A Love Born From Steel

Chapter 20

Jack smiled at Ennis over the breakfast table. "I have a treat for you, lover," he said, "we're doin' somethin' special today."

"What's that?" said Ennis, his voice suspicious.

Jack folded back a newspaper and pointed to an ad, which had splayed over it All mattresses and beds! Forty percent off! "We're goin' shoppin' and I'm buyin' ya a housewarmin' present—a new mattress, like we talked 'bout."

Ennis looked at him, his eyes a mixture of embarrassment and gentle happiness. "Housewarmin' present? Stop with that shit, I told ya, this is our house, we're here together."

Jack smiled at him. "I know, En, I know what you mean…but I want t'buy you—us—a present—I want t'buy us a new mattress."

"Okay," said Ennis, giving Jack a resigned smile. "I agree that the mattress is lumpy and old 'n if you want t'buy me—us—a new one, then I ain't complain'."

Jack smiled at him. "Let's get a tape measure and measure the room. I want t'know 'xactly how big it is…mebbe we can squeeze a king in there."

"Since I ain't never seen a king size bed, I ain't got any idea, but okay," said Ennis, standing up to clear the breakfast dishes.

Lubbock was 150 miles from Quanah but since both Ennis and Jack were used to the wide open spaces of the west, it didn't seem like a particularly long drive to save forty percent on their new mattress. They chatted happily as the miles rolled by, Jack driving, Ennis leaning over and kissing his cheek, teasingly trying to get Jack's eyes off the road.

Jack drove into Lubbock, negotiating the wide, straight streets of the city with ease. At one point they drove by a plaza with a bronze statue of a man holding a guitar. "Who the hell is that?" said Ennis.

Jack looked at it for a minute and then remembered. "It's Buddy Holly," he said, "the rock 'n roll singer, the guy killed in the plane crash. He was from Lubbock."

"What did he sing?" said Ennis. "Name ain't ringin' a bell."

Jack thought for a second, then said, "'Peggy Sue'….and, 'That'll Be the Day.'"

"Oh," said Ennis. "I remember those songs." He looked at the statue. "That's the guy, huh? Too bad he was killed."

Jack pulled up close to the statue and looked at the dates. "1936 til 1959…" Jack paused and did the math in his head. "He was 23—man he was young—when he died."

"Shit," said Ennis, "I thought this was s'posed t'be a fun trip, not some fuckin' funeral dirge."

Jack laughed. "Just a little bit o'local color, lover. Thought ya might be interested." He pulled away from the statue and drove down the wide street, parking at a meter in front of the Lubbock Furniture Store. "Ready?" he said to Ennis, as he put his hand on the door.

"Sure am," said Ennis. "Let's give this saleslady somethin' t'talk 'bout at dinner."

They walked into the store, a wide expanse of furniture displays—dining rooms to the right, living rooms to the left. "The mattresses are usually in the back," said Jack, quietly, he as headed straight through the store.

"Why yer whisperin'?" said Ennis. "We ain't doin' anythin' illegal."

Jack turned to him and smiled. "Ennis, I love you so fuckin' much…" Suddenly he stopped, coming face-to-face with a good looking man, trim, about their age, but a bit shorter than both of them, with brown hair and brown eyes. They both noticed he walked a little stiffly.

"Good morning," said the man, smiling at them both. "Welcome t'Lubbock Furni…" he suddenly stopped in mid-sentence.

Ennis looked at the man and then looked at Jack, who was standing there stock still, the color drained away from his face.

"Good mornin'," said Ennis, attempting to cover up the awkward moment and trying to figure out what on earth was going on.

The salesman seemed to recover his composure first. "Good mornin'," he said, pointing a hand in Ennis's direction. Ennis shook it quickly, looking over at Jack.

"Ray?" said Jack, the color slowly coming back to his face.

The salesman nodded. "Yes, Jack, it's me, Ray. Hi. Long time, no see."

The three of them stood there awkwardly for a second, then somewhere, from deep inside of Ennis, a thought, and a joke, suddenly emerged. "Ray? You still eat grilled cheese-tuna-toms?"

