A Love Born From Steel

Chapter 7

It was Sunday morning and for a change, Jack woke up before Ennis. Ennis was sleeping on his side, facing away from Jack. Jack propped himself up on his elbow, letting his eyes travel up and down the length of Ennis's body. He pushed the sheet down so he could see more. "Everything on this man," he thought, "is perfection."

Ennis had little curls at the end of his hair, behind his ears and along his hairline on his forehead. Jack reached over and played with them—twirling them around on his finger. He loved these little curls. Something about them made Ennis seem innocent and young. Jack pushed them back and kissed Ennis in the small space behind his ear.

"Mmmmph," mumbled Ennis, still very much asleep.

"Mornin' lover," whispered Jack.

"Mmmmph," replied Ennis, not moving.

Jack smiled to himself. He eased out of bed and walked quietly to the bathroom, and when finished, headed downstairs. He put a pot of coffee on the stove and poured himself a glass of juice. While he waited for the coffee to perk, he went and stood on the front porch and watched the slanting rays of the sun as it rose across the field.

When the coffee was brewed, Jack poured two cups and went back upstairs. Ennis was in the same position as when Jack had left. Jack put a cup on each of the the nightstands on each side of the bed and again leaned in and gave Ennis a good morning kiss. This time he got a bit more of a response as Ennis turned and looked at him, but still only replied, "Mmmmph."

"Talkative this mornin', ain't ya?" said Jack.

Ennis sat up. "Do I smell coffee?" he asked, rubbing his eyes. Jack nodded and pointed to the cup. "Hmm," said Ennis. "That's nice of ya. Thanks." He smiled at Jack. "Lemme go brush my teeth. I got mornin' breath."

When he came back in the room, he pulled the shades up. The early morning sunlight came streaming in. "Looks like another nice day," he said.

"It sure does," said Jack. "That's one thing we have down here in Texas—lots of sun."

Ennis smiled at him as he picked up the cup and took a sip. He put it back down on the nightstand, then got back into bed. He pulled Jack close. "Mebbe I really don't feel like drinkin' coffee right now," he said. "Mebbe I feel like cuddlin' with you." Jack laughed and let himself be pulled close.

They lay like that for a few minutes, cuddling and smooching and feeling the warmth of their bodies merge together. After awhile they broke apart and Ennis turned, hitched himself up in the bed and propped himself against the headboard, pillows behind his back. He picked up the cup and took a sip.

Jack idly ran his fingers up and down Ennis's arm. "En," he said, and Ennis looked over at him. "Ya ever think of gettin' a tattoo?"

Ennis chuckled. "Sometimes. Off and on. Not really."

Jack laughed. "Mebbe I'm thinkin' a gettin' one." Ennis looked at him, eyebrows raised. Jack continued, with a wink, "Gettin' one with your name."

Ennis laughed at this. "My name? And a big ol'heart and red roses, too?"

"Nah, no heart. I'd get a lasso, 'cause I've lassoed my cowboy." He gave Ennis a little poke as he said this, and Ennis poked him back.

"You think yer doin' the lassoing, rodeo?" he said, and then reached down and grabbed Jack's scrotum. "I think I got you by the balls."

They both laughed together and then Jack said, "Where's your name from, anyway?"

"Whaddya mean?" asked Ennis.

"Ennis. What kind of a name is that? Not real common," said Jack.

"Oh. It's a family name. I was named after my grandpa. We was all named after somebody." Jack looked at him, encouraging Ennis to continue. "My sis is Cecelia, she's named after my grandma. My brother's K.E.—he's a junior, named after my dad."

"What's K.E. stand for?" asked Jack.

"Keith Edward," said Ennis. "My daddy went by Ed, and my brother was always K.E."

"I'm a junior," said Jack.

"Really?" said Ennis, surprised.

Jack nodded. "Yup. John C. Twist, Junior, named after my daddy. But my mama, she never called me John. I was always Jack, ever since I was a baby. I used Jack when I got married, and Jack is on my bank account. Never think of my name bein' John."

"What about Bobby?" Ennis asked. "Where did that come from?"

