Sayin' "I Do"

Alternative Universe: After an agonizing night of soul-searching at their reunion in 1967, Ennis del Mar agreed to ranch up with Jack Twist. Both men divorced their wives, and eventually they set up a little cow and calf operation on a small spread outside Signal, funded with money given to Jack by his father-in-law "to disappear." Ennis managed to remain close to his daughters as they grew up. For additional background details on this Alternative Universe, see the description at the beginning of "No Hero." Ten years have now passed since the eventful Christmas Eve described in that story.—Z.T.

Jack was just finishing the supper dishes when he heard what sounded like a high-powered automobile coming up the driveway. Looking through the kitchen window, he saw a brown Chevrolet Camaro Z28 pull up in front of the house. As he watched, Ennis's elder daughter, Alma, Jr., got out of the driver's side and closed the door with a thump.

Jack smiled. He adored Ennis's daughters. He hung up the dishtowel and hurried to the front door. "Hey, Junior!" he called through the screen door, using Ennis's nickname for his eldest. He stepped out onto the front porch.

Alma, Jr., heard him and looked up. Her face broke into the smile that so reminded Jack of her father. "Hey, Uncle Jack!" she called in response, trotting the short distance to the porch.

Jack scooped her into his arms, gave her a big hug. "How are you, Sweetheart?" he asked. "What brings you all the way out here? And where'd you get them fancy wheels?"

"I'm just fine, Uncle Jack," she replied with a smile. "How 'bout you?" Before he could answer, she continued, "The car? That's Kurt's. Ford's in the shop again—the ignition—so he let me borrow it." "Kurt" was Kurt McClain, her boyfriend of about a year. "Got somethin' I need to talk to Daddy about. He around?"

"He's down at the horse barn. Jubilee foaled yesterday, and the young'un's been havin' a little trouble gettin' the hang of nursin', so your daddy's been keepin' a close eye on things. Nothin' wrong, I hope?"

Junior smiled again, a little cryptically this time. "Nope, everything's fine. You mind if I head on down?"

"You go right ahead, Honey," Jack said. "Just make sure you stop back, say good-bye, 'fore you leave."

"I will, Uncle Jack," she promised. She smiled at him again, gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then turned and headed for the horse barn. Jack watched her go before going back into the house. She was a fine young woman, he thought to himself. Ennis could be real proud of her.

The horse barn was fairly new, only a couple of years old, added to the ranch when Ennis and Jack had expanded their operation from cattle to include a little horse breeding. The light was dim inside, compared to the brightness of the spring evening outdoors. At first Junior couldn't see her father.


Ennis stepped out from behind a post at the corner of one of the larger stalls, used for mares that were foaling. His face lit up at the sound of his elder daughter's voice. "Hey, little darlin'," he called. "What're you doin' here?"

"Hey, Daddy!" Junior hurried to her father, hugged and kissed him. Ennis smiled at his daughter, glad to see her. She noticed he was wearing that same old canvas coat that he must have had for what seemed to her to be about a thousand years.

Glancing toward the stall, Junior asked, "How's the foal doin'? Uncle Jack said there was a problem." Father and daughter leaned on the top rail of the stall. Inside, the new foal, all long spindly legs, was nursing lustily, while it's dam, Jubilee, a roan mare, stood placidly enduring the operation.

"He had a little trouble gettin' the hang of it at first, but he's doin' fine now," Ennis answered his daughter, watching the foal nurse. Turning to Junior, he asked, "How's your sister?"

"Francie's fine, busy as always, what with the spring concert and the play at school, and gettin' ready to graduate," Junior answered. "I'm surprised Mama hasn't called you about any of that stuff."

Ennis grinned at his elder daughter. "She's called twice already 'bout the concert," he assured her. Francine, a regular live wire, was always performing in something, and Alma always pestered Ennis to come watch his daughter. They both laughed.

"How's Starlight?" Junior asked, suddenly thinking of something.

"She's fine," Ennis replied. "She's out in the paddock. Want a come say hello?"

