Tuesday, 27 August 2013

EXCERPT - THE STORM DARKNESS BY SARAH M. CRADIT


Walking up to the window, Ana counted ten people in front of her. She sighed. Do I really have anything better to do? She slid in line behind a tall, dark-haired gentleman.
He turned around and she recognized him immediately. It was Jonathan St. Andrews. Doctor St. Andrews, as the islanders called him, otherwise known as the town veterinarian, and the unpleasant neighbor she had been avoiding.
He looked at Ana, without any expression or indication of his thoughts, for what was an awkward ten seconds or so. He then turned back around without saying a word. She blinked and stared at his back, trying to process what had happened.
Ana’s instinct was to withdraw back into herself and go on as if nothing happened. She avoided conflict and awkwardness at all costs, and she didn’t want it here, in public, especially. But Ana was raised to be kind and hospitable, and the two weeks she had been on Summer Island had been anything but kind and hospitable. Jon’s childish behavior was at the pinnacle of this inexcusable lack of hospitality, and it could not be borne. Emboldened, she tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hi,” she said, her voice unsteady, “I believe we are neighbors.”
Giving a response that sounded more like a grunt than actual words, he continued to face forward.
The blood rushed to her face, and her toes curled up in silent anger. Not even in New Orleans had she met someone who was so openly rude without cause.
Ana took a deep breath and stepped in front of him. He couldn’t hide his shock at her boldness, but he quickly recovered himself, and tried to push past her again. “Ana Deschanel,” she said. She thrust her hand toward him, daring him to respond.
His eyes darted to the left and the right for a moment. Realizing there was no avoiding it, he reluctantly took her hand and mumbled, “Jon St. Andrews.” He dropped her hand like it carried the plague.
This was the first time Ana had seen his face in clear view, and she was surprised that he was not much older than she was. He didn’t look anything like his younger brother, or what she had seen of Finn from a distance. Finn was stockier of build with a raw, rugged earthy strength that went well with his strong features and ruddy blonde hair. In contrast, Jonathan was tall–much taller than she had realized before he turned to face her–with hair the color of midnight that looked soft and delicate to the touch. His face had the same softness, with only a few lines just around his mouth, reminding her of the wings of an eagle set to flight. He had the appearance of a man who has never seen hard days, but his eyes betrayed a much different truth. They were the color of emeralds, but had the depth of an entire forest. If not for the look of pure animosity on his face, she thought he would be handsome, in a dark sort of way.
Handsome, though, was the last description she had on her mind now that she was face to face with the reclusive island vet.
“So you’re a veterinarian?” Ana probed. She was enjoying his disquiet.
“Yes,” Jon said, shifting uncomfortably. He continued to look past her as if he was waiting for someone, but no one came. His face lit up with relief as the line moved forward.
“What do you do all day, sit in the back and play video games?”
“Excuse me?”
“I mean, I can’t imagine the veterinary business is exactly booming on an island of 200 people,” Ana clarified with a laugh.
Jon stared at her and blinked with a slow deliberateness, as if trying to decide if he should bother with a response. “It keeps me busy,” he finally replied.
“What, the video games or animal care?”
He lips formed a thin line and he gave a short sigh of disgust. He was once again looking past her, at the line, willing it to move faster. The conversation was obviously causing him great discomfort.
“Aye! Ana!” A voice called out behind her, and she turned to see Alex waving and heading toward her.
“I see you’ve met our beloved veterinarian,” Alex said enthusiastically as he joined them in the line, clapping Jonathan on the back. Jonathan flinched and grunted, but Alex didn’t seem to notice.
“Ya know, he is the first veterinarian this island has had in over 200 years?” She gave a polite acknowledgement and he added, “Aye, and his father was our only physician as’well. Family of medical geniuses, the St. Andrews men are!”
Jon’s lips twitched again at the mention of his father. “‘Course,” Alex continued, “E’ryone was hoping Jon would be a doctor as’well. Ya know, Andrew St. Andrews was the best doctor in the whole state of Maine, you best believe, and he did a lot o’things he weren’t supposed to, like surgeries and whatnot, and right out of his own house! He did it out of love, ya know, love for this island and the people, and oh, Jon, you were his assistant back in those days, ya?” The question seemed rhetorical as Alex continued to go on and on about Andrew St. Andrews and his wonderful, but unorthodox, medical practice.
Ana watched Jon as Alex talked. His eyes took on a darker gaze the more his father was mentioned. She still couldn’t read him, but could sense his unease. Ana found herself actually feeling sorry for this unpleasant man, as she watched his expression evolve from annoyance to pain.
“Alex, I’ve been meaning to ask you, should I be keeping the cupboard doors under the sink open at all times, or just at night?” She was bailing Jon out, even though he had given her no reason to. Jon’s lips twitched into what might have been a smile, and he turned back to face the line.
As it turned out, Alex was also dining alone, and offered to join her. She wasn’t opposed to some lighter company after that unpleasant interaction with her neighbor, so she accepted and they took the burgers back to her place.
She didn’t know if they were the best burgers in Maine or not, but they were better than anything she had eaten since she arrived.


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