Chapters 30, 31 and 32: Ennis puts down more roots in Duluth and faces some realities about coming out; Jack helps him reconsider a bad decision.
It was almost three o'clock in the afternoon before Andrea's borrowed van trundled down the last street of the quiet working-class neighborhood and dropped her client off at home. The two women seemed to strike up conversations with someone behind every door they knocked on. “Good day's work!” Andrea told her. “See you Wednesday, Pat. Let's all get to City Hall early.”
“Mind stopping by my place before I take you home?” she asked. He shook his head, considering this a minor matter since it wasn't quite late enough for David to be heading home.
Ennis had only half-listened to the chatter of the two women, much of which he had trouble following anyway when they were talking about the neighborhood project. Terms like setbacks, water lines, tenant turnover mixed with Andrea's advice to Patricia about the do's and don'ts of convincing city officials to be on the neighbors' side. In her turn, Patricia talked about finding a good preschool before September, her husband's job at what she proudly called “the brokerage house”; how the neighborhood had changed since her parents had lived in the house, their plans to sell it and “relocate up” by 1990.
He was happy enough to keep his attention on the road and on following Andrea's directions. Focusing on work had been a good ruse for keeping attention off himself often enough to be a habit, and he used the intervals parked on the street, waiting for Andrea and Patricia, to re-taste and relive the events of late last night and early this morning.
* * * *
He'd slept deeply and without any dreams that he could remember; and for a moment, after waking up in David's bedroom, he wasn't sure where he was. David was not beside him and when he glanced at the bedside table whose clock read 7:45, a few moments of panic followed “Oh my God, I've slept all day.” The realization he hadn't registered at the same time David reappeared, carrying a platter with two steaming cups of coffee and a package of cinnamon rolls. “Not much of a breakfast, bro, but I just woke up too.”
They sat together on the bed with the platter between them, eating and drinking in comfortable silence, both wishing they didn't have to leave the house that day. “Good rolls,” Ennis said finally. “I like cinnamon.”
“That's what that brown and white stuff is on your lip.” David leaned over close enough to reach Ennis' mouth with his own and his tongue lightly flicked the cinnamon and sugar off. “Sugar and spice.....” Almost spilling the remainder of the coffee, Ennis hastily put the platter on the night table and grabbed David's shoulders, pulling the other man down beside him.
A few hours later, David shook him awake. “Just enough time for a shower, bro! I just called Andrea 'n told her you were runnin' a little late.“ Fifteen minutes later, after a lingering good-bye kiss inside the back door, they were both hurrying down the stairs. “See ya tonight,” David said before he headed to his car; adding, “I wish it was tomorrow and we didn't have to go anywhere.” “So do I,” was all Ennis said, and he thought the same thing more than once during the morning.
* * * *
Andrea gave Ennis directions to her house, and the van headed east. “So... Ennis del Mar, what do you think of canvassing?”
He glanced over at her. Wearing jeans and a long-sleeved cotton blouse, she looked much younger than she had in her armor-like business suit yesterday. The midafternoon sun picked out the strands of gray threading through her blonde hair but it also spotlighted the color in her face that suggested the energizing effect of completed and well-done work. “Lotta stops and starts,” he answered guessing that she was referring to the route he'd driven this morning.
She gave a faint snort of a laugh. “That's more true than you know. Stops and starts, that about sums up getting anything out of City Hall. Thanks again for doing this,” she added. “Having a driver made it so much simpler. This rezoning business doesn't sound exciting I know, but it's important to a lot of people around here – they're seeing their neighborhood start to disappear. When Dave told me you were coming here to work at his store, it sounded like you lost your job to some developers. That right?”
A memory of his last conversation with the Coffeepot's bookkeeper flashed by. “Guess that's how it was. The ranch I was workin' at got sold. That happened another time, I'd just go on workin' for the new owner. Not this time. The bookkeeper there, she told me they weren't goin' ta keep it a ranch. Do somethin' else with it after they'd decided what was. . .” He couldn't quite think of the odd phrase Carolyn had used.
“ 'Highest and best use', was that it?”
“Yeah, think so.”
“That's a fancy way of saying how can they make the most and fastest bucks from it. Just like right around here.”
“Guess so. One way or another I was out of a job and Doc – David offered me one.”
“I'd been looking forward to meeting you,” she said. “I hope you didn't mind people being so curious yesterday. But you know, everybody'd heard about David's in-law cousin who was a cowboy ---”
“Close enough for most people. You look like everybody's idea of a cowboy and act a little like James Dean. And at the same time you probably seem a bit familiar to a lot of people here. So it's not exactly surprising you were the center of attention for awhile.”
“Whut?” This last remark seemed to him to make no sense at all.
