January 20th, 1966
Jack was in the office, expecting a call from a restaurant owner up in Atlanta. He'd visited the ranch late last year and expressed interest in buying meat from them. Him and the rest of the world, it seemed to Jack. They were receiving calls every week for their products, and Jack now had to direct them to local shops that sold their products, as they were sometimes pushed to keep up with demand. He'd soon learned the benefits of this; the shops in question now wanted to pay them a little more for bringing them new customers. Jack was all for this; establishing a good relationship with all of their customers was the key to success.
He was also expecting a call from Ennis, hopefully today. He'd told him that he would call this week and it was Thursday already; he hoped it would be today so he could tell him about the deal. They'd been apart for nine days, give or take, and it was all Jack could do to try and not focus on the empty space where Ennis should be, whether that would be on the land or the sofa or most of all, the bed. He was getting through it one day at a time and focusing on the work.
Becky's date with Sam had gone well, by all accounts. When she'd returned, she'd seemed more enthusiastic than when she'd gone out with James. Maybe that date had been too soon for her. Sam had gone by his word and looked after her, bringing her home at ten and having paid for everything himself despite her protests. Jack was glad to see her happy, and Lily was growing more and more every day; Jack was certain that she was starting to look just like Becky. He'd thought that before, when Lily was born, but now the similarity was striking.
He was currently sitting at the desk, his head in one hand as he doodled on a scrap of paper. He was lost in his thoughts of Ennis, wondering how training was going and what he might be doing right now, when the phone finally rang, shaking him from his thoughts.
He cleared his throat and picked up the receiver, eager to seal this deal. "Brokeback Ranch, Jack speakin'."
"This is Daniel Richards, the owner of the Steakhouse in Atlanta. Is this Jack Twist?"
"It sure is, Mr Richards. I remembered you was gonna call today," Jack replied, sitting up straighter and preparing himself in case this was a tough customer.
"Yes. I'm calling about my interest in your beef. I'd like to place a formal order."
"Sure, just tell me how much ya want," Jack said, grabbing a pen and feeling happier than he had in a few days.
"I'll need a few kilograms to start off with, and this may increase if the interest is there."
"Uh, well..." Jack checked his notes. "We got some 230kg heifers here, price is $2.40 per kilogram if you want a couple," he offered. Hopefully he would be impressed enough to want to order more in the future.
"Hmm...that sounds feasible. I've heard good things about your place, people say that you sure seem to know what you're doing and that you always give your customers a good deal. I'll take two."
"Sure thing," Jack replied, jotting it down and quickly adding it together in his head. "That'll cost ya $1104, sir."
"That's fine. When can I have them picked up?"
"Whenever suits ya, sir. Anytime's fine by me."
"Can I have them collected this time next week?"
"That sounds fine, Mr Richards. I'll have 'em ready fer ya. You want 'em already packaged up or you got someone to do that?"
"If it's not too much trouble, Mr Twist, I'd appreciate it if you could do that."
Jack grimaced at the thought; it wasn't his favourite part of ranching and Ennis was usually the one to deal with it, but maybe one of the hands wouldn't mind doing it. "Sure 'nough, sir. So, next week at...twelve?" he concluded, looking at the calendar.
"That's great. And if this goes well I'm sure you'll be hearing from me again."
Jack felt pride fill him up. Pride for himself and Ennis and everything they'd accomplished. "Sure thing, sir. Lookin' forward to it."
"Pleasure, Mr Twist. Thank you and good day."
"Yeah, you too." They hung up and Jack sat back in his chair, stretching out his arms and, once again, wishing that Ennis would walk in to take care of his sore muscles. And other stiff parts that he might have if he were there.
There was a knock on the door. "Jack?" his mother called.
"Come on in, mama," Jack replied as he got his notes away, smiling when she stuck her head in.
"Lunch is ready if you wanna come eat, sweetie."
"Sure, I'm comin'." He stood up and joined her on the walk back to the house, linking their arms together.
"That guy called, the one from Atlanta who wanted the beef," Jack said. He knew his mother was interested in how they were doing and he knew that she was proud of them.