Junior smiled and nodded. Ennis got a couple of cookies out of the storage bin in the barn, handed them to his daughter, and led the way out of the barn to the paddock fence. "Starlight! Starlight!" Junior called. The palomino mare was at the far side of the enclosure, but at the sound of her name, she trotted obediently over to the fence and accepted the cookies Junior held out to her. Junior stroked the horse's nose.

"See, she misses you," Ennis said to his daughter. "You ought a come out and ride more." Ennis had bought the mare years before, when Junior and Francine were still little girls, to teach them to ride. For a cowboy's daughter, Francine had made only an indifferent rider, but Junior was a born horsewoman. She took to the saddle as naturally as her father and rode like a centaur. But, with time, as she grew up, other interests, like boys and a job, had claimed her time. Starlight essentially lived in retirement these days, but Ennis himself was too fond of the horse to sell her.

"But," Ennis continued, "you didn't come all the way out here on a Wednesday evenin' just to see Starlight. So what's the occasion?"

Junior looked at her father for a moment before she answered him. "Me and Kurt. We're gettin' married."

Ennis stared as this daughter. He had met Kurt a couple of times, a strapping, broad-shouldered, raw-boned young man in his early twenties with sandy hair and a firm handshake. He topped Ennis by a couple of inches, and Ennis was by no means short. He worked in the oil fields, a roughneck. As a rule Ennis didn't like roughnecks (there had been an ugly incident with a group of them one Saturday night years before, shortly after he and Jack had ranched up), but he had tried to keep an open mind in the case of his daughter's boyfriend. The boy seemed nice enough, generally. But now he wanted to marry Ennis's little girl?

Just as Junior was becoming uncomfortable with her father's silence, Ennis said, "How long you known Kurt?"

"'Bout a year. Little more."

Ennis put his arm around Junior's shoulder and started to walk with her toward the house, saying nothing more. Starlight trotted back across the paddock. When they were halfway to the house, Ennis stopped, turned, and looked at his daughter. "Does he love you?" he asked. He was thinking of her mother. He was thinking of Jack.

Junior, touched by her father's concern and a little relieved that he had spoken, smiled at Ennis. "Yes, Daddy, he loves me."

"And do you love him?"

"Yes, Daddy, I do."

"Well," said Ennis, "you're nineteen. Guess you can do whatever you want." He was teasing now, a little. Alma smiled at him again. They resumed walking toward the house.

"So, whyn't he come up here with you an tell me? 'Fraid I'd shoot him or somethin,' hunh?"

"Don't be mad at Kurt. It was my idea, Daddy. I wanted to talk to you first, myself. We'll both come by Sunday afternoon, if that's okay with you?"

Ennis nodded. "So, when you goin' a be sayin' 'I do'?"

"Weddin'll be June second at the Methodist church. Francie's goin' a be my maid of honor. Cousin Jenny'll be singin', and Monroe's goin' a cater the reception." Ennis nodded his understanding. Suddenly Junior stopped and turned to her father. "Daddy?" she said. "You will give me away, won't you?"

Once again Ennis stared at his eldest. He was having a little trouble taking all this in. First, marriage. Now this. He thought to himself, How can I possibly give away my little girl? Of course he knew it was traditional for the father of the bride to give his daughter in marriage, but he hadn't thought of that yet. It was enough just to absorb the shock that his little darlin' was getting married. Quietly, he said, "Sure enough, little darlin'. Be proud to." Junior smiled again, put her arm through her father's, and they continued walking toward the house.

When they told Jack the news a few minutes later, he whooped like he used to in his rodeo days. He caught Junior up in his arms, swept her off her feet, and swung her around the living room, nearly knocking over a lamp, while Ennis collapsed in laughter on the sofa. "You will be there, won't you Uncle Jack?" Junior asked.

"Honey, wild horses won't keep me away," Jack promised, smiling broadly and hugging his partner's daughter.

The next couple of months passed rapidly. At Jack's suggestion and urging, he and Ennis sold a horse in order to give Junior a nice wedding present. Then Jack began to urge Ennis to get a new suit to wear when he gave his daughter away in marriage. Ennis objected to the expense, in addition grumbling, "I ain't worn a suit since I married Alma."

