I smiled over at Tommy as we walked around outside of the school. Over the last few weeks since Tommy had moved back, we’d developed a routine together. At least two days a week, often more, we stayed late and hung out together. I always asked him to just come to my house, but he always declined. Instead, I took a cab home, and he had his dad pick him up.
“That test in McWhorter’s was ridiculous.” I tuned in to Tommy talking about our math test today. Though we weren’t in it together, we had the same teacher.
“I didn’t think it was so bad.” I was only halfway paying attention to the conversation because I couldn’t stop looking at his eyes. They were really nice eyes, not boring and brown like mine.
“Yeah, but you’re smart. You probably like math.”
“I do not like math.” I started to roll my eyes but stopped as the rest of what he’d said caught up to me. “Tommy! You are smart! There’s nothing wrong or stupid about you.” I grabbed his arm. “I mean it, Tommy.”
He shrugged, looking away from me. “It seems to come easy to you. I have to study twice as hard to do half as good.”
“That doesn’t mean anything!” I gave his arm a little shake. “You are just as smart as everyone else, including me.” I had never even thought of myself as particularly smart. I did well in school, but that was because I did my homework and more or less paid attention in class.
He rolled his eyes. “Yes, Mom.” He started walking again. “Just forget it, okay, Loralee? Some things just come easier to some people.”
I couldn’t just let it go like that. “You know, if you want to feel way smarter than me, just throw me into a construction site.” Tommy had gotten a job working for his dad with the construction company. He said it was hard work, but, from the looks of him, Tommy was built for it.
He snorted softly. “Oh, I’m sure that would be hilarious.”
I smiled as the tension broke. “Do those hard hats come in blue? Yellow isn’t really my color.” Tommy smiled and it was so good to see. I felt something flutter in my stomach.
I like him, I realized. His smile had my stomach full of butterflies. I was obsessed with his eyes. I liked Tommy. I should feel surprised, shouldn’t I? I thought I probably should, since I’d never had a crush on anyone that wasn’t a TV star before, but I didn’t. I did, though, suddenly feel nervous. Now that I knew, what was I supposed to do? Should I ask him out? Be bold? Stay quiet about it?
I blinked and focused on Tommy. He was looking down at me intently, a curious expression on his face. I flushed and ducked my head, realizing I’d been staring at his lips. “Ah, what?”
“You kind of spaced out there,” he said with a little smile, still looking at me.
“Oh. Yeah.” Suddenly, I didn’t know what to do with my hands or what to say. I reached up to fiddle with the ends of my hair.
“Okay, maybe I’m way off…” Tommy started slowly. He swallowed nervously and shifted on his feet. “I’ve been wondering lately…would you like to go out some time? Like, um, on a date?”
I stared at him for a moment, unable to believe we were somehow on the same wavelength. Then I beamed up at him. “Yes!” I agreed excitedly. I flushed a little then, embarrassed at my own enthusiasm. Not cool. “I mean, yeah. I’d like that.”
He smiled broadly, relief pouring out of him. “Really? That’s amazing.”
“But,” I said as something occurred to me, “you have to pick me up at my house. And you have to meet my parents.”
Tommy’s face fell and he groaned. “Loralee.”
I grinned and leaned up to boldly kiss him on the cheek. “It’ll be great.”
I had to borrow Dad’s work truck for my date with Loralee. We used to have a car that belonged to Mom before she stopped driving, but it kept breaking down, and we didn’t have the money to get it fixed. I wished I had something nicer than this beat up thing to take Loralee out in, but this was the only option, since I didn’t have money for a taxi. I mean, I had the money, but not if we wanted to eat somewhere tonight.
As I drove to the address Loralee had given me, I looked around at the big, expensive houses. I was fifteen but had had a hardship license for almost a year now. I was completely at ease behind the wheel of the truck, since I’d been driving even before getting a license. But I wasn’t at ease in this neighborhood. Sure, I knew Newcrest was a town for rich folks, and I’d seen plenty of fancy, modern houses here and even a few in Oasis Springs. This neighborhood was different. I’d never even been through here before because it was far away from the shopping district. This was the really good part of town.
