A/N: Wow, I am so sorry it took so long to get this chapter up. School has been crazy, plus I’ve had a little trouble shifting gear from Camille and gang to Loralee and gang. But here we go!
I walked into my first class of the day and came to a stop when I saw a curiously familiar face. It was a little older, a little fuller, but I recognized that golden blond hair. “Tommy? Tommy Smithson?”
He looked up and smiled at me. “Loralee!” He got up and walked over to me. “I was hoping I’d run into you.”
“It’s so good to see you! I had no idea you’d moved back to Newcrest.” Not long after my thirteenth birthday, Tommy had moved back to Oasis Springs. We’d emailed and called each other a little at first, but eventually we’d lost touch. It had been over two years since I’d talked to him. And yowza, I thought, looking at him. He’d really filled out.
“Dad got a new contract to build Newcrest Library, so we moved back here.”
I started to ask him how he’d liked Oasis Springs, but Mrs. Feldman came in to start class. I’d had her last year, so I knew she was a serious stickler about talking in class. Lunch? I wrote on a piece of paper and tilted it towards him. He smiled and nodded in response.
I dropped down at a table next to Tommy. “Okay, so, tell me everything. What have I missed in the last two years?”
He rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I moved somewhere exciting. It was just Oasis Springs. And nothing happened. I went to school. It was boring. I made a couple of friends, but we didn’t really get close.”
“Did you like living there? I have an aunt who lives there with her family. She says she likes it except in the summer.” I didn’t see Aunt Chastity or my cousin Tito often anymore since their family had moved to Oasis Springs; it was over two hours to get from there from Newcrest.
“Yeah, I did like it. It’s actually really nice there, and I didn’t mind the heat in the summer. What have you been up to?”
I shrugged. “Nothing, really. I started piano lessons again. Uncle Carter is teaching me.”
“Wasn’t he the guitar player?”
“Yeah, but he plays piano really well too. Ummm, what else…” I furrowed my brow as I thought. What had I been doing recently? “Well, I’m learning to drive. Mom and Mama said I might get a car when I turn sixteen.”
“Wow, a car. Man, I’d love to get one, but it’s not even on my radar. By the way, do you know of any place hiring around here? I really need to get a job.”
I shook my head. I’d never paid attention to things like that. “No. But maybe you could check with the guidance office?”
He shrugged. “I’ll figure something out.”
After lunch, we didn’t see each other for the rest of the day, but I was looking forward to tomorrow. It felt so good to have Tommy around again. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed him.
Luc and I walked into the house after we got off the bus. “Are you hungry?”
“I could eat.”
I smiled. “Come on. I feel like cooking something.”
I went into the kitchen and poked around, looking for something I felt like trying my hand at. Eventually, I settled on something and fired up the stove. Sometime last year while I was making scrambled eggs for breakfast, I’d realized I liked cooking. It was relaxing, but also somehow challenging at the same time. Well, today I was making grilled cheese and there was nothing challenging about that, but the idea is solid.
“I don’t see why I have to sit here just because you’re cooking,” Luc groused as he sat down at the bar.
“If I’m doing something nice for you, the least you can do is keep me company.” I grinned over at him. I couldn’t be completely nice to him. He was my little brother, after all. “Oh, you’ll never guess who I saw today!”
“Can you guess how much I don’t care?” Despite the words, he was still looking at me attentively.
I stuck my tongue out at him. “Tommy Smithson. You remember him.”
“Wasn’t he the kid who made fun of us?”
“Yeah, but we started being friends with him, remember?”
“You started being friends with him. I don’t have to like him.”
I rolled my eyes and put the sandwiches on the counter and grabbed one. “It’s not nice to hold grudges, Luc.”
Luc grabbed a sandwich. “He was a dick!”
“But he’s not now. Anyway, he moved back from Oasis Springs.” I ignored Luc’s sarcastic “woo.” “Tomorrow, I’ll introduce him to my other friends.”
“Don’t introduce him to Leona unless you secretly hate him.”
I snorted. Leona and her mother had moved in next door last year. I liked her, but she was admittedly a character. “She goes to private school anyway, but yeah, maybe I’ll wait to introduce them.” She was always asking us why we didn’t go to private school, but I liked the school I was in.
I was just cleaning up from lunch 2.0 when my phone rang. I checked the caller ID before answering. It was my step-mother, Anna. “Hi, Anna.”
“Hey, Loralee.” Her warm voice came over the line. “I just thought I’d call to check in.”
I went upstairs and settled down on the couch in my room. “How are the kids?” I had three younger half-siblings, Bradley, Blake, and Brianna. Bradley was the closest to me at ten. I wasn’t very close to them, but I did love them. Brianna was pretty cute.
“Oh, they’re great. Keeping me on my toes as usual. How is school going?”
I told her about school and mentioned Tommy, though not in great detail. We talked about a few other things like Luc and how my moms were. Finally, I reluctantly asked about my father.
“He’s okay,” Anna said somewhat awkwardly. The conversation always ground to a very awkward halt whenever one of us brought him up. Understandably so, I thought, since he’d never been a real presence in my life. I don’t think I’d seen him since I was thirteen. “He’s been in a bit of a mood lately. He got passed over for a promotion.”
That piqued my interest. “Promotion? He’s been a manager for as long as I can remember.” I thought I remembered being told at some point that he’d been perfectly happy to stay where he was.
“He likes his job, but he’s decided we could use the extra money. Raising three kids…it’s not cheap you know. And with only him working…” As she trailed off, I frowned.
“I mean…Are you guys, um, okay?”
“We’re just fine,” Anna said with renewed vigor. “Money would just be helpful, you know. College fund and all that.”
We got off the phone shortly after that, but I continued to sit where I was. In my house, we’d never struggled for money. Never struggled for anything, really. I thought back as far as I could, but I’d always lived in this house. We were just rich.
For some reason, thinking about this brought Tommy to my mind. We’d first met because he’d been making fun of me for being a rich girl. Now, I took my phone out again and called the number he’d given to me earlier. I didn’t have anything in mind to say, but I wanted to talk to him.
A smile came over my face when I heard his voice. “Hey, it’s Loralee.” I settled in more comfortably on the couch as we began to talk.