A Love Born From Steel
Ennis and Jack rode out to the farm together in Jack's truck. They had stopped at the grocery store in Quanah and bought a dozen donuts to share with Tom, as they decided not to take the time to have breakfast in town. Jack picked up copies of the Dallas Morning News and the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, saying, "I bet Tom is the type that likes to read the paper in the morning."
Ennis shrugged his shoulders at this. "I ain't."
Jack gave him an exasperated look. "I ain't buyin' them for you, dumbass."
Ennis laughed, "Okay, bud. But I am buyin' some extra packs of cigarettes. Gonna need those, I think."
When they arrived at the farm, they saw Tom sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee. Jack handed him the bag and papers, "We bought ya some donuts," he said.
"And a paper! This is great—thanks guys."
"Want a smoke?" Ennis asked, offering him a pack.
Tom laughed. "Now my morning is complete. Coffee, donuts, the paper, and a cigarette. What more could anyone ask for?" He gave both Ennis and Jack a big grin.
Ennis turned to Jack, "I'm gonna go down and take care of the horses," he said. "You can talk t'Tom."
As he walked off, Jack asked Tom, "Ya got anymore coffee in the pot?"
"Sure," said Tom, engrossed in the paper. "It's in the kitchen. Help yourself."
Jack walked in through the front door. He figured that Tom would be busy with the paper for a few minutes, which would give him a chance to surreptitiously check out the house. In front of him was a staircase, leading to the second floor. To his left, was a large living room, comfortably furnished, but in an old fashioned way, with a couch, two club chairs, and a loveseat under the window. There were various small tables with knick knacks on top scattered throughout the room. Jack noticed a small, old-style television on a stand in the corner.
To his right was a small dining room. Like the living room, it was appropriately furnished with a table and chairs, but everything had a slightly aged look to it.
Behind the dining room was the kitchen. When he entered, he saw an old tin coffee pot bubbling on the stove. Jack took a cup off the shelf and poured himself some coffee. He looked around. Like the rest of the house, the kitchen gave him this funny feeling of stepping back in time. The appliances in the kitchen he guessed to be at least thirty years old. The wallpaper in the living room and dining room, and the carpet on the floor, reminded him of homes he had been in when he was a little boy. "It's a little like a time capsule," he thought to himself.
He went back out to the porch, where Tom was finishing reading the Lubbock paper. "Not much new in the world," he said. "Lots of stuff about the Presidential primaries. What do you think about that guy from Georgia, Jimmy Carter?" he asked.
"Ain't been payin' much attention," Jack replied.
"Yeah, it's still early in the season," Tom agreed. "People really don't start getting going on the election 'til after Labor Day."
Jack sat down and helped himself to a donut from the bag. "So, Tom," he said, "Ennis and I talked 'bout it, and we'd like t'take you up on your offer t'stay here at the farm and fix the place up."
Tom looked at Jack, a broad grin across his face. "That is great news! I am so pleased you'll be able to do this," he said. "This is such a great help for me, you just don't know."
"Well, from what Ennis told me, I have a little idea," said Jack, "and it's a good deal for us too. We didn't have any plans and I suspect that by noon today, I won't have had a place t'live." Tom gave him a glance as he said this and Jack explained, "I'm meetin' with my wife at eleven."
Tom nodded, "Good luck."
Jack laughed ruefully, "Thanks. I'll need it."
They looked up and saw Ennis walking back towards the house from the stable. Jack went back into the house and came out with a second coffee cup, the pot in his hand. As he poured the coffee, he offered it to Ennis. "Here ya go, En," he said.
"Thanks, bud," said Ennis, with an appreciative smile.
Jack pointed the pot towards Tom, "Can I warm yer cup?"
"Sure, that would be great," said Tom, holding his mug out towards Jack.
Ennis was fishing around in the donut bag. "I like the sugar ones," he said.
"I know you do," said Jack. "That's why we bought six of 'em."
Ennis, finally successful in his hunt, pulled out a sugar donut and gave Jack a little wink. "Thanks, bud," he said, as he sat down in the third chair on the porch.
