A Love Born From Steel

Chapter 6

The early morning sun creeping through the shade woke Ennis, as usual. He stretched and looked over at Jack, who was curled up on his side, hand underneath the pillow. Ennis felt a rush of happiness course through his body. He realized that every day he woke up feeling happier than he had ever felt before, and every day he felt happier than the day before. Could this go on? Is there a happiness limit? he wondered.

He lay on his back and stared at the ceiling, thinking of the events of yesterday. First they christened the bed, which had turned into a long, slow, gentle love making. Face to face, they explored each other with their hands and their tongues. Then Jack held both their cocks together and Ennis covered Jack's hand with this. They moved together in a languorous rhythm, Jack's lips locked on the soft skin at the base of Ennis's neck. Ennis knew he'd find a hickey there when he looked at himself in the mirror. Their release had been mutual and fulfilling—but different. "Soft," Ennis thought to himself. "That's what it was. Coming in a soft way."

They lay together for a time afterwards, feeling their hearts beating in their chests and their breathing in unison. Ennis could tell they were slipping into sleep but he pulled himself away and managed to rouse them both. "C'mon bud," he said to Jack, "I wanna go for a ride. The horses have been cooped up all day. They need some exercise." Jack nodded and rolled over, picking his jeans up off the floor. Ennis found a clean pair in his box of belongings that he had brought in from the truck.

They walked to the stable, Ennis's arm around Jack's shoulders, Jack's arm around Ennis's waist. They felt that they were in their own private world and no one could intrude.

They saddled up the horses and then headed out on the road that led towards the fields. They discovered that there was a perimeter road that marked the demarcation between the fields and the copse of trees that bordered the river. At various points there were breaks in the trees and they rode through one and dismounted, walking to the bank at the edge of the river.

"I wonder what river this is?" asked Ennis.

"It's the Pease," Jack replied. Ennis looked surprised and Jack laughed. "I live near here, remember?"

Ennis laughed at himself. "I just forgot where we are," he said. "Any fish in this river?"

Jack nodded, "Yeah, and you can swim, too."

"Hmm," said Ennis. "I ain't been swimmin' in ages."

"Me neither," said Jack, "but I always remember skinny-dippin' with you."

They laughed together at that, then remounted the horses and headed back to the stable. They put the gear away in the tack room. Jack brushed both Sioux and Twister while Ennis cleaned the stalls and filled the water and feed pails.

They went back to the house and managed to fashion themselves a mish-mash dinner from the food Tom had left in the refrigerator and their provisions from their trip. Neither particularly cared what they were eating—they only ate because they were hungry. Afterwards, they sat on the porch and watched the sun set, smoking cigarettes and passing a whiskey bottle back and forth.

When they had gotten to the point of being nicely buzzed they decided what they needed to do—right then—was take a bath together. Full of giggles, they managed to squeeze themselves into the old-fashioned tub, Ennis wedged in between Jack's legs. Jack played with the soap, working up a nice lather on both of them. When the water turned cool and gray they drained the tub and rinsed themselves off with the handheld shower, washing off all residual soap lather and bubbles.

They dried each other and then walked to the bedroom and crawled into bed. At this point, Ennis felt so relaxed that all he wanted to do was sleep, but Jack had other ideas. "Cowboy, I'm so tired," he kept saying, and Jack would say, "Just lay back and let me play. You don't have to do anything," which is what Ennis did. Jack kissed him all over, licked his balls, and tongued his cock. At one point, Ennis remembered him sucking on his toes, which, in the light of day seemed a little strange, but at the time, made him feel like electricity was flowing through him, starting at this feet and exiting out the top of his head.

Eventually Jack turned him over and spent a long time playing with his ass. When Ennis had gotten to the point of being so relaxed he thought he would melt, Jack eased his cock in—very slowly. They had done it this way a few times but it was not their usual routine, so Ennis appreciated Jack's gentleness. Ennis sometimes thought he was a little rough, but Jack never complained. Jack pulled Ennis's hips up and pushed and pulled in an even rhythm.

Ennis came quickly—all the foreplay had brought him to the point of needing an early release—while Jack took a little longer. Then, both fully satisfied, they easily fell asleep, Jack holding Ennis in a close embrace.

