A Love Born From Steel

Chapter 17

Jack woke up, turned onto his back and stared at the ceiling. "Fuck," he said, to no one in particular.

Ennis turned on his side and looked at Jack. "Well, good mornin' t'ya, too," he said.

Jack turned and gave Ennis a small smile. "Sorry, cowboy. Mornin'." He turned back to the ceiling. "Fuck," he said again.

"I thought I screwed ya silly and got all those thoughts outta yer head," said Ennis, running his finger down Jack's arm.

"Ya did for a little while," said Jack. "But now they're back."

Ennis sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "Ya getting' up?" asked Jack.

Ennis shook his head. "I'm gonna go piss and brush my teeth," he said, "but I'll come back. Obviously, you wanna talk." He walked down the hall.

Jack listened to the sound of the flushing toilet and running water, then Ennis's footsteps as he came back into the bedroom. Jack watched him as he climbed back into bed, adjusting the pillow behind his back as he sat against the headboard. "Jesus, cowboy, you are always a sight for sore eyes."

Ennis smiled. "Thanks, lover, " he said, having finally becoming more comfortable with the compliments Jack paid his looks. He paused. "So…it's impossible t'buy this place without the money from the bank?"

"I don't see how we can make it work, En," said Jack.

"I thought you said you were getting' more in yer divorce than ya thought."

"I am, but it's just a coupla thousand bucks. Not enough t'make a difference," said Jack.

"Let's go over the numbers again," said Ennis. "We're buyin' this place for…?"

"$120,000," answered Jack.

"And the down payment is…?"

"Twenty percent…$24,000."

"How much we got between us in savings?" asked Ennis.

"You've got $1200, I've got $8000, and then my divorce money will be $22,000. Add it all up," Jack wrote invisible numbers in the palm of his hand with his fingers, doing the math, "and we have $31,200. Take $24,000 away," he did the math again, on his palm, "and that leaves us with about $7200. Not much for buyin' horses, makin' improvements, payin' taxes and insurance and shit like that."

Ennis sighed. "Would Tom take a smaller down payment?" he asked. "Mebbe 10 percent instead of 20?"

"That's a possibility…although 20 percent is pretty standard. Still, he might consider it." Jack pondered on that thought for a minute.

"What if we did something dif'rent, not horses. Started growin' somethin', like cotton. Would that be cheaper t'start up than a horse farm?"

"I dunno, I ain't done the math on that. But can you really see yerself as a cotton farmer, En?"

Ennis shook his head. "No, not really. I like animals, and I only like growin' stuff for animals, like hay." He thought for another minute. "What if we started small with the horse operation and one or the other of us got a job…have another source of income 'til we get the business up and runnin'?"

Jack looked at him. "That would prob'ly be me, wouldn't it?"

Ennis nodded. "Prob'ly. I ain't got many skills for another job…"

"Well," said Jack, "I s'pose that's an idea…although, I like bein' here, workin' on the farm."

"I know ya do, babe," said Ennis with a smile.

"And, as we know from Hal, it's an awful lot of work for one person t'try and run this place alone."

"Yeah, that's true," said Ennis. "Okay, mebbe that's not such a good idea, after all."

They stared off into space, thinking separate thoughts for a few minutes, then Ennis spoke up again. "What 'bout goin' t'a different bank?" he said. "Tryin' another one for a loan?"

Jack gave a sarcastic laugh. "The way I feel right now, I never want t'set foot in a fuckin' bank ever again."

"I understand that feelin'," said Ennis, "but what 'bout the bank in Childress—the one where you had yer mortgage? Yer a customer there."

"En, the long shadow of LD Newsome reached all the way down t'Quanah. Ya don't think he'd do the same thing right in his own backyard? I ain't his son-in-law anymore, now I'm a fuckin' queer and he'd make sure that I don't get a penny from the First Federated Bank of Childress." Jack said this with an unmistakable note of bitterness in his voice. "Ya know that that's what this is all about, right? The whole character shit that Crocker threw at us—that was all 'bout us bein' gay."

Ennis looked at him. "Of course I realize that, Jack. I ain't stupid."

"And there ain't a fuckin' thing we can do about it. No laws t'protect us, no way we can say we was discriminated against." He sighed, then turned to look at Ennis. "Prob'ly right now, yer wishin' that you weren't gay, right?"

"No point wishin' fer somethin' that I can't change, Jack," said Ennis. "It is who I am, have been all my life. I just didn't get it 'til two days ago."

Jack looked at Ennis thoughtfully. "Whaddya s'pose woulda happened if I didn't grab ya in the tent that first time? Would you have gone through life, not knowin' you was gay?"

