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Part One ~ Chapters 1-6
Features: Ennis' family history, his childhood and teen years.
An evangelical con man blames a gay teenager's suicide on a rancher and a mechanic.
The murders of Earl & Rich. The deaths of Kyle & Frannie del Mar in a car crash.
Orphaned - K.E. & Ennis wander hundreds of miles in search of a new home.
Part Two ~ Chapters 7-11
The Legend of Jumpin’ Johnny Twist
Features: Jack's famous rodeo father's secret past and
how it contributed to Jack's death over 40 years later.
L.D. Newsome's father robs and then murders the owners of a rodeo.
Uncle Harold gets swindled. Jack's childhood and teen years.
Part Three ~ Chapters 12-34
Features: Jack's first summer on the mountain in 1962.
Ennis & Jack's 1963 adventures on the mountain. The short story has been
expanded with additional material incorporating deleted scenes from the movie -
Jack's gruesome death. A stranger falsely accuses Ennis of murdering Jack.
Part Four ~ Chapters 35-41
If You Can’t Stand it - Ya Gotta Fix it
Features: What really happened to Jack's ashes and why he was cremated.
A suicide becomes an arson at a Pentecostal Church in Lightning Flat
Ennis struggles on after losing Jack. Who poisoned Jack's father and shot his mother?
Jack's innocent son Bobby gets caught with planted evidence of Jack's murder and jailed.
Who set the fire that destroyed the Twist ranch? Ennis' death in 2006 and his legacy.
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Ennis woke naked in his bedroll. He’d done more than just think about Alma last night and the next morning woke up hard as usual.
The young cowboy got up, stuck his hat on his head, and collected his clothes without putting them on. He walked towards the stream intending to go skinnydipping; after all there was no one around to see, especially Jack.
As the bright morning sun warmed his bare skin he paused to settle down on his back in some tall grass, and his mind began to wander into places that he surely knew were forbidden territory... but still he dared, though he was not sure why.
His thoughts turned to Jack and the strange thrill he’d gotten from that hug that he’d given him yesterday. He closed his eyes and remembered the pleasure of Twist’s fingertips traveling up the crease of his spine, lingering here and there towards his neck.
Somehow the memory of that hand abruptly reversed direction and the rodeo cowboy was behind instead of beside him. Jack’s fingers began traveling downward to between del Mar's hips, and a rope-callused hand slowly... possessively cupped Ennis' left butt cheek as if it surely owned it... as if Ennis wanted it to own it... No...
Twist's right hand slowly wandered around front to push away and replace del Mar's urgent tight fist. Suddenly it was Jack's massaging fingers. Ennis surrendered control of his fantasy as it began to build and build until he couldn't stop it... wouldn't stop it... even if he wanted to... The ranch hand's tight caressing fingers were now Jack's wandering palms and tight fist... noooooooo!
His hat slipped forward covering his eyes and suddenly all that he could see in the darkness was Jack's handsome face about to tenderly kiss his lips... or was it Michael?
He began breathing even harder and his strangled gasps came in orgasm, repeatedly shooting long creamy spurts high into the air as if they'd never stop, each more draining than the last.
Fighting to catch his breath, confused Ennis felt just as guilty as if his mother had just caught him jacking off...
...and he puzzled about it afterward.
Laying there exhausted and spent he sat up to spot the object of his fantasy riding through the brush halfway down the mountain trail. Ennis went back to the camp tent and quickly dressed.
For the first time he wondered what would’ve happened if he knew then what he knew now about how Michael felt about him.
What if Jack actually felt the same way?
He was letting himself explore thoughts he’d been taught all of his life could turn deadly against him and experienced a full-body shudder in fear…
…It was still weighing on his mind when Twist came lagging in 45 minutes later groaning and tired.
He dismounted complaining, "Yeah, I’m commutin’ four hours a day," as he took a skillet of fresh cooked eggs, elk meat, fried potatoes and a cup of coffee from Ennis. He added, "I come in fer breakfast… I go back to the sheep… evening’ get ‘em bedded down… come in fer supper… go back to the sheep… spend half the night checkin’ fer damned coyotes. Aguirre’s got no right makin' me do this against the rules. We should be together down here."
Ennis was now hesitant about being alone in camp with Jack. He was afraid of what "this thing" that’d taken hold of his thoughts and fantasies might make him do before he got it under control. If Jack wanted to be down here so bad, he’d have to be up there with the sheep.
"You wanna switch, I wouldn’t mind sleepin’ out there, huh." he offered.
