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BLOOMSBURY CHILDREN’S BOOKS FIRST CHAPTER SAMPLER FEATURING:


ONE

~ Em ~ I stare at the drain in the center of the concrete floor. It was the first thing I saw when they locked me in this cell, and I’ve barely looked away since. At first I was just obstinate, dragging my feet in the thin prison slippers they gave me so they were forced to pull me along the hallway by both arms. But when I saw the drain, I started to scream. It grew in my vision until it dominated the little cinderblock cell, and I kicked at the men who held me, trying to wrench my arms out of their iron grasp. I could only conjure the most gruesome scenarios for why they’d need a drain in the floor. Whatever horrors I imagined haven’t come to pass—at least, not yet—but the drain still dominates my attention. It’s like a lodestar to me, pulling my focus back to it again and again. Even now, I’m lying on my side on the narrow cot against the wall and staring at the thing as though there’s still something to be

—S

learned from it. Five and a half inches across, thirty-two little

—N

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holes, and a dent the size of a nickel just off the center. “What are you doing?” The familiar voice is faint through the heating vent. “Baking a cake.” He laughs, and the sound makes me smile. I’m a little surprised my muscles still remember how to make the movement. “Are you staring at that drain again?” I don’t say anything. “Em, please,” he says. “You’re only going to drive yourself crazy.” But I have something else in mind. Today, finally, I’m going to uncover all of the drain’s secrets. I hear the footsteps of an approaching guard some time later. Time is hard to judge in here, with no clocks or windows or any activity to break up the long flow of seconds. All I have to mark time by are my conversations with the boy in the cell next door and the waxing and waning of my own hunger. My stomach growls at the sound of the boots against the cement, the sound like a bell to one of Pavlov’s dogs. It must be lunchtime. The heavy metal door slides open enough to reveal Kessler, the guard with the face like the smoldering of a doused fire. Most of the guards are indifferent to me, but he really hates me. Resents being made to wait on me, I guess, bringing me my meals and fresh changes of the plain blue clothes they’ve given me to wear. It S—

makes me smile. If he only knew what I was accustomed to before

N— 4

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the world crumbled around us like a house eaten from the inside by rot. Kessler holds the lunch tray out for me, and I move quickly to snatch it from his hand. When I’m not fast enough, he drops it with a clatter to the floor, sending bits of food flying in every direction. The indignity of scrambling for anything Kessler offers me burns at my insides, but for once I’m eager for my meal. Though not for the brown, sloppy food on the tray, of course. For the cutlery that comes with it. Kessler gives me a sharp, mocking grin and slides the door of my cell shut again. As soon as he’s gone, I grab the spoon and fork off the tray and begin examining them. There’s no knife; there never is. The soggy meat doesn’t require cutting, and they’re probably afraid I’ll stage a daring escape attempt with the dull plastic utensil, brandishing it against the men with machine guns outside my cell. I put the tray to one side and sit cross-legged by the drain. I try the fork first, pressing the tongs to one of the screws that holds the grating in place. As I suspected, they’re too thick to fit the grooves, so I toss it. It skitters across the concrete with musical pings and lands by the tray. My only hope is the spoon. I press the curve of it against the same screw, and this time one edge catches. I hold my breath, as though any change in the air pressure of the room might undo things, and press down into the spoon, trying to use it to loosen the screw. It slips. I try it again a half a dozen times, but it’s no good; the spoon keeps slipping off the screw so that I’m pressing

—S —N

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and turning into nothing but air. The curve of the spoon is too severe to fit against the straight groove of the screw head, and I nearly hurl the spoon against the wall in frustration. I stop with my hand raised in the air. Take a breath. Think. The handle of the spoon is far too thick to fit the groove, and the base too wide, but . . . I touch the rough concrete of the cell floor, which is prickly and cold against my palm. It could work. When Kessler comes back for my tray, I’m waiting for him. My stomach is hollow and aching, but I haven’t touched the food. I need the full tray of slop intact. Kessler slides the door open, and as soon as the space is big enough, I hurl the tray through it. “This is disgusting!” I shout. “We’re not animals!” Kessler ducks, and the tray flies into the wall behind him with a crack. He flinches and swears when flecks of brown and green food speckle his face and uniform. I suppress a wicked smile for the half second before Kessler raises his hand and strikes me hard across the face. I crumple to the floor, stinging tears rising into my eyes at the blow. “Crazy bitch,” Kessler says as he shuts the door on me. I can only hope he’ll be so angry at having to clean up the mess that he won’t notice the missing spoon. I wait as long as I can just to be safe. One hour, maybe two? Then I pull the spoon out from where I’ve hidden it under my thin foam mattress. I break off the head, which leaves a sharp edge, and measure it with my fingers, comparing it to the groove in the screw. S— N—

I scoot over to the wall and put my face close to the heating vent. “Hey, you there?” 6

