|||||Cowboy, take me away... Dixie Chicks||]|
Ed and Hank, Part 22, New Year’s Eve Day
Disclaimer: Well, now you kind of know where and how Hank told Annie Proulx their story. Jack and Ennis belong to Annie Proulx. Ed and Hank belong only to each other. Losin' money again. Comments: Good, bad or ugly, always welcome.
Everything else is here:
Part 22, Permanent-like.
“Wha’ the hell…?”
“’S a lamb.”
“Can see tha’. Wha’ the hell happened ta it?”
“Edthedog happened ta it. Musta drug it all the ‘way from one a them new houses up the road.”
“Houses gotta be least two miles 'way… maybe more… How'd he manage tha'? 'N them dogs don’ norm’lly roam off like tha’.” Ed shook his head, “Damn houses. Gettin’ closer all the time. Dumbass folks wantin’ ta move ta the countryside. Buy ten, maybe twenty acres 'n think they're buyin' a damn ranch. Surrounded by other city folks doin' the same damn thing. 'Fore they know it they's jus' livin' in the goddamn suburbs again. Then they start complainin’ ‘bout the smell. Bitchin’ ‘cause there ain’t no gas stations or shoppin’. Next thing ya know they’re puttin’ in a goddamn Wal-Mart…”
“So… Whadya think we should do…? ‘Bout the lamb? Cain’t do nothin’ ‘bout them houses...”
“Dunno… Way tha’ poor lamb looks, bound ta be some signs of a struggle. Guess we get in the truck ‘n drive ‘round ‘n see if’n we can find a house with one a them nativity scenes tha’ seems ta be missin’ one. Knock on the door ‘n tell ‘em wha’ happened. Buy ‘em a new one.”
“Where da ya s’pose we’re gonna find a plastic light-up baby lamb?”
“Be damned if'n I know… Maybe they’ll jus’ take some money fer it. How much ya think one a them costs?”
“Wouldn’ have no idea…”
“Or… was gonna call Iris ta day. Tell her ‘Happy New Year’ ‘n ask when’d be a good time ta visit...”
“Ya still wanna go ta Chicago?”
“Course not. But prob'bly ain't got much choice if'n I wanna see Iris. Anyways, bet she’d know where ta get somethin’ like tha’. She’d prob’bly even get it fer us.”
“Cain’t hurt ta ask her. Meanwhile… whadda we do ‘bout them dogs roamin’? Don’ wan’ ‘em gettin’ hurt.”
“Don’ rightly know. Guess we jus’ try ta keep a better eye on ‘em. Tell ‘em not ta if’n they start ta head off.”
“Yeah... Jus’ tellin’ ‘em oughta work real well.”
“Got any better ideas? Cain’t fence the place off. Cain’t keep ‘em inside all the time. Won’ put ‘em on a chain...”
“Guess we will jus’ have ta keep tellin’ ‘em ‘til it sinks in. Or keep 'em inside 'lessen we're out there with 'em.
“Maybe it were jus’ a fluke. They ain’t never done it ‘fore.”
“Well… guess it coulda been worse…” Hank laughed, “Least-wise Edthedog didn’ run off with their light-up baby Jesus. Could jus’ see it…‘Howdy ma’am, ma name is Hank ‘n this here is Ed, the man I love more ‘n life itself. Yes ma’am, yer correct, that would include knowin’ him in the biblical sense. Well, ma'am, must admit, feels mighty natural ta me. Uh... no ma'am, ain't quite sure whatcha mean by indoctrinatin' yer kids... Do know ya can get 'em inoculated down at tha' clinic in town... We really jus' come over ta talk ta ya 'bout replacin' yer chewed up baby Jesus. Poor fella's prit' near unrecognizable...'"
“Nope. Jus' warmin' up here… 'Yes ma'am, we do know tha' yer God will be seein' ta it tha' we burn in hell. Agenda? Uh... well... ain't really got no set agenda. 'N nothin' real secret 'bout it... guess we'll jus' be havin' a nice dinner later on, maybe put on some music 'n have a couple a drinks, then we'll be doin' this shirt-switchin' thing 'round 'bout midnight... tha' part's kinda a secret I guess... awful long story too... 'n then I'll prob'bly be jumpin' on this here handsome fella standin' next ta me. Well... if'n ya must know, we take turns. Ain't like we keep track though... Now... how much money ya figure it’ll take ta replace tha’ l'il baby Jesus a yers? That much?!? Guess tha' must include pain 'n sufferin' too…”
Ed didn't look too amused, “Shit… Wait a minute Hank... Ya know them dogs ain’t never apart… What if'n Hankthedog had the baby Jesus ‘n jus’ dropped him somewheres ‘tween here and there?”
