Chapter 1

May, 2006

Jack was standing in the kitchen, putting away the last of the groceries he had just bought when the phone rang. "Lazy L, this is Jack," he answered.

"Hey babe," came Ennis's voice over the line.

"Hey to you, too," replied Jack, smiling to himself. "Where are you?"

"Down in the stable," answered Ennis.

"You lazy fuck!" laughed Jack. "Why are ya callin' me?"

"I'm callin' 'cause I have this goddamn fuckin' cell phone we spent so much money for and I think it needs t'get used," said Ennis. He paused, then continued. "I am also callin' 'cause I have a request for lunch: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."

"Peanut butter and jelly?" Jack exclaimed. "I just got back from the store and bought some nice cold cuts. I was gonna make ya grilled ham and cheese."

"Lookit the calendar," said Ennis.

Jack glanced at the calendar hanging on the wall next to the phone. May 15th. "Oh, it's May 15th," he said, "Don Wroe Day."

"That's right, babe," said Ennis. Jack could hear the laughter in his voice.

"Okay, then, peanut butter and jelly it is, with chips and beer. When you gonna be up for lunch?" he added.

"'Bout 15 minutes," said Ennis. "Just got a few things t'finish up."

"Okay, then," said Jack. "See ya in a few."

"Love ya, babe," said Ennis, finishing the conversation.

"Love ya too," said Jack, as he hung up the phone.

Jack smiled to himself as he looked at the calendar and thought about Ennis. Ennis, who still didn't wear a watch and was forever asking what time it was, seemed to have some little corner of his brain that had a remarkable ability to catalog important dates. He had all the birthdays of their children and grandchildren in there and it was usually Ennis who reminded Jack when they needed to buy a card or a present. Ennis also had an inventory of every single noteworthy date in their lives together and had little rituals attached to all of them for how they should be celebrated. Don Wroe Day, for example, involved a luncheon of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, along with a recitation of significant memories from that day long ago. Later that evening, Jack knew that Ennis would be getting a peanut butter blow job.

Jack continued to smile as started assembling the ingredients to make lunch. He remembered the long ago day in Riverton, when they were packing Ennis's possessions. Jack had picked up a prayer book and found all of the postcards he had ever sent Ennis to arrange their fishing trips. Jack had been surprised when he saw them but over the years he had come to learn that Ennis was both romantic and sentimental. It was this sentimental streak that insisted on all these various celebrations.

Jack spread the peanut butter over the slices of bread, still thinking about Ennis and his dates. Many of the anniversaries that Ennis held dear came from their first summer together in Quanah, back in 1976. Of course there were the big ones: their wedding anniversary on July 4th, the day Hal Lawrence died (August 24th), and the one that Ennis affectionately called "Mimosa Day,"—August 28th, the day Tom Lawrence told Ennis that Hal had given him the farm. But since this summer would be the thirtieth anniversary of many of these events, Jack had a feeling Ennis would dredge up the more obscure ones, too, such as "Brown Palace Hotel Day," (July 25th) which was the day that Ennis picked up Junior and Jenny for their three week visit. "That one's special," Ennis would say, "'cause I was so happy t'see them after so many weeks of missin' them." Jack lifted a page and tapped his finger on the calendar. How about "I-just-got-back-from-dropping-Junior-and-Jenny-off-in-Riverton-and-I-am-horny-as-hell-Day"? That would be August 16th. And at the end of the summer there was always "Fuckin' Norm Crocker is Dead/Christen the Bed" day which fell on September 15th. Jack particularly liked that one, and he knew that Ennis did too.

Jack finished making the sandwiches and arranged them on a platter, then poured a bag of chips into a bowl. He walked into the dining room and set both on the table, then came back to the kitchen, wiping up the bread crumbs and putting the jars of peanut butter and jelly away in the refrigerator.

