Hey guys! Here's the epilogue as promised. I can't thank you guys enough for all of your support through this. As a first time writer I'm overwhelmed by the reception this story has received and I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
Thank you all again, and stay tuned for the sequel! It is going to be titled Islands In A Storm. Or words to that effect, at least.
Ennis and Jack quickly settled into their new life together, after five turbulent months of having their lives turned upside down. While still so young, they were able to demonstrate a maturity and determination for success that any rancher of any age would be proud of.
The money that Uncle Harold had left cleared at the end of the week, and a business account for Brokeback Ranch was set up in both their names. They didn't take this for granted, they knew that it was just one of many benefits of owning a business together, as opposed to just living together, which would render them unable to take advantage of these benefits.
There were other benefits to being business partners, one which they became aware of a few weeks after they moved in, watching the news on TV one night. Civil Rights movements were occurring across the state, black residents were campaigning against segregation and for equal rights. Although segregation seemed to have been officially abolished in many parts of the state for several years, it became clear to them that for these poor people, their fight was not yet over.
Ennis and Jack had never really paid much thought to such things back in Wyoming, if they had ever heard of it in the first place, but as they continued to hear about it, they realised that they could sympathise with this group. Just like themselves, these people were suffering for something that they could neither help nor control, and they thought it extremely unfair. Society was trying to squash them down simply for being a certain way, that was part of who they were. A man named Martin Luther King Jr seemed to be a figure of hope for these people, a face for the campaigns for equal rights.
A notorious gang of people known as the Ku Klux Klan were apparently sniffing around the southern states, including Georgia and its neighbours, Alabama and Mississippi, brutally slaughtering people, which made the two cowboys feel sick and a little nervous. They decided that the more they kept to themselves and the ranch the better. Although the main targets of this group seemed to be black people, they had a feeling that if they became aware of the relationship between the two new ranchers just outside Sandersville, they might go out of their way to cause trouble for them.
Students were also rebelling against the government, campaigning for equal rights for all, including gay people. There seemed to be protests all the time, mainly up in and around Atlanta, with such occurrences few and far between in the southern part of the state, which made the pair of them feel a little better. Just a few days before their arrival, a campaign in Savannah forced city leaders to desegregate public and private facilities, so perhaps some progress was being made.
It looked to them like the campaign for equal rights was not yet over, so until people like themselves could live in relative peace, without the risk of violence against them, Ennis and Jack agreed that except to their close neighbours, the story was that they were cousins who had grown up together and were now business partners. The only truths that they agreed to tell to others was that Jack had inherited the ranch and that they were from Wyoming. Nobody needed to know the truth, at least not yet. Maybe they should rethink their idea to try and sell their produce up in Atlanta; it might be a good idea to stay away from all the commotion. They certainly didn't want to get caught up in it, for their own safety. Their main priority was to keep themselves safe, and besides, it wasn't such a hardship to stay and hide out on the ranch all day, not when they had each other for company.
So they did their best to keep their heads down and concentrate on building their desired life together. The rest of October passed quickly enough, Jack's birthday on the twelfth being the first main event. Ennis had surprised him on the morning of his birthday by presenting him with a large box that kept wriggling in his arms.
"What's that?" asked Jack incredulously when he eyed the box, looking up at Ennis who was grinning from ear to ear.
"Come an' see." he answered, setting the box on the living room floor. He opened it and a mass of bluish-grey, white and black fur jumped out and into his arms, a pink tongue lapping at his face.
Jack was stunned. "You got me a puppy?" he asked, eyes shining, unable to keep the grin off his face.
Ennis smiled back. "Sure did. You recognise the breed?"
Jack looked more closely at the puppy, taking in its colouring and trying to place it. "Uh...I dunno...what is it?"
"It's a blue heeler, Jack," Ennis replied, patting its head as it curled up in Jack's arms. "Like what we had up on Brokeback. I know you loved that pup you found on the first day, so...now you've got yer own."
Jack's heart melted. "Oh, Ennis..." he leaned over for a kiss. "I'm gonna thank ya good an' proper later." he whispered, making Ennis's cheeks flush.
"What you gonna call him?" asked Ennis, looking at the bundle of fur, with big soft brown eyes a lot like his own.
Jack nodded. "Yep. Let's face it, luck's been on our side the last few months, for the most part. I think it fits." he said happily, scratching the puppy behind its ear.
In time the pair of them started building up the ranch, hiring staff to help them and buying stock from around their part of the state. They didn't know much about actually running a ranch, but their foreman, Dave, was happy to give them advice. As for the finances, they hired an accountant recommended to them by Greg Thompson to help them out at the start, until they got the hang of it.
For their first Thanksgiving together, they decided to have it on their own, just the two of them. They did have a dinner with their neighbours Bill and Mary the week before, but the day was celebrated back at their own place, just them and the new addition to the family, looking up at them with big eyes and trying to get them to feed him scraps. They agreed that next year they would have Thanksgiving dinner with relatives.
The temperature dropped in early December, forcing them to snuggle even closer together in bed than they normally did. It wasn't really a hardship, and they had ways of keeping warm. When the snow fell, a lot of their time was devoted to snowball fights and wrestling until the cold seeped through their clothes, at which point they would huddle together in front of the fire for most of the night. At Christmas, Jack bought Ennis a new winter jacket that was guaranteed to keep him warm in the colder weather, and Ennis bought Jack a brand new harmonica, much to Jack's amusement. He still couldn't play very well but Ennis loved seeing the smile on his face.
