A Love Born From Steel

Chapter 18

They dressed carefully the next morning. Ennis wore the blue dress pants that Jack had given him, with a white shirt and bolo tie. Jack wore black pants with a dark gray shirt and tie similar to Ennis's.

Ennis looked at his hat. He had been wearing his straw hat all summer, but it was looking pretty beaten up and seemed a little too casual for a funeral. His winter hat, on the other hand, was dirty. "If I'd been thinking, I would've gotten it cleaned," he said.

Jack smiled at him and pulled a box off the shelf. "Here," he said. "Mebbe you can wear this."

Ennis looked puzzled. "What is it?" he said.

"Open it," said Jack.

Ennis opened the box and pulled out his old hat, the one he wore during their summer on Brokeback. It was still worn, but looked cleaner and brighter than it had for a long time.

"I had it cleaned for you," said Jack. "After we packed in Riverton, ya said ya'd never get rid of it. I figgered it was better t'be clean on the shelf, rather than dirty, even if ya never wore it again."

Ennis put it on his head and looked in the mirror, then turned to Jack, his eyes shining. "Thanks babe," he said. "Ya know, I could've spent a lot of money on a new hat but gettin' this old one cleaned—that's really special." He leaned in and gave Jack a kiss.

Jack pulled his black hat off the shelf. "Is that yours from Brokeback?" Ennis asked.

"Same style, but not the same hat," Jack said. "My old one got crushed one too many times when I was rodeoin'. I had t'get rid of it."

"Well, ya look the same," said Ennis, smiling, "even if it ain't authentic."

They rode to the church in Jack's truck and slipped into a pew in the middle of the church. Jack and Ennis could see Tom and his family were already there, sitting in a pew in the front. Tom turned and saw them, then motioned as if to say, "Come sit here." Jack shook his head no, but gave Tom a smile. Tom nodded, understanding the exchange.

The church filled up, which didn't surprise Jack or Ennis, given how many people had stopped by the house the week before. The service, as Tom had said, was simple, but moving. The readings were singularly appropriate, speaking to Hal as a person and reflecting the quiet dignity of his private life.

When the time came for people to speak, Tom went first, followed by Darlene. Various people throughout the church went next. Some walked to the front of the church, others stayed at their place in their pew. The time came when it seemed that everyone was done. Tom turned and looked at Ennis, who nodded, then stood, leaving his hat on the seat next to him. He cleared his throat then spoke, his deep voice strong. Even though he spoke softly, his voice could be heard clearly throughout the church.

"I've lived in Wyoming all my life but I moved here t'Texas in May, with nothin' more than two horses in a trailer and not a whole lot o'money in my pocket. Didn't know a soul except for my friend Jack, who is the reason I came t'Texas in the first place.

"Within twenty-four hours of arrivin' in Quanah I had two friends—Tom Lawrence and his uncle, Hal. We went and met Hal in the nursin' home—supposedly t'tell him 'bout the business arrangement with me 'n Jack stayin' at the Lazy L and paintin' the house. But Hal looked at me, 'Yer awful quiet, son,' he said—and I suddenly realized that he could be my friend. A friend is a person who takes an interest in you—cares 'bout you. Hal was that.

"At first I visited Hal in the nursin' home 'cause I thought I was s'posed to, but it wasn't long before I was visitin' 'cause I wanted to. We liked t'talk. He'd ask me 'bout my horses, ask me 'bout the mountains in Wyoming. We had some private talks," Ennis blushed a bit as he said this, a ghost of a smile around his lips, "and shared some secrets. Ain't gonna tell ya here, but they was special.

"Me 'n Jack brought Hal home last week because that's what he wanted—to die at home in his own bedroom, in the house where he was born. When we did it, didn't seem like much, but now that's it's over, I can tell ya that it is the best gift anyone can give t'a dyin' man. I'll never forget a minute o'those six days for the rest of my life.

"I don't have many friends but the few I do, I hold close. Hal is one and he'll be forever in my heart."

Ennis sat down and Jack reached over and lightly squeezed Ennis's hand where it rested on the seat. "Good job, cowboy," he whispered in Ennis's ear. Ennis nodded slightly and gave Jack a small smile. Jack could see that his eyes were glistening with tears, but none had fallen on his cheek yet.

