Title: UNCLE ENNIS

Author: Donna McIntosh

Fandom: Brokeback Mountain

Genre: Slash

Rating: FRAO NC – 17

Disclaimer: Brokeback Mountain does not belong to me and I make no money from these stories.

Challenge: This was written in answer to the Ennis-Goes-To-Texas idea.

UNCLE ENNIS

"Just a minute; just a minute!" Ennis dumped his groceries on the cupboard and grabbed up the phone.

"Yes?" He pulled the door to his trailer closed and turned the lock.

"Is this Ennis? Ennis del Mar?" The young man's voice trembled as he spoke.

"Yeah, this is Ennis. Who's this?" Ennis shoved his six pack of beer in the fridge and followed it with the hotdogs and lunch meat.

"My name is Bobby; Bobby Twist."

Ennis dropped the can of Spaghettios and thought "Jack – something's happened to Jack!" He froze in silence.

"Hello? Are you still there?"

"Uh … yeah. How can I help you? This about Jack?" Ennis stumbled over his words.

All he heard was silence and sniffling. The young man cleared his throat and spoke again. "Yeah. My dad … My mom and dad … they … There was an accident."

"Your dad … he all right?" Ennis asked as icy cold fear paralyzed him.

"No! I mean … he's still alive. Just barely – but Momma's … gone. I … I don't know what I'm supposed to do!" He broke down and sobbed pitifully.

"Jesus!" Ennis swore as he paced the floor. "Bobby! Bobby, listen to me. Bobby?"

"Yeah. I'm here."

"Where are you? Somebody with you?"

"I'm at the hospital. There's cops are here and doctors and stuff."

"You ain't got no relatives down there – no one?"

"No! My only relatives are my grandparents up in Lightning Flat. I called you cause … I didn't know who else to call. When it happened … the accident … I was tryin to see to my daddy and the only thing he said was your name, Ennis. He said it twice before … before he passed out."

"You were there? You were in the accident too? Are you all right?"

"Uh huh. I was asleep in the back seat. Momma was drivin. I could tell right off that she was … she was gone; but Daddy was … kind a moanin ... so I was tryin to see to him. I don't know what I'm supposed to do! I'm scared, Ennis! What am I supposed to do?" He wailed in despair.

"What did the doctors say about your Dad? He gonna be all right? What about you? Did the doctors look at you?"

All he heard was sobbing and the sounds of a noisy hospital in the background.

"Bobby! Bobby!" He called into the phone.

"I'm all right. Just a bump on my head and a bruised shoulder. But Daddy ..."

"What Bobby? What about your Daddy?"

"He's busted up pretty bad. He's unconscious. The doctor said he was in a coma and that I should call somebody. I don't know who I'm supposed to call. You think I should call Grandma up in Lightnin Flat?"

"No, not yet. Let's wait and see to your Daddy first. You did right to call me, Bobby. Look, son, I'm a good long drive away but I'll be there soon as I can. I can't make it there before mornin. You gonna stay there at the hospital?"

"I'll be here. I'm not leavin my Daddy." Bobby sniffled.

"Good. Good. You stay there by your Daddy. I'll be there soon as I can. It's about a fourteen hour drive so don't expect me too soon but I'll be there for you, Bobby. Don't you worry none."

Ennis emptied the cash out of the coffee can he kept in his dresser drawer – a little over two hundred dollars – and stuffed it into his wallet. He pulled a couple shirts out of his closet, a pair of jeans and some underwear and socks and stuffed them into his sack; threw in four packs of cigarettes, his shaving kit, grabbed up his jacket and hat and took off.

He gassed up at Texaco, bought a road map, and headed south. It was a long numbing drive and he made it with gritted teeth. He chastised himself for not pressing for more information about Jack's condition. He should have asked to speak to the doctor. He should have called and told Mr. Cole that he'd be gone for a few days, he should have gotten the truck a tune-up before taking such a long trip, he should have done a million things – but he didn't. All he could think of was getting to Childress and seeing Jack – seeing to Jack's son.

He stopped a few times for gas and a sandwich but kept heading south with grim determination. The thought passed his mind that Jack might already be gone when he got there. He might be going to Texas just to arrange a funeral – two funerals, he reminded himself. Bobby had said that Lureen was gone. So he'd be alone now. Poor kid. Poor Bobby. Ennis wiped away angry tears and sipped his coffee.

It was nearly ten o'clock the next morning when Ennis pulled up to the Childress hospital and parked. He lit a cigarette and stared at the building wondering what he would find when he stepped inside. If Jack didn't make it – his entire body shivered at that thought – he'd have to see to Bobby. There was no one else. Lureen's parents had been gone a couple years now and apparently there were no other relatives. Bobby was only sixteen. If he didn't take care of him, they'd stick him in some foster home somewhere. Jack would hate that.

Ennis drank the dregs of his coffee, stubbed his cigarette out and headed on inside. He hated hospitals. He hated the smell and he hated the people that ran them always asking questions and worrying more about getting paid than taking care of the people who needed it. He walked up to the front desk and asked, "Jack Twist's room please?"

"One moment please." The woman smiled at him as she checked her computer screen. "He's in room 412. The elevators are right over there."

"Thank you, Ma'am." Ennis answered politely and headed for the elevators.

In a few minutes he was walking down a long hallway looking for the room number. There it was. 412. He swallowed hard, pushed the door open and walked inside. It was quiet. There was only one bed and he walked over to it. Jack was lying still. His head was bandaged, his face swollen and black and blue, there were tubes running in and out of him. Both legs and one arm were encased in plaster casts. A machine sat on a table next to the bed with green numbers and letters flickering.

Bobby was sitting on a stool next to his father with his head down on the bed and holding his father's hand. He was asleep. Ennis could see the boy was dark-haired, tall and lean, like his father.

"Bobby?" Ennis spoke lightly, not wanting to startle the boy but Bobby jumped up the minute he heard his name.

"Ennis?" With the up-turned face, Ennis could see that he was more like his father than just his build. He was the spitting image of Jack with the exception of his dark eyes. He had big brown sad eyes that were red rimmed and swollen. Whether from the accident or from crying, Ennis didn't know. He could see some scrapes and bruises and a large goose-egg knot on Bobby's forehead but other than that, he seemed okay.

Ennis just nodded and the boy jumped up and ran into his arms. Ennis held him tight while Bobby cried his heart out.

"I'm so glad you came! I didn't know what else to do! Ennis, Momma's … dead!" He dissolved into tears again and Ennis just held him tight and did his best to comfort him. "What am I gonna do if Daddy dies too?" He turned a frantic, tear stained face up to Ennis.

"Now don't you be thinkin like that. Looks to me like they're takin good care a your daddy. We'll see to him till he gets on his feet again and he'll be the one lookin after you. Don't you think no other thoughts but that right now." He patted Bobby on the shoulder and have him another hug.

"You sure you're all right?" Ennis pushed Bobby back enough to get a better look at him. "The doctor looked you over real good?"

"I'm fine. I got a headache but that's about it. It's Daddy I'm worried about."

Ennis turned to look at Jack again and the machine beside his bed. He tried to figure out what the readout meant but couldn't make heads or tails out of it.

"I need to talk to the doctor." Ennis started to leave the room but Bobby held onto his arm.

"You're not going to leave; are you?"

"No, son. No. I'm just gonna go out to the front there when the nurses are and ask if I can talk to your daddy's doctor. You wanna come along with me?"

Bobby gave one long sad look at his dad then said, "Yes; I wanna go with you. Maybe they'll tell you more than they told me."

The two of them walked to the nurse's station and arrived there the same time as the doctor who was just coming out of another patient's room.

"That's him! That's Daddy's doctor." Bobby said.

"Doctor? Can I talk to you a minute? I need to know about Jack Twist." Ennis approached him with his arm around Bobby's shoulders.

"Yes, sir. Are you a member of the family?" The doctor reached out a hand to shake.

"He's my Daddy's best friend. You told me to call someone and I called him. He came all the way from Wyoming to see to Daddy and me."

"Ennis, Ennis del Mar." Ennis said as he shook the doctor's hand. "What exactly is Jack's condition?"

More people were arriving at the nurse's station so the doctor escorted them over to a sitting area to talk.

"Mr. Twist sustained several broken bones and a severe concussion. He's in a coma but he's presently stable."

"So he's gonna make it then? We just gotta wait it out?" Ennis asked.

"It's really too soon to tell anything for certain." The doctor hedged as he looked back and forth from Ennis to Bobby. "But I'd say the longer his condition remains stable, the better his chances are."

"Is there somethin he needs? An operation or somethin?" Ennis asked.

"No, not at this time. We did all the repairs last night. Right now we just need to let his body rest and see if it can heal itself."

"What all was broken?" Ennis asked.

"Left leg is a simple fracture, right leg was broken in three places. That required surgical repair. His right arm is fractured, right collar bone cracked, and four ribs broken."

"Jesus!" Ennis said as he looked away and thought for a moment that he might be sick.

"There was also an injury to his head causing severe swelling and we had to go in and relieve the pressure. The head injury is what caused the coma and at this point it's probably best that he's unconscious. He'd be in a world of hurt if he was awake just now."

"But you could give him somethin for the pain – you gave me somethin for my headache and I hardly feel it at all anymore." Bobby chimed in.

"Son, your bump on the head was a minor thing. Your daddy had two surgeries plus he's got all those broken bones. Anything that we could give him wouldn't touch pain like that. It's best for him to sleep for a few days. Let the body begin to heal. Each day that passes will lessen the pain he's gonna be in when he wakes up. Think of it that way. He'll come out of it when his body's ready." The doctor patted Bobby on the shoulder.

"You think he's gonna be all right then?" Ennis pressed.

"At this time, I don't see any reason why he shouldn't be. We'll monitor him carefully and do our best."

He gave Ennis and Bobby a reassuring smile and left the two of them standing there. They headed back to Jack's room and found two women in there, one carrying a clipboard.

"Are you Bobby Twist?" The woman with the clipboard asked.

"Yes, Ma'am," Bobby answered, stepped closer to Ennis and took hold of his arm.

"And you are?" The woman asked Ennis.

"This here is my Uncle Ennis. He's come to see to me." Bobby said quickly.

Ennis draped a protective arm around Bobby's shoulders. He could feel the boy trembling.

"I'm Rita Aldritch and this is Betty Malcom. We're from the Child Protective Services. We were told there weren't any relatives available to take you in." She addressed the boy but looked to Ennis as well.

"My name is Ennis del Mar, ladies." Ennis gave them each a nod.

"He's my Daddy's best friend and he's like an Uncle; same thing." Bobby looked at Ennis with scared pleading eyes.

"Is that so?" Ms. Aldritch asked Ennis.

"Yes. I've known the family for about twenty years now." Ennis stretched the truth a bit.

"I see. And do you live here in Childress?" The woman scratched notes down on her clipboard.

"No, I live in Wyoming ..."

"But he came down here soon as he heard about the accident so he could see to me. Didn't you Uncle Ennis?" Bobby clung to Ennis's arm.

"That's right. I come down here soon as I heard. I'll be lookin after the boy till Jack gets back on his feet again."

"And may I ask exactly what are your plans for the boy?"

"I intend to see to him, same as his daddy would until Jack gets well enough to take over."

"Are you plannin on takin him back to Wyomin then?"

"No. We're stayin right here so we can see to Jack." Ennis assured her.

"You'll be stayin at the Twist residence then?"

"Yes; he will." Bobby piped in.

"We'll be mostly here at the hospital with Jack." Ennis added.

"That's certainly understandable." Mrs. Aldritch said and she gave a look over to Jack.

The ladies looked to one another and made their notations. They asked a few more questions and finally left.

"Oh thank you, Ennis! I mean, Mr. del Mar. Is it okay if I call you Ennis? They might think it's funny if I call you Mr. del Mar … you bein my uncle and all." Bobby gave him a little grin with the tip of his tongue peeking out at the corner of his mouth. It looked so much like Jack that Ennis nearly lost it.

"Uh huh." Was all Ennis could get out. He cleared his throat and added, "You call me whatever you're comfortable with. Ennis, or uncle, whatever. It don't matter none to me."

"Oh thank you so much!" He gave Ennis a hug. "I won't really need lookin after. I'm sixteen and I can take care a myself."

"I'm sure you can, Bobby. But just for a little while, let me see to you like your daddy would. You think maybe you'd be okay with that?"

Bobby gave a little smile and shook his head yes.

Ennis walked over and sat on the stool beside Jack's bed and took his hand. He sat there for a while with Bobby standing beside him.

"Can somebody be that busted up and still make it?" Bobby asked so quietly it was almost a whisper.

"The doctor seems to think so and he knows more about this stuff than we do." Ennis tried to be strong for Bobby but all he wanted to do was take Jack in his arms and kiss the swollen and bruised face.

The silence was interrupted when the door opened and a woman came in. "Mr. del Mar? You're the uncle here?" She walked over with her hand outstretched for a shake.

Ennis stood, took her hand and said, "Yes, Ma'am."

"I'm Verna Wills, hospital administrator." She introduced herself. "I understand you'll be taking temporary custody of the boy."

"That's right." Ennis shook his head.

"Good. Good. I know he's practically grown and can pretty much take care of himself but it's the rules, you know." She gave Bobby a smile and he smiled back just a little bit.

"When you have time, we need you to stop in at the office. There are arrangements we need to see to." She gave them both a smile and left.

"Arrangements?" Bobby asked wide eyed.

"Probably for your Momma." Ennis answered somberly.

"Oh." Bobby looked down like he was trying not to think about it.

"Bobby, did your Momma have a lawyer who helped her with legal stuff?"

"Yeah, Mr. Crowley. You think I should call him?"

"Yeah. I think that'd be a good idea. He probably knows all about what needs to be done; insurance and stuff."

"Momma probably has his number in her purse." He pointed over to a pile of items on a nearby cupboard. "They brought me her and Daddy's things after the accident. That's how I found your number. It was in Daddy's wallet." Bobby said as he walked over and picked up the purse, went through it, and pulled out a small address book. "Here it is." He said after scanning the contents.

"There a phone around here?" Ennis asked.

"Out in the waiting room." Bobby started to leave and then stopped at the door. "Could you come with me?" As much as he stood tall and tried to act like a man, he was still a scared boy who's world had just been turned upside down.

"You bet." Ennis said. He gave Jack's hand a squeeze, got up and followed Bobby to the telephone.

Bobby dug in his pocket and came up with the coins, inserted them in the slot and punched in the number while Ennis stood at his side.

"I need to talk with Mr. Crowley." Bobby said. "This is Bobby Twist and my mother passed away last night." That was all he could get out before he started trembling. Ennis put an arm around him and gave him a hug. "Hello, Mr. Crowley. No, he can't come to the phone. He was hurt bad too. He's in a coma." Bobby tried to stand a little taller so Ennis backed off a bit but stayed close. "The hospital administrator has some questions about arrangements and stuff. My uncle Ennis is here and he said we should call you." Bobby reached out and took Ennis's arm, pulling him in closer. Ennis put a comforting arm around him. "Yes, I'm at the hospital now. Okay. Thank you." He hung up the phone.

"He said he'd be over here to see us shortly." Bobby said as they walked back to Jack's room.

"So, you been here at the hospital since the accident?" Ennis asked as they entered the room.

"Yeah. I'm not leavin Daddy." Bobby said as he stood at the foot of Jack's bed allowing Ennis the stool to sit on. "They kept tellin me to go home but I wasn't about to leave."

"I understand. They probably wanted you to get cleaned up is all." Ennis said and nodded towards Bobby's torn and bloody clothes. "They're probably thinkin it would scare your daddy if he wakes up and sees you all messed up like that."

"Oh geeze! I never thought a that. I can't leave now though; not with Mr. Crowley comin." Bobby took a look at himself for the first time.

"I tell you what. How about we talk with this Mr. Crowley and then you and me go get cleaned up and grab us a burger. You like burgers?"

"I love burgers! You think it would be all right? I mean, leavin Daddy and all?"

"We wouldn't be gone but an hour or so. We'd come right back here after. Don't look like your daddy is gonna be wakin up in that short a time."

"I am hungry." Bobby grinned at him; relieved that someone else had made the decision. "And I do want to clean up. If he was to see me in this bloody shirt he might think I was hurt. There's no way he'd know it was his blood."

"That'd scare him, for sure. I could use a shave myself." Ennis said as he rubbed his stubbly chin.

"You can use Daddy's razor. He won't mind."

"I brought mine. It'd be nice to grab a shower though."

"Sure thing! I could use one myself. We can still come back here afterward?"

"Absolutely. Or if you wanted to catch a few hours a sleep, I could sit with your daddy and give you a call if he wakes up." Ennis offered.

"I don't know." Bobby gave a sad glance at his daddy. "I really want to be here when he wakes up. He'll be worried and I'll have to tell him about Mom."

"I'm proud a you, Bobby. That's gonna be hard but I can see you're strong enough to handle it."

"You'll be here with me; won't you? I mean – it'll be easier if he has his best friend here."

"Sure thing. That's what I come down here for – whatever you need; whatever Jack needs. Together we'll get him through this." Ennis said and choked up a little bit. He desperately wanted a cigarette but knew he couldn't light up here in Jack's room and didn't want to leave Bobby so he just sat, holding Jack's hand.

Bobby sat in the chair and stared out the window. "You know – it's funny." He said after a while of silence.

"What's that, Bobby?" Ennis asked, turning around to face him.

"Momma. She looked perfectly fine. Not a speck a blood on her. She just looked like she was asleep. Doctor said her neck was broken and she died instantly. Daddy was the one all bloody and awful lookin. It was him I was scared most about. I touched her neck though, like we learned in First Aid class and she didn't have a pulse. I tried her arm too but she was gone. She was just sittin there lookin pretty as ever. Didn't even muss up her hair. She hated havin messy hair."

"Jack showed me a photo of her once. She was a fine lookin woman all right."

