Actions

Work Header

Five Things That Never Happened to Ennis del Mar

Work Text:

1 – What are little boys made of?

There's a smell to his trailer that makes Ennis think of the Woolworth's lunch counter. A metallic smell overlaid by the ghosts of greasy dinners long past, burnt toast, and coffee. Lots of coffee. It's comforting in a way that a less claustrophobic smell could not be. It makes him feel like a child again, holding his mother's hand as she shopped for Christmas gifts. Ennis got bored easily, especially when his mother was pawing through stacks of frilly aprons for just the right one to send to her aunt in Spokane. (She sent an apron every year. Ennis imagined his great aunt, whom he never met, as wearing an apron even over her nightgown.) At some point he'd wander back to the pet department and watch the fish or the birds. He'd ask his mother for a bird for Christmas every year and she always said "We'll see," which meant "No." But he pretended to think she really meant she'd think about it.

His treat for being a good boy and not getting into things while she shopped was lunch at the counter, served by an ancient woman with impossibly red hair. She always remembered Ennis even though she only saw him a couple of times a year. Once at Christmas, and once in the summer when his father took the whole family out for ice cream sodas.

"Now, I'll bet you're going to have a grilled cheese sandwich and a Coke, right?" She'd say. And he'd nod, certain that she'd also remember that he didn't want the pickle, but that a few extra potato chips would be nice, though he couldn't ask for more because his mother would get angry if he did. She'd tell him it was trashy.

Sure enough, when his plate arrived, it was piled high with potato chips, and there wasn't a pickle anywhere to be seen. And the sandwich was crisp, greasy, and fragrant, in a way his mother's homemade grilled cheese never was. He loved his mother, but she couldn't make grilled cheese as good as the skinny old negro man who worked the grill. Not that he'd ever say that to anyone.

His mother always had a hamburger and a cup of coffee. And she always got a lot of pickles. Somehow, that made Ennis like the red-haired waitress even more than her easy hand with the potato chips. He wanted his mother to have all the pickles she wanted. She loved pickles and he loved her. When he was a grown man, he decided, he was going to buy her a jar of pickles every week.

He looked around as he ate, and noticed a thin-lipped young woman sitting further down near the grill. Her little boy was on his knees on the stool, peering intently at the display of pie slices. "That one and that one," the boy said, turning his clear blue gaze on his mother.

"You can only have one, Jack."

The little boy shrugged, looked back at the pies, pointed and said "The red one." And then he turned, and looked straight at Ennis. And he smiled.

Ennis stopped chewing. He'd never seen such impossibly blue eyes before.
"Ennis, finish your lunch now," his mother said. She was looking at her Christmas list and drinking her coffee. "I still have to find something for your cousin Hobie."

"He wants a fire truck," Ennis told her through a mouthful of chips.

"Don't talk with your mouth full, honey. You sure about that?"

Ennis nodded.

"We'll go look at them as soon as you finish."

They were in the toy department and Ennis was trying to convince his mother that Hobie sure enough would like the big truck with the hose that squirted actual water, but she kept looking at a tiny one where the only things that moved were the wheels. "Ennis, the big one is three dollars," she said, and he knew what that meant. No fire hose for Hobie.

"That for you?"

Ennis turned to find the little, blue-eyed boy from the lunch counter standing right behind him.

"No. M'cousin."

The boy nodded. "I want a horse for Christmas."

Ennis felt his stomach do a back flip. "A real one?" he asked and the boy laughed.

"No. I ain't big enough for a real one yet, but one day I will be. And then I'm gonna rodeo just like my old man."

"For real?"

But before he could answer, his mother interrupted. "Jack that's just not so. You're going to make something of yourself." Then she smiled at Ennis. "And who are you?"

"Ennis Del Mar, ma'am," he replied, and then shut his mouth tight because his mother had told him never to talk to strangers. Somehow, though, he felt this woman didn't count as a stranger in the same way that funny-looking men in big cars did.

"Pleased to meet you, Ennis Del Mar." She nudged her boy who grinned and said "I'm Jack Twist and this is my ma."

Ennis' mother, who had been looking at the toy cars at the end of the aisle, walked back just in time to join in the introductions. She and Jack's mother made small talk while their boys communicated silently over the toy horses.

"Jack just loves horses," his mother said. "He wants to rodeo like his father, but I don't want that for him."