As Ennis finished reviewing these memories, he drew in a deep breath and exhaled a big sigh, stretched, and looked at Jack again. He briefly contemplated starting in on Jack—giving him a thank you for all the fun the night before—but decided to let him sleep. "We have the rest of our lives for making love," he thought. "Not like the old days where we had to fuck like bunnies because the clock was ticking."

He quietly eased out of the bed so as not to wake Jack, picked up his clothes, and walked down the hall to the bathroom. He stood at the sink, brushed his teeth, and then began to shave, staring at his reflection in the mirror. He laughed when he saw a big purple hickey on his collarbone. "No surprise," he thought to himself.

He finished getting dressed and then walked down the stairs, carrying his boots. He poured himself to a glass of juice from the carton in the refrigerator, then headed out the back door. He walked across the grass towards the road, noticing a thick layer of early morning dew that coated everything. Ennis had absolutely no idea what time it was but the angle of the sun told him that it was pretty early.

He came into the stable and opened the door to Twister's stall. "Good mornin', buddy," he said, rubbing the horse on his soft nose. "I'm gonna mow you a field today, so you can get out of this goddamn stable for a change." He lifted the water bucket off the hook and filled it at the spigot on the side of the barn. He came back in and did the same for Sioux.

He walked over to the barn, planning to inspect the mower and figure out what it needed to get working. He had noticed a box on the wall near the door. He opened it, and there was a series of keys, each on its own hook, neatly labeled. Ennis took the key marked 'mower' and walked over to the machine. He fiddled with the spark plugs for a minute, then climbed up on the seat, put the key in the ignition, and turned it. To his amazement, the mower started right up. He drove it out through the barn door. He stopped at the gas tank and filled the tank on the mower with the hand cranked pump, then proceeded to the field that was next to the stable.

Ennis mowed down to the far end of the field, noticing the fences along the way. They were sagging and boards needed to be replaced, but were intact enough that they would provide a sufficient enclosure for the horses. He turned at the end and started back up, heading towards the house. When he was about halfway up the field, he noticed Jack walking out of the house and down the road. By the time Ennis reached the fence, Jack was waiting for him.

Ennis turned off the mower and climbed down from the seat. He walked over and leaned in for a kiss. "Good mornin', cowboy," he said.

Jack kissed him back but gave him an exasperated look. "Ennis, what the fuck are ya doin'?" he said.

Ennis looked at him. He thought it was pretty obvious what he was doing, but he said it anyway. "Mowin' the field."

"Ennis, it is six fuckin' a.m." Jack said. "Are you tryin' to wake the dead?"

Ennis shrugged. "I wasn't payin' attention t'the time," he said.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Ya never pay attention t'the time. Besides, don't ya want t'wait 'til it dries out a little bit?" he said. "Look how wet the grass is."

Ennis conceded that maybe Jack had a point on this. He was so pleased when the mower started right up he hadn't thought about much else.

"Have you had any breakfast?" Jack asked, and Ennis shook his head. "C'mon on up to the house and get something to eat, and then you can get back to your mowin'."

Ennis laughed. "Okay. Yer takin' good care of me, cowboy," he said, as he walked over to the gate.

"Somebody's gotta do it, you dumbass," Jack replied, but said it with an affectionate smile.

An hour later they were sitting on the porch, each enjoying a second cup of coffee and a cigarette. Jack was busy making plans for the day and even had a pad of paper on which he was writing several lists. Ennis looked at him, amused. "I never knew you were a list kinda guy," he said.

"I've got a lot to keep track of," he said. "Let's see, when I come back from Childress and seein' Bobby, I'm goin' to the grocery store, and the hardware store…," he paused, thinking to himself, then turned to Ennis. "You think of anything we need?"

Ennis nodded. "A padlock for the gun locker," he said. "The key's missing for the one that's there—prob'ly easiest to just cut it off and get a new one."

Jack wrote it on his list. "Do you trust me t'pick out the paint samples or do you want t'come along for that?"

"I trust you," Ennis said. "Make sure they're dark rose, though, I ain't livin' in a girly-pink house, even if it is just for the summer."

