A Love Born From Steel

Chapter 12

Jenny and Junior's visit was an unqualified success—so successful, in fact, that they ended up staying two weeks longer than originally planned.

They did all the things Ennis had said they would—trail rides, picnics, swimming, visiting the Chief Quanah Parker Museum in town. The highlight of the week had to be the rodeo, though. Jack had brought Bobby and the five of them drove to the neighboring town of Estelline. They sat in the stands, watching the bull riders and saddle broncs, and laughing at the clowns. Anyone who would have cared to notice would have thought they were two fathers enjoying the day with their children—which is exactly what they were. Perhaps the fathers sat a little closer than most fathers do, and perhaps they smiled a little more lovingly at each other than would be expected—but no one noticed and no one cared.

On Thursday, Ennis, Junior and Jenny took a long trail ride on one of the trails in the state park. Jenny sat behind Ennis on Twister, her arms wrapped around his waist, while Junior rode solo on Sioux. Ennis idly thought of the day when he would have more horses—soon, he hoped—one for each of them to ride. But at the same time, he enjoyed having Jenny behind him, chattering away non-stop.

When they got back to the stable, Jenny ran up to the house, planning to help Uncle Jack. "He's baking a pie," she said, "and he said I could roll out the crust." Junior stayed behind to help her father groom the horses and get them set for the night.

They put the saddles in the tack room and folded the blankets and put them on the shelf. Ennis ran his hand over the leather. "We should oil these sometime soon," he said. "Dry here in this hot Texas sun."

"I'll help you with that, Daddy," Junior said. "I can do it tomorrow."

"You're on vacation, sweetheart," said Ennis. "I don't expect ya t'do my work."

"It's not work, Daddy, I'm happy t'help you." Junior paused, then looked at him. "Daddy, do we have to leave on Sunday?" she asked.

Ennis looked surprised at the question. "What d'ya mean, honey? Yer mama's expectin' you."

"I know, but why do we have t'leave so soon? There's nothin' goin' on in Riverton and school doesn't start 'til after Labor Day. And I prob'ly won't see you for a while once we go home."

Ennis nodded. He had briefly told her about the plans to buy the farm and the fact that he would likely be staying in Quanah if everything worked out. "How long would ya want t'stay?" he asked.

Junior shrugged. "I dunno. Two more weeks, 'til the middle of August, mebbe?"

Ennis considered this. He really didn't see any reason why they couldn't stay. "Well, let's think 'bout this for a second. One thing, Junior—I need t'get back t'work. I've sorta taken the week off to go ridin' and have picnics and stuff. I need to get back on track with my fences and the other chores that need t'be done around here."

"I understand, Daddy," said Junior. "Jenny and I are good at amusin' ourselves. Besides, there's more t'do here—more space to run around and play in," she said, waving her arm towards the expanse of fields. "In Riverton we were cooped up in the apartment."

"What's yer mama plannin' on doin' 'bout that, anyway?" asked Ennis.

"We're movin' into Monroe's house," she said. "In fact, they got most of the movin' done before the weddin'."

Ennis nodded. He knew where Monroe's house was—a little bungalow in the nice part of town, if Riverton could be said to have a nice part. "Well," he said, "I'll need to talk t'Jack," he said, "and Jenny, too. Mebbe she wants t'get back t'Riverton, see her friend Amber."

Junior gave him a shy smile. "I already talked t'both of them about this," she said. "Uncle Jack said we could stay for as long as we want, whenever we want. And Jenny's having so much fun, she never wants t'leave."

Ennis laughed. "You little schemer," he said, with a wink. "You had this whole thing planned behind my back, didn't ya?"

"So it's okay, Daddy? Please?"

"It's okay with me. I guess the last person we need t'talk to is yer mama, see if it's okay with her."

They walked up to the house and went into the kitchen through the back door. Jenny, flour dusting her nose and forehead, was trying unsuccessfully to roll out the pie crust. Jack was peeling peaches, his everpresent Joy of Cooking open on the counter.

