Without realizing the effect it'd have on the guilty in town after his father’s death, K.E. began insisting on being called "Kyle" or “Mr. del Mar” around Sage and at school, and the young man unfortunately became fixated on his parent’s wreck. He was so obsessed with it that the police impound yard finally sold the battered Chevy to a local farmer for parts just to stop the teen from repeatedly coming around to look at it.
One morning Kyle Jr. took a sip of coffee at the diner, it tasted funny, so he spat it out. He was sick and throwing up for a week. There were the trucks that just barely missed him while riding his horse Missy, and the day he thought a bullet screeched past his ear one evening. Several times he was tripped on the sidewalks in the business district.
His dad telling his mother that Earl and Rich’s killers had threatened to beat the del Mar family to death or burn them alive in their house stuck in K.E.’s craw and he was convinced his father’s death was no accident, and wasn’t shy about telling anyone who would listen.
As for Ennis, he'd been to the wreck only once and never went back. Most of his freshman schoolmates considered him standoffish because he avoided friendly conversation or invitations to go out with this or that group, but those who knew him said he was just plain shy. He sported his father's sandy blond self-trimmed hair and without knowing it was developing an eye-catching and rugged horseman’s build as he got deeper into his teens.
Ennis had always liked the sound of becoming a sophomore in the coming year, but became skeptical of ever getting the chance.
A drama class teacher once spotted him in a hallway and told him that he thought that with a lot of cleaning up and some training the handsome young man could’ve been a Hollywood movie star like James Dean.
It never came about though because no one could coax him out onto a stage.
Many a girl was turned on by his silent brooding, then after a while they were turned off by it too. Not many knew what color his blue eyes were, because when they weren’t focused on the floor, they were always hidden beneath the brim of his ever-present cowboy hat.
Since Cornelia was nineteen, she was made their legal guardian and owner of the del Mar Ranch. They all worked together to try to keep the spread going with little success.
Up until the late 60’s you weren’t technically considered an adult until you were twenty-one. Many in Sage, especially the bank, ignored that hoping the inexperienced del Mar kids would run the spread into the ground and someone would pick the property up legally for little more than a song… and they were right.
Eventually every horse was sold except Ennis' palomino and K.E.'s bay mare Missy. The next month, the livestock went on the auction block too.
The men in town began making Kyle del Mar a folk hero for killing them two queers back in 1952. With their father dead and unable to defend himself, it just gradually became an assumed fact around Sage Wyoming.
Ennis knew his dad didn't do it, but still in the back of his mind there was a nagging doubt as the memory of what he'd heard through his bedroom door as a young boy that night and the next morning blurred with time.
The details of how the two homosexuals were murdered became embellished and exaggerated and Ennis did his best to ignore them. What he remembered fondly of Earl and Rich didn’t match the perverted picture that the locals had painted of them. As all children do, even a 12th grader was someone old in their eyes, so a 29-year-old like Rich was positively ancient.
Every so often K.E. picked up general-delivery letters at the post office addressed to his brother from Michael that he burned immediately unopened before Ennis read them. Rumors had begun to spread about Mike that reached all the way to Sage High School and K.E. wanted neither he nor his brother to be connected to them for as long as he could.
His uncle was queer, so Michael must be queer too, and K.E. was fighting being linked through friendship to the young man, and warned Ennis repeatedly not to mention Salisbury’s name.
Just as well, because it was a painful and confusing period in Ennis’ life that he was struggling to forget.
After a year or so Ennis thought his friend Michael apparently gave up trying to reach him, not knowing what K.E. was doing behind his back...
Shortly after, Ennis did too because there was no money left to fix the transmission on the ancient pickup truck that he used to get back and forth in.
From then on he mostly did house chores and cooking when he wasn’t working in the fields.
Years later he lamented not getting to graduate with the class of ‘61. The tragedy finally brought the two brothers together as friends.
With them so far behind on the mortgage, Corbett’s GM/ Chevy dealership finally talked the bank into taking the del Mar spread and the young men were heartlessly kicked out on the street. Without a vehicle they would have to leave town with only the belongings they could carry or pack on Saint Michael and Missy’s backs.
Cornelia got a better job in town working for a lawyer as a receptionist, and wound up fighting the heartless bank to keep it from seizing her paychecks for the remainder of the del Mar debt.
For a while Ennis camped out in Ledger Park at Lake Sage reservoir with their horses, while K.E. stayed with some old high school buddies. Eventually it being so close to the residential section of town, Ennis moved camp to the southern shore of Twin Creek Cove just east of his former homestead.
In the end his older brother joined him in camp after not being able to find a job, and no one in town was willing to feed and house two unshaven boys who stepped around town with uncut hair and dirty clothes.
In the coming months, they'd have to move on before cold weather set in if they couldn't find shelter soon.
By then K.E. was 19 and Ennis 15. They sadly watched their house and farm buildings bulldozed to the ground and his private grove of climbing trees were cut down too, leaving only the ones lining the shoreline of the wide peninsula they once called home.
The man who demolished their house discovered $915 in coffee cans in the crawl space beneath the front porch... He bought a new car the next day.
