17

A Love Born From Steel

May, 1976

Ennis Del Mar leaned against the side of his truck, smoking a cigarette, and staring down the long expanse of SR-789 that lay in front of him. He was in a tiny rest stop—parking lot, really—with three painted white lines to mark the spaces and a large yellow trash can emblazoned with a "DO NOT LITTER" logo. Ennis was waiting for Jack Twist, his "fishin' buddy" and best friend who now lived in Childress, Texas. Ennis and Jack got together two or three times a year to fish or hunt, but in reality, their time together was all about sex, with a fair amount of drinking thrown in for fun.

Ennis crushed the cigarette under his boot. Where the hell was Jack, anyway? Usually it was Ennis who ran late. He never wore a watch and had no concept of time. Since he had gotten divorced from Alma, he paid a bit more attention, since he had no one to ask what day of the week it was. Now, as Ennis leaned on his truck, he realized he had no idea what time it was, but he felt like he had been standing there long enough to understand that Jack was late.

He lit another cigarette and debated whether or not to pull a beer out of the cooler that was behind him in the truck bed. The beer won out. The spring sun was warm, Ennis was hot, and he realized he was thirsty. As he sipped the beer and smoked, he let his mind wander.

He had a series of mental images of Jack that he liked to flip through in his brain, as if he was looking at old photographs. As he ran through them, he realized that many of the pictures came from the summer of 1963, herding sheep up on Brokeback Mountain. Jack when they met; Jack playing the harmonica; Jack complaining about the tent that smelled like cat piss or worse. Jack, with a special look of tenderness and concern when he wiped the blood off Ennis's face after he'd been thrown from his horse. Ennis liked that picture. That was the first time he saw that look in Jack's eyes—a look that conveyed a thousand different emotions. Ennis was still trying to figure them all out.

A more recent picture came up in his mind—Jack last month. Ennis didn't like this one. He saw the hurt and confusion on Jack's face, the puzzlement as he said, "But En, I thought?…"

Ennis's divorce had been finalized in November. He sent Jack a postcard with the news and when Jack received it, he jumped in his truck and redlined it to Wyoming. Ennis was surprised when he pulled up at his line house—they had this fishing trip planned, so why did Jack show up a month early? As much as Ennis would have liked to let Jack stay, he couldn't—he had his daughters for the weekend, and needed to put in some extra hours at the ranch to cover the board for his horses.

Ennis knew Jack had been hurt by his rejection, which is why he tried to do something to make this weekend extra-special. He had a ranch hand buddy, Don Wroe, who had a cabin up in the Owl Creek Mountains. Three years before Don had let him use the cabin for a week of hunting with Jack, in exchange for helping Don replace the roof on his house in the summer. Ennis and Jack had a great time on that trip. They had gone hunting and bagged a big elk and played in the snow like a couple of school kids. It made Ennis realize the creature comforts of a cabin versus camping. They didn't need to worry about the fire as much, and since they could drive to the cabin, he didn't bring the horses. While he loved riding in the mountains, the horses were work, no matter which way you looked at it. Ennis had memories of putting their extra free time to good use in the sex and screw department.

A few weeks before, he'd asked Don if he could use the cabin for a fishing trip. "Sure," said Don, "I ain't plannin' on goin' up til Memorial Day, at the earliest." When Ennis asked what he could do in trade, Don told him that opening the camp for the season was enough. "I ain't been there since November," he said. "Make sure there ain't no varmints in the chimney or the walls, chop up a nice supply of wood for me, and yer all set." Ennis was grateful for his generosity. He didn't know many folks who would do something like this for him.

Jack and Ennis had been fishing together for nine years—ever since they got back together in 1967—but in reality, their lines never touched water. Not that Ennis didn't like to fish—he did—but when he was with Jack, they both found better things to do with their time. Yes, sex was a big part of it but sometimes it was just sitting around the fire and telling stories, swapping jokes. Jack was the only person in the world that Ennis felt truly comfortable with, no pretenses, no lies. While Ennis hadn't totally figured out where Jack fit in his life, one thing he knew—Jack was the best friend he ever had.