She looked up at him. "Oh? Good news?"
He smiled. "Yep. He'll be payin' us just over a thousand dollars fer two heifers. Wants the meat next week."
She patted his arm. "Good to hear, my boy. I'm sure Ennis would be happy to know that yer takin' good care of things."
Jack's eyes lowered. "Yeah. I'm hopin' he'll call soon himself. He said he could call this week."
"I'm sure he will, Jack," she said reassuringly. "You can tell him about the deal."
"Yeah...that's if we get past how much we miss each other," he said with a slightly sheepish grin. She squeezed his arm.
"It'll be fine, Jack," she said gently to him as they approached the back steps, where he could now detect the scent of chicken soup.
"I know, mama."
At three, Ennis finally called, making Jack's heart soar to hear his voice.
"So are things alright over there?" Jack asked, fiddling with the phone cord as he sat in the office once more.
"Best as can be expected, I guess. Are you alright?"
"Copin'. Miss ya somethin' awful, but I'm gettin' by. Listen, Ennis, that guy called. The one from Atlanta who was askin' about meat last year."
"Oh, right. How'd it go?"
Jack smiled to himself. "Went great. I sold him two heifers fer just over a thousand dollars an' he says that if they're popular he'll order more."
"That's it, darlin'," Ennis said softly, proud of his lover. "Eases my mind some knowin' that yer takin' good care of our place."
"Well...I don't want you thinkin' that it's all me. You've been here with me ever since we started up an' it's you that kept the place goin' all this time. It's 'cos of you that we got a good reputation. Don't want ya thinkin' that I don't need ya," Jack replied, concerned that Ennis might feel that way.
Ennis sighed. "Jack...I know yer bein' serious when ya say that, an' part of me knows that yer right. I try to believe it, ya know. I know ya need me, an' I need you too. Ain't got much without you, rodeo."
Jack smiled, blushing slightly. "Aw, Ennis...real nice of ya to say it, even if it ain't true."
"It is, Jack. Dread to think where I might be if I'd never took that job on Brokeback, or if you'd never seen me in that mirror. All 'cos of you, darlin'." Ennis wanted to tell Jack that he was who he was because of him, but his throat was feeling constricted by emotion.
"Ennis...you know I feel the same way," Jack said quietly, fiddling with the chain carrying Ennis's wedding ring around his neck. "You know how much ya mean to me."
"I think so...oh, by the way, there was somethin' I wanted to tell ya."
"Um...remember on Brokeback when you kept bitchin' about the damn beans an' us not havin' much else to eat, like when the bear spooked the mules?"
Jack grew confused. "Yeah..."
Ennis's blush deepened. "Uh, well...when I shot the elk...why'd ya think I did that?"
"I dunno. To keep me quiet, I guess. Was kinda annoyin', wasn't I?" Jack said, feeling embarrassed.
"Well, at the time, I thought it was that, too. But...I been thinkin' on it, an'...maybe it was kinda that, but maybe it was kinda somethin' else too."
"Huh. Well I know ya said you was growin' attracted to me by then, even if you never let yerself think on it. Was it that?"
"Um...well...I'm thinkin' that...it was 'cos..." His throat felt very dry, and he cursed himself for having trouble with this.
"Ennis, you okay?" asked Jack in concern when he didn't go on.
"I'm fine," he croaked out, and then cleared his throat. "I think it was 'cos...even then, I...I wanted to make ya happy." The words came out in a rush with little finesse, but Jack heard them and they knocked him sideways.
"Oh, cowboy," he breathed out. "That so?"
Ennis took a deep breath. "Yeah. I think so, Jack."
Jack's smile was wide enough to split his face. "Ennis...what's brought all this on? You never talked 'bout this before."
"Uh, well...see, they was servin' us lunch the other day, an'...they had those beans."
"Yeah. I mentioned to Adam that you hated 'em an' I got to tellin' him 'bout when I shot the elk. He said that it seemed to him that even then...I wanted to make ya happy. Didn't think 'bout that before, but...makes sense. An' I think he was right. So...I wanted to make sure ya knew."
