- Deeper Than Skin V -

Jack suspected that his mother knew what it was that kept him locked away in his room for the next few days, though she said nothing of it when she brought his meals up to him. Occasionally, Jack could hear his father loudly complaining about how useless Jack had become; before, he would have seriously considered marching down the stairs and attempting to break his father's jaw, but now he merely regarded this criticism as the truth. Jack was useless. He couldn't do anything right—he never had, and never would. A simple truth that didn't hurt nearly as much as it would have before Jack's heart and spirit had been broken.

When Jack finally managed to pull himself together and drag himself downstairs, he wasn't surprised to find his mother busily cooking; it was such a normal task, one he'd witnessed every day of his life, that it seemed so out of place among his own inner turmoil. Mrs. Twist just gave her son a simple nod, which Jack returned tiredly as he lowered himself into a chair at the kitchen table. A mug of coffee was placed in front of him, and he wrapped both hands around it, staring into the dark depths and hoping it would provide him with some answers.

"Thinkin' it's about time I moved on again," he finally said, his voice husky with disuse and unshed tears.

"If that's what you want…" The silence extended until Mrs. Twist took a chair of her own and reached out to gently lay a hand over Jack's. When he looked up to meet her eyes, she said, very softly, "I think you may have been too hard on him."

Jack looked away, swallowing hard. "Lotta stuff you don't know about it, Momma."

"I know. But you didn't see his face when he walked outta here. You hurt him 'least as much as he hurt you…an' he did come back. He tried." Jack didn't answer. "Try an' see it through his eyes, Jack. He knew he did wrong by you, but it was the only thing he could think to do. Now he came to try to make things better, and you push him away just like he did to you. Yeah, I know what happened," she said in response to the shocked look Jack gave her. "Ennis an' me, we had a little talk, and he told me all about it. Told me a lot more than what he meant to, I think…" She caught and held Jack's gaze again, said almost sternly, "He's a good man, and he feels the same about you that you do about him. He just don't have the words to say it." She smiled slightly. "And you gotta understand, Jack—you make him nervous as hell. Way he explained it me, his brain stops workin' whenever he's around you." Her smile faded into a serious expression, reprimanding expression that made Jack feel like a kid again. "Now, he's stayin' at a little motel down the way, an' he's got a job near here. He asked me to tell you to come find him. He wants to talk, an' he said he ain't leavin' until he does. Said he'd track you down if you left without findin' him first. I told him you'd talk to him, an' I'm holdin' you to that. It don't have to be today, but I ain't lettin' you leave 'til you give him a chance to say his piece. You hear me?"

Jack swallowed hard, averting his eyes again. "Yeah, momma. I hear ya."

Jack's relationship with his father had grown even more strained, for John Twist made it no secret that he had heard the exchange between his son and Ennis. The hostility from this front made Jack even more eager to be off, but his mother remained firmly adamant that he go see Ennis before leaving—so firm, in fact, to go so far as taking Jack's keys away from him, for which she withstood a short-lived tempest of her son's anger. After only a few moments of shouting, Jack slumped down into a chair and dropped his arms and head onto the kitchen table. Mrs. Twist rested a hand gently on her son's head, said softly, "Go see him, Jack."

"I can't," Jack whispered. "Not yet…"

One morning not long after this incident, Mrs. Twist asked Jack to help her run some errands. She allowed him to drive only under the agreement that he would go exactly where she told him to, and so Jack found himself driving to one of the neighboring ranches. "Need some feed for the horses," Mrs. Twist explained. "You go see if you can find it, I'm gonna go talk price with Bill."

As there was only one stable, it seemed reasonable that Jack would find the horse feed there. Yet he spent a good ten minutes searching every nook and cranny, and was about to give up when he saw someone carrying an armful of blankets enter the stable farther down. Relieved, Jack started towards the man with the intention of asking for help, when the blankets shifted and he caught a glimpse of the man's face.


