Becky dropped Ennis off outside the post office in Sandersville, where the bus was already waiting. He was right on time so he figured he wouldn't ruffle any feathers. There was a commander by the bus, checking everybody who got on.
He turned to Becky. "Well...guess I better get goin'."
She nodded, looking downcast. "Take care, yeah? Listen to what they tell you an' keep your head down."
"I will. Look after everybody, okay? Keep an eye on Jack fer me."
She smiled. "You know I will." She then sighed. "Bye, Ennis." He hugged her and bid her goodbye, then approached the bus, his bag feeling as heavy as his heart. He felt as if a piece of him had been left behind at the ranch, but he knew that Jack would look after it. Jack always did take good care of him.
He showed the commander his papers and he was let onto the bus, where it was already nearly full. He felt very self-conscious and ducked his head, wishing that Jack could be here to break the tension. But Ennis knew that Jack would be a lot safer here, and it would ease his mind.
He found a seat next to a young man around his age, with dark hair and grey eyes. They nodded politely at each other and the man offered his hand.
"James Coogan." Ennis shook his hand.
"Ennis Del Mar."
"You look kinda down. Leavin' someone special behind?" He looked knowingly at him.
"Yeah." He gulped, hating the lies he would have to tell in this environment. "Wife."
"Right. I'm leavin' my girl too. Plannin' to marry her when I get back."
"We got married a couple years ago, thinkin' of renewin' our vows," Ennis replied. There were some truths he could tell.
"That's real nice, what's her name?"
"Jackie," he mumbled, insides burning with shame that he was making Jack out to be a woman.
"You got a picture?"
"Uh, sure." He fumbled around in his bag for the picture of Becky and Lily that was his decoy. He did love them, but he wished that he could show the picture of the one he loved the most. "Here. That there's our little girl, Lily."
"Aw, ain't she cute? Me an' my girl want kids one day. Here..." He pulled out a picture of a girl with curly hair and a sweet smile. "This is Claire. My one an' only."
"She looks real nice. You guys happy?"
"Sure are. You?"
"Yeah. Never thought I'd ever be as happy as I've been these last few years. Got somethin' real special here."
"I bet. Me an' Claire met at this church social thing. Our parents introduced us. Where'd you guys meet?"
Ennis swallowed, remembering the rehearsed story that he'd spent hours practicing. "In '63, in the summer. I'm from Wyomin', an' I was up in the mountains workin' as a sheep herder up in Signal. Met her at the cafe where I had my breakfast. Couldn't get her outta my head the whole summer. Came back down, knew she was the one for me. Asked her to come back with me to Sage, where I was from. She did, an' we got married soon after."
"You're from Wyomin'? What brings ya all the way out here?"
Ennis shrugged, as if it had been an impulse decision. "Just...we both grew up in the West, wanted to see what things was like out here. We own a ranch, cattle ranch. Her mama came to live with us about a year ago after her daddy died."
"A house full of women then," James commented. "Must drive ya crazy."
Ennis smiled; even if they did drive him crazy sometimes, he still loved them all. "Well...I love 'em to bits."
"Got any advice fer someone who's wantin' to marry his girl?"
"Um...just...do whatever you can to make her happy, I guess. Make her happiness more important to you than yer own," he replied, thinking of Jack and how he always made sure that he was happy. Just because he was in love with a man didn't mean it needed to be any different than being in love with a woman.
"Yeah...I do want her to be happy..."
"Uh...make sure she's safe, an' she has everythin' she needs, especially if she gets pregnant," he went on, thinking of Becky. "Just... do what ya can. We made it work, an' we're happier than ever."
"Thanks, Ennis. I'll keep that in mind," James said, smiling and lightly punching him on the shoulder. He seemed a decent guy, and anything to make this time go quickly was welcomed by Ennis.
"Oh, an'...no matter what, always be honest with her, never lie to her," Ennis said, thinking of those bad few months when he'd kept secrets from Jack and lied to him. James nodded, looking thoughtful. "An'...treat her right. Make her feel like ya love her, that you really wanna be with her."