Tom watched their interaction with interest. The coffee, the donuts, the wink—there was such an easy camaraderie between them, he thought. Clearly, they were very close friends. Something about their friendship reassured him that the farm would be in good hands for the summer. "Oh," said Tom, "speaking of which…"
Ennis and Jack both looked puzzled, as no one had been speaking.
"I mean, I was thinking about the house, and I guess we should speak about the plans," said Tom, sounding flustered. He launched into a long monologue about what needed to be done, the stores in town, and credit accounts. It was clear that Tom's plan all along had been to find someone to stay at the farm and do the work. He wanted to get back to Austin to be with his wife, not spend the summer in Quanah. To this end, he had made a number of arrangements and assured Jack and Ennis that everything should be smooth and trouble-free. "There are some advantages to living in the same place for 100 years," he said, "the merchants know Uncle Hal, they know me, and now they'll get to know you. I don't think you'll have any problems buying whatever you need to do the work you need to do. You can just charge everything to Uncle Hal's accounts. I'll stop by all the stores today and explain what's going on." Ennis and Jack nodded. "Just make sure you save all the receipts, okay?" said Tom. "So I can keep track of the money."
"I noticed the gas tank next to the barn was almost empty," said Ennis. "Can you get some delivered?"
"Oh, thanks for bringing that up—I had forgotten. I'll call this morning. Do you think they come on the same day?" he asked.
"Depends on when the truck is in the area," said Ennis. "It might not be 'til next week, least that's the way it was in Riverton. There was some gas in the tank," he continued. "Mostly what I wanted to do is mow that field for the horses," he said, pointing. "I bet there's enough gas to fill the tank on the mower."
"Okay," said Tom, "that's great. Now, when do you want to move in?"
Jack looked at him. "I think that's up t'you. What're yer plans?"
"Well," Tom said, looking at his watch, "it's still early. I need to go to the stores and talk to the managers about you, like I said. And you need to see your wife at eleven." Jack nodded. "One thing I would like to do, if it's okay with you, is take you to meet Uncle Hal."
Ennis and Jack looked a little surprised at this request. Tom explained, "There's nothing wrong with Uncle Hal's mind," he said. "He's sick with congestive heart failure which makes him weak and it's hard for him to breathe, but his mind is sharp as a tack. He knows I wanted to find a caretaker or handyman to fix the place up," he continued, "and I think the right thing to do is to introduce you to him, so he knows who will be in the house for the summer."
"That makes sense," said Jack, "I don't have a problem with it. Do you, En?"
"'Course not," replied Ennis, shaking his head.
"Okay, well maybe we can do this," Tom said, itemizing each item of the plan on his fingers. "I'll go to town and take care of business. You go see your wife," this said while looking at Jack. "Get your stuff in town and come back here in the afternoon. We'll go see Uncle Hal later, say three, and then I'll leave for Austin after that. If I'm on the road by five or so, I should be home by midnight."
"Sounds good to me," said Jack. "Ennis?"
Ennis shrugged. Plans that involved clocks and time were not his strong point. He'd go along with whatever Jack arranged.
"You probably won't have time to mow the field today," said Tom.
"That's okay," said Ennis. "We can go for a ride in the evenin' t'give 'em some exercise. I'll do the field tomorrow."
"Okay," said Tom. "That's all settled. Listen, you've seen the barn and stable, let me give you a quick tour of the house." The three of them entered through the front door. Tom pointed to the living room and dining room as they walked into the kitchen. He opened a door and pointed down the stairs, "The basement's down there," he said, "That's where the furnace and hot water heater are, as well as a washer. No dryer, you'll have to use the clothesline." Jack and Ennis looked at each other, their thoughts in unison: "Laundry? Now there's something we never thought of."
They walked back to the living room and climbed the stairs to the second floor. "There's a little bedroom in the back," Tom said, "plus a second one here," he pointed to his left, "that has two twin beds." He walked down the hall and pointed to a room on his right. "This is the master bedroom."
