Mrs. Twist decides to end the lying about Jack's supposed death.
Author: Donna McIntosh
Fandom: Brokeback Mountain
Disclaimer: I do not own Brokeback Mountain and I make no money off these stories.
Summary: Roberta Twist decides to take things into her own hands.
BUTTONS AND BEANS
The old woman sat in the pickup parked out beside the low stone wall that enclosed the graveyard. She watched the man who was kneeling at her son’s grave and shook her head sadly. “It’s just not right!” She mumbled to herself. She watched the hunched figure and saw the shoulders shaking. After a few minutes he stood, wiped an arm across his face and paced around a bit as if thinking things over. Then like always, his hat down low to cover his eyes, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of the worn brown corduroy jacket, he left.
She watched as he passed in front of her truck, not noticing her. He didn’t look up. He never did. She saw him though, saw the tear tracks down his dusty cheeks, and saw the miseries of a lifetime etched in his face. She shook her head. “I cannot let this go on!”
She waited until he had driven away before she got out of the old pickup and started over to her son’s grave with her handful of wild flowers freshly picked for the occasion. She placed them on the grave and bowed her head in prayer. “Please God; help me to end this misery. Send me a Christmas miracle.” She spoke the words out loud and in the quiet cemetery.
With determined strides she made her way back to the pickup before the rain started and drove carefully home. Once inside and shaking out her raincoat, she closed and locked the door.
“Was he there? Did you see ‘em?”
“Yes, he was there! He’s always there – every Saturday morning. You must put a stop to this, Jackie. It’s just not right!”
“Momma, I can’t! We’ve been over this before. He can’t know I’m still alive.”
“But he’s sufferin so.”
“He’ll get over it.”
“It’s been six months! And he ain’t missed a Saturday yet. Son, you’ve just got to put a stop to this.”
“No! I can’t. I can’t let him see me. I just can’t.”
“And why not, for goodness sakes?”
“Look at me, Momma. You think I’d want him to see me lookin like this? If he was to get a look at this face a mine he’d probably … I don’t know … throw up or somethin.”
“Now you’re talkin foolish, Jackie. From all you told me about him, he don’t seem like the kind a person who would care about a few scars.”
“It’s more than a few scars, Momma, and you know it. And the surgery they done to put my face back together didn’t do nothin but make it look worse.”
“He wouldn’t care none about that.”
“I couldn’t take his pity, Momma.”
“You’d rather him go on sufferin like he has been for the rest of his days? Just so your pride don’t get bruised if he looks at you funny?”
“Momma, you don’t understand.”
“Oh I understand! I understand you and your father both and there ain’t never been two more stubborn, bull-headed men on God’s green earth than the two a you!”
She put a pot of coffee on the stove and took down three cups from the cupboard.
“That coffee ready yet, woman?” The old man wheeled his wheelchair into the kitchen and up to the table.
“It will be in a few minutes. You want some cookies?”
“You mean there’s any left? I figured they’d be gone by now. Gee, they lasted a whole 24 hours!”
“Now don’t start, John, please.” She sat three cups and saucers on the table and went back for the cookies.
“I ain’t startin nothin and I ain’t the one eatin everythin that ain’t tied down neither.”
“Pa, I give Momma a hundred dollars a week for groceries. I ain’t eatin no more than that.”
“Yeah, well electricity costs money too, you know.”
“He’s workin the place, John, and he’s payin too. You can’t ask no more than that.”
“Mostly I see him layin around doin nothin.” John Twist grabbed up a cookie from the plate set in the middle of the table.
“I only lay down when the dizziness starts, Pa. Just like the doctor said I was to do.”
“Well those doctors in Casper don’t know nothin. You should see Doc Miller in town. He’d get rid of those dizzy spells a yours in no time.”
“I can’t do that, Pa. Everyone is supposed to think I’m dead.”
“That’s the damn stupidest idea of yours that you ever did have. They’re all gonna find out sooner or later and then you’ll look like the dumb ass that you are!”
“I got my reasons, Pa.” Jack held up his cup and his Momma poured him a steaming cup of coffee.
“Damn stupid reasons if you ask me.”
“Nobody asked you, John. This was Jackie’s decision to make and we promised we’d honor it.”
“I didn’t promise. You did.”
“You can’t tell nobody, Pa. If you do, I’ll have to leave. Then who’d you get to work the place for you? Huh?”
The old man stuffed another cookie into his mouth and sipped his coffee.
“We’ll see about that. We’ll see how much the cows bring in when we send ‘em off to market. You said that expensive new grass would put the weight on ‘em. I been watchin and I don’t see none of ‘em fattenin up any.”
“The herd looks fine, John.”
“What do you know about it, woman? All you know about is buttons and beans. Ranchin is man’s business. If we make more off the cows this year than last, then I’ll keep your stupid secret. If not … well you’d better be thinkin about some place else to stay. I ain’t runnin a boardin house for smashed up fairies!” He clunked his empty cup down on the table and wheeled himself out of the room.
“I just don’t know why he has to be so vile.” Mrs. Twist gave a disgusted sigh.
“It’s all right, Momma. I’m used to it. Don’t go gettin yourself all upset.”
“I’m already upset. I’m upset seein a young man pinin away thinkin you’re in that grave he’s drivin all this way to shed his tears over. It ain’t right son! Can’t you see that?”
“Don’t you ‘momma’ me, Jackie. You know in your heart this ain’t right!”
“And what those men did to me – do you think that was right?”
“NO! It was wrong! It was … criminal! But you breakin an innocent man’s heart ain’t right neither!” She got up and went to stand by the sink.
“Momma, please come back and sit down. There’s somethin I need to explain to you. Somethin that happened that I never told you about.”
“I know what happened. I had a long talk with your doctor. He told me everythin.” She couldn’t help the tear that slid down her cheek. She barely noticed it. There had been so many shed the past several months.
“He told you?”
“You never said nothin.” Jack had to turn away from his mother’s sad face. “I didn’t think you knew.”
“I know they did a lot more than use the tire iron on you. Honey, why won’t you go talk to a counselor about it? You got all that money Mr. Newsome give you to keep quiet about what happened. Why don’t you put it to good use? Them counselors, they can make you feel better.”
“NO! I don’t need no counselor. I just want to be left alone.” Jack got up and left the room, heading upstairs to his bedroom.
Mrs. Twist rinsed the cups out deep in thought. Everything was wrong. Nothing was going the way it should. She’d have to figure out a way to work it out. Right now she was at the lowest point in her life. She was fifty eight years old and spent the last forty years in a miserable marriage. Her husband was never going to get up out of that wheel chair and they both knew it. He was approaching 75 years of age now and the doctor had told her in confidence that he probably didn’t have more than a year or two left. It was time she took matters into her own hands.
She debated with herself all week long trying out several different ideas and finally decided on the direct approach. She made it to the graveyard early the next Saturday morning and sat in the truck and waited. It was a nice sunny day for November. She was grateful for that. The deep cold winter would soon be settling in and she wanted this matter settled before then. She had had enough of this male foolishness.
She watched as he pulled up in his pickup and got out. He walked slowly to his destination. He bent down and brushed away the leaves and debris that had covered the marker. He didn’t hear the soft footsteps behind him.
“Ennis?” The small voice startled him and he jumped up at the sound of his name.
“Ma’am?” He recognized her immediately.
“Would you care for a cup of coffee? I brought a thermos.”
“A … no thanks. You drink it. It’ll warm you up. It’s cold today.”
“There’s plenty enough for both of us to have a cup. Please, come out to the truck with me. I have something I need to discuss with you.” She saw his hesitation then added, “It’s important.” She turned to walk back to the truck and was pleased to see that he followed.
She got in the truck and reached over and unlocked the passenger door and Ennis climbed in.
“Is black Okay? I didn’t think to bring any fixins.”
“Black is fine.” He took the cup she handed him and held it steady as she poured.
She poured herself a cup and took a sip. “I’ve seen you here most every Saturday morning.”
“I like to get here early. Morning’s are good.”
“Ennis, how much do you know about what happened to Jackie?”
“Just what Lureen told me. That he was changin a tire and it blew up in his face.”
She waited a few minutes before speaking and he looked up at her to see if she was Okay. He expected to see a tear stained face but her eyes were dry and she was staring at him intently.
“What is it?” He asked.
“Jackie talked about you so often, Ennis. Every single time he come up to see us he was filled with stories about the places the two of you camped. You made him very happy.”
Ennis tore his eyes from hers and looked down into the murky brown coffee.
“We fought last time I seen him. Said some bad stuff. I won’t never forgive myself for that.”
“Oh honey,” she reached over and gave his arm a squeeze. “Everyone has words now and then. It don’t mean nothin.”