"Wow...sounds like you know a lot about love," James said, looking awed by his knowledge.
"I guess. I learned most of it...maybe all of it...just from livin' through it. Learned a lot from...my better half," Ennis said quietly, smiling to himself. Jack had taught him a lot about love just by being with him.
"Sounds like yer really gonna miss her..."
"I sure am. Gonna miss her somethin' fierce. My best friend, ya know. Means everythin' to me."
"Well, I'm sure things are gonna be okay. They train us real good, an' I bet we'll be back before ya know it. You can go on an' renew yer vows, an' maybe have more kids."
Ennis smiled wryly, thinking of how bizarre it would be for he and Jack to have kids. "I dunno if she'd go fer that. I think once was enough for her. But...I guess...never say never." Maybe one day they'll let us adopt or somethin', but we won't never have a kid that's just ours. Price you pay fer happiness, I guess.
Jack cleared away the breakfast dishes, trying to concentrate on his task. He knew that while it was relatively easy now, it wouldn't be long before it truly hit him that Ennis was gone, and it could be years before he saw his face again.
He thought about what Pete had said, that while he'd initially been glad of the quiet when Adam had gone for his medical exams, by the time Jack had called him he was going crazy, yearning to hear Adam's voice. Ennis was by no means a talker like himself, but Jack knew that he would soon be craving to hear that low, sexy rumble that Ennis used with him, mainly when they were alone and usually in the bedroom.
His mother was upstairs somewhere and the hands would arrive soon for work; life would go on as it always had. He had to keep going; there were people depending on him now. The hands would need their wages, their customers would want their orders, and he had to hold everything together. He couldn't afford to lose it now, no matter how much he missed Ennis. All he could do was simply go on, and wait for the day when his husband would return.
He heard his mother return with Lily in her arms. "You okay, sweetie?" she asked, looking at him sympathetically. He tried to smile back.
"I'm okay, mama. For now, I guess. But...pretty soon I'm gonna be missin' him like crazy." The way he holds me, the way he talks to me, the way he kisses me...not to mention the way he makes me feel in bed. God...I'm gonna miss him so much.
"I know, Jack. But all you can do is carry on an' let things happen as they do. You know..." She put Lily down in her chair and got her some baby food, sitting next to her. "We had a sayin', back in World War Two. Keep calm an' carry on. It was on posters all over the place to remind people not to panic an' just get on with life as best they could.
Jack mulled over this, looking down into his coffee cup. His mother always did make a lot of sense. "Yer right, mama. I know I can't stop myself missin' him, or worryin' about him, but...there ain't nothin' I can do, you've been tellin' me that fer two weeks an' you were right. I got a ranch to run; I can't keep pinin' after him, even though I want to. He wants me to keep this place goin' an' I hafta. This ain't just our home, it's our business too, our livelihood. If I don't knuckle down he ain't gonna have no place to come home to, so..." He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Just gotta keep on at it, like he is."
"That's right," she said encouragingly. She knew that before this was over, Jack really would be missing Ennis badly, but if she could convince him early on to simply carry on, hopefully he would get through it, and by the time Ennis returned, he would come home to a strong man who was in control of himself, who would be able to welcome him back with the promise of support. Ennis would need that when he returned, so she hoped that Jack would be able to offer it him. Jack himself would need to be in a secure place in his mind if that was going to happen.
A little later, Jack joined the hands out in the fields. Becky would take over in the office for him, but in the afternoons she would take Lily in with her, give Rose some time to herself. Jack got himself busy with saddling up Signal when he heard someone approach him. It was Sam, one of their original hands.
"Hey, Sam. Everythin' alright?"
"Yeah, we're good. Um...actually, I came in to talk to ya." He looked terrified of approaching his boss like this, but Jack had a suspicion that he would have been too scared altogether if Ennis were here; the guy could be pretty intimidating to those who weren't close to him.
Jack straightened up. "Oh?"
Sam shifted his feet. "Um...I was wonderin' about Miss Becky."