Ennis' mother said "Boys are hard, aren't they?"

"They sure are."

"You folks new in the area?"

"No, we're from up Lightnin' Flat way, but my Mama still lives down here. She's not doing too well…"

"Oh, I'm so sorry."

"… so we're having Christmas with her this year. I wanted Jack to see her one more time."

It was at that point that Ennis tuned them out, and concentrated on the horses.

"I want a pinto, I think. Or a bay. What about you?"

There was a beautiful palomino in the bin full of little plastic horses. Pale and beautiful with a lush mane. "That one," he said. And Jack looked and said "Yeah," in a soft whisper that meant he saw it too, how beautiful the horse was.

"… have to be going now," Ennis' mother was saying, and she took Ennis' hand to lead him away. He looked back at Jack just in time to see the boy tucking the palomino into his pocket. Shocked, Ennis said nothing. He left Jack and Jack's mother without another glance, and went along while his mother shopped for what she called "Women's things" which meant one of those boxes she kept hidden in the closet.

When they finished, they stepped out of the store into a light snow.

"Ennis, look! We'll have a white Christmas."

He loved the snow. He loved the way it darkened the sky so that all the Christmas lights looked even brighter. He walked backwards down the street looking at the lights in the Woolworth's windows. And then suddenly Jack burst out of the store and ran towards him.

"I was looking for you. Here. Merry Christmas." He shoved something into Ennis' hand and ran off to join his mother. He didn't look back.

Ennis looked down and saw that it was the palomino. He forgot to breathe.

"Ennis… are you coming? Or are you going to spend the whole day looking at those lights?"

He shoved his hands in his pockets as if he was cold and ran to catch up with her.

Later that night, when she came in to say good night to him, she saw the horse on his nightstand. "Where did you get that?"

"Jack gave it to me," he said.

"Jack? That little boy we met today? Where did he get it?"

"His mother got it for him," Ennis lied.

"And he gave it to you? What a strange boy. Time for bed now, Ennis." She kissed him and turned out the light. Once she was gone, Ennis rolled onto his side and stared at the horse, still bright in the darkness of his room. He was conscious of having told his mother a big lie, and it bothered him because he sensed that the lie had pushed her away a little. He had, even without thinking about it, put distance between himself and the person he loved best in the world. For the sake of a plastic horse.

He knew she'd make him take the horse back to Woolworth's if she knew it was stolen, even if he wasn't the one who stole it. And he didn't want to. He loved the horse, loved it out of all proportion to its pale, plastic beauty and lush mane. Loved it because it was stolen. Loved it because Jack had stolen it for him.

All the same, he'd lied to his mother. And when, in early spring a few years later, both his parents died in a car wreck, he thought about that lie and wondered if God had punished him for it by taking his mother away. After the funeral, he went home and took that horse and threw it into the wood stove. His brother and sister smelled the stink of burning plastic and his brother yelled at him "What the hell did you do, Ennis?"

But his sister said "Don't yell at him right now, okay?"

That was the stink of hell, Ennis thought miserably. It'd be in his nostrils for eternity because he lied to his mother, and as good as stole from Woolworths. And he hated Jack for making him do it.

Later that night, when he was in bed and the house was quiet, he cried into his pillow so no one would hear him. And Ennis really didn't know if he was crying over his parents, or over the plastic palomino which would no longer shine out in the dark for him.

Ennis, now grown with kids of his own who he doesn't often see, and a grandkid on the way, is old enough to know better than to assume God's even noticed his existence. He turns out the light over the sink and looks out of the trailer window at the landscape that stretches out now into an eternity of darkness. He'd nearly bought one of those little plastic horses the other day, when the Woolworth's closed up and they were practically giving things away. But even for a nickel (Must've been a long-forgotten box of toys they'd unearthed.) he didn't want to be reminded of that time.

He wonders whatever became of Jack.

**********************

2 – What looks dark in the distance may brighten as I draw near

It'd been six weeks since the night when he'd gotten drunk and smacked Alma, and she'd taken the girls and walked out of his life. Hell, he hadn't even hit her that hard, but all the same they both knew that it was time they parted ways. Sometimes he thought that was why he did it; neither of them were making any move towards the door. So one night he polished off a six-pack before supper, and just as she was ready to put the food on the table, he got up and put his jacket on.

"Where are you going?" she said. She was holding a pan of meatloaf with two big, ragged potholders. Ennis could see the grease still bubbling around in the Pyrex.

