A Love Born From Steel

Chapter 14

Jack was lying on the couch, reading The Mystery of the Moss Covered Mansion and wondering to himself if George Fayne could possibly be a lesbian, given her name, when he heard the truck drive up outside. It seemed early for Ennis to arrive. He looked at his watch—it was shortly before ten and he wasn't expecting Ennis until midnight. But he wasn't expecting anyone else so he laid the book on the table and headed out the front door.

Jack saw Ennis getting out of the truck. "En, yer home!" he shouted, as he ran down the steps. They practically collided as they fell together in a hug. Jack pulled Ennis's face towards his. "Cowboy, I love you," he said, as he leaned in for a kiss.

"Babe, I am so glad t'be home," said Ennis, when they pulled apart.

Jack paused and looked concerned, "Did somethin' go wrong?" he asked.

"No," said Ennis, "ev'rythin' was fine, I was just missin' ya and the goddamn drive seemed endless." He leaned in to Jack, "Gimme another kiss," he said, which Jack happily did.

They stood there hugging and kissing, Jack rubbing his hands through Ennis's hair and Ennis happily massaging Jack's ass, until Jack finally twisted his head away. He laughed. "Oh, Ennis, if anyone saw us, they'd think you'd been gone two years and not just two days."

Ennis laughed back, "We are a pair of deuces, ain't we?" he said, putting his arm around Jack's shoulder.

They walked into the house. Jack turned to Ennis. "Are ya hungry? Did you have any supper?"

"I'm starvin'," said Ennis, "and I was hopin' ya'd ask me that question. Ya got somethin' t'eat?"

"I sure do," said Jack. "Lemme get it together."

Ennis gave him another kiss. "I'm gonna go use the bathroom and change my clothes," he said. "I'll be right back."

Jack went into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a plate of grilled chicken and a bowl of potato salad. He removed the Saran wrap from the dishes and put them on the dining room table. Then he took a tomato from the window sill, cut it into wedges and arranged them neatly on a plate. He set a place for Ennis with knife, fork, and spoon, folding a paper napkin and tucking it under the fork.

He walked to the stairs and just as he was about to call up to Ennis to ask him what he wanted to drink with his supper, Ennis appeared. He was wearing sweat pants with a tee shirt and was barefoot.

Jack smiled. "Lookit you," he said, chuckling.

"I found these in the drawer. Is it okay if I borrow them?"

Jack laughed. "Cowboy, what's mine is yers. Wear any of my clothes, I don't give a shit."

Ennis clambered down the stairs. "Thanks, bud," he said, coming round and giving Jack yet another kiss.

"Supper's on the table," he said. "Whaddya want t'drink? Beer, iced tea?"

"A beer is fine," said Ennis, walking into the dining room. "Oh, this looks great, babe," he said, noticing the plates on the table. "Lookit all this. You cook this all for yerself?"

"Not just me," he said, "I knew you'd be home soon, prob'ly be hungry. And Bobby was over for supper, too," he added.

"Bobby?" Ennis said, as he sat down in front of his place. "I didn't know you was expectin' him."

"I wasn't," said Jack, coming back into the dining room, carrying two beers. "But I'll tell ya 'bout that later. Right now, I want you t'tell me 'bout yer trip." Jack sat down in his usual chair and handed Ennis one of the bottles.

"The trip was fine," said Ennis, taking a swig. "Just long. Alma wanted t'see me really early this mornin' so I was able to get on the road by nine. And I will admit, I put the pedal t'the floor more than once, so I was able t'make really good time gettin' here."

Jack smiled and Ennis continued. "I didn't stop for anythin' 'cept gas. Just ate sandwiches from the cooler." He looked at Jack. "The front seat of yer truck is a mess. I'll clean it in the mornin'."

Jack smiled happily at him, just glad Ennis was home. "That's fine, cowboy," he said, "don't worry 'bout it."

Ennis helped himself to a chicken leg and some potato salad. He pointed to the plates with his fork. "This is so nice, havin' somethin' like this t'come back to," he said. "Thank you. I really feel like I'm comin' home."