The nervous young man took his hat off, running it through his hands over and over. "Um...if it's alright with you, bein' her cousin an' all...I was wonderin' if I could ask her out sometime?"
Jack smiled. "Really?" He hoped that Becky would be able to find herself happiness; she deserved it so much after everything she'd been through.
"I'll treat her well, boss," Sam said quickly, as if Jack was questioning his motives . "I'll pay for dinner, an' if she wants to go to the movies or somethin' I'll pay for that too. I'll have her home by whatever time you say."
Jack had to stop himself from laughing at how antsy the poor young man was. "Well, it's alright with me. You sure that her havin' a baby don't put you off?"
"Oh, no sir. She told us what happened, right? With that guy? He's an asshole for not wantin' nothin' to do with her."
"You won't get no argument from me," Jack said dryly. "It's alright by me, if she wants to. But I warn ya, she's a little hung up on her ex-boyfriend, not the father but this other guy. Just...be nice to her, alright? She's had her heart broken before an' she don't need it happenin' again."
"I won't, sir. I know how to treat a lady, sir," Sam said, looking sincere.
"Alright then. She should be back anytime, feel free to ask her then."
He breathed out a sigh of relief. "Okay. Thanks, boss." Sam left the stables, leaving Jack to reflect on love and life. He hoped that Ennis could somehow know that he was thinking of him right now. He wished they could communicate telepathically; it sure would make things a little less lonely. He wondered how he was going to be tonight, lying in bed with nothing but memories and his right hand for company.
The bus arrived at Fort Jackson some time later, by which time the sun had risen fully. Ennis was very apprehensive about what was heading this way and where this road might lead, but he hoped that he wouldn't have to do this for too long; all he wanted was to be at home with Jack.
When they arrived, they were all directed to bunkers around the camp, and Ennis started to look around for a glimpse of Adam. The sooner they got through this the better.
He was directed to his bunker, which already had soldiers milling about, some having arrived before him and some he recognised from the medical testing. He went inside and picked the empty bed closest to the door. He turned when he heard his name being called and saw, to his relief, Adam.
"Hey, Ennis," he greeted, coming up to him and smacking his shoulder lightly. "Was wonderin' when you might be arrivin'."
"Yeah, long journey," Ennis replied, trying to make this conversation look completely neutral, like they had nothing to hide.
"How, uh...how's your other half?" Adam asked, mindful of where they were.
"Copin'. Was real sad to see me go, but...hopefully won't be gone too long. What about you?"
Adam glanced around again. "Like you say, copin'." The other soldiers left, leaving them alone, and they both breathed out a sigh of relief. "Goddamn," Adam muttered, rubbing his forehead.
"I know. This is gonna be hard. I..." Ennis glanced towards the open door. "I really miss him."
"Me too. I just wanna talk 'bout Pete all the time. Yesterday was hell. How the hell are we gonna do this?"
Ennis shook his head. "I dunno. Just gotta be real careful. They said anythin' 'bout when we can call?"
"They have a set time. You can call the day you arrive but then you gotta wait 'til next week before they let ya again."
"Right. I'll call him later then. Say goodnight an' all."
Adam nodded. "I called Pete yesterday; wish I could do it every night."
"Well, how 'bout I ask Jack to tell him that yer thinkin' on him?" Ennis offered. "Let him know that you would call if ya could."
He smiled. "Thanks, Ennis. That's real nice of ya."
Ennis shrugged. "No problem. Anyway, I better get unpacked."
"Yeah. You'll hafta meet our sergeant soon; now that all the troops are here, he'll want to talk to us all. From what I hear, they're pretty strict."
"Oh...well...guess we just gotta get on with it, huh?"
"I guess. You never know, we might not be here that long. Somethin' could happen. We might be home sooner than we think."
Ennis looked down at his bag. "I sure hope so. Gonna go crazy without him. Dunno if I can go on like this for a few months, never mind years."
"Yeah. Anyway, I'm gonna go for a walk around, see what's what. The sergeant wants us all here at nine, so you better be ready by then, okay?"
