A Love Born From Steel
At their last gas stop, Ennis had suggested they check in at the local feed store to see if they could find a stable or farm where he could board the horses. "The Blue Seal store in Riverton," he explained to Jack, "has a bulletin board...and all the folks there, they can tell ya anythin' ya need to know 'bout the animal gossip in town."
"Animal gossip?" said Jack, raising an eyebrow and trying not to laugh.
"Sure," said Ennis, completely serious, missing Jack's amused look. "Which cows are calvin', whose cattle got foot rot. When Banshee died, it was all over the store in a coupla hours."
At this, Jack couldn't hold it in any longer and laughed out loud. Ennis gave him a hurt look. "Whatcha laughin' at? T'ain't funny."
"I'm ain't laughin' at you, Ennis, it's just yer makin' me realize that yer still a cowboy and I'm not."
"Whaddya mean, bud? 'Course yer a cowboy, you grew up on ranch."
"Yeah, mebbe I grew up on a ranch, but those days are long gone. Now, I'm just a fuckin' farm equipment salesman and there ain't much joy in that."
Ennis gave him a little poke and a smile, "Don't worry, cowboy, we'll get ya back to ranchin' right soon. Get ya away from those city folks."
They arrived in Quanah about an hour later. The town was small and the Agway, clearly the gathering spot for those concerned with all things animal, was easy to find. They pulled into the parking lot and parked side by side. Ennis turned to Jack. "Ya want to come in with me?"
"Nah," said Jack, "I'll wait out here and have a smoke."
Ennis shrugged, "Okay, see ya in a minute." He entered the store and headed over to the clerk at the cash register, who turned out to be the manager. "My name's Ennis, just got in from Wyoming," he said, by way of introduction.
"Howdy," said the manager, sticking out his hand, "welcome to Quanah."
"Thanks," said Ennis, shaking his hand. "Listen, I got a coupla horses out in the trailer, need to find a place t'board them, prob'ly for a few weeks."
"Sure thing," said the manager. He nodded to a bulletin board over on the far wall. "There's some listings there, might help ya...but, ya might want to consider talkin' to this fella, too." He handed Ennis a slip of paper on which was written "Tom Lawrence, Lazy L Farm," and a telephone number.
Ennis looked puzzled and the manager explained, "He stopped by yesterday—nice fella, prob'ly 'bout yer age, mebbe a little older. Anyway, his Uncle Hal owns the Lazy L out on the county road. Old farm, been in the family for years. This guy—" he pointed to the paper, "Tom—is up here takin' care of some of his uncle's affairs. Hal's been sick for awhile now, and it looks like the family is takin' over."
"Hmmm," said Ennis, nodding as he listened.
The manager continued, "This guy, Tom, said somethin' 'bout lookin' for some help. I know Hal ain't got any animals anymore but there's a nice stable out there. Point bein', ya might be able to get some work in trade for boardin' yer horses—save ya some money over what those other stables charge."
"Thanks, bud, I 'preciate this," said Ennis. "Ya think I could go right out there or should I call first?"
"Nah, I'd head on over." His voice dropped a notch and he leaned in towards Ennis, "between you 'n me, he looked like a city fella, not sure what t'do. Bet ya he'd be right happy t'see a cowboy walkin' up his driveway. Let me warn ya in advance, though—he's a talker. Talk the ear off a brass monkey if ya let him get goin'."
Ennis laughed. "Well, thank ya for that. Where's the farm at?"
"Go out the county road 'bout three miles. You'll see a dirt road with a sign, cain't miss it."
Ennis thanked him again and headed out the door. As he walked out to the parking lot he saw Jack leaning on the truck watching the cars go by as he smoked. Ennis looked at him for a minute, feeling a warmth in his heart—and his groin. "Damn, Del Mar," he thought to himself, "Don't get yerself distracted, ya got work t'do."
He went up to Jack and gave a quick synopsis of his conversation with the store manager. Jack thought it sounded like something worth checking out and they figured that this time was as good as any. They both climbed into Ennis's truck and headed south on the county road.