Ennis and Jack looked in. It was a good sized room with a double bed and white curtains at the windows. Ennis gave Jack a little poke. "I'm takin' the big bed," he said with a wink. "I'm taller 'n you."
"No way, cowboy," said Jack. "We're flippin' a coin."
Tom nodded to himself at this exchange. He walked to the last room in the hall. "Here's the bathroom." Again, Jack and Ennis looked in and saw an old fashioned bath with a claw foot tub. "No shower, unfortunately," Tom said, holding up a hose. "Just this handheld thing, which works okay. The whole place really needs a renovation." They turned and headed down the stairs. "Grandma and Grandpa got electricity and plumbing at the same time, in the late thirties. It was when the rural electrification project came through." Jack and Ennis nodded. Jack remembered his mother talking about when they got electricity, too. "At that time, Grandma and Grandpa did a major redecoration—put the bathroom in, put in the appliances in the kitchen. However, except for putting a washer in the basement, Uncle Hal really hasn't changed anything."
They arrived back on the porch. "I think it all looks great," said Jack. "We're really happy we can do this for you."
"The feeling is mutual," said Tom. "I should be thanking you." They all smiled at each other. Tom picked up the donut bag. "Another donut? Ennis, I see some sugar ones in here."
Ennis laughed as he pulled one out. "Thanks, Tom." He turned to Jack. "Whaddya say, bud?"
"I say let's hit the road," Jack replied. "Tom, thanks again. We'll see ya this afternoon."
They shook hands one last time, then Ennis and Jack turned and walked towards the truck.
A few hours later, they were heading north on the road to Childress. Jack had offered to Ennis that he didn't need to come, but Ennis was adamant. "We're gonna be here in Texas all summer, I'm gonna hafta meet her sooner or later," he said. "Might as well make it sooner and get it over with."
"Suit yerself," replied Jack, not entirely convinced, but also feeling it was not worth arguing about.
As they drove, Ennis turned to Jack. "When did you get married, anyway?" he said. "You ain't ever told me."
"You ain't ever asked," said Jack. "February 12, 1966. It was a Saturday, and we had a Valentine wedding. The bridesmaids wore pink, and the reception hall was decorated with hearts and red tablecloths. Ugly as hell, I thought, but it's what Lureen wanted. Red is her favorite color."
"You had bridesmaids?" asked Ennis, looking surprised.
"I didn't have bridesmaids, but Lureen did. Six of 'em. And six ushers, and a flower girl. I think the whole town of Childress was there, and the only people I knew were Lureen and her parents."
"Yer mama and daddy didn't come?"
"Nope. Daddy blamed it on the weather, said it was too risky to travel that far in February—but I think he just didn't care. Remember once I told ya he never came t'see me ride in the rodeo? This was the same damn thing."
"Did you go on a honeymoon?"
"Sorta. We went to Dallas for four days, stayed at a swanky hotel, ate in some nice restaurants. Lureen did a lot of shoppin', I watched her shop. Not the most excitin' time o'my life."
Jack exited off the highway and drove into the town of Childress. To Ennis, it looked like Quanah, only a little bigger. Jack pointed out the window to a large building, surrounded by an even larger parking lot in which several pieces of farm equipment were displayed. "That's Newsome's, the family business. That's where I work." Ennis nodded as he looked at it with interest.
They continued through town, driving for about five minutes, then turned left into a small subdivision. Jack drove in into a small cul-de-sac, with six identical ranch houses, distinguished only by their different color front doors, arrayed in a semi-circle. He pulled up in front of the second one on the left. "Here we are, 23 Magnolia Court," he said.
"Nice," Ennis said, nodding.
"No it ain't, Ennis. I hate it. Little small house, squished in among the others. I feel like I ain't got no privacy, neighbors can see in the windows while I'm pissin'."
Ennis laughed. "I was tryin' t'be polite."
Jack smiled at him. "No need t'be polite with me, cowboy. You can say what ya think."
"Well then," he said, pointing to the driveway, "I think that big red Cadillac is a flashy piece o'shit."