Cornelia met and fell in lust with a young roughneck who was barely making ends meet in the oil fields of Casper. She got engaged for all the wrong reasons the next month, finally freeing herself of her troublesome brothers and the bank. She'd barely scraped up enough for the train ride east and north to get married and the day she left only K.E. went to see her off, leaving his defeated younger brother alone.
This was the turning point - the last day Ennis Jordan del Mar allowed himself to feel deep caring emotion about anything... and it nearly took his life.
Ennis had been arrested five days earlier after someone reported him skinny-dipping in the cold lake to wash his accumulated stench of sweat off.
The three-day jail time was a blessing as much as a curse. At least he had hot meals, steamy showers, and a warm bed for a couple of nights.
After he returned to camp, he defiantly thought of diving in the cove to try to salvage his bicycle, and had even stripped off all of his clothes to try, but after a while of sitting on the bank naked not caring who saw, he knew it was useless and that the bike was beyond repair... just like his young life.
The damned thing was too small for him now anyway.
He broke down and hung his head low, suffering over losing his ma and pa, his bestest of best friends Michael, then his home and now his sister. No one seemed to give a goddamn about him and he was so lonely it ached. Hopelessness was building up inside of him not knowing what the future brought or if he even had or wanted one.
Though he badly needed the emotional release from his frustrations; he willed that not a single tear would fall.
His feelings toward Mike went much deeper than friendship, but he couldn't name or understand them and felt lost every time he tried. It had bothered him ever since puberty and hormones set in, because pretty young naked girls willing to do anything for him within his jack-off fantasies began turning into Michael just before he came.
Unfortunately a lot of his unnecessary pain might have been lifted from his young shoulders if he’d had an understanding father figure to tell him that it was absolutely normal for all male teenagers his age to have crushes on other boys and that the feelings would soon pass with no ill effects.
Instead, like Arthur he was convinced he was damned to fear God’s judgment and Satan’s wrath for feelings he couldn’t possibly comprehend and resented his father for leaving him before he could explain the ways of life.
His brother Kyle was unwilling to help him understand when asked about it. Like all fifteen-year-olds, the torture of adolescence intensified every emotion he had from love, desire, fear and depression tearing him apart inside.
As he became more intensely convinced that no one cared, he considered suicide by drowning to end the pain but didn't have the courage; making him even more depressed.
A loving voice in his mind's eye whispered, "Son; don't you never do nothin' ta hurt yerself 'cause ya think I wouldn't love you no matter what... P-promise me boy? Promise me."
He didn't know how right he was for being paranoid about the folks in Sage that he'd known all of his life. If he had he'd be floating face down in the water by now because the del Mar brothers had been chosen to be driven out of town as replacement scapegoats by the real killers of Earl and Rich...
The local cops were willing to let the matter die down, but obsessed K.E. kept using people's phones to call the sheriff's department for updates and to keep the investigation alive.
It was unfair and unjust, but it was what it was for the unrepentant lynch mob and their many worried kin who constantly made it clear that the del Mars were no longer welcome there.
The day the boys set off out of town on horseback, eyes watched them from behind upper curtained windows on Sage Street.
Ennis wanted to try to telephone the Salisburys, but Kyle vetoed it causing a bitter rift between them for weeks afterward. After all, Lakton wasn't that far away.
Just after crossing the spur and main rail lines, his brother stopped them at the county road where Sage St. met it. Left headed west, right headed east.
(Tragically if the Salisburys had known, they'd have adopted Ennis and raised him as their own, leaving grown Cornelia and K.E. to fend for themselves.)
Ennis made a last-ditch try at heading for Lakton and heard an unfamiliar word come out of his brother's mouth for the first time.
"I don't want nothin' ta do with that faggot," he spat out, "and you shouldn't neither lessin’ yer goin' queer on me; in which case we'll just part company right here, brother," which closed the argument... for now.
If Ennis were a typical young teenager who didn't even know yet what he didn't know about life, he'd arrogantly figure he could make it on his own alone. However the younger of the del Mar brothers was wise beyond his years and held his tongue. He grudgingly loved his elder brother, but also needed his extra few years of experience if they ever hoped to survive their coming ordeals.
Ennis wasn't aware that rumors had spread about Mike through the high school pipeline, even as far east as Sage. Kyle had been taking grief from former classmates for even knowing him.
Ennis just assumed that somehow word had been garbled and exaggerated in combination with the gossip about Earl and Rich.
The unfair concept of guilt through association was especially true for teens.
K.E. would never admit it, but he secretly needed his little brother too, as much for companionship as for his advanced wilderness survival skills, mostly learned from a patient Rich during all those really fun camping trips.
Soon after they set out westward, midway through the miles-long right curve they came up on the left turn that led to Utah. Ennis looked longingly at it as they passed on horseback, but remained stoically silent.
For a month they rode northward as much as 25 miles a day or more through rain, wind, and then snow, living off Ennis's hunting and fishing talents, stealing over-ripened vegetables from rare and sparse farm fields.