Ray looked incredulous, then burst out laughing. Jack turned to Ennis, his jaw hanging down, almost speechless, then, "Fuck, Ennis, whatchya sayin'?"

Ray, laughing, managed to splutter, "Still do, still my favorite fuckin' sandwich."

Ennis, chuckling now, turned to Jack and said, "I guess this is yer old boyfriend, Ray, huh? Mebbe ya should introduce us."

"Oh, fuck," said Jack, finally laughing and joining in the joke. He paused for minute to catch his breath, then said, "Ennis, this is an old buddy, Ray Prevost. Ray, this is my partner, Ennis Del Mar."

"Pleased t'meet ya," said Ray, shaking Ennis's hand a second time. "I heard yer name long ago. Nice t'put a face t'it."

"So, how ya doin' Ray?" asked Jack. "Whatchya doin', sellin' furniture?"

"More than sellin' furniture," said Ray. "I'm the manager of the store." He paused, then pointed to a dining room display. "Got a minute t'catch up? I'd like t'hear what ya been been up to."

Jack turned to Ennis. "Okay with you, bud?"

"Sure," said Ennis. "I ain't in a rush."

The three of them sat at the table. "So," said Ray, "ya said partner, I assumin' that means yer together."

Jack nodded. "Yeah, since May. We're livin' in Quanah."

"But on the rodeo circuit, I heard ya got married."

Jack nodded again. "I did—married Lureen Newsome, settled down in Childress." Jack rattled off a quick synopsis of his life, finishing with their arrival in Quanah in May. "Ennis needed a place for his horses, found us this farm and jobs—now we're buyin' the place." They had decided, for the time being, to keep with the story of buying the farm, at least for strangers and casual acquaintances. It was easier than going into all the details about Hal. Ennis thought that part of the story was a little bit personal, anyway, and not really anybody's business.

"Caught yerselves a lucky break, it sounds like," said Ray.

"Yup, we did. We weren't sure what we were gonna do, now we're settlin' down." Jack paused for a minute. "What 'bout you, Ray? You ever get married?"

Ray shook his head. "No. After bein' with you, Jack, I knew what team I was battin' for." He said this with a smile. "I'm livin' here in Lubbock, got a nice man, his name's Elliott. He's a doctor."

"Doctor? Wow. Didn't think doctors hung 'round with cowboys."

Ray laughed. "Yup—it's a story. Let's see…you and me, it was '65, right?" Jack nodded. "Well, I kept on rodeoin' for a few years, then in '67, I got thrown by a bull. He stomped on my leg, broke it in two places."

"Ouch," said Jack and Ennis in unison.

"Ouch is right," replied Ray. "They took me t'the community hospital to fix it up, but a lot of the blood vessels was crushed—the doctors were afraid I'd lose my leg. They flew me by helicopter t'the medical center here at Texas Tech. I had a bunch of surgeries, my leg was in traction for weeks." He pointed to his thigh. "I got a metal rod in this bone."

"Jesus," said Jack. "Sounds bad."

"It was bad, but I had good doctors. Elliott was the one that sewed up all the blood vessels. He's probably the reason I still have my leg." He turned to Ennis. "Elliott's a vascular surgeon." Ennis nodded at this bit of information.

Jack laughed. "You picked up yer boyfriend in the hospital?"

Ray laughed back. "Jesus, Jack, I was in traction. No. And it's more like he picked me up, anyway." He chuckled. "When I got out of the hospital, I had physical therapy for months. One day, I was havin' a sandwich in the hospital cafeteria and Elliott came in. He remembered me, of course—he spent enough time lookin' at my toes and worryin' 'bout my circulation, how could he forget me? Anyway, we got t'talkin', then datin'—dated for a few years before Elliott decided he could do this for real."

"Whaddya mean?" said Jack, looking puzzled.

