July 3rd, 1975
As the next month rolled over them, life started improving in leaps and bounds. Bobby stopped having nightmares and the girls seemed to be over the worst as far as their mother's death was concerned.
But the biggest improvement was in Ennis and Jack's relationship. After Jack's confession and their acknowledgement of who they really were, there was a sense of permanence around them. It had been the most important barrier for them to break down, and they had done so. Now that it was done with, they could move on from their mistakes and the hurt and instead focus on their future.
Jack thought about Ennis's reaction to his confession of other guys and how...anticlimactic it was. Ennis hadn't been too angry, at least not in the way he'd thought he would be. He hadn't yelled or fixed him with a glare. It was clear that he was hurt by it, but seemed to have taken it well. When he asked Ennis why he hadn't acted the way he'd expected, Ennis had taken his hand.
"Ain't nothin' I can do 'bout it, Jack. I know it's my fault for pushin' you away, an' makin' you feel like you couldn't do nothin'. I could yell at ya, but...I don't wanna. Waste of time fightin' with you over stuff...won't do no good."
As he prepared lunch for everybody in the kitchen on Thursday, Jack thought things over. He had come to the conclusion that Ennis was resigned, more than anything. He didn't see the point in fighting, and that in itself showed Jack how much he had grown; no longer using his fists to get a point across. He was willing to talk things out, and Jack figured it was because he really wanted this to work. And Ennis was right; it would be a waste of time for them to hold grudges against each other.
He grinned when he heard familiar boots on the steps outside; Ennis was home for lunch. Ennis had told him that when Alma was alive, he used to take his lunch with him to the ranch. But now he came home every day for his lunch break, since the ranch wasn't too far. Jack was secretly pleased by this; he liked spending as much time as he could with his cowboy.
The front door opened and he heard Ennis's voice. "Jack?"
"In the kitchen, bud," he replied, pouring the soup into five bowls and grinning further when he felt a warm, familiar presence nearby. Ennis slid his arms around Jack's waist from behind and sniffed in interest at the soup.
"Mmm, sure smells good, rodeo. Guess you got better at cookin', huh?"
Jack laughed. "Sure did. Was at home a lot with Bobby when Lureen was workin', so...I just got into it. Kinda like cookin' now." He shrugged. "Anyway, it's just soup...ain't difficult."
"No, but that ain't all you can do," Ennis reminded him as they set the bowls out, along with a pile of bread on a plate. "Like that chicken thing you made the other night. That was pretty damn good."
Jack nodded and blushed a little. "Well...ain't you forgettin' somethin'?" Ennis smirked and held him close, planting his lips on Jack's for a few moments. They kissed a couple of times and then broke apart. "That's better," Jack said as he backed away with a grin, heading for the girls' bedroom. "Kids...lunch's ready." They followed him into the kitchen and sat down with their fathers, the three of them greeting Ennis enthusiastically. Ennis liked this; coming home to a loving partner and his children. He was starting to see Bobby as a son now, and he knew that Jack was coming to regard the girls as daughters. Both he and Jack were relieved that things were working so well; it certainly helped as they figured things out. At least they didn't have to deal with warring siblings. He and Jack needed to focus on their relationship and their plans for moving.
Throughout lunch, Ennis's thoughts kept wandering to his and Jack's families. He was pretty sure that his brother and sister would not take too kindly to his living arrangement, and he was in no hurry to tell them. He knew where they were; his sister was still in Casper with her husband and K.E. was up in Signal with his wife. The three of them had simply drifted apart over the years.
He then thought about Jack's parents, up in Lightning Flat. Jack usually visited them after their fishing trips, so they would be expecting him soon. As far as they knew, the two of them had a trip planned for this month, so he figured that Jack would need to get in touch soon and tell them that things had changed.
He was suspicious as to why Jack had always refused to talk much about his father. It was clear that there were some bad memories surrounding Jack and his father, and he wasn't sure why Jack hadn't yet told him. With all of these barriers they were breaking down together, it only seemed logical to him that Jack would tell him soon.
"When are we movin'?" asked Junior, shaking him from his thoughts. Jack cleared his throat, sensing that Ennis had been distracted until Junior had spoken up. He wondered what was going on in Ennis's head.