“I caused him a lot of grief.”
“Maybe; but from what he’s told me about you, you brought him the only real happiness that he ever had. And in my book, that makes you the best thing that ever happened to him.”
Ennis thought about that for a minute then said, “Thank you for that. It means a lot.”
“He told me you were a good man. Are you a good man, Ennis?”
“Huh?” He thought that was a strange question. “I s’pose I’m as good as the next fella.”
“I think you’re better than that. Jackie thought so too.”
“I don’t know nothin about that.”
“The reason I asked is I need to know somethin. How good are you at forgivin?”
“Huh?” Ennis thought about it. “Depends on what I’d have to forgive, I guess, and who I’d be forgivin.”
“What if it was someone you cared about very much? Like maybe one of your girls. Could you forgive them if they did somethin really … wrong – could you forgive them?”
“You know somethin about my girls?” Ennis was totally lost in this conversation.
“No, Ennis, no. I’m talkin about someone else. If someone else did somethin real bad, and told you a lie about what happened; could you forgive them?”
Ennis stared at her. “I’m confused here, Ma’am. Could you please tell me what you’re gettin at?”
“Okay. I’ve gone this far I may as well go all the way.” She finished her coffee and placed the cup in the cup holder. “Ennis, Jack did not die by a tire blowin up in his face.”
“How did he die then?” When she didn’t answer immediately he added, “Was it the tire irons? Somebody get to him and beat him to death?”
“He’s not dead.” She said it so quietly he wasn’t sure he heard her.
“Mrs. Twist. I know this is hard on you and you’ll keep him alive in your heart just like I will but …”
“NO! Stop it! Ennis, I’m tellin you the truth. Jackie made me swear that I wouldn’t tell no one but it’s just his stupid male pride! I can’t stand this lyin no more. It ain’t fair seein you sufferin so.”
“What are you talkin about? Say it plain now so’s I can understand.”
“Jackie did not die! Yes, someone got to him and beat him half to death but he didn’t die.”
“What the … what about that grave over there with his name on it?”
“Those ashes were out a someone’s wood stove I expect.”
“You must be mistaken, Ma’am. I talked to Jack’s wife. She told me how he died.”
“She told you what she thought was the truth – the story that her daddy told her. She thinks he’s dead too. Everyone does.”
“And he ain’t dead? You seen ‘em? Talked to ‘em?” Ennis was about to jump out of his seat he was fidgeting so badly.
“He’s out at the ranch right now. He’s been there since he got out of the hospital in Casper.”
“What would he be doin in Casper if he got hurt in Texas?”
“It was done by Lureen’s father. He hired some thugs to beat Jackie up. But they did such a job of it, they thought he was gonna die and they got scared. He made up that story and told Lureen he had died and in the mean time, they flew him up to Casper. They expected he’d die there. They wanted him clean out a Texas when it happened.”
“Ma’am, this don’t make no sense. Jack would a called or somethin. He wouldn’t a wanted you to think he was dead if he wasn’t.”
“They didn’t expect him to live. No one did. Not the doctors that saw to him down in Texas and not the doctors that saw him in Casper but he held on. He come to up in the hospital and Mr. Newsome was there. They had a long talk. Mr. Newsome was real scared that Jack saw him and the two of ‘em set up this whole lie.”
“Why would Jack do somethin like that?”
“Apparently, he wanted out of his marriage to Lureen. I know he told me he asked her for a divorce and she threw a fit and threatened to kill herself if he left her. They had a terrible row about it. He wanted out badly but he was scared for her.”
“It still don’t make no sense.”
“Jackie wanted out of the marriage and Mr. Newsome wanted Jackie gone. He offered Jackie a large sum of money plus he agreed to pay all a Jackie’s medical bills for the rest of his life if he would agree to be quiet about what happened.”
Ennis was trying to digest it all. “You mean he’s alive? Really?”
“YES! He’s been recuperating out at the ranch and he’s in pretty fair shape but there are some problems.”
“Problems? I don’t care about no problems. I got a go see ‘em.” He reached for the door handle but she stopped him.
“Wait! I want you to know it all so you will understand why Jackie didn’t want you to know he was still alive.”
“I’ll ask him that myself after I finish kickin his ass!” He got the door opened this time before she grabbed him.
“Wait! Please, Ennis, let me explain. There are things you don’t know and it’s important. Please hear me out.” She pulled on his arm and he closed the door.
“Ma’am, there can’t be no excuse for what he done. Is that what all that talk about forgivin was about? He had you to ask me if I’d forgive him?”
“Oh, no, no. Nothin like that. He swore me to secrecy. He’s going to be furious when he finds out I told you.”
“Why? Why doesn’t he want me to know he ain’t dead?”
“Things … bad things happened to him, Ennis. He’s different now.”
“So he’s got a few scars or somethin? That don’t matter none. That ain’t no reason to make me think he was in the ground!”
“Ennis, I’m gonna need you to be strong now. You got a promise me you won’t go flyin off the handle here and run down to Texas and take matters into your own hands. It’s all over with now except for the lyin and I aim to put an end to that right now.”
“Just say whatever it is you need sayin, Ma’am. I need to get out to the ranch and see him.”
“The doctor from Casper called me after he had examined Jackie. They didn’t expect him to live. I insisted that he give me all the details about Jackie’s condition and he did. It’s not a pretty story, Ennis.”
“Carin for someone who’s been beaten half to death isn’t exactly a pretty story.”
“He was more than beaten, Ennis.”
“What? What more … you ain’t sayin …”
The tears slid freely down her cheeks as she shook her head yes. “They … used him.”
“Used him? You mean … you tellin me … they raped him?”
She could no longer hold back the tears and covered her face with her hands.
“The fuckin bastards! I’ll kill ‘em!” Ennis made a move for the door and she grabbed him again.
“Ennis, don’t! This is exactly what I was afraid of. Mr. Newsome told Jackie that he would see to it that those men paid for what they done. We got a let him handle it.”
“The hell I will! He probably give ‘em a bonus! I got a see Jack first. See if he knows who they were and then I’ll take care a business.”
“NO YOU WILL NOT!” She raised her voice for the first time and caught his attention.
“If you love Jackie, and I know that you do, you’ll forget those thugs and worry about helpin Jackie recover from this.”
“Help him? How can I help him? I ain’t no doctor.”
“It’s been six months now. Jackie has been home for the last four. He’s doing pretty good but the heart is gone out a him. He just ain’t my Jackie no more.”
“He that different?”
“Oh it’s more than just his physical appearance, Ennis, and that’s bad enough. The doctor said they might could do some a that plastic surgery on his face and kind a fix him up again but he said not to expect miracles. There was so much damage done …”
“How bad is it?”
“His beautiful face is criss-crossed with scars, his nose was broken and kind a leans over to one side. His jaw was broken and his whole face is … kind a crooked now.”
“Jesus!” Ennis swore.
“He doesn’t want you to see him lookin like he does and he’d be even more furious with me if he knew that I told you … about the other thing. You can’t let on that I told you the whole story.”
“Ma’am, I think there’s been enough lyin around here; don’t you?”
She stared at him for a moment then a small smile softened her face. “I knew I was right about you. Yes. Of course you’re right. No more lies. You know the entire story now. Jackie was beaten and … and raped and he has both physical and mental scars he’s tryin to deal with.”
“He’s all right though? I mean, physically, he’s healed up and all?”
“Pretty much. He has these awful dizzy spells. The doctor said they would go away in time. He’s just …”
“He’s just miserable. He wants to see you so bad but he’s afraid.”
“Afraid? A me?”
“Afraid you’ll be disgusted by his appearance; afraid you’d hate him for … what happened. He said that you warned him over and over that he needed to be careful. I think he blames himself for what happened?”
“What? That’s nonsense.”
“That’s exactly what I told him but he won’t listen. I tell you, Ennis, I got me two of the most stubborn men in the whole state of Wyomin livin under the same roof with me.”
“How’s his pa treatin him? He told me they didn’t get along.”
“That’s puttin it mildly. John despised the boy from the minute he was born. It was a very difficult pregnancy and when he was born it messed me up pretty bad and I could never have no more babies. John blamed him for that. He had always wanted a big family.
“That wasn’t Jack’s fault!”
“I know that! But try tellin his father that and you may as well be talkin to a tree!”
“I need to go see Jack. It all right with you if I go now? Is there anythin else I need to know?”
“You know it all now, Ennis, and I hope I did the right thing in tellin you. I just got so fed up with the lies.”
“You did the right thing.” He reached over and squeezed her shoulder. “I’m beholdin to you, Ma’am.”
“Oh not at all! Just please come with me now and let’s get this entire mess cleared up.”