"You ain't kiddin'," said Jack. "That's Lureen's car. Her daddy bought it for her."
He shifted the truck into park, and turned off the key in the ignition. "Ya ready for this? There might be fireworks."
"Can't be any worse than Alma," Ennis replied.
"Okay then, let's go."
They walked up the driveway and entered the house through a door in garage. "Lureen?" Jack called, as he walked into the kitchen.
"I'm in the living room, Jack," came the reply.
Lureen was sitting on the couch, an open bottle of bright red nail polish on the table beside her. She was concentrating on polishing the nails of her left hand. Jack and Ennis stood there awkwardly for a minute, until she finished, put the brush in the bottle, and screwed the cap on tightly. At that point, she looked up. "Welcome home, Jack," she said, "Yer early. I didn't expect you 'til Sunday."
"Yeah, well, our plans changed."
Lureen looked at Ennis. "You gonna introduce me to yer friend?"
"This is Ennis, Lureen—Ennis Del Mar."
"Oh," she said. "The famous Ennis Del Mar, the Wyoming fishin' buddy. Nice t'meet ya in person after hearin' yer name all these years."
Ennis stood there awkwardly, holding his hat. "Ma'am."
"I'd shake yer hand but my nails are wet. There," she said, motioning to one of the upholstered chairs facing the couch. "Have a seat." Ennis did as he was told. Jack sat in the other.
"So, Jack, yer home early, and ya got me to come home from work in the middle of the day. Somethin' must be up. What's on yer mind?"
"I'll just cut right t'the chase, Lureen," he said. "I want a divorce."
She looked at him through narrowed eyes while blowing on her nails. After a minute she said, "I've been expectin' this, but why now, Jack? Somethin' happen?"
"Yup," he said. "Ennis and I talked."
"You talked? He convinced you t'ask me for a divorce?"
"Not exactly, Lureen," he replied. "We talked and…," he paused, then took a deep breath. "It's Ennis, Lureen. I'm leavin' you for him."
The room was totally silent and to Ennis, the seconds ticking by felt like hours. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, Lureen stood up. She walked over to Ennis and stood in front of him. "Stand up. I wanta look at you."
"Lureen, please," said Jack. "He ain't a piece of stock."
"Shut up, Jack," she said.
Ennis stood up, as she asked. Lureen stood with her arms crossed across her chest, and gave Ennis a careful once-over. Finally, she motioned him to sit back down in the chair. She turned and looked at her husband. "You know how to pick 'em, Jack," she said. "He's a looker."
Ennis blushed bright red and felt as if he wished the floor would open up under his seat.
"Um, I'm not quite sure how t'respond t'that, Lureen," said Jack.
"Hell, Jack, y'know things ain't been right between us for a long time now," she replied. "It's good t'finally know just what exactly is goin' on. I thought y'might be havin' an affair, I've thought that for awhile. I'm just relieved to find out my competition doesn't have bigger tits than me."
Jack looked stunned, and Ennis suppressed a little smile.
She turned to Ennis. "I'm gonna get myself a drink. Ya want somethin'?"
"Water's fine, ma'am," he said.
"Ya sure? I was gonna have somethin' a little stronger."
He shook his head. "No, I'm fine. Do ya mind if I smoke, though?" he asked.
"Go right ahead," she said, handing him an ashtray off the end table next to the couch.
Jack followed her into the kitchen, where Lureen pulled out a bottle of rum from the a lower cabinet, and a can of Coke from the refrigerator. She took a tall glass from the cabinet, added some ice, and made herself a drink, heavy on the rum. "You want somethin' Jack?" she asked. "Some whiskey?"
"No, Lureen, I'm fine." He filled a glass of water from the pitcher in the refrigerator and took it to Ennis in the living room. "Give me a minute, bud," he whispered to Ennis, who nodded while he lit a second cigarette.
Jack went back into the kitchen. Lureen was leaning against the counter, her drink in her hand. "So, Jack, how long has this been goin' on, anyway?"
"We met back in '63, Lureen," he said, "and got back together in '67."
