Tommy and I walked aimlessly around East Town Mall in Magnolia Promenade. At first, he hadn’t wanted to call this a date, but I kept assuring him that this was as good of a date to me as going out to eat.
I smiled at a window display. “Oh, isn’t that nice?”
“You want it?” Tommy’s hand twitched towards his pocket, ready to check how much money he had.
I shook my head. “We’re just window shopping, remember?” I took his hand and continued walking with him, leaning my head on his shoulder. We’d been dating just under a month, but it felt longer than that. I was so comfortable with him. Given that he was my first boyfriend, I had expected it to be awkward or to take more time to feel so at ease being affectionate, but I had worried for nothing.
We walked around for a while longer before finding a bench to sit together on. “What do you want to do after school, Loralee?”
I looked up at him. “You mean, like, on Monday?”
He shook his head. “When we graduate. What do you want to do?”
I leaned into his side, frowning thoughtfully. “I don’t know, really. I mean, I guess I’ll go to college. That’s what most people do when they graduate high school.”
Tommy stroked his fingers through the ends of my hair. “It must be nice. Knowing you can just go to college, you know. You don’t have to worry about getting accepted or paying for it.” He went quiet for a minute. “I probably won’t go. My grades aren’t great, so I can pretty much kiss financial aid goodbye.”
“Do you want to go?” If he did, I knew he could make it happen.
He shrugged. “I want to move back to Oasis Springs. It’s a lot cheaper to live there than it is here. I could maybe find a nice piece of land and build a house. There’s good work there, too.”
“You want to build your own house?”
“It might be nice.” He looked sideways at me. “Why? Do you think it’s stupid?”
I shook my head. “No! Of course not. Mom had our house built. She planned pretty much every detail for it. It would be really cool to build your own house.”
He smiled. “It would, wouldn’t it?”
I nodded and leaned my head on his shoulder. “I’ve never thought about leaving Newcrest. I mean, it’s home.”
“Why would you want to?” Tommy said nonchalantly. “You’ve got a great set up. If you feel like a change of scenery, you could just redecorate your bedroom. Hell, you could probably buy a spot next door and build a bridge to connect your house to your parents.”
I leaned back to look at him, glaring. “Why does it always have to come back to how much money we have, Tommy? Is that all you see when you look at me? A big walking simoleon sign?”
He sighed and rubbed his face. “I’m sorry, that was shitty. It’s just…it’s hard not to think of money. I had to pay the water bill this month because the insurance on the house came out. You’ve never lived like I have, Loralee, where everything comes down to money. Only people like you never think about it because you have it. I really envy you sometimes, you know.”
I sighed and leaned in to kiss him softly. “When have I ever talked about spending money willy nilly? What makes you think I’d want to do something stupid like build a connecting house?”
Tommy wrapped his arms around me. “Nothing. I was being a shit. I’m sorry, Loralee.”
I leaned against him and watched people walked around us. Somehow, I knew that this wouldn’t be the last time money would be an issue.
I knocked softly on Mom’s office door before going inside. Mom was settled in at her gaming station, and I didn’t want to disturb her, but I really needed to talk to her.
She turned to look at me and smiled. “Hey, Loralee. What’s up?”
I bit my lower lip. “Could we talk?”
“Of course, honey.” She shut down her game and came over to sit next to me on the ratty old couch. “What’s going on?”
Where did I even start? “Mom, what was it like for you when you first got to Newcrest? I mean, you’ve shown me pictures of the house, but what was it like for you?”
She studied me for a minute. “Why are you asking?”
I sighed softly. “Well, it’s Tommy. He’s always so obsessed with money.” I told her about what had happened at the mall.
Mom pursed her lips, nodding. “I think I understand. You know, it really was hard for me when I first got here. I spent almost every penny to buy this place. And I didn’t even have a family to support.” She got a far-away look her eye. “Those early days were rough. I’d make a little money from work and making some little plugins only to have the bills come in and see it all go away. Back then, I was obsessed with making money. I ignored everything so I could focus on making myself a success.” She paused again, her eyes very far away. “It’s very hard to look past all the things you don’t have, Loralee. I made some very bad decisions because I put my financial success in front of everything and everyone else. I nearly ruined every chance I had for happiness in the name of it, actually.”
I wondered what she meant but thought that this probably wasn’t the moment to ask for the whole story. I knew bits and pieces, like how Mom and Mama had known each other before Mom got married. But I knew that wasn’t the whole story.
“So, what should I do?” I asked.
“All you can do is try to guide him away from this obsession he’s got. It’s healthy to have a desire to succeed, but he needs to have more in his life than just money.”
We talked a while longer before I went upstairs. I really cared about Tommy, so I was going to do whatever I could to help him.