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I hear the tortured squeak of rusty springs as Finn rolls off his cot. “Just headed out. You’re lucky you caught me.” I press my fingers to the cold slats of the vent. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that only a foot of concrete separates us. He feels so far away. Does he ever touch his side of the wall and think of me? “Could you sing?” I say. “Sing?” “Please?” “Um, okay.” Bemused but willing. Finn never says no. “Any requests?” “Up to you.” He starts singing something that sounds churchy. A hymn, maybe. I didn’t know until after everything started—once we were on the road, everything about our old lives left behind us like the exhaust that trailed from the truck smuggling us out of the city—but Finn went to church every week with his mother. He even liked it. I was shocked by that at the time, although I can’t remember why now. Maybe because religion was never a part of my life, or because the idea of prayer and church potlucks and sermons seemed so far removed from the Finn I knew then. The Finn I thought I knew then. His voice is good, a strong tenor with a texture like cool cotton against the skin. You’d never guess it to look at him. Or, I don’t know, maybe you would. I haven’t laid eyes on Finn in months. Maybe he doesn’t look the way I remember. With Finn’s voice reverberating against the cinder-block walls

—S

until it fills up every crack and crevice, I press the sharp edge of

—N

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the broken spoon against the concrete. I drag it back and forth over the rough surface, slowly filing down the plastic. I move faster and faster, the scrape of the spoon against the floor mingling with Finn’s voice in my ears. Despite the chill in the cell, sweat prickles on my forehead from the exertion. I stop and check the width of the spoon against the screw. It’s not thin enough yet, but it’s closer. I go back to filing, clutching the spoon so tightly that my hand begins to ache. This is going to work; I’m sure of it. Finn stops singing, but I hardly notice, so focused on my task. “Em, what are you doing?” “It’s going to work,” I whisper to myself. “What is?” I check the spoon again, and this time the sanded edge fits perfectly into the groove of the screw. I jam it in and feel the temperature of my blood rise. A dull little voice in the back of my mind asks me why I care so much about this stupid drain, but I barely hear it over the pounding in my head, like a drummer leading soldiers to war. I begin to turn the spoon, but the screw doesn’t budge, held in place by years of dirt and rust and God knows what else. I turn harder, trying to force it to move, until the plastic creaks and threatens to snap. “Come on, damnit!” I pinch the spoon at the very base, as close to the screw as my fingers can manage, and turn. With a squeal, the screw begins to move. I laugh, little huffs of air that feel foreign but wonderS—

ful on my lips. When that screw gives way, I attack the next and

N—

the next, scrabbling at them with my fingernails until they bleed 8

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when the spoon doesn’t work fast enough, and finally yanking at the grating when only a few threads of the last screw are holding it in place. It pops off in my hand, suddenly nothing more than a thin piece of metal, and I drop it with a clang. “Em, what’s going on?” Finn sounds anxious now, but I don’t have time to care. The drain is open and exposed, finally. I reach inside of it, the rational part of my brain telling me that I won’t find anything there but a cold pipe, but something deeper and more instinctive inside of me whispering of . . . what? Purpose? Destiny? One of those other big things I stopped believing in years ago? The whisper isn’t surprised when my fingers close around an object hidden in the drain. My body tenses as something wild and joyful bursts open inside of me, like my muscles know to contain the explosion. I tug the object free, pulling it out into the light, and stare. It’s a plastic freezer bag, ancient and dotted with years of hardwater marks and mold. Such a mundane object—which conjures memories of the peanut butter sandwiches I used to find tucked in my gym bag—seems wildly out of place in my tiny prison cell. Inside is a single sheet of paper, white with blue stripes, like I used in school, with a frilled edge that shows it was ripped out of a notebook. I open the bag with trembling fingers, suddenly scared. I knew there was something important about that drain from the moment I laid eyes on it. It isn’t natural. Nothing about this can be good.

—S —N

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I pull out the sheet of paper and get my first good look at it. The room becomes a vacuum around me. I try to inhale and find I can’t, like all the air is gone. The page is almost entirely covered in writing. Some lines are in ink, some in pencil, the lines at the top so faded with time that they’re difficult to read, and those at the bottom looking almost fresh. Every sentence but the one at the very bottom is crossed out with a neat, thin line. There’s a name at the top of the page, written in familiar block capitals, and the line at the bottom is bold and dark, the words carved into the paper like the person who wrote them pressed the pen deep into it. That person was me. I’ve never seen this piece of paper before in my life, but the handwriting is definitely mine: my cursive e when every other letter is in print, my sloping k and too-skinny a. Some primal part of me recognizes it, like a phone ringing in another room. I start to shake. In this time and place, a letter I don’t remember writing means something very specific. But it’s the last line that makes me scramble for the toilet in the corner of the cell. You have to kill him.

