||[Dec. 24th, 2006|02:50 pm]
Ed and Hank, part 19
The best laid plans…
Disclaimer: Somewhere, sometime, Hank told their story to Annie Proulx. Jack and Ennis belong entirely to Annie Proulx. Ed and Hank belong only to each other.
Everything else is here:
Part 19, the best laid plans...
Hank threw his bag into the back of the truck then went back inside and ran upstairs to see if they’d forgotten anything. Ed had gone off to find Bill to go over some last minute stuff and Hank was anxiously waiting for him to finish, eager to get on the road. It was going to be a long drive to Chicago, but Hank was looking forward to it. Hank glanced out the window, looking for Ed and Bill. Then Hank saw them. Ed was half-supporting Bill as they walked towards the house.
Hank rushed down the stairs and made it to the kitchen just as Ed and Bill were coming in.
“Wha’s goin’ on?”
“Found Bill pukin’ behind the barn. Keeps insistin’ he’s okay. But he ain’t.”
“Gonna be fine. Be better in a couple a hours s’all. Don’ wanna ruin yer trip fer ya.”
“Ya ain’t gonna ruin our trip. Hank ‘n I can leave whenever ya start feelin’ better. Don’ matter if’n it’s tomorrow or two weeks from now. Ain’t got no pressin’ schedule here. Least-wise not in winter.”
Hank went to help Ed with Bill, holding a hand to Bill’s forehead, “Yer burnin’ up. C’mon let’s getcha upstairs ‘n inta the guest bed. Like Ed said, don’ worry none ‘bout our trip.”
Bill struggled feebly to get away, “Ain’t gonna put ya out. I’ll jus’ go home ‘n rest ta day. Be back tomorrow good as new.”
“C’mon Bill.” Ed started leading him towards the stairs, “Ain’t no one ta look after ya once ya get home. ‘Sides, ya ain’t fit ta drive ‘n we ain’t gonna take ya.”
Bill gave up his half-hearted protests and allowed himself to be led up the stairs and into the guest bedroom.
“Hold on Bill… I jus’ bought Ed some new pajamas. Jus’ washed ‘em. I’ll go get ‘em. Be more comfortable fer ya.”
Ed looked puzzled as Hank came back, not with the usual pair of cotton sleep pants they wore around the house sometimes at night or on lazy Sunday mornings, but with an old-fashioned pair of the kind of pajamas Ed used to wear when they first moved in together.
Bill managed a weak laugh when he saw them, but then gratefully put them on and crawled into bed after Ed and Hank each pulled off a boot and Hank helped him unbutton his shirt.
“You jus’ rest Bill. We’ll bring ya up some aspirin ‘n some juice ‘n maybe some crackers or broth or somethin’.” Ed turned to Hank, “Whaddya think we should bring him?”
“Dunno. Maybe some a tha’ lemon flavored soda water? Ain’t got no sugar in it though. Tha’ okay with you Bill?”
Bill just grunted.
“Guess we can bring him some a whatever we got ‘n let him choose.”
Ed and Hank left Bill to his misery and started towards the stairs, “Don’ think this is any 24-hour deal. Man mus’ be awful sick. Not one joke ‘bout us takin’ advantage of him.”
“Yeah. Think I better call Iris ‘n let her know wha’s goin’ on.”
Ed and Hank went into the kitchen. Ed took off his coat then grabbed a folding snack tray from beside the fridge and started getting it ready to bring up to Bill.
“Ya okay, Ed? Know you were really lookin’ forward ta spendin’ Christmas with Iris.”
“Yeah, m’okay. Disappointed, a course. But Bill cain’t help gettin’ sick. Jus' glad it happened this mornin', while we were still 'round. Don’ really matter wha’ day a the year we see Iris. Jus’ wanna see her. But… migh’ matter ta her. Now ‘m jus’ hopin’ she’s got someone ta spend Christmas with.”
“Imagine she’ll be spendin’ it with her fella now. She mentioned he was goin' ta see his family in Wisconsin 'n if'n we couldn' make it she'd be goin' with him.” Hank picked up the tray, “I’ll bring this up ta Bill ‘n then I’ll come out ‘n help ya with the chores.”
Ed reached out a hand and laid it across Hank’s forehead, “Funny ya don’ feel hot. Sound prit’ near delirious though… actually offerin’ ta work ‘n all.”
“Y’ever think a takin’ yer act on the road?”
“Was gonna. Trip jus’ got cancelled.” Ed laughed at his own joke.
“So… Ya wan' some help or not?”
“Would like the help, but… maybe ya better stay in the house... in case Bill needs anythin’. Don’ really think we should leave him alone ‘lessen we have ta. Least-wise ‘til he’s feelin’ a migh’ better.”
“Well… Why don’ you work fer a while, then come ‘n take a break ‘n I’ll work fer a while.”