"No shit," said Jack. "That was twenty years ago, and ten to one that suit don't fit no more, even if it wasn't twenty years old." Jack kept after him, insisting he needed to look smart for the occasion, and eventually Ennis gave in. They went to Penney's, and with Jack's help Ennis picked out a nice new suit, charcoal gray with a little pinstripe. Then Jack decided that he, too, needed a new suit, arguing with a wink at Ennis that he couldn't look shabby for Junior's wedding, either. Jack settled on a dark blue.

The night before the wedding, Ennis drove into Riverton himself for the rehearsal. Afterwards, Kurt's folks, who lived in Rawlins, where his father ran a body shop, hosted a dinner at the Knife and Fork. Ennis found himself sitting next to his younger daughter. Ever the live wire, Francine was thrilled to have so much of her father's attention, prattled on about her own impending high school graduation and her scholarship to go to college in the fall, the first from either side of the family to have that opportunity. Ennis was proud of her and said so, pleasing Francine to no end, but privately he marveled how he and Alma could have turned out a daughter who was so unlike the rest of the del Mars and the Beerses put together.

By the time he got back home, Ennis was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed. He was quieter even than he usually was, sitting silently by the fire smoking and sipping whiskey with a thoughtful look on his face. Jack just let him have his space, then held him close in bed, not allowing himself to drift off until Ennis's steady breathing indicated that he was asleep.

The big day dawned bright and clear. Ennis and Jack got to the church about ten minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin. The family was assembled in the social hall, in the church basement. The social hall was decorated for the forthcoming reception with white crepe paper streamers and white honeycomb paper bells. Two employees from Monroe's grocery store were busy setting up for the celebration under the watchful eyes of two representatives of the church's Ladies' Aid Society. Junior's wedding dress was a simple high-waisted white gown; her veil was held in place by a wreath of flowers. Francine, in a pink bridesmaid dress, was almost jumping up and down with excitement. Alma, a little plumper than in the past, nevertheless still looked pretty in a peach mother-of-the-bride dress. Monroe, as usual, looked a little smug but affable; their three boys, aged twelve, nine, and seven, just looked bored. Ennis felt he was about to choke in his tight collar and necktie. Jack was his usual relaxed self.

"Daddy! Uncle Jack!" Junior exclaimed when she caught sight of them as they emerged from the stairwell that led up to the church vestibule. She hurried over and gave them each a hug. Alma, Sr., saw her daughter hug Jack, and her lips compressed into a thin line. "Was afraid you was goin' a be late," Junior said with evident relief.

"Well, we're here now," Ennis said simply. "Mornin', Alma. Hey, Monroe," he greeted his ex-wife and her husband.

"Mornin', Ennis," said Alma, a little stiffly. She did not return Jack's nod of greeting. Of course she had known that Jack would be with her ex-husband, but now, confronted with the actual reality of his presence, she was finding it more difficult to deal with than she had expected. Alma tried her best to be a good Christian, she really did, but there was a hard little knot in the core of her being where she had never forgiven Jack Twist for taking Ennis away from her.

"Hey, Ennis," Monroe returned Ennis's greeting congenially, oblivious of his wife's discomfort.

They all stood there awkwardly for a few moments, nobody saying anything, until Jack broke the silence, saying, "Junior, you sure do look purty—and you, too, Francine."

Francine smiled in return, grateful to have been noticed on her sister's big day, and Junior, grateful that the silence had been broken, smiled and said, "Thanks, Uncle Jack," She didn't notice her mother's mouth tighten even more at the "uncle."

Fortunately for everyone's taut nerves, at that point Reverend Jolly, the minister, approached from the far end of the social hall, where another staircase led up to a room just off the altar area of the church. "Good morning, everyone!" he said cheerfully. "We're all set upstairs. Everyone ready here?"

"I … I guess so," said Junior, suddenly struck by the enormity of what she was about to do. She turned to her father with an almost panicky look in her eyes. Ennis took his daughter's hand and squeezed it, and the panicky look subsided.