"It started in 1963?" she asked, her voice surprised.
Jack nodded. "Yup, that summer, when we was herdin' sheep."
Lureen stared across the kitchen, her eyes not focused on anything in particular. Jack could tell she was trying to compose the thoughts in her mind. He had seen this look before.
"So, let me see if I've got this straight. You met Ennis in the summer of 1963. …" Jack nodded. "And you married me in 1966. …" Jack nodded again. "And then you shacked up with him a year later. …"
"That's not the word I would use, but yes," Jack said.
"Are you in love with him?" she asked.
"Very much so," said Jack.
"And you've been in love with him…?"
"Right from the beginning," Jack replied.
"So why did you marry me?" she asked.
"Lureen, that's a question for which I don't have a satisfactory answer, and for that, I hafta apologize. I should never have married you—I should never have married any woman. I'm gay, Lureen. I know that now. But back then, I was thinkin' I could fix it, or get over it, or get over Ennis. But none of those things happened. I hope someday you'll find it in yer heart t'forgive me, because I made a terrible mistake, and I'm sure I've hurt you very badly."
She looked at him. "I don't feel angry, right now, Jack. I just feel…numb. But thank you for sayin' that." She looked towards the door to the living room. "Yer bein' rude t'your guest," she said, "Leavin' him alone." She walked back into the living room and sat on the couch. "Ennis," she said, "are you in love with Jack?"
"Yes, ma'am, I am," he said. No use lying about at this point, he thought to himself.
"Yer wife know about this?" she asked.
"She does," he replied.
"And is she okay with it?"
"No ma'am, she ain't. She thinks it's unnatural."
"Hmm," she said. "I don't know if that's the word I would use." She turned to Jack. "So, what happens now?"
"Actually, Lureen, we're gonna spend the summer in Texas. We found a place t'stay in Quanah."
It was Lureen's turn to look stunned. "You found a place to stay? You haven't even been back for 24 hours!"
"I know. Fuckin' amazin', ain't it?" said Jack.
"Did you do this, Ennis?" she asked. "You must be a miracle worker."
He smiled a little at the compliment. "It was my horses, ma'am. I needed t'find them a place to stay."
"You have horses?"
He nodded. "Yup, two. Twister and Sioux."
She smiled. "Twister?" Ennis blushed, and nodded. She looked at Jack. "If I didn't believe he loved you before, I certainly do now." Jack and Ennis looked at each other, and Lureen could see the meaning in their glance. "So," she continued, "you found a place to stay. …"
"Yeah, a farm in Quanah," said Jack. "We're basically gonna be handymen…fix the place up. The owner is in a nursing home, and his nephew—essentially his only relative—lives in Austin." He paused, then continued. "What I was thinking, Lureen, is that I could come by some time tomorrow and talk to Bobby, explain what's going on. Pack up some of my stuff. We can start talkin' t'lawyers next week."
"And yer job?"
"I figured you'd want t'get rid of me, given what's goin' on."
"Frankly, I don't care, and you do know how t'sell combines. But Daddy'll want t'fire you, so I might as well tell him I did it. Save you the grief." She turned to Ennis. "My daddy will be like yer wife—not too happy with this whole situation."
Ennis nodded. "Jack's told me a bit about him."
Jack stood up and handed her a piece of paper. "Here's the phone number at the farm. What time would be good for me to come by tomorrow and talk t'Bobby?"
"The morning," she said. "He has a baseball game in the afternoon."
Jack nodded, then turned to Ennis. "Ready, bud?" Ennis stood up, as did Lureen. They all looked at each other awkwardly for a minute, then Jack gave Lureen a gentle hug. "I'm sorry, Lureen. Thank you for bein' understandin'."
She smiled. "Well, I can't say this is easy, but I can already see yer happier, so I know it's the right thing for you." She turned to Ennis. "You take good care o'him, y'hear?"
"Don't worry, ma'am, I will."
She gave him a little poke. "And next time I see you, stop 'ma'aming' me, willya? I ain't old enough for that."
Ennis laughed. "Okay, ma'…I mean, Lureen."
