Chapter 1: It Happened One Day
Ennis Del Mar's truck swerved slightly as he topped the hill and was hit squarely in the eyes by the rising sun. He squinted against the brightness before pulling his hat down a bit further on his forehead to block the glare and turning the truck sharply back into his own lane.
"Damn," he thought. "At this rate you'll be lucky if you make it outta Riverton, Del Mar!"
Ennis was supposed to arrive at Pine Creek at seven. However, he had ended up getting a late start because one of the heifers on the ranch he worked on had fallen ill. The ranch foreman, Paul O'Grady, had told him that he needed to stay with her through the night and although he knew that would end up making him late for Jack, he had no choice.
Part of the night, he had paced back and forth in front of the barn doors, smoking. The other part he spent sitting in the foreman's office thinking about Jack.
Jack was a subject that he tried very hard not to think about to much during the day. At night, when he was alone in his trailer, or when he was sitting under the stars, at those times thinking about Jack was safe and he would let the rush of thoughts and memories that he had been pushing back all day come crashing over him in a myriad flow of feelings and emotions.
For twenty years, Ennis had been trying to put his thoughts and feelings into order when it came to Jack Twist. In all that time, he had never been able to come up with just the right words to describe how he felt. He knew that other people probably had words they would use to describe it, and most likely few of them were nice, but for himself, he had continued to call it "This Thing". Even in his own thoughts, he couldn't quite bring himself to voice the thought that nibbled at his mind. For some reason, even just thinking the word "Love" in relation to what he and Jack shared scared him half to death.
Most of that night was spent thinking long and hard about that very thing, and wondering what it was that Jack called "This Thing" in his mind when he thought about it.
Finally, just before five, nearly a full hour past the time that Ennis had needed to leave in order to make it to Pine Creek on time, O'Grady had showed up and relieved him. As he had been leaving, O'Grady had said, "Catcha few hours, Del Mar." letting Ennis know that he was expecting him to go home and sleep and then come back to finish his regular shift.
"Shit!" Ennis thought.
He had hoped that he would not have to remind O'Grady that he had the next week off. Although he was not the one that made the decisions as far as who had what time off, O'Grady always had a fit whenever he found out that one of the hands was taking any time off. Ennis was not sure if he had the patience to listen to the man rant and rave without telling him where he could stick his job. Not today, he was to damn tired, and to damn antsy at the thought of being with Jack in just a few short hours.
Trying to stifle his irritation and nervousness, Ennis cleared his throat and said, "Won't be back t'day, got the week off".
The foreman took his hat off and threw it to the ground.
"This is a piss poor time for you ta be takin' off , Del Mar! We got three heifers due to drop this week, and 'bout ten miles a fence needn' to be fixed!"
"Maxwell a'proved the time three months ago," Ennis replied, struggling to keep his growing anger from showing in his voice.
"Fine!" O'Grady yelled, "Take the damn time. You just see that you haul yer ass back here next week! I ain't acceptn' no tales about flat tires this time, boy!"
Deciding that he had better get before O'Grady changed his mind; Ennis tipped his hat at the man and walked quickly from the barn to his truck.
Truth was, he really had had a flat tire last time.
He had gotten a late start because of the huge row that he and Jack had had about it being November before he could get together again. They both said some really harsh and hurtful things, and then Jack had flung words at him that stung like darts, each one aimed directly at his heart.
"I wish I knew how to quit you!" Jack had said.
While his heart was still recovering, his tongue spewed out words that he didn't mean, could never mean.
"Then why don't you, why don't you just let me be, huh! It's cause of you, Jack, that I'm like this… I'm nothing… I'm nowhere!"
As soon as the words left his mouth, and he realized what he had said, he had wished desperately that he could reach out and snatch them back. "No… Jack… I didn't mean it…," his mind screamed, but the words just wouldn't come.
Finally, his desperation had gotten the better of him. Ennis had broken down and cried in front of another human being for perhaps the first time in his adult life. At first he was so mortified by his weakness that he had yelled at Jack to get off him when he tried to comfort him, but Jack had been insistent, and in the end Ennis had sunk into his arms and simply poured out twenty years of pent up tears, and anguish.
Jack held him while he sobbed, whispering over and over into his ears, "It's alright, Ennis" and "Damn you, Ennis why're you doing this to me?" and punctuating each statement with little kisses to his cheeks and neck while Ennis clutched his jacket and held on for dear life.