The rest of the service and the interment went by in a blur and before Jack and Ennis knew it, they were standing at the edge of the cemetery, under a large spreading Shumard oak, each smoking a cigarette. They watched Tom and his sister Darlene moving through the crowd, shaking hands, thanking people for coming.

"Can we leave yet?" said Ennis, having reached the limit of his patience with being dressed up.

"Just a few more minutes," said Jack. "We should find out if Tom and everyone wants t'come over for lunch again. We still have plenty of food."

Ennis sighed and nodded, and took a drag off his cigarette. He looked across the crowd and saw a man moving towards them. It was clear he was heading in his direction. Ennis looked around, trying to see who he might be looking for. Ennis didn't recognize the man, himself, but he looked like the dozens of ranch hands Ennis had worked with over the years. "In fact," Ennis thought, "he almost looks a little bit like me, except twenty years on."

The man came up to Jack and Ennis and stopped in front of them. "Those were nice things ya said about Hal in there," he said, nodding towards the church.

"Thanks," said Ennis. "I meant it. He was a good friend. I'll miss 'im."

The man nodded back. "He was a good friend o'mine, too," he said, softly.

Ennis looked at the man, puzzling back on something that Hal had told him. He pulled his pack of cigarettes from his pocket, shook one partially out and offered it to the man. "Want a'smoke?"

"Thanks," said the man, taking the cigarette and putting it between his lips. Ennis took his lighter from his pocket and lit it for him.

"Bud," he said softly, "are you Pete?"

The man looked surprised, at first, then gave a small smile and nodded. "How'd ya know?"

"Hal told me 'bout ya," said Ennis.

Jack watched this exchange with interest but had absolutely no idea what was going on or who Pete could possibly be. He was about to say something but realized that it was possibly better to remain silent.

"Ya livin' at the Lazy L now?" said Pete.

Ennis nodded. "Yup, since May. We've been fixin' up the place."

"And Hal died there?"

Ennis nodded again. "He was in the nursin' home. We brought him home last Thursday, a week ago yesterday. He was with us for six days, died on Tuesday."

Pete looked sorrowful. "I wish I had known. I would've come t'see him. I saw the obituary in the paper on Wednesday, hitchhiked over here from Amarillo yesterday."

"Where did ya sleep?" asked Ennis.

Pete pointed to the base of the tree that they were standing under. "Right there." He held up a bag that he was holding, which neither Jack nor Ennis had noticed. "Got my bedroll in here, little bit o'food…"

Jack looked at him. "Ya must be hungry. Come back t'the farm with us, I'll make ya some breakfast."

Pete looked at him. "Well thank ya, that's right kind of ya, I'd like that." Pete paused for minute, looking back and forth between Jack and Ennis. "You boys….friends?" he asked. Ennis nodded. "Hal know?" Ennis nodded again. "Ya said Hal told ya 'bout me…I guess that means he told ya the personal stuff."

Jack looked at Pete, comprehension slowly dawning. He didn't want to blurt out, "Were you Hal's lover?" but he had the feeling that must be the case.

Ennis looked at Jack. "Cowboy, can ya go tell Tom that an old friend of Hal's is here, we're takin' him back t'the farm for some breakfast and Tom can come along whenever he wants?"

"Uh, sure, En," said Jack, surprised at how Ennis had taken control of the situation. Jack walked towards the Lawrence family while Pete and Ennis headed towards Jack's truck. Ennis slid behind the steering wheel and backed out of the parking lot, stopping to pick up Jack as they left the church yard.

The parked in the usual space next to the house. "Lookit the color," said Pete, "it used t'be white."

"Actually," said Ennis, "this is the original color. It got painted white durin' the war."

They walked into the house, looking around. "Aw, shit, this brings back memories," said Pete, pulling a soiled handkerchief from his pocket and holding it up to his eyes. "Goddamn, why didn't I come back?" he said, more to himself than to Jack or Ennis. "Last weekend, somethin' kept telling me t'go to Quanah and I just kept ignorin' the feelin'." He dropped onto the couch, his head between his hands.

Ennis sat down next to him, rubbing his back. "Hal talked 'bout ya," he said. "Right at the end, I know he was thinkin' 'bout ya."

Pete looked at him, "What did he say?" he asked, his voice soft.