Jack shrugged. "Lureen picked it. Nothin' special, she just said she liked the name. His name is Robert, but he's been Bobby all his life, just like I'm Jack."

Ennis looked at Jack. "Ya never said anythin' 'bout Bobby yesterday," he said. "How did that go, anyway?"

"Okay." Jack said. "He didn't say much…he's a funny kid, I worry 'bout him."

"Whaddya mean?" asked Ennis.

"He struggles with school. Sometimes I wonder if he can read…we've tried gettin' tutors and stuff, but I'm not sure if that's the right thing. Y'know, if yer not sure of the problem, it's hard t'know if ya got right solution."

Ennis nodded. "He play sports?"

"Yeah, baseball." Jack said. "He really loves baseball, and he's pretty good at it, too."

"Can he ride?" asked Ennis.

"En, yer not gonna believe this, but he says he is afraid of horses."

Ennis looked at Jack. "I can fix that."

"What?" said Jack. "You can fix him bein' 'fraid of horses?"

Ennis nodded. "Yup. Done it a coupla times, helped a coupla kids."

"Whaddya mean? You never told me this."

"It was sort of a job I picked up at the ranch," he said. "It started with Junior and Jenny, and me teachin' them t'ride. Some of the other guys, they wanted their kids to learn t'ride, too." He paused, then continued. "They didn't have their own horses…asked if they could use mine." He looked at Jack. "I think ya know, that's one thing I'm particular 'bout—who can handle my horses."

Jack nodded. This was true.

"So, I said I'd use my horses but I wanted t'do the teachin' and they said okay. Worked out fine." He picked up his coffee again, took another sip. "Word got 'round town and some people—not on the ranch—asked me if I could teach their kids too. Turned out to be a good way t'make a little extra money."

"So where does the bein' afraid part come in?"

"Well, a coupla kids, that's why their mamas came to me. It's sorta unnatural, growin' up in Wyoming and bein' afraid of horses." He looked at Jack. "Prob'ly unnatural in Texas, too."

Jack laughed. "'Specially when his mama was a barrel rider." Ennis laughed at this. "So," Jack said, "what's yer secret?"

"No secret," said Ennis. "Just be patient. Take yer time. I don't think kids are afraid of horses, they're afraid of their size. So, I'd spend a lot of time lettin' 'em brush 'em, be with 'em—once the kid is comfortable, then I'd put 'em in the saddle. From there, it was easy."

Jack sat up and looked at Ennis. "Would ya do this for Bobby?" he asked. "Teach him t'ride?"

"Sure," said Ennis. "I'd be happy to. Like I said, it was somethin' I enjoyed. Give me a reason t'meet Bobby, too."

"Well," said Jack, "I'll talk to Lureen. This might work out well—she was wonderin' about visits and all that."

Ennis put the coffee cup down and took a big stretch. "Speakin' o'horses, I think I got a pair that are waitin' for me." He leaned in and gave Jack a kiss. "Ya wanna come help me?"

"No," Jack said. "You go along. I think I'm gonna try to figger out how to make pancakes."

"Pancakes?" said Ennis. "No Cheerios?"

"Yup, pancakes," said Jack. "For Sunday mornin'."

"That gives me somethin' t'look forward to," said Ennis, as he pulled on his pants. "See ya in a bit."

After breakfast, Jack called the nursing home and asked about the best time to visit. The nurse who answered suggested early afternoon. "Hal doesn't take a nap during the day, like many of our other residents," she said. "I think he gets lonely in the afternoon."

They decided to work on the scraping for the morning and then quit at lunch and take the afternoon off. Late afternoon plans included a ride and maybe a swim in the river, and they thought about heading into town for supper at the barbecue joint on Main Street.

They arrived at the nursing home and once again, found Hal alone in the day room. His face lit up when they came in. "I didn't expect to see ya again so soon," he said.

"Well," Jack said, "we got the paint samples and wanted t'show them to ya."

Hal nodded. "That's great. Mebbe you could ask the nurse for a wheelchair?" he asked. "I'd like to sit outside and look at 'em in the natural light, not under these," he said, pointing to the fluorescent fixtures on the ceiling.

Ennis nodded and headed out of the room and was back in a minute with the chair. "The nurse said there's a little patio we can sit on," he said. "The door's at the end of the hall."

