“Hey, Tommy!” My father waved me across the parking lot, beckoning me over to him and the two other people he was with.
I tossed my hard hat into the work truck and walked over. I knew the guy standing with Dad was Leon Holtzer, another guy working on this strip mall. The girl, who looked to be around my age, wasn’t familiar, though. “What’s up, Dad?”
He smiled and gestured to Leon. “You know Leon, of course. This is his daughter, Sarah. She goes to school with you.” Look at this nice average-income girl. What date can I put on the wedding invitations? – what he might as well have said.
I smiled politely at her. “Hi.” I wondered what the odds were that she knew more than five words of English.
“Hey. Your father has just been talking about you,” she said in heavily accented English. “He says your family has lived all over.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say all over, but we’ve moved around.” It was pretty novel talking to someone other than my parents for whole sentences without referring to SimTranslate.
Dad clapped me on the back. “We’re going to get back to work. Why don’t you take the rest of the afternoon off? I’ll talk to the foreman.”
Why don’t you just pronounce us married yourself, Dad? “I can’t just take off.”
“Sure, you can! Be a normal teenager for once and play hooky” He grinned and gave me a push before walking off with Leon.
I rolled my eyes. “Well, I guess I’m taking the afternoon off.”
She smiled prettily, revealing straight, white teeth. “Would you like to go to the café on the next block? They have very good coffee.”
“Oh, yeah, I’ve been there. That sounds good.” We started walking down the cobblestone street. “My dad hasn’t bribed you to hang out with me or anything, has he?”
Sarah laughed softly and shook her head. “Nein. I just brought lunch for my father, and yours started talking about you and everywhere your family has lived. I’ve never lived anywhere but here.”
“It’s really not that amazing living lots of places. I wish I was back in Newcrest, really.” Never thought I’d have to say that. The city had grown on me, but I still missed the hot, sandy expanse of Oasis Springs. There was something about that city that just felt like home to me. “Um, but I don’t mean that Windenburg isn’t nice. That came out wrong…” Way to offend the first person you can hold a conversation with.
She laughed and shook her head. “I understand. You miss your home.”
Something like that, yeah.
“So, since you grew up here, you must know the fun stuff to do.”
“Oh, ja!” Sarah started to tell me about her favorite spot as we went into the café. She got excited and started to slip into German for a minute before catching herself. “I will have to take you there,” she said, sitting down with me at a table.
“Sounds like a plan.”
Sarah and I actually got along really well. She taught me more than the German swears I’d picked up on the work site and made it her mission to show me around. After only a week of knowing her, I had seen more of Windenburg than I had in the months I’d been here combined.
We approached the mansion she’d brought me to today, a place she’d called the Von Haunt Estate. “What’s the deal with this place again?”
She grinned at me, “It’s supposed to be haunted.”
Hence the name, I supposed. “Is that so?’
She nodded. “I’ve never seen a ghost, but it’s fun to think about. And there is a maze that is fun to wander.”
“Huh. Sounds interesting.” I motioned her ahead of me. “Lead the way, tour guide.”
We wandered around the big, old house that had been converted into a museum for a while before making our way outside.
“There is the maze.” She pointed over to the sprawling hedge maze. “Would you like to try to get to the center?”
I grinned over at her. “Sure, why not? Have you done it before?”
“I have, but I always forget and have to relearn it.”
She led the way to the maze, and we started our walk among the lush, green hedges. I’d love to show this to Loralee. I bet she’d really enjoy figuring out the maze. We hit a lot of dead ends as we navigated the maze. We’d probably been walking for a good twenty minutes before we found our way to the center of the maze.
Sarah smiled up at me. “Now, can we find our way out?”
I laughed. “Good question. I didn’t think this maze would be so difficult.”
“It is deceptive,” she said, winking.
I was just about to suggest we start working our way out when I caught her looking at me. She was looking at me from under her lashes like she didn’t want to be caught, but I could definitely see the look in her eye. I’d barely registered what it meant when she leaned up towards me.
Immediately, I pulled back. “Whoa, Sarah, no. I don’t know if I gave you the wrong impression, but I’m seeing someone. Remember, I told you about Loralee?” Just the other day I’d told her about the time Loralee and I had been at Simmie’s when the most incompetent thief in the world tried to stick it up.
She flushed a deep red. “I’m so sorry. I thought – “ She shook her head. “I’m so sorry. I should not have assumed.”
The brief flash of ire I’d felt evaporated in the face of her sincerity. “It’s okay.” Somehow, I’d probably sent her some mixed signals. She seemed like she wanted to crawl into a hole and live there. “I’m really flattered, but I love my girlfriend.” I smiled wryly. “Even if life might be easier if I were unattached.” Watcher knew my relationship with my father would be less tumultuous.
“I’m an idiot.” She covered her face with her hands. “Leave me here to die of humiliation please.”
I snorted. “Really, it’s okay. No harm, no foul. I do like you, Sarah, just as a friend. I’d really like to continue hanging out with you.”
Tentatively, she smiled. “Ja?” When I nodded, she sighed in relief. “I would like that very much.”