"I miss her. She ain't even in the ground yet and I miss her already." Bobby turned his face away and wiped at his eyes.

Ennis couldn't help but remember when he lost his folks. How lonely he felt. Lonely and desperate and afraid. He didn't know what to say to comfort Bobby but he knew one thing for sure – he wasn't going to let him get sent off to some foster home.

"This is a hard time for you, Bobby; I know that. I lost both my parents when I was fourteen. It's hard. There's no gettin around that but I want you to know that I'm gonna be here for you. I promise you that. I'm not leavin until your daddy is up and around and fit enough to care for you again."

"I don't wanna go to no foster home!" Bobby sobbed.

"I don't know all the legal stuff, son. We'll have to ask Mr. Crowley when he gets here. If it's legal for me to take custody a you then that's what we'll do. Whatever it takes."

"It could take a long time – weeks or months for Daddy to get better. You won't have to go back to your home in Wyomin?"

"I ain't got much of a home back there. Just my old trailer. I will have to give the ranch manager where I work a call and tell him I'm gonna be gone for a while."

"He won't fire you?"

"I don't know. He might. If he does, then I'll just find me another job. That's not important right now. All we need to be thinkin about is gettin things taken care of – seein to arrangements for your momma and seein to your daddy. It's June so you don't have school do you?"

"Nah. School's been out a couple a weeks."

"Good. Then the two of us can just stay right here sittin with your daddy." Ennis smiled at him.

"You're not goin to make me go home?" Bobby turned to face him.

"Nope. You don't want to leave your pa; I can understand that. I don't want to leave him neither. How ever long it takes for him to get better; the two a us need to be right here."

Bobby gave him a tear-stained grin of gratitude.

"Now that's not to say we don't step out once in a while for a burger or a shower. We don't wanna be stinkin up this place so's they ask us to leave." Ennis tried to lighten the mood.

Bobby nodded in agreement and was still smiling when a short knock on the door announced the arrival of Mr. Crowley. He came in, briefcase in hand, and shook hands first with Bobby and gave his sincere condolences and then turned to Ennis. "And you're the uncle?"

"More or less." Ennis answered.

"This here is Ennis del Mar, Mr. Crowley. He's my dad's best friend and just like an uncle to me. He's the first one I called. I knew he'd come to look after me." Bobby said quickly.

"So you're not a blood relative then? I knew Lureen didn't have any brothers; I thought maybe Jack did."

"No, we're not blood related but we been friends twenty years now." Ennis shook Mr. Crowley's hand.

"That's good. Good he has someone who can look after the boy." He looked over at Jack then and asked quietly, "So how's he doin?"

"Doctor says he's in a coma but he's stable." Ennis said.

"I stopped at the office downstairs and they'd like to talk with us if now is a convenient time?" Mr. Crowley asked as he looked back and forth from Ennis to Bobby.

Ennis looked over to Bobby who had a scared-sick look on his face. "Best to get it over with." He reached out a hand and Bobby came over to his side and put an arm around Ennis.

They followed Mr. Crowley downstairs to the offices, went inside and sat down at a large table. Mr. Crowley sat on one side of Bobby; Ennis on the other. Mrs. Wills sat opposite them with her file folder full of paperwork.

"Now then, do you have all the paperwork in order, Mr. Crowley?" She asked.

"I do." He said and began to pull papers out of his briefcase. "Here's the legal guardianship papers allowing Mr. del Mar to take temporary custody of the boy." He handed them to Ennis. "If you'll just print your name here on this line and then sign right there at the bottom."

Ennis scanned the paper. It was only a few paragraphs long describing Bobby and agreeing to take full custody and responsibility for him. Ennis signed it and handed it back. Mr. Crowley then handed it to Mrs. Wills.

"Good. Now about the arrangements for Mrs. Twist." She said.

"I have a copy of her will right here and the funeral home that she designated." He handed the papers directly to Mrs. Wills.

"Have they been notified?" She asked.

"They have. They will be sending someone over for the … um … they'll be sending someone over this afternoon." He said after looking at Bobby sitting glumly beside him.

"Good. And what about insurance. Do you have that paperwork as well?" She asked.

"I do. It's right here." He handed her a sheaf of papers.

She scanned them briefly. "Looks like everything is here. I'll make copies of these and get them back to you." She stood up and left the room taking all the paper work with her.

"That's it? That's all there is to it?" Bobby asked.

"That's all for right now." Mr. Crowley said. "The funeral home will take care of the rest of it. They'll let us know when they plan for the burial. They'll probably want you to pick out a dress for her to be buried in. You think you can do that or you want me to get my secretary to go over to the house and help you?"

"No, I can do it. Ennis will help me." He looked up at Ennis.

Ennis nodded his head yes.

"Well, that's it for now then. As Bobby's guardian, I guess you'll be handlin the estate then?" He asked Ennis.

"Huh? No! That'll be up to Jack when he wakes up." Ennis insisted.

"Yes, of course – eventually. But there will be matters that will need to be taken care of until that happens; bills to be paid, the business to be seen to, that sort of thing."

"I can do that!" Bobby said as they walked out into the hall.

"Son, I'm sure you could but it has to be done by someone of legal age and right now that's going to have to be your guardian here."

"I'll do whatever needs to be done. Me and Bobby will. We'll see to things together." Ennis said.

"I'm sure you will. I'll see you both at the funeral. And right after I'll need to see the two of you in my office."

"What for?" Bobby asked before Ennis could.

"The reading of your mother's will." Mr. Crowley assured them.

"You can't just give us the papers and we can read it ourselves?" Ennis asked.

"Unfortunately, no I can't. It's a formality, really, but one that's long-standing whenever there is a sizable estate involved. It's important to have it read and explained to those involved so that there are no misunderstandings."

"Can't that wait till Jack wakes up?" Ennis asked.

"We could hold off a few days, if you really wanted to, but it's customary to have it done as soon as possible. Usually within a week or ten days."

"Daddy might be awake by then." Bobby said eagerly.

"He might be – and again he might not be." Mr. Crowley said.

"We have to decide right now?" Ennis asked. "Can we have a few days to decide?"

"Sure. It's not going to be that difficult to get through. It shouldn't take but thirty minutes or so. As I said, we just read through it and I explain all the legalese. It's just a formality to make sure you – both of you – understand everything." Mr. Crowley explained. "You can let me know after the funeral. If you feel like comin over to the office and getting it taken care of then, we'll do it. Otherwise, we can wait a few days. Whatever you're most comfortable with." He shook hands with them both and left.

Ennis and Bobby made their way back to Jack's room.

"What do you think?" Bobby asked as they sat down – Ennis on the stool next to the bed and Bobby pulled the chair over next to him.

"He seemed all right. Seems like he's tryin to help." Ennis said.

"I don't know anythin about legal papers and stuff. Do you?" Bobby asked.

"Nah; not much. Just divorce papers."

"You been divorced?" Bobby asked.

"Yep. Bout nine years now."

"I didn't know that. My friend Tommy's folks are divorced. His dad lives in Dallas and he goes there for the summer."

Ennis gave a grunt.

"You got kids?" Bobby asked.

"Uh huh. They ain't kids no more though. My girls are twenty and seventeen."

"Your address said Riverton. Is that where they live?"

"Used to. Junior, my oldest, she lives with her husband up in Alaska. He's a rough neck and works on the pipeline up there. Jenny, my youngest, just graduated high school and moved to Casper with her aunt so she can go to some school there. She wants to be a stewardess."

"So you live in Riverton all alone then or do you have a girl?"

"I live alone and no, I don't have no girl. I did for a while but it didn't work out."

"I don't see how it ever works out." Bobby said.

"Huh?" Ennis asked; not quite sure he heard right.

"Guys and girls – they're so different. Don't know why my mom and dad ever got married. There's not one single thing they have in common. She likes to dress up fancy and go out and party. She'd do it every night if she could. Daddy hates it. He'd rather bum around in dirty jeans and shirt and just sit home and drink beer. She loves to travel and he hates it. They don't even like the same kind a music!"

"Well I guess they had their reasons." Ennis said.

"I was the reason." Bobby said. "They got me started and I guess they figured it'd be best if they got married."

"I guess." Ennis agreed and was a little surprised that Bobby knew that.

Just then the nurse came in, checked on Jack and made notations on her papers. She smiled and started to leave.

"Wait a minute." Ennis stood up. "He doin okay? He any better? Worse?"

"He's doing fine. He's holding steady. At this point that's a good thing." She smiled sweetly at both of them and left.

"You hear that, Jack? You're doin fine!" Ennis said as he sat back down.

"You think he can hear us?" Bobby asked.

"I don't know. I did see this TV show once where this guy was in a coma and when he woke up he remembered everything he heard the people in his room talkin about."

"That was a movie though." Bobby said.

"Yeah, but it was supposed to be a true story."

"This mornin when the doctor was in to see him he told me I should talk to Daddy. He said Daddy could hear me. But if Daddy's sleepin; how can he hear me?"

"I don't know, son, but that's the way I heard it. It won't hurt nothin to try." He stood up and motioned for Bobby to come closer to his dad.

Bobby stepped over, took his dad's hand and kissed the back of it. "Daddy … it's me." He leaned back and asked Ennis, "What do I say?"

"Whatever you want him to hear. I wouldn't say nothin about the accident or your momma though. There's time enough for that later."

Bobby turned back to his dad. "Daddy … The doctor says you're fine. You're gonna be fine. He says you need to sleep a lot right now and when you're ready you'll wake up. You just sleep now and don't worry about a thing. Ennis is here and he's lookin after me." He turned and smiled at Ennis.

"You did good." Ennis said.

"We're gonna go get cleaned up and grab a burger, Daddy, and then we'll be back. So if you wake up while we're gone; don't be worried. We'll be back in a couple hours." He bent down and kissed his dad's cheek, released his father's hand and walked towards the door. "Ready?" He asked Ennis.

"Yeah." Ennis walked closer to Jack, reached down and squeezed his hand. "Time to eat, Bud. See you in a couple hours. You behave yourself while we're gone. Don't you be givin those nurses a hard time now, ya hear." He gave Bobby a smile and the two of them walked out.

Down in the parking lot they got into Ennis's truck. "You drove all the way from Wyomin in this?" Bobby asked as he climbed in.

"Don't you go makin fun a my truck now, Bobby. It got me here; didn't it?" Ennis teased as he started the engine. "You need to show me the way to your place, Bobby."

"Just turn right here." Bobby pointed out the way until five minutes later they pulled into a fancy neighborhood and up into the driveway of the biggest house on the block.

"Whew. This your place?"

"Uh huh." Bobby said as he climbed out, pulled his keys out of his pocket and keyed the front door.

"They don't have nothin like this in Riverton!" Ennis eyed the three-story mansion with it's finely landscaped lawn in front as he grabbed up his bag from the back of the truck.

"Come on in." Bobby called as he went through the front door and into the vast marble foyer. "My rooms are on the top floor."

Ennis followed him up the wide staircase. On the second floor, Bobby stopped and pointed to the first door on the right. "That's Daddy's room. He has his own bathroom. You can shower in there." He took off then on up the stairs to the top floor.

Ennis walked through the door and knew immediately that this was Jack's room. It looked like him. It smelled like him. The first thing he noticed was an over-flowing ash tray and happily lit up a cigarette. He tossed his bag on Jack's bed and picked up a blue shirt that was on the floor. He lifted it to his nose and inhaled, smelling Jack's scent. "Oh Jack!" He whispered. "You just gotta make it. Your boy needs you. I need you." He folded the shirt, put a sweet kiss on it and placed it on the dresser.

One last look around the room with it's plain furniture, no frills, and the sweet smell that was all Jack, and Ennis got busy. He pulled some clean clothes out of his bag plus his shaving kit and tooth brush, went into the bathroom and started cleaning up. He was exhausted. It was only mid afternoon but he hadn't slept the night before and he was going on pure guts right now. He had to keep on going, keep on putting one foot in front of the other. He had to look out after Bobby, he had to see to Jack. So much to do. He felt some better after the shower and shave. Even the tooth brushing seemed to revive him a bit more. The clean clothes felt good too.

When he came out of Jack's room, Bobby was sitting on the floor outside the door and staring at the double-doors at the end of the hallway. He had cleaned up but tears were streaming down his face.

Ennis sat down next to him. "That your Momma's room?"

"Uh huh. Do we have to get her a dress right now? Can we wait and do it later? I don't wanna go in there."

"Sure thing. We've got a couple a days before the funeral."

"I really don't wanna go in her room." Bobby shook his head but his eyes never left the doors.

"You don't have to. I can do it if you want. I ain't all that good at pickin out dresses and such but I can just go in and bring out somethin. If you don't like it, I'll go back in and get somethin else. What do you think?"

Bobby wiped his forearm across his wet face, jumped up and said, "Can we go eat now? I'm starved."

"Sure thing. You'll have to tell me where to go though. I never been in this town before."

"Okay. Why don't we go in my car?" Bobby led the way through the kitchen and into the garage where a little red Corvette sat.

"This your car?" Ennis asked as Bobby hit the garage door opener and his part of the three-car garage opened.

"Yeah, ain't she a beaut! Momma got it for me for my birthday." He climbed in behind the wheel and reached over and unlocked the passenger side door and Ennis scrunched down and slid in.

"It's little." Was all Ennis could think of to say.

"Yeah and it's hot!" Bobby said as he floor-boarded it and screeched out the door, down the driveway and into the street; a quick shift in gears and they roared off.

"Your daddy teach you how to drive this thing?" Ennis asked as he winced and grabbed the arm rest as Bobby took a corner at full speed.

"Nah; Momma did. Daddy's not into hot cars. He prefers those big old pick-ups. Momma's the one loves hot cars. You should see her Jag … a … I mean ..." He stopped talking and even slowed down a little bit.

"I know what you mean." Ennis said that and nothing more.

"It's silver and she got this custom paint job on it and, I swear, that thing shines like a diamond."

Bobby pulled the car into McDonalds and parked. "You serious about a burger?" he asked Ennis. "We can go someplace nicer if you want. My treat."

"Burgers are fine with me but if you want something else we can go wherever you want." Ennis noticed that Bobby didn't seem eager to get out of the car then added. "You don't wanna go in?"

"No. That green Ford over there and the Dodge next to it – those belong to friends of mine. I don't wanna see them right now."

"We can go somewhere else or we can just go through the drive-through." Ennis offered.

Bobby keyed the engine and drove over to the drive-through and got in line. "Thanks. I know I gotta see them and talk to them soon but I just don't wanna do it right now."

"You don't have to do nothin right now, Bobby, 'cept for what you wanna do. The 'have-tos' will come along soon enough."

Bobby pulled up to the order station and ordered a big mac, fries, and a chocolate shake. Ennis said that sounded good and said to order the same for him. Ennis tried to pay for it but Bobby had his credit card out and into the chashier's hand in a flash so he let it go.

They ate their burgers in the hospital parking lot and went on inside. Nothing at all had changed. The numbers were still the same. Thus began their vigil at Jack's bedside. They stayed with him constantly, talking to him and to each other. They took turns sleeping in the chair for a few hours at a time and left the room only occasionally to grab a bite to eat or get cleaned up.

The day of the funeral dawned bright and sunny. Flowers had been arriving at the home along with piles of cards and letters of condolences. Bobby didn't open any of them and Ennis just stuck them in a drawer in the foyer table. He thought Bobby might want them later on. He picked out a blue dress from Lureen's huge walk-in closet and Bobby said it was just fine. He went back in and got shoes to match and some under garments. They put them in a sack and dropped them off at the funeral home.

Bobby insisted that Ennis wear one of Jack's suits for the funeral service. He said it would be almost like his daddy was right there with them so Ennis relented and agreed. He was stunned to see so many people there. Everyone in town must have turned out and were all weeping and hugging Bobby and offering condolences. Bobby said nothing, kept his head down and clung to Ennis's side. Ennis kept a strong arm around him and was relieved when it was finally over and the funeral car dropped them off at home.

"Can we go to the hospital now?" Bobby asked as soon as they got in the door.

"Yep. Soon as we get out of these clothes." Ennis answered and they hurried up the stairs to change.

It was three days later before Mr. Crowley showed up at the hospital, briefcase in hand, and suggested they do the reading of the will right there in Jack's room.

"That's a good idea." Bobby said. "The doctor says Daddy can hear what we say so that way he'll know what's going on when he wakes up."

Ennis nodded in agreement.

Mr. Crowley was right; the will was short and straight forward. He went through it paragraph by paragraph and explained everything so that they could understand it all and when it was finished they signed their names. Everything was left to Bobby and Jack. God parents had been Lureen's parents but since they both preceded her in death, a new part was added that stated that guardianship of Bobby had been assigned to one Ennis del Mar. Bobby beamed at this point when Ennis signed on the dotted line. Now it was legal and he didn't have to worry any more about being sent off to live with some foster family.

For the next several days their routine varied little at all. Mr. Crowley had put a notice on the door of Newsome Farm Equipment stating the business was closed until further notice so there was no worry there. They took turns sitting next to Jack and talking to him. When Ennis's turn came and he was sure Bobby was asleep in the chair he would lay his head down next to Jack's and whisper sweet words of encouragement to him; placing little kisses on the bruised face.

One evening after dinner, a shower and shave, Ennis came downstairs to the kitchen and found the sliding glass door to the patio open. A glance outside showed Bobby sitting in the dark. He walked out to where Bobby was sitting on the three foot tall decorative rock wall that surrounded the patio. He draped an arm around Bobby's shoulders and said nothing. The two of the were silent for a bit before Ennis asked, "You ready to go back to the hospital?"

"I was just thinkin. What's gonna happen to me if … if Daddy doesn't wake up? If he don't make it?"

"Bobby, you can't be thinkin that way."

"But what if he don't make it? What happens then?" Bobby insisted on an answer.

Ennis sat down on the wall beside him and lit a cigarette. "To tell you the truth, son; I never thought about it. From the first minute you called me and told me what happened; I always just figured I'd look after things … just until Jack got back on his feet. I never thought much passed that."