They helped Hal make the transfer to the wheelchair and then pushed him down the hall out into the bright sun. He winced at the brightness, and pointed to a shady spot for settling in, but didn't complain. "The sun feels good," he said, "and it's nice to be outside in the fresh air."

They saw a square table with four chairs on the patio They pushed Hal up to it so he could spread out the paint samples in front of him. Ennis and Jack sat side-by-side next to Hal on his right.

Hal moved the samples around, talking almost to himself while telling them about his parents and the house in the old days. Jack and Ennis listened, enjoying the story. Since they were familiar with the house, it was fun to hear how it had changed over the years: color, plumbing, and various renovations. "I haven't done much for a long time," said Hal. "Got t'be t'much for one man t'manage."

Eventually, he narrowed the paint samples down to three choices of rose and two of cream. They looked at them in the sunlight and the shade and finally, after a bit more studying, Hal said, "This is it. This one for the house, and this one for the trim." Jack turned the card over and laughed. "Whatcha laughin' at?" asked Hal.

"The name of this color is 'prairie rose,'" he said. "We could've just looked at that and saved ourselves a bunch of time."

Hal laughed with them. "Well, it was still fun t'look." His face suddenly turned sad. "You boys gotta leave right away?"

Jack shook his head no. "We're takin' the afternoon off," he said. "Thought we might go for a ride later but we're in no rush." Hal smiled again.

Ennis asked, "Is it okay to smoke out here?"

Hal nodded yes. "That's mostly what this patio seems t'be for," he said. "I see the staff out here takin' cigarette breaks all day long."

Ennis looked at Jack, "Ya want one?" and Jack nodded yes. Ennis lit two and handed one to Jack, who smiled in thanks.

Hal turned to Ennis. "Tell me 'bout yer horses." Ennis proceeded to do just that, telling the story of how Banshee died in the winter and he got Twister in January. Hal picked up on the name. "Twister like the tornado?" he asked, and Ennis blushed.

Jack leaned in towards Hal's ear and said in a loud stage whisper, "He named 'im after me. I'm right proud o'that."

Hal looked at Jack with a smile and then looked at Ennis. His eyes traveled back and forth, and then he took a deep breath. "Can I ask you boys somethin'?" he said, "it's sorta personal so you can say no."

Jack had a feeling he knew what was coming and gave Ennis a look of understanding. Ennis picked up on his cue and gave him an imperceptible nod. It was clear that they were both thinking of the magazines from the night before and realizing that keeping their relationship a secret from Hal was both pointless and dishonest. "Sure," said Jack. "Whaddya want t'know?"

Hal pointed at them, moving his finger from left to right. "Are you boys….together?"

They both smiled and nodded. Jack actually enjoyed the feeling of being able to tell someone the truth—someone he knew who would understand.

Hal smiled. "I had a feelin'—I had a feelin' when you were here th'other day." He paused. "Tom know?"

Ennis shook his head. "We don't think he's figgered it out."

Jack chimed in. "If he guessed like you, I s'pose we would've been truthful, but he didn't say anything."

Hal sighed. "Y'know, I love Tom like the son I never had but sometimes…that boy spent ten years in college racking up all sorts of fancy degrees but when it comes to plain ol'smarts, sometimes I think he's a few sandwiches short of a picnic."

Jack and Ennis both laughed at this.

"So, how did ya know?" Jack asked.

"Ain't too hard," said Hal. "Ya only need to look at yer faces t'see yer crazy 'bout each other. Is this something new?"

"It's new and it's old," said Jack, and proceeded to tell him the story of how they met and their lives in the years since Brokeback.

Hal hung on every word and at the end said, "You boys are lucky—bein' brave enough t'take that step."

"It was a big decision," said Jack, "but I don't think we have any regrets. Do we, En?"

Ennis smiled, "You know I don't, cowboy," he replied.

"I envy you," said Hal. "Bein' with the man you…love. I could never do it." He paused, as if to gauge their reaction to this statement.

Jack and Ennis looked at each other, and then, with a smile, Jack looked at Hal and said, "We found yer magazines. We had a suspicion."

