I parked down the street from the house I was actually on my way to and stepped out onto the pavement. As the breeze hit me, making my loose curly hair flutter against the sides of my face, I considered leaving my jacket in the car. Though the early January air had been just above freezing in Newcrest, the breeze in Oasis Springs carried the feeling of spring.
Winters will certainly be pleasant here, I thought, walking leisurely down the sidewalk. I bet summers will suck, though.
For the first time, I took a good look around me. Oasis Springs was worlds apart from Newcrest. Though this neighborhood was well-kempt with neat lawns and manicured scenery, I could see long stretches of barren desert in the distance. I doubted whatever place Tommy and I would move into would be quite so green. That in and of itself would be a big adjustment for me; Newcrest, especially the area I had grown up in, was always lush and green. I had my reservations about how much I would like living here, but this was the place Tommy loved. I had hardly experienced it; I hope that I’ll grow to love it here, too.
I walked up the paved pathway and rang the doorbell. How long had it been since I’d been here? Not since I’d come with Mom, Mama, and Luc for Tito’s nineteenth birthday, so over a year now. And the last time I’d actually seen Aunt Chastity in person…when was it? Mama’s birthday in August? Somewhere around then. I felt bad that it’d been so long since I’d seen her; I was still having regular dinners with Anna, but I never made time to drive out to Oasis Springs to see Aunt Chastity. When I lived here, would I neglect Anna? My parents? My friends in Willow Creek and Newcrest?
I’ll be more aware of it, I told myself. I could hear footsteps approaching the door. I’ll make time.
Aunt Chastity opened the door with a smile. “Loralee!” She pulled me into a tight hug. “I am so glad that you called!”
“Hey, Aunt Chastity.”
“Come in, come in. Watcher, it’s been forever. What have you been doing?”
I stepped inside and sat down on the sofa with her. “Same as usual, you know. I got a raise at Simmie’s, so that’s nice.” It was a really minor one, but it would help. I didn’t just want to let Tommy pay for the place we were going to live; I wanted to help. I was going to cut back on my spending and save as much as I could between now and graduation. I already had some savings, so I wasn’t starting from scratch, at least.
“That’s great! I’m so proud of you for getting a job.” She laughed softly. “That’s probably the millionth time I’ve said that, isn’t it?”
I smiled wryly. “Just about.”
“I can’t help it. I wasn’t half as responsible as you when I was your age.” She rolled her eyes, a somewhat sour look coming over her face. “My siblings still aren’t as responsible as you.”
“Did something happen?” I couldn’t even remember ever meeting my uncle Connor or aunt Octavia. I’d heard pretty much nothing about him and only that she was an unpleasant person.
Aunt Chastity sighed. “Well, it’s a long story, but I’m not speaking to any of them anymore. I’ve just had enough of their childish attitudes. I haven’t spoken to any of them in close to two years now.”
My eyes widened. “You didn’t mention this before.”
“I didn’t want to bring up drama at Camille’s birthday party.” She shook her head. “I hadn’t really spoken to Connor or Octavia in years anyway.”
“What about Anna?”
“We exchanged Christmas cards this year, and she sent new school pictures. We’ve never been close, you know.” She sighed softly. “I tried to be friendly with her, you know, but we’re just too different. I just don’t see how she can be married to Huy.” She shook her head again, firmly this time. “But enough about that! Whatever happened to that boyfriend of yours? I think you said he moved?”
“Yeah, to Windenburg.” I guess this was as good a time as any to start going into the real purpose I had for this visit. “Aunt Chastity, I was wondering, what do you like about Oasis Springs?”
Her brows arched. “That’s a little random. What’s brought that on?”
So much for hoping she’d just be happy to tell me. “Okay, well…I went to visit Tommy the week after Christmas. He’s planning to move back here after he graduates, and…he asked me to come with him.”
“This boy asked you to move in with him? Here?”
“Yeah,” I said on an exhale. “I told him yes.”
She stared at me in shock. “You’re going to be moving here with a boy? Fresh out of high school?”
I knew how insane it sounded. “Yep, pretty much.” When you put it like that it didn’t sound like the best of ideas, but this was what I wanted.
“Are you sure about this? That’s a big step. It took a long time for me to decide to move here with Santi, and I was already in my twenties then.”
“I am,” I assured her. “And it’s actually something I wanted to talk to you about today. I wanted to know more about Oasis Springs and what it’s like to live here. I want to be prepared when I start living here.”
“Well, I can’t really say I’m on board with this, but I suppose it isn’t really my place to talk you out of it. Have you told your parents?”
“Not yet.” I bit my lower lip lightly. “And please don’t call them and tell them before I can. I’m going to tell them. I just…haven’t quite figured out how to do it yet.” Mom, I though, would probably handle it fairly well. Mama, on the other hand…
Aunt Chastity laughed softly. “I would almost like to be there when you tell Camille Thoreau that her only daughter is moving out of the city.” Her chuckles continued. She stretched her legs out, crossing her ankles. “Oasis Springs really is a good place to live. It’s cheaper than Willow Creek, and I imagine it’s much cheaper than Newcrest. We’ve had a really great winter this year, but it never does get really cold.” She looked sideways at me. “The schools are very good, not that you should be needing those for quite some time.”
I suppressed a snort. Babies definitely weren’t on my radar. If I got the urge, I’d go over to Nora’s and get a dose of baby cuteness while also getting a stark reminder of how hard they are to take care of. “That’s good to know. For the future.”
We chatted for a while longer, and she told me the things she liked about Oasis Springs. She warned me of a couple of neighborhoods to avoid, but I wasn’t terribly worried about that. Every place had that bad part of town. Finally, it was getting late, and I still had the drive back to Newcrest ahead of me. I said goodbye, promising that it wouldn’t be so long until I visited again, then headed back to my car.
Hearing more about Oasis Springs from someone who lived here but was a bit more objective than Tommy, who bled desert sand, had actually made me feel excited for the move for more reasons than just independence. In just four months, I would graduate. How much longer would it be before I was standing in a brand new house, just for me and Tommy?