Title: RUG RATS

Title: RUG RATS

Author: Donna McIntosh

Email:

Fandom: Brokeback Mountain

Genre: Slash

Rating: NC-17 FRAO

Summary: Circumstances change and Ennis takes his girls and moves up to the Twist ranch.

RUG RATS

Ennis and Jack stood with their arms wrapped around each other, trying to say good bye. It got harder and harder every time.

"It's just not fair!" Jack pouted with his head against Ennis's shoulder.

"I know it ain't, Jack, but it's not like we got a choice here. You gotta go back to Texas and I gotta get back to Riverton. That's just the way it is."

"Well I hate it!" He straightened up and looked Ennis in the eye. "We're so good together, Ennis. We belong together! Not you in Riverton with Alma and me down in Childress with Lureen."

"Can't do nothin' bout it, Jack. It is what it is."

Jack heaved a great sigh, gave Ennis one last bear hug and walked back to his truck. He opened the door and stood for a minute looking back at Ennis who was still standing by his own truck watching him. Jack leaned back his head and hollered as loud as he could, "I LOVE YOU, ENNIS DEL MAR!"

"Jack fuckin' Twist! You cut that out! You wanna get us both killed?" Ennis grinned at him, not really all that upset at hearing the words way out in the middle of nowhere.

"What? Are you afraid the chip monks or the rabbits or the deer will hear and come after us?" Jack grinned back at him.

"Go home, Jack. And think about August. That's just four months away. We can make it that long."

"Four fuckin' months! It just ain't right, is all I gotta say!" With that he climbed into his truck and they headed home.

xxxxx

Jack arrived home shortly after 9:30pm and found the house dark and empty. He dropped his bag inside the front door and called out to Lureen. He didn't want to frighten her; he figured she was watching TV in the dark. He snapped the light on and was stunned by what he saw. A table had been knocked over; a vase of fresh flowers in a puddle of water. Across the room at the foot of the stairs a large brown stain on the beige carpet.

He screamed her name again in the empty house but there was no answer. He whirled around and noticed a piece of paper taped to the inside of the front door. He ran to it, pulled it off and read it.

Jack, Lureen fell down the stairs and she's hurt real bad. Get over to Memorial Hospital as soon as you can. Marion

Jack shoved his hat back on his head and tore out the front door, down the driveway and jumped back in his truck. He made it to the hospital in less than ten minutes and was given her room number. He didn't wait for the elevator, he ran up the stairs to the second floor and down the hall to room 212.

L.D. was standing looking out the window when he came into the room. "Well, you finally decided to show up? What'd you do, stop and have a beer with the boys first?"

"How is she? How did it happen?" Jack went to her bed and took her hand. He bent down and kissed her cheek but she didn't move. She was unconscious, her head encased in white bandages.

"Not good. Doctor's don't hold out much hope."

"What the hell happened?"

"Oh she had on a pair of them fancy-assed slippers and it looks like she tripped over one of Bobby's toys."

"Where is Bobby?"

"I had Marion take him home and put him to bed. We'll be lookin' after him now."

"What are you talkin' about?"

"Well, take a look at your wife, boy! She ain't gonna be gettin' any better. Doctor says she's brain-dead."

"Brain … what? It was just a fall! She can't be … Where's the doctor? I need to talk to him."

"Hell, I don't know -- probably home watching TV by now. He operated on her this afternoon but said it was no use. There was too much damage. It's only a matter of time now."

Jack ran out of the room and down to the nurse's station. Doctor Hanson was there talking with the nurses and took him in a back room and spoke quietly to him. It was all true. Lureen was too severely injured for him to be able to do anything about it. Her systems were starting to shut down and he didn't expect her to last much longer.

Jack paced the room in shock. Lureen dead! How could that be possible! The doctor's pager went off and he hurried out of the room. Minutes later he was back and told Jack that it was all over now. Lureen was gone.

Jack drove home numbed to the bone. He went inside and up to their room but he couldn't bring himself to sleep in that bed. He went down stairs to his study and lay down on the couch. He didn't expect to sleep. His entire body thrummed with the thought, Lureen is dead, Lureen is dead, Lureen is dead.

He woke up mid morning with a sense of urgency that he needed to get over to L.D.s house and see Bobby. The boy was in a high chair eating cheerios when Jack arrived and he babbled and grinned at his daddy. Jack ruffled his hair and kissed him on the top of his head.

"Coffee?" Marion asked.

"Yes, please." Jack took a few sips then said, "I need to see about arrangements."

"That's all being taken care of, Jack" L.D. said as he entered the room. "I've already spoken with my lawyer and he's takin' care of everything. Services will be day after tomorrow and she'll be buried in the Newsome plot next to her grandmother."

"She'd like that. She was really fond of her grandmother." Jack mumbled.

"You go on home now and don't you worry about a thing. We'll take care of all the details and see that everything is done the way she'd want it. Don't worry about comin' in to work. I'm closin' the place down for a few days."

"Ok. Thanks." He went to get Bobby from the highchair and Marion stopped him.

"Oh please. Leave him with me for a while. He's all I have left of her now." She sniffed back the tears.

"Are you sure he won't be too much trouble?" Jack asked, knowing how rambunctious a fifteen-month old could be.

"No, not at all. I need something to keep my mind busy for a while. Please let him stay. At least a day or two."

"All right, Marion. If that will help." He gave her shoulder a squeeze, kissed his son and went back home.

He went into the kitchen and fixed himself a sandwich then got on the phone and called a carpet cleaning company. It took him several tries before he could choke out what he needed but within a few hours the company truck showed up and got to work cleaning up the mess. After letting the men in, he stayed in his study until they were finished.

The day of the funeral, Bradly Canfield, L.D.s attorney showed up at his door with a briefcase full of papers for him to sign. Jack just started signing them but Canfield insisted he read them first.

"I don't need to read them. It's all just funeral stuff, isn't it?" Jack said.

Canfield took the papers back, shook his head and said, "I can't do this! I just can't do this."

"What? What's wrong?" Jack became a little more alert now.

"L.D. has been a client of mine for many years now and he pays me good money but I'm not going to do this." He pulled one of the papers that Jack had just signed out of the stack and tore it in half.

"What is it?" Jack was at full attention now.

"L.D. wants full custody of the boy. You just signed over all your rights to him."

"No I didn't! I wouldn't!" Jack jumped up.

"Jack, I know this is a terrible time for you but you've got to get your head together and watch out for these things. L.D. is a powerful man and he wants you out of their lives. He wants the boy and he insisted I slip this agreement in with the funeral arrangements and get you to sign it. As far as I'm concerned, you spotted it and tore it in half. Ok?"

"My God! I left Bobby over there. Marion was so sad …"

"I know. L.D. gave me some cock and bull story that you dumped the boy with them and took off. I knew that wasn't true when he told me to slip the custody papers in with the funeral papers."

"I gotta go get Bobby." Jack grabbed up his hat and headed for the door.

"Wait a minute, Jack. If you go over there now, there will be a big fight and it won't look good. Take my advice on this one, please. Wait until the after the services this afternoon, then when everyone is around you go up to them and take Bobby in your arms. They won't be able to deny you in front of everyone. By then I'll have already talked with L.D. and told him you didn't sign the papers yet and convince him that he should seek custody through the courts. In the mean time, when you get the boy in your arms, you just walk quietly out to your car and take off. If I were in your shoes, I'd leave the state. You're the boy's father and there is no law against you just picking up and leaving and taking the boy with you. I'd get as far away from here as possible. Don't you have relatives up in Montana?"

"Wyoming. Yes. All right. I'll do it your way. That makes more sense. I don't want to make no big scene in front of Bobby. He's got no idea what's going on."

"And L.D. won't want to make a scene at the funeral; not in front of everyone. The Newsomes have a lot of friends so there will be a big show. Oh and here." He reached into his briefcase and pulled out some more papers. "This is Lureen's will and she leaves everything to you. Here's a check from the insurance company and the deed to your house. If you want, I could make arrangements to sell the house for you and wire you the money?"