Hal laughed out loud at this. "Those old things! I almost forgot about 'em. They were in the closet, right?"

Jack nodded. "Yup. In the back. I found 'em when I was puttin' my shoes away."

Hal turned to Ennis, and with a sly grin, said, "You ever see anythin' like those magazines?"

Ennis shook his head. "No sir, I ain't. I hafta say, they was diff'rent."

Hal laughed at that. "Ain't that the truth. Some of those guys and their muscles…"

They chatted for a few more minutes until it became apparent that Hal was tiring. "Let's go back inside," said Ennis. "We'll come visit again, real soon."

"Do that, will ya? We can talk some more about life," he said with a wink.

They pushed Hal back to the dayroom and once again helped him to settle into the large chair. "This is where I eat supper," he said. "They feed us early here and put us t'bed while it's still light out, like we're little kids. I'm lookin' forward to gettin' out o'here and going back home. Can't wait t'see the nice job yer doin' fixin' everything up."

Jack nodded. "Let's hope we can do that soon, Hal," he said. "In the meantime, work on gettin' stronger."

They returned the wheelchair to the nurses' station on the way out, saying good-bye to the staff and promising to be back in a day or two. Jack made sure the had the right paint samples and threw the others away in the trash by the door. Then, they climbed into the truck and headed back to the farm.

Their afternoon went as planned, with a horseback ride and skinny dipping in the river. After their swim, they lay on a blanket in the sun, letting the warm air dry their skin naturally. Their conversation was lazy and drifted from topic to topic, each sharing little thoughts or personal feelings. At one point, Ennis looked up at the sky, and was reminded of the time they got back together after their four years apart. "Remember that trip, Jack? After the motel, when we went up t'the mountains?" he said.

"How could I forget?" said Jack. "In fact, I don't think I've forgotten a minute of any of our trips. They are all stored in my mind."

Ennis gave a soft laugh, "Okay then, Mr. Memory. It was in the evenin', and I was starin' at the sky…"

"And I said, 'Anything interestin' up there in heaven?'"

"And I replied…" Ennis prompted.

"You said, 'I was just sendin' up a prayer of thanks.'" At this point, Jack turned onto his stomach and looked at Ennis. "I asked 'For what?' and you turned it into a joke about my harmonica.

Ennis laughed. "Yep, I made a joke because I couldn't say what I was really feelin'."

"Can you say it now?" Jack asked, with an affectionate smile.

"You know I can, cowboy, 'cause I've been sayin' it all week. I'm sendin' up a prayer of thanks for havin' you in my life, for havin' you lovin' me, for helpin' me realize that what I needed to do was be with you."

Jack smiled at him, then turned back over, lying perpendicular to Ennis with his head resting on Ennis's stomach. "I swear to God, there is no one else on earth as lucky as me," he said.

"Yes there is," said Ennis.

"And who would that be?" asked Jack, anticipating the answer.

"Me," said Ennis, ruffling Jack's hair and laughing.

They eventually got dressed, packed the blanket, and headed back to the farm. Ennis stabled the horses for the evening and then they climbed into Jack's truck and headed into town for supper at the local barbecue hangout.

At the restaurant, they sat in a large booth. They noticed that the restaurant was about half-full—not too busy for a Sunday night. Over in the corner, an older man sat alone at a table, nursing a beer and a half-eaten plate of barbecue.

The waitress came over and handed them two menus. "Beers for both of you?" she asked. Jack and Ennis nodded. She left, and quickly returned with their drinks. "Weren't you boys in here for lunch the other day?"

Jack replied, "We certainly were."

She laughed. "Food's that good, huh?" They chuckled together. As she took their order she asked, "Passin' through or spendin' some time in Quanah?"

"Spendin' some time," said Jack. "We're stayin' at the Lazy L."

"Oh," she said, recognition dawning on her face. "Yer the fellas Tom hired for his Uncle Hal." Ennis looked at her, not surprised at how fast word could get around in a little town. It had been the same in Riverton. "My husband's the manager at the hardware store," she explained. "He told me 'bout you."

Jack smiled. "You tell yer husband we're gonna be comin' in for a big order of paint this week. We're paintin' the house, and Hal picked out the color today."