"Good!" the minister responded, clasping his hands together. "Kurt and I'll be waiting. Whenever you're ready. …" He turned and head back the way he had come and took the stairs to the front of the church.

"Well," said Jack, "guess I'll get upstairs, get me a seat on the bride's side."

"Get a seat?" Junior frowned, puzzled. "What do you mean, Uncle Jack? You're sittin' up front with the family." She didn't hear her mother's intake of breath, but Jack and Ennis did.

"That's all right, Honey," Jack said, glancing at Alma, Sr. He tried to joke. "I expect I'll get the shakes if I sit too far front in a church. I'll just get me a seat near the door, in the back with the rest of the sinners." He smiled.

Junior was having none of it. "Uncle Jack," she repeated firmly, her forehead puckering, "you're family. I want you to sit up front with the family."

Jack looked at her for a moment. He took both her hands in his. "Alma," he said, quietly and solemnly, using the name of the grown-up woman she was becoming. "Sweetheart, this is your day. I don't want nobody in that church thinkin' or talkin' 'bout anything but what a beautiful bride you are. I don't want nobody takin' anything away from that, whisperin' 'bout me sittin' with the family."

Junior thought about that. Then, slowly, the worried frown left her face and she began to smile. She threw her arms around Jack, kissed him on the cheek. Her eyes were a little moist. "I love you, Uncle Jack!" she said.

Jack hugged her back. "I love you, too, Honey." Over her shoulder, Jack winked at Ennis.

Ennis, watching, said nothing aloud but said to himself, "Sonofabitch, I love you, Jack Twist!"

Jack looked from Junior to Ennis. "I'll see you both upstairs," he said. Then he was gone, up the stairs that led to the church vestibule.

"All right, then," said Ennis, "let's do this."

Monroe took Alma, Sr., by the arm and led her up the stairs to the vestibule, the three boys trooping after them. Francine followed, her back stiff with self-importance. Ennis was about to offer Alma, Jr., his arm when, instead, he impulsively embraced his daughter and in a choked voice whispered, "I love you, Junior, and all I ever want for you is for you to be happy."

"Thank you, Daddy, I love you, too," Alma replied, her eyes moist, beaming at her father.

The church had a tinny little electronic organ, and the organist had been slogging her way through the usual pre-wedding standards for some minutes when the family came into the vestibule. Monroe turned Alma, Sr., over to one of the ushers, and he and the boys followed behind as the usher led the way to the front pew on the bride's side of the church. Kurt and his best man, his older brother, were already waiting by the altar with Reverend Jolly.

Ennis and Junior, with Francine in front of them, stood in the doorway to the vestibule. Jack, in the second to last pew on the bride's side, thought Ennis looked like he was about to have a stroke in his tight collar. He caught Ennis's eye, gave him an exaggerated stage wink. At that, Ennis's face split into a big smile, and he relaxed. Just then, the organist, at a nod from Reverend Jolly, broke off what she was playing in mid bar and struck up the familiar Wagner wedding march. Francine started up the aisle, trying her teenaged best to look stately, and then, Ennis, Junior on his arm, stepped off up the aisle to give his eldest daughter to her new husband.

By the time they reached the foot of the altar, Ennis's head was swimming. There was an aura of unreality about the whole experience. It just couldn't be possible that Junior, his little girl, his little darlin', was getting married. When he heard Reverend Jolly ask who gave the woman to be married, Ennis said, "I do." With a tight smile, he turned her hand over to Reverend Jolly, who then placed it in Kurt's hand. Ennis, in a daze, stepped back and slid into the front pew, with Alma and Monroe and the boys.

The ceremony wasn't long, even with the interlude of Cousin Jenny, Alma's sister's girl, singing "You Light Up My Life" in a reedy soprano. Still, Ennis found it difficult to concentrate. Try as he might, he wasn't seeing the tall young woman in the white gown standing up before the minister next to her taller boyfriend. Instead, he was seeing a little girl with freckles, almost squealing with delight has he lifted her up onto Starlight for the first time. And then Junior and Kurt each said, "I do," and the next thing Ennis knew, everyone in the church was applauding as Reverend Jolly introduced Mr. and Mrs. Kurt McClain. The organist struck up Mendelsohn's wedding march, and the bride and groom set off down the aisle, Junior flashing a big smile at Ennis as she passed the front pew.