"Thank you, En, for sayin' that," said Jack. "For you, I'm happy t'do it." He watched Ennis eat a few bites, then said, "How'd it go with Alma, anyway?"

"Okay," said Ennis. "She tried to make a few snide comments but I'm learnin' Jack…didn't let her piss me off, make me lose my temper. She shut up when she saw she wouldn't get a rise out of me."

"What did she say?" Jack asked, "Nothin' against the girls?"

"No, nothin' with the girls. Just the usual, how you and me is unnatural, we're gonna rot in hell, shit like that." He smiled at Jack. "That last part may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I know it's what she was thinkin'."

Jack laughed, then his expression turned serious. "What 'bout seein' the girls—did you come up with a visitation plan?"

Ennis nodded. "Yeah, at least a beginning one. She agreed with the idea of longer visits. She was okay with a week during their February and April vacations, so-so on the week between Christmas and New Year's—I'll have t'work on that."

"What about the summer?"

"A long visit is okay. We didn't completely decide how long, but she was talkin' a month, six weeks…she said she'd ask the girls what they wanted, when it got closer t'the time. That made sense t'me."

Jack thought about this. "So, we might not see them 'til December?" he said, "or even February? That seems so far away."

Ennis looked at Jack, his expression a mix of smile and serious. "You missin' 'em?"

Jack nodded. "Yeah, I am. Don't take this wrong but I think I love them…love them like daughters, I mean. I feel like I have three kids now, not just a son."

Ennis smiled. "I know what ya mean. And they were diff'rent these past three weeks—diff'rent good, I mean. So happy, enjoyin' themselves. It made me realize just how miserable I was in Riverton and how much my bad mood rubbed off on ev'rybody."

Ennis ate for another minute or two, then said, "Actually, Jack, I was thinkin'—ain't there a long weekend in October?"

"Yup, Columbus Day. Why?"

"I was thinkin' 'bout this farm—we're gonna need t'get us some horses and I have a good relationship with the guy I bought Twister from. I was thinkin' of goin' t'Riverton in October, mebbe visit the girls, buy a horse or two…"

"What kind of a visit?" asked Jack. "I mean, what would ya do with Jenny and Junior?"

"Well, that's what I haven't quite figgered out," he said. "Sure as hell ain't much t'do in Riverton, that's for sure. Ya can only eat so many ice cream cones."

Jack thought for a minute, then said, "Y'know, En, y'know what's in Wyoming?"

"No, what?"

"Yellowstone National Park," replied Jack.

Ennis looked at him. "I ain't ever been to Yellowstone," he said. "That's the place with the geysers, right?"

Jack nodded. "Yup, I ain't been there either. Funny, live in Wyoming all yer life and never visit the biggest tourist attraction in the state."

Ennis laughed at that, then said, "So what are ya sayin', Jack? Go visit Yellowstone?"

Jack nodded, "Yeah, with the girls. Take them for the long weekend. That would be a way t'visit."

"What would we do, go campin'?" said Ennis.

"Mebbe camp, or mebbe they have a cabin or somethin' we could rent. We'd need t'do some investigatin'."

They thought about this idea for a minute, then Ennis said, "Y'know, it could work."

Jack nodded. "Yeah, it could. And after we was done at Yellowstone, mebbe we could go up t'Lightining Flat. Visit my parents, tell 'em what's goin' on." He gave Ennis a funny smile. "Prob'ly only right for them t'meet the man their son is married to."

Ennis blushed a little bit at that comment, but smiled, and didn't disagree. "Yup, yer right. But yer daddy, is he gonna run me off with a shotgun?" he said with a wink.

Jack laughed. "He might, but he'll be runnin' me off too, so we'll be together." Jack sat, lost in thought for a minute, then said, "I should prob'ly call my mama, tell her I'm gettin' divorced, tell her about the farm. I ain't talked t'her since back in May, when I didn't go up t'Lightning Flat after our fishin' trip."

