July 31st, 1987
Ennis and Jack were sat on the sofa together, taking a break from work. Ben was helping the hands and Rose had taken Lily out for another dress fitting. The pair of them were alone in the house and talking lazily, hands loosely entwined on Ennis's knee. Ennis's free arm was around Jack and running up and down his arm. Jack seemed to fit just right against him, like the space was made for him.
After a while, Jack spoke again. "You know...I've been thinkin' about our anniversary trip, cowboy. You decided where you wanna go?" Ennis thought for a moment.
"No, not really. Might be a good idea to go to the coast. We ain't never been there. Sounds like a good place."
Jack looked up at him. "Yeah, it is. An' I reckon it'll do us some good to get away for a while." He kissed Ennis's cheek. "Be right back," he said as he got up, heading upstairs. Ennis stretched and let his mind wander. He had a mind to call his brother and sister and see how they were doing. Just as he thought about getting up, there was a knock on the door. He was surprised to see Kate Hardeman there.
"Oh, hey. What's up?"
She looked quite worried. "Have you got a minute? Is Jack in?"
He nodded and let her in. "Sure. Um...Lily ain't here, but Ben's workin' outside. Is it about the rings or somethin'?" She shook her head and folded her arms.
"No, it ain't nothin' like that. Somethin's wrong, Ennis." Just then, Jack came back downstairs.
"Oh, hey Kate. What's goin' on?"
"I need to tell you both somethin'." They nodded and stood together, wondering what on earth was going on. She wasn't the type to worry about things. "I was in town, takin' a break for lunch, an'...I saw someone. A guy we all know."
They looked at each other, and then back at her. "Who are you talkin' about?" Jack asked, looking confused.
She sighed. "Pete Dawson. He was walkin' down the street. I recognised him immediately...I'm so sorry, guys." She could remember all those years ago, when Pete had threatened them and hurt Jack.
Ennis looked at Jack, remembering when Pete had attacked him with the crowbar. It had brought back all of his fears about tire irons, and of Jack being attacked. One of the reasons why he had been fearful of going to Vietnam was the idea that Jack might get hurt while he was gone, and that he wouldn't be there to save him.
Jack's eyes had widened. "Oh my God...what the hell is he doin' back here? I thought he'd gone someplace else an' left for good. What does he want?"
She shrugged. "I dunno. I didn't have the guts to approach him, to be honest. He was walkin' down the street opposite my shop, an' he met up with some guys who were probably his friends. I don't know what he's up to, but...he don't seem to have changed at all."
They nodded and Jack could see Ennis closing up, in the way that he did when he was worried and thinking too much. He had to calm him down before Kate's news took its toll; when Ennis got scared, it wasn't always easy to head him off before he truly panicked.
"Alright. Thanks for the heads-up, Kate." She seemed to understand that they needed some time alone, so excused herself and left. Jack turned to Ennis and put his hands on his shoulders. "Ennis, look at me..." He brought Ennis's chin up and made him meet his eyes. "Don't panic, okay? Just 'cos he's here don't mean he's gonna do somethin'. All that stuff was a long time ago..."
"But," Ennis started, hesitating. "He hurt you, Jack. Wanted to...kill you. An'...he threatened us. More than once..." His eyes grew fearful. "Don't want nothin' happenin' to you, Jack..."
"Nothin's gonna happen," Jack soothed. He wasn't sure if he believed that, but he had to do whatever it took to calm him down. "We're gonna be fine. We've been together for over twenty years, an' neither of us have been threatened for most of that. He might not care no more about a couple of gay ranchers he used to work for, even if he did hate 'em."
"I wanna believe that, Jack. I just...I'm scared of somethin' happenin' to you..." Jack pulled Ennis into his arms and rubbed his back.
"Come on, calm down. I can't guarantee that nothin's gonna happen, but...we've just gotta have a little faith. I don't like seein' you all panicky like this. Please calm down, okay?" He felt Ennis's trembling lessen. "That's it...calm down..." After about a minute, Ennis pulled away.
