A Story Well-Travelled

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Chapter 14: Adelyn

We’re back at the house—all lazily hanging out in the living room with the flowery sofa and abundance of blankets. Cade offers his spot on the couch to me, which I graciously accept. Kenzi and I inhabit it together, our feet almost touching towards the middle of the couch. Cade bends down with a grunt in the corner of the room while Zofia and Porter make a small mound of blankets and bodies by the doorway.

I’m dying to know if anyone received my letter. Surely Aspen would’ve noticed by now that I’m missing. She would’ve done something about it, but would she even think to pick up my letter from the Square?

“So did you finally ask Lee out?” Zofia asks.

I turn my head in her direction, not fully realizing that she’s talking to me. Her expectant eyes cue me in on the situation and I make my brain process her earlier question. Did I ask Lee out?

I almost burst into laughter. The thought of me asking Wesley out is almost too absurd and hilarious to contemplate. It’s practically incest, but she’s still watching me expectantly. “No.” I try to keep a disappointed tone. That’s how Emerson would feel about this, right? “I didn’t ask him out.”

“What?” Kenzi asks from beside me. Her eyes are wide and she leans infinitesimally closer to me over the couch. It makes my heart pick up—I’m not used to being close to these people—but I force myself to swallow the fear and focus on the conversation.

Zofia eyes me curiously. “You’ve been talking about asking him out for months.” She says. “And you were alone with the guy for fifteen minutes and couldn’t even ask him?”

I shrug, racking my brain for something believable to say. But it appears adolescent crushes have the same difficulties as in my dimension. “I chickened out.”

Zofia raises an eyebrow and I have to wonder if “chicken out” is a phrase they use in this dimension. If my use of slang is what blows my cover, I’ll be supremely upset. “I was going to…” I recover. “And then I just…couldn’t.”

Zofia snorts. “Of course not.”

Kenzi shoots her a warning look while Porter and Cade watch the entertainment. They share amused glances every once in a while.

“What?” Zofia asks Kenzi. “Emerson is always the one to tell us to go for what we want. She needs to practice what she preaches.”

Good to know that phrase made it across dimensions.

“Zofia, you were the one scared to even talk to Lee when we first got pen-pals.” Porter says from beside her. Zofia’s face flushes a deep red as she crosses her arms defiantly.

“But I did it eventually.” She protests.

“And so will Em.” Porter sends me an encouraging smile that crinkles his eyes and warms my heart. He looks uncomfortable on the floor. His elongated limbs all fold together in awkward positions in a way that looks unbearable. If my legs bent like that, they’d break in half.

I hold his words of encouragement close to my heart. When the four people in the room start dropping off and going to sleep, I only hesitate for a few minutes before drifting into the oblivion myself.

The next day, we do absolutely nothing. We don’t change our clothes and we only get up from the living room to find food or another form of entertainment.

Porter and I spend the day reading books from his collection. I assume he’s found the books in various abandoned houses throughout the years, but I’m too embarrassed to ask him myself. My book is about a family torn apart by tragedy. True to form, it’s tragic and makes me tear up multiple times. Each time I do it, I look up to see Porter shooting me a grin.

Zofia sleeps the entire day. It’s quite the impressive feat. Abundant light spills into the room from the window, but the brightness does nothing to wake her or disturb her sleep. She’s curled up in a mound of blankets, looking as small and fragile as a child, but I know enough about her to see through the façade. Should anyone disturb her, she’d probably lash out like a snake.

Cade writes in a brown leather journal. It reminds me so much of Grayson that I start to tear up again, but thankfully Porter and everybody else thinks it is because of the book I’m reading. How is Grayson doing back home? Did he know he was sending me to another world when he pushed me into the lake? But if he did, he was only sending me to the place I’ve longed for the most, as the story went. I can’t exactly fault him for indulging in my greatest desires.

Kenzi is the only one that gets anything done. She plans out a route on a huge map of potential places to scavenge tomorrow. Their food supply is surprisingly plentiful, but I assume they’re always on the lookout for more. She takes some of the blankets and washes them in the river right behind the house, only about twenty yards into the woods. I consider going with her—I’d love to see the small river up close—but I’m so cozy curled up on the couch that I can’t make myself get up. I’ll see the river some other time.

When Kenzi comes back from the last task, night is starting to fall. The hours have flown by, the hands on my elephant watch seeming to move from one side of the clock to the other in no time at all. She has a book in hand as she sits on the small couch beside me. We read and relax for a while longer until the sky outside is completely dark.

I finish the book, snap it closed, and set it on the armrest beside me. Not a happy ending, but not the saddest one I envisioned. The daughter of the main family is found—well, her body—and they have a nice funeral close to home. Subconsciously, I glance up at Porter only to find he looks just as uncomfortable on the blankets as he did the night before. I immediately feel guilty for not thinking about him earlier. Sitting on the floor all day would’ve killed me.

I start to ask him if he wants my seat when Kenzi speaks up from beside me. “Can you start a fire, Em? We’ll want some dinner soon.”

