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Astrid's Coast

Astrid's Coast by Ross Richdale
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Astrid Stowell moves to Portland, Oregon to live with her grandfather after her mother dies. Intrique and tragedy mix as Astrid makes new friends and learns to love again.
SynergEbooks; June 2004
245 pages; ISBN 9780074436080
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Title: Astrid's Coast
Author: Ross Richdale
Chapter One The art room at Hayes High School in Portland, Oregon smelt of cleaning fluid, oil paint and damp clay. A girl stood near one window in the back with a paintbrush between her teeth and gazed at her abstract painting with a critical frown. "It's wrong. The colors are all wrong." She reached for the canvas and would have yanked it down from the easel if her companion hadn't grabbed her arm. "Astrid, leave it. It's so real, I feel as if I could walk into it." Astrid pouted. "That's the trouble, Suzanne. It's meant to reflect one's innermost perceptions, not be realistic." "So you chuck three weeks work away and receive a D for an uncompleted assignment, do you?" Suzanne Wilson gazed at her own still-life painting of a bowl of fruit sitting on a table and sighed. "If I had your talent, I wouldn't need to whip up this hackneyed old thing," She dabbed a little paint on the grapes, shrugged and stared out the window. The art room was almost directly above the high school's main entrance and visitors' car lot. When not immersed in their art, the students would often gaze out and fantasize about why the latest visitor might be calling. "Cops again." Hilton, one of the other budding artists in their row, chuckled. "Old Bob will be blowing another safety valve." Astrid shifted her gaze from her painting. An ancient Chevy had pulled in behind the police car and the driver – a man with a mop of gray hair – stepped out. A police officer walked across to him; together the pair walked inside. "The old guy looks like your granddad, doesn't he?" Stephanie said. "Similar car, too." "I guess," Astrid replied. “It's probably that old pervert who's been stalking those juniors across the boulevard." Hilton chuckled. "If they send him up here, you guys would scare him off for life. One icy stare from Astrid here and he'd be ready to confess his sins of the last five decades on a hundred bibles.” "Oh shut up, Hilton!" Suzanne retorted. "The color's still wrong," Astrid muttered. By ignoring Hilton's jibe, she achieved more than Suzanne's angry retort. The youth grinned to himself, realize his taunt had achieved nothing and continued painting. * * * Though quiet, the chime made everyone's eyes focus on the intercom in the corner. "Miss Keagy, can I interrupt your class for a second, please?" A hush settled over the room and the students stared at each other. They all knew the voice. "We're listening, Mr. Saxby," Beverly Keagy looked worried. It was rare for the principal to contact classes in this manner. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but could you please ask Astrid Stowell to step along to my office." Suzanne caught Astrid's eyes. "So it was your grandfather?" Astrid didn’t answer. She stood and pulled on a strand of blonde hair as she stared at the speaker. "You'd better go and see what Mrs. Saxby wants," the teacher said. "I'm sure Suzanne will pack your gear up for you, Astrid." "Yes, of course, Miss Keagy. I'll go now." * * * Several people were in the office, but Astrid only noticed two of them – Mrs. Gifford, her homeroom teacher, had a strange of expression in her eyes, one of empathy and disbelief. The man beside her rose and stepped forward. His eyes were red and his tall frame somehow appeared stooped. "Granddad," Astrid whispered. "What is it? Why are you here?" "Your mom's been an accident, honey," Steven Barton said. He reached forward to take her hands, but instead pulled her into a massive hug. "There's only us now, Astrid." "What do you mean, Granddad? Is Mom hurt real bad?" She glanced up and saw Mr. Saxby catch her eyes. Oh hell, she knew. "It's worse Granddad, isn't it?" The elderly man nodded. "Your mother didn’t make it, Astrid," Mr. Saxby softly voice. "She was killed in an accident on the freeway. It was very quick; she would not have been..." "No!" the girl retorted. "She's at home. I was going to take my painting home tonight. She always has suggestions." Eyes, wide but dry, stared at the principal. "She's a real artist, Mr. Saxby, far better than I'll be in a hundred years." She held her trembling grandfather in her arms. "They made a mistake, Granddad. Someone drove a car just like ours..." Her grandfather's chin quivered. "I've just come from the Providence Medical Center, Astrid," he whispered. "It's your mother, there isn’t any doubt." Astrid jerked up and stepped away from him. "Why didn't you come and get me, Granddad?" Her voice rose. "Why didn't you come?" "I'm here, honey. I came as soon as I could. As Mr. Saxby said, Diane . . . your mother . . . wouldn't have felt a thing. It was very fast; for that we can be thankful. These police officers brought me straight here after I identified your mom's body." "Her body!" Astrid screamed. "Why do you talk about her like that?" "She's not there any longer, Astrid," Steve whispered. Astrid glanced up and the tears now flowed. "I want to see her, Granddad? Can I?" Her grandfather glanced across at one of the police officers who nodded. "Of course, honey. If that is what you really want." "I do." Mrs. Gifford reached across and squeezed Astrid's arm. "I'll get all your books and your painting portfolio, Astrid. They'll all be in my office when you need them. Is there anything else?" "My sweater's in the art room..." The teacher nodded. "If I can help..." "You're here, Mrs. Gifford. Thank you for leaving your class to come." She gave a half smile through the tears. "Isn't it that horrible remedial reading class? They'll be climbing the walls by now, I reckon." Alison Gifford studied her. "Possibly," she replied in a whisper.
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