"Need more beer."

Alma put the meatloaf down with a bang. "Don't you dare drink up what little money we got, Ennis Del Mar!"

Then he hit her. And she and the girls were gone before that meatloaf got cold.

He hadn't hurt her. He'd die before he hurt Alma for real because inside he still loved her. But it wasn't working. Even with the girls it wasn't. Or maybe because of them. Partly. Because he couldn't support them, and it gnawed at his insides that his girls would never have the pretty clothes, or the nice toys that other girls had. No Barbie for Junior except for that one he'd found in the Salvation Army store and brought home. The one Alma had taken one look at and thrown away. "What're you thinking giving her a dirty old doll like that? You don't know where it's been," she told him. "You let me take care of things like that." So it was Barbie knock-offs for Junior. And it gnawed at him, it surely did.

A lot of things ate away at Ennis from the inside. Not just Alma and the girls and the way he'd failed as a husband and father, but things he didn't even have a name for. Sometimes he'd be sitting alone in the dark, silent trailer he'd bought after the apartment got too expensive and too empty to live in by himself. Sometimes he'd just sit there, feeling like he was ready to just jump straight out of his skin. His breathing would become ragged and he'd grip the threadbare arms of his chair so hard that sometimes when he let go, his fingers wouldn't straighten out right away. And he'd shake like he had the DTs or something. Which he didn't since he pretty much stopped drinking once the divorce came through. He shook because he was afraid. He was missing something like detectives miss clues that will help them solve a murder. He was missing a clue to how his life needed to be. For a while he'd thought the clue was Alma. Then he'd thought it was a real family again – Mom, Dad, a few happy kids and maybe a dog. But he never seemed to be able to pull all that together. Christ, he could barely feed the kids, how the hell would he feed a dog? And happy? How long had it been since any of them were happy?

He thought about how, now that Alma and the girls were out of his life, maybe he'd take on a job that would get him out of town and away from the bleak landscape of treeless, dusty, neon-lit streets. Maybe that one up in the mountains. Joe Aguirre advertised every year for someone to take his sheep up to graze on Brokeback Mountain, and Ennis had nearly gone for the job several times. But something always held him back. The year he and Alma married, he'd been about to go when his brother called and told him there was work to be had closer to home. And that meant he could spend the summer near Alma. It was probably the reason why Alma was three months gone when they tied the knot.

Maybe he'd go this year. He'd stop by Aguirre's trailer right at the start of the season and see if there wasn't some work to be done far away from town and the memory of his failures. He thought maybe the clue was up there, where the air was clearer and a man could think straight.

But he didn't go that year, nor the year after either. He worked on a road crew, and for a few months in a slaughterhouse until the smell and the screams of dying animals made him take to drinking again. One night he was drunk enough that he knew he'd best not drive, so he started to walk it off. He walked about two blocks and then sat down on a bench in front of a small park, and thought about maybe sleeping in his truck.

"You okay, cowboy?"

Ennis nodded, but didn't look up to see who was talking to him.

Someone came and sat on the bench. A man. "You sure? You look a little…"

"Too much to drink," Ennis said. "Just gonna sit here for a minute, k?"

"Fine by me." The man moved a little closer. "Can I help?"

Ennis lifted his head and looked at the other man, and read something in his dark eyes, something unexpected and yet not wholly unfamiliar. "Help?"

"You know… Give you a hand?" And the man put his helping hand on Ennis leg. It was almost a casual gesture. Almost. Ennis thought about pushing it away. Pushing the man away, but something stopped him.

"'m fine."

The man patted his thigh. "Okay, well I'll just sit here with you until you're feelin' better. Just to be sure." He didn't take his hand away. Ennis said nothing.

Ennis said nothing either, when the hand crept upwards, or when fingers brushed the bulge of his cock inside his jeans. When the hand cupped his bulge, he moaned low.

"Can you walk?"

"Why?"

"'cause we can't do this here."

Ennis got to his feet, and followed the man into the park, into the shadows of the trees and bushes that made it a kind of oasis in the dusty town. He stood deep in shadow, clutching at a low-hanging tree branch while the other man went down on his knees in front of Ennis.