Jack sighed happily. "Well...it was real nice of ya to tell me. You've made my day, cowboy, ya know that?"
"Yeah, well..." Ennis shifted his feet. "So...how is everyone?"
"Great. Lily's lookin' more an' more like Becky every day, my mama's real happy. Becky went out with Sam, an' I think she had fun. Gonna go out again sometime soon, I think. He treats her like a lady, can't see no reason to be worried. Um...apart from that deal, not much has changed, to be honest. Everythin's fine. How's Adam?"
"He's okay," Ennis replied, looking over to where Adam was on the phone to Pete, also keeping one eye on the door like himself. "He's talkin' to Pete right now, actually."
"Oh...well, give him my best, okay?"
"Sure. You talked to Cecilia an' Tom lately? How is she?
"She's fine. Still got a while to go, ya know. I'll let ya know if I hear anythin'. K.E. too."
"Thanks, bud. Glad to hear yer holdin' the fort over there," Ennis said with a slight grin.
"Well...gotta do somethin' to keep me sane, I guess," Jack replied, fingering Ennis's wedding ring. "Ennis...somethin' else I thought you might wanna know."
"I, um...I got yer weddin' ring on a chain. Kate gave me it. Wearin' it 'round my neck right now."
Ennis's heart ached to be with Jack right now, instead of here. He wanted to be wearing that ring, maybe with his arms around Jack, nuzzling into his neck or maybe kissing his soft lips.
"Darlin'...I..." Tears pricked at his eyes.
"You don't gotta say nothin', Ennis," Jack said softly. "I know what it means to ya, an' I thought you might wanna know. Just...a picture to be thinkin' on, ya know?"
"I know. I sure do appreciate it, Jack. I got yer picture, safe an' sound."
"Good. Is it dog-eared from usin' it too much yet?"
Ennis smiled. "Not yet, but I'm workin' on it. Listen, Jack...I gotta go. Can hear them yellin' at us to get back to trainin'."
Jack's heart sank; the worst part of the phone call. "Alright. I love you, Ennis. Speak next week?"
"Yeah, you bet. Love you too, rodeo. Take care of yerself, an' everythin we got."
"I will. Bye."
"Bye, bud." He hung up with a heavy heart and a shared mournful glance with Adam, the pair of them heading back out to this harsh, cruel world.
January 28th, 1966
Becky and Sam were in the diner in Sandersville, the one that was favoured by all residents of Brokeback Ranch. They were looking over their menus and waiting to be served, sitting opposite each other. Jack had even given Sam a longer lunch break so that they could have their date during the day.
Becky liked Sam; he was sweet and kind, a real gentleman. But she had to wonder why she was capable of dating now, and why James hadn't been the right one for her the one time they'd gone out. Jack had suggested that maybe it had been too soon for her; she had been pregnant and was only just getting used to her new life here, not to mention how torn up over Andy she'd been. He'd had a point, she supposed. She was more settled now and in a better position to be looking for a new boyfriend, someone who could take on Lily too because she was her priority.
As for Andy, she knew all too well that deep in her heart, she was not over him. She could push him to the back of her mind and force herself not to think about him, but she knew that she still loved him, despite everything. Since that failed phone call to talk him round she hadn't heard from him, and wondered if he'd found himself a new girlfriend, if he'd married her and she had given him a child that was his. A real family of his own; one that she could now never give him.
Sam, on the other hand, clearly wasn't put off by her having a child out of wedlock. He'd still asked her out, had even asked Jack for his permission first. Maybe this would work out after all, and she could be happy with someone again.
They ordered their food and were left to wait.
"So, um..." Sam started, fiddling with his napkin. "How are things goin' with all you guys? How's Jack?"
Becky bit her lip. "He's copin' okay, I guess. Best as can be expected with Ennis gone. He sure does miss him."
"I know it ain't my place to interfere an' all, but...sometimes when we're all out in the field...I see him lookin' around for a minute, like he's lookin' for somethin', an' then he goes back to work," said Sam, looking puzzled.