"Jack...you know..." He looked up into Jack's eyes; his own were filled with a fierce protectiveness. "Whatever happens, he ain't gonna hurt you. I ain't one to kill a man, but...if he touches you, I swear..." Jack cupped his cheeks.
"It don't matter if somethin' happens. We'll find a way back an' move on. I promise." He leaned in to kiss Ennis gently, tentatively pushing his tongue into Ennis's mouth. He slid it against Ennis's and held him in place, making him relax in the best way he could. Through their years together, he'd learnt a lot about the moods Ennis could slip into, and the best way to deal with them. This was one way that was guaranteed to work.
Sure enough, he felt Ennis's arms wrap around him and pull him closer. They kissed slowly and deeply, relaxing against each other. They weren't aware of anything but each other, and this was what they needed right now.
They gradually walked backwards to the stairs while still glued to each other, needing to make their connection. The pair of them somehow made it up the stairs and to their bedroom, falling onto the bed together. For the next hour, Jack did his best to drive the fear from Ennis's eyes and heart.
August 3rd, 1987
Jack was in the house using the bathroom, and everybody else was outside. His mother was in town at the centre, and Ennis was working with the horses, accompanied by Ben. Lily was nowhere to be seen, but Jack had a feeling she was visiting her mother again.
When he made his way back downstairs, there was another knock at the door. He looked at it warily, remembering Kate's warning about Pete Dawson being back in town. But when he peered out of the window to check, there was an unfamiliar man there. He opened the door and looked at the stranger. The bright blue eyes looked vaguely familiar.
"Can I help ya?" he asked, folding his arms.
"Is this Brokeback Ranch?" the man asked. He seemed sure of himself, but there was something about him that Jack didn't like.
"Yep. There somethin' you want?"
"I'm lookin' for Lily," he replied. "I was wonderin' if I could talk to her."
"Who are you?" Jack asked, feeling more and more suspicious by the second.
"I'm Jay Brookes," he answered. "I'm Lily's father."
Jack's eyes widened, and his shock was quickly replaced by anger. "Well, I'm Becky's brother, an' you've got a damn nerve to show your face round here. I've heard all about you, an' what you did to Becky."
"Look, I...I dunno what to say. I'm real sorry about all that." But Jack's anger at what he had done was burning inside him.
"Well, first off, you get her pregnant an' don't want nothin' to do with her or the baby, not givin' no child support or nothin'. Then we find out you gave her syphilis too. We know about that stuff; you musta realised that somethin' was wrong? But you slept with Becky anyway, knowin' that you could infect her. What the hell was you thinkin'?"
"I just wanted some action. You know what it's like to wanna have sex, even though it ain't probably a good idea?"
Jack thought about his first night with Ennis, how he had made a pass at Ennis even though he hadn't been entirely sure of what Ennis's reaction would be. He nodded. "Alright, I get that. But you still shoulda told her that somethin' was wrong. Now she's dead, an' Lily's had to grow up without her. Why should I let you anywhere near her?"
"I'm her father," Jay replied, looking irritated. "I've got rights."
"Actually, you don't," Jack said, smirking a little. "I'm her uncle, an' when Becky died she put it in her will that me an' my partner are her legal guardians. An' Lily's over eighteen anyway; she can make up her own mind whether or not she wants you around."
"Your...partner?" Jay repeated, looking slightly affronted. "You're queer?"
"Don't use that word," Jack snapped. "Both of us find it real offensive. We're gay, an' most everyone in town knows, so don't even think about rallyin' people up to harass us. We've got friends an' roots in the community. But yeah, me an' him are her legal guardians, so we've got more rights than you right now."
"Well..." He seemed to get the message that intimidation wasn't going to work here. "Can I at least talk to her?"
"How did you know where she lives? You never exactly stayed in touch while she was growin' up."
"You were at the rodeo in Childress last month, right? Lily was barrel racin'...an' they said she was Becky's daughter. I took one look at her an' I knew she was mine. Spitten image of her mama, but she's got my eyes. So I heard that you're here in Georgia, an' when I got to town I asked around for her, an' they told me she was livin' here."