"Ennis … I know you're not really my uncle and you don't really have to be here; but I need to know. What happens if Daddy … dies. What happens to me? I know you agreed to look after me temporarily but if Daddy dies ..." He stopped to clear his throat.

"If the worst happens … if he don't … make it; then the two a us will have to sit down and have a serious talk about what we want."

"What do you want? Are you just … going to go back to Wyomin? What'll happen to me?" His questions were asked in a controlled tone – not panic. Like he'd given a good deal of time thinking about the matter. "I'm older now. I guess a foster home won't be so bad. I mean … I can take care of myself." He was trying to be strong but he couldn't keep the tremble out of his voice.

Ennis reached over and took Bobby's hand. "I never had a son. Always wanted one." Ennis tried to make his mind work around the thought of possibly losing Jack permanently. "I guess it'll be up to you. If you was to want me to … I'd be proud to try and be a daddy to you – the kind a daddy Jack is."

"You mean it? You'd … I don't know … adopt me or somethin?" Bobby's face brightened.

"If that's what you wanted."

"It's what Daddy would want; I know that." Bobby said.

"Then that's what we'd do."

"Would we move up to Wyomin?"

"I don't know, Bobby. I gotta be honest here – I ain't given this any thought. I never thought nothin but that you're daddy'd make it. I still think he will."

"I hope he does! God; I hope he does!" Bobby let out a little groan. "But if he don't … you'd look after me? It'd only be for a couple a years and I'd be old enough to look after myself and not have to worry about foster homes or the state appointing someone else as my guardian. I wouldn't care if we moved up to Wyomin. Really. I know you're into ranchin and all. We could live wherever you wanted."

"We'd have to see if they'd let me take you out a state. But if we moved or if we stayed here; I'll look out for you. I'd be proud to. You got my word, Bobby." Ennis promised.

Bobby hugged him hard and asked if they could go to the hospital. Ennis agreed and they were off with no more talk about 'what if'.

It was nearly three weeks before Bobby woke Ennis up one morning as his head lay on the bed next to Jack's. "Look! Look, Ennis, look!" Bobby shook him.

Ennis jumped up from the stool, blinked his eyes and stared at the machine where Bobby was pointing. The numbers were up – way up from what they had been.

"Does that mean he's waking up?" Bobby asked as he pulled on Ennis's arm.

"I don't know, son. He does look better though, don't he? I mean – he don't look so … kinda waxy. He looks more like he's just sleepin." Ennis turned the lighting up so they could see better.

"Daddy! Daddy! Can you hear me?" Bobby grabbed Jack's hand.

"Hey, Bud. It's time to rise and shine." Ennis gave Jack's shoulder a little shake.

Jack's head rolled over facing them and his eyes fluttered; his lips moved a bit and the pink tongue came out and wet his chapped lips.

"Daddy! Daddy!" Bobby called to him.

Jack's eyes opened just a bit to tiny blue slits and he mumbled, "Bobby" then they closed again.

"He's awake!" Bobby said and hugged Ennis.

Ennis swallowed hard. "He's gonna make it!" Ennis whispered as he held Bobby tight.

The doctor came in a short time later and said that Jack had indeed come out of the coma and was now just sleeping but would continue to wake up from time to time. He told them to be careful and not tire Jack out during his waking moments and to let him sleep as much as he wanted.

Jack was in and out of sleep the next few days. He didn't remember the accident and wondered what happened to him. He was surprised but pleased to see Ennis there. It was four days before he was awake enough to start asking questions.

The head of his bed had been raised and the doctor had just examined him telling him he needed to start eating and he'd get his strength back. The nurse brought in a tray and Bobby insisted on feeding his Daddy the Jello and fruit juice.

"What you need is a cheese-burger, Daddy. That'll put you on your feet all right." Bobby grinned as he spooned the gelatin into his father's mouth.

Jack ate every bite and Bobby wiped his chin. "I bet you did this enough times for me when I was little," Bobby said after Jack thanked him.

"Bobby ..." Jack started and then looked over at Ennis. He knew something was wrong; he knew they were keeping something from him but he couldn't imagine what. "Tell me about the accident. What happened?"

Bobby looked over to Ennis and Ennis nodded to him. It was time and they both knew it. Bobby reached out his hand to Ennis and he came over and took Bobby's hand and stood next to him.

"Daddy, it was a real bad accident." He started out.

Jack said nothing; just kept looking back and forth from Ennis to Bobby.

"A traffic accident? I wrecked my truck? I didn't hurt nobody; did I?" Jack was becoming antsy.

"No, Daddy. It wasn't your fault. We weren't in your truck. It was Momma's Jag."

"We? You were in the wreck too? You okay?" Jack asked then added, "Momma's Jag? Why would I be drivin her car? I never drive that thing! Is she mad at me? Is that why she ain't been in to see me?"

"Momma was drivin. Don't you remember? We were headed out to the club for an early dinner and then to that play Momma wanted to see."

"Play?" Jack screwed up his face as he tried to remember.

"I didn't wanna go. I'd been swimmin all afternoon and all I wanted to do was sleep."

"I don't remember anything about a play..." Jack's voice trailed off. "What happened, Bobby? Was your Momma hurt?"

Bobby's eyes filled with tears and he choked up. He turned his face into Ennis's chest and couldn't go any further.

"It was a bad wreck, Bud. Lureen didn't … she didn't make it." Ennis explained as he held Bobby close.

Jack lay there in stunned silence – he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"No!" He finally wailed. "NO!" His one good arm went up over his eyes and his body shook with his sobs. "Oh God; please no!" He wept.

Bobby pulled away from Ennis and fled the room. Ennis sat on the side of the bed and took Jack into his arms and held him while he cried. It was some time before he regained control of himself. Ennis released him and reached for some tissues and wiped Jack's face. He turned away from Ennis. He couldn't face him just then.

"So it wasn't my fault then?" He asked quietly a few minutes later.

"Wasn't nobody's fault. A patrolman come in and talked to us a few days after it happened. He said the car ran over something – a sharp piece a metal. It pierced the tire and there was a blowout." Ennis explained.

"And Bobby wasn't hurt? You're sure?" He turned and looked at Ennis then.

"He had a bump on his forehead and a few scrapes and bruises. That's it." Ennis assured him.

Jack was silent for a time then said, "I got a make some phone calls. Can you get me a phone in here? I need to make arrangements."

"That's all been done, Bud. It's all finished."

"What are you talkin about? Finished. I need to talk with her laywer, see to funeral arrangements."

"Jack, the accident was three weeks ago. It's all taken care of."

"Weeks ago?" Jack seemed confused. "But … you mean she's been gone that long?"

"Yeah, Bud. It was instant for her."

"Oh, Jesus!" Jack turned his head and the tears started again. "I didn't even get to plan her funeral!"

"She had it all planned out. It was in the papers Mr. Crowley had."

"Mr. Crowley? He was here?"

"Yeah. He took care a everything."

"I been in here three weeks? Who's been lookin after Bobby then?" He turned back to Ennis.

"I have. I signed some papers. I'm his guardian until you get back on your feet." Ennis told him.

"Ennis …" The look of gratitude on his face made Ennis's heart ache. "How'd you know to come?"

"Bobby called me. Said you said my name a couple times after the accident. Said he found my number in your wallet."

"Oh Bobby! Poor Bobby. Where is he?" Jack said as he looked around the room.

"He run out a few minutes ago. Probably out in the waitin room or the parkin lot. He won't go far. He don't wanna leave you for a minute." Ennis assured him.

"Go find him for me, Ennis. I need to talk to him. He and Lureen were real close." Jack reached out and took Ennis's hand.

Ennis nodded his head and started out but Jack wouldn't release his hand. Ennis gave Jack's hand another squeeze, patted his shoulder and said, "Don't you worry none about anything, Bud. You got a fine boy there and he's gonna do all right. You'll see."

Ennis found Bobby sitting in his car in the parking lot. "You all right, son?"

"I can't stand it!" Bobby said. "I just can't stand it. I can't stand to see him cry."

Ennis got in and sat beside him. "It ain't right that a boy should see his pa in that much pain." Ennis said as he lit a cigarette.

"You think I'm weak cause I ran out?" Bobby asked the question he'd been asking himself.

"No, Bobby. You ain't weak. You're about the strongest boy I've ever known. You've been through a lot these past few weeks and you handled yourself like a man."

"A man wouldn't a run off like I did." Bobby sniffled.

"A man knows when to back away. Your daddy needed a few minutes to let out the first a his pain. He's done that now and he wants to see you."

"He say that? He send you to bring me back?"

"He's worried about you. He still don't have any memory of the accident. I think he needs to make sure that you're all right."

"What'll I do if he starts cryin again?"

"You do what your heart tells you."

"You stayed with him when he was cryin. What did you do?" Bobby asked.

"I put my arms around him and cried with him. Cryin don't make you weak, Bobby. Cryin just helps release some a the pain. He needs that right now. You and me; we had some time to get used to the idea a what happened. He's just learnin about it all. He's got a right to cry."

"I shouldn't a run out on him like that." Bobby said sadly.

"I don't see it so much as you runnin out as you just givin him a little time to get used to the idea. He needed that."

"And now he wants to see me? He said that?"

"He did. I think now would be a good time to go see him." When Bobby didn't make any move to leave Ennis added, "You want me to go with you?"

"Would you?" Bobby brightened up.

"Sure." He got out of the car and headed inside with Bobby following him.

"I'm so glad you're here, Ennis. I'd a never made it without you." Bobby said as he linked his arm through Ennis's.

"That's why I'm here, Bobby. You need me for somethin, all you gotta do is let me know."

"You're the best uncle ever."

"Thought you didn't have any uncles." Ennis teased.

"That's what makes you the best!" Bobby smiled at him as they walked through Jack's door.

"Bobby!" Jack called out to him and Bobby ran to his bedside and into his daddy's arms.

"You sure you're okay?" Jack ran a hand over his son's mop of hair. There was still a bit of a bump on his forehead and Jack ran his thumb across it. "This where you got hit? Does it hurt?"

"Nah, not any more. I had a headache for a couple a days but that's all." Bobby assured him.

"And Ennis here has been lookin after you?" Jack asked with a little smile.

"Yeah. You said his name a couple times right after the accident. It was like you was tellin me to call him or somethin."

"Don't know why I said that but I'm glad I did. You did the right thing to call him. So you're … doin all right?"

"Yeah, I guess. I'm a lot better now that you're awake. I was really scared there for a while when you didn't wake up. I was afraid I was gonna lose both you and Momma." Bobby hugged his father.

Jack looked over his son's head to Ennis. "I wanna thank you, Ennis, for all you done."

"Glad to do it. You'd a done the same for me." Ennis nodded, stepped out in the hall, and headed on down to the waiting room for a smoke.

After a while Bobby came looking for him. "There you are. He sent me to find you. He's afraid you'll take off for Wyomin now that he's awake. I told him you wouldn't; that you promised to stay until he was on his feet again but he needs to hear you say it, I guess." He smiled and Ennis couldn't help but notice the change in him. He looked so much better now. Now that Jack was awake and his world hadn't totally come to an end.

Ennis walked back to the room with Bobby and Jack smiled as the two of them entered. This was indeed a sight he never thought he'd see. Ennis and Bobby together talking and laughing like friends.

"I was scared you took off north," Jack said.

"Nah. Figured you and your boy needed some private time so I took off for the waiting room and had myself a smoke." Ennis smiled at him but stood at the foot of the bed while Bobby sat on the stool closest to Jack.

"You been here all this time? Three weeks?" Jack asked.

"Little over." Ennis nodded.

"What about work?" Jack asked.

"I called in. Said I had a family emergency and didn't know when I'd be back."

"He gonna fire you?"

"Don't know. Won't matter if he does. I can always get on somewhere."

"Maybe he could work here? At the dealership?" Bobby suggested.

"No!" Jack and Ennis both said at the same time.

"Don't care for inside work, Bobby." Ennis said.

"I been thinkin, Bobby. You know I never did care for sellin. What do you think if we put the business up for sale?"

"Heck, I wouldn't care. Don't mean nothin to me. What would you do though?"

"Maybe head on up north; up to Wyomin. You know I always talked about ranchin." Jack said and watched as Ennis's eyebrows went up.

"Ranchin? Really? Man, that would be so cool! Would you teach me to ride? Could we have horses and stuff; maybe a dog?"

Jack's eyes teared up and he couldn't speak for a spell.

"A boy ought to have a dog." Ennis said with a little grin.

"I always wanted a dog!" Bobby said enthusiastically, "But Momma always said ..." Then he stopped.

"It's all right, son." Jack reached for his son's hand and squeezed it. "You didn't say nothin wrong. She was a good woman and we both loved her but I never did agree with her about the dog thing. I agree with Ennis. You should have a dog. Maybe even a couple of 'em."

"Can we really get us a ranch, Daddy? Really?" Bobby asked.

"It's what I've always wanted, Bobby. I don't see no reason why we can't." He smiled first at Bobby and then at Ennis.

"We could hire Ennis! He'll probably lose the job he's got now cause he came here to help us. He'll be needin a job, and we'll be needin the help. I'll work hard, Daddy, I promise, but it's goin to be a while before you're strong enough to do any real work." Bobby was getting excited.

"No way I'd hire Ennis." Jack said with a mischievous grin. "I'd take him on as a partner though."

"Oh yes! Say yes, Ennis! That would be perfect." Bobby reached over and grabbed onto Ennis's arm.

"Bobby, ranches cost lots a money and I ain't got no money to be goin in on nothin like that." Ennis said.

"You don't need any money. We got piles of it. Don't we Daddy. Tell him. Make him come in on this with us."

"What do you think, Ennis? How about a three-way deal here. Each of us an equal partner. Bobby and me – we got the money but we don't have the know-how and experience. That's what you have. And I'm gonna need lookin after for at least a couple a months. How much you think that'd cost me if I hired it done? If I hired a nurse, and a maid, and a cook, and a driver, and a ranch manager – how much you think all that would cost?"

"Jack ..."

"Oh please say you'll do it, Ennis!" Bobby pulled on his arm and begged.

"Even after I'm all healed up and able to carry my share a the load; I still don't know all the stuff that you do about runnin a place. I'd be hirin someone to tell me what needs to be done and then hirin someone to help me do it. If you was there to help us; it'd save us a bundle. That'd more than make up for your share of the purchase price." Jack smiled at him.

Now one Jack Twist was hard enough for Ennis to resist and one and a half Jack Twist's smilin at him was more than he could take.

"I don't know. I'll have to think about it." Ennis said with a little grin. "There's lots a things to think about here, Jack." And to Bobby he said, "There's lots a hard work on a ranch, Bobby; from sun up to sun down. Lots a hard work every single day and it's dirty work. There wouldn't be no place for you to drive that little red bomb a yours around on a ranch."

"I don't care! I'll get rid of it. I'll buy me a pickup like Daddy's! Please say you'll do it, Ennis. Please."

Jack gave Ennis a grin and waited for a reply.

"I promise you, son, that I'll give it some serious thought." Ennis said to Bobby and gave Jack a stern look. "We don't need to be thinkin about such thing right now. All we need to worry ourselves about now is gettin your daddy back on his feet."

"All right. We can wait till then for an answer; can't we Daddy?" Bobby said with a hopeful grin. "Ennis promised that he'd stay and look after us until you were well again so that gives us some time to decide where we want to get our ranch."

"You promised him you'd stay?" Jack asked.

"Uh huh. He needed seein to and so do you. I'm here long as you need me." Ennis said.

Jack grinned and gave his son's hand a squeeze. "I think we got him hooked, son."

"I do too! And you know what else, Daddy?"

"What?"

"I think he'll stay and I think he'll go in on this ranch with us. I think he'll do it cause it's what he wants to do. He's got nothin up in Wyomin. He told me so."

"I hope you're right, son; cause it'd be a dream come true for me. I always wanted a place of my own and you and Ennis goin in on it with me would just be the sun, the moon and the stars!" Jack smiled.

"Your daddy looks tired out, Bobby. Maybe you and me ought to go grab us some dinner and let him get a little rest."

"Nah, I'm not tired." Jack said but he was clearly fading fast.

"You need to sleep, Daddy. The doctor said you need lots of rest. We'll come back after while." Bobby gave him a hug and headed for the door.

"We'll see you in a couple a hours, Jack. Get some rest." Ennis said and left with Bobby.

"Good, you're back." Jack greeted them later. "Bobby, can you do somethin for me?"

"Sure, Daddy. What do you need?"

"Some magazines; I need something to read. Oh, and can you stop by the house and bring my pajamas and robe? I hate this stupid gown."

Bobby smiled at him. "You want to talk to Ennis alone – I get it. Sure thing, Daddy. Talk to him. Convince him to go in on the ranch with us." Bobby gave his dad a quick hug; punched Ennis in the shoulder and took off.

Ennis came closer and took a seat on the stool. "You feelin better? You look better – stronger."

"C'mere," Jack reached out for him and pulled Ennis over onto the bed with him.

Ennis came willingly and gave Jack a lingering kiss.

"Oww, oww, oww," Jack moaned.

"What happened. I kiss you too hard?" Ennis jumped back.

"No. Shit!" He pulled up the covers and tried to reach inside with his one good arm but got it tangled in the sheet, blanket and tubes. "Gimme a hand here, Cowboy."

Ennis pulled the covers back and found the catheter tube wound around Jack's cock. "How'd you manage to do that?" He asked with a grin and began untangling things.

"It's your fault. You come in here all sweet smellin and kissin on me. I started gettin hard and all the sudden it was squeezin the life out a me."

Ennis straightened everything, pulled Jack's night gown back into place and righted the covers. "Maybe I best stand over by the window." He teased.

"Don't you dare!" Jack grabbed his hand and forced Ennis to sit on the bed beside him. "I want you right here while we talk."