Since Alma wasn't around anymore to watch Ennis pack for his trip, he hadn't even bothered with the fishing gear this time. He knew they'd have the cabin, knew they would be more comfortable than sleeping on the ground in a tent. Ennis sometimes fantasized about screwing Jack so long, hard, and often, that they'd just pass out from exhaustion. What would that be like—covered with sticky sweat and spunk, lips bruised and sore from kisses, faces red and chapped from stubble burn. He felt himself getting aroused as he thought about it. "Hmm, Jack Twist," he thought to himself, "mebbe this will be the week I finally get to fuck your brains out."

He looked at the road again. He thought he saw a small dot shimmering in the distance, growing larger as he watched. "Please be Jack," he said. "I just want t'get the fuck on the road." He tossed the empty beer bottle in the trash can and stood up straighter in anticipation.

It was Jack. Ennis watched the blue Ford F-series pick up truck drive up, then turn off the road into the parking lot. Ennis strode over to the driver's side and pulled open the door. "Jack fuckin' Twist!" he yelled, his usual greeting.

"Sonofabitch," said Jack, somewhat less enthusiastically than Ennis. Ennis pulled Jack out of the truck in a big bear hug, then held his face and it pulled it towards him for a kiss. Ennis pushed his lips down on Jack's, but Jack twisted away. "Not here, En, we're out in the open."

"What the…? Fuck Jack, you're the first vehicle that's drove by in an hour, and I sure as hell know there ain't no other people around." He leaned in again and Jack submitted, but his lips felt cold and lifeless.

Ennis shook it off. "I ain't gonna worry," he thought to himself. There was always a bit of awkwardness between them when they got back together after their months apart. Sometimes it lasted hours, once—a day. Ennis liked it best when they found their groove early in their get-together, but he was willing to be patient. He realized he had the "divorce postcard visit" to atone for.

He looked at Jack's face. "Bud, you look exhausted." He noticed deep circles under Jack's eyes, which were bloodshot and bleary.

"I am," Jack replied. "I slept for an hour at the Colorado-Wyoming state line. I thought I'd drive off the road if'n I kept goin'."

"Well, then, gimme the keys, I'll drive." Ennis reached out his hand.

Jack looked around and it registered for the first time that Ennis didn't have his horses. Ennis picked up on his confusion. "Got us a treat, bud," he said, "I was able to borrow Don Wroe's cabin again. Remember that week when we used it before? We can have us a nice soft bed, a warm fire. Not hafta worry 'bout it rainin' or snowin'."

"Well, that's great, Ennis." Jack managed a weak smile, "Fuckin' great."

Ennis started transferring the gear from the back of his truck to Jack's. Cooler, duffle bag, a few bags of groceries. Jack usually brought the camping gear, but up at the cabin, all they'd really need were sleeping bags. It was pretty well equipped with everything else. Once everything was loaded, they turned towards the cab, but Jack paused. "Ya got some beers in that cooler?"

"Sure thing," said Ennis.

"Can I have one for the road?"

""Course, Jack, you don't need t'ask. Help yerself." Jack reached in and pulled out a cold one, twisted off the cap, and climbed into the truck next to Ennis. Ennis put the truck in gear and headed north on SR-789, towards Owl Creek.


Jack awoke to the feel of a large hand rubbing his cock. The room was pitch black and he was completely disoriented. Lureen rarely initiated sex these days, and if she did it wasn't in the middle of the night by massaging his dick. But he reached out a hand and felt the soft mattress and realized he was in a bed. Sex plus hard ground equals Ennis. Sex plus soft bed equals Lureen. Ergo—he said her name.

He heard a deep chuckle. "You callin' me yer wife's name?" said Ennis. "That's a first."

Jack was confused. "Where are we?" he asked.

"Don Wroe's cabin," said Ennis.

"And what time is it?"

"I dunno, late," Ennis replied.

Jack thought back, and then he remembered. They had gotten to the cabin in the late afternoon. After unloading their gear and putting their stuff away, Jack told Ennis he was going to take a little nap. "I'm tired from all the drivin'," he said. "Wake me for supper." Now he said to Ennis, "I thought I told you to wake me up."