"Oh that would be great! Thank you, Bradley. Lureen always liked you. She said you were a good man."

"I've always been very fond of Lureen. She deserved better than she got from L.D. He was so disappointed that he didn't get a son and he never let her forget that she wasn't what he wanted."

"Bastard!"

"Yes, he is unfortunately. If you'll sign this Power Of Attorney, but read it first! You'll have a lot of papers to be signing now and you need to read them. If there is anything that you don't understand, just ask. This clearly states that you are giving me the power to make a deal and sell your house for you and transfer the funds to whatever address you state and for nothing else." He placed the paper in front of Jack and Jack signed it after reading it.

Jack gave him his parents address up in Lightning Flat, thanked him again and walked him to the door. Then it was time to get busy. First thing he did was to back his pickup into the garage and close the garage door. Then he went upstairs to Bobby's room and began taking apart the crib. He loaded it and the highchair into the back of his pickup. Then he went back inside and packed his things. He didn't take any of his fancy clothes, just what he thought he could get use of out on the ranch.

He packed his camping equipment, his saddle, his hunting rifle and four suit cases full of Bobby's stuff. Then he covered it all with a tarp, pulled down and tied tightly. With that done; he went to the bank and emptied his savings account.

He still had an hour before the funeral so he sat down and called Lightning Flat.

"Oh, Jackie! I'm so glad you called. I was thinkin' of callin' you but didn't want to bother you."

"What is it, Momma? Somethin' wrong?"

"It's your father, Jackie. He took a fall last week and broke his leg. He's on crutches and he's tryin' to do the work but he can't. He had me runnin' the mower but I wasn't doin' it right and it kept dyin' on me. I don't know what we're gonna do, Jackie. I been tryin' to find someone in town to help but everyone is busy doin' their own chores."

"Momma, don't you worry none. I'm comin' up there. I'll be there tomorrow. I got some real bad news, is why I called."

"Oh my goodness! What is it? It's not Bobby, is it? He ain't sick?"

"No, Momma. It's not Bobby. It's Lureen. She took a real bad fall down the stairs a couple a days ago. Momma … she's dead."

"Oh my God! Oh my God, Jackie! I'm so sorry. Oh, and she was so young and beautiful!"

"Momma, I got some complications here. Lureen's daddy is tryin' to take Bobby away from me – get full custody of him."

"Well he can't do that!"

"You don't know L.D. Newsome. He's a powerful man, Momma. He's got a couple of judges in his pocket and just about anyone else 'round here with any say-so. What I'm plannin' on doin' is after the services this afternoon, I'm heading north. I talked to a lawyer and he says it's perfectly legal so I don't have nothin' to worry about. He did suggest that I leave Texas though so if Newsome decides to pursue the matter he'll have a lot harder time doin' it. And if I take up residence, or resume residence in another state, there is a good chance I could get any hearing set up in that state instead of Texas."

"Oh my goodness, Jackie. I just can't believe anyone could be so heartless!"

"He's a real bastard, Momma. I know you don't like me usin' that word but it's the only one I know that describes him."

"So you're comin' here with Bobby? Oh, I can hardly wait to see him! The photos Lureen sent me are just adorable. I'll get busy and get a couple of rooms fixed up for the two of you. I'll let your father know you're comin' to help out. Maybe that will lift his spirits a bit."

"Ok. It's just temporary for now, Momma, until I can get my head to thinkin' and figurin' out what I want to do."

"I'm sorry about Lureen, honey. I know you must be grievin'. You just get your boy and get yourselves on up here."

"I will. I gotta go now. I'll see you sometime late tomorrow. I don't know how long the drive will take. I'll have to stop a lot more with Bobby along. I'll call you from the road when I get within a couple hours of home."

"You drive carefully now, Jackie."

"I will. See you tomorrow, Momma."

"Tomorrow, Jackie."

xxx

"Ennis, they got another opening over at the power company. Why don't you go see about it?" Alma folded back the morning paper and handed the Help Wanted ads to her husband.

"I told you before, I don't wanna work for no power company! I got a job." Ennis finished his coffee and rinsed the cup out in the sink.

"But, Ennis, it would probably pay twice what you're makin' now."

Ennis picked up the wash cloth and wiped Jenny's face and hands. "If you think it's such a good job why don't you go and apply for it yourself."

"Ennis Del Mar, don't you talk to me that way! I got a job already, you know that."

"Well so do I!" Ennis said and tossed the rag into the sink and took the girls outside to play. He pushed them in the swing set for a while then took them for a walk. They stopped at the corner drugstore and he bought them each an ice cream cone.

Once back home and the girls down for a nap, she lit into him again.

"Ennis, we need to talk serious here. We ain't makin' it on what our two jobs bring in. We gotta do somethin'."

"We don't gotta do nothin'." Ennis said and lay down on the couch with the Sunday papers. "It's Sunday, my day to rest."

"Well you restin' ain't gettin' the bills paid. We still owe over a thousand dollars in medical bills and the land lord says if we're late again with the rent, we're out in the streets."

Ennis said nothing.

"Are you even listenin' to me?" She swatted the paper out of his hands.

"Back off, Alma!"

"Ennis … you are just so awful! I never should have married you! I shoulda gone off to Chicago with Christina! She's got a real good job there doin' secretarial work and I made better grades in school than she did! I could be makin' good money in Chicago!" She stood with her arms folded across her chest. "Momma was right about you. She said I never should have married you that you'd never amount to nothin'. I shoulda gone with Christina when she asked me to instead of gettin' myself tied down to an old stick-in-the-mud like you and havin' babies."

"You know where the Greyhound Station is." Ennis said and went back to reading his paper.

"Ohhhhhh" Alma wailed and ran from the room.

Ennis turned the TV on, got himself a beer and watched the football game.

Next morning, Ennis fixed the girls their oatmeal, cleaned them up and kissed them both good-bye while Alma sat silently brooding over her coffee and cigarettes.

When he got home from work that evening the place was dark and empty. He went in and called but there was no answer. He found a note on the kitchen table.

Ennis,

You can pick the girls up over at my sister's place. I may or may not be back. Just you think about that for a while!

Alma

He wadded the note up and tossed it across the room and headed over to his sister-in-law's house for the girls.

"I'm so sorry, Ennis. I don't know what's gotten into her. She just said that she had to get out of here and she took off for Chicago. I loaned her the money for the bus ticket. She seems to think she can get this high-payin' job there and have this great life in the big city. She never did have much in the way of brains."

"Thanks, Carla, for seein' to my girls. You know any body around could look after them while I'm workin'? I couldn't pay much but I could pay some."

"I'll look after them for you, Ennis. I'm sure she'll be back in a day or two. Once she sees that life in the big city ain't all it's cracked up to be."

"I appreciate it. Can I bring them by about 6:30? I need to be at work by 7:00."

"Sure. And don't worry about givin' them breakfast. That's about the time my kids get up. I'll just feed them all at the same time."

"Thanks, Carla. You're a life saver."

"See you in the mornin' then."

He took the girls home then, fed them, bathed them and played with them until bed time. Once he had them both in bed, he cleaned up the kitchen and sat down with a beer. His first night without Alma's nagging -- he was liking it already!

Three weeks later Ennis was picking the girls up from Carla's and she met him at the door with tears streaming down her face.

"What is it, Carla? The kids all Ok?"

"She called me this afternoon, Ennis! Alma did. She got a job same place as her friend Christina and she says she ain't comin' back!"

"Never?" Ennis asked, dumfounded.

"She says she loves it there. Christina threw this big party for her and took her shoppin' and she bought lots of new clothes that she says she needs for her secretarial job and she's happy as a clam!"

"What about the girls? I mean, I can understand if she don't wanna see me, but is she gonna come get the girls?"

"That's what I asked her." Carla sniffled. "She says you can have them. She says she never wanted kids and all they did was ruin her figure and put her in debt."