"Hmm..." Becky digested his words. From what he said, it sounded like Jack was looking around for Ennis, only to be painfully reminded that he wasn't there. It must hurt him somethin', awful, she thought to herself. To want the man he loves to be there, only to remember he ain't; that he's so far away.
"Well, I think we can both take a guess as to what he's lookin' for, huh?" she said quietly.
"Yeah...I sure do feel sorry fer him. He's probably feelin' what a lot of girls are feelin' right now."
"An' maybe guys too," she reminded him. "They ain't the only gay guys in America, ya know."
"I know..." He then sighed, smiling slightly. "I tell ya what, Becky...when it comes to love an' relationships...those two have set a mighty fine example."
She smiled at him. "They sure have. They're so...together. Really in tune with each other, an' I know this whole thing's cuttin' them both up real bad. Jack said it feels like he's lost a limb."
"Wow...they sure are close. When I came to work for 'em, an' they told me how they were, I didn't much care 'cos they pay my wages. But now...I don't care 'cos...I don't see what's so wrong about it, like people say. They're in love, an'...that's damn hard to find for anyone, I reckon. Might as well take it when ya see it, huh?" He was looking directly into her eyes now, his expression soft, and she swallowed, feeling nervous. Was he telling her that he loved her?
"Um..." Fortunately, she was spared by the arrival of their food, and they dug in. She felt it was way too soon to be talking about love; this was only their second date. And while she liked him a lot, she wasn't sure that she completely reciprocated his feelings, if they were what she suspected.
When they were finished, they walked back to his truck, and Sam gently took hold of her hand; she didn't resist, but turned to face him, smiling at him. Maybe she didn't love him yet, but she could see it happening someday.
"I, um..." He looked nervous. At the end of their last date, he'd pecked her on the cheek, so would he want to kiss her properly this time?
"What?" she asked, moving a little closer to look up into his eyes. He looked down at her, and then leaned in to kiss her, gently pressing their lips together. She had an immediate flashback of her first kiss with Andy, making her tense up. It was a relief when he broke away, blushing a little. She smiled weakly, trying to cover up her discomfort. It wasn't fair to him for her to string him along, especially if he did indeed love her. If she told him now, hopefully there wouldn't be too much damage.
"Sam, I...I'm sorry."
His heart skipped a beat, remembering Jack's warning of her not being over her ex-boyfriend. "Huh? What's wrong?"
She looked at him sadly. "I can't do this. I'm still hung up over someone, an'...it ain't fair to you. I'm sorry."
He nodded, a lump in his throat. "Sure. No problem. Don't worry about it, okay? Jack warned me 'bout that."
"Okay. Could you...give me a ride home? No hard feelin's?" she asked.
"Sure." He drove her back, and when Jack saw their faces he knew immediately what must have happened. Becky just shook her head and busied herself with Lily and Sam went out onto the land, leaving Jack and his mother to look at each other sadly.
A little later, Bill and Mary paid a visit, wanting to see how they all were and how they were coping, especially Jack. Mary knew all too well how it felt to be separated from somebody that you loved with all your heart, not knowing for sure if you would ever see their face again.
Jack opened the front door and his face broke out into a smile. "Hey, guys. Come on in. How come yer here?" He led them through the living room to the kitchen.
"We came to see how you all were," Mary replied, the pair of them sitting down while Jack got them both drinks.
"Where are Becky an' yer mama?" asked Bill, looking around.
"My mama's upstairs changin' the sheets," Jack replied, knowing full well that she wouldn't touch his and Ennis's until the smell faded, out of respect for his feelings. "Becky's in the office an' I'm thinkin' she wants to be on her own."
Jack sighed as he brought them their drinks, sitting down opposite them. "She had a date at lunch with one of our hands. Real nice guy. I thought their first date went okay, judgin' by how she was when he dropped her off. But...somethin' happened earlier an' I don't know what." He shook his head. "I don't think he hurt her or nothin', he ain't the type, but...I dunno. She's still hung up over her ex, so...maybe it had somethin' to do with that."