"He said, 'I had a friend with brown eyes.' He was lookin' at me and thinkin' of you."

Pete gave Ennis a funny look. "It sounds like you two were real close…talkin' 'bout personal stuff."

Ennis nodded. "Hal didn't have anyone he could tell 'bout the one man he loved in his life…'til he met me 'n Jack. He knew we'd understand the story, 'cause it's the same for us."

Jack came into the living room, carrying a cup of coffee. "I'm assumin' ya like it black," he said.

Pete nodded. "Thanks, I 'preciate it," he said, as he took the cup. He looked at both of them. "You fellas been together long?" he asked.

"We've known each other since '63," said Jack, "but been ranchin' up together since May, when we arrived here in Quanah."

Pete looked at them, his face sad. "'63," he said. "That's the last year I saw Hal…can't believe it's been that long…thirteen years…"

Jack took a breath. "I'm gonna cook up some eggs and biscuits," he said. "En, you must be hungry, we didn't have much breakfast."

Ennis nodded. "That's sounds good, bud." He turned to Pete. "Pete, I bet you'd like t'use the bathroom, clean up a bit. Let me get ya some towels." He stood up. "Come with me, the bathroom's upstairs."

Ennis changed quickly while he was upstairs, then rejoined Jack in the kitchen, helping him make a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and refrigerator biscuits. They set everything on the table, along with a pitcher of juice and a fresh pot of coffee. Pete came in the room, his face scrubbed and freshly shaved, his damp hair combed neatly across his head. "This is very nice of you fellas," he said. "Ya didn't need t'do this for a stranger."

"Somehow," said Jack, "ya don't feel like a stranger. Have a seat."

The three of them sat down and served themselves generously to the food. They ate in silence for a few minutes, then Pete said, "Well, I s'pose ya want t'hear my story."

"Only if ya want t'tell," said Ennis. "It's private, none of our business."

Pete smiled a sad little smile. "I want t'tell it," he said. "Ain't told a soul 'bout this, but not a day's gone by that I ain't thought 'bout Hal Lawrence." He poured himself another up of coffee and leaned back in his chair. "I met Hal in the summer of '54. I was 36 years old and Hal was 54, but you'd never know it. Looked 40 if he looked a day. Hal was a fine lookin', handsome man." He paused. "He'd put an ad in the paper lookin' for help. Up until that time he'd made do with teenagers from town…it was the second summer without his mama and he had realized just how much she had done t'runnin' this place.

"I walked down that road," he pointed out the window, "and walked into a situation that changed my life." He smiled at the memory. "Hal and I started talkin', he offered me the job but I never really felt like I was workin' for him. We just became friends, friends workin' side-by-side. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

"I didn't know I was queer, and I don't know if Hal knew he was queer…but he never got married, mebbe had a suspicion. But the two of us…" Pete shrugged. "What can I say? We felt like we was meant t'be together." He looked at Ennis and Jack. "You boys feel that way?" They both nodded. "So ya know what I'm talkin' 'bout." They nodded again.

"That first summer, it took awhile for things t'develop, plus his nephew was around."

"Tom?" asked Ennis.

Pete nodded. "Yeah. He lived up in Lubbock and was at that age—not old enough t'drive or get a job, but gets bored hangin' 'round the house all summer. His parents thought they'd send him here down for a few weeks, find out what it was like livin' and workin' on a farm."

"He very good at it—workin' on a farm, I mean?" asked Ennis.

"Nah," said Pete. "He was a nerdy kid, always had his nose in a book." He smiled at the memory. "I recognized him today at the church—not sure if he saw me or if he'd recognize me, anyway." He paused. "What's he do for work, anyway?"

"He's a college professor," said Jack.

"Ain't surprised," said Pete. "Up in Lubbock?"

Jack shook his head, "No, down in Austin—UT."

Pete nodded, thought for a minute, then continued. "While Tom was here, Hal and I…I dunno…started t'feel an attraction, I guess you'd say. But Hal was a real proper guy, puttin' his nephew first—no guys kissin' while Tom was here, that's for sure." He laughed softly at the memory. "Tom's parents finally came and picked him up and when we was alone here, Hal made his move—but I didn't take much urgin'." He looked at Ennis and said, "I was all pent-up, y'know that feelin'?"

