The Return of Bowie Bravo
Glory Rossi saw him coming. He seemed to materialize out of the storm.
It was a blustery Monday morning in mid-January and she stood at the bay window in the family room at the front of the house. She stared out at the snow that had started coming down only a little while ago.
The wind whistled under the eaves outside, catching the thick, white flakes and carrying them sideways in drifts and eddies, so the world out there was a whirling fog of white. She couldn’t see much beyond the bare box elder tree in the front yard—not the bridge across the street that spanned the river, not the houses on the other side. She knew her hometown of New Bethlehem Flat, California like she knew her own face in the mirror, but the snow obscured it now. She thought how empty the house seemed, how lonely and lost the wind sounded as it sang under the eaves.
And then she caught a hint of movement within the white. She frowned. Squinting, she leaned closer to the glass.
No doubt about it. There was someone out there, a tall, broad-shouldered figure coming up the front walk. The figure mounted the steps.
Glory turned to look out the side window in the bay. It gave a view of the porch. A man, definitely. She couldn’t see his face. His head was hunched into his down jacket and a watch cap covered his hair.
He stood at her front door and raised a gloved hand to ring the bell.
And right then, as the doorbell chimed, she knew.
It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. And yet, she was absolutely certain.
As if he felt her watching him, he turned her way. And he saw her, standing there at the window, her hand on the hard, round bulge of her belly, staring at him with her mouth hanging open.
Her mind rebelled. Why now, after all this time? It made no sense. She must be dreaming.
He looked…different, the hard planes of his face more sculpted than before. He looked older. Which he was. By more than six years.
Older and sober. The gorgeous blue eyes were clear as the Sierra sky on a cloudless summer day.
Dreaming. Yeah. This had to be a dream.
She looked away from him, counted to five, and then glanced back. Dream or not, he was still out there at the front door, watching her. Maybe if she did nothing, if she just stood there, frozen, refusing to move or even breathe no matter how many times he rang the bell…
Maybe he would give up and go away.
But she knew he wouldn’t. In his eyes she saw a strange, calm determination. He wasn’t going to simply turn and leave.
Seeing no other choice, Glory went to let him in.
In the foyer, she paused with her hand on the doorknob, certain that when she pulled open the door, there would be nothing on the other side but wind and snow. He would have vanished as suddenly as he’d appeared. She could return to her life as she had come to know it, could snap herself out of the funk that had gripped her that morning, and go about the mundane tasks that waited for her: doing the laundry and loading the dishes into the dishwasher.
Glory opened the door.
Snow blew in on a gust of wind, stinging her cheeks with icy wetness. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered.
He was still there. He was absolutely, without-a-doubt real.
A soft cry tried to slip out of her throat. She swallowed it down and hitched her chin high. Beyond seeming taller and broader than she remembered, he also struck her as more…formidable, somehow.
“Hello, Glory,” he said. He regarded her solemnly. His voice was the same, only deeper, richer.
A shiver went through her. It wasn’t because of the cold.
Her heart rebelled. It wasn’t right. Wasn’t fair. After everything. All these years. After her sweet Matteo, who had shown her what peace and happiness could be….
It wasn’t right. But apparently, rightness had nothing to do with it.
Six and a half years since he’d vanished from her life, Glory gazed up at Bowie Bravo and she knew that she still felt it for him. Even big as a barn with her lost husband’s unborn child, she still had that thing for him.
She despised herself at that moment. And him, too.
“Are you going to let me in?” He asked it calmly. Gravely, almost. He seemed so different from the crazy wild man she used to know.
She considered simply closing the door in his face.
But what good would that do? In the end, since he had come, he would have to be dealt with.
She stepped back. He took off the watch cap as he crossed her threshold and she saw he’d cut his long blond hair. He wore it cropped close to his head now.
He removed his gloves and shrugged out of the down jacket. Underneath the jacket, he wore a faded chambray shirt with the sleeves rolled to reveal his corded forearms. His jeans were faded, too. “Where’s Johnny?” he asked, sticking the gloves in a pocket of the jacket.
Her heart rate accelerated. Was she in for a custody battle? Was that what this sudden, out-of-the-blue visit meant? “He’s in school.”
“In this storm?”
Oh, please. Suddenly he was worried about Johnny? That was rich. “It’s supposed to blow off by early afternoon.”
“It’s pretty wild out there.”