"Careful whatcha offer... migh' jus' take ya up on tha'." Ed leaned over to give Hank a quick kiss then grabbed his hat and coat and headed outside.
Hank brought the tray up to Bill, who was fast asleep, then wandered over to the computer, pulled off his boots and sat down to write. He tried to will his mind back to a time he didn’t really feel like thinking about at the moment. Even more difficult now because he would have much rather have been starting out on that road trip.
Ed and Hank hadn’t been on many road trips, but Hank loved it when they went. Sometimes it seemed as if Hank almost liked the getting there more than the being there. Watching the scenery roll by. Laughing at each other’s dumb jokes. Singing along with the radio. Well, Hank at least, but every now and then, Ed too. They’d complain about each other’s driving and argue about where to stop for lunch or dinner or where to take a break. Hank loved all the stupid tourist traps and got a big kick out of watching their fellow travelers, especially the road-weary families where the parents were clearly worn down to their last nerve and the kids were jumping all over it.
Hank also loved making up outlandish stories about the people in the cars that passed them or that they passed. And at the end of whatever crazy story Hank had made up Ed could be counted on to always say the same thing, “Damn… Sure as hell ‘m glad I ain’t in tha’ car.” It got a laugh out of Hank every time.
And whenever Hank tried to sneak his hand over and squeeze or rub Ed’s thigh, which was at least once every time it was Ed’s turn behind the wheel, Hank could rely on Ed getting all indignant and saying, “’M tryin’ ta drive here, dumbass. Ya wan’ me ta wreck the truck?”
Best of all, when Ed was driving, Hank could just sit and stare at him to his heart’s content. That is until Ed got so irritated with him that Hank would end up pretending to take a nap, while still staring at Ed through half-closed eyes, of course.
“Cough, cough, cough…”
“Y’okay, Bill? Be right there.”
Hank got up from the computer and walked down the hallway to the guest room, poking his head into the room, “Hey, Bill. How ya feelin’? Jeez… Ya look like death warmed over.”
“Thanks. Think tha’d actually be a step up.” Bill's voice was weak and hoarse.
“Can I getcha anythin’? You wan’ some fresh juice? Warm up tha' broth?”
“Nah. Don’ think I can keep nothin’ down jus’ now. Thanks anyways, Hank.” Bill hesitated, “Uh… Do ya happen ta have any tissues?”
“Sorry, Bill. Musta forgot ‘em. Let me go get ‘em fer ya.” Hank went downstairs and grabbed the box of tissues off the coffee table. Hank couldn't help but notice that they had been sitting right on top of that postcard. The one Ed had been going to send Hank right before he was going to do away with himself.
Hank shivered and shook his head as he walked back up the stairs, “How could he not have known? How could he not have seen how bad Ed was feeling?”
Hank handed the tissues to Bill then picked up the remote for the TV and put it on the tray too, “Here. Jus’ in case ya wanna watch some TV.
“Thanks. Prob’bly not though. Got a real bad headache.”
“Can give ya some more aspirin in a little while. Are ya cold? Do ya need another blanket?”
“Nah. Think ‘m jus’ gonna try ‘n get some sleep. Get better so’s you ‘n Ed can get ta Chicago.”
“Stop worryin’ ‘bout tha’ Bill. Ain’t no big deal. Important thing is fer ya ta get better. Ya wan’ me ta call yer sister? Tell her where ya are?”
“Sure. Tha’d be nice a ya. Thanks fer everythin’ Hank.” Bill groaned and turned over.
Hank phoned Bill’s sister then went back and sat down at the computer. Now he couldn’t get that postcard off of his mind. He wracked his brain trying to think of when it might have been. When Ed had finally made up his mind to... Hank just didn’t want to type those words again. All he knew for sure was that it was sometime before Ed’s divorce. Hank did remember one particularly bad week, when Ed had been unusually sullen and withdrawn. But then again maybe Hank just thought it was so bad because their week together a few months before had been so good. Hank smiled as he thought about that week instead.
The way Ed was that week. So… Hank didn’t have the words for it. But Hank thought it meant that Ed was finally starting to think about a future with Hank. Ed would grab hold of Hank every chance he got. In the barn when Hank’s pa was out with the cattle. In the shed when Hank’s pa was in the barn. Even once in the kitchen when Hank’s folks were watching TV in the living room. Seemed like Ed would only let go of Hank that week when he absolutely had to. And when Ed’s arms weren’t holding onto Hank, Ed’s eyes were. Never letting Hank loose. Following him, wherever he went, whatever he did.
On the morning Ed was supposed to leave Hank’s folks had gone into town. Leaning against Ed’s truck, they had kissed again and again, Ed holding onto Hank for a long, long time. Finally, Ed had murmured, “Yer folks say they were stayin’ fer tha’ potluck after church?”
