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Love and Peaches
The grassy lawn of Columbia University was a vivid green, and Leeda Cawley-Smith lay entwined with her boyfriend, letting the sun's rays seep into her heavily SPFed skin. They were a T; she was perpendicular to him with her head on his stomach, big black sunglasses shielding her eyes. He had his knees up and a school catalog of summer classes covering his face. Occasionally someone appeared and hovered over them to say hello, as if they were Jackie and John F. Kennedy, beautiful and perfect and sunlit, being visited by their subjects.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do without you for the next couple of weeks," Eric Woodard said, running his fingers through her loose curls. Leeda rolled over onto her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows to look at him. He was peering over his catalog at her, his dirty-blond hair messed up from lying on the ground. "Who's going to match my socks?"
Leeda smiled. She had an obsessive-compulsive habit of matching Eric's socks, which were all cashmere and sent by his mother. She also liked to fold anything that was hanging from anywhere. Leeda was very visual. She liked everything in her vision to be orderly.
"I'll be back before all your groupies know I'm gone and you can get a new girlfriend," she said. Eric rolled his eyes. Leeda liked to tease him about all the girls who constantly hit on him, sometimes right in front of her.
Leeda was headed home to Bridgewater, Georgia, for two weeks come Saturday. It was something she was ambivalent about. There were some things she was thrilled to see again after a whole year away. There were some things she wouldhave been glad to skip. It seemed silly, but the hardest thing would be the two weeks without Eric.
They had met on the bus the first week of school. He had gotten her first name before he'd jumped off. Then he'd called the dean of her college and had made up some story to find out exactly who she was. When he'd showed up outside her second Tuesday econ class, Leeda had been wary. But Eric had assured her that once he set his mind to something he always followed through. He hadn't been lying. He had even known what he wanted to be since he was in fifth grade—a surgeon.
Tonight he'd make Leeda study with him like he always did. He liked to tease her that he was the reason she had an almost perfect GPA. But they both knew that wasn't true. Leeda didn't like Bs. They made her grade sheet look messy.
There were some ways, though, in which Eric had shaped her life at school. He knew everyone. He was always invited somewhere. He took to people like a swimmer takes to water, and he was always liked. It had been too easy for Leeda to ride his coattails into her group of friends at Columbia. She wasn't sure where she would have been without him in that aspect. She, too, was usually well liked. But not great at making close ties. She was too contained.
If there was such a thing as a white knight, Eric was hers. When he was around her, Leeda felt like she didn't have to worry about anything. It was something she couldn't explain. He was the kind of guy who took care of things. If there was anything she needed, she knew he would give it to her. It made her life feel as smooth as silk.
"You'll be batting off all those southern boys," he said, grinning up at her and also looking the tiniest bit worried.
Leeda rolled her eyes. "Yeah, you know how I'm into guys who drive tractors and drink Bud Light," she said. Murphy McGowen would have said she sounded snobby. But Eric didn't seem to notice.
He opened up the schedule book and showed it to her. "Here's the class I signed us up for."
Leeda read the description. Art of the Italian Renaissance. "That sounds good." It was a summer class Eric had talked her into. They planned to spend the rest of the summer sitting at sidewalk cafés, seeing movies, and taking advantage of all the city had to offer.
Leeda sometimes felt like her life as a Georgia girl had gone up in a puff of smoke, replaced by a New York life that was full of conversations about things that mattered and countless things to do. It had all surpassed her wildest expectations. On Fridays, she and Murphy had a permanent date, no matter who else tried to get in the way. Friday afternoons and evenings were theirs, without fail, to ride ferries, to tramp Fifth Avenue and window-shop, to ice-skate, to lie on the grass in Central Park, to eat falafel from stands, to get crepes in the East Village, to take up seats at diners for way too long while eating rice pudding, and sometimes just to stay cooped up in one of their dorm rooms and cowrite lively, chaotic e-mails to Birdie.
"What's the first thing you're gonna do when you get home?" Eric asked, scrunching up his eyebrows thoughtfully, his hazel eyes half caught in the shade Leeda cast. He had a smooth, open face, the kind you liked right away. Even his features were uncomplicated and honest.
Leeda's thoughts immediately went to the smell of peaches, which she had almost forgotten, and the Darlington Orchard. She had the same eager feeling about seeing it that a kid might get while anticipating going to Disney World, like it was something huge and far away. But in two days, she thought, it would be New York that felt far away and the orchard that would feel real—quaint and quiet and full of shadows and tucked away at what felt like the edge of the world. She didn't know how to explain her excitement to Eric, though. He was more of a facts and figures guy. "They're reading my grandmom Eugenie's will on Saturday. So I guess I'll do that." Love and Peaches
. Copyright © by Jodi Anderson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.