"Cowboy, the way you was sleepin', I don't think a cannon goin' off in the cabin woulda woke you up. Besides, you looked so peaceful and restful-like, I thought it was better t'just let ya sleep."

"Oh." Jack removed Ennis's hand from his cock. "Hold on, bud, I gotta take a leak." As he sat up, he realized he was hungry. "You eat any supper?"

"I made myself a few sandwiches. Since you was sleepin' I didn't figure it was worth it t'dirty up a pan for just me. Why, ya hungry?"

"Yeah, I'm starving, as a matter of fact."

"Okay," Ennis sat up. "You go piss, I'll get ya something to eat." He stood up and walked to the center of the room, and lit the kerosene lamp that sat on the table.

Jack watched Ennis. He was naked and the shadows flickered over his body. Jack thought he had never seen a more perfect specimen of a man. He had broad shoulders and a muscled back, coming into a narrow waist and tight little ass. Jack knew he liked looking at men, but for him there was nothing finer than Ennis Del Mar.

Jack got up and walked out of the cabin. He was still dressed but his belt was unbuckled and fly unzipped. He stood on the front porch and pissed into the pitch black night. He came back in and saw Ennis putting a plate on the table that held a couple of sandwiches with some chips on the side. "Man, it's fuckin' freezin' out there," said Jack.

"Ain't Texas," replied Ennis. "Cold up here in the Wyoming mountains."

"Yeah, I know, I grew up in Wyoming," Jack said, sharply.

Ennis was taken aback at the edge in Jack's voice. "No need t'pick a fight, bud. I was just commentin'."

Jack sat at the table and started wolfing down the sandwiches. "These taste good," he said.

Ennis came over with two beers and sat down next to him. "Campin' food," he said.

"What?" asked Jack.

"Campin' food—peanut butter and jelly. Always tastes good in the woods." He smiled at Jack.

Jack picked up the beer and took a big swig. He looked at Ennis. To Jack, Ennis was the handsomest guy he ever met. The combination of blonde hair and brown eyes, lips that gave a quirky little smile—like he was smiling now—all combined to be one good looking sonofabitch. Jack thought to himself, "I'd die if I could never see his face again." Then he said out loud, "En, I….," but stopped.

"What?"

"Never mind. It's not important now. Mebbe later." Jack paused. He had come on this trip, planning to force the issue of being together or ending it completely. He had finally admitted to himself he couldn't go on living his life the way he had been. He needed to bring this up, but looking at Ennis with his puppy dog smile, Jack realized this wasn't right moment.

For Jack, the past month had been a living hell. After getting the brush-off from Ennis in Riverton, Jack had hopped into his truck and headed back to Texas. Instead of stopping in Childress, though, he had continued straight on through to Juarez, Mexico. There he picked up a guy on the street for some anonymous sex. But the act didn't provide any relief and just filled Jack with a feeling of self-hatred and despair.

He had gone back to Childress and basically spent the month drunk or stoned or both. He'd found some painkillers from an old prescription in the medicine chest. Washing two of those down with a pint of whiskey gave Jack a nice buzz before he passed out in bed. He came to work late and left early, and started drinking as soon as he got home. One day he came to work in the same shirt he had worn for three days. Lureen sent him home to change and he used that as an excuse to start drinking at 2 pm. He was passed out on the couch by the time she got home at 6.

Earlier that week, he realized he needed to sober up if he was going to get to Wyoming in one piece. He pulled himself out of bed at noon, took a long hot shower, then headed into town for a haircut and shave. He had a late lunch at the café on Main Street, then drove out of town and spent the afternoon smoking in his truck, watching the wind blow the dust across the west Texas prairie, thinking about Ennis, thinking about his life.

He got home in the early evening and started packing his gear for the trip. Lureen noticed how he looked better than he had in weeks. "Just in time to see your fishin' buddy," she commented, sarcastically.

"Yeah, I'm sorry, Lureen," he said. "This has been a bad month. We'll talk when I get back. We need to."

She nodded. She wasn't sure what had set Jack off on this bender, but figured it was better to just wait it out. She had a feeling that Jack would finally come to his senses, and it looked like he had. Jack loaded his truck, gave Lureen a peck on the cheek, and headed north into the night, listening to the AM station that came in on a clear signal from Denver.