"That ain’t the point. Point is we both should be in this camp. Besides, that goddamn pup tent smells like cat piss or worse. Ya don’t wanna be up there anyways. Tell you what, ya gotta get up at least a dozen times in the night out there over them damned coyotes."
Damn! Try again. "Wouldn’t mind bein' out there," he repeated the offer.
Jack met his friend’s eyes, "Well, I’m happy to switch with ya but I’ll warn ya I cain’t cook worth a damn. I am pretty good with a can opener though."
Ennis responded, "Well ya can’t be no worse than me then, huh?"
To Jack’s mind he wanted to be with Ennis down here and hated being alone up there.
Ennis seemed to just want to be alone.
Both were happier when they were together working than they were separately, though neither would admit it to the other.
Both men struggled with the puzzle of their relationship, if that’s what you’d call it.
They spent the afternoon and evening planning where to set up the camp next week and then they decided to move the herd to another grazing spot after Ennis’ next supply trip early Friday morning.
Around ten, after checking his rifle, Ennis mounted Cigar Butt, who he’d judged to be a good night horse.
Jack joined him and warned, "Won’t get much sleep, I’ll tell ya that."
Ennis only grunted a response, clicked his cheek at the horse and silently rode off up to the sheep carrying leftover biscuits, a jar of jam and a thermos of coffee with him for the next day, saying he’d save a trip and stay out until supper tomorrow.
He needed time to think this through.
They both did.
That night an odd sadness came over Jack as he tried to sleep. After getting so used to the tiny pup tent, the camp tent seemed so empty, lonely and drafty instead of roomy and warm.
He couldn’t name it, but suspected it had to do with how good it felt to be around Ennis’ shy friendship. Them holding each other after Ennis bagged the elk was more thrilling than he’d expected and it seemed as if they didn’t want to let go of each other.
Ennis had Michael Salisbury and didn’t realize what he had until too late.
Jack had young Johnny-Jack Aguirre and pushed him away too soon.
Both were experiencing unwanted aftereffects but similar feelings and now that they had each other, neither had any idea what to do… with each other. He needed to come to know how Ennis felt but didn’t know how he felt himself.
Twist’s mind wandered back to last summer when he woke to find fingers trying to undo his jeans buttons. His whole body shuddered as he wondered what would’ve happened if he’d pretended sleep and had let the kid go through with what he wanted instead of kicking his ass and throwing him naked out of the tent.
This whole thing with Ennis started as a game for Jack, like a child that was told he wasn’t allowed to have something; he was so determined to get it by hook or by crook. In this case it was coaxing a grin out of del Mar.
All through the weeks they’d been up here now, Jack would tell funny stories or just laugh hoping for del Mar’s smile but never got one for his very own.
Then they killed that elk.
Jack found himself craving just being around the handsome young ranch hand and was disappointed when instead of staying in camp, Ennis offered that switch derailing his hoped plan to keep them together more often.
If he closed his eyes he could feel Ennis’ strong hard-as-a-tree-trunk chest and his lithe back enclosed in his arms again, their chins on each other’s shoulders, thrilling as his sinewy muscles writhed beneath Jack’s touch.
That night Twist did some gasping of his own and it wasn’t from thinking about that pretty girl in Childress.
Just as he reached climax a gun blast sounded far in the distance in the direction of the sheep…
A few hours later he returned with everything they’d asked for plus some surprises. New newspapers, fresh celery, onions, carrots and a few cooking spices that neither knew what to do with.
Only one of the papers held follow-up details, photos, and a final tally of the dead in Sage, but the event was no longer new and had been relegated to page six. Ennis got it first and ironically never got past page three, preferring to only scan the headlines, the sports, and then straight to the funnies.
He tossed it to Twist and selected the next one going straight to the funnies, saying, (joking?) "Here I saved the crossword puzzle fer ya."
Jack got engrossed in an article in it about something new called "Zip Codes" but not being able to understand the concept, got bored with it when it was continued on the page facing the layout on the disaster in Ennis’ hometown and discarded it for the one Ennis had just finished instead.
Ennis encountered an article about a submarine called Thresher that had sunk in the Atlantic and they spent some time speculating about what it was like for the men within the hull before it was crushed like a beer can by the immense pressure of the sea at that depth. Both expressed doubts about joining the military what with all the talk of so many dying in Vietnam... and what if they were drafted.
The paper containing news of Sage would be used to start a campfire that evening.
Chomping on a celery stalk after handing him a new bag of potatoes, del Mar asked Twist to save him the empty burlap sack to put his stuff in because his old paper grocery bag was worn out.
Jack nodded and went back to reading the sports section of the Sentinel on the bottom of the stack.