Hank was still laughing at the picture he had in his mind, “Guess it’s poss’ble… Ain’t likely though…”
Think I got a headache. Still feelin’ a migh’ under the weather. Maybe you oughta jus’ go ‘n look fer tha’ house withou' me.”
“Yer jus’ a big ol’ chicken, ain’t ya?”
Hank laughed, “Okay, ya big ol’ chicken, ya don’ have ta come with me, seein’ as how yer still recoverin’ ‘n all. But here’s ma terms… gonna wait ‘til later… no tellin’ how late them city folks sleep… ‘n righ’ now, since I got most a them chores done, ‘m gonna go do some writin’.”
“Got yerself a deal.”
“Okay then. But… ya never know Ed, they could end up bein’ real nice folks…"
“Could be... You jus' lemme know. Righ' now 'm gonna go do some paperwork. Guess I’ll wait a l'il while 'fore I call Iris… bein’ one a them city-folk she prob’bly ain’t up yet neither.”
Ed turned and headed towards the living room then stopped and gave Hank a smile that made his heart skip at least a couple of beats, maybe more, “'More ‘n life itself', huh?”
Hank sat down at the computer and sighed. He had to pick up where he’d left off a couple of chapters ago, with that big old argument they’d had after Ed’s divorce, but he really didn’t feel like it. It was New Year’s Eve after all. Their day to celebrate. He didn’t want to think about any of the bad times.
But that’s how it had gone. Over the next few years, every now and again, they’d had the same old argument, with the same end result every time… Ed refusing to budge and Hank getting more and more frustrated with every failed attempt to spur Ed to make the move.
And then they’d had a particularly bad week. Ed had seemed on edge the whole time. Well, except at night, when that edge got worn down real good. But every day the tension would start to build up again, maybe even a little worse than the day before, until by the end of that week Hank was so irritated and confused that he was almost glad to see Ed getting ready to leave. Almost…
That is, until it was actually time for Ed to leave. Then the same old pain hit Hank in the same old way. One more good-bye. One more week together behind them. At least three months apart stretching out in front of them.
Ed had hesitated before getting into his truck, “Shit... Hank, I think I left my work boots in the closet. Would ya mind goin’ ta get ‘em fer me. I gotta check the oil here. Truck here’s been burnin’ oil like it’s goin’ outta style.”
Grumbling under his breath, Hank had gone into the trailer and opened the closet door. Ed’s boots were on the floor. He picked them up then stopped. There were two shirts hanging on that hanger. Hank couldn’t remember the last time he had looked in that closet. “How long had both shirts been there?” Hank dropped Ed’s boots and slammed the closet door shut. He could feel the anger rising up in his throat. “Those shirts didn’t belong together, not as long as Ed wasn’t with him permanent-like.” Ed knew damn well that’s how Hank felt about it.
Hank turned when he heard the trailer door open. Ed came in. Hank opened his mouth, started to say, “Wha’ the hell…” He stopped when he saw that Ed was carrying a laundry basket full of clothes. Full of Ed’s clothes.
“Would ya take this fer me, Hank? Got a little more in the truck.”
“Ed…?” Hank was confused. Ed’s face was unreadable. Looked kind of pained, if anything.
“Wha…?” Hank wanted to believe it. He just couldn’t, “Are ya…?”
Ed grimaced, “Been waitin’ fer ya ta open tha’ damn closet door all week… Didn’ know how ta bring it up.”
