Where There's Hope(13)

By: Marianne Rice

The second account was for Delaney. If Hope refused his cash, he could still put the money away for his niece. In six years she’d be applying for colleges. While he doubted he’d be able to save enough for tuition, she should have enough to help with the cost of books, and maybe a little extra for room and board.

After finishing off the day on the boat, he continued with his routine of washing up, checking the schedule, and driving to the next town to his scanty apartment. There weren’t many housing options in Crystal Cove. Mostly summer rentals and family homes. All he needed was a room to lay his head and enough kitchen space to cook a meal.

Rent was pretty cheap in Woodbine. The neighboring town attended the Crystal Cove schools, as did the town of Eastcliff. Each had its own piece of character. Crystal Cove had the shore and hosted its fair share of tourists, while Eastcliff was a tad more upscale. There weren’t many businesses, mostly self-employed family run operations. Insurance, real estate, attorneys.

Cameron had his share of those.

Woodbine was inland and didn’t have any shoreline, but it did have a gorgeous lake that spread into Crystal Cove. He spent the few hours he wasn’t working driving around, even fishing a little in the summer.

He’d lucked out buying bait at Binny’s convenient store one morning and noticed the For Rent sign in the window upstairs.

Binny had a deep, scratchy voice showing decades of heavy smoking under her belt. “Why does a nice looking boy like you want to rent a crap apartment above my store?” she’d croaked.

“I’ve been down on my luck and hoping to turn things around. I’m looking for something small while I get myself going in the right direction.”

Binny had eyed him skeptically and brought him around back where a long staircase led them to the apartment door above.

“It ain’t much,” she had warned.

It was perfect for him. One open room that served as bedroom, living room, and kitchen, and a small bathroom with a standup shower in the back. They shook on a fair price, and Binny didn’t even ask for references or a contract. He paid week-by-week, with one month’s rent as down deposit. He couldn’t have asked for a better set up.

Cameron stopped for some groceries on his way home and climbed the stairs to his apartment, holding four bags in one hand as he unlocked the door.

There was no one greeting him. No dog. No cat. No girlfriend.

No family.

He felt more alone now than he did all his years in prison. Whether he’d had the cell to himself or had a roommate, there were always people around. Always noises. A schedule to follow. Someone telling him what to do, where to go.

And now, with his freedom in front of him, only the cold, empty air surrounded him. Setting the bags on the cramped counter, Cameron reached for the six-pack of beer first, cracking open the can and taking his first sip.

His first sip of beer in nearly thirteen years. The cold ale chilled his insides and made him feel like a man again. A free man. He had no desire to get drunk, no desire to go to a noisy bar where the beer would flow more freely.

The simple act of buying groceries and sipping on a beer while making dinner made him feel...normal. He’d been out of jail for a year and a half, but had been more focused on finding Hope than to worry about any type of normalcy in his life.

And when he’d discovered she had a daughter, that he was an uncle, all his attention was on doing right by his parole officer and earning the right to leave the state of Connecticut. Forever.

Maine represented freedom. Goals. His future, whatever that may be.

Cameron put the rest of his groceries away and sliced onions, peppers, and mushrooms, sautéing them while he cubed boneless chicken breasts. He tossed them in the pan, added the teriyaki sauce he bought, then boiled water for his instant rice.

Nothing fancy, but hot, good food that satisfied his hunger. He ate at a leisurely pace, enjoying not being on a specific timetable. After dinner, he cleaned the kitchen and took a shower.

Unable to afford cable, or a television, he unrolled his sleeping bag on the floor and crawled in. It was eight o’clock on a Friday night and Cameron was sleeping on the floor of a cheap apartment above a convenient store.

The noise from the parking lot and the store beneath him didn’t keep him up. Cameron had learned to sleep through just about anything.

He slept a long, hard, dreamless sleep and before he knew it, the sun was rising, signaling another day. Once again he followed his routine: a five-mile run along the lake, followed by another shower, oatmeal for breakfast. He packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple from the orchard in town, a couple granola bars, and filled a bottle with water.

Cameron had saved enough over the past year to afford more than what he had, but there was no point in it. He didn’t need anything else. There was no one to impress, no one to show off to, no one who would insult him about his meager lifestyle.