Authors: Megan Nugen Isbell
Far From Home
The Home Series: Book Two
By Megan Nugen Isbell
Cover art by Keary Taylor
For the readers who asked to hear the rest of Jesse and Riley’s story.
It was the end of May, but the sultry Kansas sun was beating down on my skin as if it were mid-August. A Jason Aldean song hummed from the radio and I was sprawled out on the hammock in Jesse’s yard, watching him tinker with his old Jeep Wagoneer. Rocky, one of Jesse’s dogs, was stretched out on the ground beside the hammock and Jasper, the other mutt, sat intently, watching Jesse work as if he actually understood what was happening. I reached down and scratched Rocky behind the ears and I heard his tail start to thump on the ground. The whole scene sounded about as exciting as watching paint dry, but for me, there was no other way I’d rather be spending my Sunday.
Jesse looked over to me from underneath the hood of the Jeep. He wiped his hands on his loose jeans and I focused on the way his muscles flexed through his t-shirt. His dark hair was tucked beneath his well-worn Royals cap and he adjusted it, running his hand through his hair before putting it back on and setting down the tool he was using. I had no idea what it was. I knew as much about cars as I did about brain surgery. Jesse loved to tease me that I was a spoiled city kid, but I figured as long as I had him around, I didn’t need to bother learning anything for myself.
He walked the few yards that separated us and was soon looking down at me. He smiled and I smiled back. It had been nearly six month since everything had happened. Six months since I thought my life was over. Six months since Jesse stepped in and saved me. And six months since I’d realized I’d been in love with him the whole time.
We didn’t talk much about that time. It was part of my life I wanted to forget. When I returned to Carver after running back to Boston, I had wanted to move on in the place I knew I was supposed to be with the person I knew I was supposed to be with and that’s exactly what I’d done. It was because of everything that had happened I was grateful for these times with Jesse because I knew how close I’d come to never sharing these moments with him.
“Having fun with the Jeep?” I asked and he crawled in beside me on the hammock. I rolled on my side and wrapped my leg around his as I rested my head on chest, listening to the sound of his heartbeat. Our bodies were sticky and damp, but I didn’t care. He smelled even better than he usually did, a mixture of fresh aftershave, sweat and a hint of car oil. I knew the combination sounded strange, but it was all Jesse and I loved it.
“I think I need to rebuild the carburetor.”
“Sounds fascinating,” I mumbled and he just laughed, his chest bouncing below my cheek.
“You really should learn something about cars, Riley.”
“That’s why I have you, or Triple A.”
“What if I’m not around?”
“I’m not worried about that. I plan on keeping you around for a long time.”
He kissed the top of my head as his fingertips glided over the slick skin of my arm. I sighed and stared up into the cloudless sky, the sun nearly blinding me.
“It’s so hot,” I complained, wiping the sweat from my forehead.
“Yeah, it is. It’s too early for this heat.”
“I hope it cools off for graduation. Can you imagine sitting in those robes in this weather?” I asked, my mind drifting ahead to the night only a week away. So much had happened since I moved from my hometown of Boston to Carver, Kansas. It’d been the longest and shortest nine months of my life and now it was nearly time to graduate and move on to the next stage of life.
“It’ll break. It always does,” he assured me and then he suddenly sat up, eyeing me with a grin. “You wanna cool down?”
“Of course I do.”
His legs swung around and he stood up, leaving me to sway in the hammock.
“C’mon then.” He held his hand out to me and I looked at him curiously, but took his hand and climbed out once the hammock had stopped. He led me to the old red mule, parked alongside the house. “Get in,” he said.
“Where are we going?” I asked as he turned the ignition and the little truck roared to life.
He hit the gas and I lunged forward, grabbing the roll bar to steady myself. As the mule cut through the stifling air, my dark hair whipping around me, I was taken back to the first time I’d ridden in the mule with Jesse. I’d only been in Carver a few days and I had so much to learn about the differences between it and Boston.
Jesse drove the mule onto the dirt road and headed south. He’d never taken me this far down. He usually just drove us around the trails on his property, trying to scare me with careless turns and crazy dips. This was entirely different and soon his house was a mere speck in the distance. We continued to drive until I saw a small house tucked in a grove of trees. As we got closer, I noticed the house was run down with white peeling paint and cracked windows. It gave me the creeps and I was glad when Jesse continued driving into the trees. It was hard to hide anything on the flat, Kansas plains and soon, a glimmering reflection caught my attention. Jesse eased the mule to a stop a moment later and turned off the ignition. It seemed deafeningly quiet after sitting in the thunderously loud mule for the past ten minutes.
“Where are we?” I asked, looking around. A large pond lay out before us and a small dock jutted out into the water. It was surrounded by trees that created an umbrella of shade and it instantly felt cooler.
“This is Mrs. Kramer’s property,” he said, stepping out of the mule.
“Who’s Mrs. Kramer?”
“She lived here until about ten years ago.”
“And what happened? The zombie apocalypse?” I laughed, pointing back to the dilapidated house.
“No zombie apocalypse. Devil-worshipers actually,” he said quietly, his eyes darting around, searching for something. I felt a chill run up my spine at his words.
“Shut up,” I said, nudging him.
