This is not my first story, nor is it the only story I have written since my final Jack Sparrow one, but it is the first one I have wanted to publish since then.
As always, I do not own any name you recognise - everything else is mine.
"Well, that's about everybody," Thelma Wilcox smiled at her new employee as she finished showing her around the nursing home. "Apart from Ennis... hell, ain't no-one ever got on with him."
"Oh?" Fiona Stein enquired, frowning as they passed through a door and found themselves back at the dining room.
"He don't hardly ever speak, and if he does it's usually one word answers; that is if he ain't cussin' ya instead."
"How long has he been here?" Fiona enquired.
"Oh... about three years now," Thelma replied, frowning as she worked out how long the former rancher had been under her care, at the home in Cheyenne. "He had a coupla heart attacks that left him weak and he ended up here. Hell, I ain't ever seen a man so angry," she sighed, shaking her head at the memory. "Thought he was goin' to have another attack right there an' then day he arrived." Thelma smiled at the other woman. "But don't you worry; you just leave him alone, an' he'll leave you alone."
"I'll bear that in mind," Fiona nodded with a smile. She had certainly encountered enough angry old men in her career as a carer to know that leaving them alone was usually the best course of action.
"I told ya! I don't want no fuckin' beans!"
"But it's on the menu, Ennis," Fiona reasoned. "We only give dietary preference to those who need it.
"Well fuck off then!" he stormed, his eyes blazing with fury. "Fuck off an' git from my room!"
Fiona sighed as she backed out of the room, still carrying the tray. It was no use leaving it for him; the contents more often than not ended up running down the walls. She took one last look at him, sitting hunched in his chair by the window, wondering what caused the pain that showed so clearly in his deep, unfathomable brown eyes. But, she reasoned to herself, it was highly unlikely she, or anyone else, would ever know. Her boss, Thelma Wilcox had been right when she had warned that Ennis rarely strung more than two words together. Fiona carried the tray back to the kitchen, looking around to ensure the cook was nowhere in sight, before quickly rustling up some sandwiches and a mug of coffee, hurrying from the kitchen before she could be caught. Although Thelma cared very much for the patients at the home, she had a very short fuse when it came to Ennis Del Mar, and refused him any concessions.
"Ennis?" Fiona called softly as she arrived outside his door. "I have made you sandwiches..." She chanced opening the door a fraction and peering into the gloomy room, shaking her head as she spotted him still in his chair, staring out of the window. "Can I come in?" She stepped into the room at his grunt, which she took for consent, and put the plate of sandwiches and mug on a table at the side of his chair.
Fiona bit back a gasp of surprise as she glanced at him, shocked to see tears rolling down his cheeks, and she hesitated, torn between wanting to leave him in peace, and wanting to say something to him.
"Had a good enough look?" Ennis spat bitterly.
"I-I'm... sorry," she frowned, biting her lip. "What's wrong, Ennis?"
"What the fuck do you care, huh?"
"Because that's how I am," she replied simply. "I don't care because I'm paid to; I care because I care."
Ennis said nothing more, just continued to brood and grieve silently.
"If you ever want to talk, Ennis, you know where I am," Fiona sighed as she turned and retreated from the room, her heart heavy, although she had no idea why.
"Well, thank the good Lord you're back!" Thelma declared as Fiona stepped through the front door. "Did you have a good vacation?"
"I did," Fiona grinned. "Why are you glad I'm back? Has the place fallen apart without me?" she chuckled.
"Hell, near as dammit!" Thelma snorted. "I told you, yer my best worker; and the only one who can handle Ennis Del bloody Mar!"
"Ah... how has he been?"
"Evil!" Thelma declared, looking to another care worker, Martha Andrews, to back her up, which she did.