Jack laughed. "Okay, cowboy, will do. Listen, I was thinkin' of lookin' at the hardware store, maybe buy us a grill."

"A grill?" Ennis looked at him in amazement.

"Yeah, so we can have cook-outs—hamburgers, hot dogs, shit like that."

"Cowboy, that is the strangest thing I've ever heard you say," said Ennis.

"Why?" Jack replied. "Lureen and I did a lot of cookin' on the grill. It's nice when the weather's warm. Get out of the house."

"Jack, the only time I ever cooked outdoors was when I was campin' with the girls, or on fishin' trips with you. Can't imagine cookin' on a grill at home."

"Yeah, well, you were livin' in an apartment, weren't you? Not really set up for havin' a cook-out."

Ennis laughed. "I s'pose," he said. "You wanna buy a grill, you go right ahead. But I ain't doin' the grillin', that'll be yer job."

Jack smiled back at him. "Fair enough, cowboy."

Ennis stood and stretched, then picked up his coffee cup. "Ya want some more coffee?" he asked Jack. Jack shook his head no. Ennis said, "Okay then, I'll wash these up and get back to my mowin'. Grass looks a little drier now."

Jack looked up at him. "Sounds good. I'll be headin' out, too—hopefully I'll be back by lunch. I'll buy groceries so we'll have some food."

"Sounds good t'me," said Ennis. "Once I'm done with the field, I guess I'll start scrapin' the paint on the house. That seems to be the biggest job we need to get goin' on, don't ya think?"

Jack nodded his head in agreement. "Yeah, I think so. In fact, I'll pick up an extra scraper or two at the hardware store, just so we're all set."

Ennis stood up and walked past Jack as he headed towards the door, ruffling Jack's hair along the way. "Love ya, cowboy," he said off handedly, as he walked into the house. Jack looked at him in surprise, then smiled to himself, thinking once again that he was the luckiest man on the planet.

Ennis finished mowing the field in the late morning. He went and got the horses out of the stable, opened the gate, and let them in. He swore they gave him a grateful look. "I know," he said, "it's been a tough coupla days, first the trailer, now the stable, but we'll get things back to normal soon." He went back into the stable and hunted around and eventually found a large metal trough. "I knew this had to be here," he thought to himself. He looked a bit more and found a hose, which he hooked to the spigot on the side of the barn. He dragged the trough to the edge of the field, then filled it with water from the hose. He leaned on the fence and watched the horses for a few minutes, then turned and went back up to the house.

He stood and looked at the house while he smoked a cigarette, thinking about the painting job. He had never painted a house before, but he had painted plenty of barns and other ranch buildings, and figured it wasn't all that different. It was pretty obvious that the first order of business would be to scrape all the old paint off. As much as it was peeling, there wasn't much left. He went back down to the barn and sure enough, there were three ladders neatly stacked one on top of the other in the corner. "Hal was an organized sonofabitch," he thought.

He was standing on the ladder, scraping paint from around the bedroom window, thinking to himself that it was a whole helluva lot hotter in Texas than it was in Wyoming, when Jack drove up. Jack parked the truck and noticed that Ennis's shirt was plastered to his back with sweat. Jack was about to make a smartass comment about painting while wearing boots and jeans when he remembered that Ennis didn't have anything to wear except boots and jeans.

"Hey En," he called. "I'm back." Ennis turned and looked down at him with a smile. "C'mon down here and give me a hand." Ennis nodded and stepped down the ladder. Jack opened the back of the truck which was full of boxes. "Give me a hand with these, will ya?" he said. "They can all go into the bedroom. And, I have something for you."

They made several trips in and out of the house, carrying boxes up to the bedroom. "Jesus, Jack," said Ennis, "you managed to pack all of this in an hour?"

"Lureen helped," he said, and Ennis looked puzzled. "Seems that after we left, she decided to have a few more rum 'n cokes, and then got mad at me and started packin' my shit." He gave a rueful chuckle.

"So how was she today?" asked Ennis.

"She was okay," said Jack. "Y'know En, I don't think the issue is you and me, it is more that the spotlight ain't on Lureen. She has some other crap to figure out…her husband being gay is one problem, but that ain't the only one."