"Well...we was thinkin' over the next month sometime. We oughta do it by August at least, to give you guys time to settle in before school starts."
"Right," Ennis cut in, nodding. "Maybe we could look at some places, rodeo. Find a realtor or somethin'." Jack nodded back and smiled a little; it was really happening. He and Ennis were trying to find a home for all of them; a home that neither of them had had while growing up. It would be filled with love and laughter and good times, like they and their children deserved. He could hardly wait for their dreams to become a reality.
Ennis went back to work after lunch, and returned in time for dinner a few hours later. Afterwards, he and Jack were washing up when he voiced the idea he'd been thinking on all day.
"Bud? Wanna ask you somethin'."
"You, um...you been thinkin' at all about...takin' the kids up to Lightnin' Flat?"
Jack nearly dropped the plate he was holding; that had been the last thing he was expecting to hear. "What? Why?"
Ennis frowned at Jack's reaction. "Well...you was gonna go up there after our trip this month, right? You oughta tell 'em that things have changed..." Jack looked away.
"Could call my mama...tell her I'll explain another time..." Ennis tried again.
"Jack...Bobby ain't never met her. I bet he'd like to. An'...if she's my mother-in-law or whatever, I wanna meet her too. An' the girls would probably like her."
"Yeah, but...I dunno. It's a long trip...dunno if the kids are up for that."
"We're gonna be movin' to Colorado, bud. That's gonna take longer." He knew that Jack was hesitating because of his father, and he was determined to find out exactly why.
Ennis touched his arm. "Darlin'...what's wrong? I know yer thinkin' of yer dad...an' somethin' ain't right there. You ain't never told me what he did..."
"Ennis...don't," Jack pleaded weakly. He wanted to tell Ennis the truth, but didn't think he had the courage. "Please...I ain't ready to talk 'bout it yet."
"Jack...I ain't tryin' to force ya. I just...whenever he's mentioned, you just clam right up. I get worried about you, darlin'. Don't like seein' you hurtin'."
"I know, but..."
"If we go up there, can't you just ignore him? For the kids?"
"I ain't lettin' my son near him!" Jack snapped, finally losing it. Ennis stepped back, alarmed by Jack's response. "An' believe me, if you knew him, you wouldn't want the girls near him either." He turned away a little and sighed, hands over his face.
"Why?" Ennis asked, keeping his voice gentle and hoping it would soothe Jack. A terrible thought occurred to him. "Jack...he didn't...do stuff, did he? To you?"
Jack gave him a puzzled look, and then his eyes widened. "Oh...no, he didn't. No, he never did nothin' like that." He was very relieved that this was the truth, if he was honest with himself. What had really happened was bad enough without adding that to it.
"Then what?" Ennis tried again, seeing the distress in Jack's eyes. "Darlin'...he did somethin' bad to you...if it ain't that, then what...?"
Jack shook his head. "Not here. Not with the kids near. Can we talk 'bout this later?" He needed time to prepare himself for telling Ennis the truth. He was about to open up about his very worst memories, things that he'd never told anyone else before. Although he trusted Ennis completely, it was still difficult for him.
Ennis nodded, sensing that Jack needed time. "Alright, bud. Sorry if ya feel like I'm forcin' ya..." Jack stepped forward and put his arms around Ennis's waist, sheepish for snapping at him the way he had.
"It's okay. You've got a right to know this stuff anyway. It's just...this is gonna be really hard for me. It's stuff that nobody else knows. Even my mama don't know all of it. I just couldn't talk to her about it. I'm gonna tell you, later. An' I know I can trust you with it, cowboy. Just...I've got some real bad memories of him, an' it ain't gonna be easy to think about it." He leaned in for a reassuring kiss, which Ennis was happy to give him.
They kissed slowly and softly, Jack apologising for snapping and Ennis apologising for forcing him into talking. No words were needed; they loved each other and would support each other no matter what. Ennis could see clearly that Jack's memories of his father were very bad, and that Jack might well need comfort afterwards. He was only too happy to provide that for him; if Jack needed him, then he would be there.