Fire. Outside. Alone. The thought terrifies me not only because of the plethora of animals who’ll probably want to kill me, but I also don’t know how to get to the backyard. “Where are the matches?” I stand up and gather all my determination, dragging it to the surface.

Kenzi’s eyebrow raises questioningly. “Where they always are.”

I stand still, unsure of where to go next. How am I supposed to sell the story that I just forgot where the matches are? Is it possible? Is there another option? Finally, a solution hits me, as much as it degrades me.

I start to walk then sway a little on purpose. My arm shoots out to grab the edge of the couch—rough fabric under my soft hands. “Wow.” I make my voice quiver. “You know, I’m still actually feeling a little lightheaded like I was yesterday. Maybe someone else can do it?” My body collapses onto the couch and I try and give Kenzi an apologetic smile. I can feel my hands shake as I wait for her verdict. Trust me—or don’t?

“Why don’t you come with me?” Kenzi suggests, standing up and offering me her hand for help. “Maybe some fresh air will do you some good.”

Everyone else in the room stares at me curiously, like they’re seeing me for the first time. I can feel my identity slowly reaching out and making its presence known. The words will be whispered in each other their ears—she’s not Emerson.

And then I’ll panic.

But for now, I stand up slowly with the help of Kenzi’s calloused hand. She leads me all the way down the hall—past the stairs and farther than I’ve ever gone before—to a glass door obviously leading to the outside. The matches are in a small wooden box on the floor. Kenzi reaches down and grabs them before pushing the door open and letting in the warm summer air.

We walk outside into the night, where I see the stars for the very first time. Why didn’t I think to do this last night? Sometimes, on clear nights at home, we have smatterings of stars in the sky, but those instances don’t even begin to compare to the beauty I’m seeing right now. When my neck tilts up and the sky is all that I see, it really does feel like I’m swimming in it. The sky is polka dotted with balls of light—not magic orbs only feet above my head, but enormous creations lightyears away.

It’s mesmerizing, so all-encompassing that I feel like I could reach out and touch them. How wonderful it would be to hold the stars in my hands. I know that the surface of the stars is hot, but if I was to hold them in my hands, I imagine the sensation to be cold. I imagine the tiny little orbs illuminating the folds of my palm and tickling my skin.

“Em?”

I jump at the sound of Kenzi’s voice. She’s standing by a small firepit, where wood has already been stacked strategically. A match is in her hand—unlit and unmoving. “You okay?” She asks.

“Yeah.” I nod my head and walk closer to her so I can lower my voice. “The stars are just really pretty tonight.”

She looks up at the sky with furrowed brows, unlit match still in her hand. “They look just like they always do.” She says to the sky.

I shrug. “Maybe I’m just noticing them more.”

Kenzi lowers her head and stares at me for a brief, never-ending second before she lights the match and starts the fire. It’s small at first but builds quickly. Nothing spreads faster than flames, except maybe secrets.

The backyard starts to light up. We’re no longer in total darkness, only the moon boasting any illumination. Now, I can see the trees in the distance. They surround the small patch of grass we stand on, dark and hostile. It’s a sharp contrast between the bright green grass, lit up by the fire, and the dark, foreboding forest. Green and black. I’ve never been so aware of the colors and sounds around me.

Crickets, a rustling of leaves, the crackle of the fire. It’s a beautiful symphony, one I’ve never experienced before. I remember going to a concert with Aspen of the latest dreamy boy band four years ago. 2 D*rn Handsome put on a fantastic show, but who would’ve thought that nature would perform the best concert of all?

Kenzi looks into the fire with unseeing eyes. For her, nights like this are dull and familiar. To me, it’s a revelation.

Why did I ever want to rule Resdon? Why did I ever want that responsibility when I could just stay here forever and find solace in the warmth of the fire?

The silence isn’t uncomfortable, not to me at least. I’m too distracted by everything going on around me to worry about holding a conversation. Kenzi, however, feels differently.

“So are you feeling better now?”

“Yep.” My answer comes automatically, a necessary evil before I can get back to focusing on my surroundings.

“Not lightheaded?” Kenzi isn’t done yet.

I hold back a sharp retort and try to smile instead. “I’m feeling perfect.”

Kenzi sighs and sits down on the grass. She’s closer to the fire than I’d be comfortable getting, but I suppose she’s far more familiar with both the proximity and the warmth that’s now almost too much for me to bear. I take a step away from the flames and back towards the house. Kenzi has cut through my ease. I want to invite the others outside so I don’t have to tolerate this silence alone.

Then Kenzi’s sharp eyes turn on me, stopping me in my tracks. She’s beautiful, even with her graying hair and aging skin. And she’s strong. As her arms curl around her bent knees, I can see the muscle exposed by her tank top, hard lines and rounded biceps. I like her a lot, but she’s scaring me. My racing heart is now the only thing I can think about. Not the crickets, or the trees, or the blazing fire. It’s fear that captures my attention.

Kenzi’s head tilts to the side. It’s a vulnerable position, meant to ease my worry. She clears her throat to prep for a question, one I think I know is coming. “You’re not Emerson, are you?”

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