While getting settled in, Jack argued that they were far enough up that if Aguirre wanted to check on them the distance would discourage him and that they could safely stay in camp together instead of one here and one there.
While del Mar busied himself setting up the camp tent, Jack was facing away lying on his back against a log lazily playing "He was a friend of mine" on the harmonica that he’d brought with him intending to give it to Aguirre to return to his son Johnny-Jack.
Finding a space between Twist’s sour notes, Ennis stood back, studied his work and complained, "Damned tent don’t look right."
Jack paused playing.
Without looking over his shoulder he replied as if he were bored with listening to him bitch, "Well it ain’t goin’ nowheres... let it be." and went back to playing.
As he adjusted a pole further out, del Mar glanced over at the back of Twist’s hat and observed, "That harmonica don’t sound quite right neither."
Jack stopped long enough to reply, "Well that’s ‘cause it got kinda flattened when the mare threw me."
Still adjusting the tent, Ennis chuckled and sarcastically objected, "Oh yeah? I thought ya said that mare couldn’t throw ya, huh?"
Jack cocked his head back and declared, "Welllllll... she got lucky."
Ennis shook his head and countered, "Well if I’d got lucky, that harmonica woulda broke in two."
Jack thought a second and laughed, then went back to playing.
Their friendship had gotten to the point where they could joke around and fling half-hearted insults at each other and it felt good... damned good.
They worked together through the afternoon putting away the new load of supplies and then settled down in a meadow that looked up into the mountains, sharing a quart of Canadian whisky that’d been sent. In front of them was a no-name little lake that fed the start of the Proulx River. To the left of it was a twenty-five foot ledge that looked like it’d make a good improvised diving cliff if the water wasn’t so cold.
After a couple of swigs, Jack frowned at the bottle and decided he liked it just as good, then half succeeded in pulling another squalling tune out of the harmonica, but finally gave up and put it away when some distant wolves rudely began joining in.
Ennis remarked with a smirk that they were carrying the tune better than Twist was.
After a good meal, Jack suddenly remembered it was Sunday and almost startled Ennis sitting next to him off of his log by abruptly yelling out an old hymn with dirge slowness.
Ennis reached over, grabbed a twig and with a grin began half-heartedly keeping time banging it against the coffee pot.
After another encouraged minute Jack ended it with, "...I know I shall meet you on that final day, water-walking Jesus, take me uhwaaaaaaaaaaay," hoping it was loud enough to echo off the nearby rock face.
Ennis rapidly pounded the pot enthusiastically out of rhythm almost as if he were applauding, and remarked dryly, "Very good," and then rewarded Jack with another warm smile.
Twist took a swig from the second whisky bottle they’d been sharing and nodded, "My mama taught me that... She believes in the Pentecost."
"Oh yeah?" Ennis shrugged, took a swig from the bottle Jack just offered and asked in a puzzled tone, "Well what exactly is the Pentecost? I mean... my folks; they was Methodists."
Jack seemed to be lost for an answer and frowned, saying in an embarrassed tone, "The Pentecost? I don’t know. I don’t know what the Pentecost is; mama never explained it to me. I, I... guess it’s when the world ends 'n fellas like you ’n me - we march off to Hell."
Ennis scoffed and declared self-assured, "Speak for yerself. You may be a sinner, but I ain’t yet had the opportunity."
Jack raised his eyebrows skeptically, "Oh yeah?" and tossed the empty bottle towards the tent.
He’d clean them up later.
As the shadows grew longer, their friendship grew stronger. As the alcohol flowed, Jack wanted more and more to tell Ennis about the feelings that he’d started having for him, but didn’t dare for fear of rejection or possibly the same over-reaction he gave Johnny-Jack last year.
Night fell some time later and after a few hours more of laughing and drinking Jack began yawning loudly.
Del Mar felt lightheaded and was shocked when a giggle escaped his mouth before he could stop it. He gestured wildly toward the distant mountaintop as if he were trying to pull it down to within walking distance and called out enthusiastically, "Well uh, I’m gonnaaaaaah go up to the sheep now!"
Jack cheerfully encouraged, "Give ‘em hell!"
Del Mar clumsily tried to get up but finally settled for crawling off balance toward his horse on hands and knees. Shaking his head in resignation, he paused worried he was about to fall over... and then did just that.
Lying there, Ennis was nearly helpless to get up again, but he managed to struggle to one elbow pointing vaguely towards the trail.
