We are free.
It's something I have to repeat to myself often. In the day, when I'm standing outside with sand between my toes and salty wind hitting my fact. At night, when soft blankets encase me and I stare at a ceiling which could be anywhere.
It could be prison.
I allow myself to think that once a day. No more. It's a rigorous self-appointed rule, and I realise the irony.
We are free.
I try to repeat this to myself considerably more.
Andy awakens at 5:43 each morning. I follow at what I believe to be a more reasonable time of 6AM. In summer, it means the sun is peeking out from the horizon and the ocean has already caught its shimmer. We step outside, barefooted with only loose linen shirts and shorts to cover us, and drink coffee on the shaded deck.
"Guests will be coming next week," Andy says. His eyes are hidden behind dark glasses and his mouth behind a steaming mug. "Two newlywed couples for the week."
Newlyweds and couples make up the majority of our visitors. Bright-eyed as they step onto the sand and frolic in the waves, sun-kissed tans and lip-kissed mouths. It was a joy to see such happy people; a stark change I'm still not entirely used to after all these years.
"I suppose that's your way of asking me to change the linens," I say, a wry smile to join.
"A room each," Andy says. "Then I'm out for a fish."
I rarely go with him -- this ol' central Maine boy never gained his sea legs.
"There should be some good roosterfish; we should be able to stock up the freezer for the season."
I took his word for it.
While Andy is out I take it upon myself to hang the sheets on our single line. The wind has picked up and I can see sand dancing on the shore. After this I will sweep and mop the two guest rooms, and replace their linens.
Early on, Andy said we could hire someone. A housekeeper for the summer. I turned him down. The less people that know our business, the better -- even five years on I may still be a wanted man, though I'm sure any hunts have been long called off. Guests who come and go get only the slightest glimpse of us. Like a curtain soon closing over a frosted window. I much prefer it this way. I think Andy does, too.
As promised, Andy returns with a dozen fish. We stack them into the deep freeze just as the sun is beginning to set. After a dinner of fish stew we head into the living area and Andy turns the radio to a soft jazz station.
Our evenings often end like this.
But, tonight, I can feel something churning in the air. Maybe it's the change of a season. Maybe it's the difference that always filters into the house as guests are approaching. Or maybe it's not -- the sensation seems to come directly from Andy.
"Even with Bogs gone, there were other Sisters you know." The words still come out of nowhere. Shattering the still and soft.
"Yes," I say. It's the only sound my mouth seems capable of making.
"I don't know why they chose me." Andy looks at me. He seems to be seeking an answer.
"I don't know either," I answer honestly. The Sisters never showed a type; never necessarily the weakest or the loneliest of men. I think they targeted whoever was in easy reach at that time, and Andy soon became Bogs' pet mission.
"Maybe I gave off a vibe..." Andy trails off and looks down at the open book in his lap. Today's choice was Moby Dick .
"I don't think there's a vibe to give off."
Andy doesn't respond. He turns over another page in his book, thought I don't think he's reading, and my own hands itch to touch something -- to do something.
"I don't think they chose you for any reason, Andy," I say.
It might as well be soundless from the way he nods his head and turns another page.
"I think I'll head to bed."
Andy stays silent.
I wake with a start.
Outside is still black with the tiniest dots of stars roaming over. A new moon , I soon realise. The darkest it will ever be.
"Andy?" I can see the slightest hint of his shadow in the doorway, and it doesn't scare me. I can make out his silhouette from anywhere.
"Sorry," he says. He sounds strange; distant. Like his breath is being carried away through my open window.
"It's okay," I say as I sit up. "Is anything the matter?"
I can make out the shake of his head. His hand rests on the door frame, as though trying to steady himself when he's already stock still.
"Andy," I repeat.
It seems to pull him from his trance. "I-- sorry. Red. I'll--"
He turns to leave.
"Andy." Repeated again. The one word my sleepy brain seems capable of pulling from its recesses.
Almost like a ghost he slides across the room until he's at my bed. Sits. A heavy weight by my leg but one that is not unwelcome.
"What did you mean," Andy begins slowly. "When you said they needed to be human to be homosexual?"
I look at Andy more closely. I can see him clearly now; the withered creases around his eyes that climb upon his forehead. He aged right before my eyes and I never caught on. This bright, optimistic boy who always knew he would be free.
But not without horrors. None of us who went to Shawshank could escape such a fate.
I lick my lips. "I suppose... I suppose you need to be a man to want another man--"
A wry smile breaks out on Andy's face. Even more lines bloom. "I don't need an anatomy or morality lesson, Red. What did you mean?"
It had been a throwaway line that I thought was long forgotten -- but this was Andy. The person who took a microscope to every rock and stone. Of course Andy would question. Of course Andy would never forget.
"Red," he says. My names sounds almost foreign as it falls from his mouth. I notice he's moved closer; almost no space between us on the bed any longer. I don't want to move. "What did you mean?"
A second ticks by. My body feels frozen despite the heat of the room -- and of Andy so close. I'm not quite sure how it happens, but we go from almost no space to none at all. Andy's mouth on mine and his hands gripping my forearms. I wonder if it's to steady me; I feel as though I'm slipping down from the bed.
"Is this what you meant?"
I can only nod and Andy seems to understand. His hand moves to cup my face and now I am falling. Pressed into the bed with Andy there along the way.
He changes from that day. Maybe I do, too. Wiser yet younger; softer yet stronger. Guests come and go with their newlywed giddiness and the ocean soon takes on its icy edge. We continue to drink our morning coffee on the veranda and Andy fishes until even he can't stand the bitter wind chill. Winter is quieter, slower. We merge with it. Talking in the evening and then turning in early -- a new double bed, purchased silently by Andy and delivered while I was preparing lunch. Wordless yet everything said as he set it up in his -- our -- master bedroom.
Now. Now we are truly free.