Liz came into the living room just in time to see Jack return, his bare arm bandaged over the cut. Ennis, who'd been milling around the house waiting, met him at the door. They exchanged a quick kiss and a few muttered words that Liz couldn't make out. "Do you have any prescriptions?" she asked.

"Yeah," Jack said, holding out a piece of paper. "Antibiotics, but only if I get feverish. Pete said I'd probably be fine."

"Well, I'll hold on to this anyway," she said, tacking it to the corkboard in the kitchen. "How often should we change your dressing?"

"Pete said twice a day. I'm good until tonight."

She nodded. "Okay, well, I'll bring the supplies up from downstairs and Ennis can do it." She glanced at Ennis. "Right?"

"Whatever you say, boss."

The front door opened again and Junior came in. "Dad, I got a B+ on that math test I was so…" She stopped short when she saw Jack's arm. "What happened?"

"It's nothin', honey," Jack said. "Just cut myself on a nail."

"Oh no!" she said, holding onto his arm and turning it this way and that, as if she could see straight through the bandage. "Stitches?"

"Yep. Twenty-five."

"Jack! You gotta be more careful!"

Jack glanced at Ennis. "Ain't no mystery whose daughter she is, is there?"

Alma came out of the kitchen, smiling to see Junior back. "Lunch's ready," she said, holding out her arm for Junior. "How'd you do on that test, honey?" she said, quietly. Jack and Ennis followed, Ennis peering at Jack's bandage and murmuring something about pulling out all the hair on Jack's arm. Liz smiled, remembering her impression of just a few nights before…Alma an outsider in the cozy family circle. That impression was gone. They all seemed like a family now. One that might even include herself.


Alma felt like a blind woman after the scales had fallen from her eyes. Things she'd suspected, she now knew for sure. Things she'd tried not to imagine, she'd now heard told right from Ennis's lips.

On the one hand, the anger she'd fought for so long felt so much closer to the surface now, having heard it all. On the other hand, she felt much freer, like it was okay to be feeling whatever she was feeling now that she and Ennis had put it out there in the open between them as they never had before.

Now she sat at this lunch table and she felt something had shifted. She didn't feel like a poor relation anymore, or like the pathetic, deceived doormat of a wife she'd often felt like in the past. She felt like she was on equal footing with them, somehow. She knew how it had all happened. There was no more supposition, no more innuendo, it was all right there. "Ennis?" she said, in a conversational lull.

"What?"

"Thursday's my last day here. I'd like to cook a dinner for everyone. Kind of a pretend pre-Christmas, seein's I won't be here for proper Christmas."

Everyone went quiet. She saw Ennis glance at Jack, then he turned back to her. "Well, that's real nice 'o you, Alma. I think we'd all enjoy that."

"I'd like Marianne to come, too, if you think she would."

"I'm sure she'd like to. Ain't often she gets to eat a meal she ain't cooked."

"And Pete, of course, if he can."

Liz smiled. "Peter's not one to turn down a home-cooked dinner."

She nodded, glad to have that over with. "Well. That's settled, then." She steeled herself and drew her shoulders back. "Jack?"

He froze, spoon halfway to his mouth, and looked up at her. "Yeah?"

"Would you mind drivin' me into town so's I can pick up the groceries I'll need?"

She sat as calmly as she could while the other four shot little glances at each other. Jack put down his spoon and swallowed hard. "Be glad to," he said, his eyes shifting right and left.

"Good. Tomorrow'd be fine. I'd best see what's in the pantry first." She forced a smile. "You all usually have turkey on Christmas?"

Ennis nodded. "Usually."

"How's about I make ham, then? Somethin' different."

Junior, who'd been quiet through most of this, nodded eagerly. "That sounds good, Mamma." She grinned. "Will you make them sweet potatoes with the marshmallows? We never have 'em like that."

Alma's smile widened. "I sure will, darlin'. Any other requests?"

Ennis cleared his throat. "D'you, uh…still make that stuffin' with the onions 'n mushrooms?" He was keeping his head down, giving all his attention to his soup like he was embarrassed to be asking.

For just a moment, Alma felt something rising in her throat. She blinked and she was back in Riverton, the girls just babies, she and Ennis struggling by as best they could, and all she could do for him was try and make things he liked for dinner, and all he could do for her was tell her it tasted good. God, such a long time ago, and so much's changed since, she thought. She swallowed and nodded. "I sure do, Ennis."