Shortly thereafter, as he helped greet the guests in the receiving line in the church vestibule, Ennis was happy to see that his sister Irene and her husband Donald had driven over from Casper for the wedding; their brood had long since flown the Wyoming coop for Chicago and points farther east. And then, to his surprise, he was face to face with his brother K.E. Not having Jack's gift of gab, Ennis didn't know what to say. He and K.E. hadn't spoken in a good fifteen years, not since K.E. had found out why Ennis was divorcing Alma. While Irene and K.E.'s wife Doris watched, the two del Mar men stared at each other for a long moment. Then, slowly, K.E., a slightly taller and heavier version of his younger brother, extended his right hand. "Ennis," he said simply.

His face breaking into a smile, Ennis impulsively grasped his older brother's hand, squeezed it hard. "Hey, K.E. Thanks for comin'," he said, as if he'd last spoken to his brother just yesterday, not fifteen years ago. He didn't catch the relieved looks that Irene and Doris exchanged behind K.E.'s back. It had taken a lot of work by the two of them to get K.E. to agree to come to his niece's wedding. Irene, ten years older than Ennis, had always doted on her baby brother, hated the fact the K.E. had called him a "goddamn fuckin' queer" and stormed out of her house in the middle of Easter Sunday dinner in 1969. When the invitation to Junior's wedding arrived, Irene enlisted Doris in her crusade to bring the del Mar menfolk back together. It had taken the two of them to get K.E. to agree to come to the wedding, but as she watched her two brothers shaking hands, Irene felt that all the begging, arguing, and browbeating had been worth the effort.

The reception was a right nice little party. In catering the lunch, Monroe certainly had done right by his stepdaughter. The tables in the church social hall groaned under platters piled with a variety of small sandwiches (Monroe had insisted that the crusts be removed); bowls of potato salad and macaroni salad; pickled eggs; potato chips; and trays of carrots, celery sticks, radishes, and pickles (which hardly anybody touched). Ice-filled plastic tubs held cans of soft drinks, and a large glass bowl held a punch made of fruit juice and ginger ale. There was no alcohol; it was, after all, a Methodist church. In addition to the heavy paper plates and plastic flatware, there were napkins embossed with the names of the bride and groom and the date, June 2, 1984. And there was a wedding cake, topped with the traditional bride and groom figurines.

Junior and Kurt circulated, greeting their guests. Alma and Ennis accepted compliments from friends and relatives alike for what a lovely young woman Junior had grown up to be. Jack busied himself with his camera, taking snapshots. At one point he collared Reverend Jolly, got him to take a photo of Junior with Jack himself and Ennis standing on either side of her. It became Jack's favorite snapshot of the three of them. Ennis also spent a lot of time talking to K.E., telling him about the cattle and horse operations that he and Jack had going on the ranch, inviting him to come by some time real soon and have a look for himself. Ennis also introduced Jack to his brother. "K.E.," he said, "my partner, Jack Twist." Sensing the importance of the occasion to Ennis, Jack reined in his usual exuberance, settled for shaking K.E.'s hand firmly and saying, with a quiet dignity, that he was real pleased to meet him.

After the last egg salad sandwich had been eaten, the last toast offered in fruit punch, and the cake cut and distributed, it was time for the bride and groom to leave. During the reception, Kurt's buddies had decorated the Camaro in the traditional way, down to the "Just Married" sign attached to the back bumper. While Ennis and Jack and Alma and Monroe watched from the sidelines, the guests gathered on and around the front steps, ready to throw rice as Kurt and Alma left the church. Junior threw her bouquet, and Ennis and Alma were relieved that it was caught by one of her friends from high school and not by her sister.

When all the guests had finally left, Ennis said some slightly awkward good-byes to Alma and Monroe, in addition thanking Monroe for the nice catering job. Then he and Jack headed home. Jack drove. Ennis sat quietly beside him. They were almost to Signal when he finally spoke.




"For what?"