Jack froze, his feet rooted to the floor, and stared at the approaching man with pained horror. Ennis hadn't seen him yet…there was still time to flee…but Jack couldn't get his feet to move… By chance only, Ennis happened to glance down the aisle as he was trying to open the door into the tack room, and saw Jack standing there… The blankets slipped from Ennis's arms and landed in a dusty heap on the floor, quickly forgotten as Ennis stepped towards Jack. Voice thick with emotion, he said, "Jack…I—I'm glad you came…"

"I didn't mean to," Jack whispered. No more than five feet separated them now, and Ennis didn't come any closer—probably a wise move. It occurred to Jack that there was no horse feed, that his mother had set him up for this, had probably made sure Ennis had some excuse to come in here…

"Jack," Ennis said again, softly, reaching out as if to touch Jack's shoulder, then curling his fingers back and slowly letting his arm drop back to his side. Jack looked like a terrified horse, ready to bolt at a moment's notice. But at least he didn't seem like he was going to move, so long as Ennis kept his distance, and Ennis decided that now was as good a time as any to say what he needed to. "Listen, Jack—I should never've left ya. Biggest mistake I ever made…an' now I been stupid enough to make it twice. There're some things I shoulda said to you the other day, but I couldn't think a 'em then…I've had time to think now, though, an' I think I got it all sorted out, the things I gotta say. Will—will ya give me a chance to say them?" Jack still stood there, shaking noticeably, his wide, teary eyes fixed on Ennis and yet seeming to look through him. He gave no answer, and Ennis decided to take that as a 'go-ahead'. "I want to try to get you to understand why…why I did what I did. I ain't sayin' it was the right thing—I know it wasn't—but I want you to maybe understand why I did it. All that time we was…together…I kept tellin' myself we was just friends, ya know? Not nothin' more'n that… But when you started talkin' 'bout ranches an' all that…settlin' down…shit, Jack, I couldn't pretend no more, an' I didn't wanna think about us as anythin' more'n friends. I was scared, Jack. I couldn't think…" He wanted so badly to reach out and pull Jack against him, to hold him, to feel the warmth he always radiated… He cleared his throat again, forcing himself not to look away, so Jack could see in his eyes that he was telling the truth…opening himself up just as Jack had… "I got a few other jobs, but it wasn't the same. I was miserable, an' it took me too damn long to figger out it was because you were gone… And then I went lookin' for you." He paused, collecting his thoughts. "What you said before, about…about killin' yourself…" The memory of that part of Jack's speech was still painful, and Ennis had to swallow hard before he could go on. "Well, I woulda been sad, Jack. Real sad. An' I woulda hated myself for bein' the one who made you do it… Damnit, Jack!" he exploded suddenly, startling Jack enough that his eyes focused fully on Ennis's face. "I don't know what to say to you! I don't know how to make you see how sorry I am for all I done, or how to show you that I want things to be better…'cause damnit, Jack, I don't wanna go on like I been…I found you now, an' I ain't gonna let you go again. I—I love you."

It was too much for Jack. Ennis saw it, and jumped forward to wrap his arms around Jack before he could collapse. His own knees almost giving out beneath Jack's weight—Jack had been eating a lot better than Ennis for the past months—Ennis held onto him tightly, and refused to let go no matter how hard Jack struggled. And he did struggle, trying to push himself away and, when that didn't work, trying to hit Ennis, screaming curses and lashing about with his fists and legs. His forehead slammed into Ennis's nose, making his eyes water and his nose start to bleed, but still he held on.

Jack words finally began to make some sense, though Ennis didn't like what they said: "I already let you go!" Jack shouted, his tears obvious in his voice. "I let you go, I told myself I didn't need you no more. I was movin' on with my life, startin' to feel like things could go back to normal, like I didn't need you no more…! And then you show up—!" His words faded into incoherence as he broke down completely, collapsing against Ennis and sobbing helplessly.

"I don't love you no more, Ennis," Jack whispered, though he still clung to Ennis like life itself. "I can't love you…it hurts too much…"

"I won't never hurt you again. I promise."

"I can't… Just let me go, Ennis…leave me be…I don't wanna hurt no more…"

"Gimmie just one more chance, Jack, please. I wanna make up for all the things I done to you…"

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak drifted through Jack's mind, a phrase his mother had often quoted at him. Jack wanted to hate Ennis, to spare himself from any more pain the man might bring…but Jack just didn't have the strength to hate Ennis. His love was greater than his hate, and so he clung to Ennis and whispered weakly, "I can't stand to have my heart broken no more, Ennis. I can't. It's damn near killed me, and it will next time—"

"Ain't gonna be no next time," Ennis said fiercely. "I ain't gonna hurt you ever again. I love you—ya hear that, Jack? I love you."

Jack buried his face against Ennis's chest and whispered, "I hear."