Chapter Twenty-Two

Saturday, January 15, 1977

Danny McIntyre fished another cookie off the waxed paper on the counter and flinched when he turned and saw his mom watching him.

"How many of those have you eaten, young man?" Ellen asked.

"Only three," he said and was surprised when she just sighed.

"Take one for Bobby, but no more after that. Supper will be ready in a little bit."

"Thanks, Mom," he said and snagged another cookie and went looking for his best friend. He'd lucked out when Bobby moved practically next door. They liked all the same things and both hated girls. Especially sisters. He frowned when he couldn't find Bobby. They'd been playing with Legos in the play room, but it was empty now. His next thought was maybe Bobby'd gone outside, but dismissed it. It was too cold out. He went into his bedroom and found Bobby curled on his side facing the wall on Danny's bed.

"Bobby? You awake? I brought you a cookie."

"Yeah, I'm awake. Thanks, but I don't feel like it," Bobby replied.

"Are you sick?" Danny put the cookie for Bobby and his own half-eaten one on the nightstand and put his hand on Bobby's arm.

Bobby turned onto his back and Danny was surprised to see tear tracks on Bobby's red cheeks. "What's wrong? You want me to get my mom?" he said and started to stand.

"No," Bobby grabbed his hand and held it. "I'm just sad. My daddy got shot by some crazy man."

"Oh no! Is he okay?" Danny asked.

"My dad Ennis says he's gonna be okay, but why does everything bad keep happening?" Another tear leaked down his cheek.

"I don't know. Your daddy's gonna be okay. Ennis says so and he's smart. Right?"

"Yeah," Bobby said and sighed. He wiped his long sleeve under his nose and said, "I just wanna lay here for awhile. I don't feel like playing."

"You want me to stay with you?"

Bobby gulped and, with his blue eyes shimmering, nodded.

Danny crawled up on the bed and lay down next to Bobby, took his hand, and clasped it tight.

Kelly came back from her quiet conversation with Travis Drake and sat down in the easy chair next to the couch. The girls were still sleeping, one curled on each side of Ennis.

"He says he definitely wants someone from social services with him, so he's gonna try to set it up for Monday morning," Kelly said quietly.

"What'll we do until then?" Ennis asked.

"Keep the girls quiet and try ta keep them distracted. Travis is going to call Riverton police to let them know about the situation and have them tell Alma the girls are safe."

"They ain't never goin back there," Ennis snarled. Frannie flinched when he tightened his grip on her arm unconsciously. He loosened his grip and smoothed his hand up and down her arm and she settled down again.

Franki sighed and ran her hands down her face. "What do you think Alma is gonna do when she finds out the girls are here?"

"I think she'll probably demand they be sent home," Ennis replied, his jaw still clenched.

"Travis said they stay put for now."

"I think she might try comin ta Minnesota," Ennis said.

"You think so?"

"If they ain't sent back right away, she might." Ennis dropped his head on the back of the couch. "What am I gonna do, Franki? I gotta go back ta the hospital. Jack's there and… "

"I know," she said. "Look, the girls are exhausted. Let's wake them up and I'll feed them, get them each to take a long, hot bath, and put them to bed. I'll ask Ben to stay tonight, just in case anything happens. I'm sure he won't mind. You go to the hospital and try not to worry about home."

"Jesus Christ, this is a fucked up situation," Ennis said.

"I know. But we'll get it sorted out," Franki said. "Come on, let's wake up the girls or they'll never sleep tonight."

Ennis helped her wake them up and got them to the kitchen table where they each propped a cheek on a palm and watched Franki make tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and made Ennis eat with them. When they were finished, Franki put the dishes in the sink.

"I'll do them up after the girls are in bed," Franki said. "Girls, yer daddy has ta go to the hospital."

"Why?" Frannie asked, looking frantic.

"Jack's there. He's okay," Ennis reassured them. "He's gonna be just fine, but something happened." Every time Ennis had to say that Jack had been shot, it hurt a little bit more, but he pushed it aside and ground the words out. "At Russell's funeral, there was a bad man. He had a gun and he shot Jack. And Tyler," Ennis added.

"Tyler too?" Junior almost shouted.

"Yeah," Ennis sighed. "He's in worse shape than Jack, but Nancy says he's gonna be okay, too."

Both girls were watching him with wide eyes and he could see the tears forming in them. Everything in him screamed at him to stay with them, to protect them, but Jack needed him, too.

"Franki's gonna stay here with you girls. I need ta go. I'll probably be back tonight, but not till late. Okay?"

"Okay, Daddy," Junior said. "Tell Jack to get better soon."

"Where's Bobby? And Honey?" Frannie asked.