Ennis looked back at Jack. "It woulda happened—mebbe the next night, mebbe the next week, but it woulda happened." He paused, then continued. "Think about it, Jack. You had the hots for me and once I got a taste of it, I had the hots for you. There was no way we could've contained that all summer."

Jack smiled at Ennis. "Yer prob'ly right on the money with that, cowboy."

Ennis winked at him. "I still got the hots for ya, babe."

Jack smiled. "So where were we…?" he said, bringing their conversation back to the original topic.

"Well, accordin' t'what you said, our best bet for buyin' this place is t'ask Tom t'take a smaller down payment, which would give us more money for getting' started up." Jack nodded. "Ya don't think another bank would lend us the money…so, we gotta make do with what we've got."

"What if Tom says no?" asked Jack, giving voice to the words he didn't really want to say.

"You tell me," said Ennis. "What then? Could we go t'Lightnin' Flat?"

"Lightnin' Flat is a hellhole," said Jack, his voice bitter.

"Can't be that bad," said Ennis. "Ya never said that before."

"Well, the place ain't that bad, but my daddy…" Jack paused, then looked at Ennis. "I never told ya this, but he used t'beat me when I was little."

"Like spankin'?" asked Ennis.

"Worse. Hittin' me in the head, whuppin' my back with a belt, shit like that."

Ennis looked at him, his eyes filled with sorrow. "I am sorry t'hear that, Jack," he said. "My daddy spanked me a bunch, but never whupped me."

"I've never hit Bobby," Jack said. "Not even a spankin'. After what my daddy did t'me, I said I was never gonna hit a kid o'mine, and I ain't done it."

"I ain't ever spanked my girls but then, they're good kids," said Ennis. "Never got in that much trouble…besides, ain't right t'hit girls or women. Never hit Alma, 'tho there were times I felt pretty close t'it."

Jack looked at Ennis. "My reason for tellin' ya this, En," he said, "is I don't really feel like goin' back and livin' under my daddy's roof…even if we're in a cabin on the north 40. My visits after our fishin' trips…that was to see my mama, really. I don't have much use for my daddy."

"So, yer sayin' ya don't want t'move t'Lightnin' Flat."

Jack nodded. "That's what I'm sayin'."

"Okay, fair enough," replied Ennis.

Jack stared up at the ceiling again. "Fuck," he said.

Ennis looked at him. "Jack, it's pretty plain t'me that we ain't gonna solve this problem this mornin'."

"No, I don't think we are, En," said Jack.

"But at least we started talkin' 'bout it. We'll figger somethin' out…besides, I don't think Tom'll kick us out tomorrow. We need some time t'make a transition."

"I s'pose yer right," said Jack. "I just…fuck, I just wish I hadn't gotten my hopes up so much. I should never have let myself believe it was gonna happen, talkin' 'bout bathrooms and beds and shit like that."

Ennis rolled over and pulled Jack into his arms. "The important thing, cowboy," he said, "is you and me. We're together, that's what counts."

They were sitting on the porch, each smoking a cigarette when they saw Tom's station wagon turn into their road. "There he is," said Jack. "Ya ready for all this?" Ennis nodded and Jack crushed his cigarette in the ashtray. "We should remember t'not smoke 'round Tom's wife."

"Good point," said Ennis. "Gimme the ashtray, I'll go wash it out." He walked into the house. When he came back out, Tom was parking and getting out of the car.

"Hi guys," he said, with a small wave. He crossed to the passenger side and opened the door for his wife, who pulled herself out of the car with a bit of a struggle.

Jack leaned in to Ennis. "When did Tom say the baby is due?" he whispered.

"Next month—end o'September," Ennis whispered back.

Janet Lawrence was tall, with dark brown hair pulled back in a pony tail. She walked towards the porch, Tom following, carrying his son. "Jack, Ennis, this is my wife Janet," said Tom, "and my son Jeff." Jeff Lawrence was having a shy moment and buried his head in his father's shoulder.

Janet reached out and shook hands with Ennis and Jack. "It's so nice to meet you after hearing your names all summer," she said, with a friendly and open smile.

"Thank you," said Jack. "Nice t'meet ya too."

She looked at the house. "Tom, you were so right. The house looks lovely—the pictures hardly do it justice."

"Hal was right pleased t'see it," said Ennis. "We must've stood out here for fifteen minutes while he looked at the house."

Janet pointed to the door. "Will you excuse me to use the bathroom?" she said. "We've been driving for awhile."

"Oh, sure," said Ennis, stepping back and pulling the screen open for her. "You must know…second floor, end of the hall."

Janet smiled, "Thank you," she said, as she disappeared into the house.

