Where There's Hope(15)

By: Marianne Rice

Wiping any excess off on her towel, Hope dabbed wrinkle cream around her eyes and dabbed moisturizer on her cheeks and forehead. She studied her face, noticing the fine lines around her eyes and new ones appearing in her forehead.

Age was creeping up fast on her. A woman with wrinkles and soon-to-be gray hair shouldn’t still be living at her mother’s house.

At this rate she might as well adopt twenty-five cats and call herself the thirty-year-old virgin. Although she wasn’t. She was thirty-one. And not a virgin.

She’d dated Jake on and off last year. He was okay for dating but not the kind of man she’d envisioned stepping in and being a father to Delaney. He didn’t take well to her, and Delaney was pretty easy to get along with.

Other than Jake, there weren’t too many repeating dates. Not only was the dating pool in the area limited, she had no time or interest. Ty, though, he would be the perfect husband. Once she got through the move, and dealing with Cameron, she’d work on setting Ty up with one of her friends.

But Cameron. Hope sighed and went into her bedroom to dress for the day. Her wardrobe consisted of t-shirts in various colors, both long and short sleeved, with The Happy Clam emblem on the left and a smiling clamshell on the back.

Donning her usual attire of jeans and long-sleeved navy blue work shirt, she slipped her hair back into a ponytail and laced up her sneakers. Average at best, no one would ever describe her as a showstopper. That was Lily. Or pretty. That was Jenna. Or cute. That was Mia.

Being a single mom sort of put the kibosh on anything other than being practical. It bothered her that Cameron coming to Crystal Cove made her suddenly self-conscious. She didn’t care what he thought of her looks, but his background bothered her.

Not just his criminal record but his family’s wealth as well. Justin had talked about his family’s wealth often. So often he’d come off as a braggart. At first, it made Hope insecure in her humble upbringing, but Justin had a way of making her feel special. Like a Cinderella story.

Cameron was a Smithfield as well and had enough money and power to stir up her life. To insist on his family having an active role in Delaney’s life. It wasn’t that she was opposed to her paternal grandparents visiting her, but Hope wanted to shield her daughter from the drama of having an uncle in jail. Of being judged for her Target-brand clothes and her job as a waitress.

Even now that she owned the restaurant, it wouldn’t be to the standards of the Smithfields. She’d only read about them in the online papers when Justin was killed. When Cameron was in the hospital and later arrested.

The few interviews of Thomas and Janice did not paint them in a very nice light.

“Ugh,” Hope slapped the light switch off as she left her room. Such a waste of her time. The last thing she wanted to do was think about that family.

She peeked in on Delaney, sound asleep in her cramped room, the tiny bedroom off the living room that used to be an office space when Hope was young. The twin bed and dresser barely fit, but her daughter was happy, snuggled under her blanket, sound asleep.

“Hey, Dad.” Hope kissed her father on the cheek and took the mug of coffee he offered her. He’d always been an early riser. The coffee maker, the breakfast cook. Since The Happy Clam didn’t open until eleven, Hope used the morning time to go through paperwork, pay the bills, or read a book. She barely had time to finish the one each month that the girls in the book club picked. Today wouldn’t be that day.

She’d volunteered to set up the tents and tables in the common area off Seaview for the Fall Festival. It wasn’t a lot of space, mostly a garden, walking path to the beach, and a few scattered picnic tables. A place to stop and enjoy the view or eat your lunch while taking a walk.

“Your mother and I will bring Laney up to the corn maze in a few hours. Think you’ll be done setting up in town by then?” He sat down and unfolded the newspaper in front of him.

“Should be.” She sipped her hazelnut blend and picked up a slice of banana bread, joining him at the table. “I’m surprised Delaney is still sleeping. She’s pretty excited to volunteer with her dance class.” They were dressing up as scarecrows and acting as guides throughout the maze for those lost. Later, a group of high school kids would be dressing up as zombies and monsters to scare the older crowd at night.

This was the first year Delaney didn’t want to go trick-or-treat, claiming to be too old, but she still wanted to dress up and hand out candy.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the dance with us later?”

“Nah. Not my thing,” she lied. “Besides, there’s so much work to be done on the house.”