They pulled up at the Lazy L Farm about fifteen minutes later. As they got out of the truck, Ennis and Jack surveyed the scene. A white, Queen Anne-style farmhouse was over on their right, while the farm proper: barn, stable, a few other outbuildings, and some fenced-in fields, was on their left. Clearly, this once had been a well-loved and well-maintained operation, but time had taken its toll. Paint was peeling off the house; the empty stable and barn had a forlorn look. The fields were overgrown and some of the fences were sagging. Still, as they looked at it, they realized that there was nothing that a little hard work and elbow grease couldn't fix.
They saw a man, his back to them, half-heartedly scraping some paint off the side of the house. "That must be Tom," said Ennis to Jack, who nodded. They walked towards the house, trying to make some noise as they approached so he would realize they were there, but he remained oblivious. Finally, Jack coughed loudly in his hand. That worked.
"Oh," said the man, turning around and looking completely surprised, "you startled me!"
"Sorry," said Ennis.
The man put the paint scraper down and wiped his hands on his pants. "Can I help you?" he asked, looking puzzled.
"My name's Ennis—Ennis Del Mar," said Ennis, "and this is my buddy Jack Twist. I got yer name from the guy at the Agway."
"Oh," said the man, comprehension dawning on his face, "okay, now it makes sense." He stuck out his hand, "Tom Lawrence. Pleased to meet you."
They all shook hands and exchanged greetings. Ennis and Jack looked at Tom, who was tall and lanky with a mop of sandy colored hair on his forehead, bright blue eyes behind a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. He was wearing shorts and a "University of Texas Longhorns" tee shirt. "So," Tom continued, "you looking for work? I told the manager I needed some help."
"Work, mebbe, yes—and I want t'talk t'ya 'bout that—but mostly right now I need a place t'put my horses," Ennis said pointing to the truck. "We just got in from Wyoming—well, Colorado, today—and they've been in that trailer since early this morning. The Agway guy said you had an empty stable."
"That I do," said Tom, "but I'm really not in a position to take care of horses. To be honest, I wouldn't have a clue what to do."
"Oh no, I'm not askin' ya t'do that," said Ennis. "I'll do all the work. I just want a clean place for them t'sleep and a field for them t'graze in durin' the day."
"Well then, let's walk down to the stable and you can see what you think," he said, and the three of them started off across the yard.
As they walked, Tom told them a bit more about himself. He had grown up in Lubbock, about 150 miles to the southwest, but now lived in Austin with his wife and three year old son. "I teach economics at the University of Texas," he said. Ennis looked at him, realizing that he had absolutely no idea what a person who taught economics would actually do on a day-to-day basis.
"This farm has been in the family for 100 years," he said. "My Grandpa built the house himself back in 1896. My Uncle Hal was born there, and my dad, too. Uncle Hal has lived here all his life. Never got married, never had any kids…it's hard to run a farm by yourself, but he managed for a long time. But, I think it has been too much for him for awhile, and now he's in a nursing home, so…"
By this time, they had arrived at the stable. A layer of dust coated everything, and while the stalls were empty, everything looked in order. Ennis looked in the feed room—empty—but the tack room still contained saddles and gear. "Is there any hay in the barn?" he asked.
"I don't know, let's go take a look," said Tom, as they walked over to the large prairie barn that was behind the stable. There were a few bales piled in a corner. Ennis noticed the farm equipment—a tractor, baler, mower—standing in the corner. Although everything was dusty, it all looked in good repair. Ennis kicked at the bale with the toe of his boot. "Hmmm, might be moldy," he said. "I'd break 'em open before I'd put 'em in the stall," he said, talking mostly to himself.
"So," Tom said, "why don't you tell me a little bit about yourselves?"