Hank could only manage a nod. He was surprised, Ed rarely lingered on Sunday mornings whether Hank’s folks were around or not. But on that particular Sunday morning Ed had taken Hank’s hand and led him to that trailer.
It had been slow. Slow like the burn of white hot coals. And quiet. Quiet, except for Hank’s low moans and Ed’s breathing Hank’s name over and over again. And afterwards, lying in each other’s arms, Hank couldn’t help himself. He didn’t know if Ed was awake or asleep. He didn’t care. In that moment he just had to say it out loud. Hank kissed the top of Ed’s head, whispering what he had wanted to say so many times before, “Love ya, dumbass. Love ya so much…” Ed hadn’t said anything, but he had pulled Hank closer, held him tighter, held him like he would never let him go.
Then, the inevitable parting couldn’t be put off any longer. Ed was sitting in that old truck again, hanging onto that damn steering wheel again. Ed had started the truck then turned and looked into Hank’s eyes. Hank had seen the usual heartbreaking mix of love and sadness in those eyes. No anger this time, but there was something else… Before Hank could figure out what it was, he was caught by surprise as the words, “Love you too, Hank” came tumbling out of Ed’s mouth. Ed then grimaced, jammed his truck into gear and quickly drove away, leaving Hank stunned at first, then sending him running, jumping and whooping around the yard.
Thinking about it now, so many years later, Hank realized that in a lot of ways that week reminded him of their last week together on that mountain. Only in slow motion and with a lot more tenderness and…
A cold chill suddenly ran through Hank as his fingers froze over the keyboard, “Shit!! It was that week. Goddammit!” That week that Hank had always thought of as another of their best ever was Ed’s worst ever. Ed hadn’t been thinking about a future with Hank after all... Ed had been saying good-bye to Hank. “Shit... How could he have been so blind?”
Hank flew out of his chair and started pacing across the room. After a few erratic trips back and forth, he stopped at the window. The sudden need to see Ed overwhelmed him. The need to hold Ed in his arms, to make sure Ed was real. To make sure all of this was real. But Ed was no where in sight. Hank went to check on Bill then grabbed his boots and hurried down to the kitchen. He needed to find Ed. Now.
When he got to the kitchen Hank peered out the window, looking for Ed again. He spied him heading towards the house, awkwardly carrying Hankthedog in his arms, Edthedog trailing close behind. “Shit! What now?”
Hank quickly pulled on his boots and ran out to meet Ed. “Wha’ happened?”
“Don’ worry. Dog’s fine. Jus’ got a bur in his foot ‘n I didn’ want him ta have ta walk. Know fer a fact them things hurt like the devil.”
Hank sighed with relief, then doubled back and held the kitchen door open for Ed and Edthedog. Ed brought Hankthedog into the kitchen, set him on the floor then grabbed a scissors and knelt down next to him.
Looking at Ed working so carefully on removing that bur, trying his best not to hurt Hankthedog, Hank's knees suddenly felt weak and he plopped down heavily onto a kitchen chair, rubbing his face with his hands, thinking to himself, “It’s alright. Ed’s here. Ed’s real. Ed’s mine.”
Ed turned and looked at Hank, concern written on his face, “Ya feelin’ okay, Hank? Ya look a migh’ white. S’only a bur. Got it out already.”
Ed set the scissors down, stood up and started to take a step towards Hank, but Hank was already out of his chair, wrapping Ed tight in his arms, holding Ed close, holding Ed tight, “Ain’t tha’ Ed. Jus’… need ta know yer real. Tha’ all this is real.”
“S’all real Hank. ‘M real. Last I checked anyways. Yer kinda spookin' me here though. Jus’ tell me yer alright. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with ya, is there?”
“S’ nothin’. ’M okay. Jus’ need ya.” Hank just wanted Ed in his arms. Ed in their bed.
“Ya wanna talk ‘bout it?”
Hank didn’t want to make Ed talk about that week, didn’t want to make him relive it, “Nah. Nothin’ ta talk ‘bout. Jus’ had ma self a scare. Kinda like a bad dream. Jus’ feelin’ real thankful tha’ yer here.”
“Had yerself a scare? Ya ain’t never scared. Yer the one always had a fearless heart. Don’ go losin’ it on me now.”
Hank grinned then, slightly loosening his hold on Ed, “Fearless heart, huh? But was it strong ‘nough ta get ya through the scary parts?”
“Sure was… Huh...?”
“From tha’ Steve Earle cd Iris sent us. Song called ‘Fearless Heart.’” Hank continued loosely quoting lyrics from the song, “’Cause no matter how many times ya broke it before, ma fearless heart jus’ kept goin’ back fer more.”
“Iris sure does send us a lot a cds.”