S— N— 10

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ALL OUR YESTERDAYS by Cristin Terrill

#youryesterday


CHAPTER ONE

There was good in this world and there was evil but the young girl had not yet learnt the difference. She didn’t have the time for noticing or wondering. Everything was just chores and more. She sat with her face pressed hard against the thin scratched plastic of the windowpane, her legs bunched tight against the sill, and she counted the crows that bothered the crops in the upper sketch of field and the magpies that came into the yard. There were seven of them, gabbing their secrets to the chickens, who couldn’t have cared less. The girl banged on the window. She hadn’t just thrown down scraps to have them eaten by the cackling devil birds. Her breath fogged the fake glass and she drew a smiley, then smeared it clear and sighed. Dad was calling from the other side of the trailer and she slid reluctantly to her feet.

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‘Ennor, you about, girl?’ His voice pitched and split like a reed and Ennor pictured briefly how he used to be before, ordering her around the farm and laughing when she got things wrong, his little deputy, running three steps to his one. The short hallway that led to his room was near dark in the morning half-light. Ennor had taken the bulbs from their sockets months ago to save on the leccy. ‘Girl?’ he repeated. ‘Comin, Dad.’ She knocked on his door out of polite habit and went in. The room smelt of stale cigarette smoke and nightold pee and she crossed the room to draw back the curtains and crank open the window. ‘It’s cold.’ ‘I know, Dad, but you need some fresh air. It smells like rot in here.’ She went to the wardrobe and pulled out the spare blanket and stretched it over the bed. ‘How you feelin?’ ‘Same as always.’ He coughed and reached for one of the many cigarettes she’d rolled and stacked in a pile on his bedside table. Ennor took the lighter from her jeans pocket and lit his cigarette and one for herself, and father and daughter looked at each other while they inhaled, waiting for him to wake fully. ‘So how’s my girl this mornin?’ ‘Fine, Dad.’

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‘And the animals?’ ‘Fed and watered.’ She smiled and sat down on the easy chair near the window like always. ‘Good.’ He nodded and flicked ash towards the heaving ashtray and missed. ‘And that brother of yours?’ ‘Off to school, fed and watered just the same.’ ‘Good, good.’ They sat in silence, apart from the coughing. Ennor wanted to ask about money but she knew they had none. They’d had none for a long time now and she was running out of things to sell and places where shopkeepers weren’t suspicious of her idle standing. She cleared her throat and looked out of the window at the heavy tinted sky, knowing, from necessity as a farmer’s daughter, that snow was heading their way. She leant forward to see if all four corners of the window were filled with cloud and they were. ‘What is it?’ he asked. ‘I know you got somethin to say so just say it to have it said.’ Ennor looked back into the room with a start. She thought of the ways to say something without upsetting someone but then it just came out. ‘We int got no food in the cupboards to speak of, the cattle are thin as bones plus we’re down to the last of the silage and most of all we’re eight weeks without rent and eight’s our final warning. The landlord’s bin knockin.’ ‘My.’ He laughed and coughed at the same time. ‘Anythin else?’

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Ennor nodded and got up to stand at the window. ‘Yep, there’s a storm comin.’ She held back the curtain and he looked past her at the yellowing sky. ‘What should I do, Dad?’ ‘Close the bloody window for starters and get your old man a cup of tea. Can’t think without tea.’ Ennor stood beside the bed and crossed her arms. ‘Don’t be like that, girl. Dad always comes through with somethin, don’t he?’ Ennor shrugged. She wanted to disagree but you weren’t supposed to kick people already way down in the dung heap. ‘Yes, Dad.’ She smiled. ‘Only don’t be expecting strong tea cus the bag’s already bin through twice this mornin and the milk’s powdered.’ She left the room and went to the kitchen to get the tin kettle and she carried it to the outside pump to fill it, then brought it to the stove and banked the fire with clumps of offcut wood she’d scavenged from the barn. The weather was getting colder and she refilled the five-gallon milk churns at the pump in case it froze and dragged them inside the makeshift porch that someone at some time had bolted on to the trailer. She stood with her hands in her pockets and leant against the stove and saw by the clock on the wall that it was nine o’clock. Class would be starting around about now and she wondered if she was ever missed in the town’s small school.

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Since the phone had been cut off the welfare officer had visited only once and that was three months ago. A lot had happened in those three months, things had fallen apart and gone wrong and were just plain busted and broke, but Ennor still stood in the kitchen that smelt of woodsmoke and chicken fat and watched the kettle boil same as always. She went and looked out of the window like she had a hundred times before, watching the seasons change and scanning the horizon and the leaves for colourful signs of hope. There was nothing but white, a blank-page stare and a laughable routine. The kettle sent sudden spits of steam towards the ceiling and momentarily lifted the linoleum on the wall into blisters of warm air, moving mouths of gossip followed by tight lips. Ennor loosened the tea in the damp tea bag with a pinch and poured the water in, pressing and stirring this way and that until the liquid hinted at colour. She added a dip of the powdered milk to make it look better. She returned to the bedroom to find that Dad had drifted back to sleep. His cigarette lay in a burnt hole in the blanket. She put the butt into the ashtray and checked the hole wasn’t smouldering, then pulled the blanket around him before taking the mug of tea to the bedroom she shared with her brother, Trip. In the squat room she put on her mother’s old Loretta Lynn CD and sat cross-legged on her bed, listening to the lyrics for clues to her own miserable life and