"Too... it’s uh... Oh uh, I don’t give a damn... too late to go up to them sheep," declared Ennis in a slurred voice.
Dizzy drunk, he managed to get up on all fours. In a low groan he struggled to stay upright and abruptly fell over on his side again. "Got, I, You, Um ya got a extra blanket? I’ll just er-er-roll up out here 'n grab four, uh forty winks 'n I can uh I’ll ride out at first light."
The mountain cold had set in and they could see their own breath now. By then the full moon had notched past two in the morning. The meadow stones glowed blue-white and a sharp stiff wind worked over the wild grasses, scraped the fire low and then ruffled it into yellow silk streamers.
Somewhere in the distance a wolf howled out as if calling to its pack and after a moment several more joined in.
Jack shrugged and staggered toward the tent commenting, "You’ll freeze yer ass off when that fire dies down."
"Oh that’s good."
"Yer better off sleepin' in the tent."
"Oh, uh, I doubt I’ll feel nothin'."
Jack shrugged and went in, grabbed a blanket and tossed it to a crawling Ennis as he groaned, lost his balance again and toppled over like a little metal bear in one of those county fair cork pistol booths, and landed on his side next to the fire.
As a rack of wispy clouds threatened to obscure the full moon, an owl hooted.
The campfire soon became only dull red embers...
Ennis rolled over in the cold, facing him and kissed Twist tenderly on the lips.
As they both shivered together Jack felt Ennis’ hand travel down his chest and begin to unbuckle the belt of his jeans. Transfixed, Twist began to harden between his legs.
Suddenly Ennis begin gasping for air, moaning in pain and shivering in passion...
As if cracked by a whip, reality suddenly snapped Jack awake.
Twist sat bolt upright in the tent, covered in a cold sweat and realized he'd been having another one of "those" dreams. He cocked his head listening for what woke him up but heard nothing but the wind.
Just as he was about to lay back down and try to recapture the slumbered fantasy where he’d left off, Ennis groaned again outside and gave out a loud shivering breath through clattering teeth.
Jack’d never get any sleep like this.
Parting the tent flaps, he yelled out sharply in an annoyed tone, "Ennis!!!"
The ranch hand jerked awake and in a weak-shivering voice replied, "Wuh-what?"
"Just quit hammering 'n get yer ass in here. Bedroll’s big enough," he yelled in an irritable sleep-clogged voice.
In no position to argue, Ennis got up dizzily, grabbed his blanket and wove to the tent, knocking over and spilling the coffee pot in the process, killing what was left of the fire.
Inside the tent, Jack unzipped the bedroll and after pulling off his boots, Ennis wriggled in. It was just big enough and warm enough for two grown men to tightly fit in it but they’d have to sleep intimately close.
In a little while they fell back asleep as the full moon crawled farther across the sky outside.
With their combined body heat, in no time it got progressively warmer in there. First the extra blankets came out and were rolled up to make better pillows and then their coats and eventually their shirts came off too.
With the front of Ennis’ chest now pasted to Jack’s back by warm sweat, it was only natural in the name of comfort that sooner or later del mar’s arm came up and over Twist’s side and his palm rested across Jack’s torso.
Ennis felt his breath quickening as the friction of his hand began to harden Jack’s right nipple. Alma’s did that too and for some reason he never knew that men got nipple erections so he left his hand there.
In the silence they both pretended sleep, but that wasn’t all that was hardening.
Ennis’ gentle breath felt good on the back of Jack’s neck and he snuggled backwards to be closer in their embrace.
His movement had the wrong effect.
In his sleep, Ennis rolled away onto his back... or so Twist thought.
Actually Ennis was scared of the thoughts roaring through his mind again and needed a break to think things over.
After a minute that seemed like eternity, Jack could no longer take it. He couldn’t understand the want welling deep inside but he wasn’t going to fight it either. He groaned and reached behind to find Ennis’ right hand, pulling it up and over, bringing the young ranch hand's body along with it so that del Mar was once again surrounding him in an intimate hug.
Twist guided Ennis’ wrist so that his palm absently strayed down his bare stomach and planted it firmly on Jack’s denim covered crotch.
Ennis’ was still a little drunk and mentally stopped paying attention to what was happening in the here-and-now, and began remembering the goodbye fuck he’d given Alma, replacing the feel of Jack’s lithe body with the memory of hers.
