Where There's Hope(5)

By: Marianne Rice

The tide was high, and the waves crashed loudly against the surf as the wind whipped at her face. Hope loved living on the coast and couldn’t imagine raising her daughter in a city. Her short stint in college proved she didn’t belong in a town that had more than ten thousand residents.

Taking her keys out of her pocket, she gave a nostalgic sigh as she looked out at the ocean and unlocked her ancient sedan. Sliding behind the wheel, she shivered and turned on the engine, cranking on the heat. She wished she had heated seats like Alexis’ new car.

It wasn’t jealousy that spurred inside Hope. She loved her friend and was happy that she had found love in a rich Italian from California. They were a beautiful family, Alexis, Ben, and his baby, Sophie. That was a complicated tale that Alexis told quite simply at one of their book nights.

Ben’s former girlfriend—one he hadn’t been with for quite some time—was pregnant and didn’t want the baby. Ben wanted both Alexis and his daughter, Sophie, and Alexis wanted both of them. And an instant family was born.

When her fifteen-year-old Honda Civic finally warmed, Hope put the car in reverse and backed out of her spot. The drive home was short, but long enough for her to wish her life had played out differently.

Okay, so maybe she was a little jealous. She wanted Delaney to have a man to call Dad. A man she could call husband. A family like Alexis had with Ben and Sophie.

During her pregnancy she’d damned God for taking Justin away from her, from their baby. They hadn’t dated long and weren’t even in a real relationship, but he was older, already out of college. A Yale graduate working on his masters in financial law.

They’d met at the pub where Hope was waitressing. Justin had come in with three other guys, and she’d instantly swooned over him. He and his friends had an expensive order, mostly because of the rounds of beers they drank, and Justin tipped her fifty-percent and left his number.

She hadn’t called him, but he’d returned a week later asking her why.

“I didn’t know if you were serious,” she’d said.

“Babe. You’re a beautiful woman. I’m sure every guy who gives you his number is serious.” She didn’t want to tell him no guy had ever left his number before. Or left such a huge tip. He wouldn’t leave until she gave him her number, which she did. Later that night he’d called asking her out on a date, telling her to wear something nice.

Not having anything other than a simple black skirt and white button-down blouse, she’d borrowed a tight navy dress from Tracy who lived two doors down in her dorm.

Justin had brought her to a fancy restaurant in New Haven and ordered an expensive bottle of wine. When Hope reminded him she was only nineteen, he smiled and winked at her, telling her without words that he had it all taken care of.

Which he had. The waiter in the black tuxedo never batted an eye and referred to Justin as Mr. Smithfield. It was all so surreal, so magical. Hope had felt like Cinderella, waiting and regretting for the clock to chime and turn everything back to normal.

But it hadn’t. Only the setting of their dates had changed from elegant dinners to off campus parties with a much older crowd. Justin was always drunk, and she had to find her own ride home more often than not.

They hadn’t slept together, Justin being too preoccupied with his friends, his alcohol. Had he made the moves on her during the first few weeks of taking her out, Hope would have fallen into bed with him without a thought. But he’d waited, and she was glad. She would have stopped seeing him, but he’d tempted her with a romantic Valentine’s weekend away in New York City. Just the two of them.

The new Justin wasn’t necessarily someone she wanted to get naked with. But she thought maybe a weekend away would confirm her reasons for ending their odd dating relationship, or it would bring them closer together.

Hope pulled into her driveway, or rather, her parents’ driveway, and sat in the car for another minute so she could have some privacy. Something she lacked living at home. Her few months of freedom cut short when she dropped out of college and came home pregnant, scared, and devastated at the loss of Justin in such a horrific way.

She was too shocked, too ashamed of her failures to tell anyone about her baby’s father. So she kept mum until her belly gave her away.

Nearly thirteen years ago. Had it really been that long? Her baby would be twelve in a few weeks. This wasn’t the life she’d planned for herself, but Hope could be proud of the life she’d given to her daughter.

Turning off the engine, Hope got out of the car and let herself into her parents’ home. It would always be their home. It was time she found a place for her and Delaney. Now that she had a small nest egg, she could afford to rent a place during the winter when it was off-season and cheap. Maybe she’d call up Melissa down at M. Button Real Estate to see what was available.