When they returned to the dishes, Jack thought about his memories; he'd locked them away and pushed them down as well as he could to the back of his mind. It was the only way that he'd managed to save himself from being destroyed by them. The old man had made his childhood a living hell; he was determined to not let the same thing happen now. He had the love of a good man who was only trying to help, and he had the kids. Right here, he had proof that his father hadn't ruined his life. He'd done something right and was happy now.
Afterwards, he leaned on the worktop and stared out of the window, thinking. Ennis pulled him close from behind and they stood there silently. It was an echo of their dozy embrace by the fire up on Brokeback, when a situation like this had been just a dream in their heads. Now they were together for real, and were prepared to do anything to protect what they had. Jack knew that not even his memories of John Twist could hurt them now. And if they did go to Lightning Flat, the man himself could do nothing to touch them. He could spit hate at them, but that was just words. If he hit, Jack was now able to hit back. Not that he would have to; if Ennis saw his father hitting him he would lose it. This man would protect him.
"Love you," he murmured, leaning back to brush his cheek against Ennis's. The other man smiled and kissed his cheek. His heart yearned for this man in his arms; to make him happy always and chase away all of his bad memories. They had both had damaging childhoods, but had somehow found each other and were holding on tightly. Ennis vowed there and then that he would never let anyone hurt Jack ever again.
"Love you too, darlin'."
For the remainder for the evening, Ennis watched Jack warily. He wondered exactly what had happened to Jack during childhood that had caused such bad blood between him and his father. Ennis hated his own father for making him see something that had nearly cost him his true love, but he sensed that things were different for Jack, and he needed to know what it was. He wanted to help Jack.
When the kids went to bed, the two of them sat down and Ennis took his hand. "You ready to tell me now?" he asked, keeping his voice soft. Jack took a deep breath.
"Yeah. But you gotta know...this ain't gonna be easy. If you could just...let me get through it before you say anythin'..."
Ennis nodded, knowing that Jack needed to get this off his chest. "Sure, darlin'."
Jack smiled his thanks, and then cleared his throat. "Well...I guess it all really started when I was just little. My dad wasn't ever nice, as far as I remember. I did everythin' I could to try an' make him proud of me. That's why I wanted to do bull ridin', like he did. Thought it might get me in his good books. But it didn't...every time I came home from a rodeo an' he saw that I didn't win, he just ignored me. When I got that buckle I had on Brokeback, he still barely said anythin' even though I'd won."
He was absentmindedly playing with Ennis's fingers as he spoke, like they were giving him the courage to keep talking. "All I ever really wanted was to make him proud of me. When I was a kid, I liked drawin' a lot. Like Bobby does now. Drew pictures of my old man on a bull, like some hero, an'...he..." He gulped. "One night, I was tryin' to get to sleep when I smelt burnin'. Looked out my window an' saw he'd lit the fire pit. He was burnin' my drawin's."
Ennis's heart sank to hear of Jack's miserable childhood, but he sensed that Jack wasn't done yet. There was something worse going on.
"I tried to help him on the ranch, but...I was never good enough for him. Never heard a word of praise from him. When I talked 'bout maybe goin' to college, he told me...that I was too dumb. Said I'd be better off doin' ranch stuff."
Jack looked down at the floor. "That wasn't the worst, though. He beat me, a lot. I know that back then, dads usually hit their kids when they was actin' up. You said that about your dad." Ennis nodded his agreement and Jack continued. "But...it was more than that. He hit me for just about any reason. An'...with his belt. Used to leave me with bruises."
Ennis looked at him, disgusted by the abuse he'd had to suffer through. What kind of man deliberately hurt their child?
"An'...there was this time I got food poisonin'. I was workin' in the field with him an' I got stomach ache. He told me to stop bein' a wuss an' get on with it. I collapsed an' only then did he take me to the hospital. An' he made sure I knew how much I was costin' him by bein' in there."
Jack swallowed hard, knowing that Ennis would be horrified by his next tale. "When I was about three or four, I had trouble gettin' to the bathroom in time. Fiddlin' with buttons...a lot of the time I didn't quite make it an' it went everywhere. He came in, saw the mess an' said...that he'd teach me what it was like to have piss all over the place. He...he undid his pants, an'..."