The nursing home was on the outskirts of town, a flat, one-story building with plate glass windows. The three of them got out of Tom's car and walked towards the front door. "It broke my heart to admit Uncle Hal into here," he said, "but there really was no way he could manage on his own." They stopped in front of the door and Tom turned to them, "Oh, guys, there's something I should explain to you." Jack and Ennis looked at him, listening. "He thinks he's going to get better and go home—and who knows, maybe he will. But I kind of doubt it. But," he paused, then continued, "I let him believe that. There's no point in destroying an old man's dream. I just wanted to tell you that, in case he brings it up. He usually does."
Jack and Ennis nodded in silent understanding. Tom pushed opened the door and the walked into the building. "Let me introduce you to the charge nurse," he said, as they walked up to the nurse's station.
An attractive, middle-aged brunette stood up as they approached. "Hi, Tom, here to see your uncle?"
"Sure am," he said, "Becky, I want to introduce you to Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. Guys, this is Becky Randall, the charge nurse. "
She smiled at both of them. "It's very nice to meet you."
"Nice t'meet you too," said Jack, while Ennis just took off his hat and said, "Ma'am."
"Becky, Ennis and Jack are going to be staying at the farm for the summer, fixing the place up."
Becky looked at Ennis and Jack. "Heaven must have sent you. I know this has been worrying Tom."
Tom laughed. "Yeah, anyway. We're here so I can introduce them to Uncle Hal, let him know what's going on."
"Well," Becky said, "I believe he is sitting in the day room." She looked at Ennis and Jack. "Will you boys be coming to visit Hal? I know he gets lonely."
They shrugged. They hadn't really thought about this part of their responsibilities, but a visit once or twice a week was probably possible. "Mebbe," said Jack, "once we get t'know him."
"I think that would be nice," she said. Then, pointing down the hall she said, "The day room's down there…at the end. Have a nice chat."
They walked down the hall and entered the room. Tom glanced around and saw his uncle sitting in a large chair in the corner, which was turned towards the window. A blanket was over his knees. They walked over, and Tom said, "Uncle Hal, I'm here. Hi."
His uncle turned and looked at him. "Oh, hi, Tom, it's good t'see ya." He noticed Ennis and Jack. "Who are yer friends?"
"Uncle Hal, this is Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist."
Hal reached out a thin hand towards them, which each shook in turn. "Pleased t'meet ya," he said.
"Thanks," said Jack.
Ennis nodded, "Sir."
"Pull up some chairs, Tom," said Hal. "Sit and rest a spell."
As they sat down, Ennis and Jack looked at Hal. He was thin, and frail, but his gray hair was neatly combed across his head. His eyes were still bright—and blue, like Tom's. They could see vestiges of a handsome man in his drawn face. He had a friendly smile, however, and was clearly pleased to have company.
"Well, Uncle Hal, I was really lucky yesterday, because these two cowboys came walking up my driveway, looking for a job."
"Really?" asked Hal.
"Well, actually, they drove up in a truck looking for a stable for two horses, but we turned that into a job."
Hal smiled and turned to them. "Tell me about yerselves." Jack and Ennis recited their usual explanation. Hal nodded as he listened. "So, what's the plan, Tom?"
"They're going to stay at the house, fix the place up…"
"So I can go home?"
"So you can go home if you get better, Uncle Hal, yes."
Hal smiled and then looked at Ennis and Jack again. "Big thing t'do is paint the house," he said.
Jack nodded, "Yeah, that's what Tom said, too."
"Can ya go back t'the original color?"
Jack and Ennis looked puzzled, and looked over at Tom. "What original color, Uncle Hal? I only remember it as white."
"That's right, yer probably too young t'remember." He looked out the window, then back at all three of them. "My mama's name was Rose, and when my daddy built it for her as a wedding present, he painted it a very dark pink—the color of a rose. He always said, 'A rose for my Rose, her house on the prairie.'"
"I never knew that, Uncle Hal," said Tom. "That's sweet. When did it get painted white?"