Then the words started rushing out of Ed’s mouth, as if to hold Hank at bay, “Now… don’ wantcha makin’ a big deal outta this. Gonna try is all. See how it goes. Durin' ma last visit... got up the nerve ta tell yer pa I were thinkin’ a movin’ up here. Was gonna look fer work ‘n find m’ own place. Asked him if’n he knew a anythin’. He tol’ me he weren’t up ta workin’ much no more. Said he were thinkin’ a talkin’ ta you ‘bout hirin’ someone on half-time-like. ‘Course… said I couldn’ take his money, but gonna give me room ‘n board ‘n …”
Hank had been stunned, rooted to the spot. Then he recovered, cutting Ed off, not caring about the details, just caring that Ed was still here, that Ed wasn’t leaving, that Ed was his. “Ed was his…” Hank threw himself at Ed full-force, the basket of clothes falling to the floor and spilling out, Ed stumbling back against the flimsy wall. The trailer, and maybe even the earth itself, shaking with the force of that collision.
Ed was the first to break free, “Hank… yer folks are ‘round. Ain’t even noon yet… We cain’t do this now.…”
Hank didn’t care. They’d have all the time they wanted, later tonight. And tomorrow night. And the next night. And the night after that. And all the days in between. “Ed was still here. Ed wasn’t leaving him again. Ed was his.” Hank didn’t have to look at Ed staring down at that goddamn steering wheel one more time. He didn’t have to hear Ed saying good-bye one more time. Didn’t have to watch Ed driving away one more time. Didn’t have to bear his own heart breaking one more time.
All of the sudden that cramped trailer was too small to contain Hank’s happiness. Hell, the whole world was too small to contain Hank’s happiness. He grabbed Ed and pulled him outside. Pulled him towards the barn.
“Wha…? Whatcha doin’ Hank?”
“We’re goin’ fer a ride, dumbass. Gotta get outta here fer a little while.
“’S kinda cold out…”
“Go get them horses saddled. I’ll be righ’ back.” Hank reluctantly let loose of Ed’s arm and hurried back into the trailer. He grabbed a couple of old blankets then looked around for something to put them in. He stopped, opening the closet door… slowly… all of the sudden almost afraid to look, afraid he’d somehow dreamed the whole thing.
Hank let out a sigh, Ed’s shirt was hanging over his. Hank reached out and lifted that hanger off the rail, tucking the blankets under his arm, he closed his eyes, pulling those shirts close to him. He could feel the cold wire hanger against his face, the worn fabric of Ed’ old shirt in his hands. Hank opened his eyes and studied his old shirt. He hadn't seen that shirt since their reunion week, so long ago now, and before that on their last day on their mountain, when Ed had declared his love for it. It all seemed real enough.
And Ed was real too. Waiting for him outside. Hank quickly switched the shirts so his shirt was on top, then he hung them back up, grabbed Ed’s now-empty old knapsack that was lying on the floor of the closet next to Ed’s boots and stuffed the blankets into it.
Horses saddled, they rode off together, Hank urging his horse into a flat-out gallop as soon as he thought she’d warmed up enough, Ed following close behind. Hank had decided to hell with waiting for tonight. He knew exactly where they were going. Assumed Ed did too. They rode until they reached the spot Hank had found years ago when he was just a boy. A secluded spot near the edge of their property that butted up against BLM land where there was an unexpected stand of pine trees, next to a small, now frozen, stream and tucked between two low hills.
That spot was shaded in summer and sheltered from the cold wind in winter. Sheltered from prying eyes too. They went there every now and again. When the work was slow and they needed some space between them and the ranch, or between them and Hank’s folks, or them and the world.
They had made a fire ring out of rocks and worked hard to pull a heavy old log into a better position under those trees. Even put a tent up once in a while and stayed out there overnight. And nearby, Hank had built a number of small rock cairns. He had built one every time he and Ed had come out there. At first just because, then later as if to mark each time they had been there, the whole group together forming a jumbled monument to him and Ed. After a while Ed had even joined in, adding a rock or two to each stack Hank had made.
Hank dismounted and tied his horse to a tree. He spread out one of the blankets then grabbed the other blanket, holding it in his arms, turning to wait for Ed.
“I’ll build us a fire, Hank.”
“Okay.” Hank hadn’t felt the need for a fire, the one burning inside him was providing more than enough heat, but he let Ed go ahead and build one anyway. Hank stood still, taking in the sight of Ed crouched next to that fire ring. "His Ed." This was the start of their life together. A real life. Just like other folks got. Only no one else got Ed. He did. Hank let his eyes slide over Ed’s back then down to Ed's ass and along Ed's thighs.