“It’s true. There were rumors of a satanic cult in the area at the time and then one day Mrs. Kramer just vanished. No one really knows how long she was missing. When she didn’t show up to church one Sunday and then missed her bridge club the next night, the police came to check on her and she was gone. There was no trace of her and the only evidence they found was a pentagram on the floor of her house and some blood.”
I shuddered at his story and stared back at the deserted house.
“You’re lying,” I said, nervously pushing a piece of hair behind my ears.
“No, I’m not. You wanna go see?” he asked, grabbing my hand and taking a few steps towards the house before I planted myself firmly to the ground.
“I’m not going anywhere near that house, even if your whole little tale is nothing but a bunch of bull.” His face spread into an easy smile and then he laughed. “You’re such a liar!”
“I had ya goin’ for a while.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“You may deny it, but I saw the look in your eyes. You were pretty spooked.”
“Ya know, you’re pretty warped if you were able to come up with that story off the top of your head.”
“To be honest, I didn’t just make it up. Brandon and I made it up after the house started falling apart. We must’ve been like thirteen or something and the house really creeped us out.”
“So, was there really a Mrs. Kramer or did you and Brandon make that up too?”
“Yes, there really was a Mrs. Kramer. She was a little old lady who lived alone for as long as I knew her. She used to let Brandon and I come out here and swim in her pond on days like this.”
“And what happened to her?”
“She died. Plain and simple. She was like ninety-four or something. No foul play, no devil-worshipers, just old age.”
“The house looks so spooky though.”
“She had no family and no one’s bought the place, so it fell into disrepair into its current state.”
I glanced back at the little house and shivered.
“Well, I don’t like it, even if the ghost stories aren’t true.”
“Good thing I didn’t bring you here for a house warming party then.”
He took my hand and we started walking towards the pond.
“What are we here for then?”
He stopped at the edge of the murky water and before I realized what he was doing, he’d peeled his t-shirt off and dropped it on the grass.
“What are you doing?” I asked, puzzled, although I didn’t mind the view of Jesse’s bare chest.
“We’re going swimming,” he said as he bent down and untied one of his black Converse and pulled it off.
He didn’t say anything, but pulled off his other shoe and a moment later, he was fiddling with his belt before unzipping his pants and dropping them to the ground. I couldn’t help but blush as Jesse stood before me in nothing but his boxer shorts.
“Best way to cool off,” he said and then took off with a jog down the dock before jumping off and landing with a splash in the pond. I stood in stunned surprise for a moment before making my way to the end of the dock. Jesse was treading water and smiling up at me.
“I can’t believe you just jumped in there. It looks like a giant mud puddle. There could be brain eating amoebas in there. ”
“That may be, but the water feels damn good.” He took his arm and shoved a wall of water up to me. Only a few drops made the distance, but the cold water felt good on my scorching skin. “Now, get in here.”
“I don’t have a suit.”
“I don’t either, but you see I made do. I’m sure you can think of something.”
He disappeared under the water for a few moments while I stood on the dock, debating about what I should do. Jesse and I had taken things slowly. After the whole situation with Alex, we both wanted it that way. Jesse was too important to me to rush into anything. And if truth be told, I think Jesse was afraid if he made any wrong moves, I’d turn and run. He’d seen me do it before, after all. We hadn’t been saints though. We definitely made out, but we didn’t make it a habit of seeing each other in our underwear, although it had happened on occasion. Those were the times I found it most difficult to take things slow.
“Are you coming?” he called up to me.
“Close your eyes.”
He started laughing, but followed my request.
“So now you’re playing the modesty card?” he said, treading water with his eyelids shut. “I’ve seen you in your underwear before, ya know.”
“Just be quiet,” I called back to him as I nervously pulled my tank top over my head and shimmied out of my denim cutoffs, leaving me exposed on the edge of the dock in just my bra and underwear. I took a deep breath, plugged my nose and stepped off the dock, plunging into the water. The moment I came up for air, I felt his arms around my waist and Jesse was pulling me to him.
“See, it feels good, doesn’t it?” he said, pushing my wet hair out of my eyes.
“It feels awesome,” I sighed in relief, finally getting some reprieve from the heat.
“I have a confession,” Jesse began as we kicked in the water, his arms still around me and our faces only inches apart. I looked at him with a raised eyebrow, curious about what he had to tell me.
“I didn’t keep my eyes closed,” he said and swooped in quickly, kissing me with his slick, wet lips. I eagerly kissed him back before pulling away and playfully slugging him.
“You shouldn’t disrespect a lady that way.”
“I couldn’t help myself.”
“And what’d you think?”
“It makes me wish this water was clearer.”
I started laughing and then pulled him to me, kissing him again, wondering what I’d ever done to deserve someone like Jesse.
“You’d better not peek this time,” I said as I climbed up the rickety ladder and onto the dock.
“I’m not making any promises,” he returned as he treaded water with his back to me. I smiled to myself because I knew he was watching me, even if I pretended I didn’t want him to. I loved the fact Jesse wanted me and I loved him even more because he was too much of a gentleman to act upon it.
Once on the dock, I quickly found my clothes, pulling the tank top over my head. The denim shorts weren’t as easy to get on and I struggled getting the material over my wet skin. When I eventually got them on and I’d finished zipping them up, I called out to Jesse that it was safe for him to get out of the pond. A moment later he stood beside me on the dock, the water dripping from his body onto the wood.
“I didn’t make you close your eyes,” he smiled as he walked past me to the end of the dock where his clothes lay.