"So," Ennis said, surveying all three of them. "I understand you've been cookin' up more than pies."

"Oh, Daddy," Jenny said, dropping the rolling pin on the floor. "Did Junior ask you? Can we stay? Please?"

Ennis looked at Jack. "This okay with you, bud? Seems like everythin' got planned without me knowin' it."

Jack smiled at Ennis, wishing he could give him a kiss, but his hands were all sticky with peach peels—and they hadn't gotten to the point of being that affectionate in front of the girls. "It's fine, En. I enjoy havin' them here. Besides, that's the plan, isn't it? Longer visits a few times a year?"

Ennis nodded. "Yup, that's the plan." He pulled out his wallet and took out the paper that Monroe had given him the week before. "Let's see if we can get yer mama on the phone." He looked at the clock. "It's six o'clock here which means it's five o'clock in Colorado. Mebbe they'll be in the room."

He dialed the number and the call was put through. It was Monroe who answered, however. "Hi Monroe, it's Ennis," he said. "Alma there?"

Alma came on the line, her voice sounding panicky. "Why are you callin', Ennis?" she said. "Is everythin' all right?"

"Everythin' is fine," he said, and went on to explain the request to have the girls stay for an extra two weeks.

When he finished, there was a pause, then Alma said, "This is sorta comin' out of the blue, Ennis. I wasn't expectin' this."

"As a matter of fact," said Ennis, "I had hoped t'tell ya this in person—but since it has come up, I'll tell ya now. It looks like I may be stayin' on in Texas. Jack and I have been talkin' t'the owner 'bout buyin' this place."

"So what does that mean?" asked Alma.

"It means that we'd prob'ly need t'come up with different visitation arrangements," he said. "Not weekends, like I've been doin', but fewer visits for longer times."

"Hmmm," said Alma.

"We don't need t'decide everythin' right now," said Ennis. "Just whether they can stay for two more weeks. They're havin' lots of fun and I'm enjoyin' havin' them around."

"You'll have t'drive all the way t'Riverton t'drop them off," she said.

"That's fine, Alma," said Ennis. "I don't mind drivin'."

"Let me talk to Junior," she said, and Ennis handed his eldest daughter the phone.

While she was talking, Ennis went down to the basement and came back up with a laundry basket. Junior finished her conversation with her mother with an 'I love you' and then handed the phone to her sister. Jenny chatted for a few minutes—mostly telling Alma about the rodeo—and then handed the receiver back to Ennis.

"I guess it's all set, Ennis," said Alma. "When will you be bringing them back?"

Ennis looked at the calendar hanging on the wall. "How about Sunday, August 15th?" he said. "I'll try to be there by suppertime."

"Okay," said Alma, "That sounds good."

"Oh, another thing," said Ennis. "I'll mail the child support check tomorrow. I was goin' t'bring it t'you on Sunday. Junior said yer movin'—what address should I use?"

Ennis heard Alma take a deep breath, then pause for a minute before she replied. "Ennis, keep the August money. They're gonna be with ya for almost a month—you can use the money for groceries and stuff."

Ennis was surprised at this comment. "Ya sure, Alma?" he said. "Yer not goin' t'hold this against me, say that I didn't pay ya on time."

"No, Ennis," she said. "I won't hold it against you."

"Okay, then," he said. "Thank you. I appreciate that." He paused, then continued, "I'll plan t'spend the night when I come back t'Riverton. Mebbe on Monday we can go t'the judge to work out the visitation details."

"Ennis," said Alma, "mebbe we can just try t'work it out between us, not need to get the judge involved."

"I'm happy t'give that a try. We can talk in two weeks," he said. "Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of your honeymoon. Is the Broadmoor nice?"

"It's beautiful," Alma replied. "Right at the base of Pike's Peak. We're havin' a very pleasant time."

"That's good," said Ennis. "Have a safe trip home, and I'll see ya on the 15th."

He hung up the phone. Jenny was literally jumping for joy and Junior gave Ennis a big hug. "Thank you, Daddy. This is great."

