Chapter 33

December 1978

Ennis and Jack were huddled together in the tent, initially for warmth but they had soon discovered that there were other benefits to this. Jack liked being close to Ennis in the close quarters of the tent; his lover was always so warm and comforting.

But he couldn't sleep during this trip. His mind was in turmoil over what had occurred at the charity dinner in Childress a few months ago. He'd thought that he and Lureen were just giving a ride to a pair of neighbours, and he hadn't seen anything else coming. He'd actually been propositioned and didn't know what to do.

The man reminded him of Ennis somewhat, but even then Jack knew that nobody could compare to his strong, dependable cowboy. The part of him that missed Ennis when they were apart told him to just go for it; to have his needs met until the next trip. But his heart kept telling him no; that it was a bad idea and he would regret it for the rest of his life. Despite he and Ennis technically not being together, he still felt like he would be betraying Ennis if he did it. Jack hated being caught up in this, and wished more than ever that Ennis would change his mind about living together. It was the only thing that could salvage their relationship before Jack destroyed it completely.

He sighed and sat up, rubbing his eyes. He knew he would never get to sleep right now; there were just too many thoughts running through his mind and he couldn't switch off. Jack looked back at Ennis; he looked so peaceful and Jack knew that Ennis could never find out about this, even if he didn't go through with it. It would kill what they had.

Jack pulled on his parka and silently left the tent, needing some fresh air and to clear his mind. He sat on the log by the dying fire and looked up at the vast sky littered with stars. It was perfect despite the chill, and he wished he were looking at this from the back porch of a ranch run by the two of them; a house of their own.

How do you decide whether or not to betray someone? he thought miserably. I don't wanna do it, but...I just miss him so much when we're apart an' Lureen can't do what he can. I need to feel someone...inside me an' Ennis ain't around all the time to do it. It's the only way...but I know I'm gonna regret it just like with Mexico. An' if I do it...what about our next trip? Could I look him in the eye after that? Will he know just by lookin' at me?

He heard soft footsteps behind him and realised that Ennis was awake; he hadn't wanted to disturb him. Ennis sat down next to him, pulling the blanket around both of them.

"Hey...what's wrong?" he whispered, pulling Jack close. "Can't sleep?" Jack had been acting very strange on this trip, even more so than the last, and Ennis wasn't sure why. Something was definitely bothering him, and Ennis just wanted to know what it was so he could maybe try and help, or at least offer Jack comfort.

"Lot on my mind," Jack replied, and he realised that he said that a lot these days. He looked at Ennis, so calm and beautiful in the moonlight, and he swallowed past a lump in his throat. He was still so much in love with this man, yet here he was contemplating a betrayal. He would never forgive himself if he did it.

He leaned in and kissed Ennis firmly, and Ennis was taken aback at the vigour with which Jack attacked his mouth. He kissed back but could sense Jack's desperation, wondering what on earth was going on.

They pulled apart and Jack was breathing heavily, stuck between wanting to tell Ennis his thoughts and yet fearful of Ennis's reaction. Their eyes met and Jack's lip trembled; his heart was aching with the sheer volume of emotion inside him. Ennis saw his misery and cupped his cheeks, staring into Jack's deep eyes that were clearly full of woe.

"What's wrong?" he asked softly. "C'mon, Jack...this ain't like you. Somethin's botherin' you an' I wanna know what. Is it just...'cos of us not bein' together that often? I know that gets to you..." He wished that things could be different, but he just couldn't risk losing Jack like that.

Jack shook his head. "Just...the whole thing. Missin' you...wishin' we could..." He bit his lip; he just couldn't tell Ennis what was going on down in Texas. If Ennis didn't kill him for it, he would at least refuse to keep meeting him. Jack thought that Ennis killing him was actually preferable to not being together; at least then he wouldn't suffer anymore. "Just really gets to me sometimes an' I get lonely down there. Me an' Lureen...that ain't goin' nowhere an' yer up here most of the time."

"Darlin'..." Ennis sighed and pulled Jack into his arms, unaware of Jack's real inner turmoil. He hadn't yet contemplated the possibility of Jack with someone else; that thought hadn't entered his mind for he was sure that Jack wasn't queer, just like he wasn't. He tried not to think about all of that, and he had no idea just how much Jack was suffering. "It's okay...we're here now, an' for the next few days. I'm here, bud." He kissed the side of Jack's head and sent up a prayer to whoever might be listening that things would change for them soon; that they could be together and this misery would end.

He got Jack back into the tent and spooned around him, rubbing Jack's stomach until he finally fell asleep. They were headed down a slippery slope towards the end, and Ennis had to wonder if they would make it in one piece or encounter an obstacle that they couldn't overcome.