Ennis stared at her in disbelief. He dropped his eyes to the floor, took each girl by the hand and walked out with them.

That night Ennis lay in bed and tried to decide what he needed to do. Actually, he liked coming home to the empty house with just him and the girls and they didn't seem to mind all that much that she was gone either. But he knew he couldn't afford to keep the place without Alma's grocery store pay check. The rent was due next week and he didn't have but a little over half of it. He'd have to get out over the weekend and find them a cheaper place to live.

The first week of August rolled around and he found a postcard in the mail from Jack.

"Hey, I tried to call you. Call me collect at -."

Ennis frowned as he read the number. That wasn't a Texas number. It was a Wyoming number. He lifted the girls up into the truck and drove on home. Jack was wanting to make plans for their next meeting and he wasn't even sure he could get away. It wouldn't be fair to ask Carla to watch them for a whole week just so he could go off and fool around with Jack. She was expecting her fourth child in a few more months and already was good enough to sit with the girls during the day.

He found some cartoons on the TV for the girls and stepped out into the hallway of the boarding house and dialed the number.

"Twist residence?" A sweet little voice answered the phone.

"Can I talk to Jack?"

"You certainly can. He's right here." Then he heard, "Jackie, it's for you."

"Yes?" Jack answered

"Jack, it's me. What are you doing in Wyoming? You up in Lightning Flat?"

"Yeah, just a minute. You won't believe what's happened!" He pulled on the cord and took the phone out on the back steps and sat down to talk. "Listen, did you move or what?"

"I did. I got a lot to tell you too, Bud. I may not can make it this month."

"Oh man. You got troubles too?"

"I do. What're you doin' in Lightnin' Flat?"

"It's a long story. Lureen had an accident, Ennis. She fell down the stairs. She's dead."

"Dead! Jesus, Jack!"

"Yeah and that ain't all. Her old man was tryin' to take Bobby away from me. Soon as the funeral was over, I grabbed Bobby and high-tailed it up here. Seems the old man took a fall too and broke his leg. He had Momma out tryin' to run the mower, for God's sakes!"

"That ain't no job for a woman."

"It sure enough isn't! So I moved in up here for the time being. Don't know how long I'll be up here but I for sure ain't goin' back to Texas."

"That's rough, Jack. I know the last thing in the world you'd want is to be livin' with the old man again."

"It ain't as bad as I thought it would be. He mostly stays holed up in his room all day. Momma's been lookin' after him and Bobby both while I've been workin' the place."

"I'll bet she was happy to see you."

"She was for a fact. So how come you to move?"

"Well, me and Alma had words and she took off."

"She took off? Where'd she go -- to her sister's?"

"Nope. Chicago."

"Chicago? Why the hell'd she go there for?"

"She's got this friend from school that moved there right after graduation and she's got some fancy job makin' tons of money, according to Alma. I guess they been writing back and forth and she just up and took off. Her sister's been lookin' after the girls for me. She said Alma called and said she got a job like her friend's and she ain't comin' back.

She said I could have the girls, she didn't want them."

"Christ, Ennis! What are you gonna do?"

"Nothin' I can do. Her sister Carla is seein' to the girls during the day while I work but I got them nights and weekends. She won't be able to do it much longer though. She's expecting her fourth child in a couple of months and I'll have to find someone to look after them by then."

"That's a hell of a mess, Ennis. How long she been gone? You think she'll stay gone?"

"Goin' on two months now. Don't know if she'll stay gone or not and I don't really care.

I got a packet in the mail other day. Divorce papers."

"Shit."

"They're all drawn up pretty as you please. She ain't askin' for nothin' and it says in the papers that I get full custody of the girls."

"So where you livin' then?"

"Boarding house. We got one room with two beds. We get dinner included and Carla feeds the girls breakfast and lunch so we're gettin' by."

"Looks like our August trip is out of the question then for both of us." Jack said saddly.

"Yeah. I'm sure sorry, Bud. I was really lookin' forward to it."

"Me too. So you got a phone in your room?"

"No. It's out in the hall. I leave the door open so I can listen for my girls. They're busy watching cartoons right now."

"Oh, that's good."

"It is good in one way. I don't have to sleep next to that sour-puss any more." Ennis said in a low voice so no one could over hear him.

"That is a definite benefit. And I have to admit that I've thought about the same thing. I mean, Lureen wasn't exactly a sour-puss, she just sure wasn't who I wanted to be sleepin' next to."

"Shhhh Ain't your Momma close by?"

"She's in the kitchen doin' dishes. She can't hear. I'm out on the back steps."

"You shouldn't talk like that. It's gonna be a long time before we can get together again."

"We gotta work somethin' out, Ennis. You know as well as I do that we need to be together."

"I know, Jack, but what can we do? I got the girls and you got your boy. We gotta see to them first."

"I know that and we will. Momma's been taking good care of Bobby and he already loves her to death. And she's just blossomin' havin' a little one to look after. They've really taken to each other."

"That's good."

"Shit, I wish you was closer. Momma could look after the girls too and we could spend some time alone together. Maybe just for a weekend; what do you think?"

"I think your Momma would knock you in the head if she heard you suggestin' such a thing."

"Nah, she'd love it! She loves kids."

"Maybe one at a time but I don't think she'd be all that happy with three of them."

"That's cause you don't know Momma. I got an idea. Why don't you and the girls come visit us this weekend. It's only about a four hour drive. You could meet Momma and we could see how our kids get along. We got plenty of rooms here, hell, I never have counted but we got the whole upstairs empty except for the two rooms that Bobby and I are using. Must be at least three or four other bedrooms up there that are just sittin' there.

Momma would be tickled pink!"

"What about your Pa?"

"He's been pretty quiet since I showed up. I think he's hurtin' still but he won't take no pills for it or nothin'. About the only time we talk is at meal time. He asks what I got done and I tell him and that's about it."

"He ain't complainin' none about havin' a baby around the house?"

"None that I heard. I think he's happy to have the help and doesn't want to do or say anything to scare me off. 'Course, he'd never say so in a million years."

"You got lucky."

"Yeah. And Bobby's a good boy, too. He never did cry much even as a little thing. Now he's walkin' all over the place and he's in to everything but Momma keeps all the breakables put up and I brought all his toys with us so he's not too much trouble. He's a good eater, eats whatever you put in front of him. And he sleeps good too. He ain't never been a problem to care for."

"I'll bet his missis his momma."

"He's too little to realize what happened. He's with people who love him and it don't matter none to him if he's livin' in a run-down ranch house or a fine mansion in Texas."

"You lived in a mansion, Jack?"

"Compared to this place, it was. I just sold it too and made a pretty penny on it. With that and the insurance money, I've got some big cash now and the damn thing is, I don't have the time to even spend it!

I wish I could talk you into movin' here. I could sure use the help and I know Momma would love havin' little girls to look after."

"Jack, be serious. I couldn't do that."

"It's just an option, Ennis. If you get in a bind, let me know. I can wire you whatever you need."

"Thanks, Bud, but I'm gettin' along just fine. With what I make, I can afford this place and the small amount that I pay Carla for the girls. That's all I need right now."

"Well, I'm here if you need me -- whether it's cash money or a job or a place to stay."

"Thank you, Jack. I ain't got words to tell you what that means to me." And in a low voice again he added, "What you mean to me."

"Well, you think about everything and let me know. I really do want you to come up this weekend. Will you think about that too?"

"I will. I sure do want to see you."

"I wanna see you too. Maybe we could even slip out into the barn for a few minutes."

"Now there you go, Jack. You'd have us in trouble before the day was done."

"Nah. This is a big place. I know where Momma is in the afternoon. She's watchin' her soaps and Pa is nappin'. If the girls were here, they would probably be nappin' too. I'm sure you and I could find something that we needed to work on out in the barn for a while. No one would even miss us."

"You sure do make it sound invitin'."

"Good. Then think about it."

"I will. I gotta go now. The girls are lookin' for me. Cartoons must be over with."