"I'd better go and say hello to him, then," Fiona laughed, making her way to the kitchen to make two mugs of coffee; one for her and the other for who had become her favourite resident. Since she had come across him crying, Ennis had softened slightly towards her, allowing her to enter his room and to talk to him, although it was usually her doing the talking and him offering one syllable replies; but Fiona sensed that he enjoyed rather than tolerated her company, and she had found herself doing more and more for him, as her co-worked delegated anything to do with Ennis, to her.
"Ennis?" she called, "knock, knock!" Fiona pushed the door open with her bottom; her hand occupied with the mugs, and she entered his room. "Did ya miss me?" she grinned as she walked over to him.
"Where you been?" Ennis snapped, not looking at her.
"I told you, I went on vacation."
"You did not," he insisted, staring intently out of the window.
"I did, silly!" Fiona replied. "I even sent you a postcard! You musta forgot in your old age," she teased.
"I thought you left me," he muttered, finally looking up at her, a familiar frown on his brow. "Just like everyone else has..."
"Hey!" Fiona soothed, setting the mugs on his side table and squatting down beside him. "Everyone hasn't left you; Alma still visits when she can..."
"Junior..." Ennis snorted, shaking his head. "She's th'only one who bothers, 'though why she put me in this fucking place, I don't know. Shoulda left me to die, like I wanted."
"Ennis!" Fiona exclaimed, placing her hands on his, feeling the rough, calloused skin of hands that had worked hard for many years. "Don't you talk like that!"
"S'true," he shrugged, staring down at her hands, his frown easing a little. "Ain't nothin' for me in this life, nor th'next most likely."
"Dammit, Ennis Del Mar!" she retorted in mock anger. "I'm not going to be able to go on vacation if you're going to get all morose on me when I do!"
"I forgot you was goin', is all," Ennis replied, pulling a face as he tried in vain to recall her telling him that she was going. But he did not think that Fee was the type to lie to him, especially over something so trivial. 'Must be old age, like she said,' he mused with a sigh.
"You got no brothers or sisters?" Fiona enquired, trying to change the subject. Every time she talked to Ennis, she had tried to find out a little about his life, but apart from the fact that he had married once, at nineteen, had two daughters in quick succession, and now had around four or five grandkids, she knew nothing more of his life, other than it had been hard graft, eking out a living doing whatever he could, mostly ranching.
"I did," he shrugged. "Dunno if they're still alive or not. But I never did have much to do with them once they married."
"Why not, Ennis?"
"Doesn't matter," he replied tersely, instantly clamming up, and Fiona sighed with exasperation, half wanting to throttle the stubborn man.
"Well, enjoy your coffee; I'll be along later to bath you," she announced as she stood.
"Like hell you will!"
"You stink Ennis Del Mar! An' I am not comin' in this room until you smell fresh again!" Fiona retorted.
"I c'n bath myself," the old man insisted, standing up and filling the room. Even though he was stooped with age, Ennis still cut an imposing figure.
"So why the hell don'tcha?"
"Don't see th'point," he shrugged. "Nothin' or no-one t'clean up for."
"Oh right, so I'm nothin' or no-one?" Fiona snapped, his dismissive attitude cutting her to the quick, and she turned on her heels and stomped from the room, shutting the door firmly behind herself, tears stinging her eyes.
"You want t'stop wastin' your time on him," Thelma sighed as she approached. "He ain't worth buggery."
"Maybe too many people have thought that way!" Fiona countered angrily before storming off down the corridor to the safety of the staff toilets. 'Dammit, Fee,' she chided herself as she dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. 'Y'should know what he's like by now; he don't mean nothin' by it.' She stared at her reflection in the mirror, trying to figure out how to get into the mind of the intense, and at times, uptight man, but, she decided, if she ever did, it was going to be on his terms and his terms alone.
Fiona kept herself busy for the rest of her shift, avoiding Ennis' room and the threatened bath; she'd give him one the next time she was in, but to her astonishment, she saw him shuffling along the corridor to the bathroom, his legs bowed from years of riding horseback; his back bent from a hard life lived. "You need a hand?" she called hesitantly, sighing as he shook his head without turning to acknowledge her. "Fine, I'll go clean your room then," she muttered beneath her breath, fetching a cloth and spray cleaner and entering his room after ensuring that he was safely ensconced in the bathroom.