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wishing she knew the reasons behind all the things she didn’t understand. She sipped the tea and its dryness caught in her throat and tickled her ears, the brief hit of warmth heavenly on such a cold morning. Out of the window the sky fixed heavy with mood and a few sparks of sleet flicked against the pane like bad reception in a news report from a war-torn country, fussing her reflection into a messy scowl. She stood up and sighed because work never had a line put through it. She clicked the misery mute button inside her head and went to the porch to put on her hat and coat and the ripped wellies with the posh buckles. Outside the easterly wind caught against her cheek like a well-placed slap and she lifted her coat collar as she ran across the yard and through the gate that led to the field. The cows were still at the silage she’d dumped there that morning and Ennor swore at herself for not listening to the weather last night. Not only would she have to lead them down to the barn, she would have to bring down the silage too. She opened the gate and they glanced up, puzzled, briefly concerned for the young girl who fed and cared for them, then continued eating. ‘You got the life, int you, girls?’ She patted one of them on their hindquarters and winced as her hand cupped the knuckle bones that popped through the skin like studs on a leather jacket.

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If the cows didn’t survive the winter, she’d have no calves in spring and no money coming in except Dad’s social, and their carcasses would be taken by the knackers to be minced into dog’s dinner. Since the last outbreak of foot-and-mouth things had turned worse from the top of the country to the bottom. Ennor didn’t remember it all so well. She was only seven at the time and losing the prize cattle was the least of their problems once they had lost the farmhouse and the land and her dad went half mad with the misery and then the drugs. The half-dozen cows, a barn and the field that caught the worst wind were all they had left, and them a roperun of farming kin that went back to the day dot. She stood with the wind pushing against her back and rubbed her chin like the old men in the village and she wondered whether to bother moving the silage and decided against. If the cows were hungry, they would more than likely have it eaten before the snow came proper and, besides, there was nothing but fumes left in the ancient tractor, not even enough for sniffing. She leant into the wind and took some comfort from its support as she watched the grey muck landscape get scrubbed and cleaned white. A transformation that hid the unfertile truth: this land was a hopeless scuff of nothing. She gripped her collar to her jaw and ran from the cover-up hill back down the path to the trailer and sat by

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the stove in her outdoor clothes until heat seeped back slowly into her bones. Ennor pulled out the tiny plastic table that was meant for outdoor use and swung it in front of her. She set a biro and her notebook square in the middle. She sat flat-palmed like she used to at school and clicked the radio on for company and hummed along to a tune she didn’t recognise, looking to the window for creative inspiration and, when inspiration didn’t come from the cold, she watched the embers of the fire for sparks. Another song came on and then the news headlines and talk of the weather and instead of poetry Ennor wrote ‘Things to do’ at the top of the page. She underlined it three times to compound its importance and wrote one to ten in the margin of the notebook, circling the numbers and drawing smileys in each corner of the page. An expert on the news was telling Cornwall to brace itself for the worst winter since 1978 and Ennor laughed as she connected the smileys with chains because they said this every year. She looked at the radio and told it that it knew she was right. The newsreader rattled on about 1978’s Winter of Discontent and history repeating itself and when he listed the latest riot hot spots Ennor clicked the button to shut him up. She’d rather have no company than bad company.

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Talk of the looting and strikes was everywhere but Ennor fancied there were other things that might be important besides doom and gloom, like hope. Without that they’d all be close to swinging out in the barn like her friend Butch’s dad. He was lucky they found him before he choked, though she supposed he didn’t see it that way. She ripped out the ‘Things to do’ page and wrote ‘Things I’d like’ on the fresh page, making the letters bigger than before. She started the list in order of importance, beginning with a proper house of their own like backalong and, despite knowing the facts, she wrote that she wanted her dad to get better in all ways. She added she’d like to buy herself and Trip horses so they could ride out in the fields together, and she underlined the word ‘buy’ to show whoever it was that presided over wish lists that she was serious and not asking for straight doley handouts. With the radio off she could hear her father stirring in his bed in the other room and she huffed and pushed the table back to fill the kettle again. ‘Comin, Dad.’ She knocked at his door and went in. ‘Kettle’s on.’ She straightened the bedding and went to the window. ‘Leave that and come and sit down.’ He patted the bed and Ennor did as she was told.