In his semi-consciousness, Ennis’ hand absently rubbed the mound it was on for a moment and then traveled ticklishly up Jack’s quilted abs to grip his developed pecs one at a time, marveling again at how hard the nipples were. In his drunken slumber they were Alma’s tits.
This time it wasn’t a dream for Jack as he was tenderly caressed from behind. The handsome ranch hand’s palm strayed up his abdomen to grip his left pec and seemed to squeeze it. Ennis’ breath seemed to quicken on the back of Twist’s neck.
Something hard was pressing through denim against Jack’s ass sending chills of passion through his body that he couldn’t explain. As Ennis began humping his erection against Jack, his arms tightened.
From out of nowhere Jack felt the need to be fucked... to actually crave Ennis inside of him. He was almost in panic not understanding the urge that was overwhelming his mind, but as it grew he couldn’t fight it. It became a roaring in his head that he couldn’t ignore. Oh god don’t let this happen, Oh God make me stop, Oh god let this happen... make this happen!
Ennis HAS to be able to feel me shaking from wanting this.
Both stayed that way for what seemed like an hour, but was only a minute or so.
...Then without them knowing it, history repeated itself as sure as if "Jumpin’ Johnny Twist" and Big Jim were in the tent with them; guiding them.
As Jack’s breathing became labored, Ennis’ palm slowly roved back down and his fingertips probed inside Twist’s open jeans just beneath the crotch buttons. Ennis’ arms tightened even more around Alma’s desirable body that he was blindly embracing and as they did his hand slipped deeper until it rested over the pulsing, oozing head of Jack’s raging hard-on.
Ennis’ own erection grew even more urgent as he continued gyrating his Levis against Jack from behind.
Twist breathed a soft pleasured sigh and reached back to pull Ennis’ head forward and felt the young ranch hand’s lips brush the nape of his neck.
Half consciously, Ennis nuzzled him moving his hand deeper and began jacking Jack’s rock-hard cock as if it were his own until he suddenly realized what he was doing versus what he was dreaming!
The young horseman jerked his massaging fingers away as though he’d touched fire.
Within moments, unspoken, unplanned, and unhesitating, the zipper of the sleeping bag was torn open along with the rest of Jack’s jeans buttons. The hell with all this denying what they’d been frustrating and fantasizing about for weeks now with no release.
In a partially drunken stupor, Ennis desperately tried to act innocent in case God was watching.
Jack’s hands possessed both sides of his man's face gently but unsuccessfully trying to pull their mouths ever closer together.
Ennis had to fight himself to pull away and begged out loud unsure, "What... what ‘r ya doin’?" as much at Jack as towards himself.
Ennis was now on his knees, unbuckling his belt and shoving his own Levis down. Then he forced Jack around onto all fours facing away in front of him, shucked down the young rodeo rider’s jeans with trembling hands and with the help of the clear slick of pre-cum and a little spit pushed the head of his ramrod against Twist’s pucker, entering him with a pleasured whimper from behind.
Both cried within themselves to stop it before it went too far, but that was no longer possible. Not a single emotion on God’s green Earth, be it from man or beast, trumps male lust once it’s set in motion.
A heavenly sensation gripped every fiber of Ennis' being as the tight warm ring of Jack’s ass slid slowly down his quivering cock from its head gradually to his pubic hair. It was something he’d done with Alma before so she wouldn’t get pregnant ahead of their getting married, so no instruction manual was needed.
Ennis closed his eyes and almost convinced himself that it was Alma he was fucking not Jack... almost.
They went at it at first in silence except for a few sharp intakes of breath. Both were naked but for their pants and boots at their ankles.
Ennis withdrew completely and then reentered, both of them thrilling at the heretofore unknown and forbidden passionate sensation.
As the alcohol haze began lifting, Ennis now fully realized it was Jack he was fucking but it was too late to stop now, he was getting closer and closer; too close to stop as that intensely roaring tingling sensation began building behind his pubic hair. The base of his cock felt white-hot and it felt better and better, he became bolder and bolder thrusting ever harder and faster determined to keep his manhood by completely dominating the man beneath him.
Oh Jesus, don’t tell me I’m hurting Jack, tell me he isn’t suffering, because I cain’t control myself, I just, I just cain’t stop!
The tip of his penis felt as if it were filling to near burst, desperately close to release and about to explode gushes into the brawny man before him.