“Why don’t you let me drive you out there, Ma’am. You’re pretty upset. We could come back later and get your truck.”
“Oh that would be wonderful. We could talk some on the way. Let’s go in this truck. That way Jackie won’t see you comin until it’s too late for him to do anythin about it.”
Ennis got out of the truck, walked around to the driver’s side and Mrs. Twist scooted over.
“He’ll be waitin in the kitchen for me like every Saturday. First thing he’ll ask is did I see you.”
“He knows I been comin to his grave? I swear, I’m gonna kick his ass!”
“No, now Ennis, you can’t go doin nothin like that. He’s suffered enough. You got a promise me you won’t hurt him!” She pleaded with him.
“Oh, Ma’am. I swear to you, I ain’t really gonna hurt him none. Maybe a year from now when he’s all better.”
“When he’s all better you can get in line right behind me! I’ll be the first one to do some kickin!” She smiled at him. She had made the right decision. She knew that now for sure.
“So he plans on just hidin out at your place for the rest of his life?” Ennis asked as they were on the road and heading towards the ranch.
“That’s what he’s sayin. With his pa in a wheel chair now, Jackie’s workin the place by himself.”
“He well enough to do that?”
“I don’t know. He says he is but these dizzy spells hit him and he has to go lay down. Course his father thinks he’s just bein lazy but I told him with head injuries like Jackie got, it could take months and months to get back to normal.”
“What head injuries? You talkin about his face?”
“No. First blow hit him across the back of the head. Fractured his skull. Made him senseless for a bit.”
“He knows … about the rest a what happened to him?”
“He does. And he’s goin to be boilin mad at me when he finds out I told you.”
“Let him be! Serves him right. Did he really think he could pull somethin like this off – pretendin to be dead – and no one would find out? He ain’t thinkin right.”
“I know! And that worries me too. I know my Jackie … he would never do anything like this pretendin to be dead. It’s ridiculous.”
“That it is. But we’re gonna get this straightened out right now.” Ennis drove a bit in silence before sayin more to himself than to her, “I can’t believe he’s still alive! I can’t understand why he wants me to think he’s dead.”
“I think it’s because a the way he looks. I think that’s worst of all for him. He was always so proud of his good looks. Even as a child, he always wanted to make sure that his hair was fixed just right and that his clothes were clean. He wasn’t but four or five when he’d sit there with a rag and an old can a Shinola shoe polish and work on his little boots until they just gleamed.”
“He’s a real looker all right.” Ennis agreed. “Did the doctors seem to think they could fix his face?”
‘They said they could make it look lots better but that it would never be the same as it was.”
“Well, we’ll see to it he gets whatever help they can give him.”
“I’m so glad I told you, Ennis.”
“Me too. Now when we get there, is there someplace that you and Mr. Twist can go? A walk or somethin cause there’s gonna be a lot a shoutin goin on. I may not can kick his ass right now but I sure as hell gonna give him a piece a my mind.”
“I don’t think that’ll be possible. Mr. Twist in a wheel chair and all and not doin too well himself health-wise right now. I can’t be takin him out in the cold. Tell you what – why don’t you pull over there next to them trees up ahead. The place is just beyond that next curve. Maybe I should drive the rest of the way so he won’t see you.”
“Ain’t that a little bit about lyin some more?” Ennis asked but pulled over where she asked.
“No. This is about keepin Jackie from seein you comin and takin off.”
Ennis got out of the truck and traded places with her.
“Duck down now so’s he don’t see you. I tell you what – when we get there, I’ll pull up close to the barn. You wait for me to get inside and give me a few minutes. He’ll be busy questionin me and won’t be lookin outside then. You jump out and get yourself into the barn. I’ll send him out there to fetch somethin for me. When he gets into the barn, you latch the door and don’t let him out until the two a you settle things.”
When they were in sight of the ranch, Ennis leaned down so that he couldn’t be seen through the window. Mrs. Twist pulled the truck up next to the barn and went inside where Jack was waiting for her.
“Did you see ‘em?”
“Uh huh. He was there.” She said as she took off her coat and hung it up.
“What did he look like? I mean … was he Okay?”
“He looked the same as you look – maybe worse thinkin his best friend in the whole world was in the ground.”
“Momma, please don’t start. You know it’s got a be this way.”
“I’m tired a arguin with you about it, Jackie. I got work to do. Oh I forgot; darn it.”
“I was gonna get that strop out a the barn. Your pa needs it to sharpen his razor. Would you mind fetchin it for me, Son? I’m tired. I think I’ll take me a little nap.”
“I started the coffee. You want some before you lay down?”
“No thanks, honey. But thank you for makin it. I’ll get some for your pa. You’ll get that strop for me?”
“Sure enough. I’ll get it right now.” He grabbed his jacket and hat off the hooks by the door and headed out for the barn.
He was fumbling around the workbench looking for it when he heard the door close and the latch drop into place. It was dim but still enough daylight came in to see things clearly. He turned to see Ennis standing there with his back to the door.
“What the … Ennis!” He had a wild moment of panic and didn’t know whether to run or what. They stood there starin at each other for several moments then Ennis walked slowly up to him.
“Hey Jack. How you doin?”
“Ah … what are you doin here? How’d you get in here?” Jack asked and turned his head away so that Ennis couldn’t see him fully.
“I talked to your momma. We decided it was best to get all the lies out in the open.”
“Lies?” Jack asked trying to pretend he didn’t know what was going on.
“Yep. I told her as soon as you get all better I’m gonna kick your ass.”
Jack gave a nervous chuckle. “I’m surprised she didn’t shoot you. She’s always tryin to protect me.”
“Well she won’t need to be doin that no more. I’m here now. I’ll take over that job.”
Jack turned and looked at him. He hadn’t noticed that Ennis had moved closer – within a few feet. Close enough to reach out and touch.
“I should a been there for you, Bud, and I wasn’t.” Ennis choked out.
“There’s no way you could a been in Childress.”
“I been thinkin a lot these last six months – regrettin lots of things. The one thing that I regretted most of all was that I never did give us a chance to try this livin together thing.”
He was quiet for a moment than added, “Do you know the guys that done it?”
“Yeah, I knew ‘em. They worked for L.D.”
“That’s what your momma said. She said that he was gonna see to it that they paid for what they done.”
“That’s what L.D. said.”
“He ever lie to you before?”
“Hell, I don’t know. He could a. He’s been promisin me a bunch a money if I’d just get out a Lureen’s life and not come back and he kept that promise. I got me a bank account in Casper now with more money in it than I ever dreamed of.”
“So what are you doin here?” Jack asked and tried to act casual but he was feeling anything but casual about the entire situation and kept his head half turned away.
“So how come you didn’t want me to know what happened? Why’d you let me go on thinkin you was in that grave?” Ennis lit a cigarette and handed it to Jack then lit another one for himself.
Jack fussed with his hat and tried to pull it down lower than it already was. He said nothing.
“Ain’t you gonna talk to me?”
“Well … I’m glad you ain’t dead.”
“I’m not! I wish they’d finished the job.”
“Things that bad for you?”
“Look at me, Ennis.” He whirled around then to face Ennis for the first time. He took his hat off and stood there.
Ennis winced at the sight of that beloved face so battered and abused.
“Ain’t I pretty? Wouldn’t you just love to curl up with a monster like me?” Jack turned his back on him and added, “You best be gettin yourself back to Riverton now. It’s gettin late.” He shoved the hat back on his head and pulled it down low.
“You ain’t no monster, Jack.”
“Yes I am! And it ain’t gonna get any better than this.”
“Your momma said somethin about plastic surgery.”
“Yeah that’s what the doctor said. He also said it might not work.”
“Then we’ll find another doctor. We’ll fix you up as best we can and get used to the new face.”
“No we won’t. Momma will ‘cause she’s my momma and it won’t matter none to her. Pa could care less and won’t be around that much longer anyway. But you … you … you’re still young enough to get out there and find you someone. Someone you’d be proud to have by your side.”
“And this … this someone – will he love me as much as you do?”
“Ennis … please just go.”
“I was kind a thinkin I might stay around a bit. Maybe help out with the work around here.”
“No need. I can take care a the place.”
“Just like your daddy done? In a few years you’d be a worn out old bastard just like him. Is that what you want?”
“I want you to leave here – and never come back.”
“You wanna hear what I want? I wanna grab hold a you and kiss every inch a you – even that twisted up face you’re wearin.”
“Work out at Cole’s place is slow. He usually lays off durin the winter ‘cause there ain’t that much to do but he didn’t this year. Kept every one on ‘cause they all married and got kids now. He don’t need me. He just keeps me around ‘cause I take all the shit jobs that no one else wants and I don’t complain.” He walked around in front to face Jack but he turned sideways again, keeping as much of his face out of sight as possible.