"Sure," said Jack, "I'll start. I grew up in Wyoming, met Ennis here," he nodded in Ennis's direction, "back in '63 when we had a summer job together, herdin' sheep up on Brokeback Mountain. We've been buddies ever since." At this, he turned and gave Ennis a smile, and Ennis gave him a shy smile in return. "After that, did this and that, worked for my daddy a bit, then ended up here in Texas rodeoin' for a year or two. That's how I met my wife."
"Oh, I see," said Tom. "Where do you live?"
"Over in Childress," said Jack. "But things ain't workin' out with Lureen 'n me, we're gettin' a divorce."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Tom.
Jack shrugged. "Things happen. I think we'll both be happier."
"What about you?" Tom said, looking at Ennis.
"Not much diff'rent than Jack," he said, "'cept I never did no rodeoin'. My parents are dead, been on my own, mostly, since I was 15. Got married, have two little girls, got divorced back in November."
"I've worked on ranches 'round Riverton—that's where I lived," he added, "done ev'rythin' that needs to be done on a ranch—takin' care of the animals, balin' hay, y'name it."
"And now you're in Texas…" Tom prompted.
Ennis nodded. "Yeah, I figgered that there ain't nothin' to keep me in Riverton, 'cept my girls. Thought I'd come along and give Jack a hand."
"I ain't divorced yet," said Jack, by way of explanation. "Just gettin' goin' on the process."
By this time, they had arrived back at the house. "So," Tom said, "I guess the most immediate thing is that you want to get your horses out of that trailer, right?" Ennis nodded. "Well, if this setup looks okay to you, it's fine with me. Like I said, though," he added, "you'll need to do the work."
"That's not a problem," said Ennis. "I'll need to mow the field, but mebbe I could do that tomorrow?"
Tom nodded, "Sure."
"They can stay in the stable for now. I'll get some hay and feed at the Agway, get them settled." As they were talking, Ennis was opening the back of his truck and going in to get the horses out. Twister came first and Tom looked at him in admiration.
"Oh, he's a big guy, isn't he? I don't know much about horses but I can tell he's a fine specimen."
Ennis was rubbing his forehead and feeding him a biscuit, "Yup, he's my buddy. Just got him back in January." As he walked the horse towards the stable, Jack climbed up on the truck and managed to back Sioux out.
"And this one?" asked Tom.
"This is Sioux," said Jack. "Right pretty li'l gal, ain't she? I usually get t'ride her, Ennis has dibs on the big one," he said with a laugh.
Ennis and Jack put the horses in adjacent stalls and closed the doors behind them. Ennis filled the water pails from a spigot on the side of the barn. He brought in one of the bales of hay and broke it open with a pitchfork, spreading the straws, picking up a few and sniffing them. "Don't smell no mold, prob'ly okay," he said, and spread some hay on the floor of each of the stalls. "So bud, whaddya say," he said, turning to Jack, "let's head back to the Agway, then get ourselves some supper. I'll come back after that, get the horses settled for the night."
"Sounds good t'me."
Ennis looked at Tom and stuck out his hand, "I really 'preciate this," he said, "yer bein' right nice to a stranger."
Tom smiled and shook the proffered hand, "That's what we do here in Texas. Big ol'Texas welcome, we call it."
"Well, I like that welcome. I'll be back in a coupla hours," he said, as he and Jack climbed into the truck, and headed out the drive towards the county road.
Ennis got back to the farm in the early evening. In the previous few hours he and Jack had been busy—buying supplies at the Agway, checking into the "Chief Quanah Parker Motel" ("Chief Quanah Parker?" asked Ennis, and Jack explained he was a Comanche Indian that the town had been named for), and grabbing a quick dinner at the barbecue joint on Main Street. Jack had decided not to go back to the farm but rather, to stay at the motel—he wanted to call Lureen and see if they could arrange a time to meet the next day.
Ennis parked his truck next to the stable and began unloading his gear and supplies. He poured a bag of oats into a bucket in the feed room, refilled the horses' water pails, piled some more bales of hay in an empty stall, and last, put Twister and Sioux's saddles and tack on extra pegs in the tack room. He found an old brush and was giving Twister a rubdown when he noticed Tom watching him over the stall door.