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‘Just bin thinkin bout what you said, money being tight and all, and I remembered there’s this bloke in town who owes me a few quid. I’ll put the word out, see if I can’t get him to pay up.’ Ennor put her hands deep into her pockets to keep them from fiddling. Niggling suspicions had a way of making her rub them and scratch, and she’d been training herself to be calm. ‘Honest?’ she asked. ‘God’s honest.’ He smiled. ‘How much?’ ‘Enough for Christmas, enough to treat my kids I’d think.’ Despite herself Ennor was warmed through by his moment of lucidity and fine words. She looked at the bootlace ring that lived around his neck and it winked. Mum’s ring. She wished she could take that warmth with her from his room and carry it around like a kitten all day long but there was one fat spoiler she had to ask. ‘What about the rent, Dad? We’re massive behind.’ The smile on his face dropped a little and he tried to edge forward as if he were about to whisper in her ear. ‘Forget bout that, I’ll take care of it.’ He brushed the hair from her face with the hand that didn’t shake so much and painted a smile across her face with his thumb. ‘That’s my girl. Go and get your old man a cuppa.’

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Ennor wondered if what he’d told her was true. She jiggled his words about in her head and decided it was because he never really lied. Sometimes he twisted the truth but that was because of his medication and not really his fault. She made a pot of tea with a fresh tea bag and gave it time to steep while contemplating a Christmas list. Not wanting to jinx things like usual, she decided she’d write the things needed for a proper Christmas on lines, top to bottom, in her head. She started with the list for food, which was kind of a shopping list, working backwards from sweet to savoury because really she was still a kid and couldn’t think about what you needed for cooking when in her mind’s eye she could buy cakes and ice cream and ice-cream cakes. She made the tea and carried the two mugs into her father’s room and put one on his bedside table and carried the other to the chair. ‘So who’s this friend then?’ she asked. ‘A long lost, you wouldn’t know um.’ Ennor watched him pick up the mug with both hands and despite its heat he took a big swig and winced as he swallowed it down. ‘That’s good.’ He smiled and she nodded and sipped at her own. They drank in silence and Ennor watched his hands cradle the mug like a broken bird, still calloused and scarred from a lifetime in the fields, and she looked about the cramped room and wondered if he ever

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missed the outdoors and she wanted to ask but didn’t know how. Around the room in dusty glassless frames were photos of prize bulls and favourite horses. Rosettes and trophies lined the shelves among collected crap and scrap from years of hoarding. In his day her dad had been a proud man with a prizewinning Simmental herd to show. That time was like jelly in Ennor’s memory and in all probability was gone from his. She wondered if there would be a little money in the pot to pay for a few bales of silage from the farm in the next valley, but this was something else she kept to herself. ‘Bucket needs emptyin.’ ‘I know, Dad.’ She put her mug on the bedside table and looked at the bucket and sighed, then picked it up and carried it carefully across the room. ‘Don’t spill none.’ Ennor looked at her father and shook her head in disbelief. ‘Int like I’m goin runnin with it now, is it?’ ‘Give up the cheek, girl. You int too old –’ ‘For the belt, I know.’ She set the heavy bucket of waste down in the hall, then closed his door and propped open the trailer door and the one in the porch before carrying the bucket through. She returned to close up behind her. Outside the snow fell in thick muffling strips like

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sheets on a washing line, and fixed blown to the hedges and fences that surrounded the farmland. She put on her wellies and coat and stepped out into the white with the bucket swinging and threatening below. The slop pit was close enough for regular trips but far enough not to notice its stench back in the trailer and Ennor knew the path so well she could follow it easily despite the white. She held the wire-and-string handle tight and it cut into both her hands. The pit was annexed to the side of the barn they used to house some of the furniture from the old house, stuff she couldn’t flog, plus the cattle in bad weather. She climbed the concrete block that acted as a step up to the walled hollow and found her footing on the shallow dome of ice that had thickened there, counting to three and praying to God all at once as she lifted the corrugated lid and swung the bucket up and over the side. The familiar stink filled her nose and her mouth and throat and she gagged the same as every day and she wiped her eyes with her sleeve and jumped down into the muddy snow. She headed back towards the outside tap to swill the bucket before the water finally froze but it was too late and she kicked the tap and then the bucket. A great urge to fall back into the snow engulfed her but she swallowed the want to be a child back down into her belly with a gulp. The snow was falling like in a full-on Christmas card

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and Ennor knew the cattle would need to be brought down to the barn as soon as possible. She returned to the windy field and as she walked she snapped snow from the twine that was strung out between the hedges to guide the cattle and obediently followed the pink lines as if she too were some dumb animal. Her gloveless hands were butcher red and the skin on her fingers shiny tight and she put them under her armpits and blew on them and hung them useless by her sides. If she had a mother, she would have been reminded not to forget her gloves when out in the cold, but she didn’t and there was no point in dwelling on it. She called out to the cows on approach and snapped a stick from the hedge to poke them from the circle of silage, glad she’d not bothered to move it because they’d eaten it gone and the soil beneath was already frosting with ice flakes. The cold made steel-blade peaks of the hoof-tilled land that surrounded her. Snow settled all around and over the hedgerows so that she could no longer see the dark trim of moorland beyond. ‘We’re goin walkies,’ she told the cows. ‘And I don’t need no nonsense so just move along now.’ They followed her out through the open gate and down the track to the barn and Ennor told them they were good girls because they were. She pushed them through the barn door and bolted it, one and two, with thoughts of the cosy stove inviting her back indoors,