"Elliott's story is pretty typical," said Ray. "He married his college sweetheart. She put up with the pain and sufferin' of medical school. Then, when he was in his fourth year of his residency, he started havin' an affair with a nurse in the OR. Not that unusual, Elliott tells me, lots of surgeons are screwin' the nurses. Trouble was, in his case, the nurse was a man, not a woman." He paused. "The shit hit the fan on that one. He almost got thrown out of his residency—the only thing that saved him was the head of surgery was a decent guy—and Elliott is a damn fine surgeon." Ray shifted position in his chair and rubbed his leg. "Anyway, he tried to get back together with his wife, tried to make it work but couldn't—eventually they got divorced. Then Elliott went through a period where he played around a lot—with men and women—tryin' t'figure out exactly who he was. I showed up in that period. I fell for him pretty quick but it took him longer to realize what was between us."

Jack nodded. "You livin' together?"

"Technically, no, but I'm at his house five nights a week. I have my own apartment, though. Doctors are a conservative bunch—Elliott feels like he needs t'keep up the appearance that he's a bachelor. I'm hopin' he'll come 'round eventually."

"Ya happy?" asked Jack.

"I am," said Ray. "Our arrangement's workin'…he's a good guy, we're happy." Ray gave them both a big smile. "Can't believe yer here, Jack. It's good t'see ya."

"It's good t'see ya, too, Ray." He paused. "Listen, Ray, I'm sorry, if I hurt ya…"

Ray shook his head. "No need t'say sorry, Jack. It was eleven years ago. One good thing 'bout time, makes the bad memories fade." He stood up, shaking his leg, then looked at Ennis. "I need t'move my leg. It gets stiff if I sit too long." He paused, then continued. "So…you came in here today t'buy…?"

"A new mattress," said Jack.

Ray nodded. "King, I'm assumin'."

"We'd like a king, but I ain't sure the room is big enough." He pulled out the paper with the measurements and showed it to Ray. "It's a funny old farmhouse and the windows and doors are in inconvenient places. This is really the only wall," he traced the line with his finger, "t'place a bed against."

Ray looked at the picture for a minute, thinking, then stood up and said. "Come with me, let me show ya somethin'." They walked across the display floor and stopped in front of a large cherry bed. "This is called a captain's bed," he said. "Notice how there are drawers underneath, and the headboard is like a bookcase." He reached over and flipped a switch. "There's a built-in light, too."

Ennis looked at the bed, his eyes wide. The display model had a king size mattress and it looked as large as an aircraft carrier. "I thought captain's beds were snug and cozy," he said.

Ray laughed. "On ships they are," he said. "This is the Texas interpretation. Everythin's big down here in Texas." He motioned his hand over the bed. "The point is, with the headboard the way it is, you don't need a table on either side of the bed, get you a few more inches to fit the bigger bed in the room." He pulled out a tape measure and flopped it across the mattress, then looked at Jack's drawing. "This would fit, I think, and you'd still have room for this little chest." He pointed to a small chest with four drawers, displayed on the right hand side. "It's nice t'have somethin' with a few extra drawers and you can put a lamp on this, so when ya come into the bedroom through the door, it's right there."

"Whaddya think, En?" said Jack.

"It's…it's…ver' nice…" said Ennis, tentatively, "but I wasn't expectin' a whole bed, just a mattress."

Ray moved his hand along the cherry board on the side, now moving into full salesman mode. "I like this look," he said, "it covers up the box spring, so you don't need a dust ruffle. Too frilly, I think, and Ennis, you don't look like the frilly type."

Ennis blushed at this and shook his head. "No, I ain't," he said, "but I didn't think I was the captain's bed-type either."

Ray looked at the bed, his hands on his hips. "This is one of my favorites in the store," he said. "Looks like a man's bed to me. Handsome."

It took a bit more of Ray's persuasive salesmanship, but in the end they bought the bed, chest, a blanket chest for the foot of the bed and a dresser. "Why not?" said Jack. "I figger we've done this much damage, what's a little bit more?" It helped that everything was forty percent off, as advertised, and Ray threw in an additional ten percent discount, as the manager.