"Ok. Go do your do and call me and let me know what time you'll be arrivin'."

"You never give up, do you?"

"On you? Never!"

"Later then,"

"Ok. Later."

xxx

Three weeks later Ennis and the girls were heading to Lightning Flat one Saturday morning. Five year old Alma Jr. was wearing her 'new' dress that Carla had made over from one that her older daughter had grown out of.

"You think your friend will like my new dress, Daddy?" She asked

"I'm sure he will, darlin." and to the child on the floor he said, "Jenny, honey, why don't you sit up here on the seat with your sister. You'll get all dirty down there."

"She don't even care if she's dirty, Daddy. She's only three and that's still a baby."

"I am not a baby!"

"Are too!"

"Now girls. Don't argue. I brought a change of clothes for each of you so if you get dirty we can change. Ok?"

"Ok, Daddy," the girls agreed and went back to playing with their Barbies.

The drive went very well and they only had to make two potty stops. He didn't even care, he was so glad that Jenny had finally gotten the idea that it was much better to be dry.

They arrived at a little after eleven, Saturday morning.

Ennis pulled into the driveway and parked next to Jack's truck. He got out and stood by the door as first Jenny, then Junior jumped from the front seat into his arms. He turned and walked up to the house and Jack and his momma were standing there waiting for them.

Jack was holding Bobby in his arms and they came up next to each other.

"Jack, this here is Jenny. She's three, and this here is Junior. She's five."

"Hi girls. This is Bobby. He's going to be two shortly. This is Momma, Ennis."

"How do you do, Ma'am."

"Oh, Ennis! I'm so glad to finally meet you. Jackie has talked so much about you and your girls. Come on inside." She was just bursting with happiness.

Momma Twist entered first, followed by Ennis still carrying his girls and then Jack carrying Bobby in one arm and rubbing his free hand up and down Ennis's back.

Bobby reached out his little arm and rubbed Ennis's shoulder. It was all he could reach.

Ennis set the girls down and Junior immediately showed Momma Twist her new dress and told her it was for school but Daddy said she could wear it today because it was a special occasion.

Mrs. Twist oohed and aahed over it and told Jenny how pretty her little over-alls looked too. In minutes they were fast friends. Jack put Bobby down and he ran to the girls and started babbling to them. Jack showed them into the front room where he had set up a section just for Bobby's toys. The girls took right to it and in no time were running little cars and trucks around the floor and Bobby was carrying around a Barbie by the hair and swinging it at things.

The adults sat and watched and marveled at the wonder of the children. Ennis asked about Jack's Pa and he said he was in his room and wouldn't be out until lunch time. Ennis told the girls that they needed to play quietly as Jack's daddy wasn't feeling too well and was in bed.

"Oh, he needs to go see a doctor," Junior said. "They will give him a shot and he will get all better."

"If only it were that easy, Honey." Momma Twist said. Then excused herself and started lunch.

"I'm so glad you're here." Jack leaned back on the couch and bumped his shoulder up against Ennis's.

"Me too, Bud. Bobby looks just like you. He's a beautiful boy."

"Your youngest looks like you but not the older one. She look like Alma?"

"Yeah. Dead ringer for her. Has been since she was born. That's why we called her Alma Junior."

"Pretty little things, both of them. Momma's out of her mind with happiness that you agreed to come. She's been fussing and planning all week."

"I hope she don't go to too much trouble. The girls and I aren't used to being fussed over."

"That don't matter none to Momma. If she likes you, she's gonna fuss over you. That's just her way."

"Kids seem to be gettin' along good."

"Uh huh." Jack agreed. They sat and watched the children play until Mrs. Twist called them all into lunch.

She had made home made vegetable soup with ham and cheese sandwiches for the adults and peanut butter sandwiches for the kids. Mr. Twist decided he wanted to eat lunch in his room so a tray was carried in for him.

"He do that often?" Ennis asked as they seated themselves around the kitchen table.

"He's pretty cantankerous." Jack said.

The children ate heartily and by the time they were finishing their fruit cocktail, they were drowsy. Jack carried Bobby upstairs to his room for his nap and Ennis carried the girls up to the room that had been prepared for them. The girls crawled happily into the bed double bed and were asleep by the time Jack and Ennis made it back down stairs.

They sat at the kitchen table with Mrs. Twist and had coffee.

"You figure out yet what you're going to do when Carla can't see to the girls any more?"

"I been askin' around town for another sitter but so far I haven't had any luck."

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know. I may have to see about cutting back my hours at work."

"You think your boss will go for that?"

"Don't know. It ain't exactly like I got any choice here."

"Yeah you do. You can always come work for me. Couple of months and it'll be time to take the calves to market. I need to see about a new bull and some more stock. I don't know much about that."

"Oh that's a wonderful idea! Ennis, we really need the help. This place is just too big for one person to run and we're so far out of the way up here, findin' help is near impossible." Mrs. Twist said.

"I don't know about that. I could teach you – tell you what to look out for so's you don't get taken."

"It would be a lot better if you could go with me. Show me."

"Maybe we could. Where you takin' them?"

"I guess, Gillette."

"You'd get a much better price for them if you take 'em to Casper."

"Casper would mean over night. I couldn't leave Bobby and I can't take him."

"Now you can too leave him over night! He'd be just fine here with me. And Ennis, your girls are just lovely. You could bring them here and I could look after them while the two of you were in Casper. It would be wonderful fun!"

"I couldn't ask you to do that," Ennis said.

"You wouldn't be askin' me; I'd be askin' you." Mrs. Twist said. "Mr. Twist thinks he'll be fine in time for the market but I don't see that happenin'. It's been two months now and he still can't put any weight on that leg. I would consider it a favor if you could go to market with Jackie and help him out. He's a hard worker but he doesn't know all that much about stock. He tells me you've been in ranchin' all your life?"

"That's right. And I do know my stock. I know it good. I'll see if Mr. Cole needs me to go to market with him. If he don't, I'll see about takin' a few days off so I can go with you."

"Oh, that would be great, Ennis. I'd really appreciate it!" Mrs. Twist said and left the two of them to discuss it while she took more coffee in to Mr. Twist.

"Why don't you and I take a walk while the children are sleeping." Jack offered and they stood, carried their cups over to the sink and headed out the back door. They just automatically headed for the barn.

"I wanted to show you the old equipment Pa's been using."

"I ain't interested in your Pa's equipment. It's your equipment I wanna take a look at." Ennis growled as Jack closed the barn door behind them. They grabbed onto each other and kissed and kissed as Jack walked them to the back where the hay was loose and scattered about.

"C'mere," Ennis said and pulled Jack down on top of him. "Now what was it you were going to show me?" Ennis seized his mouth before he got a chance to answer and didn't let go until he had Jack's jeans opened and he could get to work.

Afterwards, they lay in each others arms. "I wish you could stay, Ennis. I love your girls already and Bobby's crazy about them too. Momma hasn't stopped grinnin' since I told her you were comin'."

"I don't know, Jack. What about your Pa? If he was to start in on the girls, I don't know what I'd do. I'd just have to leave and go right back to Riverton again."

"I tell you, we had some words when I first come back but he's mellowed some since then. This is the longest I've ever been here since I left home. This is home to me, Ennis. And for the first time in my life, I'm comfortable here. Bobby loves it here too and Momma's lookin' better than she has in years. It's like she has something to live for now that we're here. I'm givin' serious thought to stayin' here. Permanent."

"Well, let's take that walk then and you can show me the place." Ennis said as he stood up and zipped his jeans. He reached a hand down to Jack. "Come on. And quit lookin' at me like that. We ain't doin' nothin' else."

"Oh, you're a mean man, Ennis Del Mar. You know how I love seconds and what I love for seconds."

"I know and that's why we got to get out of this barn ' cause there ain't gonna be none of that stuff goin' on this afternoon."

"Ok, Ok." Jack stood up and brushed off. "If that's the way you wanna be. But let's ride. Save our energy for later."