"Penny for yer thoughts, bud," said Ennis, pulling Jack into the present. "You look like yer a million miles away." Jack shook his head. He still had that slightly dazed and disoriented feeling, like he didn't really know where he was. Ennis stood up and picked up the plate and empty bottles. "Want another beer?" Ennis asked.

Jack shook his head. "No, I'm fine."

Ennis looked at him. "Well, then, rodeo, since yer done eating, and ya don't want to talk, and you don't want to drink, I guess there's only one thing left to do, if ya catch my drift." He winked at him. Jack smiled back.

"Okay, cowboy," Jack said, as he removed his clothes. They climbed back into the bed and pulled the covers up. Ennis positioned himself as he always did, behind Jack, his arms around him a close embrace. He reached down and once again, took hold of Jack's cock, massaging it with his long fingers. Jack started to feel the warmth of arousal flow through his body. But before they got to the point of some serious screwing, Jack fell back into a deep, deep, sleep.


The next evening, they were sitting in front of the fire in two worn easy chairs, Ennis sipping whiskey from a cup, Jack from the bottle. It was a measure of the disconnect between them that they were sitting separately in two chairs, not in each other's arms, or laying naked on the floor, or screwing in bed, any of which Ennis would have preferred at that moment. But he was taking his cue from Jack, who seemed inclined to just sit and stare into the fire.

The day had been…odd. They woke up in the morning and Jack still seemed to have no interest in sex, or even a little cuddling and making out. They'd eaten breakfast and Jack suggested they go for a hike in the woods, maybe pack a picnic. They set out on a trail that started behind the cabin, but it was too early in the season for hiking and the trail was muddy. Black flies and mosquitoes buzzed around their heads. After an hour they turned back and ended up eating their lunch on the porch.

After lunch, Jack had said he was going to take another nap. Ennis, bored, rummaged around the cabin and found some fishing tackle in the back of a closet. He recognized the irony of actually fishing on one of their fishing trips, and now wished he'd brought his own gear. He spent the afternoon standing next to the small stream that ran by the cabin, and managed to catch a few brown trout, which he fried up for supper. Supper, like lunch, was a mostly silent affair, and it seemed the silence was going to continue on into the evening.

Jack stirred and ended the stillness, his voice low, but clear. "Ya ever listen to th'words of songs on th'radio, Ennis?" he asked, idly.

"Not really. Don't listen t'much music, y'know."

"Yeah—well, while drivin' up here there was this one song that kept playin' over and over. Must be number one on the charts or somethin', must've heard it a dozen times, so I started listenin' t'the words. It was interestin'…'bout this guy and girl who wanta t'kill themselves…the guy tryin' to persuade the girl it was okay, nothin' t'be afraid of…."

"Jesus, that's depressin'," said Ennis. "What happened to sex and drugs?"

"Yeah, sex," said Jack, with a rueful laugh, "no, he was singin' 'bout Romeo 'n Juliet, bein' together for all eternity…" He turned to Ennis and looked at him directly, "We could do that, y'know."

"Do what?" said Ennis, not fully following Jack's train of thought.

"Kill ourselves. Like in the song. Be together for eternity."

"Fuck, Jack, don't talk like that," said Ennis, a mild panic rising in the back of his throat. "I don't wanta kill myself."

"Why not?" said Jack, turning back to the fire. "Why not? We're grown men, we could do it." His voice had this lazy, idle quality, which Ennis found alarming. In another conversation, he might have been talking about sports scores or the weather but here he was talking about committing suicide. "It would be a way for us to be together."

"Goddamn," said Ennis, "y'don't know where ya go when yer dead. Don't say we'd be together like some fuckin' song. We could be roastin' in hell or frozen in the ground. We wouldn't be together—don't say that shit."

"Well we ain't together now so what difference does it make whether I'm dead or alive?" said Jack, taking a sip from the bottle.

"We are together, Jack," said Ennis, "but yer fuckin' ruinin' it with all this talk about killin' yerself."