Half an hour later, Ennis stripped off his shirt in the warm afternoon sun and began shaving. "Shot a coyote up there at first light," he announced matter-of-factly with a hint of pride, sloshing his face with hot water, lathering up soap and scraping his beard off while Jack started peeling potatoes. "Big son of a bitch; he had balls on him the size of apples. Looked like he coulda eat hisself a camel. I’ll betcha he took a couple of the sheep ‘fore I got ‘im. You want some of this hot water; there’s plenty?"
It irked him that Ennis bagged the damned coyote that he’d stalked, aimed at, but missed so many times.
He gingerly picked up a can of beans that’d been heating on the grate and took the opener to it. The red sauce spat out of it under pressure as the opener pierced the tin and it sprayed all over him.
What did Ennis just say? Oh yeah; hot water, "It’s all yours," replied Jack disgusted with the mess on his favorite denim shirt, indicating the water kettle, clumsily dropping the hot can back down on the grate.
He found himself fighting the sudden urge to explore the ranch hand’s nearly naked torso with his eyes, and picked up another potato, peeling it to distract himself.
"Well, I’m gonna warsh everythin' I can reach," he said, pulling off his boots, jeans and everything else until he was completely naked.
Jack noticed while the guy's back was turned that he too didn’t wear underwear under his Levis. The brawny ranch hand was bending over towards the tree slopping a green washcloth lathered with soap.
Jack began to panic trying not to study an ass he had no business sneaking peeks at, but he couldn’t pull his fascinated eyes off of it as long as Ennis was facing away. He fought to understand the strange desire he felt to watch his new friend as he rubbed and probed every part of his lean and muscular horseman’s body.
Back in the parking lot when they first met, Twist suspected that there was a very attractive guy under all those loose clothes and this confirmed it in spades.
Eventually his companion turned sideways towards him, his Stetson surprisingly still on his head ducked low, so Jack concentrated on his peeling, but it was a fight not to look. His eyes dared not move, though he could see him out of the corner of his eye.
Twist chuckled to himself at the concept of a man that was so "cowboy" that he wouldn’t take his hat off - even to take a bath! He nicked his thumb with the sharp blade not paying attention to what he was doing, cussed under his breath and turned away to suck at it, drying it with his shirtsleeve.
While Jack's eyes were elsewhere, Ennis saw the chance to quickly move away and Twist finally spotted him a few moments later on a log bridge still naked and about to dive into the stream to rinse off.
Because Ennis' back was again turned, Jack found his gaze locked on del Mar's behind. This wasn't damned possible, no man should have an ass that glorious especially to another man but in his mind's eye no woman's could compete with it.
Jack thought, "This just can't be... something's wrong here!"
What he didn’t know was that Ennis had noticed Twist's eyes roaming his body and the cowpoke's cock had begun to grow rock hard despite his trying to will it not to.
While the young rodeo rider’s concentration was diverted by the cut, the ranch hand fled to the stream, careful to stay turned away until he could get himself under control.
Ennis suffered thinking, "This just can't be - God's watchin' damn it... something's wrong here... this sure as shit don't make no sense!"
For a brief terrifying moment Ennis' mind wandered to a scene he’d witnessed as a boy of his treasured friend Earl; who’d been beaten to death and left in a dried out irrigation ditch.
The sound of the stream beneath him brought him back to reality and he realized that the brook was too shallow to dive into so he walked off the bridge and waded into the cold snow-melt runoff splashing it onto himself trying to adjust.
If the chill of the stream didn't shrink it, nothing would, but he wasn't getting back out of that water until the damned stubborn thing went soft again.
The splashes made Jack look up to find a hat next to del Mar's jeans sitting atop one of his boots proud as could be... and he smiled.
As hard as he fought the notion, he'd have to find a way to see that ass again, by hook or by crook.
The very thought of that desire ran a nervous tremble through him... something's wrong here... so very wrong.
Del Mar had just settled down to warm his hands around a galvanized coffee cup in front the flickering flames. He’d picked up his supper plate and began eating when a sound distracted him and he looked up to find Jack returning from taking a piss.
Twist jutted his crotch forward, proudly clinking the silver-prize bullriding belt buckle with his fingernail.
Ennis shook his head no. "Don’t rodeo much myself; I mean what’s the point in riding some piece of stock fer eight seconds."
Jack settled down in front of the fire while his eyebrows rose considering, "The prize money’s a good point," he responded, pushing his worn boots closer to the flames to warm his feet.
Ennis paused eating long enough to reply casually, "True enough; if ya don’t get stomped winnin’ it, huh?"