"We can ride if you want but there ain't gonna be any later."

"We'll see about that." Jack grinned as they walked out to his pickup.

They spent nearly two hours going over the place with Jack explaining all that he had done since he got there and all that he had yet planned to do. When they got back to the house the children were sitting at the kitchen table with crackers and juice and Mrs. Twist was singing them a little song she remembered from her childhood. When she finished they squealed with delight and begged for another song. She obliged and Ennis and Jack settled in the front room with a beer each and discussed the ranch.

The children ran through the house and out the front door into the yard with Mrs. Twist trailing along after them. The played ring around the rosey and laughed and sang songs and walked along with Mrs. Twist as she showed them her flowers.

"They seem to be having a great time." Jack grinned at Ennis.

"I can see that."

Just then there was a loud knocking on the kitchen door and a voice called in, "Hey, Twist, you around?" Harold Sloan, from town, walked in.

"Front room, Harold." Jack called. Ennis stood up and went to the sliding glass door to watch the children.

"Hey Jack. I was headin' out this way and thought I'd stop and see how the old man is doin?"

"Why don't you ask the old man himself?" A voice growled from behind him.

"Mr. Twist! Good to see you up and around. How's the leg?"

"Hurts like hell and you can tell your no-good father for me that I'm gonna sue his ass. I got me a major mal-practice suit goin' here." Mr. Twist came into the room, wobbling on his crutches.

Jack and Harold gave each other indulgent looks and Harold glanced over to Ennis.

"Harold, this here is Ennis Del Mar from Riverton. Those are his girls out there with Bobby."

"Nice to meet you." Ennis mumbled.

"Nice to meet you too. Well, Jack, I can see your Momma is in seventh heaven."

"She's havin' the time of her life all right." Jack agreed.

"Beautiful girls, Ennis. You gonna be workin' here?" Harold asked.

"We've been trying to persuade him." Jack said. "Momma and I've been working on him."

"Well, I hope he stays." and to Ennis he said, "Jack and I went to school together about a hundred years ago. He'd be a good man to work for. Can't say the same for his old man though -- he's kinda mean." He said with a grin.

"I ain't mean. I just say what I think is all." The old man piped up from his chair.

"How about a beer, Harold?" Jack asked.

"Oh no thanks. I gotta get on down the road. Maggie is waitin' for me. I just thought I'd stop in and see if the old man was still fakin' it."

"I ain't fakin'!" the old man protested.

"It was nice meetin' you, Ennis. Hope you decide to stay. It's really hard findin' help out this way and a place this big can't be run by one person alone."

"I done it for over forty years!" The old man growled.

"Yeah, and look where you got it!" Harold laughed and made his exit. Jack walked out with him.

"I like your friend, Jack." Harold said as Jack walked with him to his truck. "Don't say much though."

"He's kinda quiet. His old lady just took off for Chicago and left him and the girls. Sent him divorce papers in the mail -- dumped him and the girls both. What do you think of a woman like that?"

"Not very much, I can tell you that! I thought he looked kinda down. I hope he does come here to work for you, Jack. It would be the best thing for him – to get out of town and away from all the old bad memories."

"That's what I was thinkin' too. God knows I need the help and he needs a change of scenery."

"Well I hope it works out for you both. Oh, and Dad says to tell you that your Pa's latest X-rays show that the break healed up just fine and that he's convinced he's fakin' all this pain he claims he's in."

"I figured as much. It don't bother me none. He stays pretty much to himself now and leaves the runnin' of the place to me."

"That's as it should be. You take care now." He climbed into his pickup and left.

Jack walked back inside to see Ennis and the old man talking.

"So you're this Ennis Del Mar that Jackie's been talkin' about so much."

"That's right, Sir. I am." He reached out a hand to the old man but it was ignored.

"You don't look like Jack does."

"Why would I look like Jack?"

"You know, like his kind, I mean."

"His kind?"

"Yeah, you don't look like no fairy."

"Pa!" Jack said as he walked in the room.

"Don't get your wings in a twist. I was just talkin' to the boyfriend here."

Ennis stood red-faced and steaming.

"Why don't you go back in your room and lie down. If Momma sees you up and around she might start believing what the doctor says about you fakin' it."

The old man took a quick look out the glass door, saw Mrs. Twist and the children heading in and he headed back to his room, grumbling along the way.

"I'm sorry about that, Ennis."

"Not your fault you got a bastard for a father."

"He's got a dirty mind and a filthy mouth on him but he does stay out of sight most of the time."

"You really think he's fakin'?"

"Uh huh. So does the doctor."

Momma Twist and the kids came in just then all breathless with the children dancing around her. "Do you think you could rig up a swing for the kids, Jack? We've got that nice big shade tree out front and it wouldn't take all that much work."

"Sure we can." And turning to Ennis he added, "Can't we, Ennis?"

"Uh sure. All's we need is some rope and a board for the seat."

"Oh that would be wonderful. We're taking a potty break right now. I think there is some rope out in the barn and I'm sure you can find some wood somewhere around here."

Jack dislodged Bobby from his leg and hauled him up for a kiss and a hug. "Peeee Uuuuu!" He held Bobby out at arms length. "Did you run into a polecat out there?"

Bobby giggled and squirmed. "I'll take care of that if you'll do the swing," Momma Twist said and took Bobby in her arms and swooped up the stairs with the girls; Jenny holding her hand and Junior skipping along behind chattering away.

By the time the girls both pottied and Bobby got his diaper changed they had the first swing up and were working on a second one. This one was a little more complex than the first and required more than two holes drilled for the rope to go through. This one had a complex webbing of ropes tied around it so Jenny couldn't possibly fall out.

Junior started swinging right away and once Jenny's swing was finished she was a little nervous about it but with ropes behind her back and in front and another tying her securely in, she soon relaxed and began leaning back and pushing her feet forward like her big sister was doing. With a little help from Ennis they were soon both soaring. Bobby was jumping up and down with glee and Jack decided he needed to swing too so he picked him up and swung him round and round.

Ennis stood and watched, first his girls laughing and having a great time, then Jack swinging his son high in the air and then Mrs. Twist clapping and laughing at them all and something inside of him melted. He knew this was what he wanted -- to be part of this happy family. He wanted it for his girls and he wanted it for himself. Could this life be possible? Could he really live here with these wonderful people? He knew one thing for sure. He wanted to try.

That evening as they were getting the children ready for bed Ennis stood and watched as Jack read them a bed time story. When he finished the girls hugged him and said "Good night, Uncle Jack," and kissed him on the cheek before climbing under the covers.

Jack carried Bobby into his room across the hall, kissed him goodnight and put him to bed as Ennis watched from the hall.

"You're a great father, Jack." Ennis said as Jack came out.

"So are you. I've been watchin' you with the girls. You keep your eye on them every minute and they adore you. Your takin' care of them must not be somethin' new."

"Not really. I always did look after them from the time I got home from work. Alma was always too tired."

They came back down stairs and sat for a while in the living room. They sat next to each other on the couch. Jack reached over and gave Ennis's arm a squeeze. "Cowboy, this has been the best day of my life."

Ennis let his fingers trail over the back of Jack's hand and laced their fingers together. "I never knew it could be like this." Ennis's voice was choked with emotion.

"It's what I want for us, Ennis. You, me, our kids, Momma – what more could we ask for?"

"Nothin'. That'd be just about everythin' that matters."

"Uh huh. Even the neighbor is wantin' you to stay."

Ennis grinned at that. "He seemed nice."

"He is. I've known him my whole life, Ennis. You'll never find a nicer guy. And Maggie, his wife – she was a year ahead of us in school. They've been sweethearts since grade school."

"That's great." Ennis said as he stared at the toes of his dusty boots. "What do you think he would do if he knew? About us, I mean."

"I don't know. If I said I didn't care, that would be a lie. I do care about my old friends but if it came down to it, there isn't a choice. I wouldn't trade today with you and the kids for a life-time of friendship with anyone else." Jack slid his free hand over the top of Ennis's, trapping Ennis's hand in between the two of his.