"Bobby's at McIntyre's. He's gonna spend the night. I bet Honey is out with Ben."

"Can we go see if he's out there, Auntie Franki? I bet she's all grown up now." Frannie said.

"Oh, she's a little bigger since you girls were here last, but she's still a puppy. Go get yer outside stuff on and we'll check the barn," Franki said.

The distraction seemed to perk the girls up a little, but as they were all going out the door together, Ennis to his truck and the girls and Franki to the barn, Junior asked, in a tentative voice, "Daddy, what's gonna happen to me an Frannie? Can we stay here?"

Ennis drew her to him and he was surprised at how tall she was. She seemed to have grown a couple of inches since he saw her last. He pressed a kiss on her cold cheek, then tucked her head under his chin and said, "Try not ta worry about that, darlin. You'll have ta talk ta someone and tell them what happened and I'll do everything I can so you don't have ta go back ta that bastard's house. But fer now, you're stayin here. No one's gonna take you away right now. Okay?"

"Okay, Daddy," Junior said. Ennis caught Frannie's eye and she nodded too.

"All right, it's freezing out here. Go on ta the barn and see if you can find that puppy. I'll call later," he added, more to Franki than the girls. Junior and Frannie took off for the barn and Ennis grabbed Franki's hand. "Keep an eye on them and see if Ben will stay tonight, just in case I don't make it home. And, Franki, lock the doors tonight."

"I will. Give Jack our love," she replied.

Jack couldn't get comfortable. His pillows were bunched too low under his head, his blankets and sheets were a tangled mess, and he was cold. His head and chest hurt like hell and his mouth was dry. And he was alone and it was going on nighttime. He was so cranky that when the door opened he couldn't even smile to show his relief at Ennis finally being there.

"Where in the hell have you been?" Jack asked, his scowl carving deep indentations in his forehead.

"I'm havin a hell of a fucked up day, Jack."

"Oh yeah? You have a bullet go in yer chest that I ain't heard about?" Jack snarled. "Go away. I don't even wanna see you." He turned his head away and tried to turn his body, but hissed in pain when he pulled his shoulder.

"Jesus, Jack, calm down. And stop movin or you'll make things worse." Ennis rushed over and put his hands on Jack to stop his movements. Jack settled back, but wouldn't look at Ennis.

"Jack, I'm sorry." Ennis reached for Jack's hand and held it tight, in spite of Jack's feeble struggle to pull free. "I know, you got every right ta be upset I ain't been here most of the day, but something else's happened."

"Somethin else?" Jack's eyes were now on his and worried. "Is Tyler… is he… okay?"

"I don't even know how he's doin right now, but last I heard he was holdin his own. Nancy said she's pretty sure he's gonna be okay." Ennis took a breath and looked at their clasped hands. Jack's fingers had softened and curled around his own.

"The girls, Junior and Frannie, were missin. Travis Drake was here this mornin askin if I knew where they were."

"Where are they? Did he find them?" Jack was so upset he tried to sit up. Ennis put his hand on his chest, gentle as he could, and stopped him.

"Settle down. They're fine. I don't know that I quite got it all figured out, but Junior talked to Franki and told her some stuff, and Franki sent them the money to take the bus here. They left Wyoming and made it to Minnesota today. Franki picked them up in Fargo and brought them to the farm. That's where they are now."

Jack's eyes narrowed. "What'd they tell Franki? What coulda made her send them money fer a bus here without telling anyone else?"

"She said… " Ennis stopped and tried to swallow past the knot in his throat and looked down at their clasped hands. "They ain't told me yet. They told Franki and she said the girls should wait until they can tell a sheriff. 'Cause it would be too hard to have ta keep repeating."

"Wha'dya think that means, Ennis?" Jack asked quietly. He looked like he already had an idea.

"I think that son of a bitch Alma's married to has been messin with them," Ennis snarled.

Jack was quiet for a moment before he said, "Good thing he's in Wyoming."

"Why's that, Jack?" Ennis asked.

"'Cause if he was here, one of us would probably go shoot him."

Ennis smiled, in spite of himself. "Yer right." His smile disappeared as fast as it had appeared when he said, "I can't send them back there."

"What if she kicks him out?"

"I don't know. I don't trust her. If it was happenin, how could she not see it? How come she didn't know it was goin on and why didn't she stop him?" Ennis's jaw was clenched tight by the time he finished speaking.

"I don't know," Jack said, shaking his head. He smoothed his fingers over Ennis's hand and then gave it a tug. "Come here. You ain't even kissed me yet. I hate it here. I wanna go home." He frowned when Ennis didn't lean over and kiss him and was instead looking away, at the wall. "Ennis. Ennis," he said, each one a little louder.