"Jack if it's about this ranch …"

"No. It's not that. We'll talk about that later. I need to ask you somethin."

"Okay. What?"

"I heard you talkin to me. When I was sleepin. Did you tell me you loved me? You needed me? You couldn't go on without me? Did you tell me things were going to be different when I woke up? Did you say all those things to me and did you mean 'em? Or was dreamin?" Jack held onto Ennis with his one good hand.

Ennis stared into the blue eyes and he knew this was his moment of truth. He couldn't/wouldn't deny he said all those things and that they were true and that scared him to death. "I said 'em." Ennis gulped.

"You promised Bobby you'd stay as long as we needed you. So what happens if I say that I need you for the rest of my life? What then?"

"Jack … we gotta think about Bobby now. What's best for him."

"He wants this ranch. You heard him."

"He's a kid, Jack. He ain't got no idea what livin on a ranch will be like; how much hard work it takes. He'd change his mind in a month – then what?"

"He's got two years left of high school. Then he'll probably go off somewhere to college. Whatever he wants to do is fine. He don't wanna stay on the ranch, he can leave then."

"And what about ... the other thing?" Ennis asked.

"You mean you and me?"

"Yeah. You plannin on us livin like friends until he leaves?"

"Hell no! I plan on talkin with him about it. See how he feels."

"Jack, you can't ..."

"Yes I can and I will. He's a good boy, Ennis. I ain't never heard him say nothin bad about people like us. And he clearly adores you."

"Hangin out with me is one thing, Jack. Me sleepin with his dad is another."

"I know how worried you are about stuff and I wouldn't go into this without talkin to him about it. He's old enough to understand these things. That's what I wanted to talk with you about. I wanna tell him about us. I want him to know how much you mean to me. He's got a right to know that."

"Now ain't a good time." Ennis stood up and walked over to the window. "He just lost his mother. He don't need to be hearin that his daddy loves some man. He don't need that kind a hurt right now."

"You think it would hurt him? I don't." Jack said.

Ennis turned back to face him. "It ain't somethin he needs to be hearin about right now."

Jack was quiet for a bit then reached out a hand to Ennis. "All right. We'll let it go for a few days on one condition."

"What's that." Ennis came back over to the bed and took Jack's hand again.

"That we talk about a ranch instead." Jack grinned.

Ennis shook his head; "Man, you are really pushin it." But he bent down and gave Jack another kiss. On the cheek this time and stayed there a while nuzzling him.

"Cowboy, it's the perfect, perfect deal!" Jack insisted.

"I don't know about that, Bud."

"I do! We can get us a place up in Wyomin. Any where you want."

"What about Bobby? You think he wants to leave all his friends? That fancy house he's livin in? You think he wants to give all that up for workin on some dirty old ranch? We got a be thinkin a Bobby before we go runnin off and makin any snap decisions just cause it's what we want."

"Bobby's got his whole life in front a him. Right now he wants to try ranchin cause he's heard me talk about it all his life. I think he ought to be given the chance to see what it's like. If he don't like it, we can make other arrangements for him. If he decides to go to boarding school somewhere; we can send him. Ennis, he's at the age where everythin excites him and he wants to try everythin out. I say we let him."

"I don't know, Jack. He's so young."

"That's true. He's young and strong and he knows what he wants and what he doesn't want. And right now he wants this ranch."

"I think he just wants a dog." Ennis grinned.

"That too!" Jack agreed and returned the grin. "He wants the three of us on a ranch together."

"The three of us and some dogs and horses." Ennis added.

"You could teach him how to ride while I sit in a rockin chair on the porch watchin." Jack teased.

"Me? I thought you was gonna teach him how to ride? And while we're talkin about ridin – how come two rodeo folks like you and Lureen never taught your boy how to ride?"

"Lureen, God rest her soul, she was always so scared that somethin was goin to happen to Bobby. I think she was afraid he might like it too much and go traipsin off with the rodeo like his old man did. She never wanted him to do nothin dangerous."

"She bought him that little red car. I'd say that was a pretty damn-fool thing to do if she was worried about him gettin hurt." Ennis said.

"She was a crazy driver herself. Never in a million years saw any danger in the way she or Bobby drove. She saw to it that all the vehicles were well maintained and always said if your car was safe and you knew what you were doin; drivin was perfectly safe." He looked down and picked at some lint on the blanket.

"I can't say nothin to that. 'Cept that it was a darn shame is all." Ennis said and rubbed Jack's arm.

"They were real close, Cowboy. And now me and you are all he has left. I know what he wants right now might not be what he wants for the rest a his life but I wanna give him what he wants. I want him to know that what he wants is important to me."

Ennis got up from the bed and walked over to the window again. "It's important to me too, Bud. He's been puttin up a brave front but he's really hurtin inside."

"I know he is. He's tryin to be brave for me but I can see it in his eyes."

"A boy don't never get over losin his momma." Ennis said as he stared out the window.

"He seems to have taken a real shine to you. Maybe between the two of us, and a couple a dogs, we can get him through this." Jack said with a sad little grin.

"We don't need to make any decisions right now, tonight." Ennis said and came back over and sat down on the stool. He took Jack's hand and kissed the palm and held it against his cheek. "I'm just happy that you're feelin better."

"I am. Especially now that I know you're here lookin after Bobby. When I first woke up and heard the news – about Lureen I mean – I was really scared they'd take Bobby and put him in a foster home."

"Bobby was real scared about that as well. How come? I thought those places were pretty nice. I mean, ain't they set up to take kids with no family?"

"Yeah, that's what they're supposed to be. We had somethin real bad happen here in Childress a couple years back. There was a boy at Bobby's school. His folks died in a plane crash and they sent him off to a foster home. The daddy in the home was a real prick and he abused the boy – sexually. It was written up in all the paper when they found out. It was a big scandal. They said the boy wasn't never the same after that."

"Jeeze. I can see now why Bobby was so scared." Ennis shook his head.

"I'm so glad he called you." Jack squeezed his hand.

"Me too, Bud. Me too."

They were silent for a while; each lost in their own thoughts then Jack spoke.

"So you really gonna stay here until I'm back on my feet? You been here near four weeks already. You know that foreman's probably already replaced you."

"Yeah, most likely. Summer's a busy time on a ranch. He had to do what he had to do."

"And you're stayin? You know it'll be at least a couple a months more before I'm back on my feet."

"Yeah. I know."

"Just say it, Cowboy. I need to hear it. Say you'll stay with me at least until I'm back on my feet – maybe longer."

"I'll stay with you until you're back on your feet. That much I can promise you. The longer part we'll have to make that decision later on."

"Daddy, I'm listenin to everythin you say and I'm tryin hard but I don't understand what it is you're tryin to tell me. Is this about you and Ennis bein gay?"

Jack's mouth dropped open and he stared at his son – not sure if he actually heard what he thought he heard. "Wa … why would you say a thing like that?" Jack stuttered.

"Daddy! I'm not a kid!" Bobby stared back at his dad as he sat on the side of his bed. "Hell, I've known that for years!"

"A … watch your mouth." Jack said, in a state of shock, and not knowing what else to say.

"Sorry. It slipped out. It's just that you're not sayin anythin that I don't already know and you seem all up tight about it. What's the big deal?"

"Just exactly what is it that you think you know?" Jack tried to be stern but he trembled as he spoke and his voice was weaker than he wanted it to be.

"Daddy, I've known about it for years."

"Known what?" Jack insisted.

"Known that men turn you on and women don't."

Jack sat there with his mouth open but no words came out.

"Don't look so shocked. It ain't like it's some big secret; is it?"

"I … a ..." Jack didn't know what to say.

"Remember my twelfth birthday party? We had a pool party. Remember that?" Bobby asked.

"Yeah, what's that got to do with anything?" Jack was totally lost in this conversation.

"Ariel Donaldson from down the street came and her parents did too. Remember?"

"I remember the Donaldsons were our neighbors for a couple years before they moved away. What's that got to do with … anything?"

"You and Momma and Mrs. Donaldson were in the pool splashin and playin around and havin a great time and then Mr. Donaldson showed up. He was wearin a tiny black Speedo. I saw you lookin at him, Daddy. You kept turnin away, like you couldn't stand the sight a him and you finally got out a the pool, and said you had some business you needed to see to. I saw you when you come out. You were sportin wood, Daddy."

"Shit, that don't mean nothin! I probably just had to go to the bathroom is all and if I had business to attend to, then I had to take care a business." Jack blusterred.

"It was Sunday. You didn't never have any work to do on Sundays. You spent the rest of the day closed up in your study drinkin."

"Bobby, that don't mean nothin!" Jack insisted.

"Momma and Mrs. Donaldson were both wearin killer bikinis and it didn't affect you none at all. You were rompin and playin with them like it was nothin. Hell, I was sportin wood myself everytime Mrs. Donaldson jumped in the pool. I was sure that top was gonna come off. At least I kept hopin it would."

"Bobby … You were just a little kid then. You don't know what you're talkin about."

"I was twelve, Daddy. That was just four years ago. I remember it cause all I could think about in those days was tits. I wanted to see 'em. I couldn't take my eyes off 'em. And there you was jumpin around in the pool and actin like it was nothin. It was nothin to you. I could see that. And then all the sudden when Mr. Donaldson come along – and you got work to do."

"That don't mean nothin, Bobby." This was not the way Jack had planned this conversation to go. He had planned on telling Bobby he and Ennis were gay – not denying it.

"There were other things too." Bobby said.

"What? What other things?"

"Like when you was gettin ready to go on one a your campin trips. You'd have this great look on your face and you'd be hurryin around the house and gatherin up stuff. I always thought it was kind a funny and then one time I was watchin a movie on TV. The guy was gettin ready to go off on his honeymoon and he was hurryin around gettin ready. He had the same look on his face as you did. I knew then that you had special feelins for Ennis."

"You never said nothin!"

"You're my dad – what could I say?"

"I don't know … somethin. Maybe we could a talked about it … or somethin." Jack didn't know where to go from there.

"We're talkin about it now." Bobby smiled at him.

"Damn, I need a cigarette. Bobby would you ask the nurse if I could smoke now? I ain't usin the oxygen no more; I don't see why I can't have a cigarette."

"You can't smoke as long as the equipment is in the room. That's what the sign outside says. I'll talk with the nurse and see if we can get it taken out then you can smoke." Bobby stood up from the bed like the conversation was finished.

"Bobby, wait." Jack grabbed his arm.

"If, what you thought, was true … what would you think a me? Would you hate me?" He was terrified to ask the question but he had to know.

Bobby reached out and put his arms around Jack, resting his cheek against Jack's. "You're my Daddy and I love you. Nothing in this world can ever change that."

Jack hugged him close. "You mean that? You'd still want to go in with me on this ranch deal … with Ennis?"

"Sure! Why not?" He drew back but held his Dad's hand. "I think livin on a ranch would be a lot of fun with all the animals. And I really like Ennis."

"You do?"

"Yeah, I do. It's obvious how he feels about you."

"It is?"

"He never would a come all this way and agree to take care a your snot-nosed kid, give up his job and agree to take care a the both of us if he was just a huntin buddy. If he was just a friend, he'd a sent you a card, maybe some flowers. Not give up everything he had in Wyomin to come all this way and see to us." Bobby smiled at him.

Jack thought about that for a moment then asked, "Your momma – you think she knew?"

"Nah. She was a wonderful woman and a great momma but I don't think she give much thought to anything past her looks, her friends, the business and the country club. I mean, I know she loved us, but sometimes ..."

"Sometimes what?"

"Sometimes, it felt like we weren't much more than … accessories. Just a part of what she wanted people to think of her. I know I didn't explain that very well."

"That's okay. You said it well enough that I understood what you meant." Jack assured him.

"You ever feel that way?" Bobby was surprised that his dad understood what he was feeling.

"Yeah. Everytime we walked into that country club or out to whatever affair she insisted we go to."

"I always felt sorry for you when you had to go to those places." Bobby snickered. "I could tell you were miserable getting all dressed up fancy. She never saw that though. She was too happy gettin all dolled up and goin to her parties. She did love to party."

"I know." Jack remembered and a little shiver of shame passed through him when the thought that he'd never have to do that again.

"You always went along with whatever she wanted. You never turned her down." Bobby remembered.

"I wouldn't a done that. She was too good to me."

"And you felt guilty cause you didn't love her."

"I did love her!" Jack protested. "It just wasn't the kind a love … she deserved. I never deserved her."

"I know you got married cause I was on the way and I'm glad you did. I wouldn't a wanted to grow up not knowin you." Bobby said.

Jack pulled him back into another hug. "You're the best kid in the world, Bobby. How'd I get so lucky?"

"I'm the lucky one, Daddy. If it wasn't for you – if you hadn't a made it – I'd be in some foster home right now." He sat back up straight but kept hold of his dad's arm. "And if we can get Ennis to agree to that ranch, everythin will be perfect."

"Why are you so dead set on this ranch? I know we talked about it some over the years but I thought you was set on goin off to college in Dallas and livin the big city life."

"That's what Momma wanted for me. I guess I thought it might be kind of exciting and I still might want to do that someday but not right now. Right now … I really want to get out a that house, Daddy. I hate it there now. Everythin I see, everythin I look at, reminds me of her and I don't wanna be thinkin about her just now. Maybe later on … I mean I know I will. I don't want to forget her or nothin. I just don't want to be thinkin about her all the time. It hurts too much."

"I know, son, I know. I feel the same way. I can imagine how painful it must be havin to live there right now."

"It's good that Ennis is there. He's stayin in your room. I figured you'd like that and I know he does."

"You really like him?" Jack asked afraid that Bobby might just be saying that to please him.

"Yeah, I do. You know – when I called him – I didn't really think he'd come. I didn't even ask him to. I just told him about Momma and how bad hurt you were and that I was scared and he said he'd come.

I didn't really believe it. But the minute he walked through the door; you know the first thing he did?"

"What, Bobby?"

"He hugged me and told me everythin was going to be all right. And I believed him. He made me believe him. He's gonna make everythin all right for us, Daddy. I just know it."

"Now Bobby, don't get your hopes up too much. Ennis has some issues – seems some neighbor a his, back when he was a kid, got himself killed. Some people took tire irons to him cause he was … gay. It scared Ennis somethin awful. His pa took him to see the body. He's terrified of anyone findin about about him and me. Afraid somethin like that might happen to one a us."

"Oh my God! Why would his stupid father take him to see somethin like that? That's horrible!"

"I don't know. I think he was probably drunk. The point it, he done it and it's somethin that Ennis can't forget."

"You think that's gonna stop him from goin in on this ranch with us?" Bobby asked, really worried now that there was a cloud over the ranch possibility.

"It could, Bobby. We just got to figure out a way to make him see that our need for him is greater than his fears. And that won't be an easy job. I been workin on it for twenty years now."

"Shit!" Bobby said as his dreams started to drift away.

"Bobby!" Jack chastised him.

"Sorry. But Daddy … nothin like that could happen … could it?"

"Son … I don't know. I just know that we have to be very careful. A lot of people don't like gays. We can't take the chance of runnin into some nut who's bent on killin."

"But … how would you know? How would you know who's nutty and who's not?"

"That's just it, son. You don't. You just have to be careful and not let folks know about … private things."

"You don't have to worry about me, Daddy! I'd never tell! Never! Do you think that's what Ennis is worried about? That I'd tell someone and maybe one of you'd get hurt?"

"Bobby, Ennis is a born worrier. He worries all the time about everythin."

"I've heard about gay bashin but I never gave it much thought. I mean, I know it's wrong but I just never thought about it affectin my life. Even though I knew about you … I figured … you were always goin off on business trips or huntin trips and I figured … you were careful."

"Bobby, I can't tell you how sorry I am to put you in the middle a somethin like this."

"Daddy, I ain't no kid! I know about this kind a stuff. And I know now to be careful of what I say to people. I won't let you down, Daddy. I promise you!"

"You're a good boy, Bobby. You always have been." Jack had to blink back tears. "I'm gonna do right by you. Whatever it takes."

"I know you will. You always have." Bobby squeezed his hand.

"Ennis, can we talk … man to man?" Bobby asked as the two of them sat at the kitchen table and ate their breakfast.

"Sure thing, Bobby." Ennis sipped his coffee and lit a cigarette.

"I had a long talk with Daddy last night." Bobby started out. "We talked about … things. Things that might make you not want to go in on this ranch with us."

"Bobby, there are lots a things you gotta think about before you can go into somethin like a ranch. Things that you'd never even think about."

"I know. I know. Daddy told me." Bobby sipped his orange juice.

Ennis stared at him. "What did your daddy tell you?"

"We talked about … private things. Things he said you were worried about."

"I ain't worried about nothin, Bobby, but gettin your Daddy back on his feet." Ennis said as he gathered his dishes and took them to the sink.

"Ennis, it's okay. I know about Daddy. I've known for years." Bobby brought his dishes over as well – rinsed them and they placed them into the dishwasher.

Ennis drew on his cigarette, stiffened up, and tried not to panic. He didn't speak.

"I've known for years that my Daddy preferred men and it never mattered none to me then and it don't now. He told me what happened to your neighbor when you was a kid. I'd like to kick your daddy's ass for takin you to see that body. He shouldn't a done that."

"It was a long time ago." Ennis tried to brush it off. "Your daddy shouldn't a told you stuff like that."

"I know I'm just a kid, Ennis, but I'm not dumb. I know what can happen and I know enough to keep my mouth shut and not talk about private things that aren't anybody else's business."

Ennis shook his head but didn't look at him. "You're a good boy, Bobby, but some stuff just ain't open for discussion."

"I understand that and I agree with you. Completely. I'm not lookin to talk about … specifics here. I just wanted to let you know how I stand on this. It's important that you know. I know about you and Daddy and I wanted to say that if I was to go out lookin all over the world to find the perfect person for my Dad – I'd come back with you."

