Title: A Better Idea – FF Chapter 61
Fandom: Brokeback Mountain
Rating: NC-17 for language, explicit sexual content
Pairing: Ennis / Jack
Warnings: Time passing on, as well as main character deaths
Disclaimer: The O/S characters belong to Annie Proulx, all the rest are my own creation. No profit or fame being sought from this, my own story
Notes: This story is dedicated to Heath Ledger
Summary: After the "I wish I knew how to quit you" argument at the Trail Head in 1983, Ennis and Jack finally have a better idea
Feedback: Yes, please. I hope my story brings you peace,
A/N: My dear friends, when I began posting this story in May of 2006 I thought it would be over and done in a matter of weeks, perhaps a few chapters, and then my alternative happy ending. I did not know how these characters would take over my life, nor how RL would take so many twists and turns including the one event that knocked a hole in my heart on January 22, 2008. That caused many of us to stumble and lose our way, our momentum, and our hope for the future. Losing Heath was the hardest thing I've ever faced, aside from losing my own family members, of course.
So now, following another death (not a real one in this case - but painful nonetheless) I'm back to complete this story and allow Ennis and Jack to walk off into their own golden years together, and in private.
If when you see the words "The End" you still have questions or concerns about any of my characters, please ask me, and I will fill you in on the details. Deal?
Let's get to it.
Love you all,
John got the roto-rooter treatment for his arteries, and was sent home in a few days. He would have to closely watch his cholesterol numbers and have regular check-ups. He was lucky; he could go back to a fairly normal life.
Dolph talked to Jack about maybe it was time they all got those new cellular phones. Even Ennis agreed to get one, after years of Jenny badgering him about it. They got on a family plan, and at first they talked to each other every day. After they got used to it, they developed a sort of phone chain where one person called to check on another, and so on. It was less intrusive and less expensive that way.
As the years rolled by, the family homes in Loveland, Colorado took on a timeless quality. The log exteriors faded till they blended into the rolling hills and trees as if they had always been there; a part of the landscape.
The families celebrated life's benchmarks and holidays, spending time together as they always had, but somehow with more appreciation as every season passed. As with all of life, there were some losses.
In February, 2011 Walter Bell died. He did not linger or suffer. It was an aneurysm, silent and swift as can be. Iris was bereft, but she had their children and family around her. Claire, her sister-in-law, was right there with her whenever needed. Claire needed consoling too, for she and her brother Walter had been uncommonly close over the years.
Johnny Twist missed his lifelong friend sorely. Ennis and Jack had come to depend on and love Uncle Walter, the outspoken, caring man who had given them advice whether wanted or not, and the chance to live the life they'd hoped for. His passing was a devastating blow to the entire family.
As family members from far and wide gathered in Loveland, it was reminiscent of the many parties that had beckoned them to this place and to Lightning Flat before that. How Walter had reveled in throwing a party! Iris was so used to cooking huge quantities of meats, casseroles and desserts when he'd gotten the itch to have a bash, so that's what she did now. They had a little memorial service officiated, if it could be called that, by their friend and pastor, Reverend Brian Robiskie. The congregation attended in goodly numbers. All were invited back to the house.
Food and drink were plentiful, as well as the stories about Walter's many good deeds, and some mis-deeds too. Iris looked over the crowd and knew that her husband would have dearly loved this party! Claire wiped a tear from her eye; one caused by hysterical laughter at some antic Walter and John had pulled when they were in school, 7th grade, or thereabouts.
Some of the stories were new to Ennis and Jack, some remembered from other tellings at similar parties. Junior and Kurt even had favorites among the tales. Hopefully they would pass them along to the twins. There were photos in the Rawlings family album of Great Uncle Walter holding them both up for a snapshot during their first visit to Loveland, and to his house.