Ed cursed then muttered, “Cain’t get no match lit here...”
Hank’s eyes went to Ed’s hands, fumbling with the matches, those strong hands, those rough hands, those sometimes unbelievably gentle hands…
“Don’ matter none…” Hank was tired of waiting, the want plain in his voice, “C’mere, Ed…”
Ed had stood up then, turning to Hank. No fire in that stone ring. But it sure was blazing in Ed’s eyes. Hank dropped the blanket he was holding. They moved at the same time to close the space between them. This time the collision knocked them both to the ground, maybe even knocked the earth off its axis… just a little.
“Like the first time… want it just like the first time, Ed…” Hank wanted it hard and fast. So there could be no doubt it was real. Besides, he knew there’d be time enough for all the rest of it later.
And then it was just like their first time. Down on that hard, unyielding ground, their fingers fumbling from the cold this time, not from inexperience. Just like that first time... Except that Ed was moaning Hank’s name this time. And Hank Ed’s. Over and over again.
And then afterwards, it wasn’t like that first night at all. Lying wrapped in each other’s arms, the other blanket retrieved and pulled up over them, Ed's kisses so impossibly sweet and passionate and tender, all at the same time, that Hank began to believe it really was all just some cruel dream and he would wake up any minute to find himself alone. Ed gone.
That is, until Ed had whispered in Hank’s ear, “Gotta tell ya… ‘m kinda scared here Hank. Ain’t altogether sure ‘bout this…”
Hank knew that was real. And true enough.
“It’s gonna be alrigh’ Ed. Know it will...” Of course Hank didn’t know that, but he wasn’t about to tell Ed.
Hank was scared too. Scared Ed wouldn’t stick. He couldn't help but hear Ed’s words from earlier, “Gonna try is all. See how it goes…” But Hank shoved those words out of his head. He wasn’t going to worry about that today. Not today. Ed was here today. And Ed was going to be here tomorrow.
No ‘I love you’s’ were said that day. Least not full-out. Even though Hank wanted to yell it into the wind and shout it from the top of one of those hills. The higher one if he had to choose. But Ed had asked him not to make a big deal out of this and Hank did his best not to. He wasn’t about to push Ed any further than he’d already gone. And besides, Hank knew Ed loved him. Ed wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t love Hank. A whole lot.
Finally, the cold getting the better of them, Ed got up to start a fire while Hank moved the blankets next to that big old log so they could sit in their usual manner, Hank holding Ed this time. Holding Ed real tight.
“Didn’ quite hear all ya said ‘fore, Ed. Ya workin’ fer ma pa?”
“Jus’ some a the time, fer room ‘n board.”
“Ain’t righ'. I'll make sure ya get paid a wage too.”
“Yer pa offered. Turned him down. Wouldn’ take no money from yer folks.” Ed frowned, “Yer pa didn’ let nothin’ slip, did he? Asked him not ta… But… I were so worried he migh’ let the cat out a the bag ‘fore I had everythin’ worked out. ‘Fore I knew fer sure if’n it were gonna work out."
“Didn' say a word. Ain’t ‘xactly a real talkative fella if’n ya hadn’ noticed.”
Ed laughed, “I noticed.”
“Yeah, kinda like someone else I know…”
“Wouldn’ ha’ no idea who yer talkin’ bout.”
"Jus' bet ya don'."
Ed shook his head, "Don' think yer folks even know fer sure tha' I ain't leavin' ta day."
"Bet they mighta figured it out by now. May not talk much, but they ain't 'xactly stupid."
"Guess they woulda... Ain't never stayed this late before."
Hank was afraid to ask, “Know ya ain’t done with yer child support. ‘N alimony…”
“Got ‘nother job in town. At the co-op here. Start next week. When I tol’ ma boss I were thinkin’ a leavin’, maybe lookin’ fer work in these parts, he tol’ me he knew the fella tha’ runs the co-op here, said he’d put in a good word fer me. Jus’ hirin’ me part time ta begin with, but come spring should be lot more work. Yer pa’s okay with it. Said I could work here ‘round tha’ job.”
“Tha’ gonna be ‘nough?”