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then she wondered about Trip and if she might go to meet him because his lift was near enough due. Along the track Ennor looked up to see Butch in the upstairs bedroom window of the farmhouse. This was the room that used to be her parents’ in the house that had harboured her family all the way back to the man who built it, her great-great-great-grandfather. She waved and he waved back. ‘You comin down?’ she shouted. Butch nodded and he put one finger to the rattling top pane, which meant ‘Wait a minute’, and she nodded and went to sit in the woodpile. She slumped against the seasoned wood and settled on one of the upended logs they used for seats, watching the snowflakes fill the potholes in the dirt track and thinking all things Christmas. ‘Now you know why I suggested my old man put a roof on that thing.’ Ennor smiled when she saw Butch approaching. ‘It’s cosy enough.’ He sat down and undid the buttons on his parka and Ennor knew he was up to something because of the glint in his eye. ‘Look what I got.’ ‘What?’ ‘Home brew. I found it in the pantry. Bin there for ever.’ ‘Why int it drunk?’ ‘The olds must have forgotten bout it.’

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He passed the bottle to Ennor and she inspected the hand-written label. ‘What flavour is it?’ she asked as she wiped the dust away with the heel of her hand. ‘Elderflower.’ ‘I hate elderflower, don’t you?’ Butch nodded. ‘Like soap.’ ‘Tastes like sick and more.’ She dug at the cork with her penknife and took a swig and then nodded. ‘Bad.’ Butch laughed and Ennor saw him wince with pain. ‘What is it?’ ‘Nothin, just muscle strain or somethin.’ ‘You don’t do nothin to get muscle strain ’cept read. Maybe it’s liftin too much books.’ ‘Don’t be daft.’ ‘Is it your chest?’ ‘Just leave it, would you?’ He took a sip of the wine and then another. ‘That is bad.’ He nodded and poured the liquid into a bubble in the snow. ‘Don’t need no booze anyway. I’ve got celebratin on my mind,’ said Ennor. ‘What kind of celebratin?’ ‘The Christmas kind.’ ‘What you got to celebrate bout Christmas?’ Ennor smiled and linked his arm. ‘Dad says he’s got money comin and he aims to spend it.’ ‘And you believe him?’ asked Butch as he pulled away. ‘Why not?’ ‘Cus hello?’

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‘He don’t lie. Just circumstance turns up bad some days.’ ‘Like a bad penny.’ ‘Just like it. Why you on a downer?’ ‘I’m not.’ ‘Seems that way.’ She rolled herself a cigarette and passed the tin to Butch. ‘You heard the news recent?’ he asked. ‘Heard enough of it.’ ‘Bad int it?’ Ennor shrugged and lit up and held the flame for him. ‘I’m not worried. Don’t affect us so much out here in the sticks. Things are bad here anyway.’ ‘No fuel, no food, no government even. I dunno, it just might.’ ‘You reckon? I hope not, just gettin used to a nice thought in my head.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘Christmas, silly.’ ‘Thought you had rent due.’ ‘Big time, but Dad said not to worry.’ Butch shook his head and Ennor ignored him. ‘The power of positive thinkin.’ She nodded. ‘Maybe you should be careful. You’re sweet and all but gullible as –’ ‘Don’t even know what that means. Is it a good thing?’ ‘Means you believe everythin anyone’s got to say, no matter what.’

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‘Like trustin?’ ‘Kind of.’ ‘Nothin wrong with trustin.’ Butch laughed and drew his hand up to his chest ‘Till it brings trouble.’ ‘I int stupid, Butch.’ ‘Just sayin.’ ‘Well don’t. I was lookin forward to tellin Trip bout Christmas and now you’ve gone peed on me fairy lights.’ ‘Don’t be daft, just watchin out for my best friend.’ He smiled. Ennor liked it when he said things like that. ‘You don’t think Dad’s gonna pay off the rent?’ Butch shrugged. He looked tired, in pain. ‘Cus if he don’t we’re buggered, homeless and everythin.’ ‘You can live here in the woodpile.’ ‘We got the barn but I’m not livin with a load of snippy snappy rats.’ She shook her head and then looked at him. ‘Things will be all right, won’t they?’ Butch changed the subject and asked about Trip. ‘Fine, spose he is anyway. School’s closin and stayin closed. Trip thinks it’s great cus, you know, he don’t like it for the teasin. But school’s a good thing. It’s a right thing when everythin else is wrong.’ Butch nodded. ‘Learnin’s the only thing we got as a getout. So what bout Christmas, you made your list yet?’ Ennor smiled. ‘Course.’