Tom was whispering to his son, then turned to Ennis. "Ennis," he said, "Jeff was wondering if he could see your horses."

"Horses?" said Ennis. "Sure." He looked at Jeff. "Tiger, you want t'walk t'the field or go piggy back?"

Jeff gave a happy squeal and clambered onto Ennis's back. "We'll be back in a few minutes," said Ennis, as he headed off towards the stable.

Tom looked at Jack. "So, how's it going?"

Jack shrugged. "We've had quite a week—lotsa ups and downs."

Tom nodded. "I can imagine. I am sure it was something with Uncle Hal."

Jack looked at him. "Actually, havin' Hal here was an up. It turned out t'be really special. Ennis and I ain't ever done anythin' like that before—but it was…," he paused, then continued. "The hospice nurse, her name was Jill, she kept talkin' 'bout dyin' bein' spiritual. At first we didn't know what she meant, but with Hal here, we learned. That's what it was…spiritual."

"Well," said Tom, "I'm not sure what to say."

"Nothin' much t'say," said Jack, "just know that Hal had a happy and peaceful death. We should all be so lucky." He paused, then took a breath. "We had a meetin' at the bank yesterday…that was a down."

"Oh?" said Tom, pausing.

"They turned us down—didn't approve the loan. Said we ain't good first-time borrowers."

"Oh, Jack, I am sorry to hear that," said Tom. "Is there anything you can do? Ask for a second review?"

Jack shook his head. "Tom, if I can be blunt, that banker was a fuckin' asshole. He couldn't just say we was turned down, he had t'sit and insult us for thirty minutes. I don't think Ennis will ever set foot in the Quanah Savings and Loan for the rest of his life."

"He insulted you? What for? This is just a loan, not a personal issue," said Tom.

"He made it personal," replied Jack. "Talked about our moral character."

"Oh," said Tom. Jack could see the look of comprehension registering in Tom's eyes. "I get what you're saying."

"Anyway," said Jack. "I don't know what this is going t'do with us buying the place. We needed the loan for the business part of the deal."

Tom looked towards the house where he could see his wife coming down the stairs. "Let me think on this, Jack," he said. "We need to just get through the next two days. Maybe tomorrow afternoon we could talk, or Saturday morning."

"Sounds good," said Jack. "Ennis 'n me need t'do some thinkin' too."

Janet came onto the porch through the screen door. "I hope you don't mind, I did some peeking around the house," she said. "It all looks so nice. I always hated that ugly wallpaper in the living room."

Jack laughed. "Ennis did too. Once he made up his mind t'get rid of it, he couldn't strip it off the wall fast enough."

Janet smiled. "Well, I think everything looks 1000 percent better than it did before. You've brought this place back to life."

Jack winced inwardly at her words, thinking of Ennis's comments the evening before. He had said the same thing. "We've brought this place back to life." Jack took a deep breath, once again filled with sadness at the thought of leaving. He shook his head. "I'm sorry, I'm bein' rude. Would ya like somethin' t'drink?"

Jack picked up the Big Ben alarm clock and peered at the glow-in-the-dark dial: 2 am. He sighed. He was wide awake and his mind was full of worries about the farm, money, moving and all the rest. He turned on his side and looked at Ennis. The room was pitch black so he couldn't see anything but the shape of Ennis, lying on his side, facing away. Jack lightly ran his hand down Ennis's back. He knew if he did anything more than "lightly" Ennis would wake up. He didn't want to do that. "At least one of us is sleepin'," he thought. "Let him get his rest."

Jack turned back and looked towards the ceiling. In an effort to empty his mind of his worries, he thought back on the day, which had actually turned out to be very pleasant. Darlene and her family—husband Russell and children Lisa and David, aged 7 and 5—arrived shortly after Tom. Jack had bought an assortment of cold cuts, breads, and salads, with cookies for dessert. He laid out a small buffet and everyone helped themselves to some lunch.

The adults sat and chatted, lingering over their sandwiches. The three children played together. Ennis brought down Jenny's suitcase of Barbies which thrilled Lisa. "Sorry I don't have any toys for boys," he said to David. "I just got daughters."

"That's okay," said David. "I don't mind."

"Do ya know how t'ride a bike?" asked Ennis. David nodded. "Well, then, let's go get Jenny's bike. It's down in the barn."

Jack had forgotten but Tom's sister, Darlene, was a nurse, working in oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She was very interested in hospice, hearing about Jill, and Hal's death at home. Ennis told them about Hal's last few hours (although he discreetly left out the part about the kiss), the storm, and the rainbow. Darlene nodded. "I've had other families tell me stories like that. The electricity thing—it's kind of amazing, isn't it?"