"Yep. See ya." Adam left Ennis alone, where he began to unpack his things. He couldn't bear to look at his left hand, where the ring should be. It felt like he no longer had any ties to Jack or what they had together, nothing to point to. He hated this and hoped that it wouldn't be for long. He put his photos of Becky and Lily in a pocket of his bag and after a glance around, extracted the photo of Jack from within his boot. It was the safest place he could think of, between his sock and his leg, folded and tucked down where it couldn't be seen. With another quick glance, he brought the picture to his lips and kissed it, hoping that Jack knew he was thinking of him.
After unpacking everything, he checked the watch that Jack had given him for his 20th birthday; it was quarter to nine. The other soldiers were starting to return now to meet with the sergeant and they exchanged polite nods and greetings with him. One of them was also from out West, from Colorado, and it was nice to be able to talk about things they were both familiar with.
At nine, their sergeant arrived, and Ennis remembered what Adam had said about them being so strict here. They all sprang to attention, varying expressions of apprehension on their faces. He looked like a no-nonsense kind of person and even Ennis was slightly intimidated.
The man slowly walked between the two lines of men, inspecting them. He suddenly stopped in front of Ennis, eyes narrowed.
"You, soldier. What's your name?"
Ennis swallowed. "Del Mar, sir."
"An' what is your sole purpose in this army?"
To get it over with an' return to my husband as soon as possible? Probably not what he wants to hear. "To do whatever you tell me to, sergeant," he answered quickly.
The sergeant actually looked impressed. "Good answer, Del Mar. You're a smart one. Keep up that attitude an' you'll go far. Now then..." He turned to face the others and Ennis finally exhaled. "Basic trainin' starts tomorrow, six a.m. Want you there sharp an' early an' it's a full day job. Just do like Del Mar says an' do whatever I tell ya. You have this day to yerselves, but work starts tomorrow. Lights out at nine, an' get to sleep. No messin' around. If you hafta jerk off use the bathroom, but don't make no noise. Got it?"
"Yes sergeant, sir," they all responded in unison. He left and they all relaxed, some of them muttering about how he'd spoken to them.
Ennis and Adam turned to each other, puffing out their breath and feeling relief shoot through them that they had survived.
"That was weird," Ennis said. Adam looked at him in confusion. "I mean...nobody but them back home ever said I was smart. Just weird is all."
"At least yer in his good books," Adam remarked as they flopped onto their neighbouring beds.
They spent the rest of the day in and around the bunker, getting to know their comrades. Unfortunately, they couldn't get more than a few seconds alone so they had to watch what they said, but these people were interesting enough to distract them for now. It turned out that James, the one he'd spoken to on the bus, was in the bunker next to theirs, but they would still probably see him often enough. And Ennis was certain that one of the others in their bunker was like him and Adam, for his story seemed a little too rehearsed, and when asked about a wife or girlfriend, he seemed edgy. Jack would probably tell him he was crazy.
"So, anyway," finished Adam, having spun a tale that wasn't too far from the truth. "Me an' the missus decided to move out to Ohio, where she's from. Own a bar just over the border, in Kentucky. Doin' real well. We went to this rodeo there an' found that there wasn't no bar, so we decided to pool our money an' go fer it."
"Nice one," commented one of the others, who was definitely straight, Ennis figured. "What's her name again?"
"Petra," answered Adam, ignoring Ennis's look. He had already ribbed Ennis good-naturedly for using the name Jackie for his "wife".
"That's real nice." They then focused their attention to Ennis, the last person to speak. "So, what about you, Ennis? What's yer story?"
Ennis took a breath, hoping that he wouldn't slip up. "Uh, well...I'm from Wyomin', an' my parents died when I was a teenager. Me an' my brother worked on this ranch until I was nineteen. Then in '63, I went to this place called Signal for work, since my brother had gone an' gotten married."
"You're a cowboy then?" Ennis nodded. "Wow...big change..."