I passed house after house, wondering just where exactly Loralee’s was. And then I saw the mailbox with the correct numbers on it and couldn’t believe what I was looking at. The biggest house in the neighborhood. I got out of the truck and looked up at the place. My mouth went as dry as the desert. I’d always known that Loralee came from money, but there was money and then there was money.
I couldn’t have possibly felt more insignificant as I stood in the shadow of this enormous display of wealth. This thing couldn’t even be called a house. It was more like an estate.
“I should go home,” I muttered to myself. Loralee’s parents were going to take one look at me and laugh. And, as I looked down at my cheap, well-used clothes, I thought that they were right to. Loralee came from a completely different world, one that I didn’t fit into.
I actually did start to turn around and get back into the truck. I really did. But then I thought about Loralee. She’d be so hurt if I stood her up. She’d never understand why, either. I couldn’t do that to her. So, knowing that I had no other option, I rubbed my sweating palms on my thighs and went up to the front door.
Through the glass, I could see Loralee waiting for me in the living room. I rang the bell and half expected Loralee to stay where she was while a maid came in to let me in.
That didn’t happen, though. Loralee got up and came to the door, her bright smile somewhat soothing the nervousness taking me over. “Tommy!” she said excitedly as she opened the door and invited me in. “I’m so glad you came.”
I smiled weakly at her. My whole house could fit in this living room. “I promised I would, didn’t I?” There was soft music coming from somewhere, but I couldn’t see any stereo or speakers. Probably some kind of fancy hidden system. “You know I wouldn’t miss our date.” Besides the family photos on the walls, there were also two paintings that looked like they could individually pay two month’s worth of bills. Maybe more. “I’m surprised your maid didn’t get the door.” That’s what maids did on all the TV shows.
Loralee ushered me over to the couch. “Oh, no. Gilda just cleans. She’s already gone home.”
Wow, they really do have a maid. She was so nonchalant about it. I wasn’t honestly sure how I felt about that.
“Please, sit down. I’ll go get Mom and Mama. They’re in the office.” She smiled and disappeared towards what seemed to be the kitchen.
I sat down on the couch. They have an office. No doubt it was incredibly stuffy and full of musty bookshelves. That’s what rich people did, right? Filled rooms full of books.
A minute later, Loralee came around the stairs with two middle-aged women. One was a tall, slim bleached-blond with a kind of coolness about her. The other was a red-head with longer hair and a kind expression. I got to my feet, nervously rubbing my hands over my legs again.
“Mom, Mama, this is Tommy Smithson. Tommy, this is my mother, Camille, and my other mother, Shirley.”
I shook both of their hands, hoping they didn’t notice how clammy mine was. “It’s really nice to meet you. Loralee’s told me a lot about you.”
Camille smiled a little. “It’s nice to meet you as well. She’s told us all about you, too. Please, sit down, won’t you?”
The four of us sat down and I tried not to fidget.
Shirley smiled warmly. “Loralee tells me you just moved here from Oasis Springs. I’ve been there just a few times, but it was a gorgeous place.”
I nodded. “Yes, ma’am. But before that I lived here.” And before that I lived in Willow Creek and a few other places. Dad always went where the work was the best.
“Yes,” Camille said, “I remember you. You teased Loralee and her brother for being rich.”
Crickets. What even did I say to that?
Loralee rolled her eyes. “Mom is leaving out the part where she told me to be friends with you. Mom, you’re supposed to be nice.”
Camille made a soft huffing sound. “I am being nice.” Man, if that was nice, I really didn’t want to see mean. “Would you like a tour of the house, Tommy? I expect you’re going to be spending quite a bit of time here now.”
Shirley smiled. “Yeah, since you’ve been here, you and Loralee can hang out here after school if you want. There’s a pool out back, too.”
Of course there was a pool. It was Richness 101. “Oh, um, thank you. I probably will come over some.” There was really no way to get out of it at this point.
We talked awkwardly for a few more minutes before Loralee finally insisted that it was time we left. I tried not to look like I was in a rush, but I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. How could Loralee possibly feel comfortable in that house?
As we walked to the truck, I couldn’t help but think again how very, very far out of my league Loralee was.