"During the war," said Hal. "It was hard to get paint then, and impossible to get colored paint, so my daddy had to settle for white. He always promised Mama that he'd go back to the rose color, but never did. Since yer goin' t'be paintin' it this summer, mebbe this is the time to do it."
Jack and Ennis nodded, and Jack said, "Sure. Why not?"
"It had cream-colored trim, too," he said. "All the curlicues on the porch and the porch railing, the window frames, and the doors."
"I'll tell you what, Uncle Hal," said Tom, "I'm heading back to Austin this evening and I won't be back for a few weeks. But maybe Jack and Ennis can bring some paint samples by and you can help them pick the right color. How does that sound?"
"Sounds good t'me," said Hal. "I can picture the exact color. It's very dark. Don't bring me any bright pink paint samples," he said.
"No, sir," said Jack. "I don't think you want a pink house." They all laughed at that.
"So, Tom," Hal said, "Yer goin' home t'Austin?"
"Yes, that's the plan. Janet's missing me, and taking care of a three year old when you're pregnant isn't easy. I'm thinking I can come back every two weeks…visit you, check in on Ennis and Jack, make sure everything is going okay."
Hal nodded. "Will you boys come visit? It gets lonely here."
"Sure," said Jack, "we have t'bring the paint samples by, so I'm sure we'll be back in a few days."
Hal looked at Ennis, "Son, yer awfully quiet."
Ennis blushed, "Don't talk much," he said. "Ain't got much t'say."
Hal smiled at him. "I want t'get t'know ya better. You come visit, too."
Ennis nodded. "I will, sir. Promise."
They chatted together for a few more minutes, then Tom looked at his watch. "I think it's almost time for dinner, Uncle Hal," he said. "And I need to get on my way to Austin."
The three of them stood up and shook Hal's hand one more time. "Enjoy the house, boys," he said. "I'll see ya in a few days."
An hour later, they stood on the porch and watched Tom's Volvo station wagon head off down the road, then turned to each other. "Now what do we do?" asked Ennis.
"Unload the truck, I guess," replied Jack. They walked over to Jack's truck, and he opened the back. The first thing he pulled out were Ennis's three hunting rifles. "Where ya gonna put these?" he asked.
"I saw a gun locker in the tack room in the stable," Ennis replied. "I'll put 'em there."
Jack nodded. "What 'bout my gun?" he asked.
"I'll put yers away there too," said Ennis. "Don't worry, it's safe." He had no intention of telling Jack where it was.
Ennis carried the cooler into the house, while Jack brought the camping gear—tent, a box with pans, plates, and utensils, and a Coleman stove. "I'm gonna put this down in the basement," he said. As he looked at the equipment, he said, mostly to himself, "I wonder if we'll ever use this again?"
Ennis looked over at him. "I'd like t'go huntin' in November—dependin' on where we are."
As he said November, Jack stopped and looked at him. "This is so weird," he said.
"What's weird?" said Ennis, as he put the beer from the cooler in the refrigerator.
"Think about it," he said. "What's today, Friday? One week ago today, I was packin' my truck, gettin' ready to head to Wyoming. "Now look where we are."
Ennis didn't say anything, just let Jack continue.
"If this week had gone the way it usually does, this would've been our last night at the cabin. We'd be packin' up to leave tomorrow—and thinkin' we might not see each other until November. Instead, here we are," he said as he looked around the kitchen. "We're together, we've got a place to live, I've told my wife I want a divorce and she's okay with it. …"
"Fuckin' amazin' I'd say, Jack," Ennis replied, with a smile.
"Fuckin' amazin' doesn't begin t'describe it," said Jack, as he headed down the stairs to the basement.
He came back up with a laundry basket full of wet sheets. "I guess Tom stripped the beds and washed the sheets," he said. "That was right nice of him. I'm gonna go hang these outside."
Ennis nodded. He finished unpacking the cooler and rinsed it out in the sink. He then unpacked the bags of groceries, smiling to himself as he put the jar of peanut butter away on a shelf in the cupboard.