No, this wasn’t love, nor was it passion, just animal lust drowned in mutual youthful loneliness and pure male horniness.
Jack in front of and beneath him began matching Ennis’ rhythm as if he had his own desperate need for what the ranch hand was doing to him.
Suddenly Jack shot forward in the confines of the tent and got away from Ennis.
The ranch hand grabbed at him roughly, furiously; like an angry bear whose meal had just been stolen away.
Avoiding him Twist tore his jeans; boots and socks off from where they bound his feet.
Del Mar realized, and then followed Twist’s lead and soon clothes were shed all over the tent until they were completely naked despite the cold.
Moments later the alcohol succeeded in stripping all of their remaining inhibitions away and Jack rushed back there under Ennis again, being fucked even harder.
Without knowing why, when Ennis felt close to shooting his load, he reached around under Twist’s bucking hips to begin working Jack’s swelling manhood because he needed and craved the thrill of holding it again. He couldn’t be sure over his loud gasping, but Jack seemed to be whispering, "Harder! Harder!"
Ennis wasn’t clear if he wanted to be masturbated harder or fucked harder, so he did both as they became more and more overcome with intense lust powered by surges of adrenaline. Jack was pushing back and upward against him so hard that Ennis’ hands and legs both nearly left the ground supported by Twist’s hips alone.
Their breathing got more urgent and then their gasps came in unison as if they’d joined somehow and became one. Each time Ennis withdrew for another stroke, Jack desperately pushed his hips backward to keep him in there to not allow the contact to break, to make it last forever if he could, craving even one more fraction of an inch of penetration.
Only then did fear leave Twist’s distracted mind to realize in a sudden flash of purity... it didn’t hurt; not one bit.
Ennis was erotically rubbing Jack’s prostate from within with the head of his long iron cock, driving them both into a frenzy of ecstasy. The cowpoke’s hips rhythmically slapped against the rodeo rider’s ass cheeks loudly and got faster and faster as did his fist around Jack’s throbbing erection.
He worked on holding back from shooting his load until Jack was ready too.
It became really important to him that they come together to experience each other’s joy as one. The wanting they didn’t know they’d share the rest of their lives was based on this single moment in time.
Jack finally choked out "Gun’s goin’ off," and Ennis screamed at the top of his lungs as he lunged forward in a final carnal thrust and choked out more babbled gasps as his loins emptied, feeling as if he’d never stop cumming, fighting desperately to get his breath back.
Both men felt as if they were about to pass out from exhaustion and joy.
Jack collapsed spent, falling forward in an immense pool of his own sperm and at first faked sleep.
Ennis had fallen forward with him, his cock still buried deep within Twist’s quivering ass wanting more.
Del Mar marveled at how the muscled shoulders, back and firm pillowed butt beneath him seemed to have been molded by god himself or fate to fit his chest and hips perfectly as if destiny had meant them to come together.
Jack silently loved the weight of the young horseman’s body glued to his back and waited for an impassioned kiss good night from his new lover, but dozed off waiting for something he wouldn’t get.
As sleep came he felt completely spent, happier than he could ever remember being. It was as if Ennis were trying to crush him under his weight and it felt thrilling, as if he would always belong beneath this man.
Guilt invaded his thoughts as he remembered the kid he’d herded sheep with from last summer here on the mountain. Jack wondered now what would’ve happened if he hadn’t rejected his advances.
Eventually, Ennis was so exhausted; he reluctantly fell on his left side away from Jack and silently suffered the feelings he couldn’t name that most young men have after an orgasm. Confusion rocked his conscience until he eventually fell asleep himself.
Some time later in his sleep, he rolled over to spoon Jack’s still naked body from behind in an unconscious embrace like he did with Alma every night."
Someone was playing a Willie Nelson tune on a record player nearby, but it sounded like the music was playing backwards and a coyote appeared to be singing along with him.
It'd gotten so warm last night that he'd kicked the blankets off and now his bare exposed feet, ass and shoulders felt cold.
He wasn't looking forward to another useless day of putting in applications around Riverton looking for temporary work that’d only last until he had to hitchhike to Signal later this month. He and an American Indian poker and drinking friend named Gene Autry planned to check out the local rodeo later.
He envied Gene the eagle feather he wore in his hat; something only Indians were allowed to do by tradition and federal law.