“Oh, no one's going to mistake you for a native, not with that accent. But a lot of the first settlers in Minnesota were Norwegian farmers, and they had a hard life, both here and in the old country. Work hard, treat words like they were hundred-dollar bills, pretty much face and handle whatever life throws at them. And there's plenty of that still around, you probably remind a lot of people of their Uncle Lars. My ex-inlaws, that's Jonathan's grandparents, they'd take to you right away.”
“Inlaws? So Jonathan ain't” –
“He's my ex-husband's brother's kid, yeah, but I might as well be his aunt. I've got a regular circus for a family, guess it's payback for all the grief I gave my own folks. Ed and I ran off together right after my 18th birthday, real romantic, right? We broke up and got back together three times before we finally split for good and by that time I was 22 with two kids. So I went to live with my folks and went back to school. They put us up for a long time – night school, scholarships, part-time jobs... But I finally passed the bar when I was a bit past 30.”
“You must've really want ta be a lawyer.”
“Something that paid more 'n the jobs I'd had in high school and I could set up my own business doing was more like it. Not that I'm cut out for courtroom work,” she added. “Lots of attorneys don't; it's not like on TV, and I didn't go into law to be Clarence Darrow. I work in real estate transactions mostly, a little probate work. It was a friend of mine, name of Eric Ringsred, that got me into that whole I-35 fight. They were going to route it right through Downtown and split the town in half, and it took years to get a compromise worked out. Eric wasn't too happy with it, he'd rather the interstate ended just as it got to Duluth. I would too but -- you do the best you can.”
The van pulled up at the curb in a neighborhood of modest older houses, some with wide porches and most flanked by mature trees. As Ennis switched off the engine, she reached over and put a hand on his arm.
“Ennis, you're welcome to drive the van home, my brother won't need it back till tomorrow and he can drive me over to Park Point. But I'd appreciate it if you could come in a few minutes. Jonathan would like it – he admires you, you know; there haven't been too many guys like you and Dave in his life.” He'd tried so far to keep a distance from Jonathan, and Andrea's casual reference to “guys like you and Dave” raised a slight quiver in the pit of his stomach that he didn't want to examine too closely at the moment; but he couldn't think of a way to get out of it. Andrea's brisk way of speaking, though friendly enough, tended to discourage arguing.
They were met at the door by a flustered young woman and the sound of a baby crying in another room. “I'm sorry, Andrea, I meant to start dinner like you said but the baby's started teething and Donna....” Andrea glanced down at a pair of tiny hands around the woman's legs and half of a tiny face looking up at them warily. “That's okay, Kathy,” Andrea said, leading Ennis inside. “Just get that leftover lasagna out of the freezer and we'll have a late lunch.” Ennis now saw the tiny girl peering up at him and smiled a little, thinking of the constantly hectic days when Jenny had been a baby and Alma Junior a toddler. Andrea made quick introductions: “This is Ennis, he just moved here from Wyoming and he's been driving us around all morning. Ennis, Kathy works in the office next to mine. She's staying here for awhile.” He was to hear from David later that Andrea always had someone 'staying' with her at any given time. “And of course, you know Jonathan.”
“Sure does.” Jonathan was standing in a doorway leading to a hall. “Missed you this week, Ennis.” Ennis wasn't surprised at the younger man's smile or his insinuating tone, but this time he looked at Jonathan with some curiosity, remembering Andrea's remark: why would Jonathan admire him?
Andrea put her purse and a sheaf of petitions down, with the brisk air of someone having completed one task and starting another. “Kathy, how about you start on a salad and I'll look in on the baby? And Jon, while I'm doing that you show Ennis your collection.” Ennis wanted to head back home and not be shown anything; but Andrea had made a statement, not asked a question and now he was a little curious as to what kind of collection it was. Jonathan hadn't struck him as someone who would be collecting anything.
Jonathan led him to a small bedroom with tall windows that offered a view of a small back yard. The wall opposite the window was lined with oversized photocopies of what appeared to be road maps, an east-west route marked in blue highlighter. Above them was an assortment of newspaper clippings, old postcards and three old license plates. What drew his attention first was a black plate with bright yellow lettering and the familiar Wyoming silhouette of a cowboy on a bucking bronco. It looked like the plates on the truck he'd left behind other than the year: 1943, the year he was born.
“Where'd you get all this?” he asked, not quite understanding.
Jonathan looked a little self-conscious and his tone of voice was a little too casual. “Oh, when I was a kid I wanted to be a cowboy. Had a taste for men on horses even then.” He flashed his familiar arch smile; but a moment later Ennis got a glimpse of the restless country boy that Andrea's nephew had been. “I'd sneak off to the movies every chance I got, Long Prairie wasn't much of a town but it did have that. And I useta read a lot – when I was about ten, I read a book called My Friend Flicka, it was about a ranch in Wyoming and I've wanted to go there ever since. The book kept mentioning the Lincoln Highway, it said that was the first highway where people could drive all the way across the country. That's what all this is.” He pointed to a symbol on one of the postcards: a large blue “L” in a white rectangle, bordered by blue and red at the ends.
