Authors: Megan Nugen Isbell
Tags: #Young Adult, #Contemporary, #Romance
Last Train Home
The Home Series: Book One
by Megan Nugen Isbell
Cover art by
Thanks for making it easy to write good guys and very difficult to write bad ones.
“You’re kidding me, right? This is a joke!” I had exclaimed when my mother informed me we would be picking up and leaving our home in Boston and moving to Carver: a dingy, meaningless speck of a town in southern Kansas that I’d only visited maybe a total of three times in my life. My senior year had just started and it was going to be great, or so I thought, until my mother dropped this bomb. Now, well…I didn’t know what was going to happen. I’d finally accepted my parents’ divorce and I was even being civil towards my dad’s girlfriend, but none of that mattered now because I wouldn’t be seeing much of my dad or Robin anymore, since I would be living 1,600 miles away.
Staying in Boston and l
iving with my dad wasn’t an option. Although Robin and I had come to an understanding and I had formed a newfound civility with her, that did not mean I wanted to live with her…for her to be a parent-or acting parent, per se.
divorce hadn’t been easy on my mom and she had only settled in Boston because of my father. Now that that relationship was gone, I supposed she wanted a fresh start and despite my protest, that fresh start had been to go home…back to Kansas.
I could count the amount of times I had visited Kansas on one hand and the last
time had been when I was nine years old. My memories of it were foggy, except I did remember that it was missing the tall buildings and busy traffic I had grown up with in the Northeast. It had seemed slower, simpler. I remembered that even though I was only nine.
“This is not a jok
e, Riley. I’m not kidding,” my mother had said after my freak-out at the news that my life was being completely uprooted.
And it hadn’t been a joke. There was nothing funny about it. It was my life…my new reality
, and I was mad.
“We have to go
? You can’t wait nine more months till I graduate?” I remember yelling at her as I stomped my foot in a mini-tantrum.
“Yes, we have to go now,” she’d answered calmly. I could tell she was trying to keep her cool
, when I knew she really wanted to march across the room and paddle my butt like a three-year-old.
“Were you even going to consult with me about this? Don’t I have some input in this decision?”
“Last time I checked, I was the adult and you were the kid,” she said, matching my snotty tone.
“Don’t you think you’re being just a
selfish? Do you know what you’re doing to me?” I continued to yell.
“You wouldn’t understand
, but I’m not doing this to ruin your life, believe it or not.”
“If that’s true, then
tell me why you’re doing it! What’s so important we have to move half-way across the country?”
She stopped to think for a minute. Her arms were folded across her chest and her face was red with frustration. Her lips were formed into a stern line. I folded my arms too, glaring at her, challenging her for an answer.
“I don’t owe you an explanation,” she finally said. “No matter what I said, you wouldn’t understand.”
, I guess I wouldn’t understand, Mom. I wouldn’t understand why your marriage fell apart and now
have to suffer.” I knew I’d pushed a button I shouldn’t have. I saw a twinge of pain in her eyes, but she stood stoically and even though I waited for a reaction…wanted a reaction, I didn’t get one, much to my disappointment.
“We’re leaving in
two weeks,” is all she said and then turned and walked downstairs as I threw myself onto the bed and buried my face into the blackness of my pillow.
She had been true to her word. Two weeks to the day from that conversation, we were gone. I had fourteen days to tie up all the loose ends, visit my favorite p
laces and say goodbye to my friends, all of whom had stared at me as if I’d been sentenced to life in prison, rather than just moving to the Midwest.
ft most everything behind. My mom was going to rent out the townhouse with our furnishings and we only loaded our small U-Haul with clothing and our most important belongings since we’d be living with my grandma. Mom towed her black Saab behind and I followed in my silver Jetta. I was content to blast my iPod while pretending the landscape wasn’t changing as we sped across the country, rather than sit in the cab of a dirty U-Haul, trying to pretend everything was okay and that I wasn’t still angry at my mother, which I definitely was. And now we were here…home…Carver.
When we’d driven into town
, I couldn’t help but think I’d been transported to another planet. If you blinked, you’d miss it. I was appalled at the condition of some of the houses and I could not believe I actually had to live here. I wasn’t just visiting. I wasn’t just strolling through town for a few days and heading back to civilization. I was stuck here.
When we pulled up to my grandma’s house, it was just as I remembered. The old farmhouse had belonged to my great-grandparents and my grandmother had lived there practically her whole life. It was surprisingly well kept compared to the other houses we’d passed on our way into town. It was painted white and had a sprawling porch that seemed to wrap around the entire house. Two lonely rocking chairs sat near the front door. As I stared at them, I was reminded of pictures I’d seen of my grandparents sitting together in those chairs
, and I was suddenly sad as I looked at them. I didn’t even know my grandparents. I’d never had the chance to know my grandfather at all, but there was no excuse why my grandmother was practically a stranger.
She would remain a stranger for even longer too because she wasn’t home when we arrived. My mom said she was already at my Uncle Mike’s house
, where we would be having dinner that night. We went inside anyways to put some things away and when I walked in, I was surprised at how much I remembered about it. It had the same smell. It wasn’t a bad smell, just the smell of grandma’s house, like menthol and lavender. The hardwood floors looked as if they needed refinishing, but I had to admit, they did add some charm to the place. As I looked around, I noticed my grandma had gotten new furniture since I was last there eight years ago, but she still had the same boxy nineteen inch TV, complete with an antenna. I just shook my head, thinking back to the fifty-two inch flat screen with every channel imaginable we had back home.
showed me the room I’d be staying in, which would definitely need a makeover. The walls were white, well, not even white…more like dinge, a color I’m sure didn’t even exist, but was the only word I could think of to describe the color…or non-color. They were just four walls anyways and when I graduated, I would be gone and wouldn’t have to look at them anymore. The floors were nice though. It was obvious the hardwood had been refinished, unlike downstairs and I started seeing potential as I set up the room. It might take a while, but it might be livable…for nine months anyway.