"It's great for me too," he said. Then he handed her the laundry basket. "Now, go upstairs and bring down yer dirty clothes. Yer gonna be here for two more weeks, I guess we need t'do some washin'."

Later that evening, Jack and Ennis were sitting on the porch, enjoying their usual nightly ritual of a glass of whiskey with a cigarette. Junior and Jenny were upstairs taking turns with the bathroom. Junior had said something about washing her hair.

Ennis turned to Jack. "So it's okay, bud…them stayin' for two more weeks? Junior kinda sprung it on me and you 'n I didn't have a chance t'talk."

Jack smiled. "Even if it weren't okay, nothin' I can do 'bout now, is there?" he said.

Ennis couldn't tell if the was serious or joking as he couldn't see Jack's face clearly in the shadows. "Tell me true, bud, is it okay? I don't want ya pissed at me."

"Ennis," said Jack reassuringly, "it's absolutely okay. This is our life. Yer daughters are part of yer life, and now they're part of mine. I am happy t'have them here for as long as they want t'stay."

Ennis reached out and squeezed Jack's hand. "Thanks, babe. That means a lot t'me." They lapsed into silence for a minute, then Ennis spoke again. "I half expected Alma t'ask me 'bout our sleepin' arrangements…but she didn't. I wonder if she really believes I'm sleepin' on the couch this whole time."

"Mebbe she didn't say anythin' because Monroe was right there. She might've realized how stupid she would've sounded…or that she was askin' ya somethin' that was really none of her business."

Ennis shrugged. "That might be it. Or maybe she's gotten laid enough this week that she doesn't give a fuck about what I'm up to."

Jack look at Ennis, his face showing a bit of surprise. "That's a little crude, Ennis, doncha think?"

Ennis chuckled softly to himself. "Mebbe I didn't put it the right way…I'm tryin' t'take the blame for our lousy sex life, which was non-existent at the end. Mebbe Monroe knows better how t'make her happy and she'll realize what it's all about. I sure didn't do a very good job of it."

Jack thought about what Ennis said. In his view, Ennis was a thoughtful and considerate lover. Even in his most urgent, "I've gotta fuck ya now" moods, Ennis always remembered that Jack had equally compelling needs and desires. Jack tucked this tidbit of information in the back of his mind. It was just another piece of the Ennis Del Mar puzzle.

Ennis crushed his cigarette out in the ashtray. "Give me a minute, bud," he said. "I'm gonna check on the girls, see if they're ready for bed."

Ennis went into the house while Jack sat on the porch, sipping his whiskey and lighting another cigarette. He had no sense of time passing but obviously, some minutes had passed because before he knew it, Ennis was back on the porch, standing tall and leaning over him. Ennis braced himself on the arms of the chair and looked down at Jack, his face, as it had been for the past two months, flushed with happiness. "I love you, cowboy," he said, leaning in for a deep and loving kiss. Jack kissed him back with equal fervor.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ennis sensed a shadow at the screen door. He pulled back and stood up, and saw Jenny standing there, the light from the living room reflecting behind her. "Honey," said Ennis, "I thought you were in bed."

She tentatively pushed the screen door open. "I forgot my coloring book," she said, "and crayons," as she pointed to the corner of the porch floor.

Ennis could hear Jack whispering under his breath. "Uh oh, cowboy, awkward moment."

"Shut up, Jack," whispered Ennis, but he said it with a smile. He went over the screen door, "C'mon sweetheart, let's get your book."

Jenny scampered to pick up her coloring book and crayons, holding them close to her chest. She started to walk back to the door but then turned and looked at Ennis. "Daddy," she said, "why were you kissing Uncle Jack?"

He paused. "Because we're friends, sweetheart," he said.

"I'm friends with Amber and I don't kiss her," replied Jenny, with the matter-of-factness of youth.