With a groan he found that he had a massive and painful hangover from another night at Betsy's Tavern downstairs that forced his eyes tightly shut against the bright light as the sunrise glared through the thin glass panes from every direction at once.
As usual, he was cradling Alma's warm and naked body in his arms from behind.
His morning erection was nestled against the small of her back and he smiled to himself; he always woke up like this with her and it became a routine to rub himself against her until he'd built up enough precum lubrication to enter her, then he'd give her a few strokes until he got off to get his morning started.His eyes stayed shut as his arm moved downward to tighten around her warm waist. He scooted down in the bed a little so that his drooling hard cock traveled the crack to her pucker and with a gentle push, he began to stroke in and out ever so slowly, in and out, in and out as he felt the pleasure build.
Del Mar moaned in near ecstasy and molded his body to Twist's as his hips gyrated faster headed for orgasm. He groaned and moved with Alma as Jack squirmed from being entered again and tilted almost onto his stomach in his deep slumber.
Apparently the sleeping rodeo rider thought he was having another of his recent fantasy wet dreams because as his ten-inch horse cock grew to rock hardness, Twist abruptly reversed himself and started pushing backwards instead onto his left side towards his friend, pressing his hips against Ennis' rhythmic groin apparently wanting to be penetrated deeper.
The young rancher was within seconds of shooting an intense cum load and his hand wandered down to finger Alma's pussy to get her off... and encountered an enormously long penis instead.
Ennis realized with a start who it was he was fucking and carefully moved backward withdrawing, while praying not to wake him; if he hadn't already.
Daring to open his eyes, he found the brawny rodeo cowboy completely naked and laying on his side facing away with his hungry ass jutting toward him.
Ennis' cock began pulsing in the first throws of ejaculation and his balls suddenly felt like they'd been kicked, as the pressurized sperm suddenly had nowhere to go.
Ennis grimaced in agony and cupped his testicles as a cool morning breeze blew through the untied tent flaps bringing the young blond horseman fully awake.
He quickly grabbed Twist's coat, hung it haphazardly across his companion’s shoulders for warmth and then pulled the blankets up over him, debating with himself whether to risk pulling up the zipper of the open sleeping bag.
Then in the flash of a just-woken-from nightmare, Ennis remembered what he’d done to his friend last night and he suddenly found himself flat on his back, helplessly gasping for air as his cock spontaneously shot gobs of cum several feet into the air.
When it was done, he grabbed his t-shirt to dry and clean himself of the strong smelling sperm.
His temples painfully protested as he carefully rolled naked onto his right side towards the opening, parting the tent flaps to look out. He squinted into the bright light and agony shot through his eye sockets.
Confusion jumbled his thoughts as near panic set in. Last night might have been a possibility, but there was no way he could blame this morning on being drunk.
He rolled back onto his back and silently grabbed for his jeans at his feet. Jutting his hips upward, he pulled them on, fumbled with the loud belt buckle, and then slipped out of the tent carrying the rest, feeling like an escaping rapist who’d fallen asleep with his victim and was fleeing hopefully before his crime was discovered.
In the space of a minute, he stumbled forward into his socks and boots, squirmed into his shirt and coat, and positioned his hat while quickly making his way to Cigar Butt.
No time for even coffee.
In a panic, he needed to get away up the mountain to the sheep before Jack woke up, hoping against hope that Twist would think it was all a whisky hazed dream and that the ranch hand had been up with the flock all night...
...instead of down here ass raping him... twice.
He'd just grabbed his Winchester when he realized it was too late.
Jack crawled out dressed to his black hat and without even exchanging glances; the denim clad victim of last night’s misplaced lust stood silently at the tent flaps tucking his shirt in.
The loud clack of the rifle as Ennis checked his ammo brought the bullrider out of his thoughts.
Wracked with guilt and sorrow, del Mar shoved the gun into its saddle sheathe and mounted his steed as Twist started striding towards him.
As much of a question as a comment, Jack said softly, “See ya for supper."
Ennis spurred his horse and took off toward the herd at a gallop without a word and barely a glance back.
They both suffered something terrible through the morning, each in his own way thinking the other was pissed at the absence of an apology for what had happened last night and this morning.
Jack would never... no man could ever - never forgive being ass raped last night. How would Ennis ever be able to face him again?
Del Mar fought a stinging, welling up in his eyes because he’d done something horrific to a guy he’d considered his friend and now he’d have an enemy for the next couple of months.