Ennis looked at Pete, thinking of his reunions with Jack on their fishing trips. 'Pent-up' was putting it mildly. "Yeah, Pete, I do," he said.

Pete picked up his coffee cup and took another sip. "And that's how it started. We'd work together all day, go after each other all night. I loved that man, couldn't get enough of 'im. He felt the same way."

"Ya stay here in the house?" asked Ennis.

Pete shook his head. "That first summer, never. I'd always get up and go back to my bunkroom in the stable." He looked at Ennis. "That room still there?"

Ennis nodded, "Yeah, but no furniture. I figgered it was for hired hands, though."

"Hal wanted me t'stay with him in the house," he said it, almost as if he weren't in the house of which he was speaking, "but I couldn't. Didn't feel right t'me. He was the owner, I was just a farm hand, shouldn't be sleepin' with the owner in his bed."

Jack picked up the coffee pot and motioned towards the cups. "More?" he asked, and Ennis and Pete both nodded.

Pete leaned back in the chair, then looked at Ennis and Jack as he continued. "The second summer, I did stay with Hal—not ev'ry night, but pretty often. The third summer, I stayed all the time. We knew we was in love by then—had been from the beginnin', but by then, could say it t'each other." He looked at Ennis again. "You boys say that?" Ennis nodded. "From the beginnin'?"

Ennis shook his head. "Took me thirteen years," he said softly.

Pete gave him a little sad smile. "What is it 'bout guys lovin' each other?" he said. "Why the hell can't we figger it out?"

He paused and looked around the room, took a sip of his coffee, then continued. "The end of that summer—woulda been 1956—Hal asked me t'stay. Asked me t'move in and live here with him. I said no." He shook his head, his eyes sorrowful at the memory. "He asked me every summer for the next seven years and every time I said no, I couldn't do it, couldn't live with a man." He took a deep breath. "At the end of the summer in '63, Hal said, 'This is it. Either stay or don't come back.' As you can guess, I didn't come back."

Pete took a deep breath and both Jack and Ennis could see that he was fighting back tears. "I know my heart broke that day and I 'magine Hal's did too." He turned to Ennis. "He ever say anythin' 'bout another man—someone besides me?"

Ennis shook his head. "No, Pete, he didn't. I think—but I don't know for sure—yer the only one."

Pete let his breath out slowly, his face a resigned mask. "I been with a few guys—mostly t'relieve the feelin' inside. Ain't been love, ain't been like when I was with Hal."

They all sat, silent for a minute, each man thinking his own thoughts about love, loss, and regret. Ennis broke the silence. "Want a'smoke?" he said. Pete nodded. Ennis picked up his coffee cup. "Let's go sit on the porch," he said. "I'm tryin' not t'smoke in the house."

The three of them sat in chairs on the porch, staring across the fields. Pete turned to Ennis. "So, ya said yer buyin' this place."

"That's what we hope," said Ennis. "If we can make the money work. Had some problems at the bank." He paused, then continued. "Tom hired us t'fix up the place, with a plan t'sell it when Hal died. 'Bout halfway through the summer, we got the idea t'buy it ourselves…actually, it was Jack's ex-wife's idea."

Pete looked at Jack. "You been married?"

Jack nodded. "Yup. Technically still am, for one more week. Goin' t'court next Friday."

"And you?" Pete asked, looking at Ennis.

Ennis nodded. "For twelve years. Got divorced back in November."

"So that's what kept you boys apart?"

Ennis shrugged. "That…and a lot a fear and a lot of not believin' we could do it. I had t'unlearn a lot of lessons my daddy taught me."

Pete gave Ennis a rueful smile. "I know 'bout daddies and those lessons. I got some o'those myself."

They heard the phone ringing in the kitchen. "'Scuse me," said Jack, standing up and going into the house.

Ennis offered Pete another cigarette, lighting them both. "Where you from, Pete?" he asked.

"Up in Oklahoma," Pete replied. "But I ain't really got a home. Just go ranch to ranch, wherever I can find work."