“Should be. Pay ain’t as good as I were makin’. But ain’t too bad. ‘N Nora’s found a fella. Seems like a nice guy. They’re talkin’ ‘bout gettin’ married, so tha’ migh’ take care a tha’ alimony. ‘N been savin’ some… Much as I could these past few years. Livin’ real cheap. Eatin’ lots a beans…”
Hank couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice, “Ya been savin’? Fer this? Fer us?”
“Yeah… No… I dunno… Jus’ savin’… Figured it’d jus’ be a good thing ta do… Iris maybe goin' ta college... Didn’ have no plan… or nothin’…”
Hank smiled, while Ed wasn’t looking, some deeply buried part of Ed must have been plotting this all along, going against everything Ed said and everything Ed thought he believed.
Hank hesitated, “’N Iris? Wha’ ‘bout seein’ Iris? Know it’s ‘nother year or two’ fore she heads off ta college…”
“These days Iris’d rather spend time with her friends than her borin’ ol’ pa. Talked ta her ‘bout it ‘fore I did anythin’ though, ‘n…”
“Ya told her…? ‘Bout me...? ‘Bout us…?”
Ed strained his neck, turning to look at Hank like he was out of his mind, “Yer kiddin’ righ’? Ain’t gonna tell ma teen-age daughter her daddy lov… uh… her daddy’s movin’ in with ‘nother man.”
Hank couldn’t keep from smiling again at Ed’s near slip, “Sorry Ed, wouldn’ expect ya to.”
“Anyways, talked ta Iris ‘n Nora ‘n we decided it’d be good fer Iris ‘n me ta try ‘n see each other once a month fer a weekend. Figure I could leave Friday after work ‘n come back Sunday afternoon. Jus’ gotta make sure it ain’t no big prom weekend or football game or some kinda slumber party or nothin’… So’s the weekend I go each month migh’ be changin’. Ain’t quite figured out where I’ll be stayin’ ‘n all… Don’ wanna spend the money on a motel room like tha’ every month. Guess I’ll prob’bly jus’ sleep in the back a ma truck ‘lessen it gets real cold…”
“Does… does Nora know?”
“Wha’ the hell? This ain’t ‘nough fer ya? Now yer gonna wan’ me ta go ‘round tellin’ everybody too? Shit... Next thing I know ya will be puttin’ up tha’ billboard.”
Hank pulled Ed even closer, “It's more ‘n ‘nough, dumbass. Was jus’ a question. Jus’ thought seein’ as ya used ta be married ta the woman it mighta come up at some point. Ain’t sayin’ ya gotta tell no one.”
“Jus’ tol’ her ‘m movin’ ta help ya out more on yer ranch. Yer pa not bein’ able ta no more. Kinda the truth, anyways…”
Hank laughed, “Kinda…” He really couldn’t have cared less who knew or who didn’t. All he cared about was that Ed was in his arms and not leaving him ever again, at least not permanent-like. Thinking back on all of those other ‘best weeks ever’, Hank now knew none ever came close to this one day.
Hank stopped typing. It had suddenly occurred to him that the one question he had never asked Ed was, “Why?” At the time he didn’t really care. Wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. After all, the why of it didn’t really seem to matter. The only thing that mattered was that Ed wasn’t leaving.
Besides, Hank had always just assumed it had been Ed’s brush with death the summer before that had finally brought him around. Coming face to face with his own mortality and all.
Like his folks a few years later and Bill’s Molly, it had been another crash. Well another near-crash anyway. Not an uncommon way to die in these parts. Work on the ranch all caught up, Hank and Ed had taken a couple of days off to go camping. The night before they were leaving an unexpected storm had moved in. The near-crash had happened when they’d been heading down some steep switchbacks a lot like the ones they'd had to negotiate for their reunion week so long ago.
But this time the rain had made sections of these particular switchbacks treacherous. Where it was rocky it was fine. And most of that road was rocky. But where it was muddy both their trucks lost traction and fish-tailed again and again. By the time they had realized how bad it was, it was impossible to turn around and go back and wait for it to dry out. Might have taken days anyway.
They hugged the canyon wall, staying as far away from that edge as possible. But that wasn’t very far. Hank wished desperately for a gear lower than first and hoped that his brakes wouldn’t overheat. He nervously watched Ed’s truck just ahead of him, willing it to stay on the road.
