Chapter 20

April 1974

It was a beautiful spring day, and the two men were taking a walk by the river where they had set up camp a few days ago. As they walked, they held hands and Ennis had a shy smile on his face, which didn't go unnoticed by Jack.

"Sure is nice today," he commented, seeing the sunlight reflected in the water. This was nature at its best, and he loved being able to enjoy it with Ennis. He wished they could spend more time together, even if it was only one more trip in a year. They had three at best, maybe only two, and he ached for Ennis when they were apart.

He thought about Ennis pretty much all of the time, wondering what he was doing and if he was thinking of him. Jack wished that the world could be different, so that they had a chance of being together. Maybe it would be in the years to come, but it would be too late for them. They were in their thirties now, and time continued to march forward whether they liked it or not.

After a while, they went to sit on the bridge over the water, dangling their legs over and breathing in the crisp mountain air. Jack felt at peace for once; not something he usually experienced down in Texas. The house was stuffy and uncomfortable, and he hated it. He knew that if he and Ennis got together, their ranch could be a real home for both of them.

"Ennis?" he asked quietly, and Ennis turned to look at him. "Can I...ask you somethin'?"

"Sure, bud," he replied, wondering what was on Jack's mind.

"Well...I was thinkin'...could we maybe...meet up a little more often? Like...squeeze another trip in somewhere? I miss you somethin' awful between trips..."

Ennis sighed inwardly, hating that he had to disappoint Jack. He would love for them to meet more often, but he had to work in order to provide for his girls. A few years ago, he would have just quit his job to be with Jack, but ranch work was not great money and he needed to stay in one place. He wished that Jack could remember how it was to be poor all the time.

"Jack...don't think we can. Need money for the girls...can't just go quittin' every job to meet up."

"So...you don't miss me when we're apart?" Jack asked, feeling hurt. He knew it was a little childish to act this way, but he couldn't help it. He was resentful towards Alma for having Ennis most of the time, even if Ennis didn't love her. She had what he didn't.

"That ain't it an' you know it," Ennis told him, squeezing his hand. "I miss you too, Jack. But it can't happen...it's hard enough gettin' the time I do. Need money for the girls," he repeated, and Jack took his hand away.

"It's gettin' hard, Ennis...I miss you even more every time you leave. Just...was wonderin' if we could spend more time together."

He stood up and walked a few paces away across the bridge, staring out at the area around them. It felt like they were the only two people in the world right now, and he liked it. Ennis also stood up and scratched the back of his neck.

"Jack...I dunno what to say. Ain't easy for me, either. I miss you too...but there ain't no way we can have another trip in a year. Can only manage three at the most."

"Yeah, I noticed," Jack sniped back, and felt his heart aching for the man behind him. "Just...gets to me sometimes. Alma gets you most of the year, an' I know you don't..." He bit his lip; they didn't mention the L word openly. "Well...least I know where I stand with you."

"Jack..." Ennis came up behind him and put his hands on Jack's shoulders. "I sure am sorry, bud. You know I would...but I can't. Ain't as easy as you think...to just decide to leave for a week. Can't quit this job now...the girls need me to provide for 'em."

He tentatively slid his hands down and around Jack's waist, and was relieved when Jack didn't move away. "Talk to me, darlin'...don't like it when we fight."

"I know," Jack sighed, covering Ennis's arms with his own. "I don't like it either...but I dunno what else to do. Really gets to me when I'm alone in that house in Texas...missin' you an' wishin' we was together..."

Ennis rested his chin on Jack's shoulder and held him close, wishing that he could do something, anything to make Jack feel better. But it seemed to him that the only way to fix this was to give Jack the one thing he couldn't - a life together. It was the only thing he couldn't allow to happen, no matter how much they wanted it.

"Come on, bud...let's go back to camp an' get somethin' to eat. We don't gotta fuck yet if you ain't up to it...we can just sit around if you want." Jack nodded and allowed Ennis to take his hand, leading him back to the campsite.

They sat against a log together and drank some whiskey, keeping close and resting against each other. Jack loved sitting with Ennis and talking, as if they were a real couple, and he often wondered what it might be like on a daily basis if they were together. Waking up in the same bed, meals, working, and then sex and going to sleep together at night. It sounded so simple, and perfect. He hoped that one day it would come true.

Ennis looked down at the top of Jack's head and planted a kiss in his hair, knowing that he'd hurt Jack's feelings and hoping that Jack would allow him to make it up to him. He would do anything to rectify all the mistakes he'd made with Jack, starting with leaving Signal by himself in 1963.