awoke slowly from the depths of my dream
and realized quickly that life
isn't always what it seems.
The day emerges out of darkness
and the trees outside are silhouetted
black against the bone colored sky
and the clouds are ominously dark
as they roll by above the trees.
And the world is sacredly silent
in the quiet of the dawning of the day.
Ennis Del Mar was in between the juxtaposition of sleeping and waking, where dreams and memories sometimes merge into a tangle, to be sorted out in the light of day. He had a passing thought of getting up, but he was so comfortable that the thought, if it could even be called that, passed and he drifted off again.
"You want a cup of coffee, don'cha? Piece of cherry cake?" Jack's mom, the first time he met her.
Ennis smiled at her. "Yes, ma'am, I'll take a cuppa coffee, but I can't eat no cake jus' now." Jack's mother poured him a steaming cup of coffee and set it in front of him, resting her hand on his shoulder. She was solemn and calm. She had a tired, careworn look about her, as if she was worn out from life. He looked across the table at Jack's father. John Twist looked worn out too, but there was a hardness to him that was absent in his wife and son. He spit some chew into a cup and looked at Ennis with a sour expression on his face. Jack musta been adopted, he thought, 'cause I sure can't imagine him comin' from these two. Jack could be quiet, sometimes, but was rarely solemn and, though he might get irritated or angry, he was never sour.
A ghost of a smile drifted across Ennis' sleeping face, thinking of Jack and his bubbly exuberance for life. He shifted under the covers, nuzzling deeper into the pillow, as another memory dream took him over.
The letter was heavy–the paper felt thick and creamy and foreign in his rough hands, but it had his name on the front: Ennis Del Mar, General Delivery, Riverton, Wyoming. The return address, Gordon Albrecht, Goosedown, Minnesota, was unfamiliar to him. He thought about opening it right away, but he'd worked late and the horses needed tending. He got in his truck, tossed the mail onto the seat beside him and drove the five miles out to his small, shabby rental house. He'd moved out here after he and Alma got divorced. He sure didn't mind the isolation and was grateful to be able to have the horses here, rather than having to board them with someone else.
A small stable stood next to the house, which is where he headed from the truck. He took care of the horses needs and then stepped out for a smoke. The stars were beginning to appear. Star light, star bright, wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. He smiled, thinking of the little saying he used to share with his mamma, then sighed. Sometimes wishes don't come true, Mamma, no matter how hard we wish 'em.
He ground out his cigarette, and went into the house to make a couple of hamburgers and have a beer. It wasn't until after he'd eaten and was rinsing his plate that he remembered the letter. He was so tired he seriously thought about just going to bed, but curiosity got the better of him, so he retrieved his mail from the truck, sat down on the sagging couch, and opened the letter.
Dear Mr. Ennis Del Mar,
I am writing you to request that you contact me immediately. Your uncle, James Del Mar, has recently passed away. As his attorney, it is my obligation to let you know that you are a beneficiary in his last will and testament. Please call me at the number above as soon as possible, so we can arrange to go over it.
Ennis read the letter three times, the groove between his eyes growing deeper with each reading. He remembered his uncle James, his father's older brother, a tall, spare man with curly blond hair–much like himself. He'd moved away when Ennis was just a boy and had never returned. Uncle James had given him a small wooden box with a horse carved on the front. It played a tune when it was wound up by the key on the bottom. The box was long gone now, though. He put the letter in his lunch pail, so he wouldn't forget it in the morning. Guess I'll call 'im tomorrow an' see what this is about.
Ennis shifted in his sleep again, turning onto his back and stretching his long legs out, one hand on his chest, the other by his side.
"Get in the truck, girls, and we'll go into town to get somethin' t'eat." Alma Jr. and Francine clambered into the truck, giggling over something one of them had said. Ennis smiled and shook his head as he walked to the driver's side door. Just as he put his hand on the handle he heard a truck coming down the lonely country road. He turned and recognized Jack's truck. He watched until it came to a stop in his driveway.
Jack opened the door, and stepped into Ennis' arms. He grinned at Ennis, his eyes sparkling, "Well, here I am," he said, his hand still on the back of Ennis' neck.
Ennis glanced back at his truck, where the girls sat in the front seat, then moved Jack's hand away. "What're you doin' here, Jack?" Smiling, in spite of himself.
"I got the message, 'bout your divorce."
Ennis hesitated, then stepped back and gestured into the truck. "These are my girls, Alma Jr. and Francine." Jack dipped his head to look in the truck and smiled at them. "Girls, this here's my friend Jack. Say hi, girls."
They looked at Jack warily and gave a quick 'hi', 'hello'. They'd heard of Jack. They knew the name made their daddy happy and their momma sad and angry.
Ennis looked at Jack, wrinkles appearing on his brow as he frowned at him. They backed away from Ennis' truck towards Jack's.