"This is a big house." Ennis choked out.

"It is -- five bedrooms upstairs -- one for each of us, one for Bobby, one for the girls and one for a play room for the kids."

"The folks never sleep up stairs?"

"Nah, not that I can ever remember. Not since I was a kid anyway. I guess they probably did at one time. I just always remember them being downstairs in that room they're in now."

"And you slept upstairs all alone?"

"Uh huh. I didn't mind it though. I used to play in all the rooms. Sometimes I'd pretend it was a fancy hotel or sometimes a train with lots of compartments. Sometimes my bed was a stage coach other times it was a ship sailing to far away ports. Bobby's in my old room."

"You have a great imagination."

"I guess I did. I never imagined anything as wonderful as today though."

"It was pretty good; wasn't it?" Ennis leaned his head against Jack's shoulder for a second.

"Uh huh. You ready for bed?"

"You mean for sleepin' don't you?"

"Uh huh. I mean for sleepin'. Or we could sit here all night and make plans."

"Nah, I think we'd better get some sleep. The girls will be up early and we got a long drive ahead of us in the afternoon."

They stood outside their rooms in the hall after checking on the children and making sure they were all sound asleep.

"You could sleep in here with me. No one would ever know." Jack whispered against the side of Ennis's neck.

"No, no. As much as I'd like that, we need to each sleep in our own beds." Ennis answered as he rubbed his hands up and down Jack's shoulders and back.

"Maybe if we got up real early – we could take a walk out to the barn?" Jack asked hopefully. His blue eyes shining with promise of things to come.

"Maybe." Ennis teased and kissed Jack lightly on the lips then pulled back out of his arms.

"I usually wake up early. I'll wake you up and we can take that walk." Jack offered as he stood in the doorway to his room.

"Ok. If I wake up first, I'll wake you." He smiled back at Jack.

"G'night."

"G'night. See you first thing."

"Uh huh. First thing."

They each closed their door and went to bed. Sleep was difficult for both of them but just the thought of their morning walk made it possible.

Early the next morning they crept out of their rooms, boots in hands, stepped over the baby gate and down the stairs, stopping on the back steps to put their boots on, then hurried over to the barn. They climbed the wooden ladder up to the hay loft and Jack spread out the blanket he'd been carrying. They pulled off their jackets and rolled onto the blanket, laughing and nuzzling one another, scattering kisses where ever they could reach.

Jack lay still for a moment across Ennis's chest, one hand up underneath Ennis's shirt caressing warm skin. "Ennis, sometimes I miss touching you so bad I can't hardly even breathe."

Ennis held him close and placed a kiss on top of the unruly mop of hair. Jack leaned up and looked down into Ennis's face. "Do you ever miss me like that?"

"There ain't words enough in this world to say how much I miss you, Jack."

Jack smiled and lunged at him then. Round and round they went, on the blanket and off into the hay strewn about – first one on top and then the other. Clothes melted away in the heat of their passion, Jack pleading, "Yes! Yes!" as Ennis entered him mumbling "Mine! Mine!"

Afterwards they lay in a spent stupor of tangled arms and legs gasping for air and whispering sweet things to one another. They watched the sun rise together then hurried to get dressed and made it back into the house and up the stairs as the first sleepy-headed little girl came out of her room rubbing her eyes. "Morning, Daddy, Uncle Jack." Junior said as she made her way to the bathroom with Jenny trailing behind her calling out, "Wait for me!"

Bobby was jumping up and down in his crib and squealing. It was morning time at the Twist ranch.

Jack and Ennis both slipped into their rooms and straightened them up. Ennis got his shaving gear and waited his turn at the bathroom sink. Jack was last in line after doing diaper changing duty.

They all trouped down stairs to the smell of coffee, bacon and eggs being cooked. Glasses of orange juice sat at each place and some books for Jenny to sit on so she could reach. The old man picked up his coffee cup, drained it and thumped his way out of the room without as much as a word to anyone. Mrs. Twist was grinning from ear to ear and greeted each one by name with a cheery 'good morning'.

After breakfast the girls wanted to swing and Bobby wanted to ride his pedal car around so Jack and Ennis sat in lawn chairs and watched while they discussed all the plans that Jack had for the ranch.

Ennis was stunned when Jack told him how much insurance money he had received and agreed that it would be a good start in turning the ranch around. They talked about priorities and what should be done first and how to spread the money out to cover the most important things while still holding some back in reserve.

Jack grinned that sly grin of his and said that there was more than enough work for two strong men for the rest of their lives and there was no way one man could possibly do it all. Ennis agreed that he could come up weekends and help out and of course any vacation time he could get.

They filled up on a delicious lunch of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and a salad straight from Mrs. Twist's vegetable garden. Cherry pie for dessert and they were all stuffed as Ennis loaded the girls up in his truck for the trip home. Hugs all around and Mrs. Twist insisting that they come back just as soon as they possibly could and they were off. The girls slept most of the way and Ennis drove with a smile on his face as he planned for their next trip.

The next week was filled with getting Junior ready for school and more attempts to find a sitter for the girls for November when Carla's baby was due. Ennis spoke with the ranch manager about the possibility of cutting back on his hours because of the girls and he was not happy about it at all. Of course, it would also cut his wages in half and he worried how they would manage.

They had been going to Lightning Flat every other weekend and Jack and Ennis were getting some things done around the ranch. The children were thriving and Mrs. Twist had drug out her old sewing machine and was making some clothes for the girls.

One Friday as they were packing a few things for their trip, someone knocked on the door to their room. The girls stopped their chatter and all three stared at the door. No one had ever come to their door the entire time they had lived in the boarding house.

Ennis opened the door and Alma was standing there. "Momma!" the girls squealed and ran to hug her.

"Well aren't you going to ask me in?"

Ennis stood back and let her come in. "What do you want, Alma. We're kinda busy here."

"Busy? In this place?" She looked around the room in disgust at the un-made beds and general untidiness of the room.

"What do you want?" Ennis repeated himself.

Alma perched on the edge of the girl's bed, one girl on either side of her vying for her attention.

"I wanted to see the girls and I also wanted to see if you've made any changes in your life and I see that you have – just none for the better. How long do you intend to live in this pig-sty?"

"What difference does it make to you? You signed away your rights to the girls and you got no say in where they live any more."

"I just thought that maybe you'd learned your lesson but I guess you'll never change." And to the girls she said, "Careful, girls. Don't muss my dress. This dress costs more than your Daddy makes in a month!" She smoothed out the wrinkles the girls had made.

The girls babbled on about going to see Uncle Jack and Bobby and 'Gramma' and Alma ignored them, not taking her eyes off Ennis for a moment. "So you're still out at that horrid ranch workin' for peanuts when you could be workin' in town for a decent wage?"

"You got no say in what I do or where I do it." Ennis answered quietly, not wanting to give vent to his rage at her presence in front of the girls.

"A course not. I never did, did I?"

"Nope. Never did, never will."

"You're disgustin', Ennis, and you and the girls livin' in the same room is disgustin' if not illegal."

"I think you best be goin' now, Alma." Ennis walked over and opened the door.

"You are just the most hateful person I ever did know, Ennis Del Mar! Hateful and disgustin!" She said as she swept past him leaving the girls without as much as a good bye. Jenny stood with her face puckered up, Junior stared wide eyed at the open door.

Ennis closed it and said, "Let's finish packin' so we can get on the road." The girls snapped out of it and got back to the chattering and packing.

"Don't forget your sweat shirt, Jenny. It's hangin' on the bathroom door." Ennis checked out each girls stack and Okayed them to be packed. "Don't forget your toothbrushes."

In no time they were on the road heading for Lightning Flat with not another mention about Alma except that Junior said, "Wasn't that a pretty dress Momma had on?" and Jenny said, "It was blue!" The rest of their chatter was about Barbies and other little girl talk.