Jack sighed. "Right. Well...what do you want? You just wanna talk to her?"
Jay nodded. "Yeah. I'd never seen her before the rodeo, so...when I saw her an' heard her name...it's like she was suddenly real. I know that don't make no sense, but...I'd like to meet her."
"You know that she ain't likely to forgive you, right? She knows what happened. I bet she feels real angry at you for not bein' there."
"I know...but I wanna give it a shot. Just...could you tell her I came by?"
Jack considered him for a long moment, eyes narrowed slightly. He wasn't entirely sure if he could believe that this man had finally turned up after all these years, just to get to know a daughter he'd wanted nothing to do with until now. He suspected that there might be a hidden motive in there. But since the stranger's eyes were giving nothing away, he decided that he might as well give him what he was asking for. And if it turned out he wanted something else, like money, he knew that Lily could take care of herself.
"Alright. I'll let her know that you came by. Where are ya stayin'?"
"The hotel on Main Street. Room 305. Um...you got the number?"
"Yeah, we have it. I'll tell her you were here, an' that she can call you if she wants. But...I ain't makin' no promises. If she don't wanna talk to you, I ain't gonna make her. It's her choice if she wants anythin' to do with you."
Jay nodded. "I got it. Thanks." He tipped his hat and went back to his rental truck, leaving Jack to stare after him. He could remember when they'd gotten the news that Becky had syphilis, and she had worked out the culprit; the man who was now driving away. He remembered the heartbreak in Becky's eyes and voice when she'd realised that she could die and not see Lily grow up. Now that he knew that she had been his sister, it made everything even worse than it had been.
He sighed and shut the door, knowing that it wouldn't be easy to talk to Lily and tell her that he was here. He wished that he could have Ennis's arms around him right now, telling him that everything was going to be alright.
About an hour later, Lily came into the house accompanied by Ben and Ennis. Jack was making lunch by this time, and he was dreading having to tell Lily that her father had been around. When Ennis came over and kissed his cheek in greeting, he tried to smile back but it didn't quite reach his eyes.
"What's up, bud?" Ennis asked in concern, and Jack bit his lip.
"Somethin' happened while you was all outside. Someone came by the house."
"Wasn't Pete, was it?" replied Ennis in a low tone, and Jack shook his head.
"No, it wasn't. It...it was Lily's father. You know, Jay Brookes." Ennis's eyes widened.
"Shit...what does he want?"
Jack sighed. "He says he was at the rodeo last month. He heard Lily's name an' that she's Becky's daughter. He put two an' together an' tracked her down here. Says he wants to talk to her, get to know her."
"What do you think he wants?"
"I dunno, Ennis. For her sake, I wanna believe that he ain't after nothin', that he really does just wanna know her, but...I don't trust him. How can I, after what he done to Becky?"
Ennis nodded, a hand squeezing Jack's shoulder. "I know, darlin'. You gonna tell her he was here?"
"Yeah, I guess. He asked me to, an' I guess it's only right that I at least tell her he was here. But...I told him not to expect too much. I told him that Lily knows all about him an' what he did. He seemed to get it. But...I hope he ain't after nothin' more. That'll probably make Lily feel like he really ain't interested in her."
"I know. Still, she can make up her own mind about him when she meets him, right? She's a grown-up, Jack. We gotta let her make these decisions for herself."
At that moment, Lily and Ben came back in, seeking their lunch. The two cowboys nodded at each other and decided to get the food on the table before dropping this bombshell on her.
They all settled around the table and started eating; Rose had taken to eating lunch now and then with some ladies she'd met at the centre. Jack was especially happy that she'd found friends here; she'd never really had that back in Wyoming.
When they had all started to eat, Jack looked at Ennis again for confirmation, and his cowboy gave a reassuring smile. It was the strength he needed. "Lily?" She looked up and raised her eyebrows.
"Well...while you was out, someone came by here lookin' for you. He wants to see you."
"Who is it?" she asked, looking confused. Jack sighed.