Ennis didn't say anything, just listened. He realized that since he had never been an adult with parents, he had no idea what the proper protocol was for communicating with them. Alma used to call her mother once a week, but Ennis didn't know if it was different for sons. Once every three months seemed a little infrequent, though. He cleared his throat. "I think you should call yer mama, tell her yer happy," he said. "I wish my mama could see how happy I am."

Jack smiled at Ennis, and reached over and covered Ennis's hand with his own. "I think she prob'ly knows, En. I think yer mama is watchin' over you." He paused, then shook his head. "Listen t'us, gettin' all mushy and sentimental." Ennis laughed and nodded. "So, this trip, sounds like it could last a week. What are we gonna do 'bout the horses?"

"The horses here or the horses we'd be buyin' in Riverton?" asked Ennis.

"The horses here," said Jack. "We'd need someone t'take care of 'em."

Ennis nodded. "I could ask at the Agway. I've gotten friendly with the manager there—shit, I've spent enough money on hay and feed, he should be friendly. I'm sure there's a teenager in town who'd do the work for a week."

"Yup, yer prob'ly right." Jack looked at the plates. "You done eatin'?"

Ennis reached over and served himself another scoop of potato salad. "No, I want seconds on this, it's really good. You get this at the store?"

"Nope," said Jack, "I made it. Recipe in my cookbook. Boiled the potatoes, cooked the eggs…"

"Well, it's really good." He paused, then gave Jack a smile. "Shit, cowboy, when did you have time t'make potato salad? Yer supposed t'be doin' yer work."

Jack laughed. "Well, without you here to keep me otherwise occupied, I felt like I had a ton of time on my hands." He paused, then his look turned serious. "Actually, En, I got that feelin'…"

Ennis looked at him, his face a mixture of concern and worry. "Which feelin', Jack? That depression?" Jack nodded. "Ya didn't get drunk, did ya?" asked Ennis.

"No, I didn't. In fact, this beer's the first thing I had t'drink since you left." He paused. "I'm really glad you called last night, though."

"Well," said Ennis, "you asked me to and I said I would, so of course I called ya."

"Well," said Jack, "it was the boost I needed. That black cloud feelin' was there, but talkin' t'you helped me fight it off."

Ennis squeezed Jack's hand. "That's good, babe," he said. "I'm glad t'hear it."

Jack smiled. "That's why I got together with Bobby today, too. I realized I needed t'keep myself busy, so I did my chores around here in the mornin', made the potato salad, then went t'town for errands. Picked up Bobby later on, we came back here, went ridin' and swimmin', then had a cook out. I only got back from droppin' him off 'bout an hour before you got home."

Ennis smiled. "That sounds like fun." He paused, then looked at Jack. "Why this time, cowboy? You didn't mention the black cloud when I went t'Denver."

Jack paused, considering. "I thought 'bout that. It was diff'rnt this time. The girls leavin'…me realizin' how much I enjoyed havin' them here…and," he paused, "I hope I can say this right, but I think I was worried 'bout you goin' back t'Wyoming."

Ennis looked puzzled. "Why Wyoming?"

Jack replied, "I was worried like you'd decide it was home, that's where you wanted t'be. Didn't want t'live in Texas. You'd see the Wyoming mountains and change your mind."

Ennis smiled. "Jack, I know what yer sayin' but nothin' could be more wrong. Wyoming ain't home anymore and I didn't feel a twinge of that while I was there. In fact," he said, "ya know what's home?" Jack shook his head. "You are. You are my life now, Jack. Bein' with you is my life, and wherever you are is home."

Jack could feel tears welling up in his eyes and Ennis noticed. He stood up and reached out his hand to Jack, pulling him into his arms. He wiped a tear from under Jack's eye with his thumb, then gave him a gentle kiss. "Home, babe," he said, "is you and me. It doesn't matter if we are at the Lazy L or in a Quonset hut. My home is in my heart, and yer there, for all time."

