If you enjoyed On the Way Home keep reading for a sneak peek at my new novel
Between Fire and Flame. Find out what happens with Brad and London, May 2015.
Traffic in the park was not unusually heavy. It was always crowded in July as tourists flocked to northwest Montana to take in the incredible beauty of Glacier National Park, but that didn’t stop Brad from feeling annoyed. He was hot, tired, as hungry as one of the bears he’d passed on the trail that day, and anxious for a shower. The hike he’d chosen for the day was one he hadn’t done since he was a boy. He remembered it was difficult and his dad had pushed him to the summit with words of encouragement and praise. Time hadn’t changed the layout, and he found it was just as difficult today, only there was no one urging him onward, just his owndesire to push himself harder, faster, and longer until his physical exhaustion overtook all other feelings. He’d beat out most of the crowds by getting an early start, but the Going-to-the-Sun Road was now littered with cars and people slowly inching their way along the narrow winding road that would lead them back to their campsites.
He noted as he passed that no one was alone. There were the famous red touring cars full of passengers stopped along the turn-outs so that those inside could capture the breathtaking views with their cameras. There were couples posing for pictures, the numerous waterfalls their background, parents with children, groups of motorcyclists, families, friends, old, young; and not one of them alone. Not like him.
A part of him—the part he tried to listen to most often—liked being alone. There was nothing quite like hiking through wildflowers and waterfalls with no one to disturb the sights and sounds. Alone was peaceful. Alone was a time for reflection. Then there was that other part of him that he couldn’t seem to push aside completely. The part that reminded him all too often that being alone was lonely.
Only last year he had driven this road with London and her kids. He hadn’t minded listening to the incessant banter between Corkie and Marty. He’d enjoyed joking and laughing with them. Seeing the wildlife had been all that much more exciting when there had been someone there with whom to share it. They’d never been able to hike as far as he could alone, but he never regretted it. He’d seen more through Corkie’s six year old eyes in one afternoon than he’d seen in years of hiking on his own; every rock was unique, every cloud was a cartoon character, every waterfall made a rainbow.
Stop! He told himself. Those were exactly the kinds of thoughts he was trying to clear his mind of when he’d pushed himself to the summit earlier. She was another man’s wife for cryin’ out loud. He had no right to keep thinking about the past. It was time to move on.
He was happy for her. Really he was. She practically glowed since the wedding. And it’s not like he could fault Ammon. It wasn’t his fault things hadn’t worked out between them. Brad could admit Ammon was a pretty decent guy. He treated London well, loved the kids, and provided well for them.
It still irked him that religion seemed to have pushed a big wedge into the friendship he’d once shared with London. It was fine if she wanted to go join some strange church and drag her kids into it, but he’d be hanged if she was going to push him into it. It wasn’t that he wasn’t Christian, but ever since she’d returned from New York last fall she couldn’t stop talking about God and Jesus Christ like they’d personally come down from heaven and changed her life. Yeah, like that could really happen. And wasn’t it convenient that Ammon belonged to her new church.
London had asked him to come to her and Marty’s baptism, but he hadn’t gone. He’d used work as an excuse. In truth, he was somewhat curious about it, but not enough to give up his hurt feelings over the whole situation. When she had first told him about her trip, about reading that book, and about meeting Ammon, he was angry. More than that, he was downright red with rage. He felt betrayed and the hurt was deep. After all, he had helped her out by doing her paper route while she was away, he’d kept up her yard and took care of things, all with the hope that the time away would help her see that they should be together. Instead, she found someone else, became someone else.
It took some time, but he realized she hadn’t really changed, at least not in a bad way. She was happier. She was more confident. She was more independent. And all of that translated into her needing him less. Ouch! It wasn’t easy to admit that his ego had been bruised. Once he did admit it, however, he realized he had changed. He’d quit being her friend. He hadn’t helped her nearly as much as he should have when she was trying to move to her new house. Ammon had still been in New York, coming to visit once a month and here she was, trying to go to school, work part time, take care of two busy kids, and keep a long distance relationship going. It took a few months for the pain to dull, but finally he’d swallowed his pride and tried to be the friend he had once been.
It wouldn’t be so bad even now, he thought, if it weren’t for the fact that every time he watched her with her new husband and their seemingly perfect life, it was a stark reminder that he was still alone.
Brad exited the park gates and headed towards the small town of West Glacier. The cell phone he kept tucked in his pocket started vibrating followed by the muffled singing of Bruce Springsteen. Pulling into a parking lot, he flipped it open, “Hello?”
“Hi, Brad,” Corkie said enthusiastically.
“Hey there Buddy. What’s up?”
“You’re still coming aren’t you?” the seven-year old asked. “Mom wanted me to call and remind you in case you forgot.”
“Um…” Brad hesitated. He had forgotten. On purpose? Maybe.
“I’ve been calling all day,” Corkie continued, “And I’ve left you lots of messages. How come you never called back?”
“Sorry, I’ve been up hiking all day and there’s no cell phone service on the mountain. I’m just heading back to town now,” Brad informed him.
“Good, then you can still come. Dad’s making homemade ice cream.”
It stabbed at his heart to hear Corkie calling Ammon “Dad,” a title he wished belonged to him. “Corkie, I’m kind of tired—“
“You have to come!” Corkie insisted, “You promised!”
How many times had those words come back to haunt him lately? He was going to have to be more careful about making promises. Keeping them was turning his hair gray.
“Why don’t you put your mom on, let me talk to her a minute.” It would be easier to offer his excuses to London than to this little boy to whom he couldn’t seem to refuse anything.
“Okay, but you’re coming!” Corkie insisted before Brad could say another word. He heard Corkie shouting for London and laughed at the commotion in his ear just as London came on the line.
She started right in where Corkie left off, “Brad, you have to come. You haven’t been over all summer. I feel like I’ve hardly seen you since the wedding, and besides, it’s the Fourth of July. If I didn’t know better I’d think you were avoiding me?” She raised her voice just enough to make it a question.
“I’m not—it’s just that I’ve been hiking all day, and—”
“No excuses this time!” she said emphatically. He sighed on the other end, so she tried another tactic, “Please, Brad. We really want you to come. It would mean a lot to me.”
He could already see it in his mind, just how the evening would be. He’d wrestle with Corkie for a while, spend a few minutes teasing Marty. Ammon would probably be manning the grill and he’d have to talk business or horses with him, pretend he didn’t envy everything the guy had. He’d watch London preparing the table, getting after the kids, sending glances towards her new husband. They’d all sit down to pray and eat, all the while him feeling like a fifth wheel. Added to the fact that he was tired, both physically and mentally, he just didn’t think he could do it.
“London,” he started to offer his excuses.
How was a guy to hold out when the woman he loved was begging him?
“What time?” There was obvious defeat in his voice.
“Seven,” she said triumphantly. The phone disconnected before he could change his mind.