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‘Got your mind on all things fancy, I bet.’ ‘We int had a fancy one ever. Just a few nice things I’m plannin, for Trip, make some nice memories. I got a few of um myself in regards to Christmas.’ Butch said nice memories were better than a fancy Christmas and Ennor put her hand on his arm and then took it away. ‘We gotta make the best of it, don’t we? Whatever we got, one way or other.’ She leant forward to look at him, to see if he wanted to talk about his stuff the way she always did about hers but his mouth was on the fag and his mind had wandered someplace else. At the crossroads she rested on the wooden signpost and rolled a cigarette and settled herself to smoking and waiting. She kept her eyes fixed on the grey dust horizon and continued with the shopping list from earlier, with everything hot and fatty and of gargantuan proportion. Headlights flashed occasionally through the trees and Ennor ignored them, loading an imaginary table with heavy food until an ancient Land Rover slowed to a stop in front of her. ‘Ennor.’ Mrs Trewithick climbed out of the front seat and levered it forward for Trip to scramble from the back. ‘Wow, miss, how many you got in there?’ ‘Sister, the car was skiddin. We nearly died.’ Trip linked his hand into the loop of his sister’s arm and jumped for attention. ‘And there’s no more school, ever.’

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‘Hi, buddy, looks like you’re gonna have a long Christmas. Is that right?’ she asked. Mrs Trewithick nodded. ‘No fuel. No heating. Best thing is to keep listening to the radio. I’m sure things will be back to normal soon enough.’ She smiled and passed Ennor a letter and she looked like she was on the brink of crying. ‘And look, Mrs Trewithick gave me these hikers.’ Trip kicked snow into the air to show off his new shoes. Ennor crossed her arms and pulled up proud. ‘There’s no need for that, miss. We was goin shoppin soon enough, weren’t we, buddy?’ ‘They were my son’s. Honestly, he barely wore them. Grow so fast, don’t they?’ She closed the car door on the screaming children and took a step towards Ennor in an attempt at privacy. ‘Well that’s great, Mrs Trewithick. Thank you, really.’ ‘You look after yourself, Ennor.’ She smiled and nodded towards the letter. ‘It won’t be for long.’ Ennor smiled and said something about winter not being a for ever thing. She told Trip to thank his teacher again and she pulled him off the lane towards the track. ‘You’ve got my number, Ennor. If there’s anything I can help with, please let me know.’ ‘Thanks, miss.’ She pocketed the letter and turned to put an arm around Trip’s shoulder and she told herself not to think badly of Mrs Trewithick because she didn’t mean to interfere.

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‘Fine boots you got there, buddy. Winter boots, int they?’ Trip smiled up at her. ‘It’s gonna be like a real Christmas, snow and everythin.’ He danced out into the powder that had banked against the verge and and his heels kicked happy hope towards the storm. Ennor skipped after him. She tried to recall what it was like to be a kid but it felt unfamiliar to her, a briefly glanced at movie starting with the slaughter that led Dad to drink and the baby that led Mum to leave. They raced down the track to the courtyard in front of the farmhouse and Ennor hinted more and more that it was going to be the best Christmas ever. ‘Like how best?’ ‘I dunno, best food, best pressies, a snowman out in the yard.’ ‘I don’t like snowmen. They scare me.’ ‘Well whatever you like.’ She scooped two handfuls of snow into a ball and threw it at him as she ran to the trailer. ‘Hey!’ Trip ran after her but when he got to the porch she was already inside and she refused to let him in until he threw the snowball he held behind his back into the wind. Trip sat by the stove and stripped to his vest and pants while Ennor hung the wet clothes on the line that drooped from one end of the cramped room to the other.

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‘You need to take them boots off too. You look a right sight in your undies with them big boots stickin out.’ Trip laughed and bent to undo the laces and Ennor helped. ‘Miss tied um double-knot tight.’ ‘You need to stick some sheets from the free ads into the toe, ball um up tight and leave um be and they’ll be dry in no time.’ Ennor made them mugs of hot squash and took down the tin of oat biscuits she’d been saving for the end of term. ‘These are a bit soft so dunk um in your juice and you won’t know the difference.’ They sat close to the stove and Ennor quizzed her brother about his day as he petted his boots, turning them in his hands like found objects. ‘Fine boots.’ He smiled to himself. ‘And what happens if you look after your boots?’ his sister asked. ‘They’ll look after you.’ ‘That’s right. Never dry straight without paper and a good dab of wax if you got it.’ ‘And leave the wax on for an hour.’ ‘That’s right, buddy, you got it.’ ‘And what if you don’t have wax?’ ‘Rub a banana skin over it.’ This answer always made Trip laugh. ‘We int got no bananas.’ He grinned. ‘Not since a long, time, sister. Shops are closin and everythin.’