Jack shrugged unable to argue because if he’d really been any good at it, he wouldn’t be here babysitting sheep. He leaned forward and poured some whiskey into Ennis’ coffee cup and then commented, "Now my old man, he was a bullrider… pretty well known in his day…" Then he added sadly, "…but he always kept his secrets to hisself, never taught me a thing, ‘n never once come to see me ride."
Twist paused a moment remembering far back in time. "When I was little he used to put me on a sheep's back 'n I had to stay on as long as I could, hanging on to its wool fer dear life. He’d laugh like hell when I’d fall off 'n hurt muhself. Maybe that’s why I hate sheep so much."
Not wanting to see their conversation end, Twist took a long drink of whiskey from the bottle, thought a moment and then asked, "Yer brother ‘n sister do right by you?"
Raising the metal cup of coffee to his lips to take a sip, Ennis paused in thought and then replied with a shrug, "They done the best they could after my folks was gone… considering they didn’t leave us nothin’ but a double mortgage 'n twenty-four dollars in a coffee can... I got me a year of high school usin’ one of them hardship licenses so I could drive back 'n forth b’fore the transmission went on the pickup, so there went any hope of graduating.
After that, we tried to keep the ranch goin' as long as we could, but the bank took it ‘n my sis left, she married a roughneck and they picked up stakes and moved to Casper. Me and my brother K.E. we went ‘n got ourselves some work on a ranch up near Worland ‘til I was seventeen or eighteen. Then he got married and uh… and no more room for me," he paused to take another sip of coffee and added, "…’n that’s how come, uh… I ended up here."
Ennis looked up and found Jack giving him an odd sideways smile like the kind of expression you give a little boy who just said something cute. He reached over, picked up an open can of peach wedges and drained the heavy syrup off of them.
He gestured towards the bottle in Jack's hand and asked, "Gimme some of that horse piss for this, huh?"
Jack reached out and poured some of his whiskey into the can and Ennis sloshed it around muttering, "Obliged." He began spooning them into his mouth and realized that Twist hadn’t said anything for a while and that was unusual.
They locked eyes for a couple of moments.
Ennis couldn’t figure out the look that Jack was still giving him and finally asked, "What?"
Jack’s face broke out in a grin. "Friend; that’s more words than you’ve spoke in the past two weeks."
Del Mar only shrugged, met his eyes and said, "Hell that’s the most I’ve spoke in a year," and then added, "Now my dad, he was a fine roper… He didn’t rodeo much though; he thought rodeo cowboys was all fuck-ups."
Jack raised the whiskey bottle nearly to his lips, paused, frowned, straightened and then considered whether he’d just been intentionally insulted. He responded smoothly with a sideways glance, "The hell we are."
An uncomfortable silence ensued that Jack felt needed broken so he suddenly jumped to his feet, stuck his face down close to Ennis’ and abruptly yelled, "YEEEEEE HaWWWWWWWW!" nearly startling the coffee out of del Mar’s cup.
Ennis looked back over his right shoulder grinning at Jack and shook his head disapprovingly, "There he goes!"
He became momentarily distracted as he recalled laughing like this with his childhood best friend Michael and the memory briefly warmed his smile even broader.
Regaining his attention by moving around behind him, Twist started bucking his legs, jolting up and down like there was a bull under him and began screaming, "I’m spurring his guts out! Waving to the girls in the stands… He’s kickin’ me to high heaven but he don’t jackboard me! No…" Suddenly he fell backwards tripping over some camp supplies landing flat on his ass with the loud clattering of pots and pans followed by an embarrassed "what the hell just happened?" laugh.
Twist craned his head up to find his reward; Ennis’ laughing smile broad and happy and the sight of it shot pure joy through Jack’s body like good whiskey.
Ennis shook his head in mock disapproval and called out with a laugh, "I think my dad was right!"
After another half an hour, Ennis got up and headed toward his horse, mounted it, and rode off up the mountain.
Jack sat pondering the fire wondering once again why he was so sad to see the young ranch hand leave and trying not to admit to himself that he knew. The craving friendship that Jack felt for Ennis was love; it was the only word he knew that would fit and the consequences of it scared him.
Jack had spent so much time wanting to please him, craving his approval and desiring his touch. Twist wasn’t queer; he knew that, but maybe he was a little, but only for Ennis.
They were respectful of each other’s opinions, each glad to have a companion where none had been expected.
Ennis’ found himself humming a happy tune while riding against the wind back up to the herd in the hazy bright moonlight. He thought he’d never had such a good time and felt he could paw the white right out of the moon.
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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.