The last week of October, two things happened. Carla took sick and Ennis had to miss three days of work to take care of the girls and he was no sooner back to work when there was a big fire out at the Cole ranch. Something went wrong with their heating system and the ranch house burned to the ground before the local fire fighters could be roused out of their beds and make it out to the ranch.

Ennis arrived to find old man Cole and several others standing around the pile of smoldering debris. Mr. Cole told everyone to go home and later that afternoon called each one and told them he had decided to put the place up for sale and retire.

Ennis shook his head, stunned. He knew Cole was getting on in years and talked about retirement every since Ennis had known him but he just never expected it so soon. Ennis offered to stay on until the herd had been taken to market but he was told that it wouldn't be necessary as he had already made a deal on the herd and the new buyer was bringing his own hands along to handle them. He thanked Ennis for his long years of loyal service and told him he could pick up his check at the Riverton bank.

Ennis hung up the phone and stared back at his girls playing on the floor of their room. A cold gust of air blew in the front door as two men walked in and stumbled down the hallway towards their rooms. They stank of alcohol and tobacco and Ennis walked back to his room, closed the door and locked it behind him. He had to get his girls out of there and he had to do it now.

"Come on girls. Grab your coats. Let's go." He clapped his hands together to hurry them along. He grabbed up his brown corduroy jacket and pulled it on then helped Jenny with the zipper on the front of her jacket.

"Where we goin', Daddy?" Junior asked. "We goin' for ice cream?" Jenny begged.

"Daddy needs to go to the bank. Come on." He carried Jenny and Junior walked along beside him holding his hand. He had a hard time getting the truck to start and knew it wouldn't last much longer without some work being done on it. He leaned his forehead down on the steering wheel for a moment, took a deep breath and tried again.

The engine caught and they were off. Five minutes later they pulled into the bank parking lot. He hated turning the engine off, afraid that it might not start again.

Inside he got his check and cashed it, surprised and pleased that Mr. Cole had made it out for an extra full month's pay. He tucked the bills into his wallet, took the girls by hand and headed back out to the truck. This time it started right up, thank goodness!

Back in their room, he sat and pondered as the girls played quietly. He could hear the couple in the room next door arguing again, using foul language. He hated for the girls to hear such language and turned their small radio on to some western music, hoping to drown the angry words out.

He scanned the want ads and there was nothing at all listed that he was qualified for. He went to sleep that night with a heavy heart and knew that the next morning he would have to get out and drive all around to the neighboring ranches to see if anyone needed any help. He would start right after he dropped Junior at school. Jenny could just go along with him. He hated to leave her with Carla as she still wasn't up to strength and her time was nearing.

They woke to a freezing room, the heat had gone out again and it was snowing outside. Their frist freeze and they were without heat. He wrapped the girls up in blankets and told them to stay in bed. He went out into the hall and called Lightning Flat.

Unfortunately, the old man answered the phone. "What?" He growled.

"Uh, this is Ennis. Can I talk with Jack?"

"What the hell you need to talk with him for? You just saw him last weekend."

"Please, Mr. Twist. I need to speak with Jack."

"Shit. I knew it. You're comin' up here with them rug-rats every weekend now? I'm gonna hafta start chargin' you rent."

He could hear a tussle and Jack grabbed the phone. "Ennis?"

"Yeah, Jack. It's me."

"Sorry about that."

"Jack, I got me a situation here. Your offer of a job still open?"

"Oh hell YES! What happened? You and the girls all right?"

"Yeah, we're all right, freezin' our asses off, but we'll all right."

"Why you freezin? You don't have heat in that place you're stayin?"

"Not today. Heat's out. Jack, there was a fire out at the ranch and I guess it was kind of the last straw because old man Cole decided to pack it in and retire. I'm out of work, my trucks actin' up and I got no one to look after the girls if I did manage to find work."

"Well there's plenty of work right here, Ennis, you know that. And there's plenty of room here in the house. It's all warm and toasty and Momma's got breakfast cookin. How soon can you get here?"

"I don't know. Cole gave me an extra month's pay. I was thinkin' I'd better use some of that and get the truck looked after before headin' out."

"That's a good idea. Now listen, Ennis. If the mechanic says you need more work than you got money for, go ahead and get it done and I'll wire you the money to cover it."

"Jack, I can't do that."

"Yes you can! You want to get stuck out in the middle of no where in this weather? You can work it off, I promise you. We can always subtract if from your wages; whatever."

"I'd have to pay it back; whatever it took."

"Ok. That would work. Don't worry about it. Just get your truck in good runnin' shape and get yourselves over here."

"Ok. I'm gonna head on over to the garage right now and see what I can get done. I'll call you later and let you know when we'll be gettin' there."

"You be careful out there in this rain."

"It's rainin' there? It's snowin' here."

"It'll probably be snowin' here before long. It's cold enough."

"Ok. I'll call you after I know what's what. You best prepare your Pa."

"Shit. There's no preparin' him for nothin'. Today was the first time he was out of his room in days and he has to be walkin' right by the phone when it rang."

"He don't seem too happy that I'm comin' around."

"Don't matter none to me. He ain't EVER happy, Ennis, whether people come by or not."

"Well, he is what he is, I guess." Ennis concluded.

"Uh huh."

"Call you later then."

"Ok."

"Jack?"

"Yeah?"

"I appreciate what you're doin' for me and my girls. I'll make it work, I promise."

"We'll make it work, Ennis. Just be careful on the road and get here!"

"I will. Bye."

"Bye."

An hour and a half later he called again. Jack answered the phone this time.

"Hello?"

"Glad you answered this time."

"Yeah, I been sittin' here waitin'. What'd the mechanic say?"

"He said I could get by with a tune up. He should be finished shortly."

"Then you should be here in about four hours?"

"A little longer maybe. We got to go back to the boarding house and pack. I haven't told the girls yet."

"They're gonna love it here, you'll see."

"I'm sure they will, Jack. See you after while."

"Ok. Can't wait for you to get here."

"Me too. Gotta go pay now so we can get on the road."

"Drive carefully. It's snowin' here now too."

"Won't be the first time I drove in snow. I'll be careful. Bye."

"Bye."

When they got back to the still freezing boarding house, people were out in the halls yelling and arguing with the land lord complaining about the lack of heat. Ennis hurried the girls inside and locked the door behind them.

"What's everybody yellin' about, Daddy?" Junior asked.

"They're mad cause the heat went out, honey."

"Well it ain't like the land lord did it on purpose!" She said, mature beyond her years.

"You're right about that. But there is something we can do. We can move. What do you girls think about that?"

"Can we move into Carla's?" Jenny asked.

"No! I want to move into a house. One near my school. Can we move into a house, Daddy?"

"What would you girls think about movin' into Jack's house, out on the ranch?"

"Really, Daddy? Really?" Junior jumped up and down and clapped her hands.

"Bobby's house?" Jenny asked, then like her sister started jumping up and down.

"Uh huh. I thought we'd move this afternoon. I heard Mr. Gunderson say that lunch would be served shortly. Why don't we get packed up, have lunch and then leave?"

"Yeah, yeah!" the girls continued to jump and run around in circles and sing out the words. "We're moving into a house, we're moving into a house!"

Mr. and Mrs. Gunderson put on a big lunch of home made stew and fresh baked rolls and they all ate their fill. Ennis settled up their bill and they loaded up the pickup with their few belongings. Ennis covered everything with a tarp and they headed out. The girls each wrapped in a blanket and carrying their favorite doll for company on the trip.

The trip took five and a half hours. The roads were mostly cleared but very slick and slippery with snow in some places and sleet or rain in others. Ennis drove with extreme care, well aware of the precious cargo he carried.

He pulled the blankets up close around each girl as he carried them together into the house.

"In the front room by the fire." Jack said as he ushered Ennis in with his double armful. In minutes the girls were sipping hot chocolate and chattering away.

The old man was no where to be seen and Jack explained that Mrs. Twist had prepared his dinner early and he was back in his room watching TV. He didn't come out all evening and they were all happy about that.