"Oh," she said, "somethin' diff'rent from white?" Jack nodded and pulled out the sample card from his pocket. She looked at combination of rose and cream. "That'll be pretty," she said. "I always heard that in the old days, all the farmhouses were diff'rent colors. Sorta like a Quanah trademark or somethin'." She smiled at them, then turned and went to wait on other customers.

She returned in a few minutes with two heaping plates of barbecue, hush puppies, beans, and cole slaw. "Enjoy," she said. "Best barbecue in this part of Texas, if ya ask me."

Jack and Ennis enjoyed their meal, talking about the week ahead, and discussing, in what seemed to be their latest favorite topic of conversation, the painting job that faced them. They both agreed that after the scraping was finished, sanding was needed, but didn't agree on the step after that. Ennis was of the mind that they needed to prime the entire house, while Jack felt that spot priming was sufficient. They bantered back and forth and decided to compromise and ask the hardware store manager for his advice, when they ordered the paint.

Throughout their dinner, Jack occasionally glanced at the old man in the corner, who seemed to have a murderous glare for all the diners, his eye roving around the room. He finally finished his beer and left his money on the table. As he exited the restaurant, he gave Jack and Ennis a particularly dirty look.

Jack looked at his retreating back. "What's his problem?" he asked. Ennis said nothing.

The waitress came back, asking if they wanted coffee or another beer. "No, I think we're all set," Jack answered. She laid the check on the table. "Can I ask ya somethin'?" he asked. She nodded. "That old guy that just left—who was he?"

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, him. Roger Grindell. Mean old coot—comes in here five nights a week—I wish he'd find another restaurant to spread his bad mood around in." She paused. "He's a local guy, lived here all his life. His wife left him about five years ago, moved down to Lubbock. Rumor has it that he beat her and she finally got the gumption to up and leave." She sighed. "Miserable guy—full of anger and hate. He's gotten into a fair number of fights in town. Spent more than one night in jail, I can tell you."

Jack counted out some bills and handed them to her with the check. "Thanks for that information," he said. "By the way, my name's Jack Twist, and my buddy here is Ennis Del Mar."

"Pleased t'meet ya," she said. "I'm Jeanie Campbell."

They stood up to leave. "Well, Jeanie," said Jack, "this is good barbecue. We'll be in again real soon, I'm sure."

They left the restaurant, feeling full and happy. As they walked down the street towards Jack's parked truck, however, a figure emerged from the shadows and blocked their path. It was none other than Roger Grindell, complete with an angry glare.

Ennis and Jack stopped walking. "Can I help you?" asked Jack.

"I heard you talkin' in there," Roger said. "Comin' to Quanah, livin' at the Lazy L." Jack and Ennis didn't say anything. "Let me give you a bit of advice. If'n yer smart, you'd leave right now. We don't want folks like you in Quanah."

Jack and Ennis stared at the man. At first they were confused, then comprehension slowly dawned. Jack could feel anger emanating from Ennis. He didn't even need to look at him to know that there was a flush of red creeping up his neck. Jack had seen it before. "Listen, old man," Jack said softly. "I don't know you and you don't know us. Why don't you just step aside and let us get t'our truck?"

Grindell spat on the ground at their feet. Jack glanced at Ennis. He could see his hand was clenching into a fist and remembered Jeanie's comment about Roger and fights. Jack knew that Ennis could take this guy out with one punch, but he didn't feel like dealing with the consequences. He laid his hand on Ennis's arm, a gesture which was immediately noticed by Roger. "Fuckin' queers," Grindell said. "That's what I was talkin' 'bout. We don't want you in Quanah."

Jack could feel Ennis's arm pull back—he grabbed Ennis's elbow more tightly and shook his head. "Let's get out of here." He stepped to the side so they could maneuver around Roger in their path.

"Queers and sissies, too," said Roger. "You won't let yer buddy give me a punch."

At this point, Ennis turned, his fist raised in the air. "I could kill ya with one punch, ya fuckin' stupid bastard," he said. "But I don't wanna waste it on shit like you."