"It was Jay Brookes...your father."
Lily's mouth opened slightly and she looked shocked. As soon as she was old enough to understand, Ennis and Jack had told her about her father, and what he'd done. She knew that he was the reason her mother was dead.
"Um...what did he want?"
"He was at the rodeo last month, an' when you was racin' he heard everythin'. Yer name, where you're from, an' who yer mama was. Now he's in town an' says he wants to meet you, that he wants to get to know you..."
She nodded, thinking. "Right..."
Jack leaned forward. "Listen...it's up to you what you wanna do. You know we'd never force you into forgivin' him, or even talkin' to him. We know you can make up yer own mind, so we'll let you. Whatever you decide, we're on your side, okay?"
After a few seconds, she gave a tentative smile. "Thanks, Uncle Jack. I dunno what I wanna do..."
"Don't worry yourself right now, honey. If he really wants to get to know you, he'll wait for you to decide. You can tell him to get lost, if you want. Just...eat yer lunch an' think it over, okay?" She nodded and tried to eat, but her mind was whirring.
After lunch, Ennis and Jack shooed the younger ones into the living room to talk while they cleaned up. They trusted Lily to make the right choice, whatever it was.
As they washed and dried the dishes, Ennis kept bumping his hip against Jack's in an effort to cheer him up. Jack smirked at him. "You startin' somethin' there, cowboy?"
Ennis shook his head. "No, just wanted to see ya smile, bud. Thought I'd try an' cheer you up some." Jack looked at him, heart soaring at the fact that Ennis was just trying to put a smile back on his face.
"Oh, cowboy...come here..." He dried his hands and put his arms up around Ennis's neck, feeling Ennis's arms coming around him and pulling him close. "You're too good to me, you know."
"Just 'cos I love ya," Ennis murmured, leaning in to kiss him. Their tongues slid together and Jack soon relaxed in his lover's arms, sighing into his mouth. They didn't hear Ben and Lily come back in, but they heard Lily clearing her throat.
"Guys?" They broke apart, a little red. Jack coughed a little.
"Sorry 'bout that. Got kinda carried away. What's up?"
Ben took her hand in a show of support, and she drew a deep breath. "You got the number for the hotel where he's stayin'?"
Jack exchanged a look with Ennis, and then nodded. "Yeah. If you call 'em, they'll connect you to his room. Are you...thinkin' of meetin' with him?"
She nodded, a determined look in her eyes. "Yeah, I am. I ain't sayin' that I wanna forgive him, but...I wanna see him at least. Just to get some answers. I just...I've heard about him as soon as I was old enough to understand about him. I wanna put a face to the name an' the history. I wanna know why he did those things, an' why he was never there for me."
As they looked at her, they no longer saw the little girl they had brought up. They saw the grown woman she had become.
Jack gave Lily the number for the hotel, and she called her father, trepidation running through her. She introduced herself and agreed to meet him at the diner in town the next day. Her family wished her good luck and she found herself waiting for him there the day after, holding a cup of coffee and wondering what he might be like. Despite the feelings of contempt she held for him for what he'd done, she had to admit she was curious to meet him.
When the time came, she saw a man walk through the door and look around. One look at his bright blue eyes and she knew that it was him. He had dark hair and an air of arrogance about him. She hoped that he wasn't after money.
His eyes met hers and recognition flooded them. Even if he hadn't seen her at the rodeo, he would have seen her resemblance to Becky. He came over to her and hovered awkwardly. "Lily?"
She nodded. "Yep. You must be, um..." Her throat worked; she wasn't sure that she could say that word yet. "You must be Jay." He nodded, trying not to feel hurt that she'd called him by his name, and she motioned for him to sit down.
"How've you been?" he asked her, struck by how much she looked like the young woman he had had that brief tryst with all those years ago.
"Best as can be, considerin'," she replied quietly.
"How old are you now?"
"I'll turn twenty-three in late December. Just finished college this summer."
"Good for you. Um...bet yer uncle's real proud of ya."