"Christ," Ennis muttered, forgetting that he had promised not to talk yet. He couldn't help it. "Jack..." He started to rub Jack's back in comfort, feeling him shaking.
"I was cryin' an' shakin'...an' he made me clean it up." He tried to calm down and allow Ennis to soothe him, but the memories were flashing before his eyes. "An' you know...that wasn't even the worst thing he ever did."
Ennis wasn't sure what could be worse than that, but he braced himself. "What was it, bud?"
"When I was about...ten, I think...I asked my mama if I could have a baby brother or sister. She said she couldn't have no more kids, an' I asked why. My dad was drunk an' he overheard. He came in an' said...that I was the reason they didn't have no more kids." Jack swallowed. "I asked my mama what he meant. Turns out that when my mama was havin' me, there was some problems. Some complications with the birth. She lost a lot of blood an' I nearly died. I was their first, so they didn't know it was gonna happen. An' it meant...that she just couldn't have no more kids."
Jack thought about what his father had said. "So...they tried to have more kids after me, but...she couldn't carry 'em for long. They all died after a few months." He started to shake again. "I'm the reason they don't have no more kids."
At this, Jack was unable to carry on. He was done anyway, and had purposefully saved this for the last. He brought his hands to his mouth and Ennis saw it coming. He moved forward and pulled Jack into his arms, hearing his partner overcome with emotion. Jack shook and held onto him tightly as he sobbed, hating his father for what he'd said and done, and loving Ennis for being here for him.
They sat there for a while, Jack clinging to Ennis and trying to calm down. He knew what he needed right then, more than anything. "Ennis?"
"Can we, um...you know..."
Ennis pulled away and wiped Jack's eyes and cheeks. "Sure, bud." He leaned in and kissed Jack gently, trying to give him some kind of comfort. Jack was very vulnerable right now, and Ennis was determined to take care of him.
They entered the bedroom and Ennis locked it behind them. He and Jack stood facing each other, Jack's face full of pain from remembering those bad times of his childhood. Ennis cupped his cheeks.
"You sure yer up to it?" he asked softly, not wanting to put pressure on Jack. That was the last thing he needed right now.
"Yeah," Jack replied. "I need to..." Ennis nodded and slowly went for Jack's buttons, undoing them and lifting the shirt from his shoulders. Jack smiled a little and returned the favour with shaking hands. They then stepped out of their jeans and headed for the bed, looking forward to crawling under and getting warm.
When they were settled in, they turned to each other. Ennis leaned in again and tentatively touched Jack's lips with his own, loving how soft they felt against his. He felt Jack sigh with contentment and pulled away slightly. "How d'you want it, darlin'?"
"Wanna be on my back...wanna see you..." He needed to see his lover's face; to remind himself that he was loved by someone. Ennis nodded and slid on top of him, taking it slowly. He had to be mindful of Jack's fragile state.
Jack widened his legs so that Ennis could settle between them as they kissed, his hands tangling in the blonde curls he loved so much. He could always count on Ennis to make him feel better about everything. He had the love of a good man, and would never forget that.
When he was sure that Jack was ready, Ennis grabbed the lube and slicked himself up, gazing down into Jack's trusting eyes. He'd taken Jack for granted during the last twelve years, always being sure that he would show up for trips despite how much he kept resisting to a life together. He didn't like to think what might have happened if things had gone on as before. They might have ended up resenting each other.
Ennis swore to never take Jack for granted ever again. He couldn't just treat Jack however he wanted and keep believing that he would stay no matter what; he had to work at this relationship just as much as Jack did. And if they both put forth the effort, they would be okay.
Ready to make Jack feel better, Ennis looked down at him and saw him nod. "Go on..." came the whisper. He started to work his way in, being very slow and as tender as possible. As he moved inside Jack, he watched his face. Jack's eyes were half-shut and he had a look of pure bliss on his face. "Ennis..."
Fully inside Jack now, Ennis leaned down and made him meet his eyes. "Darlin'...don't let yer dad get to you, okay? He had no right treatin' you that way an' he oughta feel ashamed of himself."
