November 16th, 2009
For the past week, Jack had been on edge, extremely wary of Darren and his threat to expose his HIV status. Ennis had done his best to try and calm him every time he started worrying, and it had done some good. But Jack would never completely stop fearing his workmates shunning him.
He kept an eye on Darren, wondering what he was thinking and if he was plotting anything. He shook his head and tried to carry on with his work. A familiar voice made him turn around, and he smiled in relief, despite how worried he was right now.
"Oh, hey Alma. What's up?" She chewed her lip.
"Ennis told me about your co-worker...about his threat. Just wanted to see if you're okay."
"To be honest, I'm really on edge. I've got no idea when he's gonna snap and tell someone." She nodded and they started to talk.
Darren watched them, full of rage. He didn't think it fair that the girls fawned over Jack, who was gay and had something so dangerous inside him, not when he was around and completely clean. Something had to be done, and he looked around, locating the microphone they used for store announcements. He looked at it, and then back at Jack, who was laughing with Alma about something. His mind made up, he headed for it.
"So it's like I said to him," she started. "It doesn't matter how many times I tell my folks...they just want me and Ennis to get back together, like he can control being gay." She sighed
Jack nodded. "Yeah. My dad said the same thing to me...like I can control it."
Whatever Alma was going to say next was drowned out by Darren's voice coming over the loudspeaker.
"Good afternoon shoppers, this is staff member Darren Jones with a special announcement to make." Jack went white and his head whipped around to where Darren was stood with the microphone. "And my fellow staff ought to hear this one."
"What the hell...?"
"Ladies and gents, you probably know my co-worker, Jack Twist. Blue eyes, black hair, smile a mile wide. Perfect guy, right? Wrong." Darren looked at Jack, his eyes flashing maliciously.
"Oh, fuck..." Jack groaned, starting to panic.
"See, there's something about Jack that's missing from the rest of us. Last week, I saw something interesting. I saw Jack with a white bag, stuffing it into his locker. A box dropped out, and you know what it was? It was HIV medication."
Jack's head dropped to his hands and Alma put her hands over her mouth. "Oh my God..."
"That's right, folks. Jack's got HIV, told me so himself when I asked him. He's a queer, and he's got something nasty inside him. I've noticed that we have kids in here today; is this the kind of man you want around them? Really?"
The group of girls that Jack had befriended ran up to Darren as a group, pulling him away from the microphone and snarling at him, but the damage was done. The entire store had heard everything, and Jack was shaking. Alma looked at a loss as to what to do. The store manager, Charles, was now yelling at Darren and firing him on the spot, but Jack was hardly listening. People were beginning to stare at him. A few mothers were pulling their children out of the store, muttering angrily. Jack's world crashed down around him and he felt sick.
"Jack..." Alma said softly, touching his arm. "Don't worry, okay? That guy's out of here, it doesn't matter."
Charles had shown Darren the door and came over to Jack, sighing. "Jack, can I have a word with you?" He nodded and followed him into his office, leaving Alma to contemplate calling Ennis, even though he was at work.
They sat down and Charles sighed, looking at Jack. "I just want to say that I'm sorry you had to go through that, Jack. Rest assured that Darren won't be working here as long as I'm manager. Are you alright?"
Jack opened his mouth to speak, bile in his throat. "No...I saw people staring at me...there were women dragging their kids out of the store. They heard everything..."
"Jack...I have to ask...are you positive?" Jack hung his head, heart sinking as he felt the walls closing in on him.
"Yeah," he said softly. "Have been for five years. And I'm not promiscuous," he added vehemently.
"I never said you were," Charles replied, trying not to upset him. "But we have a problem. There were dozens of people in the store just now, who know you're positive. You must know what word of mouth can get like. If the rumours are spread, and it reflects badly on business..."
Jack bit his lip. "I know. You'd have to let me go..."
"I'm afraid so. You're a hell of a worker, Jack. But I have to make the business my priority. I'd be happy to give you a reference. But just for now, let's see how things go. I'll keep an eye on things, alright? You want to have the rest of the day off, with pay?"
Jack nodded. "Thanks." He was dismissed and left the room, hands over his mouth. When he came back out into the store, Alma was still there, talking to Jack's female co-workers. They all turned when they saw him.
"Jack, are you okay?" He shook his head and looked over at the girls warily. They didn't approach him, but they looked worried.
"I'm gonna go home...he's giving me the rest of the day off." Alma nodded.
"Alright. Grab your things and we'll go for a walk." He did so and followed her out, into the sunlight. He knew that Ennis was still at work, and he wanted nothing more than to go home with him and spend the next few hours in his arms, maybe even with Ennis inside him and telling him that everything was going to be alright.
Meanwhile, over at the vets', Ennis was busy working when he overheard a pair of women talking as they came through the door. He didn't particularly care for gossip.
