Chapter 16

July 10th, 1963

Ennis felt conflicted; it had been a year to the day since he'd first met Alma and he wasn't sure how to feel. He thought he should be back in Sage, celebrating the day with her due to their forthcoming wedding. Instead he was up here, doing things with his male co-worker that he thought to be a sin.

He did feel guilty, especially when he knew that he didn't want this summer to end. He wanted to stay up here with Jack and just forget the rest of the world. No more responsibilities or obligations; just him and Jack together every day where they could enjoy themselves. His heart ached every time he remembered that there wasn't long left.

When he got like this, his guilt increased and he wondered how on earth he could go back to Alma after this. Whilst proposing to her, he'd thought that he loved her and wanted to be with her. But now he knew true love; the kind that blazed in his heart every time he was with Jack. He knew now how things were supposed to be and realised that he didn't love Alma after all. But that was irrelevant; he had promised to marry her and that was that. He did like her and didn't want to hurt her, and there was no way that he and Jack could be together in the real world. So his only option was to continue with the engagement and try to forget about Jack when this job was over.

He rode into camp that morning and Jack noticed that something was wrong. Ennis's shoulders were hunched up and he looked as if he was deep in thought. "Hey," Jack called to him, standing up. They'd gotten into the habit of greeting each other with a kiss when they were reunited and he hoped that today would be the same.

But Ennis barely registered him, nodding with a mumbled greeting. Jack felt confused. "You okay?" he asked, hoping that Ennis wasn't injured or anything.

Ennis looked at him, biting his lip. "I ain't sure you wanna know, Jack," he said; they had silently agreed not to talk about their lives away from here. Jack walked up closer to him, giving him a gentle nudge.

"Sure I do, bud. What's on yer mind?" He reached out to try and take Ennis's hand, but Ennis stepped back. "Ennis?"

"Today, it...it's been a year since me an' Alma met," he said quietly, not looking at Jack.

"Oh...right," Jack replied, trying not to feel hurt. This was supposed to be a one-shot thing, just a summer affair that couldn't go anywhere, and yet it hurt so much to remember that Ennis would be marrying someone else.

"Jack...I don't wanna make you feel bad," Ennis said to him, seeing the pain in those blue eyes. "I just...it ain't easy to remember that when we-"

"When we're what?" Jack challenged, turning to face him. "You can't even say it, can you? We're fuckin', Ennis! Havin' sex, whatever you wanna call it. An' now you feel bad 'cos of Alma. You shoulda thought of that before you said we could carry this on. You had a choice, an' you coulda told me to stay away from you. But you let this happen!" he snarled, pointing a finger at Ennis. "The first night was my doin', an' I know that. But the rest was down to you."

"Jack...we both wanted it. An' now...I'm dreadin' the end of the summer," Ennis admitted.

"Right, 'cos then you'll be missin' yer little fuck buddy when yer married to Alma," Jack replied, seething. Ennis looked defeated, unable to continue arguing.

"Jack...I...I dunno what to do," he admitted. "You know we can't...not away from here. I promised her. An'...this can't go nowhere."

Jack closed his eyes, knowing that Ennis was right. "Yer right," he said quietly. "So why are we even still doin' this? I know that this is a one-shot thing, an' that we can't do it no more when the summer's over..." He turned back to face Ennis. "So maybe...we oughta stop this now. Just get back to the work an' forget everythin' else. Might make it easier when this is over."

Ennis could feel his heart breaking and he stepped back, trying not to show any emotion. He still wanted to enjoy his time with Jack before they had to leave, and he didn't want things to end this way. "Yeah, maybe," he replied, and Jack hated the sadness in his voice. He didn't want this either. "I'm gonna go back up to the sheep..."

"You ain't eaten," Jack reminded him. "Let me make you some breakfast at least." Ennis shook his head, still backing away.

"Not really hungry. Got some of them biscuits left...be back for supper." Jack nodded, his mind screaming at him to grab Ennis and never let him go. But he couldn't move as he watched Ennis mount his horse, wishing that they could redo this conversation and make it right.

When Ennis was gone, Jack went into the tent and buried himself in the bedroll, catching Ennis's scent in the material. Tears sprung to his eyes but he couldn't allow them to fall. This was for the best, he told himself as he tried to resist the heartache growing inside him. They would go back to their jobs and then back to their separate lives; there was no room in the world for two men who loved each other, at least not in this part of it.

Ennis rode back up to the sheep with a heavy heart, wishing that he could be braver and tell Jack how he really felt. He thought that if he told Jack he loved him, it would somehow fix everything and they could find a way to make it work. But this was the way that things had to be, and there was nothing for it now. He would just have to try and forget the man he loved.