Ennis looked at her for a second, then smiled. "C'mere, honey," he said, turning to his empty chair, sitting down, and then pulling her onto his lap. "Let's talk." Jenny turned and looked at Ennis expectantly. "Uncle Jack and I are friends," he said, "very special friends…very close friends. Uncle Jack is the reason I left Riverton and moved to Texas."

Jenny nodded. "I know that, Daddy."

Ennis bit his lip. "We wanted t'be together."

Jenny looked at him. "Are you in love with Uncle Jack, Daddy? Is that what you're tryin' t'say?"

Ennis nodded. "Yes, sweetheart, that's exactly what I'm tryin' to say."

Jenny nodded as if this was the most natural thing in the world, having absolutely no issue with the fact that her father was in love with another man. "Tell me somethin', Daddy," she said. "Do women fall in love with each other?"

Ennis nodded, "They can, yes. Mostly it's men and women, but sometimes women love women, and men love men. It happens."

"I still don't get the kissin'," she said.

"Sweetheart, you've hugged and kissed me plenty o'times. It's just a way t'show someone you care about them."

Jenny looked at him. "I never saw you kissin' mama," she said.

Ennis gave her a sad smile. "I didn't much, at the end," he said. "That's part of the reason we got divorced. We weren't happy together anymore."

Jenny thought about this for a second. "I don't see mama kissin' Monroe, either."

Ennis smiled. "I'm sure she does, honey, but part of it is that kissin' can be kinda private. It's not somethin' that people do right in front of other folks." He paused. "I thought you were in bed. I thought I was havin' a private moment with Uncle Jack."

Jenny looked carefully at Ennis. "Are you mad at me, Daddy?"

"Mad?" he said. "Of course not, sweetheart. Why would I be mad?"

"For interruptin' you?"

Ennis laughed. "Oh, honey, I don't mind." She leaned in and put her head against her father's chest, while he rubbed her back. "It's probably good that you saw us," he said. "Now you understand about us."

"I don't think I understand everythin', Daddy," she said.

"No you don't, but you'll learn more as you grow up. That's part of growin' up. For now, ya just need to know that Uncle Jack and I are together. We're special t'each other."

They sat like that for a few moments, listening to the sounds of the night. For Ennis, who had gotten used to Jack's heft and weight over the past few months, his daughter in his lap felt as light as a bird. He could feel her chest rise and fall with her breathing, and her heart, fluttering against her ribs, felt twice as fast as the steady thump, thump, thump, in Ennis's chest.

He leaned in and kissed her forehead. "Ready for bed, sweetheart?" he said, "a second time?"

She nodded sleepily. Ennis took the coloring book and crayons from her hand. She wrapped her arms around his neck and as he stood up, she linked her legs behind his hips. They walked in the house and up the stairs. He laid her on the bed and pulled the sheet up under her chin, kissing her on her forehead. "I love you, sweetheart," he said.

Jenny turned on her side, already sound asleep. Ennis closed the door softly behind him and went back down the stairs. Jack was still sitting in his chair, looking as if he hadn't moved. Ennis leaned in again. "Shall we try again, cowboy?" he said, "Try for another private moment?"

Jack smiled at him. "You handled that well, En," he said.

"Handled what?" said Ennis, looking puzzled.

"Talkin' t'Jenny, explainin' 'bout us."

Ennis smiled at him. "All these years, the things we worried about…"

"You worried about," interrupted Jack.

"I worried about," said Ennis, laughing, "don't seem t'be worth worryin' 'bout anymore."

"I told ya it would be sweet life," said Jack.

"Well," said Ennis, "just be glad that I finally decided t'believe ya."

Jack pulled Ennis's face towards his but before he kissed him, he said, "Ennis, I am grateful every minute of every day that you finally started believin' me."

"Hmmm," said Ennis, letting himself be kissed. "I am too."

Saturday morning, Ennis, Junior and Jenny were heading to town in Ennis's truck. Junior had read all the books she had brought with her so they planned to go to the library for a new supply. As they turned onto a residential street leading into the main part of Quanah, they noticed one of the houses had a yard full of people, with a large sign, "Three Family Yard Sale."