Like he always did at the store, Jonathan wore a long-sleeved shirt. On this particular day it was a polo shirt whose sleeves he'd pushed up to his elbows and for the first time, Ennis caught a glimpse of several long, reddish scars on his forearms. He wondered what ordeal they were reminders of.
“They didn't just build it, like a regular road,” Jonathan was saying. “Not all of it anyway. A lot of it was roads they just pieced together, and people kept changing it.” He paused a moment and his face, which had looked somehow younger while he was talking, now turned wistful “Back home, I had some pictures of these old strips of concrete with weeds growing out of 'em, where they changed the route. And more postcards, a few signs, lotsa stuff. Had to leave it behind when I took off, though, Aunt An got these things from my sister. I useta look at those pictures and think about how I wanted to get out and drive all the way down the Lincoln Highway, didn't get far, though.”
Looking at the map of Wyoming below the license plate, Ennis was surprised to see a postcard picture that looked surprisingly familiar: a slender, twisted limber pine tree, tilted to one side by the wind like so many small trees exposed to Wyoming's winds, growing straight out of slabs of granite. “Huh, I useta pass that all the time. Drove a lot along route 30 when I was first doin' ranch work. That's the interstate now but the tree's still there.”
“Yeah, in the median.” Jonathan's face had its familiar arch, slightly comic look again. “So, you lived near the Lincoln Highway.”
“No, I'm from a place called Sage. Little north of there.” To his surprise Jonathan moved his finger up the Wyoming road map slightly, stopping on the tiny print that read 'Sage.' “Yeah, right there. Not much more 'n a ghost town. Even when I was a kid. But I drove that route plenty a times with my ranch work. Till my brother 'n' me got work further north.”
“And now you're drivin' my aunt around. Not much like bein' a cowboy in Wyoming, right?”
“Nothin' here's much like Wyoming,” Ennis said; adding for the second time that day, “I was a ranch hand. But m' old friend Jack, he was a rodeo cowboy when we was young, rode the bulls.”
Jonathan flashed a familiar, suggestive smile. “That would make him a good rider”
As recently as the day before, the suggestion would have irritated Ennis, or worse. Now that response was crowded out by the mental snapshot of a country boy like one in Lightning Flat, looking at a road and dreaming of a better life. “He was good at some things” was all he said now.
Less than an hour later, Ennis was driving across the Aerial Bridge, a paper sack containing plastic containers of lasagna and salad next to him on the seat. He barely had time to put the package down on the kitchen table before he heard a car door slam outside and David's footsteps on the stairway. “You're early.”
David bounded, rather than walked, into the kitchen. He grabbed Ennis around the waist, swung him sideways a few feet and planted a kiss, in a mixture of euphoria, desire and hectic, adrenaline-borrowed energy. “And you're kinda late so see? it works out.” Stepping back, he glanced at the paper sack on the table. “You even got us dinner!” that's perfect, I got some wine to celebrate.”
“Andrea gave me that, it's what she was fixin' for dinner. What're we celebratin'?”
“Yeah, that's like her, everybody's Mom. Ya hardly ever leave her house without somethin'. And I'll tell you what we're celebrating – one, Vic agreed to help pay for fixin' up that back room and Jeff said go ahead and have a lease drawn up. And two, I'm off work till Tuesday, so we've got a whole weekend. Wanta eat now, or later?”
It was no contest. “Later,” Ennis said.
Index to chapters:
Chapter 1: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/392.html
Chapter 2: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/523.html
Chapter 3: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/1066.html
Chapter 4: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/1485.html
Chapter 5: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/1704.html
Chapter 6: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/2038.html
Chapter 7: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/2358.html
Chapter 8: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/2635.html
Chapter 9: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/2947.html
Chapter 10: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/3130.html
Chapter 11: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/3356.html
Chapter 12: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/3655.html
Chapter 13: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/3934.html
Chapter 14: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/4154.html
Chapter 15: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/4591.html
Chapter 16: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/4685.html
Chapter 17: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/5094.html
Chapter 18: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/5140.html
Chapter 19: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/5546.html
Chapter 20: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/6249.html
Chapter 21: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/6434.html
Chapter 22: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/6843.html
Chapter 23: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/7306.html
Chapter 24: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/7646.html
Chapter 25: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/7723.html
Summary, Chapters 1-25: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/8106.html
Chapter 26 Part 1: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/8417.html
Chapter 26 Part 2: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/8634.html
Chapter 27: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/8869.html
Chapter 28 Part 1: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/9090.html
Chapter 28 Part 2: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/9498.html
Chapter 29: http://talkstocoyotes.livejournal.com/9953.html