“Yeah, well. The school will call if they decide to close. Besides, it’s Trista’s turn to pick up the kids.” Trista was second-born of Glory’s eight siblings. “She has four-wheel-drive and some serious snow tires.” Glory took his hat and jacket and hooked them on the coat tree at the foot of the stairs. Then, reluctantly, she offered, “You want some coffee?”
She led him through the door at the rear of the hall, into the kitchen in back, where she gestured at the table in the breakfast nook. “Have a seat.” He sat down and she made quick work of loading up the coffee maker. “It’ll be a few minutes.”
“Are you hungry?”
“No, thanks. Just the coffee would be great.”
She took the chair opposite him, lowering herself carefully into it, feeling huge and awkward in her maternity pants and a baggy shirt—and hating that she even gave a damn how she might look to him. “So have you been to see your mom?” Chastity Bravo owned the Sierra Star Bed and Breakfast down at the other end of the block, where Jewel Street met Commerce Lane.
“Not yet,” he said. “I came here first.”
Besides his mom, two of his three brothers—Brett and Brand—still lived in town. She’d never asked any of the Bravos—not even her own sister, Angie, who was Brett’s wife—where Bowie was or how she might reach him. In fact, after he’d been gone a year and a half, when she’d finally accepted that he wasn’t coming back, she’d made it painfully clear to all of them that she was moving on with her life and she didn’t ever again want to hear his name.
But that didn’t mean that his family hadn’t kept him up to date on her and Johnny. Somebody had told Bowie where she lived. She’d been getting checks from him for more than four years now, every month. Regular as clockwork.
Checks with a Santa Cruz postmark, checks that kept getting larger as time went by. Checks that scared her a little, if the truth were known. Where did he get all that money? It wasn’t as though he’d ever managed to hold down a job.
And when she’d married Matteo and she and Johnny moved into this beautiful old house at the top of Jewel Street with him? Right away, that first month, Bowie’s checks had started coming to their new address.
Bowie said, “How are you doing, Glory?” The question, which did sound sincere, fell into the long and painful silence between them. The silence of broken hearts. The silence of loss and love gone bad. The silence that happened when the best two people could do was to stay away from each other. And move on.
Bad enough, since I lost my husband. Worse, since you showed up.
She reminded herself that there was nothing to be gained by antagonizing him. “I’m all right.” But she wasn’t, not really. And already she was beyond tired of sitting here, trying to talk reasonably when the pain of the old wounds felt all too fresh and new again, when the truth of his desertion hung like a dirty gray curtain in the air between them.
The baby kicked. She winced and put her palm to her side.
He frowned and sat up a little straighter. “You okay?”
She blew out a breath. “Babies kick. But I guess you wouldn’t have a clue about that.”
He studied her from under those sun-gold eyebrows. “You’re bitter. I can’t say that’s a big surprise.”
“What do you expect, Bowie?”
“Of you? Nothing. Of myself? A lot more than I used to.”
What was that supposed to mean? Her pulse pounded hard in her ears and her stomach felt queasy. She wanted to jump up and order him out of her house. Instead, she rose with slow care and went to the coffee pot. It was still dripping. But there was more than enough for a cup. She filled a mug, carried it back to the table and pushed it across to him.
“Thanks.” He took it and sipped.
She lowered her bulging body into the chair again. “Look. Can we just get real here?”
He rested one rough-knuckled hand on the table top. She watched as he traced a seam in the wood. And then he slanted her another of those strange calm looks. “I am being real.” His voice stayed level, as composed as his expression. It scared her a little. Was this really Bowie sitting across from her? Bowie Bravo never stayed calm.
“What’s up?” she demanded. “Just tell me. Why are you here?”
He took his sweet time answering that one, first picking up the cup again and taking another sip, then setting the cup down, then tracing that seam in the tabletop some more. “I figured it was about time I got to know my son.”
Long past time, she thought. But she didn’t say it. Over the years, she’d learned a little self-control, too. “Why now, exactly?”
“I’ve been…” He seemed to seek the right words. “…trying to decide when the best time would be. Finally, I realized there was no good time.” No good time. Well, at least she agreed with him there. “So I chose today.” He added, “I heard you lost your husband. Matteo Rossi was a good man.”
“Yes, he was,” she shot back too fast and too angrily. New Bethlehem Flat, aka ‘the Flat’ to everyone who lived there, had a population of around eight hundred. The Rossi family was an old and respected name in the Flat. Matteo had run Rossi’s Hardware Emporium for half of his life. And before him, his father Christopher had owned the store.