"Can we stop, Daddy?" asked Junior. "Mebbe they'll have some toys or clothes."

Ennis wasn't particularly fond of yard sales—mostly because they brought back bad memories. When he and Alma were married, he knew Alma had bought the girls many hand-me-down clothes and toys at yard sales—along with pots and pans for the kitchen and various other household items. Yard sales reminded him of just how lousy a job he had done providing for his family. He sighed, but pulled his truck to the side of the road. "Just a quick stop, honey," he said. "The library closes at noon on Saturday."

Junior laughed. "Daddy, it's 9:30 in the morning. I don't think we'll be here for that long."

They got out of the truck, the girls starting to peruse the items scattered across the yard while Ennis hung back. He had just lit a cigarette when he heard someone calling his name. "Ennis!" He turned and saw Jeanie Campbell waving to him.

He smiled and walked over. "Hi Jeanie," he said. "You lookin' for bargains?"

She laughed. "We're one of the three families. But what about you? You don't strike me as the yard sale type."

"I ain't," he said. "It's my daughters." He called to them and motioned them over. "Junior, Jenny, this is Mrs. Campbell," he said. "She works at the barbecue restaurant." Since Ennis and Jack either got take-out or ate at the restaurant at least once a week, they had gotten friendly with Jeanie. They had gotten even friendlier with her husband, Bob, the manager at the hardware store. They had spent a small fortune of Hal's money there on paint and other supplies over the past few months and Ennis knew that Bob appreciated their patronage.

"Nice t'meet you, girls," said Jeanie. "How long are you visitin'?"

"Two more weeks," said Junior. "'Til August 15th."

Jeanie nodded. "You girls know how t'ride bikes?" she asked. "We have a couple for sale, over by the garage."

Junior shook her head. "I never learned. We live in an apartment."

Jenny looked at her sister. "I'll teach you. I've ridden Amber's bike, I know how."

Ennis looked at Jeanie. "Bikes?"

"Sure," she said. "They're gonna be here for two weeks…they can bike into town. Go t'the library and stuff. I hear you got a lot of work t'do, now that yer fixin' t'buy the Lazy L. You can't spend all yer time entertain' yer daughters," she said with a smile.

Ennis looked surprised. "Word gets around fast, don't it?" he said.

Jeanie pointed to the garage. "You girls go look at the bikes," she said. "I'll give your daddy a good deal." They ran off, and Jeanie turned to Ennis. "Word does get around fast. Quanah is a small town. Tom was at the Town Office, filing paperwork related t'the title and that's all it took."

Ennis wasn't quite sure what to say. Jeanie looked at him. "I hear you want t'keep the Lazy L as a farm."

Ennis nodded. "Yup, we're thinkin' horses. Do some breedin', ridin' lessons. Stuff like that."

"I think it's a great idea," Jeanie said. "No one 'round here's doin' that, I think there's a need." She looked around, then motioned with her head. "Come talk t'me for a sec," she said, walking behind Ennis's truck. "Let me fill you in on somethin', Ennis," she said. "Quanah is a small town and most of the people here are good people, but there are a few bad apples. You met one of them back in May."

"Ya mean Roger Grindell?" said Ennis.

Jeanie nodded. "Yup, Roger, and a few others." She paused. "Word's gettin' 'round 'bout Jack," she said. "Childress isn't that far away, and Newsome's is a big family business, well known in these parts. There are a few tongues waggin' that LD's son-in-law is gettin' divorced and has moved in with a friend of his from Wyoming."

Ennis looked at her, taking this all in, but not sure what to say.

"When Tom arrived last spring, there was a lot of uncertainty 'bout what would happen to the Lazy L. It's historic—it's one of the oldest farms in the county. I think, from what I hear in the restaurant, and what Bob hears at the hardware store, that people are glad yer buyin' the palce and plannin' t'keep it as a farm—that way, it'll be bringin' money into the community. That's what most people care about. The fact that it's you and Jack—well, what you and Jack do in your private lives is nobody's business." She paused, then continued. "That's what most people think, at least. However, there are a few folks who do think that your private life is their business."