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‘We don’t have a lot of things and never have so never mind bout that. What I tell you bout listnin in on older kids talk?’ She lifted his chin to show she was serious. ‘Don’t,’ he answered. ‘Don’t is right. It’s gossip and it’s rubbish and worse. Shops closin or no don’t mean a thing.’ Ennor emptied his school bag to add it to the washing line and she was glad to see he’d brought home reading books because reading was good and she laid them out on the little table along with the plastic horse he carried everywhere and his jotter and pencil case. Then she remembered the letter and settled back in the chair to read it. Letters used to be about school trips and term dates but not any more. Ennor read them and kept them in a card file in a box under the bed but she knew this one was different as soon as it was pulled from the envelope. ‘Social Services’ was writ large at the top of the page and Ennor read the words over and then ‘Trip’, ‘institution’ and ‘vulnerable’ and she balled it and shoved it deep into her pocket. She looked to see if Trip had noticed the letter but he hadn’t and she watched him show his horse the new boots. She would not give up her baby brother no matter how bad things got and she wondered why social services were bothering with them when there were a million families in the same situation and worse with the men street fighting just for the sake of it and

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everyone without money and roofs. What kind of an institution was it anyway? At least her dad was a man allergic to trouble. He’d know what to do. Ennor knew he was no angel but he had wings enough to get them out of trouble in the past and she wondered about social services and if telling him was a tick against good or bad. She pushed the biscuit stodge around in her mouth and pretended that everything would be fine, but her stomach churned and she spat the lump into her hand and ran outside to be sick.

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Winter Damage by Natasha Carthew


Prologue

Perran – 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 towards 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 towards him, encouraged her head towards his shoulder. He breathed in the green-apple scent of her hair. The warmth of her skin. The faintest smell of soap or 1

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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 towards 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 for ever 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. 2

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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 OK. Instead, he took the other direction.

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Chapter One

Perran – 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 anticlockwise, like the hands of a backwards 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 towards the school gate, he unzipped his leather jacket to reveal his school jumper 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 4

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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 canteen. ‘He’s Canadian.’ ‘He’s South African.’ ‘Apparently he’s so good at football that Mr Tucker wants him on the team.’ ‘He has a tattoo.’ ‘He has a really hot blonde 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 canteen was nearly empty by the time I arrived, but there was still a small queue at the till. 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 biscuits and two mugs of tea balanced on a footstool between us. ‘Tell me where you see yourself in the future.’ 5

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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 cider 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 biscuit into her mug of tea; she held it there so long I expected to see the biscuit 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, grey 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 favourite 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 colourful, the landscapes exotic. I wanted my life to be a page-turner. The problem was, I knew no colourful 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 realisation that if I didn’t start to think 6

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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. 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 canteen food was often a terrifying mixture of unidentifiable ingredients, but pizza was a recognisable 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 jacket potato and some sweetcorn 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 7

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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 a fully paid-up 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 neighbour, Matt, and Matt’s girlfriend, Amy. Matt was OK. He played guitar and was pretty laid back. Amy was a drama queen, always performing, always reinventing herself, always the centre of attention. Her latest look was, in her words, vampire chic. She had died 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 blonde 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.’ 8

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‘Actually, it’s spring,’ she said. ‘Anyway, it’s not going to be bikinis and 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 9

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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. Amy frowned. ‘I don’t think he’s American. I think he sounds Australian.’ ‘Definitely not Australian,’ Megan argued back. ‘There’s hint of a twang there. Maybe he’s Canadian. Or Hawaiian.’ ‘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. 10

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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, Hawaii 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 went 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 towards 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 11

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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 in. As usual she was wearing a kaftan 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. ‘Yeah.’ ‘My aunt’s boyfriend is from America. His accent is way different to yours.’ ‘It’s a big country.’ ‘Which part are you from?’ ‘You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?’ 12

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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 modelled 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 of 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 of that window.’ 13

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I chose the window. There wasn’t a lot to focus on: just a palm tree swaying slightly and a breeze-block 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 colour burning my cheeks still. ‘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 OK?’ ‘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 colour of my face. ‘I have high colouring,’ 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 14

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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 revision club after school. It’s for people who are struggling to make a passing grade.’ 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 waft of hazelnut coffee alerted me to Mrs Link’s approach. ‘Very good, Ryan,’ she said. ‘You’ve captured her expression beautifully.’ 15

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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. ‘I don’t mind.’ 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 colours of autumn leaves brown. Closest to the pupil they were a rich chestnut, further 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 of 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 on to paper. I tried to sketch his hair. It was light brown, with a rich warmth. If I was 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 and show the various 16

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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 jumper 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 upwards. 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 towards me. It was good. The girl in the picture was biting her lower 17

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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?’ 18

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I nodded. ‘As in the garden of Eden.’ ‘I got the reference.’ The bell went 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.

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After Eden

by Helen Douglas


Bloomsbury Children's First Chapter Sampler