"I can't believe that," said one of them, shaking her head. "It's a good job we got out of there; I sure won't be going back."
They approached the front desk, where they greeted the receptionist, Sarah; Ennis hadn't been aware that they were friends.
"Hey, you two," she said, smiling. "What's going on?"
"You won't believe what we just heard at the electrical store on the other side of the park," replied one of the women, leaning forward and lowering her voice in a conspiratorial way. "It's awful."
"What is it?"
"One of the guys working there, Jack Twist...he's HIV positive." Ennis felt his heart beating quicker, wondering how the hell they'd found out.
Sarah's eyes widened and she glanced at him. She knew that he was seeing someone named Jack Twist. "I can't believe it..."
"Yeah, one of his co-workers exposed him, over the loudspeaker for the store. Pointed out who he was and everything." Ennis felt his stomach drop; Darren...that bastard...
"Wow. So what happened?"
"The manager kicked Darren out, talked to Jack and let him have the rest of the day off, I heard. Jack didn't look so good; he left with a woman...some brunette who he was talking to."
Alma...Ennis longed to get away and find Jack, but he still had over another hour to go and he wasn't one for skiving. He couldn't help but worry and wonder if Jack was alright, and if he was contemplating leaving the job. Maybe it would be better for him, now that his co-workers all knew.
He thought to himself and then, when nobody was looking, slipped into the bathroom, hoping that he could get a signal. Though he couldn't get away, he could at least try to call Jack and make sure he was okay.
After flipping through the numbers and locating Jack's, he held the phone to his ear, crossing his fingers. "Come on, pick up..." There was no answer. He sighed in frustration and then called Alma; maybe she would still be with him.
"Alma, where's Jack? I heard about what Darren did...a couple of women who must've been there came into the vets', told the receptionist..."
She sighed. "Yeah, it was awful. Jack's right here..." She handed the phone over and he heard Jack's voice, praying that he was okay.
"Hey, bud," he tried, wondering how Jack would sound. He could read Jack's mood sometimes just from his tone of voice.
"Jack? Are you okay? I heard what Darren did..."
"I...I'll be okay," Jack replied, trying not to break down at the sound of Ennis's voice. "It was horrible, Ennis...like a nightmare." He sounded dejected and tired, and Ennis could feel his sorrow pouring down the phone.
"Oh, darlin'...I sure wish I could get away and be there for you..."
"It's alright...we'll see each other later, yeah?"
"'Course we will. I told you before...no matter what Darren does, and no matter how they react, I'll be here for you. I swear, Jack."
Jack drew in a shaky breath and nodded. "Thanks, Ennis...I love you..."
"I love you too...just keep it together, okay? I'll see you later at your place."
"Alright. Bye, bud..."
"Bye..." He reluctantly hung up, heart yearning for Jack and wondering how they would fix this. It was clear that Jack was still in shock, and Ennis hoped that he wasn't about to walk from his job. Darren had been fired, but it was too late; his co-workers and dozens of people knew everything; his full name, what he looked like and what he had. Jack was right; there was still so much stigma about HIV and AIDS these days, so it was no wonder that people had fled the store.
He left the bathroom; the two women had gone but Sarah was eyeing him. When he walked over to her, she sighed.
"You knew, didn't you? About Jack. You must do; he's your boyfriend." Ennis nodded.
"Yeah, I did. Known for a while now. Darren had no right to expose him like that; it's none of his business."
"No, but there are plenty of people who would make it their business, just to give Jack a hard time. Were you talking to him just now?"
"Yeah...he's in shock and I don't know what he's going to do," Ennis admitted. "He's with a friend, so he should be okay. But I'm worried about him...can't leave for another hour or so yet."
"I don't know what to say, Ennis...but I'm surprised you're still with him, knowing what he has...I mean, you could get infected, no matter how careful you are."
"I know. But...I love him. No matter what he has, he's still Jack. And we're really happy." She gave a half-smile.
"Hmm. But still...what's going to happen now?"
Ennis shook his head. "I don't know. He might have to quit his job if it gets too much or if they want him gone. If his workmates don't want him there, he'll probably walk away so he doesn't ruffle any feathers."
"He shouldn't have to give up his job just because some people might have a problem with him," she stated bluntly. He shrugged.
"Said something similar to me, right when we got together..." It was true; Jack had told him that if it ever got to a point where he couldn't handle being in this magnetic relationship they had, then he would allow Ennis to walk away with no hard feelings and no fuss. Ennis sincerely hoped that the day would never come; he couldn't imagine a life without Jack now that he had it.
He sighed and shook his head. "Better get back to work...sooner I get through this hour, the sooner I can be with him." He walked off with so many thoughts buzzing around his head, and absolutely no idea what to do.