"Hey, Ennis," said Tom, a friendly smile on his face.
"'Lo," said Ennis, smiling back.
"We never talked about a job before—got off track with the horses," said Tom. "Still interested?"
"Sure," said Ennis, with a nod.
"Well, if you have a few minutes, when you're done, why don't you stop up at the house and we can talk? I have a few cold beers in the fridge and a pitcher of iced tea."
"Sounds good t'me," said Ennis. "I'll be up in a little bit." Which is precisely what he did.
The front porch of the house had a couple of comfortable chairs and a nice view over the sweeping fields of the farm. Tom offered Ennis his choice of a beverage, and Ennis, not surprisingly, opted for a beer. His pulled his cigarettes out of his pocket, but before he lit up he asked, "Mind if I smoke?"
"Only if you give me one," said Tom. Ennis offered him the pack and Tom pulled one out and lit it. "I'm trying to quit," he said. "My wife is pregnant and doesn't want me smoking in the house, so I figure that's a good reason to quit altogether…but I haven't been successful, yet."
Ennis nodded politely. The thought of quitting smoking had never entered his head.
"So," Tom said, "let me tell you a little bit about the family and what's going on. This farm has been in my family for more than 100 years," he said, "My Grandpa was born on this land in 1875. He built this house in 1896, just before he married my Grandma. It was her wedding present, which is why it has all the fancy trim," he explained, pointing to the ornamentation above them. "Uncle Hal was born here in 1900, and my Dad came along 10 years later," he paused. "I suspect Grandma must've had a few miscarriages in between."
Ennis nodded, just listening, feeling no response was needed.
"My Dad grew up here, but couldn't wait to get away. He always told me he hated farming—hard, back-breaking work, he said. He was more of the studious type. He graduated from high school and went down to Lubbock to go to college. He was going to school part-time and working as a shoe salesman in the local shoe store. Met my mom at the soda fountain—she was a Lubbock gal—they got married, and I came along pretty quick after that.
"World War II started and Dad enlisted in the Navy. He probably didn't need too—I think he could have gotten some sort of deferment, being married with a small baby and all—but Dad was patriotic and thought it was his duty. He spent the entire war in the South Pacific, working as a corpsman. When he got out, he used the GI Bill to finish college and became a pharmacist. Worked at the hospital in Lubbock his entire career. Retired last year, at 65, and three months into his retirement, he died of a massive heart attack." Tom shook his head, "I miss him…we were pretty close."
"What about yer mama?" asked Ennis.
"Mom died five years ago, of breast cancer. So now it's just me, and my sister Darlene. She was born when Dad came home from the war—there's six years between us. Darlene took after Dad, liking healthcare—studied nursing in Lubbock then moved to Houston to work at the big cancer center—M.D. Anderson." Ennis nodded politely, although he had never heard of it. "She met a nice guy—accountant—they got married a few years ago and she has two little kids, a boy and a girl."
Tom noticed that both their beers were empty. "You want another?"
"Sure," said Ennis. Tom went into the house and came back with two more cold ones.
"Mind if I bum another cigarette?" he asked.
Ennis chuckled and handed him the pack.
"Okay, where was I?" Tom continued.
"The farm?" Ennis prompted.
"Oh, yes, right. Meanwhile, back on the farm—Uncle Hal lived here all his life, with his Mom and Dad, until they died. Grandpa died in 1948, Grandma in 1952. So that makes it, what? Twenty-four years that Uncle Hal has been here, running the place alone."
"Yer Uncle, did he fight in the war?" asked Ennis.
"No, he was ten years older than Dad so when the war started he was 41, too old to enlist. Plus, he was the sole support of his parents at that point, and I think that kept him out, too.