"Ever'thing. Today. What you done. 'Bout not sittin' with the family, an' all."

Jack just smiled, said nothing, reached across and patted Ennis on the thigh. A few miles further on, he said, "Ennis?"


"How long d'you think it'll be, 'fore we're callin' you 'Gran'pa'?"

Ennis glared at him. "Fuck you, Jack fuckin' Twist!" Jack laughed, reached across with his right hand, poked Ennis in the ribs. At that, Ennis broke into a smile, shook his head, and laughed a bit himself.

Outside Signal, they stopped at the Silver Spur for an early supper, so they wouldn't have to fix anything at home after they had done the evening chores. Frankie the bartender saw them come in, had a couple of longnecks on the bar before they had even crossed the room. In the dining room, Tootie and Elizabeth, the waitresses, made a big fuss and to-do over how handsome they looked in their suits. Behind their backs, however, Elizabeth, middle-aged and with her hair pulled severely back into a bun, whispered, "What a pair of hunks. What a waste!" At that, Tootie, eighteen, with her hair in a ponytail, giggled behind her order book.

Ever since an incident one Saturday night more than ten years earlier, when they had taken on twice their number in roughnecks who were harassing a waitress, Ennis and Jack had been welcome and favored customers at the Silver Spur. All the bartenders knew them, and the staff in the dining room made sure they never had to ask for refills on the coffee. This evening they had their usual dinner order, a t-bone steak each, baked potatoes (sour cream for Jack, extra butter for Ennis), ranch dressing on the salad.

Back home at last, both Ennis and Jack were relieved to get out of those new suits and back into jeans, work shirts, and everyday boots to handle the evening ranch chores. When the work was done, it was already late. Jack hit the shower first, then got into bed and waited while Ennis cleaned up.

When he had finished in the bathroom, Ennis came into the bedroom, took off his robe, and hung it on the hook on the back of the door. Jack, watching from the bed, thought not for the first time how the high, taught globes of Ennis's buttocks reminded him of the thighs of a champion racehorse. "It got a be all that time he spends ahorseback," Jack said to himself.

Ennis was about to turn off the lamp when his eye fell on the small, framed photograph of Junior that he kept on the dresser. Taken when she was 12 years old, the snapshot showed her mounted on Starlight, her hair blowing free in the wind. It was Ennis's favorite photo of his elder daughter. He picked up the picture and peered at it closely. His little girl. A married woman. He could hardly comprehend it. He looked at the photo for some minutes. Then his eye caught the reflection in the mirror of Jack, lying in bed, propped up on one elbow, smiling at him.

Ennis knew that look on Jack's face. He had seen it often enough since the summer on Brokeback Mountain two decades earlier. He put the photo down on the dresser and turned to Jack, his lips twitching as he tried not to smile. "What?" he said, feeling himself start to harden.

Jack's smile grew wider. "I was just thinkin' what a fine figure of a man you are, Ennis del Mar." Jack reached out his hand to Ennis.

"Oh, yeah?" said Ennis, allowing himself to smile. He turned off the light, then took Jack's hand and allowed himself to be pulled into the bed, on top of Jack. "You think so, hunh, Jack Twist?"

"I do," said Jack, wrapping his arms around Ennis. "And tell you what else I think," Jack murmured. "I think I'm the luckiest sonofabitch on the face of this earth."

"Tell you what," Ennis murmured back. "I think I am, too. I do."

Jack pulled Ennis's lips to his own. There was no more talking that night.

A note about the wedding date: The purpose of this story was to take what is known of the marriage of Alma, Jr., from the motion picture screenplay and re-imagine it in the context of this Alternative Universe. However, it was discovered and pointed out to me by my good friend Leslie (thanks, Leslie!) that June 5, 1984, the wedding date derived from the screenplay, was, in fact, a Tuesday. It is, of course, perfectly possible for Alma, Jr., to have been married on a Tuesday. However, drawing on family experience, it seemed more likely to this author that even a small wedding with a soloist and a catered reception would have been held on a Saturday. Thus for this story, the date was moved up three days to Saturday, June 2, 1984.—Z.T.