Ennis looked at Pete, suddenly realizing how different his life might have been. If he had said yes to Hal, it might have been Pete sitting on this porch, the new owner of the Lazy L, instead of Ennis, the (hopeful, he thought) potential owner. Instead, here was Pete, a lifetime drifter, who, if it could be possible, appeared to be even poorer than Ennis had been in May. "At least I owned a truck," he thought to himself. He thought of the day he arrived in Signal, everything he owned in a brown paper bag. Here was Pete, 58 years old and it appeared that everything he owned was in a similar bag. "Holy God," thought Ennis to himself, "I'm lookin' at a picture of what I might have become and I ain't likin' what I'm seein'."

He shook his head. "'Scuse me, Pete," he said. "You okay? Need somethin', more coffee?" Pete shook his head no. "Okay, then, I'm gonna go see if Jack needs some help in the kitchen."

He walked into the kitchen just as Jack was hanging up the phone. He grabbed Jack by the shoulders and pulled him in close. "Fuck, cowboy, gimme a kiss," he said, his lips pressing urgently onto Jack's, his tongue pushing itself deep into Jack's mouth.

They pulled apart and Jack looked at Ennis, his eyes puzzled. "What's wrong, En, ya look like ya've seen a ghost."

Ennis smiled wanly. "I feel like it." He looked at Jack. "What's that movie they show on TV at Christmastime?" he said. "The one with the old guy and the ghosts and the crippled kid by the fire?"

"A Christmas Carol?" said Jack.

Ennis nodded. "That's the one. I feel like that, I just had the future ghost come and show me what I might have been."

"Whaddya mean?" asked Jack.

"I was just lookin' at Pete, thinkin' I coulda been who he is…poor as shit, nothin' but a life of regrets. Fuck, Jack, fuck…I am so fuckin' glad I said yes t'you in May." Ennis pulled Jack close again as he said this, his embrace squeezing Jack like he never wanted to let him go.

Jack laughed, his faced mashed in against Ennis's neck. "Well ya did say yes, cowboy," he mumbled. "No need t'regret what ain't gonna happen."

"Oh, fuck, Jack, we've gotta figger out a way t'buy this place. I want t'be here Jack. I want t'be here, livin' with you, raisin' horses…I don't want t'be packin' up my shit in my truck and drivin' off to God knows where, tryin' t'figger out how t'make a life. We've gotten started on a life and I want it t'be right here…oh fuck, this not knowin' is drivin' me outta my fuckin' mind!"

"Well, cowboy, that was Tom on the phone. He's comin' over t'talk t'us at nine tomorrow mornin'. So, we have one day t'come up with some creative solutions t'offer t'Tom as a plan."

"Tomorrow?" said Ennis. "What's he doin' today?"

"They've got a bunch o'plans. Darlene's drivin' t'Lubbock to visit some old friends. Tom and his brother-in-law are playin' golf and Janet's takin' the kids t'the pool t'go swimmin'."

"What pool?"

"I dunno, I didn't ask. They're all goin' out t'dinner…he invited us, but I said no, didn't think you'd want t'go."

Ennis shook his head. "No, yer right, I've had enough socializin' to last me for awhile." He gave Jack a funny smile. "I ain't the outgoin' type, y'know."

Jack smiled back. "I like ya just the way ya are," he said. "Yer outgoin' enough for me."

They leaned in for another kiss and Ennis finally felt some of his anxiety abate. "I love you, Jack," he said softly. "Just wanted ya t'know that."

Jack looked at him, his eyes reflecting Ennis's love back to him. "I love you too," he said. He pulled himself away. "Now, what 'bout Pete?" he said. "We've left our guest on the porch."

It turned out that Pete needed to get back to Amarillo. He had planned to hitchhike but Jack persuaded him to take the bus and paid for the ticket. Jack packed him a picnic lunch to eat, and tucked two packs of cigarettes and a twenty dollar bill in among the sandwiches and bottle of beer. They gave him a ride to town and waited at the café until the Greyhound arrived.

Pete hugged them both goodbye as he got ready to board the bus. "Thanks for what ya did for Hal," he said. "I wish I coulda done that for 'im."

Ennis, not sure what to say, said, "You take good care, Pete. If yer ever in Quanah again…stop by…"

Pete shook his head. "I ain't comin' back t'Quanah," he said. "That part of my life is over. I've been livin' with the knowledge of the mistake I made for thirteen years…now it's time t'put it t'rest."

He got on the bus and the door closed behind him, another shadow of Hal's life disappearing into the atmosphere.