After all that, buying the mattress was a cinch. As a former rodeo rider with a bad back and a gimpy leg, Ray knew exactly how Jack's back felt. "I could talk t'ya 'bout springs and shit," he said, "but trust, me, this mattress is the one ya want. Nice and firm but with a pillow top." Jack and Ennis did lay down on it to test it, giggling a bit, smiling at each other. It helped that the store seemed to be devoid of customers and Ray acted like he had all the time in the world.

The last step was to arrange to have the furniture delivered. "I brought my truck," said Jack, "but I don't think this will all fit."

Ray shook his head, "No, and with that nice cherry wood, you want to have it packed properly. Listen," he said, "we don't usually deliver t'Quanah, but since this is a big sale and you are an old friend, I can arrange it. Everything's in stock. Would tomorrow be okay?"

"That's really nice of ya, Ray," said Jack. "Tomorrow is fine."

"The delivery guy can take away the old mattress, too, if ya don't want it," said Ray. "They are a pain in the ass t'dispose of sometimes."

Jack turned to Ennis. "Now I guess we need t'buy some sheets," he said. "Nothin' in the house is gonna fit this bed."

Ennis nodded and Ray looked at them both. "Down the street, there's a nice shop called Linens and More. The owner is Julie O'Brien, she's a friend o'mine. Tell her ya bought the cherry captain's bed, she'll have some suggestions for good lookin' sheets. Somethin' dark, I think…mebbe a plaid."

"Not white?" said Ennis. He turned to Jack. "Colored sheets?" he said, as if this were totally foreign concept.

Jack smiled at him, his voice soft. "Think of it as a new adventure, lover, somethin' we ain't ever done before." He turned to Ray and stuck out his hand. "Ray, thanks for all this. You've been great."

Ray smiled back. "Jack, thank you." He wrote something on a piece of paper. "This is my phone number…if you want t'stay in touch."

Jack nodded and put the number in his wallet. "Thanks, Ray…although, Quanah is sort of far away."

"I understand. But," he paused, "if ya ever need a referral t'a good doctor, feel free t'call. And mebbe next spring you'll feel like redecoratin' the livin' room. If ya do, I hope you'll come in. I'll give ya a good deal."

Jack smiled. "Ray, we may very well do that. Thanks again."

Jack and Ennis turned and left the store and started walking up the sidewalk to the linen store. "Small fuckin' world, isn't it, En?" he said.

"Yer not kiddin'," said Ennis. "We buy a bed from yer old boyfriend? Goddamn, that's one for the memory book."

"Damn straight, cowboy," laughed Jack. "Now, let's go buy some sheets."

They spent the next morning moving the old furniture out of the bedroom, storing some of it in the attic, and hauling the mattress and box spring downstairs to be taken away by the delivery man. Once that was done, Ennis scrubbed the hardwood floor on his hands and knees, applied a coat of paste wax and buffed it by hand. It gleamed when he was finished. "Looks good, cowboy," said Jack, appreciatively.

"Well, I figger once that big bed gets in here, it'll be years before we move it to give the floor a good cleanin'."

"Yer prob'ly right 'bout that," laughed Jack.

The delivery men arrived shortly before lunch. They carried the furniture up the stairs and assembled the bed, putting the mattress in place, pulling off all the plastic wrapping and crumpling it into a large ball. Jack gave them each a $10 tip and suggested they stop for lunch at the barbecue restaurant on Main Street.

Jack and Ennis then brought up their armloads of new linens. Jack had washed everything the day before to get the size out of the sheets and mattress pad. They made the bed together, smiling at each other, thinking of the day in May when they had done the same thing. "This bed looks so fuckin' big," said Ennis, with a grin. "How'm I gonna reach you, cowboy?"

Jack fell onto the bed and pulled Ennis down on top of him. "I think you'll find a way, lover," he said with a laugh.

The rolled around together, laughing and kissing, when Jack pulled back and looked deep into Ennis's eyes. "Wanna christen the bed?" he said, smiling.