What if Jack rode down the mountain and reported him to the sheriff while del Mar was up here tending the sheep?
He’d be arrested, ruined, maybe even lynched.
His marriage plans to Alma would be destroyed.
What had he done?
Why had he done it?
Had he started it dreaming of Alma and in his slumber blindly used Jack to replace her; then when he woke up he’d gone too far to stop?
Destroying his friend’s trust like this was surely god’s way of punishment... something he’d been thoroughly taught was evil and that he’d certainly go to hell for.
If anyone found out he’d suffer the same fate as Earl and Rich.
All through his boyhood he’d been taught that that kind of “thing" was like a cancer that had to be cut out before it spread.
Ennis suffered an uncontrollable trembling just thinking about being hung, or dragged from the back of a truck, or beaten to death with tire irons.
No, he couldn’t be one of those, he just couldn’t be!
It was that damned Canadian whisky - stronger than their usual stuff... yeah... no it wasn’t... no... hide it, don’t look at it... don’t let God catch you even thinking it.
His mind became confused comparing the lisping, swishing, limp-wristed cross-dressing fags that appeared sometimes on hate-filled religious pamphlets against his loving boyhood memories of the manly Earl and Rich... and Michael. ...His eyes burned at the thought of Michael and he sadly hung his head remembering how much he loved his best boyhood friend... and ached when he’d learned Salisbury had killed himself.
For the whole ride up the rocky trail, he could think of nothing else and tried to figure out a way to apologize to Jack, to somehow set it right between them... but the words wouldn’t come.
He fought hard against hating himself for what he’d done to Jack. Why the fuck was he always destroying any happiness he came to deserve? Closing his eyes as tightly as he could in self-loathing and frustration, he screamed at the pines on the trail, “I’M SO ALL-FIRED GODDAMNED STUPID!!!“ and choked back a sob of sorrow.
His mind kept wandering back to how good the sex felt; so natural, so... right... to hold Jack in his arms. He felt doomed to be haunted every time he reached out and touched Alma in the same way.
Something wasn’t true about the whole thing though; it was almost as if Twist had enjoyed being fucked.
Why hadn’t he left the tent after escaping him that first time instead of staying right there; almost as if he wanted more?
As he cleared the crest of a hill overlooking the herd, he heard a dog crying...
Did he really get Ennis drunk on purpose and then seduce him?
Clearly Ennis blamed him for it. Jack had worked so hard to get Ennis’ friendship, and now it was all in ashes.
He became convinced his friend blamed him when del Mar wouldn’t even speak to him as he rode off up to the woolies.
Jack tried to distract himself by setting out some ingredients for that night’s meal, which he’d long before planned special. He opened a can of mixed vegetables and another of stewed tomatoes, added some water and spices, and then lowered the lid over the cast-iron kettle, moving it slightly off the fire to cook slowly through the afternoon like he’d seen his mother do many times.
One thing was for sure, this would have to be resolved or the next couple of months would be unbearable.
This couldn’t wait until supper.
Suddenly he frowned twisting his spine.
His ass was burning and itching something awful and he lowered his jeans to the acrid smell of after-fuck shit, which it never occurred to him to expect.
He undressed completely and took a couple bars of Ivory soap to the stream, dragging the bedroll with him.
Naked, he first washed himself, and then used a stick to rub and beat the shit out of the seat of his pants, rubbing the soap all over them and the sleeping bag.
Later he wrung them out and hung them over a makeshift tripod high above the cook fire to dry.
His mind kept straying back to how good it felt to have Ennis’ arms passionately cuddling him and how little the fucking had hurt; amazed that after a few seconds it actually began to feel mighty damned good, as if his life centered around a spot just behind the base of his cock.
Despite the number of girls he’d fucked, and there were many, he’d never felt that sensation before and like a potent drug, he wanted... no, he needed... no, he craved it again.
Watching Ennis’ ass that afternoon had haunted his dreams and jack-off fantasies for days and now he seemed to understand why in a vague sort of way.
He smiled when he realized that for hours now he’d had his own private little nudist camp up here in the woods and his nipples hardened like they had last night. He decided to prolong the experience and discarded getting dressed until he finished his chores.
Suddenly his mother Martha seemed to inhabit his body.