Bobby and Jenny shared some of the stories from when they'd had to stay over at Iris and Walter's. Like when Gran was rushed to the hospital that time. Their uncle had bedeviled them with riddles and challenged them to games of Scrabble or Yahtzee, anything to keep them from worrying. They remembered that he wouldn't let them go to bed till they'd had a heaping dish of ice cream, which gave him an excuse to have one too.
As the weeks passed, Iris missed Walter more, not less. She had loved that boy since she was 14 years old, and she didn't know how to have a life without him. Didn't want a life without him, in fact.
She decided to go stay with a favorite cousin for a while, for a change of scenery. But she lost weight at Althea's house, and it seemed so noisy there all the time. Iris decided to come back home. Though she felt she had nothing to live for now, she wanted to be where she had shared her years with Walter. She continued to fail, health-wise, until those around her were alarmed for her.
Claire was especially solicitous of her friend turned sister-in-law, and tried to get her interested in planning for their high school reunion. It would be five years since they'd had the last one. Their numbers were dwindling, to be sure. Most of their classmates had left Lightning Flat and scattered to the four winds. Ruthann Hauser was the only one still in the immediate area. Claire contacted her and also Reverend Clayton Peterson in hopes of finding leads on all the stragglers.
They were busy calling classmates and writing out invitations when in May, John had another heart attack and passed away before anyone even knew it. He'd been changing the oil on the pick-up. When Claire went in search of him for lunch he was lying beside the tool box with his hand on his cell phone.
Claire wanted to give up on the reunion, and on looking toward the future, but just like her sister-in-law before her, Iris would not let her. After the funeral and memorial service were behind them, they kept themselves busy by working on the arrangements for the class reunion.
Mornings were Claire's time alone to walk the paths in the woods that she and John had enjoyed here in what she still thought of as their new home. He had insisted on holding her hand as they strolled, making up for lost time and remembering how they'd sweetly clasped hands as childhood sweethearts.
Jack was inconsolable over his father's death and Ennis nearly so as well. They'd built a strong bond between them in the years since Jack and Ennis each came to live at Lightning Flat in 1983. They'd shared a part of each day with him since, and the old man was sorely missed.
Ennis began starting some of his sentences with "Tell you What!" because he knew it would get a smile out of Jack and remind him of his dad's habit of saying it.
Claire and Iris argued till they were blue in the face, but finally graciously agreed to let Jack and Ennis drive them to their reunion which was being held in Hulett due to Lightning Flat being . . . well, gone. Jack, ever the charmer, said "Can't let two good lookin' single gals go roamin' 'round the country side all alone." And that was that.
Charlotte (King) Meridan came in from Kansas City, Billy Gentile flew in from San Francisco, and Pearl (Mayer) Hayward and her husband Paul, arrived in Hulett all the way from St. Augustine, Florida. Claire and Iris came in from Loveland, Ruthann and all the other attendees came from Sundance, Billings, Gillette, and other places nearby. There were 24 total reunion attendees, counting spouses.
Charlotte's husband, Jerry Meridan was not able to travel, having just had eye surgery. Many of the classmates were widowed, but none as recently as Iris and Claire. They were both still wearing their widow's black.
Claire danced with Dan Adkins, Paul Hayward, Billy Gentile and finally Clayton Peterson. While dancing with Clayton, she asked after his wife. Dropping his eyes he said she was gone, but he'd rather not talk about that right now; said he wanted to have this pleasant time with her.
As he held her hand and led her back to her chair following their waltz, she asked quietly, "I'm so sorry about your wife Clayton, I hope it was not the cancer again." Surprised, he looked at her and stopped to face her. "No, it was not. It was a divorce."
"Oh! I'm so sorry."
"Not your fault. . . . well, in a way, I suppose it is."
Claire gasped. She looked deeply into his eyes, realizing what he was going to say for she had always known it, really.
"I never should have married her. She is a wonderful person, and a gentle woman, but I married her knowing my heart belonged to someone else. You've guessed, I imagine? I've been pretty obvious."