Ennis winced a little at the "being gay" comment but hoped Jack didn't notice. He realized that Jack had started saying this more openly in the past few days—even said it to Lureen in the kitchen. Ennis still wasn't comfortable with the whole idea and realized, like Lureen, that he had "some crap" to work through. He knew he loved a man and that loving a man was a definition of being gay—although he had no intention of ever loving a different man. "Sometimes," he thought to himself, "it is so fuckin' complicated."

They carried up the last of the boxes and dumped them on the floor. Ennis sat down in the small upholstered chair in the corner of the bedroom, while Jack fished around in one of his boxes. Ennis had no idea what to expect what it was that Jack had for him.

Jack continued to rummage around in a box of clothes and finally pulled out a pair of khaki shorts. He threw them across the room to Ennis. "Here, try these on. They should fit."

Ennis looked dubious. "I'm skinnier than you," he said.

Jack gave him a wry smile. "There was time when I was skinnier than you," he said, "and now ya got me workin' in the fields and scrapin' paint, those days may return. Meanwhile," he said, pointing to the shorts, "those are few years old. They're a little tight on me, should fit you fine."

Ennis, still sitting in the chair, pulled off his boots. He then stood up and took off his pants and his sweat-soaked shirt. He pulled on the shorts, which, as Jack had predicted, fit perfectly.

Jack was back rummaging in the box again, this time pulling out a white tee shirt with "VERSATILE" emblazoned across the front. "Here, you can have this. This will be a damn sight more comfortable for painting than a cowboy shirt." Ennis pulled the shirt over his head.

"What's versatile mean?" he asked.

"It's the brand of combine I sold at Newsome's," he said. "They'd give us free tee shirts for sales promotions, shit like that." Jack turned to the box again, this time pulling out a pair of sneakers. "What size shoes do you wear?"

"Ten and a half," said Ennis.

"Thought so. Same as me. Here," he said, handing him the sneakers, "you can have these. Practically brand new. I think they'll be more comfortable than boots, at least for painting."

Ennis sat back down on the chair and put on the shoes. When he finished, he stood up and looked at himself in the mirror on the back of the closet door. He turned to Jack and said, "Can I tell ya somethin'? Promise not to laugh?"

"Sure, cowboy, what is it?"

"I ain't never worn a pair of shorts before."

Jack smiled, pressing his lips together, trying hard not to laugh, since he had promised. "Well, that's a damn shame, Ennis, because you look mighty fine in those shorts, if I do say so myself. Lotta men in the world would've gotten off lookin' at those legs of yours."

Ennis blushed bright red, as he always did whenever Jack commented on his looks or his body. "Shut up, Jack, yer embarrassin' me."

"Nothin' to be embarrassed 'bout, cowboy," Jack replied. "I'm gettin' horny just lookin' at ya."

Ennis gave him an evil wink. "Is that an invitation?" he said.

Jack laughed. "Hold yer horses, cowboy. We can get t'that later." Jack pulled another pair of shorts out of the box along with a tee shirt. "Let me change real quick and then we can bring in the groceries from the truck."

They clattered down the stairs and together brought in several bags of groceries. As Ennis helped him put away the food, he said, "Shit, Jack, you bought enough stuff."

"Well, I figger, this should hold us for a few days. We need t'eat don't we?"

Ennis smiled and nodded. "I guess so."

"Let's see, I bought some cold cuts for lunch. Ya want a ham and cheese sandwich or roast beef?"

"Ham is good," Ennis said. "But no mayonnaise. I like mustard."

"Well, glad t'see we're in agreement on that," laughed Jack. He picked up a jar. "Ya like pickles, too?"

Ennis nodded. "The sweet ones, not dill," he said.

Jack laughed, showing him the label. "I had a feelin'," he said. "Sugar donuts, sweet pickles—I think you got a sweet tooth, Ennis Del Mar."

They carried their plates with the sandwiches, pickles, and some chips into the dining room. They munched on their lunches in companionable silence. At one point, Jack picked up his beer bottle to take a swig and Ennis noticed his hand. "Ya ain't wearin' yer weddin' ring," he said.

Jack smiled. "I wondered how long it would take ya t'notice."

"When did ya take it off?"