“What’s you turnin away for? I already seen it.” Ennis stepped around in front of him again.
“Yeah, I know you did and it made you sick to your stomach; didn’t it! I saw your face! You can’t stand to look at me neither!”
“Yes it pained me to see your face busted up like that but it didn’t make me sick to my stomach.” He took a step closer and Jack moved back keeping a distance between them.
“I’m just so God damned glad that you’re alive I don’t care about nothin else.”
“I know. I hear ya. But maybe those doctors can help a little bit at least. I know they can fix noses. My dad got his busted a couple a times and they fixed it good as new.”
“I got more wrong with me than a busted nose, Ennis.”
“I know. But maybe we can get you worked on a little at a time. We can get fixed what they can fix and just get used to the rest. You still got those sky-blue eyes and I don’t see nothin wrong with your mouth. I’d really like to kiss you.”
“No! No, Ennis. You got a go. You can’t stay around here.”
“Why not? One man can’t run a place this big by himself. It’d be foolish to try. All you’re gonna do is wear yourself out before your time and end up mean and crotchety like your old man. Your momma deserves better than that; don’t she?”
“Momma? I can take care a momma.”
“Yeah, you can take care a the ranch, the crippled up old man, your momma and yourself. You can do it all, Mr. Superman! But what is it you want? Huh? I thought what you wanted was me? Or was that a lie all those years?”
“I don’t want your pity, Ennis. I can’t stand that.”
“Pity? You think I pity you?”
“Hell no! What happened to you was real bad, sure enough, but you’re still walkin and talkin and breathin. You can still get around and do stuff. The only pity I see around here is your own self-pity.”
Jack stood rigid and refused to look at him.
“Jack, when I thought you was dead … it was bad. I couldn’t hardly stand it. The pain in my gut was so bad, I thought I was dying and I was glad of it. Thought maybe we’d get to be together again somewhere. Your momma felt so bad for me when I come up to see them, she give me them shirts a ours you been keepin. Can’t tell you how many nights I went to sleep holdin them shirts and wishin it was you I was holdin – regrettin all them times I turned your down when you asked me to go away with you.”
“She told me she gave you the shirts.” Jack said in a tired little voice barely loud enough to hear.
“Could I maybe … just touch your hand? So’s I could be sure it’s really you and not a ghost or just another dream?”
Jack darted a quick look at him then and saw the little hint of a smile in the amber eyes. He slowly reached out his hand and Ennis clasped it in both of his.
“You feel real enough to me.”
“But I look worse than any ghost you might imagine.” Jack started to pull his hand back but Ennis held on.
“Don’t take it back yet.” Ennis raised the hand to his lips and placed a kiss on the knuckles. “I’m so glad you ain’t dead, Jack. You think maybe you might could give me a second chance here? To make things right between us, I mean.”
“Ennis, it’s too late for all that now.”
“Why? Why can’t we still have that sweet life you always talked about? I could pull my trailer up here and people would just think I was some drifter you hired on to help out. Can’t see as anyone would think nothin about that.”
“Everyone thinks I’m dead.”
“Let ‘em think whatever they want. You and me know the truth. That’s all that matters.”
“Maybe … after I have the surgery. Maybe it won’t look so bad.”
“Jack … anythin wrong with your arms?”
“Huh? My arms?”
“Yeah. Couldn’t you still hold me in your arms while we slept?”
“That ain’t fair, Cowboy.” Jack’s voice lost a little of the bitterness.
“What’s fair, Jack? Huh? You tell me. Is it fair that you and me have to live hundreds a miles apart when all we really want is to be together? Is that fair?” Ennis took a step closer and this time Jack didn’t pull away.
“Is it fair that the two of us spend the rest of our lives alone and miserable? Is that fair?”
“Why now, Ennis? Now – when I can’t even stand to have you look at me?”
“It was bad enough before – when we only got to see each other a couple times a year – and it was killin us both. I thought … I really believed that keepin apart would keep anythin like this from happenin. I wanted to protect you … me … both a us. Thought I was doin what was right. Then all the sudden you was dead. I ain’t never felt such pain before and I hope I never do again. It’s like …” He hesitated trying to find the right words. “It’s like I was a dead man too and still havin to … to walk around and do my job and everythin inside a me was cold and dead right down in that grave with you.”
Jack let his eyes meet Ennis’ and they held for several seconds as he forgot his miseries for a bit and thought about what Ennis must have gone through.
“After your momma told me you was still alive – I couldn’t believe it. I pinched myself all the way here hopin I wasn’t dreamin.”
“Ennis …” Jack let his other hand join Ennis’ and they stood like that for several minutes just staring into one another’s eyes.
“It’s like we been given a second chance here, Bud; a second chance to get it right. My way didn’t work out for us. Let’s try your way this time. Let’s try this livin together thing and see if we can make it work.”
“I been waitin twenty years to hear those words. You really mean it?”
“I do! All I need to know is how soon can I move my stuff up here?”
“Ennis, as much as I want this, I don’t want you doin it just ‘cause you feel sorry for me.”
“For Christ’ sake, Jack! I’m doin it ‘cause I wanna be with you. It’s what I always wanted but I was afraid. But the worst has happened and we lived through it – both a us. I think what time we got left we need to spend lookin out for each other.”
“I don’t need tendin to. I ain’t no kid.”
“And I’m glad you ain’t! I ain’t no cradle robber. I know how old you are, two months younger than me. Now all you got a decide is if you still want me or not ‘cause I think we’ve wasted enough time here.”
Jack dislodged his hands from Ennis and walked a few paces away. “Ennis, you got a know somethin right now. It might be I’ll look like this forever. S’posin those doctors can’t fix me? Then what?”
“Then the hell with ‘em. Won’t make no difference to me. I guess if you can put up with seein my ugly mug every day, I can sure do the same!”
“Ennis, you look great – there ain’t nothin wrong with your face!”
“Oh yeah? Well there’s somethin you don’t know maybe I should tell you.”
“What’d that be?”
“You promise you won’t say nothin about it if I tell you?”
“Promise.” Jack waited patiently with hands on hips.
“I need … glasses. I can’t see for shit without ‘em.”
“What’s wrong with that? Lots a people wear glasses.”
“Not me! Not unless I have to. And I have to if I wanna read anythin.”
“Glasses ain’t nothin!”
“And what if I go bald? It’s already gettin thin on top. I seen pictures a my grandpa. He was completely bald ‘cept for a little ring a white hair around the edges. Just look at all that thick hair you got. If mine goes … well then … maybe I can find a wig or somethin not too expensive.”
Jack chuckled then. “A wig! You? Not in a million years!”
“You’d still … want me? If I was bald, I mean?”
“I didn’t fall in love with your hair, Cowboy.” Jack grinned.
“And I didn’t fall in love with your face, Bud.”
Jack got the point. He said nothin but just stood there staring at Ennis.
“You really wanna look at this ugly face every day?”
“Only thing I’d want more is to get my hands on the men who hurt you. Your momma convinced me that I need to let that go that it’s already been taken care of. I told her that I would but it’s awful hard standin here listenin to you talk when all I really want to do is take off for Texas and find ‘em and castrate ‘em.”
“L.D. said he’d see to it they was punished.”
“You believed him?”
“He seemed really shocked by what they done. He said he paid ‘em each a hundred bucks to rough me up a little. That was all they were supposed to do he said – not try and kill me and certainly not ….” Jack turned away again. He couldn’t bear to put words to what they had done to him.
“Well, whatever. I guess it’s out of our hands now. We best stop talkin about it before the need to head for Texas gets greater than the need to be with you.”
“It don’t matter none either way. I think it’d be best if you leave now.”
“You don’t want me no more?” Ennis asked after a long silence.
“Not right now. Maybe later – if they can do anythin with my face.”
“But that’s months away. You need help now.”
“I been runnin this place for months by myself.”
“Yeah and you look like you’re ready to drop. You must a lost twenty pounds. You’re skin and bones.”
“I can take care a myself.”
“Uh huh -- yourself and your pa and your momma and this ranch – you can do it all. You don’t need me for nothin.” Ennis dug the toe of his boot into the dirt beneath his feet.
“You go on now. In a few months, after my surgery, if everythin goes all right; I’ll call you.”
“And if it don’t? What then? That’ll be spring and plantin time. Who’s gonna see to that while you’re laid up? And what if you have this surgery and it don’t work? You just gonna shut me out a your life ‘cause a your movie-star face ain’t exactly perfect no more?”
“Ennis …” That was all he got out before they heard a loud knock on the barn door.
Ennis walked over and undid the latch and saw Mrs. Twist standing there.