"Yeah, both of them are," she said evenly, watching his face. Jack had told her that he'd told Jay he had a partner.
"Right. So...what are you up to now?"
She hesitated, and then held up her left hand, flashing her engagement ring. "I'm gettin' married in the spring. Guy I met at college." For a second, she thought she could see a flicker of sadness in his eyes, but it disappeared.
"Congratulations. I bet yer uncle an' his...partner are givin' you away, huh?"
She nodded firmly. "Yeah, they are. I asked them ages ago; they're the only father figures I've had."
"I know. Um...listen, I'm real sorry about what's happened. If I'd known that-"
"You did," she interrupted. "You knew everythin' that was goin' on. You knew that my mama was pregnant with your baby, you knew that I existed, but did you ever send child support or ask to be part of my life? No. You wanted nothin' to do with either of us."
"Lily...I was nineteen. I didn't know nothin' about life, didn't wanna be tied down."
She scoffed. "Please. Ennis an' Jack were nineteen when they met, an' after just a few months of bein' involved, they both knew what they wanted, an' they went for it. They were the same age that you an' my mama were, an' they managed to know what to do; they didn't mind bein' tied down to each other. An' I know why; they love each other. You never loved my mama; you just wanted a quick fuck," she finished in a hiss.
"Don't talk like that," he said, looking pissed off. She was growing angry.
"Don't you dare tell me how to talk. You've known me all of five minutes, so don't even think about musclin' in an' start actin' like you've got some kinda claim to me. Ennis an' Jack brought me up an' they've done a damn good job, better than you ever coulda done. I agreed to meet you 'cos I wanted answers. I wanted to know why you did all that stuff, startin' with sleepin' with my mama even though you knew somethin' was wrong."
Jay sighed. "I was young...like you said, I just wanted a one night stand, an' yer mama made it clear she was willin'. I never thought about...what I had goin' on. Guess I figured the rubber would take care of it."
"Well, it didn't do nothin'. I'm livin' proof of that. Anyone with half a brain woulda gone to the doctor instead of the nearest breathin' human. Surely you've heard about STDs? You were irresponsible." She sighed. "You know what? I can't do this. I just look at you an' see the reason I don't have my mama. I...I appreciate you comin' all this way, but...it ain't gonna work."
She fled from the diner, but he quickly followed. "Lily, wait!" She spun around.
"What were you expectin'? For me to be daddy's little girl an' forgive you, just like that? Forget about what you did just because we share some DNA? It ain't that simple. I know what family is, an' you ain't it."
She threw her hands up. "No! It's too late! You've had over twenty years to get to know me, be part of my life, an' you never made the effort. So why the hell should I give you a chance? I'm happy; I've made a life for myself even though I never really knew my mama. I've got a family, an' a future, an' I'll be damned if I'm gonna let you worm your way in! Forget it!" Despite her anger, she was close to tears. "It's too late," she said softly. "I thought I wanted answers, but all I see is someone who can never be the daddy I've been missin'. Just...go back to Childress. I don't want you in my life. You can't give me what I need, so I hafta cut you off. Just go home, Jay."
Lily turned away from him and wiped at her eyes as she strode off. Yet even through her heartbreak, she felt a weight lift from her. She had met her father, but he would never be the man she'd wanted him to be. There was nothing she could do about it, so she would just have to learn to live with it. And in time, she knew that the pain would fade.
Jack peered out of the window, wondering where Lily was right now. He hoped that she had made the right choice by going to see her father; he knew how it felt to have mixed feelings about a father that had never been there for you. Ennis looked at him over the top of the paper.
"Bud, come an' sit down. She ain't gonna get here no quicker, no matter how much you stare out that window." Jack sighed and sat down next to him.
"I know...can't help it, though. I hope he ain't settin' up to hurt her feelin's. Things are bad enough as it is..."
"Yeah..." Ennis saw that Jack was agitated, so he put the paper aside and curled an arm around Jack's shoulders, rubbing his head. Jack made a contented sound and leaned into him, smiling when he felt Ennis's lips in his hair.