"So, that brings us to the present. Uncle Hal has been managing, but as you can see, this place has gotten away from him in the past few years. He has congestive heart failure and Darlene and I thought it best if he went into a nursing home so he could get the care he needed—no one here on the farm to do it for him. I have his power of attorney. Our plan is to fix this place up and sell it, since neither Darlene or I have any interest in running it. Makes me sad to see it go out of the family but what can you do?" He shrugged. "I think we will wait until Uncle Hal dies to sell it, though. No real rush and I think it would break his heart to know his beloved farm was gone while he was still alive."
"What kind of a farm was it?" Ennis asked, "When yer Uncle was runnin' it?"
"I think of Lazy L as an old-fashioned American farm—one that is rapidly disappearing all over the country. They did a little bit of everything—raised a few cows, some pigs, kept chickens, grew different crops in the field. Basically, the family had enough to be completely self-sufficient, but with adequate surplus to sell and make money for expenses. My Uncle is not a rich man, but he lived a good life, and has some money in the bank."
He stopped, and looked over the field. His voice was thoughtful when he continued speaking. "What's next for Lazy L? I think this place is at a crossroads. Since Uncle Hal hasn't done too much in recent years, a new owner could come in and completely change it. Cattle? Crops? Who knows. I just hope it stays as a farm…it would be a shame to have someone turn this into building lots."
"How big is it?" asked Ennis.
"120 acres. It goes down to the river in that direction," he pointed west, "where the trees are…and straight back in this direction," he pointed past the stable and barn. "Right now, Uncle Hal has the back 75 acres leased for hunting, which is where most of his income has come from in recent years."
"What do people hunt for down here?"
"Birds. Quail, pheasant, mostly. You hunt?"
Ennis nodded, "Yeah, but big animals…elk, moose, y'know."
"Of course, yes, you're from Wyoming. That makes sense. Anyway, listen to me ramble. I guess you're wondering what I am thinking about for a job, right?" Ennis nodded. He had wondered when Tom was going to get to the point, and thought back to the comment from the manager at the Agway. It was true.
"Like I said, I'd like to get this place back into shape so we can sell it, but I really want to emphasize its marketability as an ongoing concern as a farm." Ennis nodded and tried to look interested but he hoped he wasn't about to get an economics lecture. "What I think it needs is to look good…paint the house, clean up the fields, clean out the buildings. Have it bright and 'sparkly' so a buyer can see the potential of it as a 'modern' farm, not an old farm," said, making quotes with his fingers as he said "sparkly" and "modern." "For example, I have heard that there are a lot of folks looking into ostrich farming."
"Ostrich farming?" asked Ennis, "Ain't they those birds from Australia?"
"No, those are emus. Ostriches are from Africa."
"Why the f—," but Ennis caught himself, and continued, "Um, why would anyone want to raise ostriches?" he asked, beginning to think that Tom was not only talkative but also a little bit off his rocker.
Tom didn't miss a beat. "Good meat, good eating. Plus they have feathers that are used in the fashion industry, and their skin makes a very tough and durable leather." he stopped, then continued. "So, if you're interested, that's what I'd like you to do."
"Raise ostriches?" asked Ennis, at this point not following Tom at all.
"Oh, no, I'm sorry," he leaned towards Ennis. "My students tell me the same thing, I ramble all over the place and they never know what the hell I'm talking about." Ennis wasn't surprised at this revelation. Tom leaned back. "No, what I want you to do—and your buddy, Jack, if he is interested—is just do that 'sparkly' thing I was talking about before." Once again, he made a quote gesture with his fingers, as he looked significantly at Ennis. "Painting, cleaning, fixing the fields—you probably know better what needs to be done more than me, given you've worked on ranches all your life."
Ennis nodded, finally understanding something that Tom said, and appreciating the fact that he recognized his expertise.
"To sweeten the deal, I was wondering if you'd want to stay here?" At this, Ennis's ears perked up. "Stay in the house," Tom said, gesturing to the building behind them. "It has plenty of room—three bedrooms, one bath—once your buddy tells his wife he wants a divorce, I imagine he'll need a place to live."