Ennis continued to look at her, still not saying a word.

"All I'm sayin' is, be careful. Watch yer back. I think you'll fit in well in Quanah with a horse farm, but just remember that there are some people who will judge you without knowin' you."

"Thank you, Jeanie," said Ennis. "I understand what yer sayin'."

"I like you Ennis," said Jeanie, "and Bob does too. We'd like t'be friends. If somethin' comes up, just know that you or Jack can call us. We know what's goin' on in this town and can answer yer questions."

Ennis nodded his head, a grateful look in his eyes.

They walked around to the front of the truck. Jeanie took a deep breath, a sign that she was changing the subject. "Listen t'me rattle on," she said. "Let's go see those bikes, see if they're the right size for your girls."

Jack sat at the dining room table, filling in a loan application from the bank, printing the information in his most careful handwriting. He had actually thought of going to Newsome's and asking Lureen to type it for him, but decided that handwritten was okay, as long as it was neat.

His eyes traveled over the form, looking at the numbers and other information. He sighed to himself. The application was for a business loan, which was key to making the whole purchase work. The thought of borrowing $35,000 scared Jack a little, but without it, there would be no horse farm.

Tom and Jack had very quickly agreed on the major details of the purchase. Tom had had the farm appraised in the spring and already had a price for the sale in mind, which Jack and Ennis thought was reasonable and fair. Tom had been willing to hold the mortgage, as Jack had hoped. The money Jack had in savings and what he anticipated to receive from the divorce settlement would be sufficient for the down payment, but there wouldn't be much left after that. To get a farm up and running, they definitely needed some capital.

Tom had also agreed to pay them through Labor Day, which had been the original plan. Jack actually thought that Tom was being very generous, in that respect, especially since he had covered all the farm-related expenses throughout the summer. Most of the money they had made they had been able to save. It wasn't much, but Ennis, in particular, was in better financial shape than he had been back in May.

The actual sale of the farm wouldn't be finalized until after Hal died, but for all intents and purposes, they would own the farm effective September 1st. The income would stop but the expenses—which would become their responsibility—would not. The actual reality of it made Jack a little nervous.

Was this the right thing to do? Were they biting off more than they could chew? Jack looked out the window. From the very first day he had met Ennis, they both had always said they wanted to own some sort of ranch or farm. This seemed like a golden opportunity. Besides, what else would they do? Jack actually knew he was pretty good at sales and could probably get any sort of a salesman's job—even selling cars if he had to—but he didn't particularly like the work and that wasn't what he wanted to do. He had enjoyed every minute of their work this summer and was happy to be back doing things with his hands—not stuck on a showroom floor selling combines.

Ennis, on the other hand, had no marketable skills beyond farm and ranch work. Jack couldn't imagine him doing anything else, although Ennis had once mentioned that he worked on a road crew for a few months when he was first married. But when it came to the farm, it seemed that Ennis could do anything. He could build, paint, rake, shovel, tinker with machinery, and drive anything with an engine. He was good with his horses and Jack suspected he was the same with any animal he came near. Ennis had an incredible work ethic, waking up and starting at dawn everyday. He'd probably work until the sun set if Jack didn't drag him away for lunch and a late afternoon swim. Jack was actually glad for the daily visits to Hal—that gave Ennis another break in his fourteen hour days.

Jack had never realized it before, but Ennis was meticulous and careful, too. Nothing about the work he had done all summer had been slap-dash or halfway. Now that they were buying the place, Jack was doubly grateful for this, but he appreciated the care that went into everything that Ennis did. The painting, the cleaning, the work on the fences and the barn—all of it was thorough and precise.