He tried to think of Alma as the wetness enveloped his cock, but she was gone. He tried to think of the other few women he'd known, but they were nowhere to be found. Cut adrift from his few erotic experiences he had no choice but to look down at the man sucking his cock, and understand what it was he was doing. The understanding made his cock surge up, and without warning he was coming, clutching the branch so he didn't fall down, and wondering wildly, was this it? Was this the thing he'd been searching for all along? The one thing forbidden to him?

"You were hot for it, cowboy," the man said. He stood up ungracefully stiff-kneed, and stroked Ennis' cock as he leaned in for a kiss.

Ennis turned his head.

"I'm good enough to suck your cock but not good enough to kiss?"

Ennis turned back, looked hard at the shadowed face, and it seemed that he was trying to see something that wasn't there. Not just the missing piece of his life, but something more, something concrete. Some other face. More sober now, and sad, he reached out to the man, who was surprisingly young, and cupped his face with both hands. "I made a mistake," he admitted. And then he kissed him. Softly. Without passion, but with the kind of sad tenderness he'd felt for his girls just before they were taken from him. "I'm sorry."

He fastened his jeans and left the park. He was suddenly more than sober enough to drive, and he needed to get to a safe place where he could clear his head. He needed someplace better than his trailer, though, and promised himself that this year he would go to Aguirre and take that summer job on the mountain. If he was to find the missing piece anywhere, it'd be in the mountains.

***********************************

3 -- Having a wonderful time…

Two years it'd been since that summer on Brokeback Mountain. Two years of wondering, and then putting the questions away because there were no answers. At least none Ennis could bear. He knew who he was, no point in trying to find a way to be someone else.

So when the card came and he saw Jack's name, right out there in front of God and everybody, he felt naked, and betrayed. After all this time. After all the wondering, the questions, and the sleepless nights beside Alma.

He wondered if she ever noticed how sometimes her touch made him freeze like a deer in the headlights, wondered if she ever remotely guessed what went on inside his head when sometimes in the dark, he would reach out blindly and roll her onto her belly, take her from behind, without a word, without a kiss. If she did, she never spoke. Alma kept a lot inside, and he respected that. They both carried around a lot they never talked about.

He took the postcard out into the sunlight and stared at it again, hard. He felt as if the card was written in some language that only looked like English. He should have known what all the words were supposed to mean, but he had the sense that they meant something else entirely, something infinitely broader and deeper than the simple, friendly drivin'-up-want-to-see-me? message scrawled there. And something very specific. Something that set his heart to racing, a feeling he both craved and disliked because it meant that something had slipped out of his control.

He carried Jack's card over to the post office and bought a plain, white postcard, addressed it, and then stood frozen over it, not knowing what to say. In that expanse of white there were infinite possibilities, and as he stared down at it, they took shape, as if he was watching a movie of his life. He saw Jack arrive, saw the heat rise again between them. He nearly put pen to paper then to write some unsubtle Ennis variation on "Come to me, come quickly. I can't bear this life without you." But then he stopped and shut his eyes tight.

Because life was to be borne. That was something that Ennis' parents had managed to teach him before their deaths, and with their deaths, and even after, turning an austere existence into a hard-scrabble one. Choices were to be borne, too, and their consequences. The movie played out in the darkness behind his eyelids, in the darkness where they'd be hiding for all the rest of their lives if they once gave way to how they felt for one another. The only thing you ever saw out in the open, out in the light, was the consequences. Those lay exposed under the harsh light of day.

He put the pen down and raised his head. He looked out into the street and saw Alma walk by with the girls. They were all laughing, and for a moment, it took his breath away to see them like that. The infinite possibilities of the blank card in front of him were nothing to the possibilities of the lives of his daughters. Seeing them made him, for a moment, feel young again, and full of hope. He loved his girls more than his own life, and loved seeing them laugh. Nothing had ever filled up the empty spaces so completely. Not even Jack.

He picked up the pen and wrote "No." And then he dropped it into the mailbox. Jack would have to understand.

*********************

4 – Ten thousand several doors for men to take their exit

The phone call didn't surprise him.

"I want Jack's last wishes honored. The urn got buried the way his daddy said it would, but Jack's not in it. Nobody but you and me needs to know that."

"I can do that, Miz Twist," Ennis promised. "You just tell me where to go."

She told him where she'd leave the package and when. So early on a Saturday morning, Ennis drove up to Lightning Flat, to a tiny dress shop where a woman in a pale, pink-flowered dress handed him a wrapped package with his name on it. She said nothing, just handed it off, and if she was curious, she didn't show it. Maybe this was what women did for one another, kept each other's secrets, helped get around their men.

