August 3rd, 2009
Jack stretched in his bed and opened his eyes, yawning. It was the start of another work week, something he didn't particularly look forward to. But he knew he needed the money, now more than he ever did. He hadn't been in the city that long, and had found the first job he could just to get paid as soon as possible. Hopefully one day he would be financially secure enough to step back and find a job he loved.
But for now, reality was staring him in the face, as it had every morning for the last five years. No matter how often he dreamed that things could be different, whenever he awoke from sleep he was always brought right back down to earth with a bump. When he opened his eyes and realised it was a new day, he always had the same thought; that's right, I've got this thing. And it's not just a cold or sniffle that you can take something for, something that'll make it go away. This thing will never go away.
He sighed to himself and got out of bed, heading to the bathroom. After he'd showered and cleaned his teeth, he opened up the medicine cabinet reluctantly. He needed the contents, but he didn't think he would ever get used to this. Checking his chart (because he didn't have the best memory when it came to taking medication, and he had a lot), he opened up each bottle and box in turn, laying out all the pills on the low shelf by the sink. It wasn't as many pills as it used to be, when he was first diagnosed, but he still didn't like the idea of his body being full of drugs like this.
Still, he figured it could be worse. He had a low viral load and a high T-cell count, so that was something to be grateful for. He wasn't really sick and he could do everything that he had been able to do previously. He went to the gym at least once a week to keep his body in shape and he was particular about his diet, as recommended by his doctor.
Jack sighed to himself and started taking the pills. He preferred to take them in the morning like this, when he was alone with no prying eyes. He didn't want anybody he worked with to find out the truth. They knew that he was gay, but he just couldn't face the possibility of them finding out what he had inside his body.
After he finished taking the pills, he heard his cell phone ringing on his nightstand, and came back into his bedroom to answer it. "Hello?"
"Morning, Jack!" came the bright, cheery voice of his best friend, Lureen Newsome. He'd known her in college back in New York. She had moved over here to San Francisco right after graduation, stating that she wanted a change. He had remained in The Big Apple until five years ago, eventually following her here. They lived in the Richmond District, not far from the Golden Gate Park.
"Oh, hey. How's it going?"
"Just getting ready to go to work. I'm eating my breakfast here and I was wondering if you wanted to stop by my place? We can walk to work together." They lived in the same building and she was the only one here who knew about his secret. He knew that she was just trying to cheer him up.
"Sure, sounds great. I'll be right over."
"Did you take your meds?" she asked, as if she was making sure.
"Yes, mother," he said down the phone, smiling in spite of himself. She giggled.
"Alright. See you soon." She hung up and he started gathering his things together for the day. He worked at an electrical store a few streets away, and she worked at a coffee shop on the corner of the same street. They often walked to work together, unless she was on a later shift. He liked having a friend to lean on, but there was a part of him that wanted more. He kept an eye out as he walked around the city every day, looking for a man to catch his eye and strike up a conversation. The truth was, he hadn't had a date for months.
Walking through the building to Lureen's place, he thought about his non-existent love life. He'd never even slept with another guy, technically, but that wasn't for lack of trying. Whenever he told his dates the truth, they were always running for the door, and he couldn't blame them. The incident and its effects had shattered his confidence when it came to attracting a potential mate. He hoped that one day soon, he would meet someone who wouldn't run from him; who would stick around and maybe even fall in love with him. He would turn twenty-seven this fall, and circumstances meant that he couldn't settle for a fling; he had to have something stable, with someone he could trust. And truth be told, he needed someone who would look after him.
He knocked on Lureen's door and heard her walking towards it. The door was opened and she smiled at him. "Hey!" She stood back to let him in. Her dark reddish-brown hair was tied back and she was already in her waitress uniform. If he was straight, he would have found it very attractive. But he loved her like a sister and he knew the feeling was mutual. "You want a bagel?" she asked as they walked to the kitchen table.
"Sure." She buttered one and handed it over. They sat in a comfortable silence as they ate, but Lureen kept darting her eyes to Jack, sensing what he was feeling. She knew that he hated having to go through the same routine every day, and that he hated how it was necessary. Since she would never be his girlfriend and she accepted that, all she could do was be a good friend to him and try to keep his spirits up.
Meanwhile, on the other side the park from where Jack lived, near Golden Gate Heights, lived another young man nearing thirty. He was just beginning his day, preparing to go to work in a vet's office a short walk away. He'd always loved working with animals, so this had been a great opportunity for him. His parents lived in the Mill Valley, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. He'd gone to college in the city and was now living there.