Jack tried to smile, but the tears were spilling down his cheeks and even Ennis was feeling a little weepy. "Lookit us," said Jack, "a pair of grown men cryin' over each other. Are we ever goin' t'get to a point where we ain't so emotional all the time?"

Ennis laughed. "Mebbe, mebbe not. I kinda like the emotional, t'be honest, as long as it's happy."

Jack laughed. "I love you, En," he said.

"I love you too," said Ennis. He paused, then said, "Don't take this the wrong way…I loved havin' Jenny and Junior here, but there's a selfish part of me that just likes bein' alone with you, so I can kiss you whenever I want, hug you whenever…" He leaned in and gave Jack a long and luxurious kiss. "Kiss you like that whenever…" he said in a whisper.

Jack let himself be kissed. Then he got a funny smile. "Speakin' of the girls and kissin', did you see Jenny's picture?"

Ennis shook his head. "No, what picture?"

Jack smiled. "It's up on the dresser. I got a picture frame for it today." Ennis turned as if to head towards the stairs, but Jack grabbed his hand. "Help me clean up here real quick," he said, "and then we can go up for the night." Ennis nodded. "I think you'll like this picture, En. It's somethin' you wanted."

"Somethin' I wanted?"

"Yup," said Jack, "you'll see. Now, let's clean up. I hate comin' down to a sink of dirty dishes in the mornin'."

Thursday morning, Ennis woke up even earlier than usual but he felt like a million bucks. He stretched, looked at Jack who was dead to the world, got up and looked out the window. He could tell it was going to be another beautiful day. He briefly considered going back to bed but realized he was absolutely wide awake so what was the point? He crossed over to the dresser and pulled out a clean pair of jeans. As he did so, he looked at the two framed pictures that sat on the top. He smiled to himself. He loved Jenny's picture, as Jack had told him he would.

He thought about his daughters as he traced his finger over Jenny's name where she had signed it in the bottom right hand corner. He loved them both but he felt like he had gotten to know Jenny better during her three week visit—and in some way, he felt like she was connecting with him and Jack on a deeper level than Junior was. This picture seemed to be evidence of that.

Ennis finished getting dressed, went down the hall to use the bathroom, then headed down the stairs. Since it was early he knew the horses wouldn't be anxious for their morning feed, so he took the time to brew a pot of coffee. He poured himself a glass of juice and a bowl of cereal and stood eating it while he looked out the kitchen window, trying to formulate a plan for the day.

He decided he'd take care of the horses and a few other quick chores, then head to the nursing home to visit Hal. More and more when he went in the afternoon, Hal was asleep and often didn't say a word. Ennis didn't mind, he usually just sat next to Hal, holding his hand and massaging his fingers. The nurses told him he could talk to Hal—many times people could hear even if they didn't seem responsive—but Ennis, not the most talkative guy under normal circumstances, felt a little funny doing that. "Mebbe if I go in the morning," he thought, "Hal might be more awake."

He rinsed his bowl and glass in the sink and poured himself a cup of coffee, glancing at the clock. It was 5:30 a.m. He thought about taking a cup of coffee up to Jack but thought he probably wouldn't be awake. Jack got up early but usually not much before 6:30 or 7. He realized the coffee would probably just get cold, even though Jack would appreciate the gesture. It made more sense to leave it in the pot where it would be easier to warm up. Ennis finished his coffee, rinsed the cup, put it in the strainer and headed out the door to the stable.

Three hours later, Ennis came into the nursing home and walked up to the nurses' station. On his way through town he had stopped at the grocery story and bought a bag of donuts, as he had discovered the morning crew liked the sugar ones as much as he did. "Mornin' ladies," he said, putting the bag on the counter.

"Mornin' Ennis, mornin' Ennis," came a chorus of voices as the staff looked up at him, some smiling, some giving a little wave. "You're early this mornin'," one nurse, a pretty young woman named Marcia, said.

"Woke up early and was feelin' great, got my chores done, thought I'd make a quick visit," he replied. "How's Hal doin' this mornin'?"