Jack's smile slipped the tiniest bit. "I got your card. 'Bout the divorce...I thought...I thought this meant, you know, that you were ready...that you and me..." He ran a tongue across his bottom lip. Ennis knew it was an unconscious gesture that Jack did often, but the sexiness of it never failed to stop Ennis' brain from functioning for a moment, just as it did now.
Ennis looked down, scruffed his feet. "Jack, I'm sorry. I got the girls this weekend. I only get t'see 'em once a month...and I missed last month 'cause o' the round up." He glanced up to see another truck coming down the road. "Jack, I'm real sorry." He finally looked into Jack's eyes and was pained to see the hurt there.
"Yeah, okay," Jack said, his shoulders slumped in defeat. He understood. No need to put it into words. He turned and walked back to his truck. "See you next month, then."
"Jack, I'm sorry." Jack waved his hand behind his back. He got in his truck and looked up at Ennis. The hurt and disappoint in them nearly made Ennis change his mind and ask him to stay, but, as ever, Ennis was rooted in place. Jack put the truck in gear and turned to back out. As if acting on their own, Ennis' feet suddenly moved forward a step. His hand came up. His mouth opened and, "Wait," quietly escaped his lips. He knew Jack couldn't hear him, but Jack turned anyway and Ennis saw the look of confusion on his face when he saw Ennis standing there with his hand out. "Wait," Ennis said again, stronger this time, but didn't move.
Jack waited for a few moments, curiosity fighting with the hurt in his eyes. Finally, when Ennis didn't move, he asked impatiently, "What, Ennis? What d'ya want?" A sigh, big as the sky, escaped from him.
Ennis heard the sigh, imagined it as a big black balloon, filled with all the hurt, betrayal, resignation, and longing he saw in Jack's eyes, and the need to get rid of that balloon moved him forward to Jack's truck door. He gripped it tightly, looked in Jack's eyes and knew there was no turning back now. "Could you wait around until tomorrow morning? The girls are gonna stay with me tonight, but I'm bringin' 'em home after breakfast so they can go to church with their mamma. Would you come back tomorrow? Around noon?" he looked down, hesitated when Jack didn't say anything. "I know...I know it's a lot to ask, Jack, but..." he looked up again in to Jack's eyes and saw a spark of something–some light of the old Jack–returning to them.
Jack smiled. "I'll come back. Tomorrow. At noon."
Ennis looked up, drawn to the light that was Jack. He glanced back and saw that the girls were still in the truck, angled so they couldn't see him. He leaned in quickly and kissed Jack once, then again, before stepping back. Jack got his smile all the way on, dazzling Ennis with its brightness. "See ya tomorrow, then."
Ennis stood and watched Jack drive away, not moving until he heard Alma Jr. say, "Daddy? You ok?" He turned to see her leaning out of the driver's side of the truck.
"Sure, darlin'. I'm okay. Where d'you girls wanna eat?"
The girls bedded down on his living room floor in their sleeping bags. They always joked that they got to camp out at Daddy's house. He kneeled down and kissed each of them as he tucked them in. He sat on the couch, smoking a cigarette, thinking about Jack, his life, and what in the hell am I gonna do, because what I'm livin' now certainly don't qualify as a real life. He was startled out of his reverie by Francine. She'd gotten up and was standing near his knee.
"Daddy? Can I sit on your lap?"
He put out his cigarette. "Sure darlin'. What's troublin' ya?" She crawled into his lap and snuggled against his chest. He put his arms around her and held her close, smelling the sweet scent of her hair, running his hands up and down her back.
"Daddy? Why're you so sad all the time?"
Ennis' hand stopped and he became still. "What...wha'dya mean, darlin'?"
She looked up at him, her blue eyes meeting his brown ones. Ennis thought it was amazing that Francine ended up with such beautiful blue eyes since his were brown and Alma's a greenish hazel color.
"You're just so sad all the time. Me'n Junior, we're worried 'bout you."
His hand moved slowly up and down her back again, but he swallowed hard before he could talk again. His daughters were worried about him. "Well, I'm not sad when I'm with you girls," he said, smiling, trying to sound cheerful.
She sighed, sounding older than ten years old. "Yeah, you are, Daddy...sometimes..." she yawned and nestled closer to him. "I jus' want you t'be happy, Daddy." Ennis pulled her close and rested his cheek on her head. He turned and in the faint light coming from the kitchen he could see Junior looking at him with big eyes. She watched him for a moment and then stood up, picked her pillow up, and walked-hopped over to the couch, still in her sleeping bag. She put her pillow down next to his leg and crawled onto the couch. Ennis put his hand on her head and stroked her hair out of her eyes.
"I jus' want you t'be happy, too, Daddy," she said, as she closed her eyes and nestled into her pillow.
