A Bridge Between Us by K.K. Allen



The dark barrel of the shotgun stared back at me, halting me in my tracks. My heart should have been pounding like a gavel, but I suspected the boy on the other end of the trigger was no threat. He was just scared.

His hands shook, though he was desperately trying to steady the weapon. Beads of sweat formed around his mouth, and his dark-brown hair stuck to his forehead. I was a stranger to him, but even with a scowl and dirt from a long day’s work on the farm coating his face, he wasn’t a stranger to me.

I’d seen him just the day before when my parents were setting up their wine-tasting booth at the farmer’s market in downtown Telluride. I was sitting on the tailgate of our truck, restlessly swinging my legs, when my gaze caught on an older boy carrying crates to one of the produce booths—back and forth, back and forth, like a pendulum. His eyes were cast in front of him, his hair was disheveled, his lips were flattened in a line, and he carried himself in a way that made it all look effortless.

In a small town like ours, it was easy to spot the newcomers because of the clear difference between the residents, the snowbirds, and the tourists. That boy was none of the above.

Curious, I kept my eyes glued to him as he tried to angle the corn bins onto the display and failed miserably as they rolled down and around his feet. I giggled at the show, finding it fascinating how a strong boy could seem so flustered at a simple task. I didn’t know why, but I wanted to know everything about him, including why he had come to Telluride, of all places.

A moment later, one of my questions was answered when Harold Cross, an older man with a long, full beard and a plaid button-down shirt over jeans, approached the boy with a disapproving frown and a shake of his head. He mumbled something to the boy, but I couldn’t read his lips. Clearly, Harold was displeased, which didn’t surprise me. The farmer was known as the town grump, always walking around with a chip on his shoulder.

Two prominent farmlands featured in the red rocky mountain land that bordered the southeastern side of Telluride, Colorado—the Cross Farm and Ranch and the Bell Family Vineyard and Winery. Harold owned the farmland across from our family’s vineyard, though we rarely came into contact with him. Our lands were separated by an area of dense woods and a strip of acreage as long as our land was wide, so it felt silly to call ourselves neighbors. In fact, it was forbidden.

When my parents walked back to the tailgate of the truck, my curiosity grew even more. “Papa, why haven’t I seen Farmer Cross at the market before today?”

My papa’s eyes widened in surprise as he registered my words, then he took a quick look over his shoulder. The way his back stiffened told me all I needed to know. The surprise wasn’t pleasant.

“Must be a mistake,” he said, clearly miffed by Farmer Cross’s presence. “Cross has been on the vendor wait list for years.”

He and Farmer Cross would never be friends. The whole town was privy to the famous Bell and Cross feud that went back over a century. The feud had started with land, became fueled with money, hastened with greed, and ultimately ended in power. My papa held that power, thanks to his prime social standing in the community, and he would do anything to keep it.

I’d just opened my mouth to change the subject when my papa whipped his head toward my mama. “He brought that boy here, Selena. I’m going to say something to Bill.”

My mama leaned in and narrowed her eyes. “You will not get the town manager involved in this, Patrick. Harold Cross and his son have just as much right to be here as we do.”

“His son?” I asked, the question slipping from my mouth more quickly than I could catch it. "I’ve never seen him be—”

My papa huffed and gave me a warning look. “That boy is trouble. You’re not to go anywhere near him. You understand me, Camila?”

“You’re speaking nonsense,” my mother hissed. “He’s just a fifteen-year-old boy.”

Only two years older than me. Hope sparked in my chest.

My papa shook his head. “No. He’s a Cross. Therefore, he’s trouble. If he’s not now, then he will be soon enough. Just you wait.” He leaned forward, his face reddening like it always did when he got worked up. “The boy’s a Ute, I’ll have you know.” He whispered that part, telling me it was something bad.

Everyone around there knew the Ute people were the first indigenous inhabitants of Western Colorado. The Ute Mountain reservation was just across the San Juan Mountains, nearly a two-hour drive away. Our teachers talked about it in school, and the various landmarks in and around town pointed to their history. But my knowledge was clearly vague, according to my papa’s anger.

“What’s wrong with being a Ute, Papa?”

“Those Indians think this land is still theirs, and that makes them trouble,” he snapped. “My ancestors worked hard to purchase the plots we live and work on, and no one will make me feel different.” His indignant huff could be felt for miles. “And that’s that.”

“You mean Native American. And the boy has a name,” my mama said, her eyes filled with anger. “It’s Ridge.”

“How do you know?” my papa shot back.

Every time my parents argued, their cultures spewed out like pent-up lava. With my papa’s Spanish roots and my mama’s Brazilian roots, they shared passionate dynamics that worked for them in love but against them at a crossroads.