Becky Randall, the charge nurse, came around to his side, "Can we talk for a minute, Ennis?" she said. "About Hal?"

He nodded, "Sure."

She guided him down the hall and into the day room, where they sat in two chairs. The room was empty. "I'm glad you came by this morning," she said, "because I was actually thinking of calling Tom today. Maybe we can talk instead and you can relay the information to him."

"Sure," Ennis said, "what's up?"

"Hal is not doing well, as you have probably noticed. He has had a dramatic decline in the past few days, and I suspect he really doesn't have much more than a week to live, if that."

Ennis nodded. He had seen the changes she was describing.

"Ennis, you know how much Hal talks about going home. When he was first here, he talked about going home to live. Now, I think he knows he's dying, and he wants to go home for that."

Ennis didn't say anything. Becky continued, "Ennis, I probably shouldn't be asking this, but is there anyway you and Jack would consider letting him go home to die?"

Ennis wasn't sure what to say. "We ain't nurses, Becky. How would we care for him?"

"Actually, Ennis, he doesn't require a whole lot of care right now. He spends most of the day sleeping and he eats very little. You could have some nurses come in—they're called hospice nurses, they specialize in caring for dying patients—to give you a hand."

"Would they be there for 24 hours?" asked Ennis.

Becky shook her head. "No, more like once or twice a day. They'd help with his personal care—toileting, bathing, stuff like that—plus give him his meds. They'd make it so you could manage the rest."

Ennis sat back and thought over what Becky had said. He knew that Hal wanted to go home—he had told Ennis that more times than he could count. "I just want to see the house again, back to it's original color. It makes me think of my mama and daddy, and being a little boy," he had said to Ennis, over and over.

"Becky, let me talk to Jack, mebbe we can do it. I dunno, I've never done anything like this before."

"It's not so hard, Ennis. Especially since you've gotten to know Hal so well."

Ennis nodded. "Okay, I'll talk to Jack, and I'll call Tom. If it's okay with both of them, mebbe we can go ahead."

Becky smiled, "Thank you for even thinking about this, Ennis. You're a good person."

They stood up and walked back down the hall. "When I looked in a little while ago, he was still asleep," Becky said. "But maybe when he hears your voice he'll wake up." She turned towards the nurse's station as Ennis entered the room.

As Becky had said, Hal was sleeping. He looked so frail, his face pale against the white of the pillow. Ennis pulled up a chair and sat next to the bed. He picked up Hal's hand and held it in his own, slowly massaging his fingers.

Hal's eyes fluttered open. "Ennis, yer here," he said in a voice barely above a whisper.

"I am, Hal," he answered. "No need t'talk."

Hal was quiet for a minute, then opened his eyes again. "Ennis, I wanna go home. I'm a dyin' old man and I wanna die in my home."

Ennis looked at him. "Becky talked t'me 'bout that, Hal. I'll talk t'Jack, see what we can do. They got special nurses that can come in 'n care for ya."

Hal gave him a faint smile. "I wanna be in the back bedroom, the little one."

"You don't want the big bedroom?" said Ennis. "It's got more light."

"Ain't that where ya sleep with Jack?" Hal asked.

"It surely is," said Ennis, "but we can move out for you."

Hal shook his head. "No, I want ya there with your lover. I'll sleep in the little room. That was mine when I was a boy. It'll be good t'die there."

Ennis reached over and smoothed the hair on his forehead. "I'll talk t'Jack, and I'll call Tom. We'll work it out. We'll bring ya home, Hal."

Hal smiled again and closed his eyes. Within a minute, he was asleep.

Ennis stood up and walked out the door, closing the door quietly behind him. He found Becky at the nurse's station. "How would we get him t'the house?" he asked.

"We'd arrange for an ambulance. No flashing lights, but it will be easier for him to go on a stretcher. He really can't walk anymore."

Ennis nodded. He paused and thought for a minute, then said, "Listen, I know I said I'd talk t'Jack, but let's just plan on this. He ain't got much time and he wants t'be home. How soon can ya move him? This afternoon?"