He looked out the window and saw Ennis walking towards the house. Tall and slim, his back straight and with only a touch of grey at his temples, to Jack, Ennis was still as handsome as the day he first laid eyes on him outside of Joe Aguirre's trailer. He felt his heart thump in his chest and laughed to himself. "Forty-three years of lovin' this man and thirty years of livin' with him," he thought, "and I still feel like a teenager in love every time I look at him."

Ennis came to the back door, pulling off his boots before he came into the house and leaving them on the back step. He had a pair of moccasins standing by the back door which he slipped onto his feet as he came in the kitchen. Ennis was the one who usually washed the kitchen floor and he had long since realized that every time he tracked in mud and dirt from the stable, he was only making more work for himself.

Jack watched Ennis, loving his movements, loving his look. Ennis smiled at him. "Lunch is ready," said Jack. "A gourmet presentation of PB&J, accompanied by a bowl of salt and vinegar chips and Budweiser's finest lager, served in a long-necked brown bottle."

"You teasin' me, Jack fuckin' Twist?" said Ennis with a smile as he walked across the kitchen.

"Who, me?" said Jack, feigning innocence. "On somethin' as special as Don Wroe Day? Never."

Ennis leaned in and gave Jack a kiss. "I love you, babe," he said. "Happy Don Wroe Day."

Jack smiled. "Happy Don Wroe Day to you, too, lover," he said.

Even though Jack had been teasing Ennis a little bit, he did realize the significance of Don Wroe Day. This was the day when Ennis said yes to "some sweet life," and when they decided to build a life together. The name came from their last "fishing trip," when Ennis had arranged to borrow a hunting camp from his friend Don Wroe. They arrived at the camp on Saturday, May 15th. Jack, who had been in a crisis for a month, essentially had a breakdown on the evening of May 16th. Ennis spent the rest of the night sitting in a chair, sifting through his options, thinking about his life, and thinking about a possible life with Jack. He finally put his homophobic fears aside to say yes to ranching up together and realized, in the months that followed, that this was the best decision he would ever make.

July 4th was their wedding anniversary but Don Wroe Day was the start of their life together. July 4th had become a public celebration, with friends and family, but Don Wroe Day was private and they used the time to think about their lives and to reconfirm their love for one another, both in words and action.

They had actually tried to go back to Don Wroe's cabin. Five years after they had been living in Quanah, Ennis had gotten in touch with Don and arranged to borrow the cabin for a week-long hunting trip in November. However, when they got there, they found the cabin too evocative and the memories too fresh—and for Jack, painful—to be able to enjoy themselves. They cut the trip short, returned the keys to Don and drove south to Estes Park, Colorado, spending a few days at Rocky Mountain National Park before heading home to Quanah.

Over time, the harsh memories of that night had faded and Jack could look back and remember it as a happy time. In fact, the tattoo that Jack sported on his upper right arm was a direct remembrance from that day: a stylized brand for the "Circle E Ranch," which was something Ennis had said to him—"I'm brandin' ya, cowboy"—during their 24 hours of non-stop lovemaking. (That would be May 17th, "Screw Yer Brains Out Day," on Ennis's calendar.)

The tattoo had come about because Jack had said, also during that same summer of 1976, that he wanted one with Ennis's name. Ennis had thought he was joking but Jack had been completely serious. He pictured it as a lasso, writing Ennis's name in script. He had even sketched a few designs. But when push came to shove, Ennis had asked him not to use his name. "It's just too personal, Jack," he said. "I know folks know we're together but what if we were somewhere like…I dunno…a hotel with a pool or somewhere, with strangers…I'd be embarrassed." The compromise had been the Circle E which, in the end, Jack was happier with. It was designed by Ennis's daughter Jenny—their daughter, now, in both their minds—who was an artist living in Massachusetts. The design was striking and unusual and anyone who saw it commented on its beauty.

Jack absent-mindedly rubbed the spot where the tattoo was and Ennis noticed. "Circle E, I'm brandin' ya, cowboy," he said with smile, as they sat down at the dining room table.