Ennis was watching the TV as he ate his breakfast, checking up on the morning's news. He was having a good life here in the city, and had been living here for the last five years. He had a good job, a nice apartment, and some good friends. He was friendly with a girl who lived down the hall; Alma Beers. They had actually dated for a while before he'd realised he was gay, and she had been nice enough. Once he'd come out to her and broken things off, she'd taken it better than he'd expected. She was smart enough to know that it wasn't a problem with her, but just the fact of who Ennis was. They had remained good friends.
But there was something missing in his life. Even though he'd felt attraction to other men for a few years now, he'd never had a real relationship with anybody since Alma. He'd never even been with another man. Not that he didn't want to, but he would like his first time with another guy to be with someone who meant something to him.
But all that could be about to change. Two months before, he'd been sitting in the coffee shop on the other side of the park. It was a nice place and he enjoyed walking around the area. While he'd been sat in there on that warm summer's day, a man about his age had walked in, clearly new to the area. He appeared to know the waitress, Lureen, and had sat at the counter talking to her as he drank his coffee. Ennis had watched him with interest; he had dark hair and bright blue eyes, with a wide smile that lit up his whole face. Ennis thought that if that smile was ever directed at him, it would give him butterflies in his stomach and probably make him blush. He really liked looking at the guy, but he didn't have the courage to approach him. He wasn't entirely sure if this newcomer was gay, but he had a feeling. He and Lureen were friendly with each other, but it was clearly just friendship. This gave him hope.
Ennis shook his head and put his cereal bowl on the sideboard; he liked to do his dishes after dinner. He had to get to work soon; this was no time to be filling his head with thoughts of the dark, handsome stranger in the coffee shop, no matter how attractive he was. If he was ever going to approach this stranger, he had to have a clear head. He didn't even know the man's name.
Just then, there was a knock at the door. "Ennis? It's me," came Alma's voice. He went to the door and opened it. She was there, smiling pleasantly. They made better friends than a couple, he'd come to realise. "Hi."
"Morning, Alma. What's up?"
"I've got a dentist appointment in about an hour and I was wondering if we could walk over together? I could drop you off at work." She worked as a barmaid in the bar near where he worked, and she usually worked nights so he didn't see too much of her.
"Uh, sure. You wanna come in while I get my stuff?" He motioned her inside and left her there while he gathered his things.
As they walked through the building, Alma noticed that he was being quieter than usual. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah, fine. Just...um..." He coughed a little.
"What?" she asked, looking at him.
"Well...it's about a guy. If you don't wanna hear it..." He looked at her uncomfortably, unsure of whether or not to tell her about his attraction to another guy.
She shrugged and nudged his shoulder. "I don't mind. You know I want you to be happy. What's up?"
"Well...a couple months back, I started to see this guy in the coffee shop on the other side of the park. Up in the Richmond District. I don't know his name, but I could tell he's new around here. He, um...he's good-looking. Dark hair, blue eyes, nice smile."
Alma nodded. "You know what he's like?"
"Well...he seems to know the waitress, and he seems friendly enough. I think they're just friends, though."
"Do you think he's gay?"
"I don't know. When I look at him, I think he might be...but..." He shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe." It was a little too much for him to hope for that someone as good-looking as the mystery man would ever be interested in him. But there was always a chance.
"There's only one way to find out, Ennis. You'll have to bite the bullet and ask if he's interested. Even if he's not gay, or interested...if he's as nice as you think, he probably won't be offended. It's worth a try, right?"
He nodded, thinking this over. They were out of the building and walking down the road by now, taking in the bright summer sun. It was another lovely day and Ennis felt a little optimistic. Maybe he could approach the stranger, after all. Love was always worth taking a chance on.
They arrived at the vet's office and Alma kissed his cheek lightly. "See you later, Ennis. Good luck if you get talking to that guy." He smiled at her and went inside, ready for work. During his lunch break, he would go through the park to the coffee house, just to see if the new guy was there. He liked him, and was willing to take the risk.
At the store where Jack worked, he was well-liked by everyone. His boss was always impressed by how much effort he put in, and he was starting to earn a nice little commission from the sales he made. The girls all knew that he was gay, but that didn't stop them from flirting with him, batting their eyelashes at him every time he looked at them. They seemed to think that they could 'turn' him or something, simply by using their feminine charms.