At last, work was over, and after grabbing an overnight bag, Ennis half-ran through the park towards Jack's place, hoping that he was okay. Jack had been on his mind, even more so than usual.
He sprinted up the stairs and hurried along the hall, stopping in front of Jack's door and knocking. "Jack, it's me..." There were several footsteps and the door opened, revealing Jack. He looked tired and upset; there were tear tracks on his cheeks. "Oh, darlin'..."
Jack lowered his eyes, unable to speak, so Ennis let himself in, bringing Jack over to the sofa. They sat down and Ennis drew Jack close, rubbing his back and looking into his face. "Bud, talk to me..." He rubbed Jack's thigh. "Come on..." Jack sighed.
"I can't believe it...he told dozens of people. And they were all giving me a wide berth afterwards. Alma was the only one who would talk to me; the girls I work with were there, and they dragged Darren away from the microphone, but...they still didn't talk to me. What am I gonna do?"
Ennis touched Jack's face and turned it to his, making him meet his eyes. "It's gonna be alright. Even if you have to quit, you can find another job; it's gonna be okay..."
"You don't know that," Jack replied, looking and feeling like he'd hit rock bottom. Everything had come crashing down on him, and he could barely respond to Ennis right now. "You can't promise anything like that..."
"I know, I know...come here..." Ennis leaned back against the arm of the sofa and pulled Jack with him. Jack laid his head on Ennis's chest and put his feet up, rising and falling as Ennis breathed. They remained like that for a while, Ennis stroking Jack's hair and whispering to him.
After a while, Ennis tried again. "Bud...can you talk to me now? I wanna know what happened."
"Okay..." He sighed. "Alma came in and said she knew about what Darren was threatening. So we were talking, and he went for the microphone. Started talking to everybody in the store...pointed me out, what I look like and everything. Told them I'm positive, and asked them to think about whether they wanted to be around someone like me, especially with their kids. It was horrible..."
Ennis continued to stroke his back and hair, heart breaking at Jack's pain. All he'd ever wanted was for Jack to be happy, and he didn't know what to do. "Darlin'...I'm real sorry. What did your boss say?"
"He said that Darren was fired, and that he'd be keeping an eye on things. But...he also said that he has to put the business first, and that if he started losing customers because of me...he'd have to let me go." Ennis sighed.
"I'm sorry, Jack...come on, look at me." Jack turned and met his eyes, his own wide and fearful.
"What am I gonna do?" Ennis cupped his cheek.
"It's gonna be okay...I promise. I'll stand right by you, I swear." Jack gulped.
"Ennis...can we go for a walk? Maybe in the park?"
"Sure, bud. We'll get some dinner to walk around with...maybe fish and fries or something."
"Okay..." They got up and started readying themselves. Ennis got changed and Jack washed his face of the tear tracks. When they were ready, they headed out and to the fish shop down the road, getting themselves some dinner. Jack was looking a little better now he was out in the fresh air, and Ennis was relieved to see it.
They entered the park and sat down near the lake, eating and watching the other people walking around. A couple of people gave Jack second glances as they passed, some of them hurrying past or giving him dirty looks. All it took was a glare from Ennis, and they left him alone.
As they were eating, Jack began to speak. "Maybe I should quit...before the store starts losing business. It's not my boss's fault, so he shouldn't have to suffer for it."
Ennis nodded slowly. "What will you do? Where else can you work?"
"I don't know...maybe Lureen can get me a shift at the coffee place, or Alma at the bar...something."
"Have you got enough money to live off until you find another job?" Ennis asked, trying to be practical. "If you don't...my offer still stands. To help you out."
For once, Jack didn't refuse, but simply smiled at him sadly. "Thanks, bud." He squeezed Ennis's hand. "Anyway...I was gonna leave eventually anyway, once I'd saved up enough. So...I guess it's time to move on from there. I never really enjoyed it; it was just the first job I found when I got here, and I needed the money. So now I've got some, maybe it'll be okay to quit and find something else."
Ennis nodded. "Alright. If that's what you really want, Jack...you know I'll support you no matter what. I'm not going anywhere..."
Jack smiled properly at him, heart soaring with love at Ennis's unwavering love and devotion. He leaned over and kissed Ennis warmly, truly grateful to have him in his life.
They finished their dinner and had a walk through the park, around the lake and then back up to Jack's place, deciding to watch a movie and eat some cookies that Jack had bought. The pair of them settled on the sofa for a while, and then Ennis took Jack to bed, wanting to rid him of his pain.
He slowly slid into Jack and held him close, making love to him slowly and whispering to him that he loved him. Jack tried to relax as he moved underneath Ennis, arousal flowing through him and trembling as Ennis moved inside him. He knew that Ennis was trying to help him and push away his pain, and he appreciated it.