Roger looked at the anger in Ennis's eyes, and, in a moment of rational thought, realized that had probably met his match. They stood there for a few seconds, in silent confrontation, until Ennis turned to Jack. "C'mon," he said, and they walked to the truck.

The mood in the truck was tense as they drove back to the farm. For his part, Jack felt a profound sadness that the evening had been ruined. In fact, he felt as if a larger piece of their lives had been ruined. The happiness that had guided their week suddenly felt like a distant memory. Ennis, for his part, was seething with anger.

They arrived at the farm. Jack parked the truck and sat and stared out the front windshield. "Ennis," he said, "are we doin' the right thing?"

Ennis looked at him, surprised. Jack had always been the one who believed in them, who believed they could build a life together. It was Ennis who had always been afraid of the hate and anger that might come their way. Ennis leaned over and took Jack's hand in his. "You gonna let one ignorant bastard make you doubt what we got?" he said.

Jack looked at Ennis. That wasn't the answer he was expecting. Once again, he was profoundly grateful that Ennis was part of his life. "No, I'm not," he said. "It's just that…"

"It's just that we knew things like this would happen," said Ennis, finishing the sentence for him. "That stupid fuck, I so wanted t'shove his fuckin' teeth down his fuckin' throat." Jack laughed at this. He would've liked to have seen that. In some bizarre corner of his mind, he found the thought of Ennis punching someone to be sexy.

Ennis tugged at Jack's hand. "C'mon, let's get out of this truck," he said. "Let's take a walk down t'the stable."

"I thought the horses were all set?" Jack said. "I thought you did that before we went out to eat?"

"I did," said Ennis. "I just want t'take a walk—get some of the anger out."

Down by the stable, they leaned on the fence and stared at the field. Ennis lit two cigarettes and handed one to Jack, who thanked him wordlessly. They stood there—words and thoughts unspoken between them. Finally, Jack spoke. "Well, I guess that's it, En," he said. "We met our first tire-iron guy."

Ennis laughed at the joke. "I guess we did," he said. "Too bad he was such a pitiful excuse for a man…like I said, he wasn't worth wasting a punch on."

Jack spoke again. "So, En, you okay with this?"

"Whaddya mean, Jack?" said Ennis, not following his train of thought.

"Well, I sorta figgered that…that…" he stopped, then continued. "That this would bring all the fear back."

Ennis turned to Jack, finally understanding what he was trying to say. He was both surprised and saddened. "You sayin' you think I'm gonna quit you? One tire-iron guy is gonna run me off 'cause I'm scared?"

Jack nodded, his eyes on the ground. Ennis lifted Jack's chin with his finger, and looked him in the eyes. "I'm a little disappointed in you, Jack," he said. "I thought you knew me better 'n that."

Jack looked at him, thinking, trying to compose his thoughts. "Actually, En, I do know you…I don't doubt you at all. It's me."

"Whaddya mean, bud?" said Ennis, softly.

"It's not just love, Ennis," said Jack. "I need you, too. That guy scared me because I realized that…it's only been a week, but…I don't think I could live without you. If somethin' happened t'you, or you decided t'leave…I'm not sure I could stand it." Jack was almost embarrassed to say this—he felt as if he was putting all his vulnerabilities on display. What if Ennis laughed, or thought he was being foolish?

Ennis pulled Jack towards him, and kissed the top of his head. "Cowboy, you better not change yer mind 'bout that, because yer stuck with me, forever." He paused. "T'be honest, Jack, after this week, I'm not sure I could live without you, either."

Jack didn't reply. They stood there in silence, then wordlessly broke apart and walked back up to the house, hand in hand. At the house, they closed up for the night, then headed up the stairs. Even though it was early, they both felt exhausted and in silent agreement realized that all they wanted to do was go to bed—and, for the first time in a week, not make love—but just hold each other close and sleep. As they arranged themselves in bed, Jack told Ennis, yet again, how much he loved him and Ennis replied in kind. They lay together, this time, back to chest, with Ennis holding Jack closer and tighter than he had ever done before. As Jack drifted to the edge of sleep, he realized that Ennis was humming in his ear. As he listened to the simple tune, Jack fell asleep, feeling loved and protected, and knowing then that their life together had truly begun.