"Ennis?" Jack called from the unused downstairs bedroom. "How long has it been since anybody's slept in here?"
It was Wednesday so Bobby was in school, but Ennis had been given the day off due to ice, mud, and otherwise bad riding conditions.
"Uh," Ennis was pulling off his jacket and gloves having just come in from outside. "Not since your parents were here. Why?"
Jack swiped his finger across the top of the dresser. "'Cause it's filthy,"
"I think we need a maid." Jack left the dusty bedroom and sat on the back of the couch. Before Ennis could question his sanity, Jack continued. "Neither you nor I clean, neither a us think to or like to. It sure as hell couldn't hurt. There has got to be some girl in town who's sick of waitressing."
Ennis sighed, knowing full well that once Jack had his mind on something there was no getting him off it. "We can look into it."
As a way of "looking into it," Jack made up some fliers and posted them around town. February rolled over into March without anything coming of the fliers, but just as Ennis was leaving work that first Friday in March, he noticed a girl maybe about 18 years old standing in front of a telephone pole, head tilted to one side, reading a flier, honeyblond ponytail blowing in the wind, a wadded up apron in her hands. She turned and saw Ennis. "Hey, this flier, it's for a job at that place you an' that other fellow run on the edge a town, ain't it?"
"Uh, yeah. It is." Ennis hadn't expected to be approached by prospective housekeepers; that was more Jack's thing.
"I'll do it."
Ennis blinked. "You uh, don't wanna think about it or nothin'?"
"I just walked out of my old job." She glanced sheepishly at the diner across the street. "I'll take this one."
With a sigh, Ennis tipped his hat back. "You better talk to Jack."
"Okay. Should I come down today, tomorrow?"
"How about tomorrow?"
"Okay." The girl grinned. "I'm Ellie, by the way."
"I'm Ennis. Uh, nice to meet you."
When he got home, Ennis told Jack about the encounter—Jack seemed thrilled. The next day in the late morning, Ellie showed up in jeans and a jacket, riding a beat up old green bicycle. The dogs ran up to her to investigate and she petted them then trotted up to the porch where Jack and Ennis were standing. "Hi."
Ellie spent the better part of the next hour being cheerfully interrogated by Jack and being shown around, meeting Bobby and all the animals before Jack announced, "She'll do."
Ellie giggled. "So when do I start?"
Jack glanced at the sun to judge the time. "How about now?"
"I make lunch?" She grinned.
"Yeah; we can figure out days and pay while we eat."
Ellie started working Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday starting the next week. The third Saturday she was there, Ellie met Ennis's girls for the first time—Alma had brought them by the day before so they could spend Spring Break with their father.
"Miss Ellie?" Junior asked, tugging on the leg of the older girl's jeans.
"Can you braid my hair all fancy?"
Ellie smiled. "Sure thing."
"Me too!" Jenny shouted as she tumbled off the couch.
Bobby rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to Star Trek.
Jack and Ennis were working in the barn around lunch time, joking around, throwing handfuls of wood shavings at each other and just generally goofing around. Ennis shoved Jack and Jack playfully kissed him.
"Okay, holy crap, didn't see that coming."
Jack and Ennis both turned to see Ellie, their blood running cold.
"Well okay then, damn, okay. Um…. Why did I come out here…?" She thought a short moment and smacked her leg. "Sandwiches. Me and the kids are making sandwiches, you want some?"
"Um," Jack glanced at Ennis, "uh, yeah, sandwiches sound good."
"Right, okay, I'll bring you sandwiches." Ellie went back inside and returned a short while later to give them sandwiches then went to the house again to watch the kids.
That evening once the kids were in bed, Jack caught Ellie as she was about to leave. "Listen, Ellie, I—"
"Hey, it's okay. I mean," she shrugged, "it's okay and not my business. You're both perfectly nice guys. Your personal matters don't change what I think of you. Good night." She smiled and left.
Mildly stunned, Jack went to the kitchen where Ennis was eating instant noodles. Jack sat and crossed his arms on the table. "She cares less than my mother."
Ennis mumbled something into his noodles then took a breath. "More people keep knowin'. I don't like it."
"Three people. Alma, my mother, and Ellie."
Ennis put his fork down. "And Randall, and I don't wanna know how many guys in Mexico."
Jack looked down. "None a them 're around here. And ya know what? We can't do anything about any of them. We can just be glad that my Mama and Ellie don't care and Alma isn't inclined to run her mouth."
Ennis shook his head but said no more on the subject.
Mid-morning on Tuesday, Jack was alerted to Ellie's arrival by Coallie and Sheriff's cheerful barking. He waved to her from where he stood on a hill a ways away from the house. She waved back, leaned her bike against the fence, and went inside.
A while later, Jack came in just as Ellie was depositing Jenny and Bobby on the floor in front of the television where Junior was already watching Scooby Doo. Ellie ruffled Bobby's hair. "Hey, Jack, cold?"
"Yeah." Jack dropped his coat on the back of the couch. "Can't believe there are school's on break when there's still frost most mornings."
Ellie shrugged. "Once when I was in Junior High there was a foot of snow while I was on Spring Break. Hey, come help me make lunch?"
Ellie looked over her shoulder while washing celery in the sink. "So...don't mean to pry but, you and Ennis?" She gave Jack a mildly conspiratorial grin.
He rolled his eyes. "This is why you asked me to help, isn't it?"
"Yeah." She shrugged. "I don't actually need help; I'm just nosy. But, if you could peel potatoes, it would make my life easier."
Jack chuckled, grabbed a knife, and started peeling potatoes.
"But, so, you and Ennis; there's gotta be a story there, yeah?"
"Ah, well." He shrugged one shoulder. "Of course there's a story."
"You gonna tell it?" she prodded.
Jack leaned to see out the door to make sure the kids were engrossed in the TV, then returned to peeling. "Yeah, I guess."
"So, where'd you meet?" Ellie sounded so enthusiastic Jack couldn't help but smile.
"There." He pointed out the window.
"Mhm. Summer of '63, nineteen years old, we both spent the summer herding sheep up on the mountain. Really, that's why we're here now. The place means something us, least to me, but even though he doesn't say it, I'm pretty sure Ennis feels the same way."
"That is so sweet."
"You think?" Jack looked at her, mildly surprised.
"Yeah!" Ellie continued preparations for soup. "That's really sweet."
"So, if y'all were nineteen, I'm assuming that's before," she gestured toward the kids. "'Sides, no offense, but, I'm pretty sure you're older than, like, twenty three."
"Also, 1963 was eight years ago. Bobby's five."
"Oh, right." She laughed. "Of course. So, you met Ennis and then...?"
"Didn't see him for four years, got married, had a kid. He did the same. Then we met up again and things got complicated."
"I can imagine. How'd you end up back here, then?"
"Spent three years more or less trying to talk Ennis into runnin' away with me. Never really thought it'd work, hoped it would, but never expected it to. Well, it worked."
After Ennis got home, Ellie cornered her employers behind the house. "When's the last time you two had a nice dinner together?"
Ennis stared at her. Jack laughed once. "A nice dinner? Never."
Ellie crossed her arms. "Get your butts in a truck, go have a boys' night out. The German place in town has half-price schnitzel and beer on Tuesdays. Do not argue." She trotted back into the house without a backward glance.
Jack looked at Ennis. "Do you have any idea what schnitzel is?"
"Nope." Ennis brushed his hands on his jeans. "I say we find out."