Bowie said, “I’m…sorry, that he’s gone.”
“So am I—and Johnny won’t be home from school for hours yet.” And the last thing he’ll be expecting is to see you here. And really. How could this be happening? What, exactly, was happening? She still didn’t get it. Her heart was working overtime, beating a sick rhythm under her ribs, the rhythm of dread. If he tried to take Johnny away…
But he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. No court in the world would give him custody of the son he’d made no effort to visit in almost seven years.
And no matter how much she might wish that he could have just stayed away, well, she knew what was right: he should know his son.
And Johnny needed to know him.
She asked, “How long are you going to be in town?”
“I’m keeping it open-ended.” He leaned toward her a little.
She sat back, maintaining the distance between them. “Staying with your mom, at the B&B?”
“I’m not sure where I’ll stay, Glory.”
“Well, aren’t you just a font of useful information?” It came out really sour-sounding. She turned to the window and watched the swirling snow beyond the glass, knowing she had to get a grip. Nothing would be gained by her playing the bitch about this. The past was a foreign country now. And so far, though he wasn’t telling her much about what his plans might be, he’d been perfectly civil. More so than she’d been, certainly.
“Glory, I’m sorry. I really am. Sorry about all of it, the thousand and one ways I messed things up.” His voice was full of sadness.
She had no doubt he meant every word of what he’d just said. Still, she didn’t look at him. “A letter, you know?” she said to the white world outside the window. “A letter now and then. It would have meant so much to him. You couldn’t even manage that?”
“Things were bad, at the first. I had to get sober and it wasn’t easy. I told myself that when I was sober for two years, when I had some kind of handle on myself, on my behavior, I would get in contact, start trying to work things out. But then you married Matteo…”
She made a low, furious sound in her throat. “Oh, that’s your excuse, then? That it’s my fault you never got to know Johnny. My fault, because I got married.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But it’s what you meant.”
“No, Glory. It’s not what I meant. What I meant is I knew enough about Matteo Rossi to realize that he would be a good husband. I knew he was gentle and patient and kind. And he brought in a good living. He was pretty much everything that I’d never been. I thought that it would be the best thing, to stay away. To let you have a life, you know? Not to cause you anymore trouble.”
“A son needs to know his father.” She hated to say it. It only supported his claim on Johnny, however late in time he’d returned to make that claim. Still, it was the truth.
“I see that now.” His voice was soft. Reasonable.
She wanted to pop him a good one right in his too-well-remembered face. “He’s a little kid,” she accused. “He doesn’t understand why his dad went away before he was even a year old, why you never came back. All a little kid knows when his dad disappears is that it must somehow be his fault.”
His expression darkened. “I used to think that, when I was a kid.” His voice wasn’t so gentle now and his square jaw was set. “I wanted my father to come back. I blamed myself that he didn’t. But then I grew up and I learned more about him, enough to be glad I’d never met the rotten bastard.”
“That was a completely different situation. You are not your dad.”
“I’m just saying it’s not absolute, Glory. Given who I was when I left town, Johnny was better off not knowing me.”
“I don’t believe that.” She spoke low, with heat. “I’ll never believe that.”
“Just stop. Just think for a minute.” His blue gaze pinned her.
“Stop and think about what?”
“You said you understood, don’t you remember? You said that you were okay with it, when I left.”
“I did understand. It’s a small town. People make judgments. And here in the Flat, you were everybody’s favorite screw-up, you could never get anything right. They all expected you to mess up again, no matter how hard you tried not to. And you never disappointed them. I understood that you needed to get away, to get out from under that judgment, to figure out for yourself who you are, really. What I didn’t expect was never to hear another word from you.”
“You heard from me.” He said it to the window.
“Checks in the mail are not ‘hearing’ from you.”
Bowie sipped his coffee. He stared blankly out at the storm, the same way she had done a few moments before. Finally, he set the cup down—a little harder than necessary—and he turned his gaze on her again. “It’s not like you ever came looking for me, not like you gave me any kind of sign that you wanted me around.”
She met his eyes and she refused to look away. “It wasn’t my job, to make you feel wanted. It was your job to be a father to your son.”
A muscle in his jaw twitched. But he kept his voice strictly controlled. “You don’t give an inch, do you, Glory? You never did.”
“I couldn’t afford to. I had a son to raise.”