"This mornin'," Jack said. "Before I left for Childress. Lureen noticed too, didn't say much, just harrumphed."

"Y'know, Jack," said Ennis, "you are officially still married."

"Well, maybe in some legal sense I am, but it's over En. It's been over for a long time." Jack looked at him, then asked, "When did you stop wearin' yer weddin' ring?"

"The day we went to court. I got real drunk that night, felt real sorry for myself. Took it off, thought 'bout throwing it away, but I didn't." He nodded towards the ceiling. "It's up there, in a little box with my stuff. I don't know why I keep it, hangin' onto a little piece of my life that doesn't exist anymore."

"Yeah," said Jack, "I was wonderin' what t'do with mine, too."

"Well, yers is fancier than mine. Don't it have a diamond in it?" Jack nodded. "Mebbe we can hock it, get some money for it." This last statement was delivered in total seriousness.

"What?" Jack exclaimed. "Pawn my weddin' ring?"

"Why not?" said Ennis. "I've hocked plenty o'things over the years. My guns, my saddles. Always managed t'come up with enough money to buy 'em back, but sometimes that's what I needed t'do t'make ends meet."

Jack looked at Ennis, thinking about what he had just said. Jack thought about his year of rodeoing, the year when he was flat broke. Even then, he never felt so desperate that he considered selling his few valuable possessions. Jack looked at Ennis's left hand which was lying on the table; he was taking a swig of beer from the bottle with his right. Jack reached out and covered Ennis's hand with his own. "Lemme tell ya somethin', cowboy," he said. "As long as you and I are together, you ain't never goin' t'need to hock somethin' that's important t'ya t'make ends meet. Got it? That's a promise."

Ennis looked down, embarrassed, then looked up, and pulled his hand out from under Jack's and gave it a squeeze. "Thanks, bud." Then, feeling as if the moment was almost too serious, he gave Jack a wink. "But yer weddin' ring?"

Jack punched him in the shoulder, "Fuck, Ennis, you are one persistent sonofabitch," he laughed. "I ain't pawning my weddin' ring, got it?"

"Okay, okay…just thought it was a good way t'make a few quick bucks, 'specially seein' as how ya ain't wearin' it anymore."

They laughed together as they cleared the table and cleaned up from lunch. Ennis wanted to get back to paint scraping but Jack suggested they wait. "It's the hottest part of the day. We can get to it later," he said. "Come back upstairs, I think I got some more clothes for ya."

Back in the bedroom, they had an impromptu fashion show, with Jack pulling clothes out of boxes and Ennis trying them on. "You sure have a helluva lot of clothes," Ennis said at one point, as he modeled yet another pair of shorts.

"I told ya, Lureen likes t'shop," replied Jack, "and then I gained 15 pounds which gave her another excuse to go out and buy me a whole new wardrobe."

By the time they were through, Ennis had acquired three more pairs of shorts, six tee shirts, two collared polo shirts, a denim shirt, a pair of khaki pants, and a pair of blue dress pants. "When am I ever goin' to wear these?" asked Ennis, looking at the dress pants.

"Y'never know. Maybe they'll just hang in the closet, but you'll have 'em if ya need 'em," said Jack.

However, Ennis drew the line at a bathing suit. "Ain't got no use for that," he said. "I've never worn a bathin' suit in my life and I don't plan t'start now."

"What if we go somewhere with a pool?" asked Jack.

"Somehow, I don't suspect a pool is in my future. If we're gonna do any swimmin' it'll be down at the river, just you 'n me, and we don't need suits for that."

Jack laughed and held up a pair of pajamas. "What about these?" he asked, with a wink.

"Shit, Jack, pajamas are like bathin' suits, fuckin' stupid, if ya ask me. What's the point of gettin' dressed to go t'bed? Never made any sense t'me at all."

"You ain't never wore pajamas either?"

"Alma wanted me to, and I tried for a little while, then quit. I felt stupid, wearin' clothes t'bed."

Jack laughed. "You ain't gettin' an argument from me on that one, cowboy," he said, putting the pajamas and bathing suit in an empty box. "We'll drop these off at Goodwill next time we're in town."

Later that evening, Ennis was lying on the couch, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette, his mind empty of all thoughts and just feeling relaxed. Jack was upstairs, putting the rest of his clothes away in the closet and dresser.