This bothered Jack for a few reasons. For one thing, it was pretty damn annoying to concentrate when his female co-workers were constantly trying to get his attention. And for another, it irked him that they thought being gay was something that could be changed. They clearly thought that a tryst with one of them would make him straight; that they were the woman to make him change his mind about which gender he preferred. As far as he thought, everybody these days knew that it wasn't a choice to be gay, but simply who a person was. Considering what gay people went through these days, even in the era of gay marriages and supposed tolerance and acceptance, he couldn't imagine choosing to be this way.
Still, he was so far doing a good job of avoiding them. He always left the premises during his lunch hour to go and talk to Lureen at the coffee shop, and he knew that if any of those girls tried something there, Lureen would be quick at telling them to back off. She was quite protective of him and knew that he hated getting the wrong kind of attention.
Jack felt at a loss. He wanted guys to be giving him their attention, but even if one did look at him a little longer than normal, his voice would die in his throat. He was scared of getting involved with someone, only to have them run for the hills when they found out the truth. He could remember what his mother had said shortly after he was diagnosed.
"Jack...don't ever give up on finding love. You might suffer rejection when you tell someone the truth about this, but all that means is just they weren't the right one for you anyway. When you find the one who is the right one, he won't run away. He'll stand by your side and you'll be able to lean on him. Just remember that."
He tried to keep these words in mind whenever his thoughts turned to meeting someone. For the past five years, he'd moved steadily across the country trying to settle down. He'd been looking for two things; a little piece and clarity after what had happened, and also someone who would look after him. He'd just about managed to make his peace with the incident, but was still looking for someone. He hoped that he would find them here in the city, for he wasn't too sure how much longer he could go on travelling to find them; he was sick of running.
His thoughts were interrupted by the door opening and a young woman stepping in. She looked to be about his age, with short, curly brown hair and hazel eyes. She gave a double-take when she saw him, and he inwardly sighed at his ability to attract women. But given the fact that he was always after a nice commission, he walked over to her. "Hey, can I help ya?"
"Um...yeah, I'm looking for a new cell phone...um..." She peered at his nametag. "Jack..."
He nodded and led her over to the phones. "Here's our range. You want something in particular, um...?"
"Alma," she replied, smiling a little. "Uh...I was looking to see if you had any with touch screens..."
"Sure..." He showed her their range of phones and stepped back so that she could test them, attending to another customer.
Alma watched Jack as he walked around. Based on his looks, he had to be the man that Ennis had been admiring for the last couple of months. He had the dark hair and blue eyes, had a wide smile and was quite friendly. She did notice that he was a little friendlier with the guys, and seemed to be uncomfortable around the women. This made her think that maybe he was gay.
It had been simple chance that led her here to the other side of the park today. She didn't come over here too often, but this was the only electrical store around these parts that she knew of. And if Ennis was right, Jack would be going to the coffee shop on the corner during his lunch break. Ennis would likely be there too.
She decided not to say anything right now; it had been a long time since she'd done the 'my friend likes you' routine. She hadn't done it since high school. Instead, she would tell Ennis what she had seen and learned, and encourage him to approach Jack. A part of her was still saddened that their relationship hadn't worked out, but she wasn't spiteful. And if Ennis truly liked this man and there was a chance for them, she would do the right thing and try to push them together. Knowing Ennis as she did, she had a feeling that Jack would like him.
When she had selected the phone she wanted, Jack came back over to her. "Hey. I take it you've decided?" he asked, looking a little friendlier than before. Maybe it was because of the commission he would get.
She nodded. "Yep." He disappeared into the stock room and came out with a small box containing the phone she had chosen, leading her over to the cash register. When she'd made her purchase and was outside the store, she pulled out her old phone and called Ennis's number.
"Hey, it's me. You know that guy you told me about? Well...I've got some news I thought you might wanna hear."
Lunchtime finally arrived and Ennis was in the coffee shop to the north of the park, trying not to watch the door too much. Lureen was working, as usual, and he had a feeling that her friend would be walking in soon.
As he waited, sipping his coffee and eating his sandwich, he thought about what Alma had told him. She'd seen a man fitting his description working at the electrical store a short walk away, when she'd gone in there to buy herself a new phone. Apparently, his name was Jack, and he was just as friendly as Ennis had surmised. The fact that Jack seemed friendlier towards guys than women gave Ennis some hope.