"Actually, I don't," said Ennis. "I wanna eat some lunch, then I want t'do somethin' else—mebbe take a ride or go for a swim—and talk to ya 'bout this big bed." His voice dropped a notch. "I want t'build up some anticipation of what I'm gonna do t'ya t'christen this bed."

Jack looked back at him, feeling a flare of arousal in his chest. He loved it when Ennis got that assertive tone in his voice. As if reading his mind, Ennis rolled on top of Jack, pinned his shoulders down on the bed and gave him a hard kiss, his tongue pushing deep into his mouth. "This is a little tease…make ya wait a bit," he said, pulling back and giving Jack a smoky glare.

"I waited thirteen fuckin' years, En," said Jack, his voice soft. "I can wait a few more hours."

"And I'm gonna make ya wait tonight, too," said Ennis, his voice low and rough. "Make ya wait 'til yer beggin' for it."

"You keep talkin' like that, I'll be beggin' in five minutes," said Jack, suddenly flipping up his arms, raising his shoulders, and twisting Ennis onto his back. This time, it was Jack who pushed Ennis down onto the firm mattress. "Two can play this game, lover," he said, pushing his mouth down onto Ennis's.

They teased each other like that for a few minutes, then rolled apart, breathing heavily. "Ya sure ya want t'wait?" said Ennis, his eyes dark and shining.

"I'm sure," said Jack. "I know ya'll make it good." He stood up, trying to ignore the erection in his pants, looking at Ennis and noticing the same. "Whaddya want for lunch?" he said with a wink. "Hot dogs?"

They decided to take a ride and a swim. At the river, they looped the horses' reins over the branch of a tree and took off their saddles. They had tucked a few beers in a saddle bag and lay on a blanket in the sun, Jack lazily rubbing suntan lotion onto Ennis's back.

"Jack," Ennis said, "can I ask ya something personal?"

Jack chuckled softy. "En, I don't think any topic is off limits at this stage of the game."

Ennis rolled over and looked at him. "This is a little embarrassin' for me to say, but I'm tryin' t'understand…" He paused. "You and me, most of the time it's me fuckin' you, wouldn't ya agree?"

Jack nodded. "Uh huh."

"The only time you've fucked me…well, I can almost count the number of times on one hand. It ain't too often."

Jack nodded again. "That's right, En. And it's usually when we're sorta drunk and I feel really aroused…and you…say yer tired. It's like you let me do the work."

"Do ya mind?" said Ennis. "Do ya mind that's it's always me doin' the fuckin'?"

Jack shook his head. "That's the way I like it. If I minded, I'd say somethin'. Have I ever done that?"

Ennis shook his head. "No, you haven't." He paused. "Okay, so this gets me t'the personal question. You and Ray—was it like us? Him doin' the fuckin'?"

Jack shook his head. "No."

Ennis leaned back on his elbows. "Didn't think so. He didn't look like the type. So it was you, then."

"Actually, En, we never fucked," said Jack.

Ennis sat up straighter and looked at Jack. "Never fucked? Ya said ya were together for six months. What was ya doin' all that time, playin' cards?"

Jack smiled. "No, we were together. We sucked cock. And ya know that front-on-front thing we've done a few times? We did that a lot. Ray liked it that way."

Ennis looked at Jack as if he still didn't believe him. "Never fucked? Really?"

"Really. Ray absolutely didn't want to…fuck me, I mean. He said it was okay for me to fuck him but…it's not what's most natural for me, En. The times I have done it with you…" he paused, thinking about it, trying to find the best way to put his thoughts into words. "With you, it's like, I need to be inside you, because I love you so much, I want to be a part of you. And sometimes, that's the only way to truly satisfy that desire. It doesn't happen very often, just once in a while…but when it happens, that's what I need." He smiled at Ennis. "Does that make sense?"

Ennis nodded back. "Yeah, I think so."

Jack continued. "With Ray, I never loved him, so I guess that desire was never there…the thing that pushed me to that place."

Ennis looked at Jack thoughtfully for a minute. "Was it satisfyin' for ya?" he said. "I mean, suckin' cock, the rubbin'—that worked for ya?"