“I fixed some lunch. Thought the two of you might be hungry.” She looked from one to the other searching their faces for some sign.
“Ennis is leavin, Momma. I’ll come in and have a bite though.” Jack walked past Ennis and out the door.
“Please stay and have a bite first; I made plenty.” Mrs. Twist asked as Ennis came out the door as well.
“I am kinda hungry. If you’re sure it won’t be no trouble?”
“Absolutely! Come on in. I already set a place for you at the table.
Mrs. Twist served up all the plates and they sat at the table in silence with nothing more than a ‘thank you’ when something was passed to them. Finally Ennis spoke up.
“I was thinkin of pullin my trailer up here and helpin Jack work the place. Would either of you have any objections to that?”
Jack put his fork down and stared at him.
Mrs. Twist said, “Oh, Ennis! That would be wonderful!”
Mr. Twist said, “There won’t be no pay. Not until the calves are sold off and there won’t be much then neither.”
“I won’t need no pay, Mr. Twist – maybe just a few groceries now and then. That’ll be all I’ll need.”
“How big is this trailer a yours?” Mrs. Twist asked.
“Not big. Forty foot. I’ll just need a flat place to set it and somewhere close enough to hook up to the sewer line and electricity.”
“You sayin you’ll work for free? How do I know you’re any good?” Mr. Twist asked.
“Yes, Sir. If you can just spare me some groceries; that’s all I’ll need and if you don’t like my work you can tell me so and I’ll leave.”
“We most certainly will too pay you!” Mrs. Twist said.
“Hush woman. This is ranch business.” Mr. Twist snapped.
“What about your child support?” Jack asked but didn’t look at Ennis.
“I only got two more payments and I got that much in the bank. I’ll pay that off before I come up here. I got two horses too that are real good ranch workers.”
“How long since a vet seen ‘em? I don’t want you bringin some diseased horses in here to infect my stock.”
“Not long, ‘bout six months ago. I take ‘em in once a year for a check up.”
“Well, there’s room enough in the barn for ‘em if you clean out and repair those two stalls in the back.”
“And if I don’t want him here?” Jack faced his father with a glare.
“What happened? Two of you have a fight or somethin? Well, get over it. If he’s willin to work for us for groceries then I say he’s hired. You’re weak as a piss ant and always have been. We need someone with a little muscle on him.”
Jack stood up, threw his napkin on his plate and left the room.
The three of them sat in silence as they heard Jack stomping up the stairs.
“He just don’t like nobody seein his face.” Mrs. Twist apologized to Ennis.
“His face don’t matter none to me. You think me bein here will make things better or worse for him?”
“Oh he’ll probably try to avoid you for a spell but once he sees you’re here to stay – he’ll come around. I’m sure of it.” Mrs. Twist said with a sweet smile.
“When can you start?” Mr. Twist asked.
“I can pull my trailer up here in the mornin and get busy settin the barn to right. Then I’ll need to go back and get my horses.”
“Well get after it then. Best to get settled in ‘fore we get any more snow. Next thing you know, it’ll be knee deep.”
“Yes, Sir.” Ennis wiped his mouth on his napkin and stood up. “That was delicious, Ma’am.” Then to both of them he said, “If it’s all right with the both a you, I’d like to go upstairs and say a word or two to Jack.”
“I think that’s a splendid idea.” Mrs. Twist said.
“Go ahead. Just don’t be surprised when he don’t make no sense. He hasn’t made a bit of sense since he got his head bashed in.”
“First door on the right at the top of the stairs.” Mrs. Twist pointed the way.
Ennis took the steps two at a time. He stood outside the door for a minute then knocked gently. There was no answer. He knocked again a little harder.
“Go away!” Jack called through the door.
Ennis twisted the knob and pushed the door open. Jack sat there on the side of the little bed with his head turned towards the window.
“I’m goin now but I’ll be back with my trailer in the mornin.”
“I got no say in this?”
“I guess not – not right now. I’m gonna stay at least for the winter. If you still want me out a here come spring then I’ll go but I’d like to stay on. I’d like to work a place like this – one that needs bringin back to life. I think the two a us could whip this place into shape in a couple a years.”
Jack kept his face towards the window and said nothing.
“I’ll keep out a your way and leave you alone, I promise you that. I just wanna help out for now. You and your folks need some help and it looks like I’m it. Once you get back on your feet, you can tell me to go or stay. The decision is yours.”
Jack refused to speak and went rigid as Ennis entered the room, walked over to him, reached out and put his hand on Jack’s mop of unruly hair. He let it rest there for a moment then turned and left.
Ennis parked the trailer in the driveway and got out. Mrs. Twist greeted him but Jack was no where to be seen.
“He still bent out a shape with me comin here?” Ennis asked.
“I’m afraid so.” Mrs. Twist apologized. He went straight back to his room after breakfast and I haven’t seen him since.”
Ennis looked up towards the little window on the right and squinted in the nearly-noon sun. Ennis raised his hand in a slow wave but saw nothing in return.
“He’s probably lying down.” Mrs. Twist said.
“Nah. He saw me. He knows I’m here. He just didn’t believe I’d really come.”
“I was thinkin that over that way, back behind the barn would be the best place for your trailer. There’s water there and the septic ain’t but a hop, skip, and a jump past it over that way, towards the west side.”
Ennis walked with her and took a look at the site. “It’s perfect. And bein on the south side a the barn will keep the north wind off a me.”
“You got a heater in this trailer? If not, you’re welcome to stay in the house.”
“I got me a heater all right. Got it fixed up real good last winter so’s it works just fine now. I think its best I keep away from the house as much as possible.”
“He’ll turn around, Ennis; I know he will. He’s just got to!”
“We’ll turn ‘em around all right. Tween the two a us, he ain’t got a chance.” Ennis grinned at her and walked back to his truck as Mrs. Twist went back to the house.
Ennis maneuvered his trailer into place, made the hookups and set to putting the stalls in the barn in shape. He mucked the two stalls out, repaired the gates on each, replaced the straw in both and repaired the water troughs and filled them. He saw not a sight of Jack all afternoon.
He left the next morning to get his horses, got them back late afternoon and settled himself in. He rode out next day at first light and took a long look at the ranch. He saw Jack in the south pasture digging some new post holes for some cross fencing and rode over to help. Not a word was said between them. They worked quietly together when Jack all the sudden stopped, got a weird look on his face and went to his truck and lay down across the seat.
“You all right?” Ennis asked after following him.
“Eh.” Jack grunted but said nothing more.
Ennis watched him for a bit then returned to the fence repair. He completed the line of six new holes that had been marked off. Stood the posts in the holes and braced each of them in place. He poured the redi-mix concrete bags into the wheelbarrow, added the water and stirred until he got the mixture he wanted. He was filling in the last hole when Jack returned.
Jack tossed the empty wheelbarrow into the back of his pickup, along with the rest of the tools and drove off back to the house. Ennis watched him go with an aching heart but knew better than to try and stop him. He would have to work at this slowly but it was killing him. He wanted desperately to hold Jack in his arms but he knew there was no hope of that for a long time yet.
The winter came on with a lot of snow and wind. Ennis saw to it that the animals were fed and cared for and he gratefully accepted the bags of groceries that Mrs. Twist brought him each grocery-shopping day. They spoke little of Jack – both of them willing to let time do the healing. Mrs. Twist relayed any instructions that the old man had for him and he comforted himself with the thought that he was helping Jack; whether he wanted it or not. In his loneliest moments, sitting in his little trailer, he’d hold the shirts and remember their times together camping out in the woods.
It was a cold December morning when someone knocked at his door. It shocked him. It had been snowing hard and he hadn’t expected anyone to be out in it. He opened the door to find Jack standing there. He pulled the door back and stepped aside for Jack to come inside.
“It’s warm in here.” Jack said but didn’t make eye contact.
“Uh huh. Heater works good.” Ennis nodded.
“I need a favor.” Jack asked, still not looking at him.
“All you got a do is ask.”
“I got a doctor’s appointment this afternoon in Casper. Momma usually drives me. The doctor says I ain’t supposed to drive till the dizzy spells are gone. She’s got a cold and I hate for her to come out in this.” He motioned to the snow outside.
“She need to see a doctor? I can take her into town and take you on to Casper. I can see to you both.” Ennis offered as he stubbed his cigarette out.
“Nah, she ain’t that bad. It’s just kind a comin on – coughin and sneezing and stuff. She don’t need to be out in this stuff and she refuses to let me drive. She’s throwin a fit about it.”
“She’s right. I seen ya, Jack, when these spells come on ya all the sudden like. You can’t be drivin out on no highway like that.”