Becky nodded. "I think that can be arranged."

"Okay," he said. "I'll give ya a call after I get back to the house."

"That sounds fine," Becky said. "And I'll call the hospice nurses. They'll need to bring in a commode, but that's about all the special equipment he'll need." She reached out and touched Ennis's arm. "Thank you again for doing this."

Ennis smiled at her. "It's the right thing t'do, ain't it?" and she nodded. "Okay, so I'll talk t'ya in a little bit," he said, as he turned and walked towards the door.

Jack and Ennis were sitting at the dining room table, eating their lunch, when they heard a car drive up. "I guess it's beginning," said Ennis. Jack nodded. They had been told the hospice nurse would be arriving around noon, and Hal would be coming in the ambulance after she had met with them.

Jack stood up and went to the front door, watching a tall, willowy woman come up the steps. She was wearing a long denim skirt, peasant blouse, and sandals. Her long gray hair was twisted up in a knot and held in place with something that looked suspiciously like chopsticks. She had brilliant blue eyes and a beautiful smile.

Jack opened the door and welcomed her in. "Hi, I'm Jack…Jack Twist," said Jack, extending his hand.

The woman took his hand in both her own, "It's wonderful to meet you, Jack," she said. "I'm Jill Bretz, the hospice nurse from the Visiting Nurses Association." As she finished clasping his hand in hers, her fingers rubbed against his ring and she looked at it, "Oh this is lovely," she said. "You must've gotten it on July 4th." Jack nodded. She smiled, lifting up one of her earrings. "I bought these from these from Sarah that day too."

"They're very pretty," said Jack, not sure what else to say.

"Yes, I thought they were beautiful. They spoke to me. Did your ring speak to you?"

"Actually, it did," said Jack, although he had never thought of it this way.

"Sarah is spiritual," she said. "It comes through in her jewelry."

Jack was feeling slightly confused about all of this. Jill didn't look like any nurse he had ever seen—he was used to the white cap and shoes variety—and her talk of spiritual jewelry seemed a little…odd. On the other hand, everything she was saying was completely true. "I mean," he thought to himself, "we got married there. What could be more spiritual than that?"

He suddenly realized Jill was talking to him. "Do you have a friend for me to meet?" she was asking gently.

Jack nodded. "Yes, in the dining room…Ennis." He motioned her into the house and towards the dining room.

Jill walked ahead of him. Ennis had gotten up from the table and was standing awkwardly there, not sure what do to. Jill reached out her hand, "Ennis, I'm Jill, the hospice nurse." She looked at the table. "I'm sorry I interrupted your lunch."

"We was almost finished," he said. "It's not really an interruption."

"Sweet man," she said, "look at all the food on your plate. Of course it's an interruption, and I apologize. Do you have some iced tea?" Ennis nodded, feeling like Jack, that is, a little bit dumbfounded at this woman who had suddenly appeared in their midst. "Perhaps I could serve myself a glass and we can talk about Hal while you finish your lunch." She didn't wait for an answer but went into the kitchen, coming out a minute later with a glass of iced tea. Jack and Ennis were still standing, not sure what to do. She motioned to them, "Please sit," as she sat at the empty place across the table.

Jack looked at her. "Is tea enough? I could make you a sandwich…"

"No, no, no, no," she said. "You don't need to feed me. Tea is fine." She gave them both a big smile and Jack thought in that moment that it was the most beautiful smile he had ever seen. She looked at Ennis. "I see you have one of Sarah's rings, too," she said.

Ennis nodded. "I bought it with Jack."

"It's beautiful," she said, giving Ennis the same astonishing smile. "Wear it well." She paused, then continued. "Okay, now to the real reason for my visit…first, let me tell you, you are doing a wonderful thing, a truly special and caring gesture. Having Hal come home at this point in his life is a gift and the gift you are giving him is a gift that will be returned to you a thousand times."