Jack looked at the loan application again. Horses. A horse farm. Jack wondered about that too, but it seemed to make sense. What else was there? As Ennis said, he couldn't picture themselves as crop farmers, although there were plenty of wheat, barley, and cotton fields in the area. Pigs? No. Cows? No. Cattle—Jack agreed with Ennis, the layout wasn't right. He came back to horses—riding lessons, boarding, breeding—it could work. There was a thought that came from the very back of his mind, however. Riding lessons—kids—two gay guys. Would this, could this ever be a problem? Jack knew there wasn't a problem, but would people in the community see it differently? He buried his head in his hands. Why am I even thinking this thought? he said to himself. Why am I torturing myself? He answered his own question—because, sometimes people have sick and perverted thoughts and this is a small town. If the wrong word were to get around, their whole horse business could be dead as a doornail before they even began.

He looked at the loan application for a third time. It seemed like everything was complete, except for Ennis's signature. He planned to drop it off at the bank on Monday. He had picked it up on Wednesday morning, before they had gone to the rodeo. He had gone by himself to meet with the loan officer, a dry and officious man named Norm Crocker. Jack had tried to turn on his salesman's charm but it didn't seem to work with Norm. Crocker had reviewed the details of the loan process, asked Jack why they needed a loan, and wondered out loud why Ennis hadn't come in with him. "If he is going to be your business partner, don't you think he should be here?" Jack had explained that Ennis was back at the farm with his daughters, which Crocker had used to intuit, correctly, that Ennis was divorced.

"What about you, Mr. Twist?" he asked. "Are you married?"

"For a few more weeks," Jack replied. "It looks like the divorce will be finalized by mid- to late August."

Crocker had nodded when Jack said this. Jack wasn't sure if it was any of his business but hadn't been able to think fast enough of a way to get out of answering the question.

Jack gathered the papers and put a paperclip at the top to hold them together. He slipped them in a manila envelope then went upstairs to leave them on the dresser. They'd be safe there, he thought, and hopefully that will remind me to get Ennis to sign them sometime this weekend.

As he came back down the stairs he heard Ennis's truck driving up outside, so he went out to the porch to meet them. He walked over and saw Ennis pulling out two bikes from the back. "Bikes?" he said, "Where'd ya get these?"

"We stopped at a yard sale—Jeanie Campbell sold 'em t'us," Ennis replied. "Along with a bunch of books and a suitcase of Barbies."

"Barbies?" said Jack, puzzled.

"Welcome t'the world of girls, Jack," said Ennis with a laugh. "Yes, Barbies."

Jenny was opening the suitcase on the ground and pulling out a naked Barbie and her equally naked boyfriend Ken. "Look, Uncle Jack!" she squealed. "Look!"

"Not here, sweetheart," said Ennis. "You'll lose all the little shoes in the grass. Close that up and take it upstairs."

"What did you get, Junior?" asked Jack.

"Books, Uncle Jack," she said. "Look at this," putting a box at his feet. "Look at all these Nancy Drews," she said, handing a book to Jack. "I love Nancy Drew."

Jack shrugged as he looked at the cover of the book. He had no idea who or what Nancy Drew was, but he saw the words "mystery series" above the title. "There are a bunch of these?" he asked.

Junior nodded. "Yes, Nancy Drew is a teenager and she solves mysteries. She's a sleuth—I love that word. I want t'be a sleuth!" Junior dug happily in the box, pulling out another book. "This one, The Hidden Staircase, is the second one in the series and it is one of my favorites. Oh, and Uncle Jack, these books are old—lookit this one, it is from 1930," she said, pointing to the copyright date on the frontispiece. "The old ones are the best. Some of them are really scary and Nancy gets herself involved in lots of dangerous situations."

"Sounds like you've read 'em before," said Jack.

"I've read a bunch," said Junior, "although there are lots here I haven't read yet. And I like to re-read them too."

Jack smiled at her. "Well, this is great sweetheart. Now you have your own collection."

"I know," said Junior, "I'm so happy. I've always had to borrow them from the library." She put the books in the box and turned to her father. "I'll take these upstairs, Daddy," she said, heading towards the house.

Jack turned to Ennis. "Ya said Jeanie was there?"