"I'm ruinin' it Ennis? I'm the one that's fuckin' ruinin' it?" asked Jack, with a cruel edge to his voice.

"And what the fuck is that supposed to mean?" said Ennis, his panic coming through, even though he tried to remain calm.

"Y'know what it means," said Jack. "I don't need t'explain it."

They lapsed into silence for a few minutes, then Jack spoke again, the same lazy, eerie voice. "I'd do it with a gun," he mused, "put a gun in my mouth. I'd bet it would be quick, wouldn't hurt. Prob'ly sorta sexy, don'tcha think? Cold, hard, steel in my mouth? I could pretend it's you."

Ennis felt his panic overtake him. He had no idea what to say. In his fog of confusion, he wondered if there was a gun in the cabin. He hadn't brought one because it wasn't hunting season, but who knew what Don Wroe kept stored away. "Holy shit," he thought, "I hope he has a gun closet that's locked." Then he remembered that they drove up in Jack's truck. What the fuck, could there be a gun in the truck? "Sweet Jesus," he silently prayed, "please don't let there be a gun in the truck."

Ennis stood up, crossed over to Jack's chair, and took his face in his hands, "Stop sayin' this shit, Jack," he said, "Yer scarin' me. I know ya don't wanta kill yerself, stop talkin' like this."

Jack looked at him, a cold, hard glint to his eyes. "Y'know I don't wanta kill myself? How do you know what I want?"

"Because Jack," pleaded Ennis, not sure what to say, "because…"

Jack took Ennis's hands off his face and gripped him roughly by the wrists. "Well, lemme tell ya what I want, Ennis. What I want is to be with you, that's what I want. And you fuckin' well know it but won't do it, so now mebbe what I want is to be dead."

"Oh, Jesus, Jack, we are together," said Ennis, who felt tears coming to his eyes. "Can't ya understand that?"

"No, Ennis, we ain't together. Being fuckbuddies for a week once or twice a year is not bein' together. I want you, I want all of you, all of the time. I want you in my life. I want you to be my life."

Ennis bowed his head. He felt tears dripping down his cheeks, but Jack still gripped his wrists so tightly that he couldn't use his hands to wipe them away.

Jack looked down at Ennis, kneeling in front of him. Jack felt like an iron hand was gripping his heart, squeezing all the life out of it. "That day last month was the worst fuckin' day of my entire miserable life," he said.

"What day?" whispered Ennis.

"You know what fuckin' day, you asshole." The hatred in Jack's voice ripped at Ennnis's soul. "You send me a postcard that says you're divorced. I drive fourteen fuckin' hours and you turn me away like I'm some fuckin' door-to-door salesman. Can't even find it in you to give me ten fuckin' minutes of your precious time."

"Jesus, Jack, don't say this," said Ennis, tears now pouring down his face. He ground his fists into his eyes as if gouging them out would stop the crying.

"I am goin' to say it, Ennis, because you need to fuckin' hear it. Ev'ry time I said let's get together, it was always your life in Riverton, Alma and the girls. Well, the way I see it now, you ain't got no fuckin' life in Riverton but you still say fuckin' no to me. What's yer excuse this time, Ennis? Money? Your job? It's finally become fuckin' clear to me where I am on your list of priorities and it ain't at the top."

"Guys can't live together, Jack," croaked Ennis, his voice barely audible, "y'know that. I told ya 'bout Rich and Earl. We'd be killed."

Jack threw the whiskey bottle at the hearth—it shattered in a million shards of glass, the whiskey pooling on the granite stones. He stood up and grabbed Ennis by the shoulders and pulled him to his feet. "Listen to yerself, you goddamn fuckin' asshole. At least fuckin' Rich and Earl had a life together before they ended up dead. We ain't got no life and I'm dyin' anyway. And yer the one who's fuckin' killin' me!" He whirled away, leaving Ennis to stagger backwards on his heels.

"What?" said Ennis, confusion in his voice.