Ennis did look up at him then and was touched to the core by the boy's sincerity. He gave Bobby a little smile but words were beyond him just then. He reached a hand out and squeezed Bobby's shoulder.

"I just wish you could see Daddy's face when he's buzzin around the house gettin ready for one of your huntin trips." He smiled up at Ennis. "I've known for a long time that he was crazy about you. I just didn't know how you felt about him until you showed up here to help us."

"He'd a done the same for me." Ennis finally found his voice.

"He would have. I know that. And when we get him out of the hospital, I want you to know that I'm gonna help with him. You won't have to do it all."

"I know you will. You've been a great help already."

"I've never said anything to anybody, about Daddy I mean. Not to my friends, not to Momma, not to anybody and I won't. You don't have to worry that I'll mess up and say stuff about the two of you. I know better. I know what could happen. You can count on me. I promise you!"

"Thank you, Bobby. What do you say we get on over to the hospital. Doctor's supposed to tell us when we can bring your Daddy home."

"Yeah." Bobby agreed and turned the dishwasher on. "I was thinking about that. There's no way Daddy'll be able to make it up those stairs to his bedroom. Why don't we bring his bed downstairs and set him up in his study. He really loves that room and it's got a little bathroom in there. I think he'd be most comfortable in there. There's a couch in there so you can stay in there too if you want to."

"That'd be a good idea, Bobby. One or the other of us is going to have to be with him at all times for a while."

"We can take turns." Bobby offered as they climbed into his car and headed out.

"I think that'd be fine." Ennis smiled.

"But when exactly can I go home?" Jack was questioning the doctor when Ennis and Bobby walked through the door.

"Well it's early yet to be thinking about goin home. Tell you what. I'll have some crutches sent in. As soon as you can manage to get yourself back and forth to the bathroom, we can take the tubes out and you can go home."

"That's it? That's all I have to do? Send 'em in! I can do it now!"

"Now just a minute, Jack. I know you're feelin stronger and all but you've got to be careful. You've been in that bed for weeks now. I don't want you tryin to do it by yourself."

"He can get up now?" Bobby asked.

"It's not going to be that easy, Bobby. First we've got to see if those legs will support his weight. Then it will be just a few steps at a time. Once he can make it back and forth to the bathroom; then we'll see about him going home." The doctor finished. "He cannot do this part alone. He must have someone with him at all times while he's on his feet. We cannot allow him to take a fall. It could set his recovery back months."

"We'll be with him every minute." Ennis promised.

CHAPTER TWO

"Ennis, come over here and sit. We need to talk." Jack patted the bed.

Ennis stood looking out of the window as he lit a cigarette. He watched as Bobby wandered around

the gardens. He didn't like the tone in Jack's voice – it was too serious.

"You need to go to the bathroom?" Ennis asked as he walked over to Jack's bed.

"Nah. Is Bobby out there?" Jack asked as he took Ennis's outstretched hand.

"Uh huh." Ennis took his hand and sat down next to him.

"I figured he was. He likes to walk out there."

"You hungry? It's about lunchtime."

"We got to make some decisions here, Cowboy. Summer's almost over. If we're goin to do this ranch thing, we need to get a move on. We need to get settled some place so we can get Bobby into school."

Ennis looked down and took a long drag on his cigarette.

"Ennis, you gotta make a decision. We can't let him go on thinkin there's gonna be a ranch if it ain't gonna happen."

"Jack … there's a lot to take into consideration here." Ennis pulled away, stood up and began to pace.

"Why did you come down here when Bobby called you?"

"Huh?" Ennis turned back to face Jack. He was surprised by the question.

"How much time did it take you to make that decision?" Jack asked.

"I … a … I just got in my truck and come down here."

"Why?"

"Why? Cause you and Bobby needed me; that's why. You know that. What're you gettin at?"

"You left your home and your job to come down here cause we needed you. You think that was the right thing to do?"

"Course it was!"

"Well I still need you and so does Bobby. And what he needs most is to get out of this house. He hates it now. It reminds him too much of his momma."

"Jack …"

"I'm not tellin you that you gotta do this, Ennis. But you gotta tell him. He's makin all kinds a plans; he's even got names picked out for the dogs we said he could have."

"Jack, you know how I feel about this."

"What I know is that when Bobby and I needed you; you didn't even stop to think about it. You came right to us. And that was the right thing to do. You know that."

"I do! You'd a done the same thing for me."

"I would have. Because it was the right thing to do. The right thing for all three of us. Now I'm askin you to do the right thing again. Make the decision. If you're gonna leave us as soon as I'm back on my feet; tell us now. Don't let Bobby go on dreamin about this ranch. It's not fair to him."

Ennis wandered back towards the window and watched as Bobby sat in the garden reading some papers.

"If we're gonna do this, Cowboy; we need to get after it. We can get in touch with a real estate company and get them to find us a place. We need to know if Bobby will be goin to a new school or back to the one he's in now."

Ennis said nothing but stood staring out the window. A few minutes later Bobby disappeared from the garden and came into the house. He knocked at the open doorway to Jack's study and Jack called for him to come on in.

"Daddy, Uncle Ennis," Bobby sat on the edge of Jack's bed. "I got something I want you to see." He began to spread the papers out on Jack's bed.

Ennis came over and both he and Jack picked up some papers and began reading. They were real estate ads for ranches available for sale in Wyoming.

"There's twelve here and the lady I talked with said there was plenty more. I chose these cause they were closest to the bigger cities of Laramie and Cheyenne. I figured the closer we were to a big city the more business we'd get." He handed them each another ad.

Jack scanned the papers, sighed and looked at Ennis. Ennis stared at the papers for a few minutes, tossed them back on the bed, lit a cigarette and took a long drag on it.

"What's the matter?" Bobby asked. "I read every single one of these and they all look good to me. Are you worried because they're expensive? You don't need to be worring about the money, Uncle Ennis; Daddy and me told you that."

Ennis took a seat on the chair beside Jack's bed and handed Jack his cigarette. He scanned a few more of the ads before saying, "Son, these are all great places but they are all too big."

"Too big? I thought ranches are supposed to be big? The bigger the ranch the more cows you can have and the more cows you have the more profit. Isn't that right? I know you want to make this a profitable ranch."

"Places this big need a whole crew to run 'em. Right now beef prices are lower than they ever been. You get yourself a crew and you spend the rest a your life worryin about makin enough to cover their pay checks."

"Well what size place were you thinkin of?" Bobby asked. "What size is Grandma and Grandpa's place?"

"Two hundred acres." Jack answered.

"I remember you said you need an acre per cow so they can handle two hundred cows?"

"That's an acre of pasture land per cow, Bobby."

"What other kind a land they got besides pasture land?"

"They got about twenty five acres a woods and then there's some set aside for the vegetable garden and house. There's land for the barn, coral and out buildings."

"So how many cows does Grandpa have?"

"I don't know for sure. I've never known him to have more than a hundred at a time though."

"So if he could handle a hundred, the three of us ought to be able to handle three hundred. So we should be looking for a place about four hundred acres? I didn't see any that small." Bobby shuffled through his papers.

Jack gave Ennis a sad look.

"Bobby what did you tell the real estate lady?" Ennis asked.

"I just told her that we were lookin to buy us a ranch in Wyomin and asked her if she had any available. It took her a couple a days and this is what she came up with. She said if we didn't like any of these she'd find us some more to look at."

"Did she say anything about price?"

"She asked what price range we were lookin for and I told her it didn't matter. Just something really nice and close to a big town. I wanted to make sure we got something that you'd both like."

Ennis reached out a hand and placed it on Bobby's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "Son, these are all real nice but they are not for us."

"I'll give her a call and tell her we want something smaller." Bobby offered. "You want me to ask for somethin in the four hundred acre range?"

"We don't want nothin close to the big cities. Those places are all exactly like these – huge. What we'd need is somethin in either the north part of the state or the west. Somethin in the foothills a the mountains. That's where the best land is. That's where you get a chance a findin the small family sized places. And if you get lucky, you might even find a place with a creek on it."

"Is that important? Won't that take up a lot of the land?" Bobby asked.

"To make a go of a ranch there are three things more important than anything else. Number one and most important of all is the land. The ground itself. The foothills get lots a good topsoil run off from the hills. That land is most always good pasture land. The second thing you need is water access. All these places got their own water wells. But if you can find a place with a creek then you got yourself two water sources. And if you can find a place with some woods on it; that's an extra plus. Woods will give you firewood and if they're big and dense enough, they'll likely have game for your freezer."

"Okay. What's the third thing?" Bobby asked eagerly.

"You gotta have enough money to set up. There's a lot more to it than just buyin a place, Bobby. You gotta stock a place and stock'll cost you nearly as much as a place itself. You gotta buy equipment to run the place – expensive equipment. You gotta have money for plantin, fencin and most a the time the houses on these places are pretty old and you need money to fix 'em up. Then there's the fact that the place won't be bringin in any cash money till you sell off your calves and that happens in the fall – a few months from now. So if we was to get a place right now; there wouldn't be any income from it at all for at least a year. That means you gotta have enough money to run the place at least that long in the bank. Then there's taxes to think about, electricity, food all the other stuff that takes money. Even a small place takes lots and lots a money, Bobby. More than you ever dreamed of." Ennis thought he had presented his case for forgetting the ranch idea pretty clearly.

"Daddy?" Bobby turned to Jack. "We got that kind a money; don't we?"

"Yes, Bobby. We do." Jack shook his head and looked at Ennis.

"You got that kind a money?" Ennis asked. "Enough to buy a quarter million dollar place, stock it and run it at least a year?"

"Un huh." Jack shook his head. "And as far as equipment goes, we got a shop full a the latest stuff. We're closin the place down. We can keep all that stuff we want."

"That's right, Uncle Ennis! We got tractors, balers, combines – all that kind a stuff!" Bobby added eagerly.

"That stuff costs a fortune. You tellin me it's all bought and paid for?" Ennis asked.

"It sure enough is. We used to take the stuff from the manufacturer on consignment but when Lureen found out we could make more money if we bought it outright; that's the way she set it up."

Ennis remembered driving past the place when he drove into town the first day. He saw the sign first and then the place itself with its huge plate glass windows across the front with the shiny equipment gleaming on display. There must have been at least five or six huge pieces inside and he remembered several pieces of equipment sitting out front as well. He sat in stunned silence.

"I'm gonna go call the lady and tell her we want a smaller place and either in the north or the west." Bobby jumped up and took off.

Ennis wandered over to the window and stood silently staring out into the back yard again. Jack sat quietly as well then finally broke the silence between them.

"Ennis?"

"Whut?"

"Come over here. Sit with me for a bit." He reached his hand out to Ennis and he reluctantly came over, sat down on the bed and took Jack's hand.

"I'll talk to him, Cowboy. I'll explain things." Jack promised.

"He'll hate me." Ennis couldn't bring himself to meet Jack's eyes.

"No, he won't. He adores you. I'll make him understand."

Ennis looked at him then and had to blink back the tears. "I'm so sorry, Bud. I let you down again."

Jack pulled him down into his arms and kissed the top of his head. "No you didn't. You came down here and you looked after my boy when I couldn't; you been lookin after the both a us for weeks now. It ain't fair of us to ask you to do somethin you're dead set against."

"I didn't never mean for it to go this far." Ennis sat up and wiped his eyes on his shoulder. "I figured I could make him understand that it was out of the question – financially, I mean. But the two a you got enough money to do whatever you want. How can I explain around that?"

"You don't need to. I'll talk with him. I'll make him understand." Jack promised again.

"He'll hate me for sure. He wants this ranch so bad."

"He does, Cowboy; and I'm gonna get it for him."

Ennis looked up a little surprised.

"You don't wanna go in on this with us and I understand that but this is what Bobby wants and it's what I want. I'm gonna get us a ranch. I'll just have to hire someone to help us run it. Maybe … maybe you could come up and spend a weekend with us some times."

"I could do that." Ennis sniffed. "There wouldn't be nothin wrong with me doin that."

"Course not." Jack smiled and squeezed Ennis's hand. "And we could still go huntin and such."

Ennis choked up then and couldn't speak. Jack pulled him back into his arms and held him silently for a while. "It ain't that I don't want to." Ennis whispered.

"I know. I know. It's okay. It's okay." Jack soothed him and rocked him a little. They sat for some time like that and were both startled when they heard the front door open.

Bobby stuck his head in the study door and asked, "Anybody hungry? I got us some KFC! Last one to the table has to clean up!" He took off for the kitchen with his bags of food.

"You hungry, Cowboy? I don't know about you but I could eat a horse!" Jack grinned at him.

Ennis was sick with dread for the conversation that he knew he needed to have with Bobby. He had decided he'd do it himself. It wasn't right for him to leave it to Jack to do.

"Where's my brace? Can you give me a hand here, Cowboy?" Jack asked.

"It's right here." Ennis picked the brace up from under the side of the bed and helped Jack strap it on to his right leg. He helped Jack to stand and handed him the crutches. Together they slowly made their way into the kitchen.

Bobby chatted away asking a steady stream of questions about ranching, and dogs and schools in Wyoming and about his grand parents. Jack and Ennis answered them the best they could. When the last container was empty and all the chicken, corn on the cob, cole slaw and mashed potatoes were gone they sat sipping the dregs of their sodas when the phone rang.

"I'll get it." Bobby jumped up. "It's probably the real estate lady." He grabbed the phone on the wall by the kitchen cupboard, spoke for a few minutes then turned around with a wary look on his face.

"Daddy; it's for you. It's the long-distance operator. She says she has a person to person call for you from Lightnin Flat."

Jack's heart skipped a beat. His parents had never called him before. Something had to be wrong. He moved to jump up and nearly fell over. Ennis grabbed for him and kept him upright while helping him get his crutches in position.

Jack hurried over to the phone and took it from Bobby. "This is Jack Twist." He said and there was silence for a minute then, "Momma? What's wrong?" Another spell of silence and then an anguished, "Oh noooo, noooo. Momma … Momma."

Ennis hurried to his side and put a supporting arm around him. Bobby did the same from the other side.

"Okay, okay. Don't you worry none, Momma. I'll come. It'll be late tomorrow before I can get there. You got someone there who can stay with you tonight?" Another moment of silence and then, "Good, good. You try and get some rest now. I'll be there soon as I can and I'll see to everythin. Don't you worry."

He hung up the phone and stood still as a statue.

"Is it Grampa?" Bobby asked.

"Uh huh. He come into the house this mornin, said he didn't feel too good and needed to lie down. Momma went to fix him a cup a tea and when she brought it in to him, he was … gone."

Bobby rested his head against his dad's shoulder and wept. Jack struggled to get an arm around him and turned to Ennis. "I need to go – will you drive me?"

"Course! Course I will. But, Jack, that's a long trip and you ain't in any shape to make a trip that long in a pickup. Why don't you and Bobby fly. I can drive your truck up there so you'll have somethin to get around in."

"No, I hate flyin. We can take it slow; stop whenever we need to. I ain't flyin."

"I know!" Bobby's head came up and he passed a hand over his wet face. "The Jessup's motor home! That's what we need!"

Jack stumbled a bit and Ennis helped him to sit back down at the table. "That would be good. We'd have plenty a room. You think he still wants to sell it?"

"I don't know about him but Mrs. Jessup wants it gone. She hates it." Bobby said.

"Call 'em. See if he's serious about sellin it. If he is, ask him how much and I'll write out the check."

Bobby grabbed the phone and dialed a number. A few minutes later he handed the phone to Jack. A short conversation later and Jack said, "Fine. I'll send Bobby and his uncle over to pick it up."

"Bobby, run get the checkbook. It's on my desk."

"Jack … you all right?" Ennis asked after they were alone.

"I'm fine … I'm fine. I just ..." He couldn't finish. "I always thought that some day …"

"I know, Bud. I know. But right now we gotta be thinkin about your Momma and nothin else. She got someone to stay with her till we can get up there?"

"Yeah. One of the ladies from the church is with her."

"Then we don't have nothin to worry about but gettin on up there." Ennis gave Jack's shoulder a squeeze.

"Daddy, the motor home is big enough; why don't we just load up all our stuff and take it with us. Then we won't have to come back here – ever." Bobby said as he handed Jack the checkbook.

Jack looked up at him and shook his head. "That's a good idea, Bobby." He wrote out the check and left the amount blank. "Mr. Jessup said he'd have to call his wife and talk price. Whatever figure he comes up with, just write it in and give it to him and get back here with it as soon as you can. We got some packin to do." He handed the checkbook to Bobby.

"Ennis, if you'll give me a hand getting up the steps, I can start the packin while you're gone."

"No, Jack. You need to lie down. You always take a nap after lunch and now ain't a good time to change things. You rest until we get back and we'll do the packin together."

Jack looked a little dazed. "I am a little tired." He said and scrubbed a hand down over his face.

"It's best for you to rest up then. Once we get back with the motor home you'll need all the energy you got." Ennis walked him back to the study and helped him to lie down. He pulled the quilt up over Jack's shoulders. "You rest. And if you need to sleep a little, that'd be good too. Bobby and me can get started with the packin and wake you up when we need to."

"I'll just rest a bit." Jack said in a weak voice.

Ennis signaled to Bobby and the two of them left.

"Let's go in my car." Bobby said. "I've got an idea."

It was just a short five minute drive and they pulled up to a house in a plush quiet neighborhood. Mr. Jessup was outside and opened the gate and the three of them walked into the back where the thirty-five foot Winnebago stood.

"Afternoon, Mr. Jessup." Bobby said. "This here is my Uncle Ennis."

Ennis and Mr. Jessup greeted one another with a handshake and the three of them proceeded to look over the bus.

"You ever drive one a these before?" Mr. Jessup asked Ennis.

"No sir. But I've driven a fifty-foot cattle trailer. I think I can handle it."

"Shouldn't be a problem for you then. This thing drives like a dream. Smooth as any car. You just have to remember that it's thirty-five feet long."