Fiona frowned as she saw the cupboard he ferociously kept locked, was open, and an urn was sitting on top of it. "What...?" she wondered, reaching to touch the metal container, but stopping herself. She glanced inside the cupboard, it mostly being empty except for a postcard of a mountain pinned to the inside of the door, and a faded plaid shirt on a hanger. Fiona took the shirt, still on the hanger, from the cupboard, her frown deepening as she saw a blue shirt beneath it, and she hooked the hanger over a handle on the cupboard, puzzling over the shirts; faded blood stains on the cuffs and sleeves only adding to the mystery.
"What th'hell're you doing?" Ennis stormed, crossing the room in one long stride and shoving Fiona aside, grabbing the shirts possessively and holding them to him. "You had no right to enter without my permission! No right at all!"
Fiona opened and closed her mouth several times as she watched Ennis carefully replace the shirts back in the cupboard, and almost tenderly lifted the urn, his thumb stroking the lid as he put it back in its place, on a shelf above the shirts, before locking the cupboard and putting the key in his breast pocket.
"Y'had no right, Fee! Them's my personal belongings."
"I'm sorry, Ennis," Fiona whispered. "I-I only came in to clean up while you were havin' a bath."
"Don't you ever touch them again, y'hear?"
"W-who... was it, Ennis...?" she tentatively enquired, bracing herself for having her head bitten off again, but her mouth dropped open as his shoulders began to shake and a low keening cry escaped his lips. "Ennis?"
"Leave me!" he ordered in a strangled tone. "Git!"
Fiona reached up and put her arms around him, feeling him tense up momentarily until the sobs grew stronger, and she brought him closer, making soothing noises as he cried in her arms. "What's eatin' at you, Ennis, huh?" she asked when the sobs subsided. "My Ma always said it's better out than in."
"It won't do any good," Ennis replied in a choked voice. "Not goin' t'change anythin'."
"But it might make you feel better..."
"There's only one thing that could make me feel better," Ennis sighed, pulling away from Fiona's embrace and splashing his face with cold water from the sink in the corner of his room.
"What?" she urged. "Come on, Ennis, please tell me."
"An' have you tell th' whole of this fucking shit hole?"
"Ennis Del Mar!" Fiona cried angrily. "How dare you, you bastard! If you don't know me by now..."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he apologised, immediately contrite. "I just... I just carried this thing for th'best part of forty five years; probably longer'n you been alive."
"What, Ennis?" she asked gently, leading him to his chair and helping him to sit, worried that he suddenly looked much older than his sixty four years."
"It was so long ago," he sighed, his eyes staring into space; looking into the past. "It started back in sixty three, on Brokeback Mountain..."
Fiona blew hard into her tissue, wiping the tears away with the back of her hand, hardly able to look at Ennis sitting in his chair, still staring into the past.
"...his Pa died a few years after I visited, an' his Ma sent me Jack's ashes," Ennis continued, oblivious to Fiona's anguish at his life story. "They never did inter them in th'family plot. But by then I'd already had one heart attack and was too infirm to go to Brokeback, an' I didn't want no-one else to scatter his ashes, so I figured I'd keep him... them with me. You got some water? My throat's kinda sore."
"Sure," Fiona nodded, getting stiffly to her feet after having knelt on the floor for so long, and making her way to the sink, rinsing out a cup before filling it with cold water.
"I ain't talked so much f'years," Ennis remarked ruefully, gratefully drinking down the soothing liquid.
"Why, Ennis? I know things were bad, not so enlightened back then, but there were places you coulda gone to..."
"Like Mexico, or San Francisco?" he snorted derisively. "Could you see me in San Francisco? Jack? Yeah, Jack would've fitted in, but me? But I guess we coulda set ourselves up at his folks..." he sighed, shaking his head. "We wouldn'ta lived long, though."