Jack came back in. "Wanna help me make the bed?" he said.
"Sure," said Ennis.
As they walked up the stairs, Jack said, "Why d'ya make that comment t'Tom 'bout takin' the big bed, anyway? That was kinda bold of ya, I thought."
Ennis laughed. "I think I was teasin' him," he said. "I don't think he's figgered us out."
"No, I don't think so either," said Jack, as they walked into the bedroom.
"Kinda dense, him bein' a college professor and all."
"Yeah," said Jack, "Book smart ain't necessarily people smart, I guess."
Tom had left a set of sheets on the foot of the bed. They stood opposite each other, smoothing the sheets and pulling them taut, tucking in the blanket, and last, putting the pillowcases on the pillows and placing them at the head of the bed. When they were finished, they gave each other a shy smile across the bed, almost embarrassed at the intimacy of it all, seeing their shared bed as a sacred space.
Ennis turned and sat on the edge of the bed. He pulled off his boots, then pulled off his dirty socks. He sat with them in his hand for a minute, then turned to Jack. "What do I do with these?" he asked.
Jack looked at him. "I dunno. They're yer socks." He paused, then said, "I think I saw a hamper in the bathroom."
Ennis nodded. "This is weird."
"Now yer sayin' it," Jack laughed. "What's weird?"
"We're doin' it, Jack," said Ennis. "We're livin' together."
"That's right, cowboy," replied Jack. "Wasn't that the plan?"
"Yeah, but…all those years of you askin', and now it's here. It's real. I don't hardly fuckin' believe it," he said. He looked around the room, then looked at Jack. "We gotta figger stuff out,"
Jack was not entirely following what Ennis was trying to say. "Figger what stuff out?"
"Y'know—housekeepin'. Cookin', cleanin', all that shit."
Jack walked over and sat down next to Ennis, putting his arm around his shoulders. "So? That's no big deal."
"I never did any of that crap," said Ennis. "I let Alma do all the work."
Jack laughed, "You were quite the husband, huh?"
Ennis, a serious look on his face, replied, "I was a lousy husband. I ain't surprised she divorced me. I'm surprised she put up with me as long as she did."
Jack gave him a little punch on the shoulder. "Well, don't think you're gonna get away with that with me," he said. "I'll make you pull yer weight around here."
Ennis turned and looked directly at Jack, "What are we, anyway?"
"Whaddya mean, En?"
"I was Alma's husband. She was my wife. That's over, but now we're together," he said, motioning with his finger to the two of them, "I'm presumin' forever. What does that make us?"
"Um," said Jack, "I dunno. Married?"
Ennis shook his head. "We ain't married, Jack. We ain't been before a preacher, and besides, there ain't no preacher who would marry two guys."
"That's true," said Jack, "Let's see. A couple?"
"Yeah, I guess. Couple works, sorta."
Jack traced his fingers along Ennis's jaw. "Buddies?"
"Nah, not buddies. That's what Tom thinks we are. Besides, I told ya, fuckbuddy days are over."
Jack laughed at that. "Lovers?"
Ennis thought for a minute, then nodded. "Lovers is good."
Jack continued to caress Ennis's face. "Try this one, En. You are my life."
Ennis looked up at him, a little smile on his face. "You gettin' mushy?" he said, with a wink.
"Not mushy, En. Just tellin' ya the truth. Besides, yer the one that started it."
Ennis smiled, stood up, and crossed to the window. He looked out at the field and the stable, then turned back and looked at Jack. "What is my life?" he asked. "Ain't been much of one up 'til now."
"Well, cowboy," said Jack, "I guess, from now on, it's what we make it, huh?"
"I guess it is," said Ennis. He looked at the dirty socks, still in his hand. "Rodeo, I'm gonna go put these in the hamper in the bathroom," he said. "And I'm gonna put the rest of my clothes in that hamper, too." Jack looked at him. "And when I come back, I think we oughta christen that bed." This last line was delivered with a big grin.
Jack stood up and unbuttoned his shirt. "Sounds good t'me," he said. "Let's see who can get undressed first."