It felt funny to be carrying Jack along with him, to have him sitting on the seat beside him in the truck. Ennis had brought the shirts along, though he wasn't sure why because it wasn't like he was going to leave them up there on the mountain. At least he didn't think he would. You just never know what would feel right, after all. He was going to camp for a few days, the way they used to. And he and Jack were going to have a good long talk, and he was going to say some things that should've been said while Jack was alive. Brokeback had seen their beginning and now it was going to see their end.

He found the spot where they'd camped several times before. The old oak that overhung the river had fallen since the last time he'd been up, and its body lay half in the water with the bark washed away by the flow. Ennis pitched his tent nearby, and built a fire. He set the package containing Jack's ashes on the trunk of the oak, and sat down next to it. He didn't say much that night, just small talk, telling Jack what life had been like since they'd parted. But about ten, when the fire was dying, he said "I never meant it to end this way. I'm sorry."

It was not long before dawn when he felt a soft pressure beside him. Bleary with sleep, he thought it was Jack, but as he came awake, he stiffened and thought "What the hell?" Someone or something had come into the tent and lay down beside him. He was wondering if he could get to his gun without rousing who or whatever it was, when suddenly a soft, sleepy voice said, "Relax, relax, I didn't mean to wake you."

"Jack?"

"Who else you sleep with these days?"

Ennis rolled over to find himself almost nose-to-nose with Jack Twist, very much alive and grinning widely. "You son-of-a-bitch!" Ennis shouted, making Jack laugh out loud.

"You got some damn unwelcoming way about you, Ennis del Mar. How long's it been? And all you got to say to me is son-of-a-bitch."

"You're dead!"

"No, don't think so."

"You died, you got killed on the road a year ago."

Jack laughed again. "I got brilliant on that road a year ago. That wasn't me. That was my clothes on someone else's body."

"You killed someone?" Ennis shouted, horrified.

"Jesus, Ennis. I didn't kill no one. Found a guy dead. Looked like a bum, but he was about my size and had dark hair and a moustache, so I changed clothes with him, took my tire iron to his face, and disappeared. Smart, huh?"

"You let your wife and son think you'd been murdered." Ennis couldn't keep the distaste out of his voice.

"A lot they care. Okay well maybe my son, but my wife and I have been over for a lot of years. She couldn't wait to identify the body and have me out of her life. Only one I felt sorry for was Ma."

"Not me?"

"No. I know I'd see you again. That was part of the plan. To meet you up here on Brokeback and talk you into staying with me. My old man messed that one up until Ma figured a way around him. She's a smart one. I got my looks and brains from her." His grin was very white in the milky pre-dawn.

"You shaved," Ennis said and immediately felt foolish.

"Yeah, you like it better?"

"Yeah." He leaned in and kissed Jack softly. "Oh yeah." In spite of all of it, the years, the anger, the disappointment, the grief and separation, and the certainty that he would never see Jack again, one thing had remained real for him. He loved Jack beyond all reason. He loved him and he feared the consequences. Only now, with a second chance being offered, he knew it was time to forget about all the things that had held them back. He kissed Jack like a man who has finally come home.

About noon, they finally rolled out of the tent, half dressed, laughing and playing like kids. Ennis noticed that the years seemed to have dropped off of Jack and supposed that shedding the unhappiness of his old life had done him good. He couldn't begrudge Jack his peace of mind, no matter what he thought about what Jack had done.

Or maybe it was just Brokeback. Because he felt good, too, as if he'd dropped twenty years. Jack caught him smiling to himself and said "What?"

"I was just thinkin' that I felt pretty good. First time in a long time."

"It's the sex," Jack said, coming up and wrapping his arms around Ennis' naked torso. It's like a tune-up."

Ennis didn't try to pull away. He actually laughed out loud and kissed Jack again. To hell with what anyone else thought.

And then something sobered him. "Who in the name of God is in that package I brought up here?"

"Somebody who did me a good turn," Jack told him. "I think we should scatter his ashes up here as planned.

Ennis stared at the paper-wrapped package and nodded thoughtfully. Until this morning, that package had been Jack to him. Now it was just a package with a stranger's ashes, but he couldn't shake the feeling that scattering those ashes was the right and proper thing to do. "Okay," he said. "Let's do it now, and then we'll eat."