He began peeling potatoes and then chopped them up along with carrots, onions and celery into big chunks and added them to the kettle. As a boy he’d helped her do this and a thoughtful remembering smile came to his face. He took the rest of the dried elk meat, diced it, and then added it too, suddenly feeling like a restaurant chef.
He searched through the supplies for spices to add to his wilderness soup and when he was satisfied with it he grinned to himself about the smile he’d be rewarded with from Ennis when he tasted it.
Standing there naked, his eyes wandered to the flock up above and to the right, scattered on the mountainside, but he couldn’t see Ennis there.
What if del Mar had a mind to head down to Signal to report what Jack had done after getting him drunk and all?
The feeling of doom associated with losing Ennis’ company felt like having your ribcage cracked by a bar punch.
Lifting the kettle lid, he stirred his concoction again and was amazed at how good it smelled. The starch from the potatoes had begun thickening it from soup to stew and he felt a wave of proud satisfaction.
He didn’t know how he felt, much less how Ennis felt, because he’d never been taught words that described what he was going through, but making peace with his friend was a bull that had to be ridden soon and that was the long and short of it.
As the afternoon set in, the warmth of the sun covered his bare skin. He admitted to himself that he’d actually set out to seduce Ennis into having sex with him last night. The question remained as to whether it was intentional or had been fueled by horseplay brought on by all the whisky they’d drank.
He dropped to his knees and then spread out face down on a blanket to relax and remembered how warm Ennis felt on top while the sexy horseman was fucking him. As he hardened, he raised his ass up off the ground towards the sky recalling the sensation of being entered and reached beneath himself to masturbate.
When he’d finished, he pulled on his clothes, now smelling fresh of soap and campfire smoke, and came up with an excuse to ride up to see him.
After toting six beers and a quart of whiskey down to the stream to cool, Jack packed up a couple of bacon and egg sandwiches and a thermos of hot coffee in his saddle bag to replace Ennis’ missed breakfast and then mounted the still-skittish mare. With a glance back to make sure the cook fire had enough fuel to discourage any animals drawn in by the smell of food, he took off toward the high pasture.
He’d figure out what to say on the way up there...
Spurring Cigar Butt, he took off at a gallop down to the herd in case the wolf, mountain lion or coyote was still there.
When he reached it, the scene was gruesome with a cloud of flies buzzing around and on it. He took little comfort in this being the only apparent victim of last night’s neglect.
He spent most of the afternoon tracking down what turned out to be a son of a bitch coyote by the blood trail, killed it and strung it up by it’s feet on a tall pole like a triumphant trophy.
For the next hour he sat with the herd, not understanding why the death of that poor lamb hit him so hard until he realized it wasn’t that; it was how he felt about Jack that was tearing him apart.
One of the dogs came over and appeared to try to comfort him, whining and licking his face. Ennis smiled sadly, stroked its head, and then fell into a deep dark brooding...
...On his way up the trail Jack heard Ennis' gunshot at the coyote and spurred his mare into a gallop in case Ennis was in trouble.
When he arrived half an hour later, he yanked his own rifle from the saddle and stood guard on the top of a knoll surveying the herd and looking for predators.
After a minute of searching, he spotted his friend down below seated next to one of the blue heel herd dogs as if resting. About ten yards away hung the corpse of a coyote.
Twist spent the next ten minutes scanning for additional threats and debated with himself about going down to Ennis to apologize...
...Meanwhile Ennis was still deep in thought when the dog beside him suddenly jerked his head. Del Mar glanced up yonder on the hillside to see what had caught its attention.
In the cloudy sky stood the silhouette of Jack Twist looking directly down at him. Del Mar’s chest tightened and his breath caught when he realized that the young rodeo rider was toting his rifle in a way that said he’d come to use it.
It was a very rare occasion when Ennis felt scared and this was one of them. At this range, considering what he’d seen of Jack’s rifle skills, he knew that even if he tried Twist would never hit him at half the range.
If the roles were reversed and Jack had raped him, would he go gunning for him? The young rancher nodded to himself that he probably would’ve and then walked over to his horse, pulling his own rifle out, checking it over.
Picking up the reins, he led Cigar Butt behind him and climbed upward towards his friend on foot. Ennis was on his way to take what was coming to him like a man, for what justice he thought he deserved.
Better by Jack’s hand than to end up in some drainage ditch after torture and a lynching.