"Would we need t'pay rent?" Ennis asked, tentatively.
"Of course not," said Tom. "Why would you think that?"
Ennis wasn't sure how to reply so just continued with his next question, "Would ya pay us for the work?"
"Of course," Tom said, "I'm an economics professor, remember? I don't expect people to work for free. Worker compensation, sufficient wages as an employee motivator. You know. What were you getting paid in Wyoming?"
"$100 a week."
"Well, I can see that, and raise you. How about $125 a week for each of you, $250 total?"
Ennis looked at him, "That's very generous. Thanks."
"It's what I had budgeted so I am glad we are on the same page on this," said Tom. He continued, "The only thing I ask is that you plan to stay all summer. Earlier today, you said something about a couple of weeks, but I'd really want you to stay on and finish the work. It's been hard enough finding someone in the first place—I wouldn't want you to get the job half done and then leave me in the lurch."
"Well, I'll need to talk t'Jack 'bout that, but it might be possible. We don't have any real plans."
For the first time in the whole long conversation, Tom stopped and listened, picking up on the 'we' in Ennis's statement. He paused for a minute, looked at Ennis, pictured Jack, and then thought to himself, "No, they couldn't be. Way too cowboy for that."
At this point, Ennis said, "Can I ask you somethin'?" Tom nodded. "Well, this whole thing is pretty surprisin'—you don't know me from a hole in the wall but here ya are, offerin' us jobs, givin' us a place t'live…"
"Well," Tom said, "that goes along with my philosophy of life—and a little bit of economics, too. I believe that there are no coincidences. Everything happens for a reason. There was a reason I went to the Agway yesterday and you showed up in my driveway today. Maybe the reason is just to help me out, but there may be a bigger reason. We'll find out, eventually."
Ennis nodded. Even with his rambling and going off on tangents, he thought Tom had some pretty good ideas and was an okay guy.
Tom looked at his watch. "Oh, look at the time. You probably want to be getting back to town." Ennis nodded. Once again, he realized, that it had been a very long day and he was tired. He was also excited and wanted to tell Jack this news.
Ennis stood up, "Jack 'n I can talk this over—have an answer for ya in the mornin', if that's okay."
"That would be great."
They shook hands and Ennis touched the brim of his hat. "Well, then, see ya tomorrow," he said, as he headed for his truck.
Ennis felt the doorknob of the motel door turn easily in his hand, which was a good thing, because he realized he hadn't brought the key with him. He opened the door and saw the room was dark, the only light shining out from the bathroom.
He walked over and saw Jack lying on the bed, dressed, his arm flung over his head, mouth open and breathing noisily. "What the fuck?" thought Ennis, but then he turned and saw a half-empty whiskey bottle standing on the nightstand. He shook his head and screwed the cap on the bottle. He picked up the overflowing ashtray and emptied it into the trashcan in the bathroom, then brushed his teeth and pissed in the toilet, turning off the light behind him.
He went back to the bed and managed to wrestle Jack's pants off, but gave up on the shirt. Ennis admitted to himself that he was pissed at Jack. "Here I've got exciting news t'talk t'you about and you go off and get yerself plastered," he thought as he looked at the unconscious Jack lying on the bed. Ennis undressed, laid his clothes on the chair, and climbed into the other side of the bed. He looked over at Jack again, then turned and faced the wall and fell into a restless sleep.
He woke to the sound of Jack groaning, "Aw fuck, my head feels like shit." Ennis looked towards the window—there was a thin band of light shining through the crack in the curtain, but he could tell it was not yet dawn. He sighed. He had noticed a bottle of aspirin among Jack's things in the bathroom. Ennis retrieved two pills, and then came back and offered them to Jack with a glass of water.
"Thanks, bud," said Jack, "I feel like crap."
"What got into ya, Jack?" asked Ennis. "Gettin' drunk by yerself? I wasn't gone all that long."
"Aw, shit, Ennis, I dunno," he said, "I got that feelin' again."