And so here I was. Two weeks ago I
thought the world was my oyster… in Boston, and now the world was my wheat field… in Carver and we were on our way to see my family…a family I hardly knew.
My mom’s family had always been small, just her and my Uncle Mike and my gran
dma and grandpa. My grandpa died when I was little and I hardly remembered him, other than in pictures. I barely knew my grandma either. She’d call on my birthday and Christmas, but my mom was never really close to her. That was my assumption anyway, and I wondered how things would be, considering we were living with her now. My mom wasn’t close to Uncle Mike either. Again, an assumption on my part, but I had met him a couple of times along with my Aunt Debbie and my cousins, David and Danny. Danny was a few years older than me and was in the army stationed somewhere in California. David was a year younger than me and my only memory of him was playing on the swing set in the backyard during my last visit eight years ago.
We’d never had much of a relationship with my mom’s family, but now that we wer
e here, she was excited and acting like we’d always been close, and it was annoying.
Uncle Mike’s house was close to
my grandma’s house, but that was relative. Everything was close in Carver. The small, two story yellow house had a wide porch complete with a swing. When I saw it, I could only imagine an old redneck in a wife-beater tank-top swinging back and forth as he chewed on a piece of straw, while yelling at the whippersnappers to keep off his lawn. I chuckled to myself and I saw my mom look at me suspiciously as we walked up to the front door.
She knocked and a moment later, we were greeted by my uncle. He was smiling as he looked at us and I was surprised I could ev
en see it under his thick, brown mustache.
, Sis,” he said and I noticed my uncle and mom staring at each other. It was as if words were being spoken between them, but neither of them was saying anything. Both of their mouths turned up into a smile. “Y’all come in,” he said and I focused on the slight drawl. Each word seemed to meander out of his mouth slowly and simply as if he had all the time in the world. That’s how everything went here though. It was as if a slow motion button had been pushed on the town of Carver and the whole state of Kansas. I wondered if my mom had ever spoken like that and if she had, when she had stopped.
We walked inside
, and as my mom and uncle hugged, I peered over his shoulder, trying to see inside. I could hear voices, but didn’t see anyone.
, Riley,” he said once he’d let go of my mom and I noticed my name crawled out sounding more like Raleigh, again providing me great amusement.
, Uncle Mike,” I said and then he leaned in for an awkward hug.
The house was just as I remembered it and I couldn’t help but compare it to our
townhouse in Boston. Our house had always been crisp and modern, with leather couches and stainless steel appliances. My aunt and uncle’s house was far from modern. The couch was the same floral one I remembered from my childhood. Old, and dare I say tacky, knickknacks were sprinkled throughout the room and as I glanced into the kitchen, I saw a maroon refrigerator. I didn’t even know they made maroon refrigerators.
As I checked out the house, the rest of the family appeared. I first looked at my Aunt Debbie, who still had the same frizzy blonde hair I remembered.
Next was my cousin. I was relieved when I noticed he looked relatively normal. He was tall and thin like my uncle. His wavy blonde hair was cut short and he was wearing jeans and a Kansas City Chiefs t-shirt. His skin was pale and he had bright blue eyes like my mom. As I looked at my cousin, I couldn’t help but think how different we looked, most of which I attributed to my father’s Greek heritage. I was tall, well, taller than my mom at five foot seven and my nearly black hair hung straight as a pin to the middle of my back. Unlike David, my skin always looked as if I had a tan and my eyes were such a deep brown I had hard time telling the iris and pupil apart.
My eyes then found those of my grandmother, who I hadn’t seen since I was nine years old. She was smiling and she looked noticeably older than I recalled. Her hair that had once been light brown was now mostly gray.
My mom practically ran into her arms and they held onto each other for a long time, as I stood awkwardly staring at my family. Aunt Debbie came over and smiled as she hugged me tightly.
“It’s so good to see you
, Riley,” she said and again, I silently chuckled as it came out as Raleigh. “Look how grown up you are, and so pretty.” She cupped my face with her hands and then flipped my hair. “You remember David?”
“Yeah, of course.
Hi,” I said, raising my hand to wave at my cousin. I could see him looking at me skeptically, not really sure what to make of me, but then he smiled and I think we all relaxed at that moment.
Riley, get over here!” my grandmother’s high-pitched voice called out. She was walking towards me with her arms opened wide and before I could say anything, she had engulfed me in her thick, short frame. She squeezed me tightly and patted my back so hard I felt like a baby being burped after a bottle.
, Grandma,” I said as she continued her death grip on me. I was relieved when she pulled back finally and I took in a deep breath. “Look at you! You’re gorgeous. Look at her,” she said, patting my cheek and turning to everyone. “She’s gorgeous!” I felt my face burn red from embarrassment, and then she hugged me again and whispered in my ear, “I’m so glad you’re here.” When she let me go, I saw her eyes were full of tears. She looked so happy and for a minute, I forgot how mad I was at my mom for dragging me here.
“Me too,” I tol
d her, even though I was lying.
“Well, dinner’s ready. I wasn’t sure when you’d get here, so I just threw some chili into the crock pot this morning,” Aunt Debbie said as we followed her into the kitchen.
There wasn’t enough room for everyone to eat at the small table, so after I dished up a bowl, I went into the living room with my cousin. He turned on the TV and we watched it for a few minutes until he finally started talking.
“Are you coming t
o school tomorrow?”