Excerpt: Canyon Creek Love Story
Robert Belamy left Canyon Creek on the sixteenth of June, 1999, and hadn’t set foot in the small town for more than a few holiday weekends since. Even when his mother called in tears after the World Trade Center attack, he simply reminded her that he was a beat cop in Brooklyn and rarely made it out of the borough.
Somehow, fifteen years later, he was standing in the small town’s cemetery, watching dark storm clouds creep over the Bradshaw Mountains to avoid acknowledging that he didn’t really want to be at his own mother’s funeral. He didn’t belong there: he was a Brooks Brothers suit among Burlington Coat Factory clearance matched with trucker caps.
“Glad you came.” His sister shifted closer to him as the small crowd of locals came by to quietly pay their respects. There’d be a banquet-wake on Sunday at the church after they had a couple days of mourning. She’d been sick for a few years; it wasn’t exactly a shock when she passed, and they’d both had time to make their peace in their own ways.
“She’s my mom… Why wouldn’t I come?” he replied, sliding a hand through his purposefully-shaggy hair.
“Sorry for your loss, Maggie…” Sandy Briggs, the neighbor’s daughter from his childhood, came up without warning and affectionately patted Maggie’s shoulder. She was just as he remembered her from back then: tall, brash, and unabashedly bottle-blonde. “We were all hoping she’d get to see her first grandchild… before… the end.” Sandy let out a somewhat awkward laugh and added, “You know, ‘less Bobby managed to shack up with one of those New York girls and make a few pretty babies.”
Robert frowned deeply, dropping his gaze as he answered, “Nope, still gay. No girls, no babies, no house in the suburbs.”
“Bobby…” Maggie sighed, slugging him in the shoulder as Sandy excused herself from the queue of well-wishers awkwardly.
“What? I’m gay. The whole town has known since I was, like, ten. I got the shit kicked out of me on a daily basis for the right to say that.”
“You don’t have to go waving it around like that. We don’t talk about that kind of thing in public here.”
He turned back toward the car, not entirely surprised when his sister wrapped one arm around his waist and the other around her large belly. “Maybe you should… I mean, there’s like three thousand people between the town proper and the outlying areas—statistically speaking, there’s no way I’m the only one.”
“Please… please…” She sighed even louder, leaning against him. “Don’t do this. Today’s about Mom, not you.”
Taking his time, he walked her to the dusty pickup truck where her husband—Robert couldn’t remember if his name was Frank or Jake, but definitely something like that—already had the vents going and popped open the door for her.
“Hey, Bob-ay!” He grinned from underneath his cowboy hat and offered a brief handshake across the passenger seat.
“Hey, good to see you’re still treating my baby sister right,” Robert replied, flashing a mostly-well-meaning smile. “The baby’s yours, right?”
“Better be,” he laughed, shaking it off when Robert didn’t take the offered hand and instead slid Maggie into the seat. “Last thing I need is the fashion police on my ass…”
“Ha ha.” Maggie rolled her eyes, swatting at her husband as he fastened her seatbelt. “Not funny, Frank. He’s a detective… in Brooklyn. He’s killed people.”
“Detective, Second Grade,” Robert replied with just a hint of bitterness that he’d been without career momentum for years. “And I’ve never actually killed anyone. We don’t shoot to kill if we can help it.”
“Anyway!” Maggie said. “Are you sticking around for the wake?”
“I will… uh… I don’t really think I’d feel comfortable there. I don’t really know any of her friends, and it’s not exactly like I have a stellar history with the congregation of Calvary Canyon Creek.” Something about going into a church where he was encouraged to ‘pray the gay away’ didn’t really have any appeal at all. “She left a will, so we’re doing that Monday. I figure I’ve got a couple weeks of vacation time, and since Mark and I split, Hawaii is off…”
“You guys split? I thought he was ‘the one’ this time.” Maggie frowned, casting a sidelong glance as Frank shifted uneasily in his seat.
“Yeah, so did I. It happens. We’ll catch up. Maybe tomorrow night? You guys can come down to the old house and I’ll make dinner…”
“No! No… You should come up to the ranch! You haven’t seen the new barn that Frank and the boys put up last summer.”
He tried. He really tried not to look like driving thirty minutes on a dirt road out of town in his rental Prius to look at a barn was the last thing he could possibly want to do. It clearly wasn’t fooling either of them. “I’ll make your favorite… Those little porcupine meatballs, maybe some pasta.”
“Bobby, I didn’t even like those when I was a kid.”
“Whatever, I’ll make something. Come on, six o’clock. I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” He drummed his fingers on the door of the truck, offering a genuine smile. “I didn’t even know you were having a baby until you called me.”
“We’ll be there,” Frank answered for her, extending his hand again. “I could use a chance to impress my lady’s big brother.”
“Good.” Robert nodded, his smile twitching at the corners of his lips despite a lilt to his voice that edged on sarcasm. “This is good. We’ll talk. It’ll be fun.”
“Yeah, fun…” Maggie shook her head, pressing a red-lipstick kiss to his cheek. “Go get some rest.”
He waited until the truck pulled away to make his way to the back of the lot where he had parked, hands shoved deep into his pockets, sweating in his heavy suit despite fall having clearly started settling in. “Fun…” he echoed under his breath with a sigh. “So. Much. Fun.”