Ennis and Jack looked at her. They were expecting a clinical lecture about pills and turning Hal in bed, not stuff about gifts.

She looked at both of them, once again smiling her amazing smile. "I can see you don't know what I am talking about." They nodded. "Few do. And that's the point. You have made a decision based on faith and for that you'll be rewarded." They continued to look confused. She nodded. "Let me start at the beginning." She paused for a minute, then took a breath. "There was a time when the cycle of birth, life, and death was a natural cycle, happening within the family unit and being a part of all our lives. Unfortunately, in this country in particular, we have turned these natural times into medical events. Babies are born in the hospital, separated from their mothers. People who are dying—who we know are dying—die in the hospital, apart from their loved ones, attached to tubes and monitors. It is not part of the natural process."

Jack and Ennis listened, interested in what she was saying.

"A woman in England has created a new philosophy of care—new in that it's a new system, but going back to the old roots—called hospice. It is starting to take hold in this country." She paused, then continued. "Hospice is a philosophy that affirms the dying process, treats it as a spiritual event, and recognizes that the best place to die is at home with loved ones—family and community—around you."

She paused for a minute, pulling the chopsticks out of her hair, retwisting the bun, and then reaffixing the chopsticks in back in place. "I understand why Tom felt he needed to admit his uncle to the nursing home," she said, "but really, if there had been family here, he could have been cared for at home. There was nothing really wrong with him that required the level of care that's provided in a nursing home." She smiled at Ennis and Jack again. "That is why I said what you are doing is so special…bringing him home. I think it is very special that you have found the place in your hearts to travel this last journey with Hal and to do it with him here in the place he has lived all his life."

Ennis finally spoke. "It seemed like the right thing t'do," he said. "It wasn't a hard decision."

"It never is when it's the right decision," Jill replied.

Ennis thought about what she had said. It had been remarkably easy. He'd talked to Jack, they called Tom, and the next thing they knew all the pieces were in place. He almost wondered if they should have considered this sooner, except that Jenny and Junior had been with them until Sunday. He's wasn't sure that they could have managed this while the girls were still visiting.

Jill looked at their plates. "It looks like you've finished your lunch. Do you want to show me Hal's room?"

The three of them stood up. Jack gathered up the luncheon plates and put them in the sink, then they walked up to the second floor. Ennis pointed down the hall. "I offered the big room to Hal, tellin' 'im there's more light, but he wanted t'be in the little room," he said, pointing in the door.

Jill walked in. "What a sweet little room," she said. "At my grandmother's house I always stayed in the little room under the eaves. This reminds me of that. And look how fresh and clean it is."

"We painted it this summer," said Ennis. Then he added. "It's not too small? He won't need…I dunno…stuff?"

Jill smiled. "Stuff? No, not much. They told me at the nursing home he can't really walk anymore so I have a commode in the car, but that's about all he'll need, I think." She walked over to the bed and folded down the sheets and then fluffed the pillow. She turned to them. "Can I see the bathroom?"

Jack and Ennis nodded and showed her down the hall. She glanced in the bathroom. "Yes, from what Becky told me, I doubt Hal could manage this hall or toilet." She started walking back down the hall, glancing in the master bedroom and then the guest room. "You painted everything up here?" she said. They nodded. "It looks so nice—clean and fresh."

They walked back down the stairs and Jill glanced at her watch. "Hal should be getting here any minute. While we're waiting, why don't we sit here in the living room and I'll explain a few things." She quickly reviewed what she had learned from the nurses at the nursing home. "He is not in any pain, and spends most of his time sleeping. The process in his body is that the organs will slowly shut down. You may notice his breathing becoming more irregular or it may even seem like he stops breathing for 20 or 30 seconds at a time—that's natural, nothing to be alarmed about."

"The most important thing," she said, "is to be with him. Does he have friends in the community who can come be with him?"

"Not that I know of," said Ennis. "He didn't seem to have many people visit him in the nursing home. That's why I started going so often."

Jill nodded. "That happens. You may be surprised in the next couple of days, though, when word gets out that he's home. And I'll do some asking at the VNA."