“Would you drive me? That’d get her off a my ass and settle her down some.” Jack darted a quick look at Ennis then and looked quickly back at the floor.
“Sure enough! When you want a leave?”
“Soon as you’re ready. Don’t know what the roads are gonna be like.”
“Good idea.” Ennis grabbed his jacket and hat.
They spoke little on the way. Jack gave driving instructions and said little else. They made it to Casper in plenty of time so Ennis suggested they stop at a burger place for lunch. Jack agreed if Ennis would go through the drive through. He made it perfectly clear that he had no desire to go inside anywhere.
They sat in the medical center parking lot and ate their burgers as the snow covered the windshield.
“It’s ten to. You wanna go in now?” Ennis asked after checking his watch.
“No, not yet. I don’t like to sit around and wait. I usually wait out here until it’s time.”
“Ok. We can do that.” Ennis sat quietly and fidgeted for the next ten minutes.
Jack glanced now and then at his watch and opened the door and got out when the time came. Ennis followed close behind.
“You can wait in the truck if you want.” Jack mumbled as they walked through the front door. “This place ain’t like no regular doctor’s office.”
“Nah. Too cold out there. Sides, you might have one a your spells. It’s best I stay with you.” Ennis said and followed him into the doctor’s office waiting room.
Jack signed in and took a seat as far away from everyone else as he could. Ennis took the seat next to him and looked around. Two other patients were sitting there waiting. One was a little girl with her arm all bandaged from wrist to elbow. She sat quietly beside her Mother. The other was a man, middle aged and had obviously been in an accident of some kind. He had a long scar across his cheek.
Jack picked up a magazine and shuffled through the pages. He kept his head down and made eye contact with no one.
The middle aged man left first when a woman, apparently his wife, came out; walking with a cane, and joined him and he helped her out the door. The little girl went into the back room next. Jack jiggled his leg as he waited. “Damn – they’re runnin late again.”
“Never did see a doctor who was on time.” Ennis answered and reached for a magazine to flip through. They sat and waited.
The outer door opened and a gust of cold wind accompanied a woman with a small boy about ten years old. She signed in at the desk while the boy looked through the magazines. It wasn’t until he took his hat off and turned around that Ennis and Jack got a full look at him. The side of his face was badly scared and the hair was gone off the side of his head. Jack shuddered and looked away quickly.
The boy noticed and walked over to Jack. He placed a hand on Jack’s arm and said, “It’s Ok. I know I look pretty bad right now but the doctor is gonna fix me up. He’ll fix you up too.”
Jack looked up at him and tried to speak but no words came out.
“What happened to you? You have a car crash? I got burned. I got too close to the heater and my pajamas caught fire.”
“That’s too bad.” Ennis mumbled. “Heaters can be dangerous.”
“I won’t never get too close to one again; that’s for sure.” The boy said with a smile.
“That’s good.” Jack managed to get out.
“Do people look at you funny when they see you?” The boy asked.
“Uh huh.” Jack mumbled and looked up at him.
“That’s cause they feel sorry you got hurt and don’t know how to say so. That’s what momma says.”
Jack just shook his head in agreement and looked down at the floor.
“Bobby!” His mother called him over to where she had taken a seat. “I hope he isn’t bothering you?” She asked.
“No ma’am.” Ennis answered.
Jack watched the boy as he walked over and took a seat beside his mother.
“His name is Bobby.” Jack said quietly.
“Uh huh. He look like your Bobby?” Ennis asked.
“No, my Bobby is seventeen now.” Jack looked back at the book in his lap.
“If he looked like that Bobby would you love him any less?”
Jack looked at him and gave him a scathing look. Before he could answer the little girl and her mother came out and Jack’s name was being called. Jack had to walk past the boy and the boy looked at him and smiled and said, “He’ll fix you up good.”
A little while later in the truck on the way home Jack said, “He wants to do my nose first. He said it will help with my breathing.”
“You havin trouble breathin?” Ennis asked.
“Sometimes. I didn’t think much about it but the other doctor said that might be what’s causin the dizzy spells. He says I might not be gettin enough oxygen.”
“And fixin the nose will take care a that?”
“They seem to think so.”
“Well good. I think you should do it.”
“He wants to do it next week. I said Ok. You think you could drive me back again?”
“Sure thing. Jack, you got a know, I’ll do anythin I can to help.”
Jack looked out the side window and didn’t speak for a long time. “He says it’s a day surgery thing. I got a check into the hospital next door. He does the surgery and I have to stay in a recovery room for four hours afterwards and then I can go home. I guess you could … go see a movie or somethin.”
“I’ll find somethin to do.” Ennis assured him.
“If he can just fix my nose … and if the dizzy spells went away … then maybe …”
“Maybe what?” Ennis encouraged him.
“Maybe the rest of it won’t look so bad. I mean, I know it ain’t never gonna be like it was but you know that guy with the scar on his face?”
“I seen him in there before. It was a lot worse; a lot bigger and real jagged lookin.”
“Maybe it takes more than one surgery to get it fixed right.” Ennis offered.
“That’s what the doctor said. He said it was best to do it a little bit at a time.”
“He must know what he’s talkin about.”
“I guess so.”
Ennis reached over and squeezed Jack’s arm and Jack jumped and jerked away.
“Sorry,” Jack said lamely.
“Don’t be. I got no call to be touchin you. It won’t happen again.” They drove the rest of the way in silence.
Jack hopped down out of the truck as soon as Ennis stopped by the back door. “He wants to do it on Monday mornin. I got a check into the hospital early.”
“Ok. We can leave early Monday mornin or if you’d rather, we can drive up Sunday night so you’ll be there bright and early.” Ennis offered.
“Nah. First light on Monday will be soon enough. The drive ain’t that long.”
“All right. Pick you up right here first light Monday mornin.” Ennis parked the truck and headed for his trailer.
Jack was noticeably nervous on the drive to Casper. They pulled up to the hospital and Ennis parked the truck. “I’m kind a … scared.” Jack said and didn’t get out right away.
“Nose jobs ain’t nothin now a days, Jack. People get this kind a thing done all the time.”
“I know. I mean … what if it don’t work?”
“Then we look around and find another doctor who can fix it. You said Newsome is footin all the bills; ain’t he?”
“That’s right. He’s paid every one so far.”
“Then if this doctor can’t fix it we’ll drive down to Cheyenne. We’ll find us a specialist and old Newsome can keep on payin.”
“It ain’t the money I’m worried about, Ennis.”
“Didn’t think so.”
“I want it to work. I want it so bad …”
“It’ll work, Jack. Just give it some time.”
Jack took a deep breath, opened the door and got out. “It’s cold. Bet we get more snow.”
“Yep. We need it though.” Ennis grinned at the inquisitive look on Jack’s face.
“It’s almost Christmas. All them kids gettin sleds and skates and winter coats and mittens under the tree. It’d be a shame if they didn’t have the snow to play in.”
Jack agreed with the shake of his head and he remembered Bobby playing in the snow in Childress. A little thought slid over to the other Bobby he had met in the doctor’s office and he hoped that maybe he might get a little Christmas miracle and some of his scars removed too. He checked into the hospital, filled out all the paper work and gave Ennis a huge sigh as he left him in the waiting room and headed into the back with the nurse.
Ennis paced the floor and waited for the next two hours. He was pleased when the doctor came out and spoke with him. Jack came through the surgery just fine and was resting comfortably in the recovery room. He explained that Jack would have a large stiff bandage on his nose and it would have to remain for the next ten days. He would be sending him home with some pain pills that he was to take two, every twelve hours for the first four days and then cut it down to one, every twelve hours until they were gone. After that time he shouldn’t need anything. He didn’t expect any complications and said that Jack could continue his usual routine but to stay away from operating any heavy machinery or driving for the next month at least.
After the doctor left, a nurse showed Ennis into the recovery room where he sat with Jack and waited.
“I feel fine. I don’t know why we have to sit here and wait.” Jack complained.
“It’s the rules, Jack. They got a make sure you don’t start bleedin or have any bad effects from the anesthesia.” Ennis explained.
“I wish I could take this bandage off! It itches.”
“You got ten days ahead a you before you can do that. Better get used to it.”
“It feels straight. Can you tell the difference?” Jack asked.
“I can’t see nothin but bandage and you’d better quit fiddlin with it before you mess it up.”
“Scratch your arm.” Ennis said.
“Scratch your arm there. Scratch it real good.”
Jack did as he was told. “How’s that supposed to help?”
“Do it again.”
Jack did it again. “It didn’t itch before but now it does.” Jack scratched at his arm.
“Just keep thinkin about that arm and you’ll forget all about your nose.”
“You’re crazy!” Jack said as he absent mindedly scratched at his arm.