"Isn't this great, Uncle Ennis? Daddy can ride back here in the bed or even on the couch if he wants to be up front. This will be so much better that makin the trip in Daddy's pickup."

"I was real sorry to hear about your Grandpa, Bobby. Times have been really tough for you this year; ain't they."

"Yes sir." Bobby shook his head and looked away as they came out of the bus. "You decide how much you want for it?"

"Well, the Mrs. hasn't called me back yet. She's over at her sister's. I left a message for her. She should be callin any time."

"Tell you what, Mr. Jessup. You always admired my Corvette. You want it?"

"Huh? You're plannin on sellin it?" Mr. Jessup asked as he eyed the little red beauty sitting at his curb.

"Yep. We decided we're gonna get us a ranch up in Wyomin and there won't be any place for a car like that. It's less than a year old and you know it's been well maintained. There ain't a scratch on it."

"Oh man! Mrs. Jessup would freak!" He grinned as he walked out to the curb to take a closer look.

"You mean even more than she did about the bus?" Bobby grinned at him.

"Yeah, she hated that thing all right." Mr. Jessup said as he climbed into the car and sat behind the wheel. Bobby tossed him the keys and he started it up. It purred like the well maintained vehicle it was.

"Why don't you take the Vet, Mr. Jessup, and whatever the difference is between what you think it's worth and what you think the bus is worth, I'll give you in cash money." He pulled out the check book and pen.

"Heh heh heh; well, I don't suppose she could holler at me any more than she already has over the bus. Okay son. You got yourself a deal."

They went inside and signed all the paperwork switching titles and Bobby wrote out the check. Mr. Jessup took a few minutes to show Ennis how the hook-ups work and they were on the road back to Jack.

"You got a good head on your shoulders, son." Ennis smiled at Bobby who was riding co-pilot.

"It was just good sense. I won't be needin the Vet on a ranch and we can only pull one vehicle with the bus and I think that ought to be Daddy's pickup. He loves that thing. Will you be okay with leaving yours? I know Daddy will be glad to buy you a new one once we get up to Wyomin."

"You sure do like to cover all the angles; don't you?" Ennis grinned at him as he pulled up out front and parked at the curb.

"Momma always said that I got Daddy's looks but her brains for business."

"Mommas always know these things." Ennis said as they went into the house.

They found Jack on the phone with his lawyer making arrangements to sell the house and business.

Bobby flung himself into his Daddy's arms and hugged him. Ennis stood quiet until Jack finished the conversation and hung up the phone.

"We gonna do it, Daddy?" Bobby's head popped up. "We gonna leave this place and never come back?"

"If that's what you want then that's what we'll do. We can make arrangements for your car to be shipped up there."

"No need. I traded it in on the bus. Got us a big discount." Bobby grinned proudly.

"You did? You didn't have to do that." Jack smiled at him.

"I didn't want to mess with it. I can always buy another one if I want one. Probably though, I'll get myself a pickup. If I'm gonna be a rancher, I'll need one."

"Well if the two of you will give me a hand up the stairs; we can get to packin."

Ennis and Bobby helped him up the stairs and into his room. "Thanks. Bobby, why don't you head on upstairs and get to your packin. Ennis can help me with mine."

"Okay." Bobby dashed out the door.

"Where do you want to start, Bud?" Ennis asked as he got Jack settled down on his bed.

"Luggage is on the top shelf in the closet – in the back."

Ennis went into the closet and pulled out all five pieces. "This is some nice luggage, Jack." Ennis said as he placed two of them on the bed and opened them out.

"Believe it or not; it was a gift from Lureen's parents five or six years ago. They gave us each a set of luggage and tickets to go skiing in Switzerland."

"You been to Switzerland?" Ennis asked.

"Nah. I didn't wanna go. Lureen went with her girlfriend. I'm not into that flyin shit and I'd probably kill myself skiing. That's probably what the old man had in mind."

"So where do you want me to start?" Ennis asked and Jack directed him until all the bags were packed full, closed up and standing out in the hall.

Bobby came thundering down the stairs with his arms full and added to a stack already piled in the foyer. He and Ennis helped Jack down the stairs and into his study.

Jack went through his safe and told Bobby to go empty Lureen's safe and gave him the combination.

Jack's briefcase was stuffed full and then they hit the kitchen and got what food was left in the pantry that they wanted and hauled everything out to the bus. A quick run back inside for sheets, pillows and towels and before they knew it, they were on their way with Jack's pickup on the trailer behind and packed full with camping gear and suitcases.

Jack insisted on riding shotgun and Bobby sat on the couch right behind the drivers seat. Jack thumbed through the State Park Campgrounds book.

"You get tired you let me know and we can find us a place to stop for the night." Ennis smiled at Jack.

"I don't wanna drive straight through. Let's just get on down the road a bit – maybe drive till it gets dark. That'd give us a pretty good head start on tomorrow." Jack said as he flipped through the pages.

"Maybe we can stop somewhere this side a Denver. That'd cut the trip in half. Let's see how the drive goes."

"Are we gonna stop for dinner or do you want me to open some of that canned stuff and heat it up?" Bobby asked.

"You thinkin about eatin already, Bobby? It wasn't but a couple hours ago you stuffed yourself with chicken and all the fixins." Jack grinned at his son – always hungry.

"That was hours ago!" Bobby said.

"We'll I'd like to get out a Texas before we stop but we'll see. Whenever Ennis here decides he needs a rest. There's lots a little towns along the way where we can stop when we're ready. If you're hungry, eat an apple."

"I already did. I'm okay. I can wait. If I get hungry I can make myself a sandwich."

Jack looked over at Ennis. "What are you grinnin at?"

"He reminds me a you – always hungry."

Jack gave him a tired grin.

"You tired? You wanna go lay down?" Ennis asked. "I can pull over."

"Nah, don't stop. I can make it at least till dinner time. I might lay down for a while after that though."

"Okay. You just let me know if you need anythin."

"All I need right now is just to get up to Lightnin Flat and see to Momma."

"We'll get you there, Bud. Soon as we can."

They stayed on 287 and stopped at Boise City in the Oklahoma pan handle for dinner. They decided to go inside and eat. There was a little mom and pop diner there connected with the gas station so they filled up first then went on in and ate. Jack was more than happy to try out the bed after dinner and told Ennis to just pick a place whenever he was ready to stop for the night. Bobby got to ride shotgun then and made the trip into the back to check on Jack about every thirty minutes.

They found a campground halfway between Hugo and Limon about three hours after dinner and decided to stop there for the night. That put them about sixty miles southeast of Denver. Pretty close to the half way point so the drive the next day wouldn't be too bad.

Jack had fallen asleep and hadn't awakened until Ennis pulled off the highway and onto the dirt road that led to the camp ground. He called out for Bobby to find out what was wrong and was happy to learn that they had reached their stopping point for the night and the campground was just ahead.

Ennis found a spot, parked and got out and made the hookups. When he got inside he found Bobby fixing himself a snack and Jack in the bathroom. They were half way there and everything had gone well. Ennis pulled out a beer, sat on the couch and relaxed.

Jack stood around on his crutches and watched as Ennis and Bobby made up their sleeping areas. Bobby got the pull-down bunk over the driver's compartment. Ennis got the couch that pulled out into a double bed.

Jack pulled a beer out of the refrigerator, sat down, and they talked for a while before going to bed. Bobby was in his bed with his ear phones on listening to music and munching out.

"How're you doin, Bud?" Ennis asked as he sat on his bed and leaned back against the wall.

Jack sat on the chair opposite and sipped his beer. "Oh I'm okay I guess. Just kind a numb."

"We're about half way there so tomorrow shouldn't be too hard a trip." Ennis said.

"I'm not worryin about the trip, Cowboy. The hard part is gonna be when we get there. I should a called Momma when we stopped for dinner."

"She was probably restin. You can call her in the mornin before you leave if you want. I saw a phone booth up front by the office when we come in."

"Maybe I'll do that. I just need to check on her."

"That's a good idea. We should be able to give her some kind a idea what time we'll make it in so she don't worry none."

"Yeah. We got stuff for breakfast so we can leave soon as we get up." Jack said.

"Uh huh. They got showers here too. The sign on the rest rooms say so. Maybe in the mornin we'll get ourselves cleaned up a bit and have us a shower. It'd probably make us all feel better."

"Right, right. A shower would feel good." Jack fiddled with his beer can.

"Your bed all right? Comfortable?" Ennis asked.

"Sure is. I didn't think I would but I went right to sleep. You wanna take the bed for the night? I can sleep in here with Bobby. The couch looks comfortable."

"Nah. I'm used to sleepin on a couch/bed. It's what I got in my trailer. You need the bed."

"I want you to know that I appreciate you gettin me and Bobby home – to Lightnin Flat. This trip in the pickup would a been a bitch."

"This thing drives like a car. You don't hardly even know you got all this back behind you. Bout the only time you notice is when the wind gets up. It was blowin there pretty good right out a Boise City."

"I guess I slept through it. You didn't have no trouble though?"

"Nah. There wasn't much traffic."

"Good. Well I guess I'll get myself to bed and let you get some sleep." Jack picked up his crutches and got to his feet.

"You need any help?" Ennis asked.

"I can make it. See ya in the mornin." He gave Ennis a sad little smile then quietly added. "I wish you was comin back there with me."

"Me too, Bud; but I'll be right here – just a few feet away. If you need anything you give a holler. I'll hear you."

"I think I'll sleep pretty good. You look tired too." He said as he stopped to deposit his empty beer can in the trash.

"I could use some sleep." Ennis agreed with a nod of his head.

"Night," Jack said and went on back to his bed.

"Night." Ennis called after him.

It took a while but once everyone was still the quiet night settled in and all three of them slept straight through till morning.

They arrived at Lightning Flat early afternoon the next day. Ennis pulled the bus up as close as he could get to the house without blocking in any of the other vehicles around. As soon as they stopped Jack hobbled into the small bathroom and refused to come out. After a time Ennis knocked on the door and tried to talk with him.

Bobby didn't know what to do so he stepped outside and left them alone. He spotted his Grandma on the receiving end of some hugs. She looked up at him; with one hand shading the sun from her eyes and called out to him, "Bobby?"

He ran to her, threw his arms around her and hugged her tight. He had finally got to meet his Grandma and was surprised at how small and frail she seemed. From what his daddy had said of her, he had expected someone much taller and stronger.

"I'm so sorry about Grandpa," He told her. "I was so lookin forward to meetin him and spendin some time with him gettin to know him."

"You're the Grandson!" One of the ladies nearby came over and introduced herself. "I'm Elmira Whetherstone your Grandma's neighbor next place over. Did Jackie come? Is he here?"

"How is he?" Mrs. Twist asked her grandson.

"Yeah, he's inside." Bobby nodded towards the bus. "It takes him a while to get movin but he's getting around much better now. Uncle Ennis is helpin him."

"I need to see him." Mrs. Twist said and excused herself from the little grouping of well wishers and headed with Bobby towards the bus.

Bobby opened the door for her and the two of them stepped inside just as Jack was coming out of the bathroom. Mrs. Twist gave a little groan and grabbed for him. Jack dived for her and almost lost his balance and would have fallen if it hadn't been for Ennis and the smallness of the kitchen area they were standing in. The two of them clung together and wept.

Ennis stepped around them and into the living area next to Bobby.

"What should we do?" Bobby whispered as he leaned against Ennis's shoulder.

"Nothin. We just need to let 'em get it out."

"I'm so glad you're here." Bobby slipped an arm around Ennis's waist. "I wouldn't know what I was supposed to do if you weren't here to tell me."

"I'm here, son. I'm here." Ennis slid his arm around Bobby's shoulder and held on to him.

After a few moments Mrs. Twist pulled back from her son's embrace, wiped both their faces with her handkerchief and said, "Goodness, where are my manners! You must be Mr. del Mar?" She reached out a hand to Ennis but held on to Jack with the other.

"Yes, Ma'am. Ennis, please." Ennis said as he took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"I can't tell you how grateful I am for you bringin my boy home to me." Then looking over at Bobby and giving his cheek a little caress she added, "My two boys!"

"No problem. It's good gettin us all up here in Wyomin where we belong." Ennis mumbled.

"Well come on inside. We got a huge pot a coffee goin and enough food to feed an army." She turned for the door and asked, "Jackie, you be careful now on these steps."

"We'll get him down safely, Grandma," Bobby said.

Ennis got Jack's crutches set for him and out the door they went. Ennis went first and turned around to help Jack as he hopped down on his one good leg. Bobby stayed behind to steady him. In minutes they were on flat ground and happy of it.

They made their way inside and Jack was situated on the couch in the front room. The Twist's friends and neighbors circulated through the place, introducing themselves and expressing their condolences and offering help and advice. Bobby stayed at Ennis's side and introduced him to everyone as his Uncle. It was dark before everyone was gone and they were finally alone sitting around the kitchen table chatting quietly about the funeral services the next day.

"I don't want you to worry about nothin now, Momma. I'm here now and I'll see to things." Jack was telling his Momma as she dabbed at the corners of her eyes with her dish towel.

"Son, you can't hardly take care a yourself right now."

"Ennis and I can!" Bobby piped up. "Whatever needs doin, Ennis and I can do it."

"That's right." Ennis placed his coffee cup back on the table. "Bobby here and me can take care of stuff until Jack gets back on his feet."

"But you've done so much for us already." Mrs. Twist worried.

"It'd be my pleasure to look after things." Ennis nodded and Bobby smiled and nodded in agreement.

"He looks so much like you, Jackie. Except for those big brown eyes – just like his momma's."

"He's strong, Momma, and he's got a good head on his shoulders." Jack gave a small grin in praise of his son.

"We're gonna buy us a ranch, Grandma! The three of us are gonna be partners." Bobby announced proudly. "We already got a real estate lady lookin for a place for us."

"Well now why would you wanna go and buy a place when you already got one right here?" She asked her son.

"Momma …"

"You used to be one third owner a this place; now you're fifty percent owner. It's paid off, there aren't no loans against it, taxes are paid." She reached over and patted her son's hand.

"I don't know ..." Jack mumbled.

"There ain't no need to make a decision right now, tonight." Ennis said. "Everyone needs to rest up and take plenty a time to think about things."

"You are absolutely right, Ennis. We're every one a us all strung out right now. Decisions are best made with a clear head and I, for one, need to get some rest. We've got a big day ahead tomorrow." Jack agreed.

They all stood up and Bobby got the crutches for his daddy.

"Bobby, I fixed up Jackie's old room for you. It's the top of the stairs, first door on the right. Jackie, I fixed up my sewin room for you. I had a bed brought downstairs. Ennis, there's a room upstairs for you if you want it or there's a couch in the sewin room. Is there anythin else any a you need?"

"No Momma. I think what we all need is a good night's sleep."

"You all just make yourselves at home now and if you need anythin, just knock on my door. My room's the end a the hall. I'm a light sleeper and I'll hear you." She left the room and made her way upstairs. Bobby followed her up.

"C'mon. Let's get you to bed." Ennis said taking Jack's arm. "Which way to the sewin room?"

Jack pointed the way and they were soon settled in – Jack in the bed and Ennis on the nearby couch.

"I hate that you're on the couch all the time." Jack complained.

"I told you before; it's what I'm used to. Don't worry about it."

"You don't have to stay down here. I'm sure the bed upstairs would be a lot more comfortable."

"I ain't leavin your side, Bud. Get used to it!" Ennis gave him a small grin and he thought he saw a bit of a smile on Jack's sad face just before the lights were turned out but he wasn't sure of it. He worried and wondered just how much more grief poor Jack could take.

The next day seemed to pass in double fast time. The funeral was over before they knew it, well wishers had come out to the ranch afterwards to pay their respects and now everyone was gone and the four of them were alone again sitting at the table eating warmed up food that had been brought.

"How big is this place, Grandma? Two hundred acres?" Bobby asked.

"That's right. Maybe a tad over, Bobby. Not the biggest place around but it's the perfect size for a small family to run. Lightnin Flat is a nice little town and it's got a real nice school. They built an brand new auditorium last year for the boys to play foot ball and base ball in. Do you like sports, Bobby?"

"Yeah, a little." Bobby answered. "This place is a lot smaller than we were thinkin of. We planned on gettin somethin about four or five hundred acres. Does this place have a creek on it?"

"No, son, it don't but the one right next to us does." She said.

"Yeah, the Wilson's got a nice little creek." Jack said absentmindedly as his memories took him back to some childhood time.

"They moved to Wisconsin about five years ago now." Mrs. Twist said. "Their place been up for sale ever since."

"Really?" Bobby perked up at the news. "How big is it? Is the ground any good?"

Jack saw his son's attitude pick up and he straightened some in his chair. "I imagine the ground would be about the same as here." He looked over at Ennis and back to his Momma. "How big is it?"

"Oh it's bigger than our place, Son. About three hundred acres I'd guess. They got near a hundred acres just in woods alone." Then she saw the look on Jack's face. "What are you thinkin?"

"If I was to buy that place we could connect the two places together and have just about the acreage we wanted. We'd have a creek, two water wells, a good sized woods and tons of pasture land. What do you think, Ennis?"

"Oh it's perfect!" Bobby nearly jumped out of his seat.

"It's somethin to think about." Ennis mumbled. "You best check out the soil before you go makin any plans."

"We got good ground here, Ennis." Mrs. Twist said. "I can't see as next place over would be much different."

"Let's go check it out right now!" Jack reached for his crutches.

"It's probably locked up, Jack." Ennis said not wanting to get rushed into anything.

"What about the back gate, Momma? Is it still there?" Jack asked.

"Far as I know, son. Your Pa always talked about fencin it in but he never did I don't think."

"Let's go take a look!" Jack struggled to get up and Ennis helped him.

"You don't think you should rest up a bit before you go thinkin about buyin a place?" Ennis asked.

"It's right next door, Ennis. It won't hurt nothin to look." Jack gave him the first real smile that Ennis had seen in days and he didn't have the heart to turn him down.

