.

“If you like skinny, flat-chested, and ginger!” said Chloe. “I would have thought he would be into something sexier.”

“Like me,” said Melissa. She burst into giggles.

“I thought Eden was with Connor Penrose,” said Chloe. “I guess she must have dumped him.”

“That would explain his miserable face lately,” said Melissa. “Does my hair look okay from the back?”

“It looks great. Ready?”

I heard the door open and shut again. I waited another minute before I came out of the stall to wash my hands.

“Your friend Chloe was just admiring your physique,” I said, back in the café. “She thinks you look hot today.”

Ryan raised an eyebrow. “And what do you think?”

I felt myself blush. “I think you should stop fishing for compliments.”

Chapter Six

“Double math and then it’s all over,” said Megan, dropping her lunch tray on the table.

It was the last day of school before exam week started and I wasn’t sure whether to be sentimental or overjoyed. I was looking forward to the long summer vacation and then college after that, but there were things I would miss about this place.

I glanced at Ryan. Over the last few weeks, he had infiltrated our tight little group. At first he just sat with us on Monday lunchtimes before our art lesson, but recently he’d started sitting with us every day. He caught me looking at him and smiled.

“What’s the probability of a fun last lesson with Stevens?” asked Matt.

“Absolute zero,” said Megan, sprinkling salt over her double helping of cheese fries. “He’ll make us go over past papers. Guaranteed.”

I prodded the vegetables sitting underneath a thick gray pool of congealing sauce, trying to find something I recognized. I should have known better than to risk a veggie curry.

“You want to share mine?” asked Ryan, wrinkling his nose at my food. He pushed his tray between us and moved closer to me.

“Thanks,” I said, stabbing a piece of his pasta with my fork. “You can’t go wrong with pasta. My curry looks like dog vomit. What was I thinking?”

Connor looked at me. “Just get yourself something else to eat, Eden.”

“It’s fine,” said Ryan. “I don’t mind sharing.”

Connor glared.

“What shall we do tomorrow to mark our first day of freedom?” asked Megan.

“The beach,” said Matt. “The forecast is good.”

“What do you think?” Amy interrupted, waving a poster in her hand. “Melissa Whitlock did the artwork, but I designed the layout.”

She thrust the poster onto the middle of the table, where it absorbed a grease spot and turned translucent.

Leavers’ Ball

Saturday, June 23rd

Tickets £15

There was a silhouette of a couple dancing, and the entire poster was printed in silver and pink.

“That looks great, Amy,” I said.

She sat next to Megan and stole a fry from her tray.

Megan slapped her wrist playfully. “Get your own lunch. I didn’t get this gorgeous figure by sharing my food.”

“Help yourself to Ryan’s lunch,” said Connor. “He doesn’t mind sharing.”

Ryan smiled to himself.

“What’s so funny?” I asked him quietly.

He leaned close to me. “If I tell you why I think Connor is being an asshole, you’ll just tell me that I’m wrong and imagining things. But I’m pretty sure this is all to do with who is going to pair up for the ball.”

“It’s rude to whisper,” said Connor.

Ryan caught my eye. I tried not to smile.

“Tickets are on sale now,” said Amy, stealing another fry from Megan’s plate. “Obviously Matt and I will be going together. Although he hasn’t asked me yet.”

“You could ask him, you know,” I said. “This is the twenty-first century. Women don’t have to wait to be asked.”

“I could ask him, but I shouldn’t have to.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “Amy, will you go to the ball with me?”

“I’d love to, Matthew,” she said, smiling smugly. “What about you, Eden? Who are you going with?”

I shrugged. “I haven’t really thought about it.”

“Yeah, right,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Everyone’s been talking about it for weeks.” She took another fry from Megan. “Who do you want to go with, Megs?”

Megan’s cheeks dimpled as she smiled. “I have someone in mind.”

“Megan?” I said.

She laughed. “Tell you later.”

“What about you, Westland?” Amy said, turning to Ryan. “Will you finally put Chloe Mason out of her misery?”

Ryan laughed. “I’m not that brave.”

Amy nudged him. “You have to go.” She glanced at me. “Chloe won’t be the only girl in Year Eleven who will be disappointed if you don’t.”

“When is it?” he asked, dragging the grease-soaked poster across the table toward him.

“The twenty-third of June,” said Amy.

Ryan’s eyes lit up. “Actually,” he said, “I think I will go.”

“I saved a special place for you,” Connor said with a smirk as he passed me a black felt-tip pen and gestured at his chest.

“Your left nipple?” I asked, pulling a face.

“My heart,” he said, clutching his chest with both hands and sighing melodramatically. “You are my oldest friend. I sat next to you on my first day in preschool.”

“The happiest days of our lives,” I said. “Why do people say that? Are we supposed to think that now our school days are over, it’s all downhill?”

I removed the pen cap and wrote on his shirt
Connor and Eden 2000–2012

“I remember the first day of school so clearly,” said Connor. “You arrived with your mum. You left her at the door and picked up a jigsaw puzzle and brought it to the table. You forgot about her right away, but she stood there and watched you for ages.”

I wished I could remember that myself. I had no real memories of my mother, just things that Miranda told me when we looked at old photographs.

“I remember you too. You wet yourself.”

“Thanks, Eden. I can always rely on you to remember the good times.”

“That’s what friends are for,” I said, handing him back the marker. “Your turn.”

He looked at my shirt. Almost all the white space was filled with comments and signatures. “There’s no space left.”

“The inside of my arm,” I said, twisting my arm to expose the underside.

There wasn’t much room. He wrote the same as I did:
Connor and Eden 2000–2012

“Not very original,” he said. “But inspired by one of the best.”

“Let’s capture the moment,” I said, pulling my phone out of my bag. “Go and stand by the steps, under the sign.”

He walked over and turned toward me, a big, happy grin on his face, his blond hair full of sunshine and light.

“Say cheese,” I said, holding my phone up and snapping a few shots.

“My turn, I want one of us together.” He put his arm around my waist and held me close to him, the other arm stretched out, holding the phone.

“Promise you’ll delete them if they’re terrible.”

“No way. These photos will be online before dinnertime.”

The school bus sighed into the parking lot in a cloud of gray diesel fumes.

“This is it,” I said. Sentimentality was threatening to rear its sickening face.

“We’ve still got exams to look forward to,” said Connor.

I gave him a look.

“And the leavers’ ball.”

“Now you’re talking,” I said. “That will be a fun night.”

Connor kicked at the ground. “Have you thought about who you might want to go with?”

I shrugged. I suppose I’d assumed that Connor would ask me. Like he said, we’d been friends forever and neither of us had a boyfriend or girlfriend. It would make a sweet ending to twelve years of schooling. Me and Connor: best friends forever.

“Well,” I began.

And then I saw Ryan. He was striding straight toward us, his shirt covered in scrawled signatures, his tie knotted halfway down his chest.

BOOK: After Eden
11.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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