"Oh Clayton, let's not . . . "
"Of course, my dear, I understand. Can I get you a cup of punch?"
"Yes, please." Claire needed a moment alone to get her feelings in check.
When he returned with the punch, he dropped momentarily into the chair next to Claire. It was vacant because Iris was currently dancing with Billy. She thanked him and took a sip, expecting him to go back to his own table.
"Claire, please, I have to speak plainly. Time is not on our side."
She looked at him expectantly. He cleared his throat.
"When an appropriate time has passed, may I pay court to you, Claire?"
"No Clayton, I . . . "
He placed his hand over hers lying on the table. "I understand. But you're not getting rid of me that easily. I will call you after a few months." He smiled at her, bent to kiss her cheek, and then walked away.
While "the girls" were at their three day reunion, Jack and Ennis were acting like tourists. They went to see Devil's Tower, they attended the Crook County Sheriff's Sale, and on Saturday, a livestock show and rodeo. It was a treat for them to spend uninterrupted time together, and Ennis realized something. He loved Jack Twist. But just as importantly, he loved traveling with Jack Twist.
On the highway, after eating a late afternoon snack at Azar's Big Boy, Ennis asked in a serious tone, "Do you miss waving at the girls in the stands?"
Jack pulled the big luxurious rental car over to the side of the road. He pulled Ennis into his arms and kissed him soundly. "I was makin' that part up, Cowboy. I was wavin' at the boys in the stands!" and then he laughed.
"Well, do you miss the rodeo, and wavin' at the boys in the stands?"
"I got all I can handle right here, friend."
Ennis smiled at that.
"Yes Ennis, you're ornery as any bull I ever drew!"
Jack flinched when Ennis drew back his fist . . . but then they laughed, and they pulled back out on the highway, enjoying their time together.
They headed back to their motel, as they only had one more day out here. Mom and Iris would be ready to leave for Loveland after brunch and a visit to Ruthann's house tomorrow afternoon.
"Why is sex with you even better when we're away from home, Cowboy?"
Ennis chuckled but he didn't answer. He personally thought that there was something kind of 'forbidden' about fucking in a motel, as opposed to your own bed back home. Seemed riskier somehow. He said, "c'mere you."
Jack sighed. "Ain't had enuff a me yet, eh?"
"Never enough, Bud, never enough."
They jounced that bed good remembering the Siesta Motel, even though this place was surely superior in every way to that old well-remembered haven. This, the Medford Inn, was clean and smelled of soap and fabric softener.
There were no stains on the sheets nor on the carpet. The towels were thick, the television was large and offered cable stations, the air conditioner worked. Not only that, but there was a café attached to the motel office that advertised continental breakfasts beginning at 6 every morning. They made quite good coffee too.
Ennis dripped sweat on Jack then pulled him close to towel it off languidly. He kissed his way back up his body, and then shuddered in satisfaction. They were both jelly limbed and spent. When they caught their breath, Jack looked over at his brown eyed lover and asked "Ya think we can get that Adult Channel at our house?"
"God I hope not, we ain't got out a this bed for 36 hours as it is!" cried Ennis.
"Tell you what though! We could set ourselves a 'date night' once or twice a month and go find a motel that has it. What do you think about that, my studly hombre?"
They laughed again; at the ridiculous (or non-existent) plotlines of the porn movies, of the names the men called each other, like stud muffin and mucho grande hombre, and wunny bunny. This was so different from their day to day world and they had really let themselves get into it. But each was looking forward to getting to their own home again, to their own bed and to the wonders of having work that they loved and family members that they cared about. It was a great life.
They got the women safely home on Sunday, but wondered at the quiet talk in the back seat, and the few small smiles that they could not hide. Jack and Ennis were both glad that Mom and Iris felt like smiling now, and hoped whatever the reason, that it continued.