The four of them piled up in the truck. Ennis driving, Jack riding co-pilot and Mrs. Twist and Bobby in the back seat. Jack eagerly pointed out the way and Ennis drove them out to the back of the Twist property and stopped where Jack showed him the old gate was. There wasn't much left of it and what there was was mostly held up with weeds. Bobby jumped out and gave Ennis a hand and the two of them pushed and pulled until they got it opened far enough for the pickup to squeeze through.

Mrs. Twist immediately began pointing out the different points of interest. Ennis stopped and got out at several different points and checked the soil. They stopped at the creek and Ennis got and Bobby got out.

"What do you think, Uncle Ennis?" Bobby asked all big eyed and hopeful.

"It's a fine creek, Bobby."

"If we were to buy this place, we could look after Grandma."

"Grandma's gonna need lookin after all right." Was all Ennis said.

"What about the house?" Bobby asked as Ennis drove slowly around the house.

"It's about the same age as ours is, I think." Mrs. Twist said. "They took better care of it though. Mr. Wilson was real handy at fixin things up. So was Laverne. Seems like every year she was repaintin some room or other and makin new curtains."

"Can we go inside?" Bobby asked eagerly.

"No, son; that's wouldn't be propper." Ennis said. "Lookin over property is one thing; goin into someone else's house is another."

"He's right, Bobby." Jack said. "It's almost dinner time now so the real estate people are most likely closed for the day. I'll give 'em a call first thing in the mornin and see about it."

Ennis drove them back home, helped Jack inside and then set about making his nightly check on the herd with Bobby at his side chatting away. Bobby was full of questions, suggestions, ideas and plans. Ennis was mostly silent with a grunt or two for answers along the way.

"You don't have much to say." Bobby told him as they drove back to the house. "Is that because you don't like the place?"

"I don't have much to say, Bobby; cause I think it's too soon. This has to be your Daddy's decision and right now both him and your Grandma are kinda still in shock. I just don't think it's a good time to be makin any serious plans until they get to feelin better."

"So you didn't … hate the place then?" Bobby asked.

"No, son. I didn't hate the place." Ennis grinned at him as they walked into the house.

Mrs. Twist was setting the table for dinner. Jack was sittin at the table smoking a cigarette and talking with her.

"So what do you think a the place?" Jack asked as they walked in.

"It ain't bad." Ennis said as he took a seat at the table beside Jack. "Got a nice creek on it."

"It's great for skinny dippin in the summer time." Jack grinned.

"It's bigger than I thought it'd be. You ever hear tell of it goin dry?"

"Oh no." Mrs. Twist said as she pulled the casserole out of the oven. "It's never been dry that I heard of. And I've lived here all my life."

"The woods are big enough and dense enough they might have some game in 'em." Ennis said.

"They probably do. I know they got critters in 'em. Jeffery Wilson and me took lots a squirrels and rabbits out a there when we was kids." Jack offered.

Ennis took some time studying Jack. A definite change seemed to be coming over him. He seemed more comfortable, more relaxed. Being home was good for him. He needed this.

"You surely did! And they made us some fine stew too; didn't they." Mrs. Twist smiled at her son.

"Yes, Momma. You always knew how to stew up just about anythin we came draggin in." Jack smiled at the fond memory.

Ennis excused himself to go wash up and nudged Bobby to do the same.

"You think you'd like goin to school in a place small as Lightnin Flat? It won't be nothin like you're used to in Childress." Ennis asked as they washed up side by side in the bathroom sink.

"I'd love it! It'd be totally different." Bobby was excited about everything right now. Whatever came up seemed to please him more and more.

Later at the table after the casserole was finished and they were half-way through the rhubarb pie, Jack asked Ennis, "I know you don't care nothin about the house; but what did you think a the rest a the place?"

"It ain't half bad." Ennis allowed as he drank his sweet tea.

Jack scowled at him; wanting more of an answer so Ennis went on.

"Ground's not bad. You can tell it ain't been worked in years but it seems to be pretty much like what you got right here. Fencin wouldn't hold nothin stronger than butterflies in but that can be fixed. You got enough woods to supply all the fire wood you'd need. Barn's not too bad but needs work. Creeks a big plus. Probably got some fine fish in there."

"So you think we should go for it?" Jack asked eagerly.

"That ain't my decision, Jack. It's yours. Yours and Bobby's and your Momma's."

"You're part of this too, Uncle Ennis! We can't do it without you!" Bobby insisted.

Jack and Ennis eyed each other and they both knew what the other was thinking – was Ennis going to stay or not?

"Okay." Jack swallowed and shook his head. "I'm head a this family now so the final decision comes to me to make. I say we go for it."

Bobby jumped up and screamed, "Horay!"

Mrs. Twist covered her eyes with her apron and wept silently.

Ennis stared at them all, one after another. He knew he'd have to make a decision soon. But he couldn't right then. This meant too much to the three of them.

True to his word, Jack called the real estate agent the next morning and by noon he had bought and paid for the place. The Twist ranch was now more than twice it's original size.

Ennis busied himself working the ranch with Bobby beside him most of the time when he wasn't chauffeuring his daddy around. Jack got busy and transferred his bank accounts up to Lightning Flat, got Bobby enrolled in school and made list after list of things that he wanted to get done. Each evening at the dinner table they would discuss things and decide what needed to be done first.

Jack wanted to start immediately on making improvements on the house but Ennis explained that he needed to work on the barn and the fencing first. Mrs. Twist and Bobby watched with fascination as the two of them raised and discussed one thing after another.

Ennis pointed out the things that he could do himself and that it would be foolish to pay someone else good money for things that he could do. Jack made new lists of things that Ennis couldn't do and started in on them.

First was a new roof for the house; then a new boiler for the heating system. Ennis added that since the roofing people were going to be there they should do the barn and out building roofs as well; that way he could concentrate on the fencing and other things that he wanted to do.

They drove Bobby into Gillette and let him pick out a new vehicle to get back and forth to school. Ennis thought it would be another little sports car but Bobby surprised him by selecting a top of the line pickup with a snazzy blue custom paint job. Ennis got a truck too but insisted that one a few years old made more sense than getting a brand new one and dirtying it all up with ranch work.

The week before school started, a trip to Riverton to get Ennis's horses was planned. At the last minute Jack decided to stay home as he had some long distance calls that he was expecting from a few different breeders and he didn't want to miss them so Ennis and Bobby drove to Riverton alone.

Ennis drove to the trailer park where he and Bobby cleaned out his trailer and got the rest of his things and made arrangements with the park manager to rent it. He left the Lightning Flat post office box number for her to get in touch with him. They stopped in town for lunch before heading out to pick up the horses.

Coming out of the Bus Depot restaurant he heard his name being called.

"Ennis! Ennis del Mar; I'm talkin to you! Hold up!" Alma came up to him as he stood outside smoking a cigarette and waiting on Bobby who needed to use the rest room.

"Shit!" He muttered under his breath. "What do you want, Alma?"

"Don't you take that tone with me, Ennis!" She railed at him.

"Go away then." He said and turned away from her.

"Don't you dare turn your back on me!" She grabbed at his arm and tried to turn him back around to face her. "Don't you even care none about your girls? Where you been anyway? I went out to that disgustin trailer a yours and left a note on the door and you never even called me! Junior says she hasn't heard from you in months! You ought to be ashamed a yourself. You always was the most selfish thing I ever knew." She stamped her foot.

"I moved, Alma. I wrote both the girls the other day and give 'em my new address." Ennis tossed his cigarette into the street.

"I'm ready Uncle Ennis." Bobby said as he stepped out from behind Alma.

"Good. Let's get out a this stinkin town!" Ennis stepped off the curb and reached for the truck door.

"Not before you give me your new address, Ennis!" Alma dug in her purse for pencil and paper.

"I give it to the girls and you don't need it." Ennis said.

"I most certainly do too!" She insisted angrily. "What if there was an emergency or somethin?"

Bobby climbed into the truck as he eyed her.

"And who is that boy? That ain't one a K.E.'s boys; I know them."

"None a your business, Alma." Ennis said as he climbed in behind the wheel.

"You're still the nastiest man I ever did know, Ennis del Mar!" Alma yelled at him as Ennis backed out into the street and took off.

"Bitch!" Bobby said after they were a block away.

"I don't approve a that kind a talk, Bobby." Ennis said then a heart beat later added, "No matter how accurate it might be." He gave Bobby a grin and they headed out to pick up the horses.

Bobby was all excited about the horses and asked about riding them. Ennis promised that as soon as they had the time, he'd teach Bobby how to ride. Bobby patted the second horse on the rump as Ennis loaded them in his trailer. "That's the third horses ass that I've seen today." Bobby said with a grin.

"Bobby!" Ennis said with a stern grin. "That ain't nice."

"Maybe not; but it's accurate." Bobby grinned at him.

"Nah, not really. Alma ain't no horses ass. She's more a jackass."

Bobby laughed out loud.

"I'm a grown up. I can use them kind a words. Sides, I like horses too much to compare 'em to Alma.

She's more the mule type and I hate mules! Always have."

Work on making the two ranches into one continued along with the planning. Jack ordered all new equipment that arrived at the end of the summer. Ennis worked on getting both barns restored and weather tight so they so they could be stored safely for the winter.

He got both places mowed and baled using the old equipment. Bobby helped and was stronger and a lot more help than Ennis thought he would be.

By fall Jack had gotten to where he didn't need the crutches any longer. But if he was going to be on his feet for any length of time he still used the brace on his right leg. He hated it but used it when he knew he'd need it.

A massive wall of firewood was cut with Ennis wielding the axe and Jack and Bobby collecting and stacking it. The three of them worked well together and feasted every night on the sumptuous meals that Mrs. Twist turned out.

The first snow fell Thanksgiving evening as Jack and Ennis walked around after dinner checking on the stock.

"Well here it comes." Jack said holding out his hand and catching a few snow flakes in the palm of his hand. "As cold as it is, I figured it wouldn't be far off."

"I'm surprised it held off this long." Ennis said as he snugged his hat on down tighter. "They say it's gonna be a long cold winter."

"Well we're all set for it. That new boiler is workin great. The house is warmer than it's ever been."

"It's snug all right." Ennis agreed as they walked past the corral and headed for the house.

"Now we gotta start thinkin about Christmas." Jack said.

"Christmas? We just got done with Thanksgivin!" Ennis said in mock protest.

"Yep but Thanksgivin is just for eatin. Christmas means presents. I wanna make this the best Christmas Bobby ever had."

"Did you and Lureen do it up big?" Ennis asked as they stepped through the kitchen door and into the warm house.

"Well, we did and we didn't. She had this decorator who'd come in and do up the house so that it looked like a picture out a some magazine. She'd order all the presents and have them professionally wrapped and stuck under the tree. She'd give me a list a what she wanted me to get for her and what she wanted Bobby to get her and a course we'd get exactly what she wanted. Mostly Christmas was one party after another from the beginnin of December to the end."

"Do you think Bobby's gonna miss all that?" Ennis asked as they got beer out of the refrigerator and took a seat in the front room. They could hear Bobby's music going up in his room and the TV going in Mrs. Twist's sitting room so they were alone in front of the fire place. Ennis got a fire going as they talked.

"He might. That's why I want to do this Christmas up special like. I want him to have a real country Christmas. I want us to go out and find a tree and cut it down ourselves. I want to go shopping and pick out decorations. Tons and tons of decorations and I don't want any of 'em to match. Each year Lureen would have a different color scheme and everything would be all one color. I want lots a different colors.

"And I want us to shop. I want to take Bobby and Momma into Gillette or maybe even Sheridan and let him pick out gifts for everyone. I want us to wrap 'em ourselves."

"Jesus, Jack. I ain't never wrapped any gifts before." Ennis grinned at him.

"Neither have I! It'll be fun! Momma can help. She knows how to do all that stuff. I want to make it special for her too. I want to buy her lots a pretty girly stuff; the kind a stuff women like. Pa always got her stuff for the house – a new table cloth or cannin jars; junk like that. I wanna get her some pretty stuff, maybe some jewelry; I don't know. I just know that I wanna make this Christmas the best ever for all a us. You think we could do that?"

"I don't see why not." Ennis agreed as he joined Jack on the couch and took his hand. "All that's gonna take a lot a time. It's good we'll get an early start on it."

"We gotta get stuff for your girls too. That should probably be the first thing cause we're gonna have to mail them."

"I usually just send 'em a card with some money in it." Ennis said.

"Oh I wanna buy 'em gifts! Let's buy 'em gifts! Please? Just this year, at least. I wanna buy everyone gifts." Jack begged.

"This has been a real tough year on you, Bud. I think you ought to be able to finish it out havin the kind a Christmas you want." Ennis leaned his head over against Jack's shoulder and Jack rested his cheek against the blond head.

"You mean it?" Jack asked.

"Yep. I think we ought to buy gifts for everyone and wrap 'em all ourselves. You gotta promise me though you won't laugh when you seen how the ones I wrap turn out."

Jack laughed.

"See – you're laughin already!" Ennis punched him on the shoulder.

"You haven't seen mywrappin yet." Jack laughed. "It won't matter none. I promise you that. Besides; laughin ought to be a part a Christmas."

"You got that right." Ennis said. "We got a bunch a pines over on the other side." That's what they had taken to calling the Wilson half of their ranch. "We should go over and pick one out and mark it."

"Mark it? How? Why? It ain't like nobody else is gonna get it."

"By Christmas the snow might be five or six feet deep out there and when we get out in the woods they'll all look alike. We go out early and pick one out and time a rope to it, or a rag or somethin, and then when we go out to get it, we'll know for sure which one we picked out."

"Okay. Makes sense, I guess. I want a big tree. I want one that'll touch the ceiling!" Jack said.

"Is that the kind you had as a kid?" Ennis asked.

"Nah. We had one of them aluminum trees. A small thing that Momma set up on the table there by the window. I want a big one. And I want us all to decorate it together."

"Okay. I think we ought to tell your Momma and Bobby tomorrow so they can start plannin."

"Sounds good to me." Ennis agreed.

The next evening at dinner Jack brought up the subject of Christmas and Mrs. Twist and Bobby were over the moon with excitement. She was shocked that Bobby had never decorated a tree before and was thrilled at the idea of getting a live tree. Then she informed them that she had something that she wanted to discuss as well.

"Since we're re-doin the whole house next spring anyway; I've got an idea I'd like you to think about."

"Sure, Momma. Re-doin your kitchen is gonna be a main project. We want to get all new cabinets and appliances and stuff for you."

"That'd be real special, Jackie but what I was thinkin was … I'm gettin kinda old and those stairs are gettin to me. Every time I go up or down 'em I worry I'm gonna take a fall. I was thinkin about changin our bedrooms all around. Would the three a you have any objections to that?"

"No, Momma," Jack said and Bobby and Ennis shook their heads too. "What did you have in mind?"

"Well first of all, Bobby needs a bigger room. That little room that used to be your's is just too small. I think we should make over the TV room down stairs for him. We don't need two front rooms."

"Hey, that would be great!" Bobby lit up.

"And my sewin room is plenty big enough for me. I'd like to move in there. That way I wouldn't have to worry about them stairs any more and that would leave the upstairs for the two of you. There's two good sized rooms up there, a bathroom and a couple a smaller rooms. I think it's be the best arrangement all around."

Jack and Ennis stared at one another with the same thought – they'd have some privacy! They had managed to get together now and then when Bobby was off in school but if they had the entire upstairs to themselves they could be together whenever they wanted. They could even sleep together!

"And we're goin to be pretty much snowed in here before too long anyway. Movin everythin around would give us somethin to do!" She smiled at everyone.

"Oh Grandma! That's a wonderful idea!" Bobby jumped up and gave her a hug. "When can we start movin stuff? Can I move my things down tonight?"

"It's up to your Daddy, Bobby. Jackie, do you think the steps will bother your leg?"

"No! Not at all. It ain't like I'm gonna be runnin up and down 'em all day anyway." Jack said.

"So can we switch now? Tonight?" Bobby was anxious to get started.

"Well honey, don't you want to wait until we can paint and everythin?" Mrs. Twist asked.

"We can paint later." Bobby said.

"We need to get you some new furniture, Bobby." Jack reminded him.

"Can we do that tomorrow then?"

Jack grinned at him. He was so glad to see Bobby happy he couldn't turn him down. "Sure, Bobby. I don't see no reason why we can't go furniture shoppin tomorrow." Then he turned to his momma and asked, "What about you, Momma. Why don't we get you a new bedroom set too."

"Oh my goodness! I didn't expect that." She said. "I don't really need one."

"Needin one ain't got nothin to do with it, Momma. This is a new life for all a us. I think we ought to start it out with new furniture. That set you have is old as the hills."

"Well that's true enough. Your daddy and I got that when we was first married and we got it at a rummage sale."

"That settles it then. Tomorrow morning we head for Gillette and a furniture buying spree. And I don't want no hold outs." He looked directly at Ennis. "We're gettin new bedroom sets for each of us!"

The ride to Gillette took a little over an hour. It snowed all the way and Mrs. Twist insisted they sing Christmas carols as they rode. They weren't exactly sure where to go so Mrs. Twist suggested the Sears store as she had seen furniture in there before. Ennis pulled into the parking lot and drove around back where there was plenty of room to park the pickup with the horse trailer hooked on behind.

It didn't take them very long. None of them have fancy tastes and within two hours they were watching as their boxed furniture and mattresses was loaded up for them. Back into the store they went, to the linen department and each of them picked out two sets of linen for their beds and new pillows all round.

"Oh Jackie! We spent so much money! Maybe we should take some a this stuff back." Mrs. Twist worried as they filled the back of the pickup with their purchases.

"No way! We need this stuff. Every single bit of it. You got to stop worryin about money, Momma. I told you you ain't never gonna have to worry about money again."