“Guess she’s jus’ tryin’ ta get us old dogs ta learn some new dance steps.”
“No way am I dancin’.”
“Had a diff’rent kinda dance in mind.” Hank’s hands went to Ed’s belt loops and he pulled him close again.
“Cain’t… Bill’s here. He’d hear us.”
Hank lowered his voice, “C’mon Ed… Sick as Bill is, he’s gonna be dead ta the world fer a long time. We can lock our door. Put some music on. Soft music. Like tha’ Rosanne Cash cd from the other night. Can play tha’ song ya like so much over ‘n over. Or tha’ song from the Sarah McLachlan cd Iris sent us… Tha’ live one. Can pretend all tha’ applause is fer us.”
Ed grinned, “Yeah… Jus' like ya ta want a whole bunch a people cheerin’ ya on.”
Hank ignored Ed, whispering now, “Need ya... Jus’ need ya. We can do it real slow-like. Be real quiet-like. Promise ta keep ma moanin’ real low.” Hank could feel Ed’s interest building. “Bill won’t hear nothin’. ‘Sides… if’n he does hear tha’ noise ya make he’ll jus’ think he’s delirious ‘n dreamin’ of a buffalo stuck in the mud.”
“Gotta call Iris, tell her…”
“Know she ain’t home from work yet. Ya can call her later.”
“Let me check on Bill first. Make sure he ain’t wide ‘wake anyways.”
“Fair ‘nough. But first...” Hank moved his hands to either side of Ed's face and pulled him in for a long, slow kiss.
Hank broke the kiss first, taking Ed's hand and leading him up the stairs. Hank stopped in the doorway of their room while Ed continued down the hall and into the guest room. Ed came out a few seconds later and Hank raised his eyebrows at him in a silent question.
Ed walked towards Hank, whispering, “Man’s out like a light. Looks like he could sleep fer a week.”
Hank reached out for Ed, “C’mere then, Ed… c’mere…”
And then it was like that long-ago Sunday morning all over again. Only better. No under-current of sadness. No hidden despair. No hearts always breaking. Just never-ending, everlasting, more-today-than yesterday… love.
“Hank… that… that… that was…”
“Yeah… It sure as hell was...”
Ed and Hank lay quietly in each other’s arms then, listening to that song play yet again. And again. And again.
“Ya know… wha’ I said the other night…? ‘Bout bein’ glad ya never gave up on us? Know I was talkin’ funny-like at the time. But... meant it. ‘M real glad ya had tha’ fearless heart.”
“Know ya meant it. Ya don’ never say nothin’ ya don’ mean. But…’fraid ma heart weren’t as fearless as ya think it was.” Hank held Ed tighter, trying hard not to think about those times he had almost given up on Ed. Almost let Ed go by choice. And trying even harder not to think about Ed almost giving up on Ed.
“It were fearless ‘nough. Tha's all tha’ mattered in the end.” Ed pulled Hank closer, whispering in his ear, “Sorry… ‘bout breakin’ it so much. Yer heart. Know I did. Could see it every time I left ya.”
“Thought I hid it better ‘n tha’...”
“Tha’ face a yers ain’t never been able ta hide nothin’. Ain’t never told ya… but… broke ma heart ta leave ya too. Ev’ry single time.”
“Ya sure hid it lot better ‘n I did. Mos’ a the time, anyways.”
“Secret’s duct tape.” Ed smiled then, “Figured if tha’ stuff could hold this here ranch together it migh’ be able to keep one l'il ol’ heart from fallin’ ta pieces. Kept it duct-taped up so tight ain’t no one could tell it were broke so bad. Not Nora. Not you. Hell... not even me sometimes.”
“Sure wish ya woulda told me yer secret back then. Coulda used some a tha' tape on ma self. Few dozen rolls oughta have done the job well 'nough.” Hank shifted then, rollling on top of Ed and giving him a gentle kiss, "Thanks, Ed. Fer tellin' me tha'. Means a lot ta know ya felt the same..."
“Cough, cough, cough, cough, cough…”
“Guess it's 'bout time we checked on Bill…”
“Yeah. Poor guy.”
Hank moved to get up, but Ed grabbed his arm, “Wait a minute… Wha’s with them pajamas ya brought Bill? Thought ya hated it when I used ta wear them things?"
Hank grinned, “Guess yer way behind in yer readin’. Kinda like a present fer ma self."
"Ain't never seen ya wearin' pajamas... Thought ya told Bill ya bought 'em fer me."
"Did buy 'em fer you. Present's fer me though." Hank broke away from Ed and went over to their dresser, opening the second drawer, he reached in and pulled out a pair of pajamas, "Got ‘nother pair fer ya righ' here. Whenever ya wanna see wha' 'm talkin' 'bout ya jus' go ahead 'n put 'em on.”