Before long the nurse came in, checked him out and said he could leave. She gave him some instructions and a packet of pills and told him the doctor wanted to see him again in ten days to remove the bandages.
“That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was gonna be.” Jack said as they were driving home.
“Wait until that anesthetic wears off.” Ennis warned with a chuckle.
“That’s what I got these for.” Jack shook the packet of pills.
“You got a make sure you take those and take ‘em twelve hours apart; like the instructions say. They got all kinds a stuff in ‘em to help you get better.” Ennis said.
“I thought they were just for pain?”
“Nope. They got stuff in ‘em to help you heal faster.” Ennis lied. “The doctor told me to make sure you take ‘em – just like the instructions say.”
“Ok, Ok. I’ll take ‘em. Just like the instructions say.”
“Till they’re all gone. Every one of ‘em.” Ennis said.
“I’ll take ‘em. I’m gonna do whatever it takes.”
“Good. The next ten days will fly by. You’ll see.”
They didn’t though. It was a long hard ten days for Jack. He found himself constantly touching the bandage and wishing he could take a peak under it. He stood in front of the mirror and stared at his face. If the nose was the way it was supposed to be again, and the doctor could do something about that jagged scar across his forehead, then maybe, just maybe, he might not look too bad. His jaw was still crooked and his cheek bones looked kind of bumpy but if the nose didn’t point off to the side – it might not look too bad. He thought of little Bobby then – the one from the doctor’s office – and wondered what he thought about when he looked in the mirror. He shuddered and hoped that the doctor would be able to help the boy.
The ten days finally passed and they were again sitting in the doctor’s office in Casper and waiting for Jack’s name to be called.
“Hi! Remember me?” A boy stood in front of Jack and he was stunned to see Bobby standing there. The scar on the side of his face was completely gone and replaced by just a bright red mark. The boy’s hair had been combed down over the side where the hair was gone and he looked almost normal.
“Bobby!” Jack grinned at him. “Your face looks great!”
“Yep. My shoulder and arm do too! I told you the doctor was gonna fix us up. You get your bandage off today?”
“Yes! I can hardly wait.” Jack said.
“I know. It itches; don’t it?” The boy fidgeted while his mother talked with the receptionist.
“It sure does.”
“It looks straight though.” The boy eyed him carefully.
“Ya think so?” Jack grinned.
“I like the way you grin.” The boy said. “Your face goes … all kind a crinkly.”
“It don’t scare you none?”
“Nah. It’s different. I think it’s kind a cool.”
Jack’s name was called and he walked into the back room with a smile on his face. He walked proudly out into the waiting room a short while later with the bandage removed. His nose was nice and straight again but was still black and blue and purple and yellow.
“What do you think?” He showed it off proudly to Ennis as they climbed into the truck.
“Looks great to me! You got every color a the rainbow goin on there.” Ennis grinned.
“The doctor said it would fade in another week or so. Where the yellow is, it’s already fading.” Jack said as he turned the rear view mirror so he could look at himself.
“He say anythin else?”
“Nah. He said he was real pleased that I hadn’t had any more dizzy spells since the surgery but he wants me to wait at least thirty days before I do any drivin.”
“That makes sense. You don’t need to be doin any drivin anyway right now. You got me here to do that for you.”
“I hate you havin to do for me though.” Jack sobered up.
“It’s only for a while. You’ll be good as new in no time.”
“And if I want to have more surgery?”
“Then I’ll be right here to drive you. It ain’t a problem, Jack.”
“He showed me some photographs today. Some work he done on this guy that got his face smashed up pretty good in a car crash. I couldn’t believe the difference. He looked a lot worse than me.”
“Doctor fixed him up?”
“Uh huh. That’s what he wants to do with me. Course mine won’t be as much work as that other guy had done. He says he can make an incision over each cheek bone, go in and fix the bones back the way they’re supposed to be and then later on go back and remove the incision scar. What do you think?”
“Up to you. What about the jaw? Don’t it give you trouble chewin with it crooked like that?”
“A little. Actually a lot.” Jack admitted. “Don’t say nothin to Momma though. I told her it didn’t bother me none.”
“Jack, this stuff ain’t nothin to be lyin about. You got a tell your Momma the truth when she asks and you, for sure, got a tell the doctor.”
“I told him. I just been not wantin to think about that surgery. That’s gonna be a lot harder to do and it’s going to require me to stay in the hospital and I fuckin hate hospitals.”
“I do too, Bud, but if it’s givin you problems chewin and such; you need to get it fixed.”
“There just ain’t been time for no hospital stay. I promised Pa I’d work the place for him if he kept my secret. I don’t want no one knowin I’m still alive. I sure as hell don’t want Lureen knowin I’m still alive.”
“Well you got me hangin around now to work the place. You can plan it all out what you want done and I can do it while you’re laid up. I’m sure I can handle it by myself for a couple months or however long it takes.”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know.” Jack put his face in his hands and rubbed his nose gingerly. “I went into this thinkin I’d just do the nose and forget about the rest.”
“Up to you.”
“Bobby said he liked my smile – said it was cool.” Jack grinned.
“He’s a great kid.”
Jack’s entire attitude seemed to change with his repaired nose. Now he could finally see some improvement in his battered face.
By Christmas Eve the bruising was gone and Jack stared at himself in the mirror. He couldn’t believe the difference just fixing the nose made. “Maybe …” he thought, “Just maybe …”
It was nearly mid-night as he stood outside the trailer in the snow. He reached up and knocked gently. The trailer was dark inside and he figured Ennis had gone to bed. He didn’t want to wake him if he’d already gone to sleep.
Ennis turned the bedside lamp on, got up and looked out the window; not really sure he had heard anything. There stood Jack with his hands jammed into his pockets and grinning from ear to ear. In the dim light, he almost looked like the Jack of so long ago. Ennis’s heart did a little flip-flop as he reached for the door knob and turned it.
“You awake?” Jack asked, suddenly embarrassed by the middle of the night visit.
“Yeah. Get in here before you catch cold!” Ennis pulled the door open and Jack came on in.
“I didn’t wake you or nothin? I knocked real light in case you were asleep.”
“Nah. I was in bed but I wasn’t sleepin.” Ennis pulled the door to.
“How come you wasn’t sleepin?” Jack asked as he removed his hat and shook the snow off.
“Wasn’t sleepy, I guess. What are you doin runnin around outside in the snow in the middle of the night?” Ennis asked. He lit a cigarette and offered one to Jack.
Jack lit his cigarette from Ennis’s and drew deeply on it. “I was just thinkin. Tomorrow’s Christmas; ya know?”
“Yeah. I know.”
“I was thinkin … I mean … Momma’s gonna be cookin this big ole turkey and there’s always tons a other stuff … why don’t you have dinner with us?”
“You come out here in the middle of the night to ask me to dinner?”
Jack looked down embarrassed.
“You want a beer?” Ennis asked as he tried to hide the delight he was feeling.
“Yeah, I’ll have a beer.” Jack said as he took his coat off and hung it on the hook beside the door and topped it with his hat.
“Sit.” Ennis said and handed Jack a beer and popped the top on one for himself and sat on the corner of his bed facing Jack.
“So, you wanna come to dinner?”
“I’d like that.” Ennis smiled.
“Good. Good” Jack repeated himself and sipped his beer.
“Nose looks good. All the fancy colors are gone.”
“Yeah.” Jack rubbed it self consciously. “It’s really good to be able to breathe right again. I should a done it sooner, I guess.”
“Well, you weren’t ready before.”
“I haven’t had any dizzy spells either.”
“Great! I told you things would get back to normal soon and they did.”
“It kind a makes me want to go ahead with the other surgery. Maybe I can get all the way back to normal – at least my looks anyway.” Jack said as he fidgeted with his beer can.
“You thinkin about maybe seein a counselor?” Ennis asked.
“No! I don’t wanna go see no shrink.”
They were both silent for a while and then Jack spoke again. “I don’t know how much Momma told you about what happened to me but … they did more than beat me half to death.” He kept his eyes on the beer can and didn’t look up.
“You know?” Jack did look up then. He didn’t think his Momma would have said anything about the other thing but apparently she had.
“That’s why you think I need a shrink?”
“Nope. I think the whole thing is just one big night mare that happened to you and thought it might help if you had someone … a professional … someone who knows how to deal with stuff like that … to talk with about it.”
“I don’t need to be talkin about that shit to no strangers. They don’t know me. They won’t know how it affected me or how I feel.” Jack was adamant.
“How do you feel?” Ennis asked. He didn’t really want to hear the details but Jack seemed like he needed to talk about it and he felt like the least he could do was sit and listen.
“Like shit. Like I got what I deserved.”
