"I thought this was supposed to be a really good school," Natalie remarked quietly as she and Simon passed Vince cleaning the graffiti off the school wall.
"No place is perfect. Let's just hope this isn't typical."
A few minutes later, registration completed, Natalie and Simon returned to the car.
"Are you happy with your class schedule?" Simon asked as he backed out of the parking space and drove out of the parking lot. "Do your courses look interesting?"
"Yes, they do . . . I noticed they have a journalism club. Maybe I can get on at the school paper."
"That would be interesting."
"I wanted to last year at my old school, but they didn't take freshmen. If I'd stayed there I could have joined this year. I just hope that this school doesn't mind that I'm new."
"Hopefully not. Do you mind that you'll be switching schools and leaving your old friends?"
"No, not too much. My old school wasn't that great . . . I'm not sure I really fit in there anyway."
"Fitting in isn't everything," Simon remarked. "Even though in high school it may seem that way."
"My mom says I'm just more mature for my age than most teenagers."
"I can see that," he agreed. "I think that's a good thing."
They drove on in silence for a few minutes before Simon said, "I hope you don't mind that your mom couldn't take you to registration today. She's been pretty busy at the office lately, hasn't she?"
"Very. Thanks for helping out."
"No problem . . . I'm kind of glad it worked out this way. I think it's good that we have the chance to spend some time together and get to know each other a little better."
"Yeah, me too."
"While we're here, do you want to check out the neighborhood, see where we might be living?"
"Yes, I would," she said eagerly.
"You'll get to see the house and the neighborhood before your mom does."
As they turned into Arrendale Heights, he added, "Of course, the deal isn't finalized yet."
"I know . . . You're still waiting for my mom to get in touch with my father, aren't you?"
"Yes, that's right."
"She left a message for him, but he hasn't called back yet."
"I know," Simon replied gently. "I'm sure when she's not so busy wrapping things up at work and getting ready for the move, she'll try again. We'll get in touch with him."
"This is the address." Simon said as he parked in front of a house. "If we decide to move to this neighborhood, after we get in touch with your father, this is the house we will be moving into."
"What if we don't decide to live here? What if we can't get in touch with my father or if we do hear back from him and it doesn't go well?"
"Then we'll look around at houses in another part of town. Things will work out one way or another."
They were only parked a moment before a woman walked over. When they saw her walking their way, they got out of the car to meet her.
"Hello," Simon greeted her with a wave. "I hope we weren't bothering you. We were just looking at the house. We might be moving in soon."
"Oh," Cassandra said with surprise. "Not at all. I just saw your car parked and I thought you might be lost or need help. I'm Cassandra. I live in the house just behind this one."
"So we might be neighbors then. I'm Simon and this is Natalie."
Cassandra smiled at him, but when she turned to look at Natalie her heart jumped a beat. She looked so familiar.
"Your daughter?" she managed to ask, her voice coming out higher than she expected.
"Well, not yet," Simon smiled. "She's my soon to be step-daughter. Her mom and I just got engaged."
"Congratulations," Cassie said as she studied Natalie, trying to put her finger on what was so familiar about her face.
"We just came from school registration," Simon continued. "Unfortunately Natalie's mother had to work and couldn't come with us."
Natalie frowned. She didn't like the way the woman was staring at her. It was making her uncomfortable. She turned away and hoped they could get back in the car and go soon.
Simon sensed the tension. "Is something wrong?" he asked.
"No, I'm sorry," Cassie said, shaking her head, trying to snap out of her stupor. She couldn't shake the nagging feeling that was pulling at her. It was that same feeling that lead her to walk by this house in the first place. "You just look so familiar to me, but I don't think we've met before, have we?"
"No," Natalie replied. "But my mom used to live in Bay Pointe, maybe you knew her. Her name is Reese."
Cassandra involuntarily drew in a deep breath. "Burroughs?" she asked, but she already knew the answer. Suddenly she felt like it took all of the energy within her just to stand.
"You knew her?" Natalie asked eagerly.
"Yes, I did," Cassie replied. "Years ago . . . I'm sorry, but you'll have to excuse me. I left my children alone in the backyard and I should get back to them. I just wanted to see if you needed any help."
"Nice to meet you," Simon called after her. "I'm sure we'll meet again sometime."
Cassie nodded and gave a half-wave as she hurried away.
"That was odd," Natalie remarked under her breath as Cassandra disappeared around the back of the house.
"Is everything okay, Mom?" Doug asked as Cassie returned to the house. "Who were those people?"
"Just the new neighbors," she replied distractedly. "They wanted to take a look at the house . . . Why don't we play inside for awhile, I'm feeling kind of tired. Your daddy will be home soon. Why don't you get your new school things together to show him when he gets back."
No sooner than she had spoken, Blaine's car pulled into the driveway. The children ran inside, leaving Cassie in the backyard wondering what she was going to do.
Thoughts were racing through her mind. Now she knew why Reese had called and why she had such a feeling of dread regarding that house. The thought of her husband's ex returning was bad enough, but with her daughter . . . it wasn't just Reese's face she saw in Natalie, but her husband's and her children's. For a fleeting moment, she wondered if Blaine knew, but she didn't think he did. He wouldn't have left one of his children unacknowledged and he couldn't - and wouldn't have kept his daughter a secret after all these years. He didn't know, but if they moved next door, he was going to find out. Where would that leave her and the family they had together? Where would they stand with this new family in his life?
"Hi, honey," Blaine said, greeting her with a kiss. "What's wrong? Are you feeling okay? You look pale."
Cassie took a deep breath. "I think we'd better sit down. You won't believe what just happened."