The rest of the day had been productive. They had gotten all the paint scraped off the west side of the house, and planned to start on the back the next day. When they finished, Jack had gone in the house to clean up, while Ennis went down to the stable to care for the horses. As he came back to the house, he saw Jack at the back of the truck. "Hey, Jack, did ya buy a grill like you was thinkin'?" he asked.

"I sure did," said Jack, "and here it is." He held up a tiny cast iron box with two wooden handles on each side.

"What the fuck is that?" said Ennis, looking at it in amazement.

"It's called a hibachi," replied Jack. "It's from Japan. It was on sale at the hardware store."

"It's awfully small, don't ya think?" said Ennis, looking at it dubiously.

"Well I figger it's just the two of us, we don't need a big grill."

Ennis nodded. That made sense. He looked at it again. "Ya said it's from Japan? Ya gonna cook us Japanese food?"

Jack laughed. "I sure as hell ain't," he said. "I don't know what Japanese food is."

Ennis looked at him. "Don't they eat raw fish or somethin'?"

"Well, if it's raw, it don't need grillin' now, does it?" He laughed at his own joke. "Nah, I got us some hamburgers for supper."

"Sounds good," said Ennis. "I'm goin' inside t'clean up.'

"You do that," replied Jack. "I'll get goin' on the grillin'."

While they ate their supper, they looked at the paint samples that Jack had picked up at the hardware store. There must have been two dozen little cards with a variety of roses and creams. "Shit," said Ennis, "I never knew there could be so many colors of dark pink."

"I know," said Jack. "I was surprised too. That's why I just took 'em all, figgered we'd give Hal a good bunch t'choose from."

"Ya think we should go see him tomorrow?" asked Ennis.

"I think it's a good idea," replied Jack. "We doin' so well with the scraping, we're gonna need to buy the paint pretty soon."

They washed the dishes together after dinner, then sat on the porch for a shared cigarette. That done, Jack decided he wanted to finish putting his stuff away in the bedroom. Ennis thought he might watch some television. He settled in on the couch but the little set only brought in two channels and neither one was showing anything that was of interest. He flipped it off and just lay back, relaxing.

He heard Jack coming down the stairs and sat up as he came into the room. "Look what I found," Jack said, holding a small box in his arms.

Ennis looked at him. "You shouldn't be rummagin' through Hal's stuff," he said. "It ain't polite."

"I ain't rummagin'," Jack replied. "This was on the floor in the closet. I found it when I was puttin' my shoes away."

He sat down next to Ennis on the couch and pulled out a little magazine—the size of a pamphlet—from the box and handed it to Ennis. "Ever seen one o'these?" he asked.

Ennis looked at the magazine, completely baffled. The title was Physique Pictorial and it appeared to be nothing but photos and drawings of naked men. He flipped open the magazine and his eye was drawn to a photo of two well muscled men, chained to a brick wall, wearing nothing but boots and what appeared to be jock straps. One, dark haired, looked towards the camera with a smoldering glare while the other, blonde, looked over his shoulder, his eyes avoiding his companion. Ennis looked back at the cover. The magazine was dated 1959. "What is this?" he said to Jack. "I ain't never seen anythin' like this in my life."

"Think of it as sort of an old-fashioned Playboy for gay guys," said Jack. "This is what they looked at back in the fifties and sixties."

"I never much cared for Playboy," said Ennis. Jack smiled inwardly at this comment. He wasn't surprised.

Jack turned back to the box, pulling out other copies of the magazine. He handed another one to Ennis. "Lookit this."

The magazine was dated "Spring, 1957." This cover, this time a drawing, not a photo, showed a picture of a laughing man with impossibly large muscles and an impossibly tiny waist, wearing skin-tight jeans and work boots that were unlaced, standing on a log in what appeared to be a river. His hair reminded Ennis of a blond Elvis Presley, with a high pompadour and a curl on his forehead. The artist's signature in the corner said "Tom of Finland."

Ennis shook his head, still not comprehending what he was looking at. "What is this? What's he doing?" he said.