Ennis fought the desire to jump up and start yelling that it wasn’t Jack’s fault, it was those bastards and L.D. Newsome’s fault but he kept his temper in hand and said calmly as he could, “It wasn’t your fault, Jack.”
“I got into it with L.D. a couple months back before all this happened. I pissed him off real bad. He went all purple in the face and swore he’d make me pay.”
“What the hell’d you do, Jack?”
“I stole one a his best customers from him. I needed one more sale to make Salesman of the month. I saw this guy comin and I knew he was a friend of L.D.’s so I got to him first and finalized the sale that old L.D. had been workin on him. I did up the paperwork and sent it in as my sale.”
“Shit, Jack. That’s askin for trouble.” Ennis shook his head.
“Yeah, I know but it wasn’t nothin compared to some of the shit he’s pulled on me. I never figured him to go all nutty on me though.”
“I guess nobody ever thinks someone could go that far.”
“He swears these guys were only supposed to beat me up. He got real shook up when he found out all that happened – especially when the doctor told him he didn’t think I was going to make it. I heard ‘em plannin it all – old L.D. and the doctor. They didn’t think I was awake but I heard ‘em. I couldn’t open my eyes or talk at first but later on, I guess it was after he took me to Casper, I was able to open my eyes and signaled I wanted a pencil and paper. I wrote and told him I knew what he did.”
“The doctor in Casper started askin questions and when he told L.D. I might live, L.D. started to panic. As soon as we was alone again, he started to blubberin and carryin on and all. He promised to make it worth my while if I kept my mouth shut. He said he’d pay for all my medical bills the rest of my life plus he swore he’d make the guys that did this to me pay.”
“Do you know if they was ever caught?” Ennis asked.
“Yeah. They’re in jail already. He sent me a newspaper clippin showin they got arrested for bank robbery. He said he set it up for them and then saw to it that they got caught red-handed. They both confessed and are doing time. They won’t, neither of them, be out on the streets for a good long time.”
“I guess bank robbery carries a longer sentence than assault.” Ennis said.
“Yeah; that’s what his note said.”
They sat in silence for a while then Jack asked, “My face really don’t bother you none?”
Ennis thought about it for a while. He wanted to tell the truth but he had to do it in a way that wouldn’t hurt Jack any more than he had already been hurt.
“I ain’t gonna lie to you, Bud. When I first saw what they done to you; I wanted to go find the bastards and kill ‘em with my bare hands. I still get mad if I let myself think about it but them bein in prison for a good long time is takin some a that mad out a me. They got what was comin to ‘em, I guess though I’d a much rather have smashed their faces in like they done you.”
Jack looked down.
“So, I guess, what I’m tryin to say is when I see your face I get mad – then I feel guilty.”
“GUILTY? Why the hell would you feel guilty?” Jack looked back up at him.
“If you and me had been together, like you wanted, this never would a happened.”
Jack’s mouth dropped opened.
“I been a stubborn fool most a my life, Jack. Momma always used to say that my stubbornness was gonna be the death a me and it nearly was ‘cause I died inside when I thought I lost you. I may not have been put in no grave but I might as well have been.”
Jack sipped his beer and Ennis continued.
“I thought that keepin you down in Texas would keep you safe – keep us both safe. That was just fear thinkin. The only thing that we really need to be doin to keep each other safe is to be there for each other. I wasn’t there for you when you needed me. I won’t never forget that.”
“Ennis, this wasn’t your fault!”
Ennis struggled to control all the things he was feeling and then went on.
“I … feel anger, I feel guilt, but most of all … Jack, most of all I feel grateful to God sittin up there in Heaven that he didn’t take you … that you’re not in that grave out there.”
“It don’t make you … sick or nothin … lookin at me?”
“Nope. Just mad and glad and sad that you had to go through all this and I wasn’t around to be there for you.”
“I should a called you first thing. I was scared. Scared you … might not wanna see me no more.”
“Jack, that ain’t never gonna happen!” Ennis reached out to him but stopped short of touching him and withdrew his hand.
Jack saw the look and knew Ennis was holding back. He reached out and took Ennis’s hands in both of his. “I … I’m kind a messed up. More than my face, I mean.”
“It’s Ok. You’ll get better.” Ennis squeezed Jack’s hands.
“They hurt me, Ennis, they … took me … the three of ‘em.” The tears were running freely down his cheeks as he spoke. “I don’t know if I can … if we could ever …”
“It don’t matter none, Jack. Only thing that matters is that you’re alive! The rest we can deal with.” Ennis was on his knees in front of Jack and holding his hands next to his own tear-stained cheek. “I love you, Jack, and no matter what they done to you, they can’t never touch that.”
Jack melted down into his arms then and wept as Ennis held him close and rocked him gently. They sat like that for a long time until the tears stopped flowing from both of them.
Ennis got them both up and they sat on the edge of the bed together with arms still around one another.
“I’m so cold.” Jack whispered as he tried to get closer.
“C’mere.” Ennis pulled Jack back on the bed and covered him with the blankets. “That better?” He asked with a little bit of a grin.
“Uh huh. It’d be even better if you was under these blankets with me.” Jack lifted the edge of the blanket and Ennis crawled in beside him. They were silent for a while as they lay there, Ennis holding Jack and Jack resting his head on Ennis’s shoulder.
“Ya know what?” Ennis asked as he rested his cheek against the top of Jack’s head.
“What?” Jack asked.
“For the first time in my life, I finally got what I wanted for Christmas.” He pressed a kiss into the dark brown hair and held Jack a little closer.
“You wanted me? I still can’t believe you’d want me all busted up like I am.” Jack grinned.
“Oh I want you all right and now that I got you back in my arms I ain’t never gonna let you go again. We’re together from now on. Deal?”
“Deal!” Jack hugged him tight. “I wish Momma was up. I need to hug her so bad! She kept naggin me to tell you but I was too scared. She was right though.”
“That Momma a yours is all right. She’s one smart cookie.” Ennis said.
“She is for a fact. Pa always says she don’t know about nothin but buttons and beans but she knows a lot more about people than he does.”
“She knew me right off,” Ennis said.
“Uh huh. She knew what was best for me too. She always did but most a the time I didn’t listen to her.”
“Well, I’m glad she went against your wishes this time and come to me like she did.”
“Me too! I got a remember to apologize to her. I give her fits when I found out she told you about me.”
“I’m glad she did. Other wise, I’d be spendin Christmas and the rest a my life thinkin you was in the ground.”
“And I’d be sleepin upstairs in that little bed all by myself and wishin I was dead.”
“I’m still gonna kick your ass.”
“What?” Jack sat up and stared at him.
“Soon as you’re all better. I told your Momma. She said I’d have to get in line behind her.”
“Jesus! You’re gangin up on me and me bein an invalid and all.” Jack snuggled back down into Ennis’s arms.
“You ain’t that much of an invalid no more, Jack Twist, and you got a admit you got it comin.”
“Well maybe we could negotiate a truce or somethin?” Jack asked.
“A truce? Like maybe you doin the dishes for your Momma for a year or somethin?”
“I was thinkin more along the line of buying her a dish-washer.”
“Ok. That’ll work. As long as it’s Ok with her. What do you plan on doin for me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe …”
“Maybe I could move in here with you and the two of us could work somethin out. What do you think?”
“I think that years and years from now we’re gonna look back on this Christmas as the happiest Christmas we ever had!”
“I think you’re right. Merry Christmas, Ennis.” Jack leaned up and kissed Ennis on the cheek.
“Merry Christmas, Jack.” Ennis bent down and kissed Jack on the forehead.
“He’s outside wanderin ‘round in the snow again. He’s gonna catch his death. We lose him we lose our free labor.” The old man snarled from beneath the covers.
“He ain’t out in the cold, John. He’s over in the trailer with Ennis where he belongs.” Mrs. Twist came away from the window and climbed into bed beside her husband.
“All that nastiness goin on over there – it ain’t right, I tell you. He’s gonna mess around and start gettin those dizzy spells a his again if he keeps that foolishness up.”
“He hasn’t had a single spell since he got his nose fixed. I don’t think you need to be worryin none about that.”
“Well all the rest a that stuff that they’re doin – it’s enough to make a grown man sick. Them kind always get diseases and die young. Won’t neither of ‘em gonna live long doin that kind a stuff.”
“Oh nonsense! They love each other.”
“You don’t know nothin about what that kind do. If you did, you’d never be able to look your own son in the face again.”
“Ain’t nobody’s business what they do together, John. Long as they’re happy, that’s all that matters.”
“Buttons and beans, Woman. That’s all you know about!” He turned over and went to sleep.
Mrs. Twist closed her eyes and said a prayer of thanks for the best Christmas present she ever had!
The End MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!