Ennis sat there with them all night. He put Francine in her sleeping bag after she fell asleep, but returned to his place on the end of the couch. He dozed off for a while, towards morning, and when he woke, he could feel those roots that held him in place and immobile for so long begin to loosen their grip.
The next morning he brought the girls to Alma's. He gave them each a hug and if it lasted a bit longer than his usual hugs no one said anything. When he got back to the house, he went in and made coffee, then took a cup outside and sat on the steps to wait for Jack.
Ennis set his cup aside and stood up as Jack pulled up. Jack got out of the truck and walked towards him, slower and less sure of himself than the day before. Ennis pulled him into a tight embrace before moving his hands to each side of Jack's face and meeting his lips with his own. Jack put his hands on Ennis's hips and pulled him close. The kiss started slow and spiraled deeper and deeper until Ennis finally pulled away, breathing heavily. "Mornin' darlin'."
"Good mornin'," Jack replied, grinning, his eyes sparkling with a bit of renewed hope.
"Want some coffee?" Ennis asked, stepping back.
"Wanna come in the house?" Ennis didn't wait for an answer, just went towards the house, pausing to pick up his cup, and went inside. Jack followed.
Ennis poured them each a cup of coffee and they sat at the table. Jack wasn't sure what was going on with Ennis, so he waited for him to take the lead. Ennis seemed to be working up to starting.
"Jack, I got this letter. A coupla weeks ago. From a lawyer in Minnesota." Jack waited, unsure of what to say. Whatever he'd expected Ennis to say, this wasn't it. "See, my uncle, my dad's brother, seems he didn't have no kids and he passed away a few weeks ago and he...I guess he left me what he had." Ennis took a drink of coffee before continuing. "This lawyer, he said my uncle has a horse farm in Minnesota and he wants me to come out there...take a look at it, decide what I'm gonna do with it."
"Wha' d'ya mean?"
"Well...he said I could sell it. Or I could take it over. I guess my uncle did pretty well. Raised purebred horses and sold 'em to rich people." He looked up at Jack, took a drink of his coffee, looked back down at his hands, and finally looked back at Jack. Jack just waited, knowing Ennis would get out what he wanted to say. "Here's the thing, Jack. I was wonderin'. Well, I was wonderin' if maybe you wanted to drive out to Minnesota with me? Check it out together?"
Jack almost stopped breathing. "Really? Me'n you? Together?"
Ennis didn't answer right away. When Jack put it like that he thought maybe it wasn't such a good idea. He was about to take it back when he looked up and met Jack's eyes. The deep blue drew him in and reminded him of another pair of blue eyes–the blue eyes of a little girl who loved him and wanted him to be happy. Jack drove all the way here–on a whim, 'cause he thought I was free. And he wanted t'be with me. He ain't afraid o' bein' happy. Ennis thought, ashamed of his fear in the face of Jack's bravery and his daughters' worry. He straightened up, took strength from them and harnessed his fear.
"Yeah. It'll take a coupla days to drive out, then a day or two to decide what I'm gonna do. He said he's got someone takin' care of it now, but we can stay at the ranch."
Jack smiled so big he thought face might split in two. "Okay, Ennis. I'll come with ya," he paused, "but we're takin' my truck."
Ennis looked like he might argue, thought better of it, and smiled back at Jack. "Okay, bud."
"So, when're we leavin'?"
"How 'bout tomorrow mornin'? Early. Can't leave 'til tomorrow."
"Why, you got somethin' better to do today?"
Ennis stood, pulled Jack to his feet, and kissed him fiercely. "I certainly do, darlin'. I've had about a million dreams of you in my bed, but I ain't yet had the pleasure of your company there. Wanna join me?"
"It would be my pleasure." Jack grinned and threw his hat on the table as Ennis grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the bedroom.
Ennis woke for real this time. The wind was blowing in, lifting the curtains. It had started raining and he knew the rain was coming in. He slipped from the bed and went to the window to close it. It was almost morning; just starting to get light, in spite of the dark clouds. He stood there for a while, looking out at the trees and the lake in the distance, not noticing that the room was cold in the chill air.
He heard a hitch in the steady breathing behind him. "Ennis..." a sleepy voice called out. Ennis rubbed his eyes and cleared his throat. "I'm here, darlin'."
"Come back here. I'm cold. Come'n warm me up." Ennis finally realized that he was cold. He went back to the bed and crawled in between the flannel sheets. He felt the skin of the man next to him–it felt like fire next to his cold skin. "You're not cold," he murmured.
"Goddamn, Ennis, you're freezin'!"
"Well, I reckon you'll just have to warm me up, then, won'tcha?" He smiled as Jack pulled him close, their legs and arms entwining beneath the heavy quilt.
Jack kissed him, letting it deepen for a moment before pulling away, smiling his sexy, sleepy smile. "I reckon I will."