Jack laughed. "I think that's one of those guys in the woods," he said. "What are they called?" He thought for a second, then remembered. "Lumberjacks. That's it. Like those guys from Minnesota."

Ennis rubbed his finger over the picture. "Mebbe this is what lumberjacks in Finland look like," he said, "but I can't picture guys in Minnesota havin' muscles like this."

Jack looked at it with Ennis. "It's kinda sexy, don't ya think? In an old-fashioned way?"

Ennis didn't reply. The whole box of magazines wasn't making any sense at all to him.

Jack handed him another. This one also had a painting on the cover. He looked at the two muscular, smooth-bodied, nude men, apparently in the loft of a barn. One appeared to be asleep, face down and butt up. The other was leaning against the wall, holding a six-shooter and peering out a window. Ennis laughed. "Are these supposed to be cowboys?" he said. "Can't imagine sleepin' in the hay like that," he said. "Ouch. Hurts just thinkin' 'bout it."

Jack laughed with him. "Oh hell, Ennis, I've fantasized 'bout doin' this with you," he joked, giving Ennis a little poke.

"Hell, then I'm gonna be the guy standin' up with the gun," he said. "No way I'm sleepin' naked in the goddamn hay."

He flipped through the magazine, looking idly at the different pictures. "I still don't get it, Jack," he said. "Why are these magazines here?"

"I think," he said, "we've stumbled on Hal's secret. He's gay."

"Hal?" said Ennis incredulously. "Gay?"

"Yeah, think about it," said Jack. "Lookit the dates on these magazines. They start in 1954. When did Tom say his grandma died? 1952?" Ennis nodded. That was the date. "Hal never got married, lived here alone all his life. Started lookin' at these magazines after his mother died. Prob'ly the first time in his life he could admit to himself who he was."

Ennis looked at Jack. "Do ya think he ever had a lover?"

Jack shrugged. "Who knows? Ya think it's tough now for us nowadays, who knows what it was like back then? Way worse, I 'magine."

"It's kinda surprisin' he knew 'bout these magazines," said Ennis.

Jack nodded. "Yeah, it is, but he must've got 'em by mail. Lookit how regular the dates are, no issues are missin'."

Ennis picked up another from the box. "Jack, tell me somethin'. How did you know what they were?"

Jack smiled. "Well, I've bought one or two, myself."

Ennis looked amazed. "You bought 'em? Where?"

"They used t'sell 'em at the newsstand—in the bigger cities. I bought one up in Amarillo, back in my rodeo days. Bought another in Fort Worth."

Ennis couldn't help but laugh. "Jack fuckin' Twist, you are full o'surprises tonight," he said. He paused. "So ya really think Hal is gay?"

"The evidence sure seems to be pointin' to it, don't ya think?" he answered. "I don't know that we'll ever know for sure, but. …" His voice trailed off.

Ennis chuckled to himself. "It's pretty funny if ya think about it," he said.

"What's funny?" asked Jack.

"Tom who can't figger it out. First us, now his uncle? It's like he's surrounded and he don't even know it."

Jack laughed. "Yer right, that is pretty funny."

They continued to look at the magazines together for awhile, laughing at some of the pictures that seemed completely ridiculous ("Who are these Greek guys?" asked Ennis. "And what's he doin' with that sword?") while admiring others. Jack noticed that Ennis's taste favored the dark haired guys, and he seemed to like the ones that involved boots and motorcycles.

Eventually they had had enough. Jack started putting the magazines away, taking the last one from Ennis's hand. "So, cowboy, ya turned on yet? Hot from lookin' at these pictures?"

Ennis laughed, then shrugged. "I dunno," he said. "It was diff'rent, that's for sure." He paused, then turned towards Jack. He pulled Jack's face towards his, then lowering his his voice a notch and giving Jack what he hoped was a sexy look, said, "Tell me, why do I need t'look at pictures of naked cowboys in barns when I got one o'my own right here next t'me on the couch?"

"Why indeed?" said Jack, as he let himself be pulled in for a long and lingering kiss.

Author's Note: If anyone would like to learn more about Tom of Finland and see the famous Spring 1957 lumberjack cover, use Google to search on "Tom of Finland Foundation." There is an interesting history, and the biography section has a reproduction of the cover.