"It did. It worked. But, I knew what I had with you…what it could be like. I told ya, I broke it off with Ray because I knew I was in love with you. The sex was part of the knowin', besides the feelin' in my heart."

Ennis got a funny little smile. "Whaddya think he's doin' with that doctor friend of his? Suckin' cock and rubbin'?"

Jack chuckled a bit. "Mebbe…but I suspect he's Dr. Fucker. He's a surgeon, after all. They're pretty bossy guys, prob'ly bossy in the bedroom, too."

Ennis leaned back and stared at the sky. "Who knew? Diff'rnt types of queers, who knew?" He paused, then gave Jack a smile. "We're just lucky we ended up bein' compatible."

"We are, but t'be honest, En…that's one of the things that attracted me to you."

"What's that?" said Ennis, not following.

"It comes through, En. You're an aggressive guy. You seem soft and quiet, but you've got steel in yer backbone. That's sexy t'me."

"And you knew I'd do the fuckin'?" said Ennis.

"I had a feelin'," he replied.

"That's an amazin' thing, Jack," said Ennis, with smile, "since I didn't know I'd do the fuckin'."

Jack laughed. "You didn't know you were gay, En. If you knew, you might've thought 'bout it."

Ennis leaned back, suddenly quiet, then his voice low, almost as if he was ashamed, he said, "I fucked Alma in the ass."

Jack looked at him. "She let ya do that? Most women, that's…" his voice trailed off.

"I didn't ask, I just did it." He looked at Jack, his eyes sorrowful. "That's the aggressive thing, ain't it?"

"It is. Did she ever tell ya t'stop?"

Ennis shook his head. "No, never said anything."

Jack turned, focusing his eyes directly at Ennis's face. "En, I'm not tryin' t'judge ya or anythin', or say anythin' 'bout you with Alma but I think…I think it's better that yer with me. I think I'm a little stronger and able to handle ya better."

Ennis nodded. "I think yer right. I tried t'be gentle but sometimes the feelin' just overwhelmed me. I worried that I hurt her."

"Well, it's over so ya don't need to think 'bout that anymore. And if you get too rough with me, I'll tell ya."

"Ain't happened yet, has it?" said Ennis.

"Not in thirteen years, cowboy," said Jack.

Ennis turned to Jack and gave him a wicked smile. "That gives me some possibilities for imaginin'," he said. "We got that new big bed, lots o'space…mebbe I will tie ya up."

Jack winked at him. "Been wonderin' what ya been waitin' for," he said.

Ennis walked into the bedroom, towel drying his hair. Jack was lying on the bed, propped up by a few pillows, sipping a beer.

"Ain't you livin' the life o'Riley," said Ennis, smiling at him.

"I got ya a beer, too," said Jack, pointing with his bottle. "It's on the dresser."

Ennis picked it up and took a swig. "When are we gonna redo the bathroom, anyway?" he said. "I'm not sure how much longer I can put up with that handheld thing."

"Whenever ya feel like startin', cowboy," said Jack. "I figger you know more 'bout renovatin' than I do."

"I never renovated a bathroom, though," said Ennis, "but I guess buildin' is buildin'—I can figger it out." He paused, then looked at Jack. "I s'pose we should do everythin', right—new toilet, new sink—not just the shower?"

Jack nodded. "Makes sense t'me. Everythin' in there is prob'ly forty years old."

"Well then," mused Ennis, "we'd need t'plan it—can't be without a toilet for days and days."

Jack laughed. "What's a matter, cowboy, ya forget how t'crap in the woods?"

Ennis laughed back. "Yup, four months of sleepin' in a bed with ya, bein' able t'walk down the hall t'piss…I'm a changed man, Jack Twist. Not sure I could ever screw ya in a tent again."

Jack smiled at him, then swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "Get dressed, En. Let's go out for barbecue. I don't feel like cookin'."

"Sounds good t'me," said Ennis, opening the closet and selecting a shirt. "I'll be ready in a minute."