Jack helped himself to a sandwich and few chips, beginning the ritual when he said, "These sandwiches taste good."

"Campin' food," Ennis replied. "Always tastes good in the woods."

Jack smiled. "Ya know, En, that part doesn't make sense here in Quanah. We ain't in the woods, we're on a farm in Texas."

"I know, I know," said Ennis, "but play the game, willya?"

Jack laughed, "Okay, but I'm skippin' the suicide shit and goin' right to the good part, okay?" He paused for a minute, trying to remember the exact words so he'd be sure to get it right. "I want you, I want all of you, all of the time. I want you in my life. I want you to be my life."

Ennis looked at him, his eyes serious. "Jack, that's what I want too."

"Oh, Ennis," Jack said softly, remembering the words. "Don't be cruel."

"I ain't being cruel, Jack, I'm tellin' ya the truth. I love you, Jack. It's that simple."

Jack could feel tears welling in his eyes, as they always did with the memory. "At this point, cowboy," he said softly, "I think I lost it. Will a few tears be good enough for you today?"

Ennis nodded, his eyes also bright and moist. "Yup, a few tears will do." He reached his hand across the table and twisted his fingers in with Jack's. "I love you, cowboy. Always have and always will."

"I love you too," said Jack, his voice soft.

They sat there for a minute, looking at each other and feeling the air between them. Then Ennis shook his head, smiled at Jack, and picked up another half of a sandwich, taking a bite. "So, we gonna do the celebratin' now?"

"Don't think we can," said Jack. "I have a trail ride at one and don't you have a coupla ridin' lessons this afternoon?"

"Yeah," said Ennis, "yer right. One is that Phillips kid, obnoxious little twerp."

Jack smiled to himself. For some reason, the kids that Ennis seemed to like the most when he was in the riding ring were the ones he complained the most about in private. "Don't say that, En," said Jack, with only a hint of disapproval in his voice. "These kids are our bread and butter."

"Well, they may be our bread and butter, but sometimes they drive me up the fuckin' wall," Ennis said. He sounded serious but Jack could see he was smiling and knew this was all part of the same joking conversation they had had day in and day out for the past thirty years. "Tell ya what, Jack," Ennis continued. "If I knew then what I knew now, I might've picked cotton farmin' over a horse business."

"Well, cowboy, if you were a cotton farmer, I guess I couldn't call ya cowboy no more and how would ya like that?"

"That would be a goddamn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation," said Ennis, laughing, as he stood up to clear the plates. "So I guess I need t'stop complainin' 'bout the horse business and put up or shut up, right?" They walked into the kitchen together, and Ennis put the plates on the counter.

"That's right," said Jack, opening the dishwasher, leaning over, and starting to load the plates in among the racks. "But, t'make the time pass this afternoon, ya got somethin' t'look forward to this evenin'."

"And that would be?" said Ennis, watching Jack finish with the dishes and then pulling him into his arms.

"You know," said Jack. "It's Don Wroe Day. The ritual."

"Ya mean the ritual PB blow job?" said Ennis, giving Jack a sexy glare.

"That's exactly what I mean," said Jack, smiling back.

Ennis reached down and rubbed Jack's cock through the rough denim of his jeans. "Cowboy," he said, his voice soft, "seems like I ain't the only one gettin' excited thinkin' 'bout fun with peanut butter."

Jack leaned in for a deep kiss, loving the feel of Ennis's tongue exploring his mouth. He pulled away and looked at the counter behind him, seeing the platter of sandwiches. He smiled. There was one half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich left on the plate. He picked it up, broke off the corner and put it in Ennis's mouth, then immediately fastened his lips on Ennis's and fished the bite of sandwich out of Ennis's mouth with his tongue.

Ennis smiled. "What am I, the mama bird?" he said.

"Yup, feedin' her little baby chick," said Jack, with a smile and another kiss.