As scared as he was that someone might find out about him and Jack, there was something that scared him even worse. A thought that tore his insides to shreds and made his heart and mind ache with just a fleeting passage. That was the thought of losing Jack again. The thought of the loneliness, pain, and unquenchable longing that had been his constant companion for fours long years after he and Jack parted the first time. However, this was not something that he could seem to say. Although he wished with all his heart that he could somehow tell Jack how he really felt.
When Ennis had finally calmed he and Jack had talked for a long time, and even though he was still unhappy about November, Jack had finally said that he understood. They had both apologized for the hurtful things they had slung at each other, though both secretly had to admit that the other, more then likely, had a point.
Finally, Ennis noticed that the sun had begun to set and reluctantly told Jack that he needed to get on the road. Jack had walked him to the door of his truck, but when Ennis turned to hug him, Jack had grabbed him and kissed him, hard and deep. Ennis was taken by surprise. He and Jack had almost never kissed good-bye. Hello yes, but for some reason, one they both seemed to understand without saying it, kissing good-bye seemed to make parting that much harder.
That proved true this time as well. For nearly an hour they simply stood next to Ennis' truck, their arms wrapped around each other and their lips parting only long enough for a few whispered, "I'll miss you's" and an occasional "November is to far away's" from Jack. Each time he whispered these things, Ennis had stopped him by kissing him.
Jack seemed to grip him tighter with each kiss and Ennis had found that he was unable to stop kissing Jack when his arms were so tight around him like that, and his eyes were so sad and red with barely suppressed tears. Somehow, Jack's sadness seemed great enough that Ennis couldn't bring himself to leave him; his only thought was to stay and comfort him as long as he could. After all, Jack had done no less for him.
Finally, Jack slowly lowered his arms and stepped away. For a moment, Ennis had almost cried again at the intense feeling of pain and loss he felt at having his arms empty once again. He shook himself and patted Jack on the shoulder. He tried to convince himself that he was saying goodbye and reassuring Jack, but deep down he had to admit that it was simply a need to touch Jack one more time.
"See ya in November, bud." Ennis said, before he reluctantly got into his truck and drove away. For a moment, he had almost turned back when he looked in the mirror and saw how crushed and desperate Jack looked as he watched him drive away, but he knew that if he didn't leave now he would never be able to.
Driving through the darkness, his mind had been anywhere but in the truck and certainly not on the road. Because of this, he hadn't seen the porcupine crossing the road and had no idea what it was he had run over when he felt the thump and the jolt as the tire on the front passenger side let go.
He got out and assessed the damage and cursed when he remembered that he hadn't had the money to replace his spare tire from the last time he'd had a flat.
Sighing, he began walking, not knowing how close he was to home. Finally after a few minutes of walking he spotted a sign "Riverton 8 miles".
"Not far, but far 'nough" He thought, and began trudging down the road, his head bowed.
The walk to Riverton had taken him until dawn. Once he had gotten a spare, he had gone to Alma and Monroe's and asked Alma Jr. if she could give him a ride back to the truck.
By the time he had arrived at the ranch, he was bone tired and almost two hours late.
O'Grady had been livid.
Not wanting to repeat that, Ennis had made sure there was a spare tire in the back of the truck and vowed that he would make sure to leave in plenty of time to get home in time for work on Monday morning.
Now, he was racing along the highway as fast as he dared to push his beat up old truck and praying that Jack wouldn't be too angry with him for being late.
It was after eight when he finally reached the turn off that led to the secluded little area next to the creek where he and Jack had camped numerous times. Craning his neck, Ennis glanced around for Jack's truck.
The clearing where they always parked their trucks was empty.
"Damn!" Ennis cursed aloud as he opened the truck door and climbed out. "I damn near kill m'self to get here and he ain't even here yet… that's Jack Fuckin' Twist for ya!" He punctuated this with a chuckle and a shake of his head.
"Musta' hit traffic." He remarked to the horses in the trailer behind the truck. Shrugging, he grabbed his stuff out of the back of the truck and put it on the ground near the fire pit.
"Well… since Jack is taking his sweet time gettin' here," Ennis told the horses as he unhitched the gate on the trailer", I guess I can let you outta there."
As he stepped up onto the back of the trailer to unhitch the last latch, a bee flew into the trailer and landed on the rear flank of the horse closest to him. Suddenly the horse let out a shriek and kicked it's rear legs outward. Ennis, who was standing behind and to the right of the horse felt a shock of pain as his left temple was grazed by the horses flying hoof. He fell backwards with a yelp of pain, and landed sprawled on his back.
The last thing he remembered before everything went black was the sound of tires on the gravel to his left, the slam of a truck door, the sound of running footsteps and his name being shouted hoarsely in a voice that sounded just like Jack's.