Then Hank’s heart stopped as he saw Ed’s truck start a slow slide. And Hank couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Ed's truck was heading straight for one of the sharp U-turns, a sheer drop off straight ahead. From the brake lights Hank could tell Ed was pumping them over and over and he could see him trying to steer, trying to turn, but nothing was making any difference. Ed's tires were caked with a thick coat of clay turned to mud and the truck continued on its seemingly unstoppable slide towards the edge.
Hank had started pounding on his steering wheel, shouting “Jump! Jump! Dammit Ed, jump!” But he knew Ed couldn’t hear him.
And then… somehow… Ed’s truck had turned. It bumped and scraped against the canyon wall then finally came to a stop. Hank managed to stop his own truck, got out, and stumbled over to Ed, slipping in the mud, his legs weak from the scare and threatening to give out. He ran up to the passenger side window, since he wouldn’t fit between the cliff wall and the driver’s door. Ed was just sitting there, staring down at that damn steering wheel, his hands still gripped tight on either side of it. Hank yanked the door open and pulled Ed across that bench seat and out of that truck, pulled Ed into his arms...
"Hey Hank… Ya wan’ some lunch?”
Hank turned to see Ed standing in the doorway. He got up and walked over to him, threw his arms around him and gave him a long kiss.
"Guess I'll have ta offer ya lunch more often..."
“Be down in a few minutes. Jus’ wanna finish this part.”
Hank hesitated, holding on as Ed started to move away, “Uh… Hey, Ed…?”
“Writin’ ‘bout the day when ya finally came ta stay… But… jus’ realized I never asked ya ‘why’. Guess I always assumed it was ‘count a tha’ near-crash ya had on them switchbacks the summer before… almost goin’ over the edge ‘n all… givin' ya a good scare... Maybe makin' ya realize ya jus' couldn' go on livin' withou' me no more?”
“Guess tha’ were part a it. Tell ya… scared the hell outta me ‘n then some. Don’ think I ever been so scared… ‘fore or since…” Ed grinned then, “I take tha’ back. Tha’ didn’ scare me near as much as movin’ here did… Almos’ chickened out ‘fore the end a tha’ week… ‘fore I told ya I was stayin’. Course… didn’ have no job ta go back ta anyways.”
Hank smiled, “Don’ recall ya ever actually tellin' me ya was stayin'. Not outrigh’ anyways…”
“Did so tell ya…" Ed leaned in to whisper in Hank's ear, "Remember it word fer word as a matter a fact, I said, ‘Hey dumbass, mind if'n I move in with ya? ‘Cause I love ya more ’n life itself ‘n ’I don’ wanna waste ‘nother minute livin’ withou’ ya by ma side." Ed's arms tightened around Hank, pulling him close, "Or in front a me... Or behind me... Or ‘neath me... Or on top a me... Or wherever it is ya wanna be. S’ long as it ain’t no more ‘n arm’s length ‘way.’”
"Still not ringin' no bells here..."
Ed tried to sound hurt, “Jeez… Man spills his guts out ta ya ‘n ya don’ even remember… Prob'bly ain't a real accurate story ya been tellin' there...”
“Guess I'll jus' have ta take yer word fer it 'n go back 'n re-write tha’ part.” Hank laughed, “So… got somethin’ on yer mind there, Cowboy?”
“Or maybe yer jus’ tryin’ ta sidetrack me? Keep me from askin’ ya ‘bout the rest a it… if’n tha’ near-crash were only part a it?”
“Ain’t all tha’ earth-shatterin’ or nothin’… Not nearly as ‘xcitin’ as almos’ slidin’ off a cliff anyways.”
“So then ya shouldn’ have no problem tellin’ me ‘bout it…”
Ed let go of Hank, “Ha… Saved by the bell. Better get tha’. Prob’bly Iris callin’ me back. Left her a message.” Ed picked up the phone next to the bed and wandered out of the room, talking to Iris.
Ed stuck his head back into the room, “Hold on Iris.” He placed his hand over the receiver looking a little annoyed, “Yeah, Hank?”
“More ‘n life itself, huh?” Hank gave Ed a smile that he hoped made Ed’s heart thump.