"You always thought that if we fuckin' got together, some stranger would come in the dark of night and beat us dead in our bed, right? Well, it's fuckin' ironic that it ain't no stranger, it's you. Yer breakin' my heart, Ennis, breakin' it one piece at a time, and it's killin' me, just as surely if you stabbed a knife in it. I could put a gun in my mouth and it would be over and done with and be a whole hell of a lot less painful than what yer puttin' me through." His shoulders slumped as his energy drained out of him. He felt the dark cloud of depression begin to fill the space behind his eyes. He sighed, and looked around the room. "What the fuck am I doin' here?"

Ennis came up behind him, wrapping his arms around him, pulling him close. He leaned in and whispered, "C'mon, let's go to bed, you'll feel better after a good night's sleep."

Jack snorted, "Yeah, sleep. Like that'll fix it and make it all okay. Let me tell ya, Ennis, sleep doesn't make the pain go away because ya wake up in the morning and it's still there. Drinkin' don't make it go away neither—I feel like I've been drunk for a month and the pain is still there. Goin' to Mexico and fuckin' prostitutes don't do it either," he said. "Maybe a gun is the solution."

Ennis stiffened. He wasn't sure what he had just heard. Mexico? Prostitutes? He felt a flush of anger creeping up his neck and face. "Ja…" he started, then clamped his mouth shut. "No need to go there," he thought, "at least not now."

Jack felt Ennis stiffen, heard the 'ga' in his throat. Jack realized he could turn around, he could say to Ennis, "Yeah, hell, I've been to Mexico, I've been fucked by guys in Mexico and it wasn't ever like bein' fucked by you, Ennis," but he didn't. He couldn't. There was an invisible line, a line that Jack wouldn't cross because he knew that would be going too far.

He stood there, slumped, in Ennis's arms. "C'mon Jack, yer exhausted. Lemme help ya get ready for bed." Ennis unbuttoned Jack's shirt, pulled it off his shoulders and arms, and laid it on the back of the chair. He unbuckled Jack's belt, unzipped his fly and started to push his jeans down around his hips when Jack elbowed him, hard, in the ribs. "Get the fuck off me, I can undress myself." Ennis stepped back, stunned. He felt the anger start to rise, this time in his chest and spreading through his body. He stood there. Jack ripped off his jeans, threw them angrily across the floor and walked towards the bed. "Just leave me the fuck alone," he snarled. Then in a voice laced with sarcasm he said, "No sex tonight, honey, I have a headache."

Ennis stood there, stricken. He squeezed his temples with his right hand, pulled his hand tightly down the bridge of his nose. He watched Jack pull the covers of the sleeping bag over his head, then turned and walked back to the worn easy chair in front of the fire. He pulled out a cigarette from the pack in his pocket, picked up the cup with an inch of whiskey still remaining, and took a sip. He slumped in the chair, staring at the dying embers of the fire.


Jack woke the next morning to brittle sun slivering through the glass of the window. Every muscle in his body ached. He rubbed his eyes, ran his tongue over his teeth, which felt thick and fuzzy with the detritus of the night. He rubbed his head but realized he didn't have a hangover—one of the few times he had awakened clear headed in the past month. But then his words of the night before came rushing back to him. He remembered them all. "Aw fuck," he thought, wishing he had drunk enough to forget everything.

He turned—Ennis wasn't in the cabin. He pushed himself up on his elbow and saw Ennis loading some of their gear into the back of the truck. Jack fell back against the bed, despair flooding through him. "That's it," he thought, "It's over." He knew he had come on this trip planning on ending it with Ennis, but now that it appeared to be happening, he was filled with sadness. "What the fuck have I done?" he cried in his mind, as he buried his face in the pillow.

He laid like that for a long time, listening to Ennis moving around outside. He heard him chopping wood, the chunk-thunk of the axe moving in a simple cadence. Jack pushed himself up again, and this time looked around the cabin. He saw that the broken glass on the hearth had all been swept clean. His eyes drifted over to the table, where Jack saw a bowl, a glass of juice, and a carton of milk. A spoon was laid neatly next to the bowl. "What the…?" thought Jack. The coffee pot was hissing on the woodstove, and a small fire was burning in the hearth.