Ennis sat down next to Jack on the bed, hitching one knee up behind Jack's hips. He set the clean bandage and some gauze on the bedspread. "You ready?"

"Just do it."

"I cain't go fast, it might tear off a clot and start you bleedin'."

"I know the drill."

Ennis peeled the adhesive tape away from Jack's bandage, then slowly rolled the gauze away. Jack sucked in a breath and bit his lip as the bloody gauze stuck to the wound. Ennis pressed on it with a damp cloth to loosen things up and kept pulling. "Sorry, bud," he muttered. The gauze cleared the stitched gash and Ennis ripped the rest of it away in one quick motion. He bent and examined the wound. "Well, it don't look like it's infectin'. Skin around it ain't red or nothin'. How you feel?"

"Fine. Bit sore is all."

Ennis dabbed at the gash with some antibacterial solution and cleaned away some clotted blood from the edges. "Damn, Pete does nice neat stitches," he said, fixing the new bandage in place with fresh tape.

"Still have a scar, though." Jack chuckled. "Matches the one on my other arm, didja notice?"

"At least it's nice 'n symmetrical now." Ennis hesitated, his hand falling to his lap.

Jack glanced over his shoulder. "What's wrong?"

Ennis shrugged, facing once again the insurmountable task of putting into words something ill-defined that he was feeling. He'd gotten better at it over the years but God knew it still felt like an uphill slog every damned time. "I jus'…" He reached out and ran one hand across Jack's shoulders and back again, his warm skin feeling smooth and firm under Ennis's fingers. "It's a damned shame."

"What is?" Jack said, sounding a little distracted, perhaps by Ennis's hand stroking him.

"You're jus' so…" Ennis hesitated again, plumbing the depths of his brain for a word that wouldn't sound ridiculous. Ridiculous or not, there was only one that applied. "Beautiful." Jack looked back over his shoulder at him, blinking in surprise. "I know, I know," Ennis said, cutting him off before he could say anything. "Ain't no kinda word for a man, but I cain't think a no better one, all right?" He sighed, then pulled himself around Jack's hips so he was sitting more fully behind him. He bent and kissed Jack's shoulder, then let his cheek rest against it. "I jus' hate it that anything's ever got t'mark your skin or cut you, or hurt you, or make you any different than how God made you." He slipped his arms around Jack's waist from behind and hugged him.

"Damn," Jack murmured, covering Ennis's arms with his own. "You're breakin' my heart, cowboy."

"Shut up."

"You know I love it when you get all mushy 'n heartfelt."

"Glad I could help."

Jack turned in Ennis's arms and pushed him back onto the bed, following him and laying him out so he could look down into his face. "Anyhow, it's too late. I ain't been the way God made me for a long fuckin' time, 'cause you done branded me when I was nineteen years old, and I got scars from all them times you left me behind that go a fair bit deeper than this here nail gash. So I ain't gonna get all worked up over some stitches. Bein' here with you's worth a coupla ugly bits."

"Ain't you a sweet-talker. Might think you was tryin' t'get lucky."

"Is it workin?"

"C'mere and I'll show you."


"Ennis?" Jack said, wondering if he was awake. After some very enthusiastic sex during which the Lord's name was definitely taken in vain, repeatedly, Ennis had dozed right off while Jack had just laid here, staring at the ceiling. "Ennis?" he repeated.

"Hrngh?"

"You awake?"

Ennis grunted and rolled to his back. "No. I'm asleep. Shut up."

"I cain't sleep."

"What, you want me t'sing you a fuckin' song?"

"I didn't say I wanted t'have nightmares."

"Hardy fuckin' har, asshole." He started to turn back to his side, but Jack reached out and pulled him back. "What is it? Jack, I'm tired."

"Why the hell does Alma want me to drive her to town tomorrow?"

Even in the dark, Jack could still see Ennis rolling his eyes. "How the hell should I know? She needs a ride, I guess."

"No, that ain't it and you know it. She asked me, real specific. Not you or Junior or Liz, but me and nobody else."

"Maybe she's gonna try and put the moves on you. Turnabout's fair play 'n all."

"You gonna take me serious or are you gonna crack fuckin' jokes?"

Ennis sighed. "I'm sorry, I'll be serious. But what're you worried about? Thought the two 'o you were bosom buddies 'n all after your big talk."

"I wouldn't go that far."

Ennis said nothing for a moment. "Well…I might have an idea why she might want t'get you alone."

