She made no comment about the conversation, though she’d clearly heard enough from his end to get the gist of it.
“Do you need to go back to the shop to pick up your car?”
She shook her head.
“How’d you get to work this morning?”
“Ruben picks us up. We’re on his way.”
“I’ll take you home then.” When she opened her mouth to argue, he went on, “You’re on my way. Buckle up.”
She did, and so did he. He pulled out and drove to the driveway, where he rolled the passenger window down. “Simpson, get a ride back with Lois. And Lois, give him the benefit of your years of experience, will you?”
Lois saluted him with a wink and a grin.
After raising the window again, he followed the loop past quiet grand houses and out the gate. He figured Milagro would be happy if they made the drive in silence, but silence wasn’t usually one of his strong suits. “How long have you lived in Cedar Creek?”
Quick glance, hesitation. Yep, she’d rather not chitchat. “Fifteen years.”
“Hmm. I see the same people so often, sometimes I start thinking I know everyone in town. You go to school here?”
“I was homeschooled.”
“No.” After a moment’s pause, he guessed curiosity made her ask, “Do you?”
“Regularly enough that God doesn’t forget my face. Every Sam Douglas in town is expected to be there at least twice a month on Sundays.”
That caught her attention, as he expected it would. “How many are there?”
“There’s me. My father. My grandfather, who’s gone now. My cousin Samson. His boy, Sammy. A cousin Samantha. And her son, Samwell. Samantha hyphenates Douglas with her husband’s last name for both her and Samwell.”
“Maybe your family should look at one of the other twenty-five letters in the alphabet.” She folded her arms across her chest, tucking her fingers into the folds of fabric at her elbows.
Wow. A long sentence with a little bit of humor in it. Feeling a sense of accomplishment, he turned the AC lower. “We’re a big family. We require a lot of names.”
She didn’t ask how big. If she had, he would have turned the question back on her. Since she didn’t, he turned it back anyway. “Do you have family?”
Her expression turned both pensive and wary, and though the truck cab left her little room to move, she managed to put some distance between them.
“Look, Milagro, I don’t know if you’re a citizen, an immigrant or an undocumented worker, and I don’t care. You had a shock today. You probably need someone to stay with tonight, just in case. Do you have someone you can call?”
Her face had gone pale once more, but reluctant acceptance replaced the wariness. “Gramma. My grandmother.”
“Do you want me to take you to her house?”
“No. She’ll come.”
He caught a glimpse of that tiny sort-of smile, softened with deep affection.
“She always comes.”
Whatever she’d been through, she’d held on to her faith in her grandmother with both hands. That was good. With a family the size of his, it could have been easy for some of the kids to get lost in the crowd, to not have anyone special they could trust no matter what, but with parents and grandparents like his, that hadn’t happened to them. He appreciated that it hadn’t happened to Milagro, either.
By that time, they’d reached her street. Sam’s own house was only six or eight blocks away, across Main Street and in a very similar neighborhood: old houses, some neatly maintained and others looking as if the next strong wind would blow them away. Some of the yards were lush with flowers and vegetable gardens; some looked as if a flock of ravenous chickens had pecked out the last piece of grass and it had never grown back.
Milagro’s house was, like his, on the better side of things. It occupied the corner, a decent-size lot with a white-sided house, a deep front porch and a picket fence containing the closest thing he’d ever seen to an English cottage garden. He hadn’t expected her to have a pretty yard or a lot of flowers. She did that sort of thing all day. Didn’t she want a break from it at night?