Ennis nodded, feeling his eyes well up with tears again. "It's an experience I'll never forget—not for the rest of my life."

Tom had gone over the plans for the wake and the funeral. Jack and Ennis had begged off from going to the wake which was planned for the late afternoon. Jack had explained to Tom, "It's like this…last week, Hal had a steady stream of visitors for three days. All his old friends, little old ladies and their husbands—they came and said good bye. It was very nice, actually. But I felt like—that was the good bye part for me—us…" He turned to Ennis. "Right, En?" Ennis nodded but didn't say anything. "So, I guess I rather have the memory of seein' all those people, meetin' 'em, while Hal was still alive. I don't need t'do it again at the funeral home."

Tom didn't have any objections—not that he could object, really, thought Jack—but Jack was conscious of doing the right thing and trying not to ruffle any feathers among the family members. Jack sighed again. "When we were just dealing with Tom, it seemed a little easier," he thought. "With the family here, and Hal gone, the whole buyin' deal just seems complicated."

Jack thought about the day ahead. The funeral was scheduled for 9 am. According to Tom, Hal had wanted a very simple service. Hal and Tom had talked about readings and hymns, and Hal's wish had been to keep it very low key.

Tom had explained to everyone, "Instead of a eulogy, Hal wanted to give people an opportunity to just stand up and speak—make whatever comments they'd like to make."

He asked Ennis and Jack if they wanted to say anything. Jack quickly shook his head no, but was taken aback when Ennis said he might.

Jack had looked at him, surprised. "Really, cowboy?"

Ennis nodded. "Mebbe…let me think 'bout it." He looked at Tom and gave Jack a little wink. "I think the reason that Jack's actin' surprised here is that I'm usually sorta quiet. But," he paused, "somethin's tellin' me I gotta get over my shyness and make a tribute t'Hal."

Tom had smiled at him. "Whatever is comfortable for you is fine, Ennis. There is no list of people, just whoever wants to speak."

The cemetery was behind the church and the burial would be immediately after the service. Jack and Ennis were both honored when Tom told them that Hal wanted them to be pall bearers. "Really?" asked Jack. Tom nodded.

"You and Ennis, me, Russell," he nodded at his brother-in-law, "and two of Hal's old friends." He had smiled. "The old friends are pretty old, so I am not sure how much carrying they'll really do. We'll put them in the middle."

Jack smiled in the darkness at the thought, then his worries returned. "We're really gonna be on display for the town of Quanah," he thought. "And then we might be movin' away." He gave a big sigh.

He turned and looked at the clock again: 3 am. Jack got up and walked down the hall to piss, then brushed his teeth. He looked at himself in the mirror. He could see the worry in his eyes.

He went back into the bedroom and slipped into bed, hoping not to disturb Ennis, but Ennis turned over and pulled Jack into his arms. "C'mere, cowboy," he whispered. "Let me hold ya 'til ya go t'sleep."

"Ya knew I was awake?"

Ennis chuckled. "Yer over there flippin' like a flounder," he said. "You could wake the dead."

"I'm sorry," said Jack. "I wanted t'let ya sleep."

Ennis pulled him in close, rubbing his back and kissing his forehead. "Stop yer worryin'," he said, softly. "Think 'bout lovin' me. Think 'bout me lovin' you."

Jack tried to let himself relax in the warmth of Ennis's arms around him. "How much do ya love me, En?" he said.

"How much?" Jack nodded. Ennis smiled in the darkness. "More than you can measure," he said. "There ain't no measurement for the love I have for you."

Jack snuggled in closer. "Will you always love me, En?" he asked.

"You know I will," said Ennis. "Forever and ever."

"Even if I do something bad?" whispered Jack.

Ennis laughed softly. "You ain't gonna do anythin' bad," he said. "Yer a good person." He paused. "But even if you did do somethin' bad, yes, I would love you. That's what it's all about, right? Through good and bad, thick and thin, ups and downs…" His voice trailed off.

Jack leaned in and kissed the warm space at the base of Ennis's neck. "I love you," he whispered. "I have only loved you and I will always love you."

"I love you too, babe," whispered Ennis.

"Y'know," said Jack. "There are prob'ly people in the world who never meet their soulmate."

"There prob'ly are," answered Ennis, softly.

"But we found each other."

"We did," said Ennis.

"How did it happen, En? How did we end up on that mountain together?"

"I dunno, babe," said Ennis. "I don't think we'll ever know. But we did."

Jack leaned in again, resting his head against Ennis's shoulder. "I love you," he whispered, finally feeling sleep overtaking him, falling into a dark dreamless slumber, held tightly in the protective cocoon of his lover's arms.