"What?" Ennis finally said.

"Come here." His tone didn't brook argument.

Ennis leaned closer. "What?"

"Kiss me right now," Jack demanded and almost smiled at the way Ennis's eyes widened a bit before he obeyed and pressed his lips to Jack's. He started to break away immediately, but Jack reached out with the hand that wasn't tangled with Ennis's and clenched Ennis's shirt to hold him in place. He kept kissing and was gratified when Ennis's lips finally softened under his and he even opened his mouth a bit to slide their tongues together for a taste of each other. Not until then did Jack break away and lie back on his uncomfortable pillows.

Ennis cracked another tiny smile as he watched Jack, which lasted until Jack huffed a breath and tried to rearrange himself to get comfortable.

"What's the matter?" Ennis asked.

"My pillows are messed up."

Ennis looked down at him and said, "Looks like yer whole bed is messed up. What the hell were you doin in here?"

"I can't get comfortable! I hate this bed and these pillows and these blankets and it's fuckin freezing in here and I hurt! Jesus Christ, I just wanna go home," he finished his tirade on a whimper.

Ennis started straightening the sheets and blankets and told Jack, "Push the buzzer thing and ask for another blanket. Did you do that? They ignore you?"

"I forgot about the buzzer," Jack said in a small voice.

Ennis found it himself and pressed it, then moved on to rearranging Jack's pillows. "How's this?" he asked.

"Better," Jack said, settling back.

A few moments later the door opened and a smiling nurse entered. "Hey Jack, how're you doing? What do you need, sweetie?"

"He's cold and in pain," Ennis answered for him. Jack glared, but kept quiet. "Can he have more medication for the pain?"

"Let me check, but I think so," she replied, already paging through the chart at the end of his bed. "Yep, in fact you were due an hour ago. Sorry about that," she said, with an apologetic smile.

"That's okay," Jack said.

"I'll be right back with it and a blanket," she said. "Just wait here." She disappeared and was back moments later bearing a white cotton blanket and a plastic cup with two pills in it. She put the blanket on the end of the bed and helped Jack raise up enough to swallow the pills and a drink of water from the pitcher near his bed.

Ennis didn't wait—he unfolded the blanket and tucked it around Jack.

"You stickin around for a while?" the nurse asked Ennis.

"Yes," Jack answered, fixing Ennis with a look that dared him to contradict. He didn't.

Ennis heard a strange noise at the same time he became aware of something touching his head. He was also aware of being very uncomfortable and remembered he was still at the hospital. He realized he must've fallen asleep some time ago, if the crick in his neck was anything to go by. Ennis cracked open his eyes and saw the nurse putting Jack's chart away at the end of the bed. She saw his sleepy look and smiled.

"Timezit?" Ennis mumbled.

The hands in his hair became stronger, massaging his scalp, and in spite of his discomfort, he didn't want to move because he knew whose hand that was.

"It's a little after midnight," the nurse said quietly. "I'm just in here to check Jack's vitals."

"How's he doin?" Ennis asked, sitting up.

"He's doing just fine."

"When can I go home?" Jack asked.

"If I had to guess, I'd bet Monday, as long as nothing unforeseen happens," the nurse said.

"That means be good and do what yer told," Ennis said, giving Jack a pointed look.

"I'll be back in a couple of hours to check you again, Jack. Try to go back to sleep."

"Thanks, I will," Jack replied.

Ennis stood up and stretched, trying to work the kinks out of his back. When he relaxed, he took Jack's hand in his. Jack was watching him with tired eyes.

"Ennis, do something for me?"

"Anything, Jack," Ennis said and tightened his grip on Jack's hand.

"Go home and get some sleep."

"Jack… "

"I know you wanna stay here and you would, but ya got the girls at home and I'm fine. You need ta sleep in a bed 'cause a shit storm is comin."

"I know," Ennis said, nodding.

"You already look worn out and we need you to be strong, Ennis and you can't do that when you're exhausted."

"I hate leavin you here."

"Come 'ere," Jack said and tugged weakly on his hand.

Ennis sat on the edge of the bed and leaned down, knowing Jack wanted to be kissed, which he obliged. The kiss went on a while, flavored with almost-sour breath and the medicinal scent of the hospital, none of which hampered Ennis's enjoyment of it. When they broke apart, he rested his forehead against Jack's.

"Go home, get some sleep, hug the girls, pick up Bobby and hug him too, then bring them all to visit me in the morning, okay?" Jack said softly.

"Okay," Ennis nodded.

"Love you," Jack murmured.

"Love you, too, Jack," Ennis replied.