"What?"

"When you was at Pete's, she 'n I had…a long talk. The one we ain't been having these seven years, the one I think she came here t'have."

Jack was quiet for a few beats. "Whyn't you tell me before?" he asked, softly.

"I was goin' to. It's jus'…well, all that shit between me 'n her, I ain't exactly proud of it or how I acted, and I think maybe it oughta stay in the past where it belongs."

"What'd you tell her? What'd she want t'know?"

"She wanted t'know it all. The whole story. How it started, how it kept goin', how I felt about it, how I felt about her, all of it."

"And you told her?"

"Best I could."

"I guess…was some stuff she didn't know." Jack shut his eyes. "Some stuff might make her see me a bit different. For the worse, probably."

"Ain't for me t'say." Jack listened to Ennis take one breath, then two, then three. He'd taken twenty before he spoke again. "She asked me if I ever loved her."

Jack turned his head and looked at his man's profile as he stared at the ceiling. "And what'd you say?"

"Told her the truth."

Jack was damn near afraid to ask. "Which is?"

Ennis sighed. "Yeah, I loved her." He turned and met Jack's eyes in the dimness. "But not like I love you."

Jack felt a tiny knot of tension leave him. "Oh. Good."

"Which you already knew damned well, you insecure little shit."

"Bears repeatin', don't you think?"

Ennis smirked. "Y'know what else bears repeatin'?" He reached out and grabbed Jack around the hips and yanked him close. "Me gettin' some a this," he growled, sliding one hand down to Jack's ass.

"That ain't fair. What about me gettin' some a you?"

"You go ahead and take what you think you can get, and I'll do the same."

"What's that, some kinda contest?"

"Best kind. Everybody wins."


Jack helped Alma into the truck, then went around to the driver's side and got in. "Got your list, there?" he said, trying to sound calm and casual. Just a trip to the store, move along, nothing to see here.

"I got it," she said evenly, patting her purse.

"Okay, then." He put the truck in gear and headed out to the road, turning towards town. He'd take Alma to the big grocery store outside of town, not the smaller neighborhood store where they usually went when they ran out of milk. Frankly, Marianne did most of their grocery shopping, so this wasn't exactly his line of work.

Alma said nothing as they headed east. Jack waited for her to broach a subject, any subject, but she just sat there looking out at the scenery. His mouth itched for a cigarette, even though he'd quit years before. His foot tapped against the inside of the door, his fingers drummed on the steering wheel.

Finally, he couldn't take it anymore. He pulled off the road onto the gravel shoulder, put the parking brake on and turned to face her. "Okay, Alma. You got somethin' t'say? Go on ahead, it's just you 'n me now."

She blinked at him. "What are you on about, now?"

"Why'd you ask me t'take you t'town? Junior or Ennis or Liz coulda done it. I'd've thought you wouldn't wanna have no more t'do with me than you had to, so best's I can figure you wanted t'get me alone somewheres, maybe so's you could scream at me or somethin'. Well here I am, so go on ahead."

She sighed, her lips pressing together until they damn near disappered. "All right, maybe I did want t'talk to you."

"I'd hoped we'd had our talk the other night."

"Well, I learned a few things since then."

"Ennis told me you 'n him had a talk."

"He told you…" she began, her eyes widening in surprise. She caught herself, then sniffed. "Yeah, I s'pose he would tell you. Tells you everything, don't he?"

"I sure hope so."

Alma was looking down at her gloved hands now, her head shaking back and forth slightly, as if she were bemused by the absurdity of it all. "I always thought it musta been you but I never knew for sure. Was you sent the postcard, after all. But now I heard it from his own lips, and I do know for sure."

"What's this, now?"

She turned to him, and her calm expression had splintered. "It was all you. He never woulda done nothin' with you but for your startin' it. He'd've left you the hell alone, come home t'me and we'd've been fine. There'd've been no postcard and no you and no fishin' trips. You done this, Jack. All of it."

"You think so, do you? Well, I don't know much, but I do know that neither you nor me nor even Ennis himself knows for sure what woulda happened if I hadn't. And if he'd never met me I doubt whether you 'n him woulda lived happily ever after, not knowin' him and knowin' you."

"You don't know nothin' about me."