Ennis was now being forced to live in a different Wyoming than he was used to, and once in a while would comment that settlers must've cut down all the trees to build houses. Either that or they outlawed them in favor of dry reddish-brown hills and rugged mountains instead.
No matter how far they traveled, the scenery never changed, making it impossible to gauge their progress. Distant mountains on the horizon never seemed to move; only the same hills on either side of the straight-as-an-arrow road. Ennis insisted on riding parallel to highways to keep them from traveling in circles.
Riding at night was dangerous and nerve wracking because semis didn't see the horses until they were practically on top of them.
Early on, Kyle shoplifted a compass and some map books to keep them on course. Old letters pointed them to possible Bowers relatives only to find long abandoned houses or strangers that didn't know where a step-cousin had moved to years ago.
Every so often, Ennis would pull out a scrap of paper from his pocket and try to memorize the del Mar family tree that he'd scrawled down before they left. Eventually he stashed it in the Good Book they carried in their cherished possessions for safekeeping.
As weeks dragged into months and the weather finally stayed cold all of the time now, it wore on both of them, especially Kyle's temper. Many's a time Ennis threatened to set off on his own rather than remain his brother's physical and emotional punching bag... but somehow they stuck together and moved on.
K.E. secretly admired his younger brother for being able to take the enormous pressure they were under just to survive, not knowing that Ennis was self-destructively burying it deep inside himself to the point of regularly thinking about sticking the end of his daddy's Winchester in his mouth and pulling the trigger.
He also still resented his brother for not trying for the Salisburys in Lakton.
The boys used abandoned barns or outbuildings for shelter from the weather when they could and an old leaky tent when they couldn't. With no money they grew beards and their hair grew even longer, making it harder and harder to find odd jobs.
What little money they scrounged went for ammo for their daddy's cherished hunting rifle.
The only reason either had for going into a bar or diner was to swipe books of matches out of ashtrays for starting campfires to keep warm at night. They also smuggled out rolls of toilet paper, salt, pepper and condiments under their coats.
Extra blankets and warmer clothes disappeared from unguarded clotheslines. Both young men drew the line at breaking into houses for money. Their daddy taught them well and often that God meant cash to be earned not stolen.
Ennis' conscience often bothered him after such thefts, but what else could they do?
K.E. fell deathly sick from exposure in the frigid temperatures and for several days he turned as gray as ash. Finally Ennis climbed into his brother’s bedroll with him to keep him warm, fearing that if he left him to try to find a doctor Kyle Junior would die in the cold. At one point brave Ennis couldn’t stand it any more and broke down in tears, pleading with God not to take his brother from him, kissing his cold forehead, holding him close and begging him not to die.
After a couple more days surrounded by big rocks heated in the campfire and then placed in the tent, K.E. recovered and they moved on.
The two young men eventually roamed west across the state line and had better luck in northern Utah and southern Idaho at finding long-lost del Mar aunts and uncles whose names had been culled by Ennis from an old diary left behind when their grandmother fled Sage. None were willing to take in two teenaged nephews on top of the family they already had.
Some were surprised and/or skeptical that K.E. and Ennis were even kin of theirs, believing that their father Kyle had died in the war twenty years ago. Kyle Jr. was now grateful that he’d lost the argument with Ennis about bringing old family photos and mementos along. They came in handy as proof… and bribes in exchange for staying a day or two here and there.
Some were even put off that their childhood ranch had stayed in del Mar family hands for so long after their brother disappeared. They all now assumed that he'd selfishly kept it rather than share the income it brought.
The stops along the way at least afforded them an occasional and much-needed shave, haircut, hot meal and a hot bath.
Missy went lame and was left at an uncle's ranch in southern Idaho.
There were bad fights over leaving St. Michael behind too in order to make it possible to hitchhike, but Ennis would hear nothing of it. For one thing they'd have to dump most of the possessions that their remaining steed carried on his back for them. They almost parted company over it a couple of times, but in the end they stuck together because that was all they had... each other.
They took turns riding a mile while the other walked, sometimes riding together until the ornery horse would protest. More than once K.E. threatened to shoot and butcher St. Michael for the meat when they got really hungry.
Unable to find a home, they began the life of a couple of hobos over the next couple of years, roaming from ranch job to ranch job living by luck and the skin of their teeth. K.E. stole a horse from a barn and rode it bareback, leaving him sore and tired a lot. They were forced to stay away from the roads as much as possible for fear of a cop spotting them with it.
In an act of brotherly love, Ennis traded his magnificent and expensive saddle to a farmer for two cheap and worn ones... His brother never said a word in gratitude.
By 1959 they'd wandered eastward to Worland Wyoming where reckless K.E. got a pretty rodeo cowgirl pregnant and after they married, Ennis was left to fend for himself at 17 and stayed on in town doing odd jobs until he was 18.
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Important notice about this novel: This adaptation of the original short story was
written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner © 2005-2012 and contains enhanced versions of all of the original's events written by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana in red/black/green.
All text in blue written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner published here ©2005-2013.
Reproduction in any form or use of unique characters is
forbidden without permission of the author.