"Yeah...so, um...when I got to Signal, I had my breakfast in this diner that mornin', an' there was this girl workin' there. Got talkin' to her some. Named Jackie. I went up on Brokeback Mountain, sheep-herdin'. Just me an' this other guy up there. Couldn't get her outta my head all summer."
He took another breath, remembering that distant summer and all it had given him. The image that stood out in his memory the most was his and Jack's second night together, how his face had looked so soft in the firelight, and how warm and light his lips had felt. "I, um...I went back down at the end of the summer. Got a job in the town an' started datin' Jackie. About a year later I asked her to marry me, an' she said yes. She then found out that she'd inherited a ranch from her uncle, over in Georgia. We're livin' there now. Got a little girl, Lily."
"That's a great story, Ennis. Sounds like ya lucked out, huh?"
Ennis nodded; that was an understatement. "We sure did. We're real happy an' I can't wait 'til I'm back home. We're thinkin' of renewin' our vows when I get back." That bit, at least, was true.
They all nodded in approval, satisfied with his answer. "So..." started one of the others, a young man from Alabama. "You guys all ready fer what's comin'?"
Ennis and Adam looked dubiously at each other, knowing deep down what the answer was. "Not really. But there ain't a damn thing we can do about it, so...we just gotta get on with it."
"Yeah. But you never know, we might not be out here that long. This war could end tomorrow. Stranger things have happened, right?" said another, optimism lacing his tone and eyes looking around hopefully.
"Yeah, maybe..." Ennis replied, trying to have some faith in that notion. He always hoped that this would be the case, but he couldn't ignore the niggling doubt at the back of his mind.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, mainly with them playing cards and talking, making the most of this free day that they had. They would long for it when the training started. One had managed to sneak in a copy of Playboy and he gleefully handed it around, but neither Ennis nor Adam were in the slightest bit interested. They nodded and went along with their comrades' remarks, but were glad that they weren't asked what they thought. Ennis figured that they would both be taking their pictures of their other halves to the bathroom before the day was over. But no matter how good his memories of Jack were, he knew that nothing could ever compare to the real thing; he would miss Jack's glowing skin and his soft kiss and the way those deep blue eyes could look right into him. He would miss that hard, muscled body, those legs wrapping around him as they became one, the world around them ceasing to exist while they were in that place. Jack could give him bliss like he'd never known before, utter contentment to just lie in one place.
He sighed inwardly as he thought of the mess they were in. They should be celebrating what they had together. He shouldn't be here. This year they would be celebrating their second wedding anniversary and third overall anniversary. They should be celebrating it, but it looked like he wouldn't be there to see it. He would miss Jack more than ever during that time, during the summer. He would undoubtedly be reminded of him and wish more than ever that he was back home, his heart yearning for its other half.
He went in search of James, the man from the bus that he'd befriended, finding him in his bunker. They talked some more for a while and then they were notified that it was now their chance to call home, their last until next week. Ennis gathered himself, anxious to hear Jack's voice again, despite the fact he'd spoken to him only that morning, and headed out to where the much-desired call would be made.
At last, he picked up the phone to call Jack. Fortunately, nobody else was in the room, but he kept an eye on the door just in case as he listened to the rings.
"Brokeback Ranch, Jack speakin'."
Ennis felt his heart soar to hear that voice; his beloved Jack. He let out a shaky breath.
"Jack, it's me."
He heard Jack gasp a little, and he could visualise the large grin appearing. "Ennis? Hey, cowboy...damn good to hear yer voice. Wait...is it a good idea to say my name over there?"
"There's no-one else in here where the phones are, so I figured it was safe. Really good to talk to ya, darlin'."
"Aw, Ennis...you too. I know it's only been a day, but...I'm already missin' ya real bad. Gonna jerk off somethin' fierce later, I tell ya."
Ennis couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. "Me too, bud. They said we can do it in the bathroom so long as we're quiet."
"Huh...you weren't never quiet with me. That'll be a challenge. You're pretty vocal in bed, ya know."
"You are too!" Ennis replied, smiling fully now at this flirty banter. He glanced at the door again; he was still alone. "Moanin' my name an' such...good job yer mama goes to sleep early or you'd give her a fright."