"You sure he'll be all right with us movin' in?" Ennis asked Mrs. Twist at the dinner table.

"Ennis, this here is Jack's ranch now. Everyone knows it; they just don't say it out loud. Mr. Twist ain't got no say in matters any more."

"I just don't want to make him madder than he already is." Ennis said as he sipped his coffee and watched as the girls helped Mrs. Twist clear the table.

"Honey, that's just his nature. Ain't nothin' nobody can do about that. And I'll tell you somethin' else. You comin' here with the girls is just about the best thing that's ever happened to this old house. Second of course to Jack comin' home with Bobby."

She reached over and tousled Bobby's hair.

"I just don't want to be the cause of no problems."

"Everybody has problems, Ennis. But we're a family now and whatever comes up, we'll handle it – like any family would." Jack said.

"Exactly! I can't tell you how happy I am to have you and the girls here. The good Lord knows how badly Jackie needs the help and I got some new patterns in town last week and picked up some fabric and I can hardly wait to get sewin for them. I used to make all my clothes when I was in school."

"Is there a school around here?" Junior asked. "I really do want to go to school but I don't have to if there isn't one."

"Absolutely, there's a school here. We'll take you in to town tomorrow and get you registered." Jack said.

"Yeah!" Junior clapped her hands. Jenny and Bobby joined in with the clapping too. The adults just grinned at one another.

"And I'll get busy sewing you some pretty dresses for school. How would you like that?"

Junior threw herself into Mrs. Twists arms and hugged her. "Oh thank you! Thank you!"

"Me too, me too!" Jenny joined in the hug.

"Of course, darlin' girl! For every dress I make for Junior, I'll make one for you as well. How will that be?" The girls continued jumping up and down and yelling 'yeah' and Bobby joined in by banging his sippy cup on his high chair and hollering with them.

"That's enough noise to wake up the dead." Ennis said to Jack. "What do you think the old man's gonna do?"

"He won't do nothin'. I went in and had a talk with him this afternoon after you called and told him you were comin'."

"What did he say?"

"He wasn't happy about it, spouted off some, but he knew he had no say in the matter. I'll see to it he minds his Ps and Qs. I've kept an eagle eye on him since I brought Bobby here. If he gives us any trouble, I'll put a lock on his door!"

Ennis snickered.

"I mean it, Ennis. I grew up around his mean mouth and his mean ways and I don't intend for my son or your girls to have to put up with that. Momma will keep an eye on the kids while we're out workin' and see to it that he minds his manners. 'Sides, he's so old and weak now, Bobby could probably take him."

"I just don't want me and the girls to be the cause of any trouble."

"Well you won't be. Just look at Momma and the girls and even Bobby. I don't ever remember seein' her this happy. She's got girls to sew for now and a gang to cook for which she also loves. And Bobby never has had any children around to play with before. He clearly adores the girls."

"They do look happy." Ennis had to admit.

"It's the sweet life, Ennis. Not exactly the way I thought it would work out, but I ain't complainin'. "

"Me neither." Ennis agreed as he carried his coffee cup over to the sink for Mrs. Twist to wash. He caressed Junior's head as she stood next to Mrs. Twist drying the dishes.

Jack washed Bobby's face and hands and helped him down from the high chair, wiped it off with the rag and stood it back against the wall out of the way.

"Come on. We got some plannin' to do." he said and the two of them made their way into the front room and sat on the couch in front of the fire.

"What is it we're plannin?" Ennis asked.

"The rest of our lives, Ennis." Jack said as he tossed another log on the fire and sat back down. "The rest of our lives."

"You really think we can pull this off -- this living together thing?"

"I don't see why not. We got a lot goin' for us here. Everyone knows me, knows about Bobby and Lureen. Soon they'll know about you too – you and the girls. They know this is a big house. When it was first built, it was the biggest in the county and it was a real show place. I aim for us to make it one again. Momma's only fifty, Pa's fifteen years older and in bad health. I don't see him holdin' on much longer but Momma's got years and years left in her. She's goin' to love havin' girls to see to. I just can't see any down side to this arrangement."

"What if somebody finds out?"

"How could they? Even later on when the kids get older and have friends over – we each got our own room. As long as we're careful we can make this work."

"You think your Momma knows?"

"She knows, Ennis. I told her how I felt about you back in '63 after we first met."

"Jeeze. Aren't you worried she might tell someone?"

"Nah. She's smarter than that. She reads the papers and watches the news. She knows what kinds of things can happen."

"What about your Pa? He could let somethin' slip when he's in town seein' the doctor."

"Everyone around here knows about him and his mean mouth. Even if he did say anything, which he wouldn't in a million years, no body would believe him."

The kids and Mrs. Twist joined them in the front room then – the girls on the floor playing cars with Bobby and Mrs. Twist settling into the rocker with her knitting.

Ennis glanced around the room and grinned. "It looks like a picture out of a magazine."

Jack grinned and nodded his head in agreement. "After we get Junior registered in school tomorrow, let's take a close look at the herd and decide what we want to take to market next week. I called the transport company last week and they said they need to know how many we'll be sending so they can reserve enough trucks for us."

"Sounds like a good idea. How many you sellin?"

"I haven't got a clue. Don't you just send the calves?"

"Well, you need to look the herd over and get rid of any that are givin' you any trouble; either actin' up or gettin' sick a lot or aren't calvin each year. You ain't gonna make much money if your cows ain't calvin. How old's your bull and how many do you have?"

"Three and I have no idea how old they are. I figured we'd need a new one though."

"I'll take a look at them tomorrow and see if we need to keep them or market them."

"Good. How can you tell? I mean what if one of them is doin' his job and the other's ain't? How could you tell?" Jack asked.

"I can pretty much look at the bulls and tell which cows are out of which bulls. You can tell by their shape. I'll show you tomorrow."

"Ok. I've been working on a budget for us too. I'd like you to take a look at it after we get the kids in bed."

"Oh, I don't want to go to bed!" Junior said as she rubbed her sleepy eyes. "I'm not a bit sleepy."

"You've got to get up early tomorrow and go to school. We need to get you in the tub and you need to pick out what you're going to wear in the mornin." Ennis said.

"I wanna go to school too!" Jenny pouted.

"You will, baby girl, soon as you're old enough. Come on now. Help pick up the cars and I'll go up and get your bath started." Ennis said as he made his way upstairs.

Jack smiled at his Momma and went over to her, squatting beside her chair.

"What do you think, Momma? You gonna like havin' your house over flowin' with kids?"

"Oh, Son! I could not be happier!" She caressed his cheek.

"You think this is all too hard on Pa?"

"You're so sweet to concern yourself 'bout him. Honey, I heard you tellin' Ennis and it's true. Ain't nothin' in this world gonna make a happy man outta your Pa. I accepted that years ago. So all we gotta worry 'bout now is ourselves. And I can tell you true, I never been happier in my life and I don't think I ever seen you happier!"

"You got that right, Momma. I'll do anythin' to make this work out."

"Don't you worry none. It will!"

"Tub's ready girls." Ennis called down the stairs and the girls ran over and kissed Momma Twist and Jack good night and ran up the stairs.

Jack kissed his Momma, scooped Bobby up in his arms and headed up the stairs.

Later that night, Mrs. Twist climbed into bed beside her husband.

"Well, I suppose you're happy now. Your fairy son's got his boyfriend livin' here under my roof and the house is full of squalling rug rats."

"Why, yes, John. I am happier than I've ever been. Thanks for askin'." She rolled over away from him and went to sleep.

The old man mumbled something under his breath.

Meanwhile the children upstairs were all asleep when Jack slipped into Ennis's room.

"You sure they're all asleep?" Ennis whispered.

"Positive." Jack answered as he pulled the covers back and discovered a naked Ennis waiting for him. "I see you were expecting me." He grinned a lecherous grin.

"C'mere, you!" Ennis said and grabbed him.

And they lived happily ever after.

THE END