Ennis looked at her. "What happens when he, uh…dies?" Ennis realized how hard it was for him to say that, facing the reality that Hal would be leaving them soon. He had really become a very close friend.

"When he dies, you can continue to sit with him for as long as you want. There's no rush, no need to hurry. Once you are ready, just call me. Because he is a hospice patient and this will be an expected death, I can take care of the necessary procedures. When he was admitted to the nursing home, Tom selected a funeral home, so they will send a hearse and transport the body. It should all be very straightforward and I don't anticipate any complications."

They both nodded, then Jack asked, "Will you be comin' 'round?"

Jill nodded. "Yes. I'll definitely come by every morning and I suspect I'll stop by at the end of the day, too. You can call me anytime during the day. In the evening or at night, just call the VNA. They'll have someone on call who can help you." She handed Jack a paper. "This has some of the information we've just gone over, plus my phone number and the number of the VNA."

Jack took the paper and looked at it carefully. "Okay, this all looks pretty clear." He turned to Ennis. "En, I'll put this near the phone so you'll know where it is."

Ennis nodded. "Thanks, bud."

Jill stood up and gave them each another one of her dazzling smiles. "Let me hug you," she said, hugging Jack first, then Ennis. "You are special people," she whispered. "You are going on a spiritual journey." She stepped back and then said, "Do you hear a vehicle? I think Hal is coming home."

The three of them walked out to the porch. Jack and Ennis didn't hear or see anything, but then in a minute, they saw the ambulance turn the bend in the drive. "How did she know that?" Jack thought to himself.

They watched the ambulance approach. As Becky had said, there were no flashing lights or sirens. It parked and the driver got out. "Hi Jill," he said with a wave, as he walked to the back of the van. A second attendant was sitting in the back, next to Hal who was on a gurney, the head propped up. They maneuvered it out of the back and wheeled it towards the front of the house then stopped where Jill, Ennis, and Jack stood. Ennis walked over and brushed the hair off Hal's forehead. "Hal, yer home," he said.

Hal looked more awake and alert than he had in weeks. His eyes were bright and he was smiling a small little smile. "Thank you, Ennis," he whispered. "Thank you for doing this for me." He looked at the house. "Look how pretty it is," he said, "It looks like it did forty years ago."

The group stood there for a few minutes, letting Hal drink in the sight of the house and the farm. There was no need to rush because none of them were going anywhere. After a little while—no one really knew how long—Jill suggested it was time to go inside. "Hal," she said, "you'll like the inside, too. It's beautiful."

The attendants brought Hal inside and let him sit in the living room for awhile, then went upstairs. They transferred him easily to his bed and then Jill helped position him, with pillows behind his head and the sheet pulled up over his chest. She pushed opened the window next to the bed and the late summer breeze blew the curtains. She explained that Jack and Ennis would be with him and that she would be stopping by once or twice a day. Hal nodded. At this point he was starting to look tired and his eyes were drifting shut.

Ennis pulled up a chair and sat down next to the bed, lifting Hal's hand and massaging the fingers as he had so many times before. Jill touched Jack's elbow and motioned him out of the room. They went down the stairs together.

"Ennis looks all set for awhile, I think," she said. "You may want to check on him occasionally," she said. "He seems like the type who could sit vigil twenty-four hours a day."

Jack smiled. "And so this is what we do?" he said.

"This is what you do. You two can still maintain a life, of course. Eat meals, go to bed at night, do what you need to do around the farm. But you'll want to be with Hal. It will come naturally. It always does."

She looked at Jack carefully, then in a move that surprised him, traced her fingers along his jaw, the same gesture that he loved to do with Ennis. "You're a good person, Jack. You'll understand that when this is all over." She turned and walked towards the front screen door, pausing with her hand on the knob. "I'll see you in the early evening. I'll plan to stop by then."

Jack nodded, and before he realized he hadn't even said goodbye, she was gone out the door, her denim skirt fluttering behind her.