"He ain't half the man you are," Jack replied shakily, smiling a little. "Know that much..."
Ennis stroked his cheeks. "I'd never hurt you, Jack. I know I have, but...never again. I swear..." Jack nodded and wrapped his arms around Ennis's neck, and his legs around Ennis's waist.
"Come on, please..." Ennis nodded and started to slowly move, in deep strokes that took Jack all the way before moving out again, making him sigh. "God...that's it..."
As he moved in and out, Ennis planted his lips on Jack's collarbone; one of his favourite spots on Jack's body. He kissed and lightly nibbled at the skin, knowing it would send Jack into sheer pleasure. It always had, ever since he'd first done it.
Jack felt waves of bliss wash over him as Ennis made love to him in one of their best times yet. He opened his eyes and looked down Ennis's broad back, seeing his lover's hips move forward as he thrust into him. He held onto Ennis tighter and let his eyes fall shut again, raising his own hips in time to help. Ennis was buried inside him right to the hilt, and Jack could feel every single inch inside him, of which there were a fair few, he thought with a slight grin. Ennis was cheering him up already. He thanked his lucky stars for this man; he was caring and thoughtful, and at the same time could really make his toes curl and send him crazy.
"I love you," he gasped out as Ennis changed his angle, looking for the sweet spot. He groaned and bucked upwards as Ennis found it and took full advantage. He knew he wouldn't last much longer with Ennis doing that to him.
"Love you too," Ennis breathed into his ear, eyes shut and mouth open as he pushed in deeper and quicker, hips moving uncontrollably. A hand made its way down Jack's body to take him in hand, stroking him off rapidly. Jack bit his lip to stop himself from yelling as he came, shaking all over. Ennis thrust a few more times and was there himself, shooting deep into Jack with a low moan in his lover's ear.
They collapsed together and Jack saw stars as he stared up at the ceiling. As they recovered from the incredible sex they'd just had, he ran his hands up and down Ennis's sweat-slicked body. "Jesus...that was..."
"Yeah..." Ennis pulled out and then lifted his head to meet Jack's eyes. "You feelin' any better?"
"Uh huh," Jack replied, and then grinned. "Think you banged it right outta me." They both laughed and he grew serious. "Yeah, you helped. Thank you, Ennis..."
"No problem, darlin'. Don't wanna see you hurtin'...makes me hurt, too. Wanna see you happy..."
"You make me happy," Jack replied, stroking his lover's cheeks and nuzzling their noses together. "Real happy."
"Don't worry about yer dad, bud," Ennis told him. "Think about what we've got, right here. He can't never take that away from you."
"An'...about yer mama...don't go blamin' yerself for that. Those things happen. Ain't like you did that on purpose; you was just a baby. Don't let yer old man make you think it was your fault, okay?"
"I'll try," Jack said shakily. "I love you so much..."
"Right back at you, bud," Ennis replied with a smile. He sank down onto Jack and they exchanged a kiss before letting their eyelids droop, giving in to sleep.
A few days later, Ennis came home to find a ruckus. Jack was standing there in the living room, looking exasperated, and the kids were stood around. Jenny was glaring at Bobby and Junior was keeping her distance. It looked like she was the only one who was sane right now.
"What's goin' on?" Ennis asked, looking around. His youngest daughter turned to him, looking upset and angry.
"Daddy, Bobby broke my Barbie!" she replied, looking very upset. Jack was rubbing his forehead.
"He didn't mean to, Jenny," he tried to tell her, but she wasn't listening. Bobby looked equally mad.
"She made fun of me," he said sullenly. "'Cause I can't read real good."
Ennis looked at him in surprise, and then at Jack. He had never mentioned this. "Uh...look, Jenny. We'll get you a new one soon. Promise."
"Right, an' we'll sort out the readin' thing, Bobby," Jack added, knowing he would have to tell Ennis about this. "In the meantime, we want you two to apologise to each other. Okay?"
"Sorry, Jenny," Bobby started. She huffed a little and then glanced at her father. The look on his face was enough to make her do anything he told her right now.