Ennis laughed. "Yup, it was big three family yard sale and the Campbells was one of the families. Jeanie gave me a good deal—all this for ten bucks. She was the one who suggested the bikes—thought the girls could ride t'town t'go t'the library or buy ice cream cones—stuff like that."

"Sounds like a good idea," said Jack. "They can ride down t'the river, too, and go swimmin'."

"I wouldn't want 'em swimmin' without me," said Ennis. "Mebbe they can go down and go wadin'—go in up t'their knees."

Jack smiled at him. "Yer a good daddy," he said. "I would've just let 'em go."

The girls came running back out of the house and Jenny grabbed her bike. "C'mon, Junior, lemme show ya how t'ride," she said. "It's easy."

Jenny hopped on and pedaled off down the road, leaving Junior standing there, looking a little lost and forlorn. Ennis smiled at her. "C'mon, sweetheart, you can ride a horse. I'm sure this is easier."

Junior climbed on the seat while Ennis balanced the bike. She put her feet on the pedals and took a tentative push, then another, and with a little bit of wobbling, followed her sister down the lane.

They watched them head towards the stable. Junior stumbled a bit and looked like she would fall, but managed to balance herself with her foot. She put her feet on the pedals and continued down the road. "Looks like she's gettin' the hang of it," said Jack.

"Yup," Ennis said, "never rode a bike before, she said." He turned his attention away from the girls and back to Jack. "I had an interestin' conversation with Jeanie," he said.

Jack raised his eyebrows. "Oh really? What did she hafta say?"

"Word is out 'bout us buyin' this place," Ennis replied. "And, apparently folks are figgerin' out that yer LD Newsome's son-in-law and yer shackin' up with me."

Jack nodded. "I wondered how long it would take for people t'make the connection."

Ennis continued. "Jeanie said that most people don't give a shit—'bout us, I mean—and they're happy that Lazy L is stayin' a farm. This place is historic—one of the oldest farms in the county."

"I ain't surprised," said Jack, "a hunnert years."

Ennis nodded and continued, "She also said the horse farm idea is a good one—not much o'that 'round here."

"Well that's reassurin'," said Jack, thinking of the loan application he had just completed.

"But, Jack," Ennis said, "she did comment that we need t'be careful. In her words, 'There are bad apples in Quanah.""

"There are bad apples everywhere," said Jack. "I don't think Quanah is special in that respect."

Ennis nodded. "Except for that comment, she was encouragin', actually," he said. "She said she and her husband would like t'be our friends. We can call 'em if things come up."

"That's nice of her t'say," said Jack. He paused for a minute, thinking about what Ennis had told him, then said, "That's all very interestin', En. Whaddya think?"

"Think 'bout what?"

"Buyin' this place, the whole nine yards," replied Jack. "Anythin' she say discourage ya?"

"Ya mean like her comment about bad apples? Or that people know we're shackin' up? Ya think somethin' like that would make me change my mind?" said Ennis. Jack nodded, while Ennis shook his head. "Sorry t'disappoint ya, bud. No, I think buyin' this place makes sense and it's an opportunity like I ain't ever had in my life…and I don't think I'll ever have again."

Jack nodded. "Yer right, but we're gonna owe a whole shitload a lot of money t'the bank—and Tom Lawrence."

"Well, that just gives me a reason t'work harder than I already do, right?" said Ennis. "I need t'work t'pay the bills so you can sit around all day on yer fat ass and drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes."

Jack poked him. "Who's ass ya callin' fat?" he said, laughing.

"Well," said Ennis, "I believe it was you the other night who was tellin' me that my ass was the hardest, tightest thing ya ever put yer cock in…that sure don't sound like a description of fat—so I must mean you." He poked Jack back as he said this.

Jack smiled at him. "Ya talk like that, En, you'll get me wantin' some of that tight ass right now."

Ennis put his arm around Jack's shoulders, leaned over, and whispered in his ear, "Hold that thought, cowboy, for later. Can't do it here—we're in the world of girls."