"This feelin' like a black fog behind my eyes," said Jack, rubbing his head. "I dunno, I think it was everythin'—bein' back in Texas, talkin' to Lureen, this dumpy motel room, and then you weren't here—I got the feelin' like I get when all our fishin' trips are over. I get all depressed and feel like shit and all I want t'do is get drunk and forget it all."
"This trip ain't over," said Ennis, "this one's goin' on forever."
"Yeah, I know, but I still got the feelin'…"
"Listen, Jack," said Ennis, having a need to pause the conversation, "why don't you go take a shower and brush yer teeth? Get cleaned up, you'll feel better."
Jack nodded in agreement. That was probably a good idea.
While Jack showered, Ennis straightened up the bed, smoothing the sheets and folding down the corner of the cover flat on Jack's side. He was lying on his side, propped up on his elbow, when Jack came out, toweling himself off. Jack took the hint and climbed in next to Ennis, who pulled him close, running his fingers through Jack's wet hair.
"Yer too good to me, En," said Jack. "With Lureen, she justs calls me a piece o'shit and leaves me lyin' on the couch."
Ennis smiled. "Jack, I know 'bout that depressed feelin'—it used to happen t'me, too." He paused, "but it's diffr'nt now.
"I know," said Jack, "but, this week…I sorta felt like it was a honeymoon or somethin'—bein' with you, our trip—and then last night, I felt like it was over. I dunno, it hit me like a ton a bricks and it just made me depressed. That, and the thought that we prob'ly got some tough times ahead of us."
Ennis understood what he meant. The past five days did have an idyllic quality to them and now a harsher reality was staring them in the face. "We prob'ly do," agreed Ennis, "but gettin' drunk ain't the way t'fix it. You said so yerself, up at Don Wroe's cabin."
Jack nodded. "Listen, Jack," Ennis continued, "Y'know me, I like gettin' drunk as much as the next guy—hell, we've gotten shitfaced together more times than I can count—but I like gettin' drunk for fun, not 'cause I'm depressed. Promise me somethin'…"
Jack looked at him, "You've never asked me t'promise anythin' before."
"Well, I'm askin' now," said Ennis, "Promise me, next time ya feel like this, talk t'me before ya start drinkin'."
Jack smiled wanly and nodded, "Not sure I can promise that, bud," he said, "but I can tell ya I'll try."
"Tryin' is good enough fer now," said Ennis. He pulled Jack close and kissed him on the forehead.
Jack gave a big sigh and said, "I love you, Ennis. You're good for me….I am glad we're together."
"I'm glad too, babe," said Ennis, the endearment slipping out, unexpectedly.
Jack's eyes were closing and Ennis could tell he was falling back to sleep. "Babe. I like that. I like being your babe…," he said, drifting off.
Ennis smiled to himself and looked at Jack's peaceful face. "When the hell am I ever goin' t'get t'tell ya the news?" he thought, but not angrily, as he pulled Jack closer and closed his eyes. Then, their breathing in unison, Ennis was also soon asleep.
They woke several hours later, the sun now shining brightly through the crack in the curtain. "Man, I feel a whole helluva lot better than I did the first time I woke up," said Jack, stretching. "That's the way t'do it…sleep through a hangover." He leaned over and gave Ennis a kiss. "Mornin', cowboy."
"Back t'you, rodeo," said Ennis, with a smile and hug.
Jack started to get up but Ennis pulled him back to the bed. "No, wait, I got somethin' t'tell ya."
"Can I take a leak, first?" said Jack, with a laugh, pulling himself out of Ennis's grip. When he finished in the bathroom he came back to bed and lay down. "Okay, so what is it yer all fired up t'tell me?"
"I think I found us a place t'live, complete with jobs," said Ennis, with a grin.
"What?" said Jack, sitting up straight. "A place to live? Jobs?"
"Yup, that's what I said," said Ennis. "Lazy L Farm." He paused, and Jack looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to continue, and Ennis obliged. "When I finished with the horses last night, Tom Lawrence invited me t'sit and have a beer."