“Ouch,” he said, too softly. And then he continued, “The good news is, I do get what my job is. And I’m ready to do it, to be a father to my son. You’re not chasing me off this time, no matter what you say or what you do.”
Her temper flared. “Meaning I chased you out of town before? You know that’s not true.”
“How many times did you refuse me, Glory? A hundred? A thousand?”
She stared him down. “Tell me to my face right this minute that you think a marriage between us would have been a good thing. You go ahead, Bowie Bravo. You tell me that lie.”
He had the grace to look away. And then he brought up his big, rough, and yet heartbreakingly graceful hands, and scrubbed them down his face. “I didn’t come here to do this, to play the blame game. I honestly didn’t.”
“Then stop,” she commanded in a hissing whisper. “Just…stop.” She shoved back her chair and lumbered upright. Too bad that once she was on her feet, she didn’t know what to do next. So she turned and went to the counter. She got the coffee pot, brought it back to the table, held it up.
“Great. Yeah,” he said.
She refilled his cup. It was an awkward moment, standing there beside him, pouring with her arm extended at an odd angle. She had to turn a little to the side in order that her bulging stomach wouldn’t touch him. She didn’t think she could have borne that right then, to have her stomach and her baby inside it—Matteo’s baby—touching Bowie Bravo.
She managed to pour without spilling and also without any part of her body making contact with his. That accomplished, she took the pot back to the coffeemaker. Then she turned, leaned against the counter and told him, “You should know that Johnny and Matteo were close. Johnny loved his stepdad a lot.”
Bowie gave one slow nod of his close-cut golden head. “That’s good. For Johnny. And Johnny is the one who matters.”
She took one step toward the table again—and that was when the contraction hit.
A full-blown, hard-labor contraction. Starting at the top of her uterus, it moved down and around, like huge and powerful hands, tightening, pressing….
Stunned at the suddenness of it as much as at the pain, she cried out, “Oh!” and staggered.
“My god. What the…” Bowie shot to his feet and started for her. “Glory…”
She clutched her belly with one hand, and put out the other to ward him off. “I…no.” She tried to deny the reality of what was happening. Anything, to get him to stay back, not to touch her. “Really. I’m fine, I…” The sentence died unfinished. All she could do was groan deep in her throat as the contraction kept squeezing, as it got even stronger. It had her in a vise grip. Until she couldn’t hold herself upright any longer. She had to turn and bend over the counter to keep from sinking to her knees.
“Glory…” He came at her again and that time she didn’t have the presence of mind to back him off. All at once, he was there, touching her, putting his arms around her, supporting her as she rode out the pain.
There was a minute—or two or three—an endless, animal space of time when she didn’t even care that Bowie Bravo had his hands on her again. All she knew was the pain, all she cared about was to ride it, to get through it and come out on the other side.
When it finally faded down and left her panting for breath, the relief was the sweetest thing she’d ever experienced. By then, she was sweating and holding on to him. She couldn’t help it. She needed someone to hold onto and he was the only on there.
“Better?” he asked so softly. He was stroking her hair by then. It felt way too good.
She kept her head buried in his shoulder. “Yeah. Better. For the moment, at least.” He smelled good. Clean. Like soap and cedar shavings. Like pine trees in the springtime. He’d always smelled like pine.
“What was that?” he asked. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah. More or less,” she panted, and she made herself look up at him, at his worried frown and his blue eyes full of questions. She told him, “I’m in labor. The baby’s coming. The baby’s coming now…”
Bowie’s tanned face blanched. His eyes, too, seemed to lose their color, to grow paler. She looked in those eyes and she thought of his father, for some crazy reason. She’d never seen Blake Bravo in the flesh. He’d made his last visit to the Flat before she was born. But she’d seen the pictures, heard the stories. People said that Bad Blake Bravo, kidnapper, suspected murderer and notorious polygamist, had the kind of eyes you never forgot.
Pale eyes, wolf eyes…
Bowie was staring at her, blinking like a man suddenly wakened from a deep sleep. “Uh, what did you say? Tell me you didn’t say what you just said.”
She had the most ridiculous urge to laugh. “Sorry. I did say it. And it’s true. My baby’s coming.” Strange, how absolutely certain she was. But then again, she’d been here before. “It’s just like it was with Johnny. Out of nowhere, with zero warning, I was far gone in labor. He was born an hour and a half after I had my first contraction—one that felt exactly like the one I had just now.”
“You’re not serious.”
“Oh, yes, I am. This baby is coming. And coming fast.”
back to excerpts page