He cut open the package with his pocket knife, and lifted the flaps. There was a plastic bag inside. He opened the bag. "How do we do this?"

By way of answer, Jack dipped his hand into the bag and pulled out a handful of ashes. He held his arm out and began to release the gray powder into the air. "Rest easy," he said, "and thank you for setting me free."

Ennis scattered a handful of ashes, and said "Thank you for giving Jack back to me. I hope you're okay."

"He's fine," Jack assured him, reaching for another handful of ashes. "Don't ever let anyone take away what you love," he said, and Ennis thought that was a damn strange thing to say to a handful of dust.

"Rest in peace and, uh, go with God," Ennis offered with his second handful. Then Jack took the bag and upended it at the river's edge. "You always wanted to be part of this place," he said.

"How do you know that?" Ennis asked.

"What?"

"What you just said. That he always wanted to be part of this place."

Jack brushed the ashes from his hands. "Because he did. So did you."

"I know, but we know each other and…"

"And I know Jack Twist."

Ennis walked back to the fire pit he'd built the night before and tossed some pieces of wood into it. "Not funny."

"Wasn't meant to be. Don't you know, now, Ennis?"

"What?"

Jack smiled at him, and it was a smile he'd never seen on his lover's face before. It was tender and sad. And suddenly Ennis was afraid. "No," he said. "This isn't a dream. I won't let it be a dream."

"No, it's not a dream," Jack promised.

"What're you sayin'?" Ennis demanded, trying not to notice that the fire was already crackling in the fire pit, and there was a pot of coffee boiling.

"It can wait." Jack sat down on the oak where the box had rested the night before. "I can wait."

Ennis squatted beside the fire and stared down into it. He was trying hard not to think about why, though shirtless, he wasn't cold, why Jack looked like a kid again, why the smell of coffee, the sound of the wind in the trees, and the blue of the sky were all so crisp and vivid, as if he was experiencing them all for the first time.

"Jack…"

Jack was still wearing that sad expression. "Ennis, I couldn't help it. I paid for it, too."

Ennis finally allowed himself to understand. He nodded. "Don't matter, I reckon. Never did, not really." If there was ever a time for truth, this was it.

"No?"

"Not in my heart," he admitted. "Inside my head…" He sighed and looked out across the river. "I never really understood. Thing is, it didn't mean I didn't love you. I did. I do."

Jack's smile stopped being sad. "Thank you."

"You mad at me?"

"No. Would I be here if I was?"

"Why are you here?" Ennis asked, needing to hear.

"Because I have always loved you. Because I wanted to be with you now."

Ennis shrugged, still strangely unable to show how such things touched his heart. Some things never changed. "Don't know how stuff like this works. What do we do?"

"I'm not sure," Jack admitted.

Ennis stood and turned back to the shadowed tent where he knew he would find and say farewell to his old life. He pulled back the flap and saw himself lying there in his sleeping bag. He looked so old and broken, but his passing had been quiet. His eyes were closed and it looked as if he'd gone in his sleep. Death had been kinder than life.

He felt Jack come up behind him. "Prettier than what I got," he observed, slipping one arm around Ennis' waist. Ennis put his arm around Jack's shoulders and pulled him close, wishing yet again, he had been there to take care of his friend. Maybe even save him.

"There's no saving anyone," Jack said, as if he knew just what Ennis was thinking. Probably did, Ennis thought with a wry smile.

"Is that all, then?" he asked.

"How could it be?" Jack asked softly. "How could it ever be between us?

They walked back into the sunshine, the sound of wind through the trees, and the rushing of the waters.

**********************

5 – Let me not admit impediments

"Seems folks are getting' married in San Francisco."

All Ennis could see of Jack were his busted-up hands. The newspaper obscured the rest. "I could be wrong about this, Jack, but haven't folks always gotten married in San Francisco?"

Jack lowered the paper and met Ennis' playful smile with one of his own. "Folks like us," I meant. Ennis del Mar, I swear you could make a living misunderstanding me on purpose."

"And I swear you could make a living being difficult," Ennis shot back. He set a plate of chops on the table. "Now put that paper down and go get us something to drink while I get the rest of the supper on."

"Smells good," Jack observed as he got to his feet. Ennis didn't miss the stiffness in his gait, the limp, or the rolling of his head to work out the kinks.