"I know more'n you think. And before you go buildin' up some image of Ennis as the victim of my perverted seductions, you oughta know that when I came t'visit after sendin' that postcard, I had no idea of anythin' happenin' with us. I had hopes, I ain't gonna lie, but I wasn't gonna make no moves on him. The minute he was down them stairs he was on me like white on rice. I ain't never been so surprised in all my life. So you go ahead 'n blame me for Brokeback if you want, but you want somebody t'blame for it takin' up again you gotta go with him."

"He wouldn't've never had that chance if it weren't for Brokeback."

"A lot a things changed up on that mountain. But you weren't there. I was. He was lookin' for somethin', and it wasn't money and it wasn't you. He didn't know what he needed but it was me he found."

"Well. Ain't that sweet," she said, her words flat.

"No, it ain't, it's a hard fuckin' fact a life and I'll tell you what, I've had just about enough a you actin' like it shattered your whole damned universe."

"Because it did!" she cried.

"Seven fuckin' years ago." Jack shook his head and put the truck back in gear. "Christ almighty. You got your husband and your kids and a real nice life. Fuckin' get over it, already."

He pulled back onto the road and drove off, stamping on the gas pedal harder than he meant to, the transmission groaning in protest. They drove along in silence for a few miles. "You're right," Alma finally said.

"About what?"

"That I oughta get over it."

"Well, halle-fuckin'-lujah."

"It ain't so easy, y'know."

"You don't gotta tell me. I spent thirteen years tryin' and failin' to get over it." He chuckled, half to himself. "Guess it's lucky for me I never could do it."

"And it's unlucky for me that I couldn't."

He looked at her. "Maybe now you can."

She nodded. "Yeah."

They didn't speak again until they arrived at the supermarket. They went inside and went about Alma's shopping in silence, talking only of the task at hand.

It wasn't until they were back in the truck, on the way back, that Alma broke the silence. "I know you think I hate you."

"Don'tcha?"

She sighed. "I don't hardly know no more. I want to. It just all makes me so tired."

"Yeah."

A few beats passed in quiet. "What's the point, anyway?" she said. "I ain't like I even want him back, or could take him if I did. I don't know why I still get on so."

"You cain't help how you feel. Even if it is fucked up," he added, half under his breath.

"Fucked up, he says," Alma grumbled. "Fucked up is two men. Ain't natural."

"Feels natural t'me."

"Then you ain't natural, neither."

"Guess not."

She crossed her arms over her chest and exhaled, as if steeling herself for something. "But I guess it don't matter what I think. I can…" She sighed, fidgeting a little. "I can see that you love each other." Jack looked at her, amazed. "Keep yer eyes on the road. Yeah, I know. I can admit what I see."

"You jus' said it ain't natural."

"It ain't. Polyester ain't natural neither, don't mean it ain't real."

Jack shook his head. "I don't know what t'say, Alma."

"Don't say nothin'. I ain't interested in discussin' the matter. You are what you are, and Ennis is what he is, and it's clear you two mean t'go about your lives how you wish and never mind that the rest of us gotta see it and know it's there."

"Gee, just when I was startin' t'think you was developin' some tolerance."

"I got tolerance. I tolerate it 'cause I ain't got no choice. But that ain't good enough, is it? No, you want acceptance. That I cain't give you. But I imagine you'll survive without it," she said, half-smirking.

"I'll try." Jack pulled into the driveway. He parked the truck and turned to face her. "Are we about done clearin' the air between us? Cause I don't know if I can take another one a these little heart-to-heart chats we been havin'."

"We're done." She fixed him with a stern look. "And what you done t'me and Ennis…that's done, too. It's all done and in the past."

"Then for God's sake let's bury it there."

She nodded. "For all our sakes."

Jack helped her carry the groceries into the kitchen and left here there, putting things away, to go find Ennis. He had a sudden urge to see him.

He found him in the stable, brushing Clairie. "Hey, bud," Ennis said as he entered the stall. "Get the groceries okay?"

"Yup."

"What'd Alma want?"

Jack shrugged. "Jus' needed another pair 'o hands with the groceries."

Ennis nodded, watching him carefully. "Uh-huh. Okay, then."

Jack stepped close and slid his arms around Ennis's waist beneath his barn jacket. Ennis turned towards him, smiling. "What's this, then?"

"My hands are cold."

"Shoulda worn your gloves, dumbass."

Jack held his gaze. "Tell me it's better."

"What's better?"

"This. Us. All of it. Tell me it's better than it was with her."

Ennis raised a hand to Jack's neck, his thumb stroking Jack's jawline. "Better ain't the word, darlin'," he said quietly.