In the space of fifteen minutes, del Mar strode straight up the steep grassy hill never letting Twist out of his sight. Only then did it occur to Ennis to wonder why he was carrying his own rifle, but his mind was too cluttered with worry to deal with it.
He continued pacing uphill trailing his chestnut horse behind him being careful not to look threatening, as if he were approaching an only partially broken stallion that he didn’t want to spook.
Halfway there Jack put his rifle down, making sure del Mar saw him do it and lay down on his side propped up on his right elbow facing away from Ennis’ advancing figure, surrounded by sheep on all sides, bleating, moving, grazing and sleeping.
Ennis parked Cigar Butt beside Jack's mare “Her," then paced the final steps to the top of the knoll.
Jack heard the grass rustle under foot and looked up at him as Ennis came up close. The ranch hand passed his feet by a couple of paces to stand in front of him facing away, presenting his back as a sacrificially offered target.
Fear smothered the hilltop like a cloud of unbreatheable ammonia. Just for one anxious moment Jack thought that Ennis had brought the rifle to shoot him. Mysteriously, the young horseman only stood there holding the gun, but not in a way that he was about to fire it.
From behind, Ennis thought he heard Jack let out an anxious breath as if he’d been holding it for a long time and wondered what that meant.
Without knowing it, both thought the other was out for revenge, neither knowing how wrong they were.
Just for one brutal moment Ennis closed his eyes, waiting for Jack to reach for the rifle just out of his reach and put the bullet that del Mar thought he deserved into his back.
He never looked back or down at Jack, but seemed to exhale a sigh of relief for some reason when all he heard was silence between them and the bleating of the surrounding sheep.
Somewhere in the distance a hawk cried out.
They remained there in limbo, quiet for a long time, not knowing what to say to each other, both watching the brown ocean of wool slowly flow down below and around them.
Without taking his eyes off the sheep, finally Ennis crouched down on his haunches. He meant to promise that it’d never happen again and to beg his friend’s forgiveness and silence.
He’d rehearsed it all the way up the mountain, but the correct words wouldn’t come out right so he settled for swallowing hard and saying, “This is a one-shot thing we got going on here," meaning it as a promise that he'd never do it again, but somehow it didn't come out that way. He fought to keep from looking back to see Jack’s reaction.
Jack looked up at Ennis’ shoulders from where he lay and sadly answered, “It’s nobody’s business but ours."
Both were still tense but relieved that the other seemed to have forgiven the one to blame, though Jack struggled with the thought that Ennis wouldn’t turn and look at him because he was still angry.
“Ya know I ain't queer," mumbled Ennis carefully, knowing it needed to be said lest Jack think differently, but immediately worried the statement might insinuate that he thought the rodeo rider was.
“Me neither," Twist answered instantly.
They both turned somber as Ennis settled down on the grass with his rifle cradled in front of his knees at the ready.
Minutes felt like hours creeping by because Ennis still hadn’t turned to make eye contact with his friend.
Jack began nervously pulling up blades of grass one by one, smelling them while sneaking glances at his companion's back.
They sat like that seemingly frozen in time, not speaking for about half an hour...
Ennis watching the herd...
Jack watching Ennis.
Finally unable to stand the tension between them any more, Twist got up, looked down toward their horses and asked over his shoulder, “Ya hungry?"
Del Mar only nodded.
Twist reached for the sandwiches he’d transferred to his pocket, and then changed his mind. He’d spent hours every day teaching “Her” a trick and finally got it right only a week ago.
With a shrill whistle from her master, the mare looked at him as if to protest, “Ah, not again!” and reluctantly trotted up to him.
Ennis showed hardly any reaction, though he was impressed. Twist’s horse got even though by moving out of range just as he tried to put a foot in the stirrup to climb aboard.
On the second try she let him get a foothold and he said, “Come on, then," as he swung his leg up and over the saddle, met Ennis’ eyes, then spurred his steed and they spun around on the top of the hill to study the sheep.
Del Mar nodded again and walked carefully down to trusty Cigar Butt while Twist waited above deep in thought.
The ranch-hand's mind was welling with his feelings for Twist and once he reached his horse, he stood down there a long time trying to sort them out.
While Jack watched expectantly, long minutes passed as Ennis seemed to carry out a conversation with Cigar Butt before mounting him.
Jack lingered patiently, sipping some coffee straight from the thermos and absently eating one of the sandwiches he'd brought up here for del Mar while he waited for his friend to collect his thoughts and join him…
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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.