"Ennis...you talkin' dirty to me over the phone?" Jack asked in a seductive tone.
Ennis wanted to, very much, but if this went on he'd want to slip a hand down his pants and start easing the pressure in his crotch, and that would not go over well if he was caught. It would have to wait until later.
"Really wish I could, bud...you know I do. But...I hafta wait 'til I'm on my own. Can't do much about a boner out here."
"Oh..." Ennis could just picture Jack's disappointed face. It would be very hard for them both in the times to come, with nothing but memories. Jerking off was all very well and it sure gave some relief, but it was nothing compared to the real thing as far as they were both concerned.
"I sure am sorry, darlin'...love you."
Jack sighed. "I love you too. How'd it go today?"
"Alright. Met up with Adam, it turns out Pete did propose to him."
"Yeah, Pete called earlier to tell me. Bet they're lookin' forward to it. You still wanna renew our vows when ya get back?"
Ennis noted that Jack said when, not if. He really was confident that he would return. "Yeah. I'd really like that. Everybody okay back home?"
"Yeah, fine. No problems. Lily's doin' real well. Oh, you know Sam, our hand?"
"Turns out he's got a crush on our Becky, asked her out earlier an' they're goin' out on Friday."
"Well, good fer them. Becky deserves to be happy after all the shit she's been through. Wonder if she's still pinin' over Andy?"
"Couldn't tell ya. She never mentions him, but...could just be that she knows it ain't gonna get her nowhere."
"Yeah...so, um...how are you, bud? You copin' okay?"
Jack was quiet for a moment. "I can't lie to ya, Ennis...I really miss ya. Like...sometimes we'll go for a few hours without seein' each other, 'cos I'm usually in the office an' yer out on the land, but...that was always okay, 'cos I knew where ya was, more or less. I knew that if I wanted to see ya, you weren't hard to track down."
"But now?" Ennis asked, his heart feeling heavy again.
Jack sighed. "Now...it's different. I still know where ya are, but I can't get to ya, like yer behind a glass wall or somethin', an' there ain't no way in fer me. An' this is just while yer still in America...gonna be a whole lot worse when you gotta leave fer Vietnam. I'm gonna be a mess, I know it."
"Oh, darlin'...I dunno what to say..." He bit his lip. "Maybe I should tell 'em."
"You know, that I'm...gay."
"Ennis!" Jack said in alarm. "You can't do that! You know what happens to guys if they get outed? Sure, they'll let ya go, but you won't have no dignity. They'll tell all the others there, an' they'll just tear into ya. They don't like guys like us, remember? Please, baby, no...don't do that. I don't want ya to go through that, it's horrible from what I hear."
"Jack...I told you I'd do anythin' to get outta this if ya wanted me to."
"I know, but...please, Ennis. Don't do it. I don't want anythin' like that happenin' to you. Promise me you won't breathe a word, cowboy." He was pleading now, hoping to convince Ennis not to do something so dangerous.
Ennis thought for a moment, and then caved. He could never deny Jack anything, and in his heart he knew that Jack was right. "Alright, darlin'. I won't tell 'em."
Jack breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. I know what ya said, but...I don't want ya goin' through that, not even fer me. I love ya too much to let ya put yerself out there like that. You don't gotta prove nothin' to me. Okay? You know I'll always love ya."
Ennis smiled to himself. "I love you too. Listen, Jack, I think I gotta go now. We're on a curfew an' all, gotta be up early."
"Okay. When can ya call again?"
"Not 'til next week, bud. Sorry."
"Oh...well, alright. Give us somethin' to look forward to, huh? You gonna go an' jerk off with my picture in yer hand?"
"Yeah, you bet. You gonna do the same?"
"Sure will. Night, Ennis. Love you," Jack said softly.
"Love you too, darlin'." Ennis hung up and returned to his bunker, extracting his decoy picture of Becky and heading into the bathroom to conjure up images of his true love, hoping that the memories would be strong enough to prevent his heart aching so badly for the real thing.