They climbed into the truck and headed home. Once home Mrs. Twist busied herself with getting dinner ready while the others brought in the huge boxes of furniture and stacked them in the hall temporarily. Ennis and Bobby carried in the heavier things and let Jack carry in the lighter bags before he was shooed away to rest his leg.

Jack came up behind his Momma who was stirring something at the stove and put his arms around her.

"Momma, I wanna thank you. I know you suggested all this bedroom switching for me and Ennis and I want you to know that I appreciate it."

"Nonsense!" She shook her her head defiantly. "I suggested it because it was what I wanted. I'm tired a runnin up and down those stairs all the time and you know Bobby needed a bigger room." She turned back to her pots and pans that were steaming away filling the kitchen with wonderful smells.

"And you did it for me and Ennis." Jack bent down and kissed her on the cheek.

"The two a you need some privacy." She leaned back into her son's hug.

Just then Bobby and Ennis entered the kitchen.

"And I'm warnin you, Jackie, the two a you are gonna have to bring your laundry downstairs if you want it done. I'm through with them stairs for good. That goes for the bathroom up there too. You two want it cleaned, you gotta do it yourself."

"That's no problem, Momma. We can keep the upstairs clean; can't we Ennis?"

"Sure enough." Ennis agreed as he and Bobby took their seats at the table. "Whatever you need done; we'll do."

"I can help too, Grandma. I never cleaned a bathroom before but if you show me how, I can do it."

"Oh sweet boy, that won't be necessary. You got enough to do with your studies and helpin out with the work. It's just those stairs that I worry about."

"What about the cellar stairs, Momma? You gotta go down there to do your laundry and stuff."

"Well those stairs ain't as steep as the others and there's turn in 'em half way down so if I was to take a fall, I'd only go half as far."

"You really that unsteady on the stairs, Momma?" Jack began to worry.

"I think maybe we should see about puttin another rail on those stairs." Ennis said. "So's she'd have a rail on each side to hold onto."

"And carpet." Bobby piped up. "If the stairs were carpeted and she took a fall, she wouldn't get hurt near as bad. Just some rug burn maybe."

"My goodness; all this worry about me and the steps. Let's just get on with out dinner; shall we?" Mrs. Twist suggested as she passed around bowls of stew and placed a large container of biscuits in the middle of the table.

"That's a good idea, Bobby. The extra railing too, Ennis. I think we should look into both a those."

"But first we get to move all the furniture around!" Bobby said as he ate his stew with relish.

"Did you get it all brought in?" Jack asked.

"Yep." Ennis answered. "The hall is packed from front to back and there's stuff in both front rooms."

"This is so much fun!" Bobby said as he took another biscuit.

"What was your room like down in Childress, Bobby? Did you pick out the same kind a furniture?"

Mrs. Twist asked.

Ennis had a quick flashback to Bobby's room in Childress. In fact, it wasn't a room but the entire third floor of their mansion. Ennis had only been up there one time but he remembered there was a huge game room with all kinds of electronic gadgets in it and Bobby's bedroom had been huge with a king sized bed and the most unusual bedroom furniture that Ennis had ever seen. Bobby had his own massive bathroom and a guest room for having friends over. The entire place had obviously been done by a decorator like every other room in the mansion with the exception of Jack's room.

"Nah, it wasn't anything like what we just bought. It was some … furniture that Momma found in a magazine somewhere and ordered for me."

Jack looked at Ennis and wondered if he had seen Bobby's room and wondered if he knew how much Bobby was understating the difference between the rooms.

"Well what you picked out this afternoon is real nice. I think it's going to make a fine room." She smiled sweetly at him.

As soon as dinner was finished, they started their work. The first thing Jack and Ennis did was to pack up their stuff and move it all out of the sewing room. By the time they got that finished, Mrs. Twist was through with the dishes and started a quick clean up of the room.

They found out which boxes had Mrs. Twist's furniture in then and got busy assembling things. While they were doing that, Mrs. Twist had Bobby help her move her things down stairs and into the drawers of her new chest and into the closet. Once the bed was set up, Mrs. Twist put the new linen on it and the guys set about moving things out of the TV room.

"Do I get to keep the TV?" Bobby asked.

"Nope. That's Momma's TV. Maybe Santa Clause will bring you one." Jack smiled at him.

"That's okay. I don't watch much TV anyway." Bobby said.

In no time they had Bobby's room set up and his stuff moved in. They rested a while and had a beer while Bobby busied himself in his new room and Mrs. Twist did the same in her room.

"I think I'm gonna like these new sleepin arrangements," Jack said with a raising of his eye brows.

Ennis took a swallow of beer and said, "You think that's why she suggested the switch?"

"I'd bet money on it." Jack said.

"You got some Momma there, Jack. That's all I gotta say about it." Ennis said as he finished off his beer.

Ennis called Bobby to come help carry stuff upstairs. Jack was allowed to carry the smaller stuff but Ennis and Bobby wrestled up the chests, beds and mattresses after taking everything out of the boxes.

Everything was stacked in the hallway until the two big rooms were emptied of the furniture in them and stored in the smaller rooms that weren't going to be used.

A king-sized bed was assembled in each bedroom, a chest of drawers, a night stand and lamp for each room and they were done. The new linen was added and by the time they were finished they were both ready to drop. They went down stairs to check on Bobby and Mrs. Twist and found Bobby already in bed sound asleep. Mrs. Twist was arranging things on top of her new dresser and humming a little tune.

"It looks real nice, Momma." Jack said through the open doorway.

"Oh, I just love it, Jackie! I've never had new furniture before. It's just so shiny and nice and it smells so good."

"I'm glad you like it, Momma. You'd better get some sleep. We gotta start our Christmas shopping tomorrow." He gave her a kiss on the cheek and he and Ennis checked to make sure the doors were locked and headed on up stairs.

"We got another big day ahead a us tomorrow, Cowboy."

"Yep. We best get some sleep." He gave Jack a hug and headed for his room.

"I'll be over to see you in a little while. Don't lock your door." Jack grinned at him.

He didn't make it over that evening. He got ready for bed and lay down just for a few minutes to try out the bed and fell fast asleep. It wouldn't have mattered as Ennis was sound asleep too. Neither one woke up until the next morning when the smell of coffee brewing tickled their noses. They hurried downstairs to find Bobby and Mrs. Twist sitting at the table making lists.

"You can't look, Daddy. That's not fair!" Bobby said when Jack tried to peek and see what was being written.

"Okay, okay. But remember, we're shopping first for Ennis's girls cause we got to mail them." Jack said as he poured himself a cup of coffee. Ennis did the same and when they sat down Mrs. Twist got up and started on the eggs for everyone to go with the bacon and toast already made and waiting.

"I got no idea what the girls need. Maybe we should just send them a little cash like I always done."

Ennis said once they were all seated and finishing up their meal.

"Ennis, I'll be glad to help you pick out somethin nice for your girls." Mrs. Twist said as she poured them each another cup of coffee.

"I really ain't got any idea what they need." Ennis protested.

"Ennis, Christmas isn't about what people need, it's about what we want them to have." Jack said with his usual Jack Twist mind set. "We wanna get them something special; something that they'd never think to buy for themselves."

"Maybe a nice sweater set." Mrs. Twist suggested.

"Or jewelry." Bobby suggested. "Women always like fancy jewelry."

"They ain't neither one of 'em into fancy jewelry. I think a sweater might be nice. I know they both wear 'em. I think that's a fine idea." Ennis agreed.

"There's just one problem." Mrs. Twist said.

"What's that Momma?"

"Have you looked outside?" She asked.

Both Jack and Ennis got up from the table and looked out the window. It was snowing so hard you could barely see the vehicles in the driveway.

"We shouldn't be out on the road today boys. I think this should be a thinkin day."

"A what?" Jack asked.

"A thinkin and plannin day. A day for makin lists. Comin up with ideas about what we want to get each other. And alternate ideas in case we can't find what we put on our lists. And I gotta make up a big grocery list so I don't forget anythin and we gotta work out what decorations we wanna get. We got lots a thinkin we need to do."

"Okay. We spend the day makin lists. Give me a couple sheets a that paper." He asked his son. Bobby tore out two sheets and handed the over. Jack gave one sheet to Ennis and then dug around in the kitchen junk drawer until he came up with two pencils. He sharpened them with his jack knife and he and Ennis headed for the front room.

Ennis got a fire started while Jack worked on his list. Ennis leaned against the mantle and scribbled a few things on his list.

Bobby stuck his head in and asked, "Daddy, can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Sure thing. Come on in, son."

"I'll take a walk." Ennis offered.

"No, you don't need to go, Uncle Ennis. I just need some ideas." He kind of hemmed and hawed a little.

Jack and Ennis exchanged looks.

"Somethin about your Christmas list, Bobby?" Jack asked.

"Yeah, kinda."

"You wonderin what to get your Grandma?" Ennis asked.

"No. I mean, I'll need ideas for that too. What I was wonderin was …" Bobby looked down and dug the toe of his shoe into the rug.

"You wanna buy a gift for someone at school?" Ennis asked.

"Yeah; but I don't know what to get her." Bobby was glad it was out.

"Your teacher?" Jack asked. "I'm sure we can come up with somethin nice for her."

"Nah, Daddy. Not my teacher."

"A girl?" Ennis asked. "You got yourself a girl?"

"Kinda." Bobby squirmed and sat on the arm of the couch.

Jack and Ennis grinned at one another.

"What would you like to get her? Do you have any ideas?" Jack asked him.

"That's just it. I don't know what's appropriate. I don't know what girls would like. I mean, I know what Momma would have liked. Do you think I should get her jewelry?"

"How serious is this? We've only been here three months. It's not like you were datin or nothin." Jack asked.

"Yes we have. You know I been goin to the movies on weekends? Well, I been takin her."

"Jesus, Bobby. You should a said somethin. I didn't even know you were datin. We need to have a talk about this kind a thing."

"Oh Daddy! We don't need to have any talk. I know about the birds and bees. I know all that stuff. What I don't know is what I should get her for Christmas."

"We'll think a somethin." Jack assured him still a little stunned that his son was dating. "I think we need to stay away from the jewelry though."

"Jewelry wouldn't be too bad," Ennis put in his two cents and got a look from Jack. "Not fancy jewelry. Not gold or diamonds or nothin. I was thinkin like maybe a locket or somethin. I got Junior a locket for her 16th birthday and she liked it a lot. Still wears it around."

"A locket would be nice." Jack perked up.

"Yeah!" Bobby perked up also. "I like that idea. I haven't seen her wear any so she probably doesn't have one. Will you help me pick one out?"

"Sure thing, Bobby." They both said.

"I didn't see any jewelry stores in Gillette. You think they have one?" Bobby asked.

"Sears has jewelry. That's where I got Junior's locket."

"Okay, put that on your list, Bobby. And make sure you put Sears down beside it so we'll know where to look for it."

Bobby scribbled on his tablet. "Now what about Grandma? What are you two going to get her?"

"I don't know yet, son." Jack scratched his head.

"I know." Ennis said as he came over and sat next to Jack on the couch.

"What?" Jack and Bobby both asked.

"When we was movin stuff around in the sewin room, she said that she was gonna have to see about gettin her sewin machine fixed so she could do some more sewin. Why don't we get her a new machine?"

"That's a great idea, Ennis!" Jack started scribblin on his list.

"That's what you can get her. What can I get her." Bobby asked.

"Maybe some sewin stuff." Ennis offered.

"You could get her a gift certificate at a fabric store! She loves to sew. She always has. That way she can buy whatever fabric she wants and patterns and all that stuff." Jack just glowed.

Bobby scribbled on his tablet.

"You two took my idea. Now what am I gonna get her?" Ennis asked.

"I don't know. We'll come up with somethin." Jack teased as he scribbled 'sewing machine' down on his list.

"I know what I'm gonna get her." Ennis said and wrote something down on his list.

"What?" Jack and Bobby both asked.

"I'm not gonna tell you; you'll steal this idea too!" Ennis folded his paper up and stuck it in his shirt pocket.

"That's not fair!" Bobby protested. "We'll probably get her other stuff too – what if we end up gettin her the same thing?"

"All right, all right. I can see the two a you are gonna gang up on me." Ennis pulled the paper out and handed it to Jack.

"A camera and a photo album. Those are great ideas, Cowboy!" Jack enthused. "She can take photos a the ranch and all the changes we're makin."

"And the house too." Bobby added.

"Okay. I get to keep this idea for my own then?" Ennis asked.

"Yeah." Bobby and Jack both agreed.

"Now scoot on out a here so we can talk about what we want to get you." Jack said.

Bobby left and went back into the kitchen to grill his Grandma on what to get for his dad and Ennis.

"I already know what I'm gonna get him." Jack said as he wrote somethin on his list.

"Me too." Ennis wrote something too.

"What? What did you put down?" Jack strained to see Ennis's list. "And how do you know what I put down?"

"You're gonna get him a TV for his room; right?" Ennis said.

"Yeah. What are you gonna get him?"

"I was thinkin about a stereo. He had a real nice set up in his room in Texas. All he brought with him was that little radio with the ear phones. I was thinkin he might like to have another stereo."

"That's a great idea!" Jack said. "How come you're so full a great ideas when you said you never give out much in the way of gifts?"

"I never gave out much in the way of gifts cause I never had no money before. But this Christmas is special and you keep tellin me not to worry about the money so I figured we ought to go with somethin they'd like."

"I bought him that stereo couple a years back. I'm sure we can find one like it around somewhere. If they don't have it in Gillette you and me might have to make a special trip into Sheridan. They ought to have it there." Jack smiled and took Ennis's hand. "I'm glad to see you're gettin into this idea of a special Christmas and not worryin so much about the money."

"Once you showed me your bank balance all them worried flew away with all them zeros. First a the year though, we need to set us up a ranch budget and stick to it."

"We can do that. We can figure out what we want a do with all this land, how much you want to put into cattle and how much into horses. We'll come up with a figure that'll cover everythin we want to do – both with the ranch and with the house and we'll stick to it." Jack said.

"Yeah, that's some more lists we need to make. I never was much of a list maker before and now it seems every time we turn around we're makin a new list." Ennis said.

"What we need is one a these tablets. Let's see if Bobby has an extra one." They got up and headed for the kitchen where Bobby and his grandma were huddled over their lists and writing stuff down.

"Hey Bobby." Jack said as they came into the room.

"Don't look!" Bobby and Mrs. Twist both covered up their lists.

"We ain't peekin. We just come in to see if you got any more a those tablets. We need to make more lists. Stuff we wanna do with the ranch and the house and all." Jack said.

"Here. You can have this one." Bobby tore off his few pages. "I got another one in my room."

"Here, Momma. You got another list you need to make." Jack tore off a piece of paper and handed it to her. "Make a list of all the ornaments you think we'll need for a big ole tree. We're gonna cut us one that's gonna be to the ceilin!"

"Oh Jackie! That sounds so excitin. But we got some decorations already."

"I know. And you can put them on too if you want but that won't be enough for our tree. We're gonna have a really big one!"

"Oh I hope it clears up tomorrow. I'm anxious to get shoppin." She said as she began to write down things on her new list.

Once back in the front room Ennis reminded Jack who was still working on his list to add wrapping paper, scotch tape, name tags and bows to the list. Jack scribbled it all down as fast as Ennis said it.

"Momma will probably get a bunch a this stuff too."

"Yeah but we wanna make sure we have enough. And that's the kind a stuff that will save until next year if we have any left over." Ennis reminded him.

"Okay; you're right. Better to have too much wrappin paper than not enough. actuallyAnd the stuff we'll getting is all big stuff that will take a lot of paper to wrap."

Ennis thought about that for a moment and then asked, "How we gonna wrap a sewing machine?"

"I don't know. With lots and lots a paper I guess." Jack answered.

Christmas was absolutely spectacular. They shopped every single day that was left before Christmas that the weather permitted. Mrs. Twist baked constantly when she wasn't shopping or wrapping or helping the others wrap. Presents filled the front room around their magnificent tree. The house constantly smelled like spices and pine needles.

The snow came on hard and strong and deep and they went outside and played in it every chance they got. Snowmen were built, snow angels were made, along with snow forts and countless snowballs for their many snow-battles.

Jack was now able to get around without the crutches but still wore the brace on his leg if he had to be on his feet for any length of time. He had very little trouble getting around now. Between Christmas and New Year they made countless plans with list after list of all the things they were going to do in the spring.

Bobby did well in school and seemed to blossom in the small town atmosphere. He loved the three German Shepard puppies they got him for Christmas. Mrs. Twist was beside herself with happiness and was seldom seen without a big happy smile on her sweet face.

There was a party at the church on New Year's Eve that they all attended. Ennis and Jack managed to be out in the truck when all the bells began to ring.

"Happy New Year, Bud," Ennis said and leaned in for a kiss as the snow pelted their truck.

"Happy New Year, Cowboy." Jack grabbed hold and deepened the kiss.

"Can't see how it could possibly get any happier." Ennis grinned at him.

"Yeah. I know what you mean." Jack grinned. "We gonna follow through with all the plans we made?"

"You bet. Wouldn't have it any other way." Ennis squeezed Jack's hand.

"No big announcements, no – unhappy decisions?" Jack was still unsure that Ennis would stay.

"Nope. Wasn't none necessary. I done the right thing. I always try to do the right thing. I took care a you and Bobby when you needed me to, I brought you up home to Lightnin Flat where you belong. That was the right thing to do too."

"And you? What's the right thing for you?"

"To keep on doin what I know is right – seein to my family. You and Bobby and your Momma – you're my family now. You need me. They need me. I'm right where I need to be. No decisions necessary."

Jack gave a quiet little smile and kissed him again. "Let's go inside. We need to keep an eye on things. Did you see the way those two girls were followin Bobby around? We better make sure they don't get anything started."

"Yeah, I saw 'em. That boy's gonna be a real heart-stealer all right. Kind a like his old man." Ennis shoulder bumped him as they walked through the snow and back into the festivities.

THE END

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE !

AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR !

73