One half hour later they walked into the barbecue restaurant. They saw their favorite booth was open. They caught Jeanie Campbell's eye and she nodded, giving them the okay to sit there. As they slid into their seats, Jeanie came over with two beers. "Dinner's on the house tonight," she said. "Ya want the usual?"

They both nodded, but Jack asked, "Why the free dinner?"

"Well," she said, "ya got somethin' t'celebrate, don't ya?"

Jack looked at her. "Ummm….what? Someone see the furniture delivery truck?"

She laughed. "As a matter of fact, they did. And the delivery guys came in here for lunch, so I even know what kind of furniture it is." She winked as she said this. "But, a new bed doesn't warrant a dinner on the house. This is bigger."

They both looked at her, puzzled, not sure what the surprise was.

"Hal's will was filed with the probate court yesterday. The news is out. Congratulations, Ennis," she said.

Ennis looked down, his face flushing. "Thanks, Jeanie," he said. "I still can't believe it."

Jack smiled at Jeanie. "Tom told us after the funeral, so we've had a few weeks for the news t'sink it…but, it is excitin'. We're still a little in shock."

Jeanie smiled at them. "I can imagine—but I can't think of two nicer guys for this t'happen to." She paused for a minute, then said, "Ya remember when I was talkin' t'ya at the house—when I said that bringin' Hal home t'die was gonna be good for you in the community?" They both nodded. "Well, this is obviously goin' t'be the final thing that seals the deal. Hal had a lot of friends in this town. If he liked you enough t'give ya the family farm after 100 years…well…y'know what I'm saying."

"I know what yer sayin' Jeanie," said Jack, "but I don't think we'll ever change the opinion of that asshole Norm Crocker." He stopped. "Oops, pardon my language. But, I feel sorry for the next gay guy who ever tries t'get a loan from that jerk."

Jeanie stood still, her face pale. "Ya ain't heard?"

"Heard what?" said Jack. "We've been at the farm all day, gettin' our new furniture delivered, then we went swimmin'."

Jeanie nodded, then motioned with her finger. "Give me a sec." She walked over to the cash register and came back with a newspaper in her hands. "It was big enough news that it made the front page of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal."

She placed the newspaper on the table in front of Jack. He looked at the paper, his mind slowly absorbing the words. "Holy fuckin' shit," he said, his voice low.

Ennis looked at him. "What? What's goin' on?"

Jack turned the paper and slid it across the table to Ennis. Ennis looked first at the picture, a grainy black and white photo of a twisted mass of metal that at one time might have been a truck. His eyes rose to the headline, two inch tall letters that said, "Quanah Banker Killed In Train Collision." "What?" said Ennis again, still not comprehending.

Jeanie pointed to the words. "Quanah banker—Norm Crocker. He was killed last night when his truck stalled at the railroad crossing and was rammed by a freight train. Carried him 200 yards down the tracks before the train could finally stop."

"Holy shit," said Ennis.

"Holy shit is right," said Jeanie. "I don't like t'speak ill of the dead, but in his case, it is good riddance t'bad baggage."

"What happened, exactly?" asked Jack, not having the paper in front of him to read the story.

"Norm had a coupla good ol'boy buddies he liked t'drink with. Story is that last night, he got good and liquored up, drivin' drunk, truck stalled. Others are sayin' that he passed out at the wheel and it was just an inconvenient accident that he happened t'pass out in the middle of a railroad crossing. Whatever," she shrugged, "the freight train came through, going 45 miles per hour and it just picked up Norm's truck and crushed it like a toy."

"Jesus," said Jack. "I thought the guy was a jerk but I never wished him dead."

"Jack," said Jeanie, "believe me, you are not alone in your assessment of Norm Crocker. Most of the town of Quanah thought he was an jerk."

"Really?" said Jack.