"Oh, so I wasn't the only one drinkin'," said Jack.
Ennis fixed him with a stare. "There's a big diff'rence between two beers with a fella and half a bottle of whiskey by yerself."
Jack nodded, contrite.
"Anyway," Ennis continued, "we got t'talkin' and, long story short…he's wants us to fix up the farm and we can live there while we do it."
"Ennis, that's fuckin' amazin'. Here you are, not even in Texas for 24 hours, and you find us a goddamn place to live and somethin' t'do t'make some money. I'm fuckin' impressed."
Ennis laughed, obviously pleased with himself, too.
"So, what's the scoop?"
"Well," said Ennis, "his family ain't real big…it's just him and his sister. And they've got this problem of this house and farm to deal with. She's a nurse, workin' at some cancer hospital in Dallas or Houston or somewhere. And you heard him say what he does—he's a candy-ass college professor from Austin, he sure as hell don't know nothin' 'bout runnin' a farm. So, even though it's been in the family for all this time, Tom thinks they're gonna be forced t'sell it."
Ennis paused, then continued. "He don't want t'sell it while his uncle's still alive, but he also don't think his uncle's got a whole lot longer t'live."
"So what's the deal for us?" said Jack.
"You saw the place yesterday," said Ennis. "Tom wants t'get it fixed up, so when his uncle does pass on, it'll be ready t'go."
"And that's where we come in?" asked Jack.
Ennis nodded. "Yup. His wife's down in Austin and she's pregnant. He doesn't want to spend the whole summer up here in Quanah, but he was startin' to think that's what would happen. He's been here for about two weeks already, mostly makin' arrangements for his uncle and the nursing home. He was settlin' in for the long haul, then we came along."
"It's sort of amazin' though, Ennis. He doesn't even know us."
"I know, I thought the same thing. But he made an interestin' comment, said, 'I don't believe in coincidences. Everythin' happens for a reason.' I never thought of it that way, Jack, but I think he might be right."
"So what does he want us to do?"
"Basically fix the place up. Big thing is paintin' the house, but also fixin' the fences, takin' care o'the fields. Tom figgers that who ever buys the place can decide what kinda farm to make it be…do they want to raise cattle, or horses? Or maybe grow crops? He said some dumbass thing 'bout ostriches, but I don't know what the hell he was talkin' 'bout with that."
"Ostriches? Ain't they those Australian birds?"
"No, those are emus. Ostriches are from Africa."
Jack looked at Ennis as he said this and burst out laughing. "You two must've had quite the conversation," he said.
"Don't ask. Point is, the farm is, as he said it, at a crossroads. He's askin' us t'help him get it ready for what comes next."
"So did you say yes?" asked Jack.
"'Course not, dummy. I told him I had t'talk to you first."
"Well, I think we should say yes," said Jack. "What's t'discuss? Sounds like a sweet deal t'me."
"Well, the one thing he did say was that he wanted us to agree t'stay all summer. Not leave in the middle of the job."
"So, that's not a problem," said Jack.
"Well, it does change our plans for Lightning Flat," said Ennis, "and helpin' yer daddy."
"T'be honest, Ennis, I'm not sure the Lightning Flat part of your plan was the best idea of where we should go. You've never met my daddy. He might've fuckin' run us off with a shotgun the minute we arrived. Besides, this guy Tom, you said he's gonna pay us?"
"Yup," Ennis said, "he offered us $250 a week, $125 each."
"That's fuckin' generous if you ask me," said Jack, "I doubt my daddy would pay us anythin'. So here we got us a place to live and money t'put in the bank. I say let's do it."
"Ya think so?" asked Ennis.
"I think so," said Jack. "What did ya say Tom said? There ain't no coincidences? I think that's a pretty good philosophy t'live by."
"Okay," said Ennis, "then let's get our asses in gear. I gotta take care o'my horses and we gotta tell Tom he's got a new pair o'cowboys t'fix up his farm."