"Alright," Ennis said, relieved that they hadn't started tearing into each other over the incident. "Right...me an' Jack have gotta talk, so...Junior, can you keep an eye on 'em?" She nodded and the two men retreated into the kitchen.
"Jesus," Jack started, shaking his head. "Didn't see that one comin'."
"Yeah." Ennis looked at him. "You never told me he has trouble readin'..." Jack looked down.
"I was gonna, before we sent 'em off to school. Just never thought I'd have to deal with it 'til then. Sorry I didn't tell ya, bud..."
"What's the problem?"
"Well...he has trouble with letters. Sees them backwards sometimes. Like...he gets his d's an' b's mixed up, stuff like that. Back in Texas, I wanted to get him a tutor, but Lureen kept sayin' he didn't need one. I knew he was havin' trouble 'cos the teachers at his school told me. But she was the one in charge of the money, so..."
"So she just...denied he was havin' a problem?" Ennis asked, surprised that a mother would refuse to see that her child wasn't perfect. Jack nodded.
"Pretty much. She just didn't wanna think about him not bein' perfect, I guess. An' she really didn't want her daddy findin' out. He probably woulda blamed it on me. Woulda said it was my fault for fallin' off bulls all the time an' hittin' my head before Bobby was conceived." Jack rolled his eyes.
"That ain't yer fault, Jack," Ennis tried to reassure him. "Jenny had asthma when she was little, an' you could say it was my fault for smokin' for so long before she was born. But the doctor told us it ain't caused by parents. Just one of them things."
Jack nodded. "Yeah, I guess. I dunno what to do for him..."
"We'll figure it out," Ennis told him, putting his hands on Jack's shoulders. "We'll be okay. When we move, we can get him a tutor there. Whatever he needs, okay?"
Jack smiled at him. "Thanks, bud."
"Sure. What's fer dinner?"
Their evening meal turned out to be a casserole that Jack had made. He'd gotten the recipe from his mother a few years ago and it had stuck in his head ever since. The kids seemed to enjoy it and Ennis certainly did.
"Well bud, I think yer a lot better at cookin' than you used to be," he told Jack when he;d finished. He looked at Bobby. "There was a time when yer daddy couldn't cook at all. Burned everythin' he tried to make. He couldn't even open a can of beans."
Jack thought about that incident with the can opener and the beans. He hadn't been able to concentrate because of the attractive, muscular body of his fellow cowboy nearby, and that was why he'd spilled the can. But that wouldn't be appropriate to say in front of the kids.
"I messed up," he simply said, shrugging. "No big deal."
"Sure, bud," Ennis replied, smirking. When the kids had retreated into the living room (Jenny and Bobby no longer sniping at each other), Ennis and Jack started on the dishes.
"I couldn't concentrate on them beans 'cos of you strippin' off next to me," Jack told Ennis, eyes shining. "I mean...you had a damn good body, cowboy. Still do."
Ennis went slightly red. "Jack...you know...yours ain't nothin' to sneeze at." Jack smiled and kissed his cheek as they started to wash up.
They spent the rest of the evening with the kids watching TV, and then Jack spoke up. "Alright, you three. Just want you to know that me an' Ennis are gonna be lookin' at properties soon, for us to move to. We're still thinkin' of Colorado, an' we reckon we'll be movin' next month. We wanna do it before school starts, so we can get you registered. So is that okay with you three?"
The kids nodded and then went to bed, leaving the two men to make out on the sofa for a while. "So it's really happening," Jack murmured, nuzzling his face into Ennis's neck.
"Sure is, darlin'," he replied, running his hands up and down Jack's back. He could feel every muscle; Jack had lost a little weight since coming to live here, and had mentioned that he liked the fact he wasn't eating so much rich food now. He especially hadn't wanted Bobby to live like that.
"Mmm, you feel good," he whispered, appreciating what he'd found. Jack squirmed with delight at where Ennis was touching him.
"Can feel even better, if you wanna join me in the bedroom. I'll let ya feel me up some more." His eyes glinted and Ennis needed no further encouragement. They rose up off the sofa and headed for their room, locking the door behind them and falling into each other's arms.