"Really," replied Jeanie. "I thought banks were in business t'lend money, but you'd never know it from the way ol'Norm Crocker operated. I know you were upset when he turned you down, but trust me, you weren't the only one. My friend Sue Ellen wanted a loan to start her beauty parlor—he turned her down, said women shouldn't be workin', should be at home with their kids. Another friend, who's divorced, got the moral character lecture that you got. And if your skin's not lily white—forget it." She shook her head. "You think a banker is supposed t'be an upstanding pillar of the community, but Norm—he had some skeletons in his closet. People won't be sad he's gone."

"Well," said Jack, "that really is something."

Jeanie nodded. "The funeral is in two days, if ya want t'go."

Jack gave her a little smile, "I think I'll pass," he said.

"You and most of the town," said Jeanie. "I can tell you, I don't think the church will be full like it was for Hal Lawrence's funeral."

While Jeanie and Jack had been talking, Ennis had been reading the newspaper article. He finished and looked at Jack. "I can't fuckin' believe it," he said.

"I know," said Jack. "It is unbelievable."

"Jack, I'm thinkin' of Tom, and his philosophy. 'There are no coincidences…' Did we make this happen?"

Jack looked at Ennis. Ennis's face was pale and his eyes had a frightened look that Jack had never seen before. Jack quickly looked around the restaurant and could see that Jeanie was blocking their view from the few other patrons who were dining. Jack reached out and covered Ennis's hand with his own, having a sense that Ennis needed his physical touch at that moment. "Babe, you—we—didn't do anything. Our paths crossed with Norm Crocker three weeks ago and that was it. His card was up last night and that's all there is to it. Mebbe there ain't coincidences, but this wasn't a coincidence that involved us."

Ennis nodded, his face slowly returning to normal. "Thanks, babe," he said softly. "Yer right."

Jeanie picked up the paper. "Let me go get your meals," she said. "I'll be right back."

As she walked away, Ennis pulled his hand back and put it in his lap. He gave Jack a shaky smile. "It is fuckin' unbelievable."

"It is," said Jack. "That it is."

Norm Crocker's death turned out to be the event that ended the first chapter in the book that became their life together. A few days later Jack was looking at the calendar and he realized that it was four months to the day—May 15 to September 15—from their night at Don Wroe's to the night Norm was killed. "It's four months, En," he said. "In some ways it feels like four years."

"And in other ways," said Ennis, "it feels like four days."

Jack nodded. "I know what ya mean. But still…" He turned and looked at Ennis thoughtfully. "I hafta say, I hope the rest of our lives are not as excitin' as these four months have been."

"What part's excitin'?" said Ennis with a wink. "Movin', gettin' married, you gettin' divorced, havin' my daughters visit for three weeks, discoverin' I'm gay, havin' people die, inheritin' a farm…isn't that like normal every day life?"

Jack smiled at him. "The only thing missin' is havin' someone be born." As if on cue, the phone rang. "Lazy L, this is Jack," he said, as he picked up the receiver.

"Jack, it's Tom," came the voice over the wire. "I just called to tell you that Janet had her baby. It's a little girl, 7 pounds, 4 ounces. We're going to name her Kendra."

"Tom, that's great," said Jack. "Janet doin' okay?"

"She's fine," said Tom. "A real easy labor, just three hours. Pushed Kendra out in twenty minutes. She may be able to come home tomorrow."

"Well, you give her our best, won't ya? Ennis is partial to daughters. Give Kendra an extra kiss for him." They chatted for a few more minutes, then Jack hung up the phone. He looked at Ennis. "That takes care of that," he said. "Now we even had a birth." He filled Ennis in on the details of Tom's new daughter.

Ennis looked at Jack with a smile. "Y'know, Jack, the other thing we've had all summer…?"

"What's that?" said Jack.

"Lots o'things t'celebrate. Just about anythin' that happens, we can turn it into an excuse t'celebrate." He walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of champagne.

"And…?" said Jack, giving Ennis a suggestive wink.

Ennis winked back. "I think we need t'celebrate the fact that little Kendra Lawrence has joined us on this earth." He took two glasses from the cupboard. "Don't you?"

"You ain't gettin' an argument from me, cowboy," said Jack, unbuttoning his shirt as he walked towards the stairs.