Lureen was glancing at him every now and then. She'd seen him watching Jack whenever he came in, which was every day at lunch without fail. She had seen a look in his eye that told her he was interested in her friend. It had been this way for the last two months, but she hadn't said a word to Jack about it. Part of her wanted to; she wanted Jack to be happy and knew that he deserved it after everything he'd been through. But she was scared for his well-being, too. During the years between the incident and his arrival in the city, she knew he'd been out with a couple of guys, but it had never turned serious. Whenever he'd told his dates what was going on, they had always left. This had shattered his confidence and as a result, he hadn't been on a date for a long time.
But as she watched this silent man in the corner, a part of her brain told her that maybe this was the guy that Jack deserved. He looked dependable and trustworthy, and she had a good feeling about him.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Jack walking in, a bright smile on his face. "Hey, Lu."
"Hi, Jack." A quick glance in the corner told her that Ennis's attention had also been caught by Jack's arrival. "The usual?"
"Yeah, sure." He sat at the counter and stretched, taking out his cell phone to check his messages. As Lureen got Jack's coffee for him, she snuck glances at Ennis. He kept on staring at Jack, and while she could clearly see lust in his gaze, she saw something else as well. It looked like a deeper kind of attraction, and this made her think, once more, that this might just be the right guy for Jack.
"So how's it going?" she asked, handing Jack his coffee. He nodded.
"Alright. Made some sales, gonna get some commission. Can't complain, I guess."
"What about the love department? Any luck there?"
He sighed. "Nope. Same old story. All the girls are batting their eyelashes at me, even though they know which team I play for. But whenever I see the guys, I just...I get scared about approaching them."
"I see. There anybody in particular you're interested in?"
"Not really. There's some nice-looking guys around here, and I think they'd be happy to go out with me if I asked. The gay ones, I mean. But...I don't know. You know I can't be looking for something casual, not now. I need something stable, and...I don't think I'd find it with any of them."
Lureen nodded. "Hmm. Well...that could all be about to change." She had a slight smile on her face. Jack looked puzzled.
"What do you mean?"
She cleared her throat. "Sat in the corner right now, to your right, there's a guy sitting there. The one with curly blonde hair. He's been coming in here for years, certainly since before I started. But ever since you arrived, he's been staring at you."
Jack's heart skipped a beat. "Really? You know his name?"
"No, but...he sure is cute. And I think he likes you." She smiled. "See for yourself."
Jack took a steadying breath and slowly turned his head to look at the corner. As soon as he spied the figure sat there, the man in question blushed and turned his face away to look out of the window. But Jack still got a glimpse of deep brown eyes, the colour of soft honey. He had a face that some would call weather-beaten, but Jack would call focussed and deep. He'd always liked the rugged type. The man looked like the cowboys in the old movies he used to watch when he was younger. His heart fluttered in his chest as he watched the man's profile.
He smiled and turned back to Lureen. "Well, you were right. He's pretty good-looking. And did you see that blush?" He rubbed the back of his neck.
"What are you waiting for, a mating call? Go and talk to him," she encouraged, nodding over at the man. Jack gulped, suddenly unsure of himself.
"I don't know...I can tell he likes me, like you said. But...will he still be interested when he finds out the truth about me?" he asked, biting his lip.
"Look..." Lureen leaned forward. "I know it's not easy for you to trust people. After everything you've been through and how many times you've had to watch guys walk out because of what you have...I know it's difficult. But...I've got a good feeling about this guy. He seems dependable. I think he might just be someone that you can lean on."
Jack looked at her and then back at his admirer, wondering if she was right. This time, the man bravely met his eyes and let them linger. A jolt of electricity seemed to pass between them and Jack smiled. The man blushed again but managed to smile nervously back. His thoughts confirmed, Jack decided to make the first move.
"Alright, I'm gonna talk to him," he said to Lureen, sighing a little and clapping his hands to the counter. She nodded and smiled.
"Good luck, tiger." He rolled his eyes and slid off the stool, heading towards the mysterious blonde in the corner.
Ennis's heart was hammering in his chest as Jack approached him. When he'd turned those brilliant blue eyes on him, Ennis had looked away, embarrassed at being caught. But he'd seen Jack's gaze; he looked interested. So when Jack had looked back at him, he'd been braver than usual and held Jack's gaze. As they'd stared at each other, Ennis had felt the butterflies in his stomach increase. This man was...beautiful. There was no other way to describe him.
He kept his eyes on his coffee mug until Jack was right by him. "Um...hi." Ennis took a deep breath and lifted his head, looking up into Jack's keen gaze.