Of course he, Ennis, wasn't getting any younger either, he thought wryly as he rolled his own head and heard his neck pop. His knuckles were swollen with arthritis and his hair was white, but he still felt pretty good. They still got up out of bed each morning and did a day's work, and that was saying something for men who were over sixty.

Still, this orchard business was a whole lot easier than ranching in terms of not getting more busted up. And miles better than rodeo.

Jack returned to the table carrying a bottle of wine. "White okay?"

"Fine."

"Look at us, drinking wine with supper instead of beer. We are real, honest-to-god Californians now, I guess."

"I'm not havin' that go to waste," Ennis said gruffly, though if pressed, he'd admit that he kind of enjoyed the stuff. Anyway, Junior and her husband had brought the case up on their last trip, and anything Junior did was fine with him.

Jack was pouring. "Hey, Ennis, we will pee no gree-gee-oh before our time."

"You're an idiot, Jack."

"Oh yeah. Anyway, this came from Junior, so it's gonna be good," Jack added in the eerie way he had of giving voice to things Ennis was thinking. Maybe people who had been together for a lot of years just kind of did that. He and Alma didn't, but they hadn't put in the time he and Jack had.

They sat down to their meal and Jack said "That's something, though, isn't it? Men gettin' married to each other. Never thought I'd live to see that day."

"Foolishness," Ennis said around a mouthful of pork and potatoes.

"Why, if that's what they want?"

"Nobody'll let 'em be, Jack. You know that."

"They let us be, you were wrong about that."

"We never tried to get a license! Besides, we're not in Wyoming anymore."

"Does make a difference, yeah," Jack admitted. "That and putting money into the community."

They both laughed, not only because Jack was right, but because neither man had ever gotten past the wonderment of having suddenly found themselves with enough money to take their threadbare selves to California and buy an orchard. Maybe it was just that infernal luck of Jack's, landing himself a rich woman and then getting paid to clear out, inheriting the Twist place, and then, before he could sink his cash into the land, being bought out like that after a tough fight between two of those millionaires who seemed cracked on buying up Wyoming back in the eighties. Then getting this place for what amounted to a song from yet another rich man who decided he didn't like apples and pears all that much after all.

"Seems like someone is always buyin' me out," Jack observed, anticipating Ennis yet again.

"Think someone will buy you out of this place?" Ennis asked casually.

"Not a chance. This feels like home. We'll never sell unless we have to." He always said "we" while Ennis was always careful to say "you." They'd fought about that early on, but Jack had long since closed his ears to the difference because to him, there was none. Ennis felt that way, too, but pride would never allow him to presume anything.

That night, before bed, they watched the news, and the weddings were the top story. Someone on the tube had a sign that said "Justly Married" and it spoke to Ennis in a way that nothing else he'd seen or heard had done. It was just, he realized. It was right to be able to do it if you wanted it. No matter what, it was the right thing.

Ennis stole a look at Jack's face, but found that he couldn't read the expression. It made him uneasy. They had too many years in together to not be able to read one another. So later, once they'd locked up, fed the dogs and brushed their teeth, and were in bed, Ennis said – more into the dark than anything else – "S'pose we went down to Frisco for a few days."

He felt a slight movement on Jack's side of the bed, but it was a good minute or more before Jack replied.

"Ennis… what're you saying?"

It was on the tip of his tongue to say "If it's so all-fired important to you, we should do it." But that was wrong, it laid everything on Jack. And while he was still insisting on downplaying his role in their finances, he knew it would be utterly wrong to downplay what he brought to their relationship. Because they had an equal stake in it. They each gave their heart and soul to it.

"I'm saying that maybe it's something we should think about."

"I thought you said…"

"They won't let us be, Jack." He rolled onto his side and reached out, pulled Jack close. "They probably won't let us stay married. It might even cost us in the end for standing up and telling the world like that. But we have a right to do it. And we should, because what we got, it's special."

He felt Jack's arm slide around his waist, forehead pressed against his own. The silence was longer, deeper now, and Ennis knew just what Jack was thinking. He gave it voice.

"We can talk about it in the morning. Make a plan. If we want to."

"Yeah." Jack's voice was small, soft.

And then, right on the edge of sleep, Ennis heard Jack add "Think Junior will be a bridesmaid?"

Ennis chuckled. "She'll be Best Woman or nothing."