"Didn't she have a date with the sheriff at one time?"
"Yeah, not long after she moved here. That didn't go well, either, but I thought it was just 'cos it was so soon, an' she was still adjustin'. Dunno what happened this time. I don't wanna force her to talk 'bout it if she don't wanna."
"I'm sure that if she wants to tell you, she will," said Mary, patting his arm.
"I know." He rubbed his forehead. "So...you wanted to know how we are?" They nodded. "Best as can be expected...I miss him a lot, like I've lost a limb." He bit his lip.
"Oh, Jack...I know. It hurts somethin' awful, don't it?" said Mary sympathetically.
"Yeah. I just want him back here, where he belongs. He shouldn't be out there, this ain't his war. Got nothin' to do with me an' him, an' we should be together."
He looked down into his coffee mug, thinking about Ennis. "I got no idea how long he's gonna be out there. Could be years before I even see his face again." He squeezed his eyes shut, head falling into his hand.
"Jack..." Just then, his mother appeared, her heart sinking when she saw the state Jack was in.
"Sweetie? You okay?" she asked in concern.
He looked up at her, his blue eyes a little glassy. "Not really, mama. But...ain't a lot I can do, is there?"
She nodded in greeting to their guests. "Bill, Mary."
"Afternoon, Rose," they greeted, feeling guilty about making her son upset.
She took her place next to Jack, putting her arm around him like she did when he was a little boy. He moved closer to her and wiped his eyes. Mary knew exactly how he must be feeling.
"Jack...the only advice I can really give you is the kind you already know, that others can give you. Just keep on goin' as best you can, get through one day at a time."
Jack sniffed. "His phone calls keep me goin'...but when he goes to Vietnam, he won't even have that. He'll be able to send a letter once in a while, but...that'll be it. I won't hear his voice or see his face...only in my dreams, in an empty bed where he should be." He hadn't intended to go into such detail, but he was too miserable to care.
"I'm sorry, Jack. I didn't mean to get you all upset," Mary said, looking crestfallen.
"S'alright. Probably had it comin' anyway," he choked out. "Ain't really let it out much since he left. Was real bad the day he got the letter, but...apart from that, I've kept it all in ever since he left. Been throwin' myself into the work, an' I'm distracted enough durin' the day, but...when that's over, I got nothin' but my memories."
"He knows you miss him, right?"
Jack nodded. "I told him, over the phone, but...how much can you get across to someone if they can't see yer face? God...feels like part of me's missin'..."
"Sweetheart..." Rose was at a loss for words as to how she could comfort her son in this situation. It seemed that no matter how much she tried, nothing could make him feel better about all of this. She could understand that. When John had changed, she'd often found herself missing the old John, the one who had been a gentleman and, until Earl's attempted visit to his grandchildren, had been a good man and loved his children. She knew that neither Jack nor Becky would be able to remember any of that. They didn't know how much he had loved them at one time, and as a result now hated him for the things they could remember. Sometimes things couldn't be fixed, so they had to be stood, as Ennis had once said.
Bill and Mary left a little later, and Jack lay on the sofa for a while, his head pounding from his crying. Rose left him sleeping there to go and talk to Becky, who ended up telling her what had happened with Sam. That made both of her children that she had to comfort today, and she was pleased to do her duty as a mother. As the matriarch of this family, she had to hold it together, because it was clear to her that nobody else was quite capable of doing so, not with one of them gone like this. She had to hold her family together and see them through these difficult times.
January 31st, 1966
It was a clear, cool evening and Jack, Becky and Rose had decided to all go out for dinner, leaving Lily in Bill and Mary's care. Jack tried not to focus on the empty space where Ennis should be, but it was hard. Every time the three of them were together, Ennis's absence was like a big, gaping hole, and Jack's heart ached to have him back home where he belonged.
He was a little embarrassed at losing it in front of everyone, but they had all assured him that he had every right to be upset and scared, and that he shouldn't censor his feelings. It had now been almost three weeks since Ennis had left, and Jack frequently had dreams of him, the pair of them together, whether it was in bed or on the hill, or even in the office.
