Chapter 38

September 1980

Jack was getting frustrated; it had been so many years since he'd first asked Ennis to live with him, but nothing seemed to have changed. They were no closer to being together than they had been back then, and he didn't know what to do anymore.

He sat on a log by the fire while Ennis collected water from the river, thinking about everything and wondering if it was time for a change. He still felt guilty about what he did when they were apart, and he knew that the only way to cure this feeling was for him and Ennis to get together.

He looked up as Ennis came back and squared himself, preparing to talk to Ennis about their situation. It was uncomfortable for both of them, but he knew what he wanted and that it was best for both of them. "Ennis?"

"Yeah, bud?" Ennis replied as he set the water down. Jack stood up, bracing himself.

"Wanna talk to you...about all this. You thought any more about us...livin' together? I ain't married no more an' I could divorce Lureen if-"

"Jack," Ennis cut him off, not liking where this was going. He'd always hated having to turn Jack down out of pure fear, and he knew how much Jack hated it. "Don't, okay? I don't wanna talk about that."

"But we gotta," Jack protested, moving closer. "It's been thirteen years since I first asked...I was just thinkin' that somethin' mighta changed by now. The world's changin', Ennis...I hear it all the time in people in the cities..."

Ennis turned away; he didn't want to admit who he was, not even to Jack. He could barely hold it in his mind; he was just so scared of what might happen to them if they were found out.

"Jack...just don't. Maybe things are different in them big cities, but...up here an' where we just don't fly. I told you about Earl an' Rich."

"That was nearly thirty years ago, Ennis!" Jack reminded him, sounding exasperated. "I just said, things are changin'. Can we at least talk about it?"

Ennis shook his head. "Can't, Jack. Ain't nothin' to say that'll change things. Could still happen to one of us if we..." He trailed off, trying not to think about a life with Jack and how perfect it could be. It was simply too much to hope that everything would be okay.

"Damn it, Ennis," Jack cursed, folding his arms. He was running out of energy to even try with this man; maybe they would be better off with just these occasional trips. At least out here, Ennis was willing to just go along with things. They could talk, laugh and make love whenever they wanted. Or at least, they used to before things got so bad. "Things used to be so good with us...what the fuck happened?"

Ennis didn't reply, but he thought about it. They'd been in pretty much the same place for so long that they were growing frustrated, and the endless longing for each other was driving them crazy. There just didn't seem to be a way out. "Dunno, bud. Reckon that...we've been like this so many years...gettin' to us now."

Jack lowered his eyes and sighed inwardly; they loved each other and yet they were hurting because society said they couldn't be together. Worse still, they were causing each other pain. He didn't like what time and pain was doing to them.

He thought for a moment, and then came up behind Ennis, biting his lip. "Bud...look at me." Ennis slowly turned to face him, looking dejected and worn out. Jack sighed. "I'm sorry...I know this ain't easy for you..."

"Wish things could be different," Ennis murmured, trembling slightly. "You gotta know I do..."

"I do too," Jack replied, wrapping his arms around Ennis's waist and pulling him close. Ennis held him in return, just enjoying the feel of Jack in his arms. They hadn't done a lot of holding each other lately; even sex was less passionate than usual these days. Both of them were very tired, and didn't see how they could ever be together when the world would hate them so much for it.

Jack buried his face in Ennis's neck and breathed in his scent as if it was oxygen and he needed it to breathe. He only felt half-alive when they were apart and he knew in his heart that he belonged with this man. If only they could be together; Jack knew he could make Ennis happy every day, and that Ennis could make him happy. They might be successful ranchers, and could be better fathers to their children if they were happy. And in time, maybe Alma and Lureen would come to forgive them.

But this was how things were, and it ate into his guts that they couldn't be together. He felt that they should be, and then all of this would be over. He wouldn't have to feel guilty every time Ennis touched him, and he would truly be able to enjoy having sex again. It was always good with Ennis, but he was always riddled with guilt and could never really relax.

"Ennis...I dunno what we're gonna do," he admitted in a quiet voice. Ennis squeezed him.

"Ain't nothin' we can do, bud. Just gotta keep goin', I guess."

"For how long?" Jack asked, remembering the night by the fire in 1967 when he'd asked the same thing. As he'd suspected, Ennis's response was the same.

"As long as we can ride it," came the soft murmur, and Jack closed his eyes. He prayed with all his heart to whoever might be listening that everything would work out for them.

Ain't no reins on this one, he thought to himself as they swayed slightly. Sure wish things would change for us...I need him in my life, an' I know he needs me. How much longer are we gonna be sufferin' like this?