Wearily, Jack pulled himself up out of bed. He retrieved his pants from the corner where he had thrown them the night before, and lifted his shirt off the back of the chair. As he buttoned up his shirt and walked towards the table, he saw that Ennis had poured Cheerios into the bowl. "What the…?" he thought. Ennis never made breakfast and although it could be argued that pouring cereal into a bowl wasn't exactly gourmet cooking, it was a small act of kindness that Jack wasn't expecting.

He sat down at the table and poured some milk over the cereal. He picked up the spoon and began to eat woodenly, taking big gulps of orange juice between bites.

Ennis walked into the cabin. "Oh good, yer up," he said. He was smiling.

"Ennis…?" Jack said.

"We'll talk in a minute," Ennis said, nodding at the table. "Eat yer breakfast. I gotta few more things to do." The screen door slammed as he walked back out of the cabin.

Jack felt a misery growing through him like a cancer. "He was fuckin' smiling," he thought. "He's so glad to be rid of me, he's smilin' like the cat that swallowed the canary."

A few minutes later, Ennis came back into the cabin. He emptied an armful of chopped logs in the woodbox, then walked over to the cabinet and took out two heavy ceramic mugs and filled them with coffee from the pot on the woodstove. He walked over to the table and put one mug in front of Jack. He then stood there, sipping his own coffee, looking at Jack.

Jack looked at him, puzzled. "What's goin' on, Ennis? We leavin' early?"

"Yup," said Ennis, sitting in the chair next to Jack. "We've got a lotta drivin' t'do."

"But it's not so far to yer truck, just 'bout two hours."

"Yeah, but bud, we're goin' t'Texas." Jack was puzzled. Texas?

Ennis turned his chair to face Jack and pulled up close, their knees touching. "Okay, now we're gonna talk." Jack noticed that Ennis was no longer smiling—his face was serious. "Y'know Jack, I sat in that chair all night," he nodded towards the chair by the fire, "and did a lot of thinking. You said some right hurtful things to me, things that were downright cruel."

Jack started to say, "I'm sor…" but Ennis held up his hand and shook his head.

"Lemme talk." He paused, then continued, "I thought long and hard about what ya said, Jack. I think I can recite ev'ry word, they're branded on my brain." Jack's eyes fell. He knew he had been hateful.

Ennis reached forward and put his hands on Jack's thighs, gripping them tightly in his big hands. His voice dropped a notch. "I thought you said all those things to hurt me, and you did. I thought you was bein' cruel to drive me away." Ennis shifted his weight, "But then I realized, Jack, that even if mebbe we haven't been the best to each other, you ain't ever lied t'me. At least I don't think ya ever lied to me."

"No, Ennis," whispered Jack. "I ain't ever lied to you."

"And I ain't ever lied to you. And so as I thought about it, I realized that last night was prob'ly not the night when you was gonna start lyin'—and then I knew then that ev'rything you was sayin' was the truth." Jack nodded, still not looking Ennis in the eye.

Ennis leaned even further forward, and now took both Jack's hands in his own. "Jack you was talkin' about killin' yerself. I couldn't believe it, Jack—but there was a gun—"

Jack interrupted him, his voice still a whisper, "There's a gun in the glove box in the truck."

Ennis nodded, "I know Jack. I found it. It ain't there now." Jack looked alarmed. "Don't worry, it's safe, it just ain't somewhere where you're gonna find it easily."

Again, Ennis hitched forward, moving even closer to Jack. He held Jack's right hand with his left, and used his right index finger to push up Jack's chin. "Lookit me, bud." Their eyes fixed together. "Jack, if you died, I couldn't live. And if you killed yerself because of me, well then, I'd hafta kill myself, because I could never live with that weight on my shoulders." He paused. "And I realized that if we're gonna start killin' ourselves and endin' up dead, we might as well try livin' together before we do, because what's the point of being dead if we haven't done the thing that was gonna get us killed in the first place?"

Jack looked puzzled. "Ennis, what the fuck are ya sayin'?"

"I'm sayin' yes, Jack. I'm sayin' yes to the question you've asked me ev'ry time we've been together for the last nine years. I'm sayin' yes to some sweet life, yes to a cow and calf operation, yes to whatever other crazy fuckin' idea ya might have."

"Oh, Ennis," Jack breathed, "don't be cruel."