"Wouldn't it have been better to have had a short and happy life, than to go through what you have all these years?" Fiona asked, sniffing back the tears which threatened to spill again.
"I didn't have no crystal ball," Ennis shrugged. "I did what I thought was right for us both. Jack? He was always th'dreamer; always had plans an' schemes. Me? I had both feet on th'ground - I had to; had no choice in that."
"Oh, Ennis..." Fiona sighed, taking his hand in hers and squeezing. "I wish..."
"There ain't nothin' you can wish for that I haven't wished a thousand times," he interrupted, the corners of his mouth twitching into the ghost of a sad smile. "You go on home, it's past your clocking off time."
Fiona opened her mouth to protest, but realised that he looked tired; tired and old, and so she bent and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you for trusting me," she smiled tearfully. "I'll pop in tomorrow; see how you are."
"No need for that," Ennis replied, although he hoped that she would not listen to him.
"You get some sleep, Ennis Del Mar," she warned in a mock stern voice, wagging her finger at him for good measure. "I might just get you to take me for a walk around the garden if th'weather holds."
"Yes, M'am," he nodded, his mind already going back to the past; to his precious Jack.
Fiona jumped, then opened a bleary eye, fumbling about in the dark for her phone. "Hello?" she enquired, her sleep addled brain not yet functioning enough to be worried about a call in the middle of the night.
"Fee? It's Thelma... you better come quick. Ennis has had another heart attack; they don't reckon he'll make it through th'night."
"Oh, shit!" Fiona gulped, instantly awake. "I'm on my way!" She ran around her bedroom, hurriedly throwing on anything that came to hand; only half registering that it was 3:12am. Her mind was in a whirl as she drove the short distance to the nursing home, filled with thoughts of Ennis and Jack, and a mountain somewhere in their home state. She nodded at Thelma, standing by the open front door, and ran past, desperate to get to Ennis before it was too late. She checked herself outside his door, then pushed it open, chewing her lip at the sight of him, deathly pale, lying on the bed.
"Ennis?" she whispered, bringing his cold hand to her lips and kissing it.
"Fee?" he croaked weakly, managing a gentle squeeze with his hand. "I guess this is it, huh?"
"Hush now," Fiona soothed. "Save your energy..."
"I dunno," she admitted with a rueful shrug. Fiona sat on the edge of the bed and gently stroked his face. "What did he look like?"
Ennis sighed, silent for several moments, almost as if gathering up the strength to talk. "He was a shade shorter than me," he began, the corners of his lips curling into a small smile at her concerned face, "an' he had jet black hair, an' eyes th'colour of the mountain sky in summer." He fell quiet once more, the effort of talking ebbing at his energy. "Y'know somethin'?" he asked eventually, his voice much weaker now. "I never once told him how I felt; not once."
"He knew, Ennis," Fiona assured him, wiping away her tears. "He knew..."
"But it's not th'same as hearin' it, huh? But I tell you somethin', I loved that man; I loved him somethin' fierce."
Fiona sniffed hard, the lump in her throat making it all but impossible to talk. "I'll put the shirts in th'coffin with you, an' I'll scatter both of your ashes on Brokeback," she promised.
Ennis closed his eyes; a serene smile on his lips that stayed as his breathing became shallower until he finally took his last breath.
Fiona looked around, trying to imagine scenes of so long ago, when Ennis and Jack had been young men, shaking her head at the injustice of it all. She cradled the urn between her legs as she sat at the edge of a plateau, a small smile on her lips as she remembered the man she had come to know, and the man whom he had loved, who she never knew, but felt as if she had done for her whole life; her heart still aching for them both. Fiona got to her feet, looking over her shoulder to check the mare was still tethered and munching contently on the grass, before picking the urn up and removing the lid.
"Be free, Ennis... Jack..." she whispered as she tilted the urn, sending the ashes flying in the breeze. "Live free..."