"Mmm...that's good. You always know how to make me feel better, cowboy..."
"I try, rodeo." Just then, they heard Lily's boots on the steps and she walked in, a mixture of emotions on her face. They both looked at her and she met their eyes. A saddened look came into her eyes.
Jack understood immediately, and moved out of Ennis's embrace. He patted the space between them. "C'mon, c'mere..." She moved over and flopped onto the sofa between them, rubbing her eyes. Jack looked at Ennis and a silent agreement passed between them. Both of them put an arm around her. "What happened?"
She sighed. "I thought I went over there to get some answers, but...when I saw him, I just got so angry for everythin'. How he was never there for me, an'...I remembered that he's the reason my mama ain't here. How could I forgive him for that?"
"We had a feelin' you might not be able to," Jack said gently. "But we knew it had to be your decision. At least now you know who he is, even if he is an asshole. Didn't ask you for money, did he?"
"No. I wondered if he might, but...he didn't. Maybe I cut him off before he could. I think...if I'd let him in, he woulda wormed his way in an' tried to get money from me. He musta realised that this place brings in some money. What woulda happened if I'd let him be part of my life? He mighta started in with the daddy thing an' guilt-tripped me into givin' him money, especially if he found out that I'm in line to inherit this place."
"We never woulda let him," Ennis said firmly. "He wouldn't get his hands on none of our money, or this place. He ain't got no legal claims to you, not now."
"That's right," Jack replied, seeing that his partner was trying to cheer her up. "An' it don't matter. Do you...wish it had been different? That...you were able to forgive him?"
She shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe a part of me wanted a daddy, but...to be honest, I don't feel all that bad about turnin' him away. I can't really get upset about somethin' I never really had to begin with, can I?"
"Guess not. Are you gonna be okay?" She looked at Jack and nodded.
"Yeah, I'll be fine. I've still got you guys, right?"
Jack smiled back, and then looked up lovingly into Ennis's eyes. "Yeah, you'll always have us. We ain't goin' nowhere, honey."
She leaned her head on Jack's shoulder and fell silent. "Guess it's like you always said, Uncle Ennis." He looked at her and she sighed. "If you can't fix it, you gotta stand it. Remember?"
He nodded, pride flooding through him. It didn't matter that she wasn't related to him by blood; today had proved that DNA didn't mean everything. He and Jack considered themselves as married, so she was his niece just as much as she was Jack's. She had grown up learning things from both of them, and their traits had rubbed off on her.
"That's right. It don't matter about yer daddy if you can't forgive him. You've still got us, an' yer gonna go on livin' an' bein' happy. That's better for ya than dwellin' on what's happened." He certainly knew how that felt.
After a few moments, she smiled. "Thanks, guys. Is Ben around?"
"I think he's in the stables. Yer Grandma's upstairs strippin' the sheets for washin'. You go an' do what you need to." She nodded and got up, heading for the back door. Ennis looked at Jack, and within moments his lover was in his arms again, resting against him. They lay back on the sofa and Jack curled up against Ennis. He felt like he needed to be held right now; only Ennis could give him that kind of comfort.
"Bet it wasn't easy for her," Jack murmured. Ennis was running his fingers through the dark hair; he'd always loved its silky texture.
"I know, darlin'. But...we did the best we could. She knows that she's got us, an' that we're here for her. That's the best thing we coulda done for her. She'll be fine, Jack."
Jack nuzzled his face into Ennis's chest. "I hope so, cowboy. She needs to forget that asshole..."
"Yep." They remained that way for a while, just holding each other and talking softly. These were the tender moments that Jack loved to experience with Ennis. He got them more and more over the years, and he was blissfully happy in his own life. He just hoped that Lily would end up as happy with Ben as he and Ennis were. She deserved that after everything she'd been through; she deserved to be happy. Jack knew that Ben would make her happy, but he also knew that she would have to forget about her father. He wasn't going to bring her any happiness, so she would have to move on. Hopefully she would be able to look to the future and concentrate on what she had.