A big ol' grin stuck on his face, Hank turned back to his keyboard, wanting to hear the rest of the story from Ed, but taking his word that it wasn’t anything earth-shattering, his mind drifted easily back to their… well… his, anyway, best day ever. Harder to say that now, looking back on a lifetime together filled with best days ever, like today and yesterday and the day before that. After all, just spending it with Ed made any ordinary day one of Hank's best days ever. Of course there were a fair number of bad days too. And even a few in the running for worst day ever. But Hank wouldn't trade away a single one if it meant less time spent with Ed. But that particular day would always be the best day ever, because without that day there never would have been any of the others.
All talked out, they had sat by that fire for a long time, Hank trying to commit to memory every minute… no… every second, of that day. A day he'd never really believed he’d see. He thought back over the week before, searching for missed clues, but not finding any, besides Ed’s agitation. And maybe an unexpected smile crossing his ma’s face every now and then in the weeks before Ed moved in.
Then, after a good while, despite the fire and Ed held tight in his arms, the cold started to work its way deep into Hank’s bones. And he had to take a piss. Bad. Realizing Ed was asleep, and not wanting to wake him, Hank waited a few minutes, then a few more, and a few more, his discomfort becoming considerable. Finally, Ed stirred, yawning and stretching a little as Hank’s arms loosened from around him.
Hank whispered in Ed’s ear, “Hey there, ‘bout time ya woke up.”
“Why?” Ed yawned again, “We got somewheres we gotta be?”
“Nope. We don’. But I do.” Hank eased out from behind Ed. Standing up, he stretched briefly then walked stiffly, but very quickly, over to one of the far trees.
“Oh...” Ed laughed, then leaned forward and threw another log on the fire, using a nearby stick to get that log settled just right and get that fire blazing again, “Jeez Hank… How long ya been waitin’ fer me ta wake up?”
“Not tha’ long. Woulda pitched ya off a me if’n things had gotten critical.”
“Should hope so…” Ed stretched and yawned again, “Watcha doin’ now?”
“Gonna build me a righ’ big ol’ cairn this time. Mark this day but good.”
“Think we already did tha’. Marked the day but good I mean… ‘N ya marked tha’ tree purty good too. Prob’bly be dead next time we come out here.”
“Wouldn’ be a bit s'prised…”
Hank soon had a start on a good size rock pile and Ed was starting to boss him around.
“Don’ think tha’ one should go there…”
“Well then why don’ ya get yer sweet ass over here ‘n put it where ya want it.”
"Guess I'll jus' have ta."
Ed groaned as he got up to join Hank. Then they worked on building that big old cairn together.
"Why ya stoppin'?"
"No it ain't..."
"Well... gotta take inta account how cold it is out here..."
"Think yer funny, dontcha?"
By the time they had finished building a cairn suitably-large enough to satisfy Hank, the sun was sinking low in the western sky.
“Guess we better head on back. Gonna be dark soon.”
“Yep. Night sure falls fast this time a year.”
Ed stretched and yawned one more time, “Jeez... sure am lookin’ forward ta tha’ bed tonigh’”
“Ya cain’t be tired. Had yerself tha’ long nap…”
Hank laughed but he was so happy he could just as well have cried instead.
“Gettin’ mighty hungry though…”
“Me too. Think my pa ‘n I can look forward ta eatin’ a lot better ‘round here now tha' yer gonna be 'round… Know my ma will be wantin' ta fatten ya up. Ain't never given her quite 'nough time 'fore.”
As they headed slowly back to the house the sunset lit the sky behind them in brilliant shades of yellow, pink, purple and blue.
“This ain’t righ’.” Hank shook his head, “Not righ’ t’all…”
“Wha’ ain’t right?”
“Think we’re s’posed ta be ridin’ off tha’ way… inta tha’ there sunset. Not ‘way from it.”
Ed laughed, “Well dumbass, home is this way... wouldn’ make no sense ta be goin’ that a way.”
“Wha' didya jus’ say…?”
“Wouldn’ make no sense ta be goin’ that a way…?”
“No… the part ‘fore tha’ ‘n after ‘dumbass’…”
“Home is this way…?”
“Yeah, Ed. Home sure is this way.”
And then, for the first time in all his years spent on this earth,
Hank truly felt like he was heading home.