Branch married Heather Robiskie two months after he graduated from Colorado University. She would be a junior at Purdue in the fall. They'd said a tearful good-bye to the parents and loaded up their antique VW bus. It chugged along happily across I-70 toward their new life in West Lafayette, Indiana. Their honeymoon trip had a secondary purpose, known only to a few.
Branch had been in his final year of high school when that spring, a letter came for him.
He jumped off the school bus humming a tune as usual and noticed that the red flag was up on the mail box. He rummaged in the beat up enclosure till he could be sure he had got everything.
It was just the usual run of ads and flyers till he saw the small white envelope with his own name on it. The return address held a familiar name: C. R. Branchard, RR #2, Monks' Corners, Ohio. He was stunned. It was from his mother.
He ran up the lane to the house hollering "Dad! Dad! Come see!"
When they were all three seated round the solid wooden table, he nervously fingered the envelope. "What do you suppose she wants?"
Ennis murmured, "Guess you'll find that out when you are ready to open it, son."
"Good gravy you two!" hollered Jack. "Open the letter, you're killin' me with suspense. If you don't, I will!"
Branch turned and immediately handed the envelope to Jack. "Go ahead dad, I'm too nervous."
Jack took the envelope in hand; he raised his eyes to Ennis, imploringly.
Ennis gave one solid nod.
Jack slit it open and pulled out two small sheets of paper. He read for a tiny minute only, and then laid the letter down. "It's not from your mother, Branch. It's from your brother."
The boy grabbed the letter and read:
I know you'll be surprised at hearing from me after nearly 18 years. If you thought we forgot about you, we never did. I wanted to wait till you were old enough to make up your own mind about us.
Our old neighbor, Mrs. Morgan, said you know about us, your first family, and that you are named after us. That's nice.
We hated to leave you behind. You got to believe me on that one. If our dad had lived, we would all be one big happy family.
When we left there, I was seven, Marcia five, and Davy three. And without dad, mama didn't have no other choice but to give you away to a good family to raise.
We are all doing good, hope you are too.
I hope you write back,
Charley Rae Blanchard
p.s. Mama sends her love, Freddie. (that's what she was going to name you)
The three men sat in silence around the table while the light dimmed, and they were virtually in the dark. None made eye contact with the others but stayed with their own quiet thoughts. For so many years they'd known this day would come, but astonished now, that it finally had.
Ennis cleared his throat, "ya want some supper, Branch?"
"Yeah thanks, I think I'm starving, daddy."
As Ennis heated up the beef stew and biscuits, he reflected that Branch had not called him daddy in a couple of years now. It was most often the grown up version, Dad. Jack had noticed it too.
The boy fed and watered the dogs, his nightly chore.
While they'd sat quietly, the evening sky had darkened, so Ennis turned on the light over their dining table.
Jack set the table with the rudimentary items they used, and got out the jug of milk. He decided not to make coffee, as he would make an early night of it.
They ate hungrily, none saying a single thing fearing the words would begin to tumble out at a rate that they could not stop.
When the three men had cleared the table and the few dishes were washed and put away, Branch finally spoke.
"Think I'll head up to bed now."
His dads merely nodded and shuffled their feet awkwardly. "Us too," was all they said.
As old as he was, he couldn't walk away tonight without a consoling hug and kiss from his dads. Silently, they all went to bed; turmoil and a bit of fear in their minds.
On Saturday morning, Branch pulled out the picture album that Gran had put together in the days after his christening. Friends, neighbors and parishioners had rifled their own albums looking for pictures of all the Branchard family, whether at community events, church suppers or barbeques in each other's back yards. Where ever they'd been snapped, it was a testament to the life they'd built so long ago, here in Loveland. These images had never carried any emotion for Branch. . .until now.
One picture in particular brought out the "what if" feelings in the boy. It showed Camilla, at Thanksgiving, pregnant with him only two weeks before he was born. What if his real dad had lived? Would he even know his dads and all of this loving family that he was a part of now? Hopelessly confused, he picked up a paper and pen.