"I ain't being cruel, Jack, I'm tellin' ya the truth. You said last night, 'I want you, I want all of you, all of the time. I want you in my life. I want you to be my life.' Jack, that's what I want, too."

"Oh, God, Ennis." Jack felt himself starting to tremble.

Ennis took Jack's face in both of his hands. "I love you, Jack. It's that simple."

At that point, Jack truly lost it. He fell forward into Ennis's arms, his breath rasping and chest heaving, thirteen years of bottled up emotion exiting his body. Giant sobs escaped from his mouth and tears poured down his cheeks. Jack almost felt as if he was going to piss himself. "Oh God, Ennis, oh, God…."

Ennis pulled him close, stroking his hair, "It's okay cowboy, I'm here and I ain't ever goin' away." With his other hand he made rhythmic circles on Jack's back, "It's okay, lil darlin', it's okay babe, I love you."

Jack thought he would die at the sound of the words coming out of Ennis's mouth. Ennis, usually hard pressed to tell someone the time of day, was now reciting endearments and I-love-yous as if they were a mantra. "Oh, Ennis, I love you."

"I know you do, cowboy. I love you." They sat there like that for a long time, Jack alternately crying and gasping, while Ennis continued to murmur in his ear. Finally, Jack pulled himself back from Ennis's embrace and took a deep shuddering breath. He looked at Ennis, his face tear streaked and his eyes red. "So what happens now?"

"Well, I figured we could head down to Texas and pick up yer stuff. We can talk to Lureen, tell her what's goin' on, you want t'get divorced."

"We? We tell her I want a divorce?"

"Well, you can talk to her 'bout that, I s'pose, but I thought it was right to give her the opportun'ty to meet the guy that's busting up her marriage." Jack's head was spinning. "Then, we'll come back to Riverton, pack up my stuff. Won't take long, I don't own shit and the line cabin I'm in is a month-to-month rental. I'll need to talk t'Alma, make some arrangements 'bout the girls."

"Then what?" asked Jack.

"Well then, I figured we could go up t'yer daddy's place. You always said he needs help."

"Yeah, but…" Jack was still having a hard time putting thoughts together.

"For the summer, Jack, not forever. It's May. It's the time a'year when he's gonna need some help and we can give it t'him. How big's the ranch?"

"Not that big…"

"Yeah, but he must have a north 40?" Jack nodded. "With a cabin?"

"Yeah, but it's fallin' down."

"Well Jack, I figure that's one of the advantages of two guys fallin' in love. We're big strong fellas, we know how to hammer nails—we can fix up the cabin, live there for the summer—not right under yer daddy's nose, but still give him a hand with the cattle and mending the fences. Do some of the work he ain't managed to do all these years." Jack felt himself start to tremble again and Ennis laughed, "You feel like a newborn colt, all shaky like that." Jack nodded, held tight in Ennis's arms. The description was apt.

Ennis continued, "We'll have the summer to figure out what we're gonna do, where we're gonna go."

"But money, jobs…" Jack mumbled.

"Like I said, Jack, we've got the summer. That's plenty o'time to figure out the rest of our lives, or at least the next step."

They sat a minute more, then Ennis stood up and cleared the table. He washed the dishes at the pump outside the door then came back in the cabin. Jack looked at him, "So we gotta leave today?"

Ennis shrugged, "The way I figure it, this cabin, our fishin' trips—that's our old life. What's starting today is our new life. And frankly, now that I've made up my mind, I want to get goin' on the new life. I think it sounds pretty excitin'."

"I do too," said Jack. "But can't we have one last fuck here to celebrate before we leave?"

"One last fuckbuddy fuck?" asked Ennis, raising an eyebrow. Jack nodded.

"Sorry bud, no more fuckbuddy fucks. Those days are over. Now we have lover fucks, and I can guarantee you, they are going to be a whole hell of a lot better than fuckbuddy fucks ever were."

Jack finally laughed. "Fuckbuddy fucks, lover fucks, who gives-a-shit fucks, Ennis, can we just have a good screw before we get on the road?"

Ennis pushed Jack backwards across the room as he unbuttoned his shirt, "I thought you'd never ask."