Becky had told him the reason for breaking up with Sam, and Jack was disheartened to learn that she may not find happiness anytime soon, not while she was still not over Andy. He felt sorry for her; he had a good life with the man he loved and he wanted that for her too, wanted her to find her own happiness.
He'd also noticed that his mother had changed slightly in the last couple of days. She seemed stronger, more in control, and he had to wonder if it was because she was the only one at the moment who could hold them together. Whatever it was, he was grateful. No matter how old he got, he knew that he would still always appreciate his mother looking after him and taking charge. He supposed she was the matriarch of their family, after all. He and Ennis had combined their families into one, scattered across several states and bound by love and acceptance.
The diner was quiet as they ate, and since Brokeback Ranch were the meat suppliers, all three of them got a discount on their food, and Jack's heart sank as he remembered his and Ennis's first visit here, the night they'd arrived. They'd discussed approaching the owner of this place and had joked about getting a discount. A lot of things were reminding him of Ennis and all the things they'd done together.
"How do you think it's goin' out there?" asked Becky, looking warily at Jack. Ennis was due to call sometime this week and already Jack was looking forward to it; their weekly calls were one of the only bright spots in his life right now. He tried not to think about how it would be when that had to change to infrequent letters, where he wouldn't be able to hear his lover's voice.
He shrugged. "Okay, I guess. He says they push 'em hard, but nothin' they can't handle. I know he's a real hard worker an' I bet he never complains, but...knowin' him, he keeps it all in. He tells me how hard it is, an' how he wants to be back home, but...I only get that out of him 'cos we've been together so long, an' I know him. He can't hide his feelin's from me 'cos I know him too well."
"Jack..." his mother started, looking hesitant. "I have to ask you somethin'."
She bit her lip. "What will you do if...you know...the worst happens?"
Jack's eyes lowered. "I dunno. Don't wanna think on it."
"I know, but...you have to be prepared, sweetheart. Have to be sure of what you're gonna do."
Jack reluctantly thought about it. What would he do if Ennis was killed? Would he be able to carry on running the ranch, or would he be too heartbroken? The ranch had Ennis stamped all over it; his mark was everywhere and Jack would be unable to escape it. Could he really carry on alone? Or would he be off looking for a Mack truck? Would he do something stupid and desperate just to follow Ennis? It was highly likely, for he couldn't see himself living without his cowboy.
He would need to talk to Greg, he reckoned. Have the ranch put in Becky's name and just run. He couldn't stay here if Ennis died; it would be too painful and he would die of a broken heart anyway.
He took a breath and looked back up at them. "I dunno. Got a few thoughts, but...I think I'd hafta talk to Greg first. Get his advice an' decide from there. But...I dunno if I could keep the ranch goin' without him. It's ours, his an' mine, an'...without him..."
His mother covered his hand with her own. "It's alright, Jack. Don't get yourself worked up. We'll help you decide what to do, right Becky?" She nodded back.
"Yeah, you bet." Another reminder of Ennis. Jack swallowed and returned to his food, but his appetite had vanished upon his thoughts of losing Ennis. He pushed his food around a little but felt too sick to eat any more. In sympathy, Rose suggested that they head home, and he felt gratitude wash over him.
The drive home was silent, and they stopped by Bill and Mary's to pick up Lily, who was fast asleep. Jack kept his eyes on the road, his mind wandering to Ennis and whatever he might be doing right now. He missed him and hoped that he would be back soon. Maybe some miracle would bring him home.
They got back to the ranch and Jack did a quick check on the horses, which was usually Ennis's job whenever they went out. When he got back, he saw that Becky was still upstairs and his mother was in her chair.
"Think I'm gonna head on up, mama," he told her, coming over to kiss her cheek.
"Okay, honey. You get some sleep, okay?" He nodded and went upstairs, passing Becky who also bid him goodnight.
He curled up in their bed, shuffling over to Ennis's side and trying to catch whatever was left of Ennis's scent, hoping that Ennis knew he was dreaming of him and praying that he would be home soon. It was all he could do.