"Hi," he replied, his hands shaking a little. Jack gestured to the empty seat opposite him.
"Mind if I join you?" Ennis shook his head and Jack sat down, looking intently at Ennis. "I'm Jack, by the way. Jack Twist."
"Ennis Del Mar," replied Ennis, peeking up at Jack. "Um...I already knew your name, you know."
Jack's brow furrowed. "You do? How?"
"Um...this morning...you served a girl called Alma, right? She's a friend of mine..."
"Oh...and she told you my name because you've been staring at me the last couple of months, right?" Jack asked with a grin. Ennis felt his cheeks reddening.
"Well...yeah. I told her 'bout you, so when she saw you and put two and two together..."
"Right. So...you have been staring at me, then?"
"Kind of..." Ennis mumbled, keeping his eyes down. Jack thought his shyness was completely endearing, and he wanted to know more about this man.
"I take it...you're gay, then?" he asked softly. Ennis met his eyes and nodded.
"Yeah. Known it for a while now."
"Me too. I'm actually from New York. So's Lureen," he added, nodding over at her. "She was my best friend in college, left as soon as we graduated. I stayed a little longer, then did some travelling. Eventually ended up here. What about you?"
"Lived here in the state all my life. My parents live up in Mill Valley, and I came down here for college. Been here ever since."
Jack nodded. "Where'd you work?"
"Vet's office, down in Golden Gate Heights. That's where me and Alma both live."
"Well, as you can probably tell, I live up here, in Lureen's building. Nice place to live around here, isn't it?"
"Sure is." Ennis thought for a moment. "So, um...what are you into?"
"I like movies, going out now and then. But I also like staying in..." Jack gazed into Ennis's eyes. "I like being with people, got some nice friends. But...sure would like more. Maybe someone to...curl up on the sofa with." He smiled a little and Ennis couldn't help but smile back. Jack was bold, and he liked it.
"Right. I like staying in, too." Just then, Lureen came over.
"Anybody need a refill?" she asked, feigning innocence. Jack knew that she was interested in what was going on. He rolled his eyes.
"No thanks, Lu." Ennis nodded and she filled up his mug, looking between them.
"So how's it going?" she asked sweetly.
"Jesus, Lu. Nosy much?"
"I was just asking. I can tell that you two are into each other." She smirked. "This is a gay-friendly establishment; feel free to make out if you want." She winked at them and walked off. Ennis and Jack looked at each other and started laughing.
"I'm sorry, Ennis. She's always been that bold," Jack choked out, grinning. Ennis shook his head.
"It's okay. Nice to see you've got such a great friend. Did you two ever...?"
"Go out? No. We've always been just friends." He tilted his head. "You ever go out with Alma?"
"Yeah, before I realised I'm gay. Broke it off with her and told her the truth. She was really good about it. Knew right away that it wasn't because there's something wrong with her, but that it's just who I am. I mean, I only told her about you this morning, and she encouraged me to talk to you."
Jack nodded. "Sounds like a smart girl. How'd your parents take it?"
"Best as can be expected. They were disappointed that I wasn't gonna get married and have kids, at least not the traditional way. But they want me to be happy, and even said that if I meet someone and I'm sure about him, that I can bring him up there to meet them."
"Wow. That's more than my parents would do."
"They not take it well?"
"My mom was okay, I guess. Said she just wants me to be happy. But my dad...not so much." Jack bit his lip, unsure of how much to reveal. He decided not to say anything along those lines just yet. "I don't think he'll ever accept it. But they're far away in New York and I don't have to see them if I don't want."
Ennis nodded. He then looked at his watch; to his dismay, his lunch break was drawing to a close and he would have to leave soon if he wanted to get back on time. He wanted to stay here with Jack.
"Um...listen, I...I gotta get back to work soon. And it's quite a walk, through the park and everything."
"Okay. Tell you what...you wanna swap numbers? I like you, and...maybe we could have a proper date sometime." Jack smiled nervously, eyes full of hope. Ennis nodded.
"I'd like that." They swapped numbers and bid goodbye to Lureen. Outside, Jack walked with Ennis to the entrance of the park and turned to face him.
"So...I'll give you a call sometime."
"Sure. Bye, Jack." He stuck out his hand, unsure of what else to do. Jack shook it and smiled widely.
"See you, Ennis." He watched as his new friend entered the park and disappeared down the path. Jack had a feeling that Lureen was right; maybe this was the right man for him. Time would tell, and he sure would like to get to know Ennis better.