In January, after the snow had cleared, they finally arranged a meeting with Tom's cousin Adam. He and his partner Pete drove down from Ohio and stayed at the ranch. Despite Ennis's initial concerns about how they would act, based on his own prejudices that he was trying to discard, he needn't have worried. Adam and Pete were perfectly normal people much like themselves, except that they weren't cowboys. The four of them got on like a house on fire, both couples revelling in the presence of someone that they could talk openly to about what it meant to love another man. Their guests stayed over a weekend and they all ended up going out for a steak and beers together. When they left they promised to call and Ennis and Jack encouraged them to visit again, perhaps later in the year.
The first few months of spring involved them breeding their cows with their bull and preparing to grow feed, such as hay and so forth. Valentine's Day was a special occasion; Jack made a romantic meal and filled the kitchen with candles and wine. And later on, Ennis took a turn at tying Jack up, with mind-blowing results for both of them. Of course, they were quite sore the next morning, but it was always worth it to be here with each other, and to feel free to love each other.
Life on the ranch was fairly quiet from day-to-day, between meals and working outside, and going to bed every night, often having sex first, then getting up the next day to do it all again. Some might call it tiresome, even boring, but it was what they knew best and the sweetest part was being able to live it together, which they could not have foreseen in May.
Becky continued to barrel race over in Texas, earning herself a great reputation as her skill improved. She was soon travelling to other parts of the state to compete, and would often call Jack and Ennis in a frenzy to tell them everything she'd been up to. Ennis wondered from time to time what had been on her mind while they'd been over there with her, but it seemed as though she'd pushed it to the back of her mind, so all he could really do was follow suit. If it was meant to be that she would reveal her secret, then it would happen. Owing to his experiences with Jack, he'd started to believe that if something was meant to happen, then it would.
She also continued to see Andy, and they became very close. In early March, however, his family started making preparations to move to Kentucky, and in an effort to keep himself with Becky, he asked her father for her hand in marriage. Her father refused on the grounds that, as a dirt poor cowboy, he had little to offer her and might not be able to take care of her. On their last night together, he held her and told her that when he had the means to do so, he would come back for her, and she promised to wait for him. Seeing Ennis and Jack together made her believe that love was something very powerful, that worked in mysterious ways, and she felt sure she would see him again.
K.E. and Cecilia went on with their lives in Wyoming with their families, talking regularly on the phone. All three siblings talked to each other every week to exchange news and try to mend their fractured bonds. In March, Cecilia and K.E. travelled down to Georgia to see Brokeback Ranch, bringing Cecilia's children with them (Tom couldn't get time off work, and Sarah wasn't yet safe to travel). The children loved the horses and Ennis and Jack taught them how to ride. Cecilia taught Jack a few cooking tips (their neighbour Mary had taught them how to do laundry properly) and a few other basic housekeeping tips that might help them out.
Jack's mother Rose managed to get in a visit in early March. Jack drove all the way back to Wyoming himself to pick her up, and brought her home again. He didn't bitch about the long, solitary drive as Ennis thought he might, he would be spending time with his mother and his partner under the same roof, and that was worth the long drive. He completely ignored his father while in Lightning Flat, knowing that he wasn't worth picking a fight with. Rose loved the ranch and was extremely proud of her son for accomplishing all he had, and sent up more than one prayer of thanks that he had met Ennis. He might not have wanted to do this on his own, might not think he had the strength nor the motivation. Ennis had changed all that. They had changed each other so much, in some way had put a little of themselves in each other.
As for Ennis and Jack, settling into the ranch was like settling into a hot bath at the end of a long, cold winter's day. Everything had fallen into place for them like pieces of a puzzle. It had only been a few months, but sometimes they felt like they'd been together for years, they knew each other inside out. In early April, Ennis became aware that it was almost a year since they'd met, and he started thinking about their anniversary. When was their anniversary anyway? May, when they'd met, June, when they'd first slept together, or August, when they'd got together properly? Which one would they celebrate? Perhaps all three, as the three most important dates of their lives so far. An idea had occurred to him, and he logged it away into his mind for further thought. He would have to do a little research and maybe a little asking around.
Their relationship and sex life grew better and stronger every day, becoming more and more adventurous as time went on. They were soon using all kinds of things in the bedroom, not just whipped cream. Ennis was a little flustered at first, not being used to such sexual liberty, but Jack eased him in and he soon found that he enjoyed it a lot. To him, there was no safer place on earth than in bed, in their house, with Jack. They would try to fall asleep face to face, but soon discovered that it wasn't always comfortable, especially after a long day of working, so one of them would instead spoon into the other, unless they had sex first, in which case they usually slept on their backs.
Whenever Jack woke before Ennis, he would take a few moments to gaze lovingly at the man beside him, and then he would raise himself slightly to look at the shirts on the bedroom door, a sight he always loved to see. Ennis was right: even though he couldn't hold him all the time, Jack did feel a sense of safety just by seeing him there, even if they might be at opposite corners of the field. He wondered vaguely if it had anything to do with the shirts, it sure felt like it might.
He thought about Ennis all the time, even if he was right next to him. He felt like a lovestruck teenager by the fact he was always thinking about him. Of course, they were no longer teenagers, but just barely, and he had been a teenager when he'd fallen in love with Ennis, so would probably always feel like that. He wondered if Ennis thought on him as much, he had a suspicion he might. More than once he had turned to see Ennis just staring at him.
Both of them would always treasure their time on Brokeback, and see it for what it truly was, the first chapter of their lives together. Hopefully the first of many. They knew that they would most likely have many more years together, many more chapters to come. And they knew that the second was only just beginning.