Branch wrote back to Charley. He told him a few things about his life, and his family, and closed with, "your brother, Branch."
When Charley wrote back, he said "I go by Charley Rae. The Rae is our mother's maiden name."
Each week they wrote, and eventually, they cut back to monthly, and then quarterly. But by then, they were acquainted, and firmly felt themselves to be brothers.
The next few years passed swiftly, and Branch asked Heather if she minded going to Ohio to meet his other family following their wedding. Her dad and mom, Brian and Beth, were very excited about the turn this story was taking, since they had been involved back in the beginning. She loved this man, and would go anywhere with him . . . come hell or high water. His Ohio family was looking forward to seeing Freddie/Branch after all these years.
Claire married Clayton in a private ceremony, eighteen months after John died. Her sons stood up with them. The couple went to New Mexico to visit his daughter. Claire had known the girl but wanted to get re-acquainted with her and her husband and children now that she would be part of their family.
She was happy with Clay, and tried not to feel like she was cheating on John. Most days she succeeded. She loved that they had their spiritual side in common, but they also laughed a lot and often played Scrabble or Canasta together. He wanted her to take a cruise with him to Hawaii; she wanted to take a few local day trips. They compromised and decided to do both. They were quite affectionate with each other. He told her every day how much he loved her and how long he'd waited for her. She was of the generation to take her husband's name, so she was now Claire Peterson. It was hard to stop writing Claire Twist on checks and receipts.
Iris missed Claire, but was very happy for her too. Besides, she had a correspondence romance going on with Billy Gentile, and they were getting serious. In her home she was busy painting and remodeling. She had loved Walter with all her heart, but she was regaining her sense of self, day by day.
Rose Henderson married her college girlfriend, Sara McCloskey in Iowa. Dolph walked his daughter Rose down the aisle, and Sara's father did the same. Branch was Rose' Best Man. Maggie beamed at the young couple, and happily sat in the front row waiting for the handsome father-of-the-bride to rejoin her. Behind her sat Becca and her fiance' James, and next to them were Daniel and his pregnant wife Sue. Maggie's cup runneth over.
Ennis and Jack brought Claire and Clay to the wedding with them; all were seated on the bride's side in the sixth row. Heather sat with Branch's dads and held Gran's hand through the ceremony. KE and Barbie filled out the rest of that pew. Their kids were scattered to the four winds; too tied up with their own lives and children to travel to a barely known cousin's wedding.
Maggie, KE and Ennis hoped that could be rectified in the near future. They were planning an annual Family Thanksgiving Weekend, so at least once a year, this growing family could re-connect.
The newlyweds Rose and Sara were buying a bakery and coffee shop in the heart of Des Moines in a trendy gay neighborhood. They were alight with confidence and love; and their families supported their dreams.
Ennis and Jack saw that the young women seemed to have the world by the tail, and were happy for them . . . but still were flabbergasted that so much had seemed to change in this confusing world.
In early May, 2013 at Padre Island, Texas, two quite handsome older gentlemen walked along the beach, barefoot. They were holding hands right there in front of God and everyone. Their brand new wedding bands glinted in the morning light.
"Fifty years . . ."
"Yeah, fifty years. Never thought we'd get into this again."
"You are such a liar! You red-lined it all the way."
Jack turned to Ennis grinning like a boy.
He looked down at their feet and squirmed his toes into the wet sand. Ennis laid out the blanket they'd brought with them, and stretched out on it facing the gray-blue gulf waters.
"You look the same as you did the day I met you fifty years ago today."
Ennis squinted up at Jack who hadn't lay down yet, and checked him out from various angles.
Seating himself on the blanket, Jack asked "What?"
Ennis smirked and said, "Just checkin' how long your nose is getting there, Pinocchio."
"Ennis Del Mar, did you just make a joke?" laughed Jack.
They lay back in each other's arms and relished the freedom to do so in public. It had been a hell of a long road, but here they were. It was really and truly a sweet life.