When it was over, Ennis rolled off him and pulled him close. "It's alright, darlin'...it's alright..."
Jack nodded, breathing deeply. "I know...I love you, Ennis..."
"Love you too..."
November 20th, 2009
Thanksgiving was in less than a week, and Ennis knew that if he and Jack were going to go for dinner at his uncle's ranch, they would have to get a move on with planning a flight.
He was stood in his kitchen on his cell, listening to the ringing as Jack devoured the remainder of the cookies, watching him warily.
"Del Mar Ranch," came the voice of his aunt. He cleared his throat.
"Hey, Aunt Rachel. It's Ennis."
"Ennis! Hey, how are you?"
"I'm okay. Listen, um...I wanted to ask you something. Is it okay if I come for dinner next Thursday?"
"Um..." She hesitated. "Ennis...we know about you and Jack."
He was taken aback at this. "You...you do?"
"Your father called here last month, an' told us everythin'. I'm sorry you had to go through that with them..."
"Oh...thank you. So...do you guys have a problem with it?" he asked, fearful of losing more family members.
"Heavens, no. As long as you boys are careful an' you ain't just messin' around, it's fine. I'm sure Jack's a lovely young man. The thing is...your parents are comin' for dinner on Thursday. I know you normally go to their place, an' since what happened at their house when you went up there...they figured you would be stayin' in the city for Thanksgivin'."
He sighed, looking over at Jack. "So...we can't come for dinner?" Jack looked down at his plate and lost his appetite.
"I'm so sorry, sweetie...we was lookin' forward to seein' you. An' we wanted to meet Jack. It's just...we don't want any fireworks durin' dinner, an' there will be if all of you come here."
"It's okay. We kind of figured there'd be a problem with us comin' over there. So we'll just have dinner here, then." Jack got up and put an arm around him, resting his head on Ennis's shoulder. "We'll be fine."
"Maybe you could come for Christmas," she suggested, and he shook his head, even though she couldn't see.
"We're planning to go to New York over the holidays, visit Jack's mom."
"Oh, okay...well, are you still comin' up durin' the summer?" she asked hopefully.
"Yeah, probably. But I want Jack to come with me. He says he wants to see the place."
"I think that'd be fine. Your uncle's here, do you wanna talk to him?"
"Sure." The phone changed hands on the other end and he could hear his uncle's voice.
"Ennis? Did your aunt tell you?"
"Yeah, she did. Don't worry, it's okay."
"Sure am sorry, son. I told your father it ain't right, the way he an' yer mama treated Jack. Stubborn brother of mine..."
"It's alright. We can make other plans for Thursday. And...tell my parents Happy Thanksgiving from me, okay? If they ever wanna apologise, they know my number."
"Will do. Have a good dinner, an' uh...give our best to Jack, okay? I'd like to meet that young man sometime."
"I sure will. Thanks, Uncle James."
"Bye, Ennis." They hung up and Ennis turned to Jack, sighing.
"Guess we're not going to Wyoming anytime soon," he lamented.
"Ennis, I'm sorry..." Jack replied, looking apologetic. "You can't even see your family because of me..." Ennis shook his head and turned Jack to face him properly.
"Look at me, bud. It's not your fault, okay? If my parents can't accept you, then that's their problem, not ours. And if they wanna be narrow-minded, let them. I love you, and I'd never give you up just to make them happy. Alright?"
Jack nodded, gulping a little. "Yeah..."
"Come on, let's go sit down..." He led Jack out into the living room and they curled up on the sofa together. Ennis cast around for a topic and smiled down at Jack. "Hey...you wanna talk about our trip to New York?"
"Where are we staying?"
"I don't know...there's plenty of cheap hotels; we don't have to break the bank. And I reckon we can find a decent room."
Ennis nodded. "You maybe...want to see a show sometime?" Jack made an affirmative sound and leaned in closer, lacing their fingers together on Ennis's knee.
"Sounds good..." His voice wavered, and Ennis could tell he was thinking about Central Park.
"It'll be okay..." he whispered, squeezing Jack's fingers. "I won't let anything happen to you."
"Just thinking...maybe we could go for that walk through the park. I mean...I'd feel a lot safer with you there...and it might be good for me."
"Right. I'll do whatever I have to, darlin'." He paused. "What about when we get back? Are you gonna go for therapy, counselling or whatever?"
Jack nodded. "Yeah. This thing's been hounding me for five years, and I've got a permanent reminder of it. I'm sick of being scared all the time, and wondering when I'm finally gonna snap. I know I can't forget the whole thing, but..." He trailed off.
"You wanna be able to think about it without feeling so bad," Ennis finished for him, and Jack nodded.
"I guess," he sighed. "I know I need some kind of help. Will you still come with me, if you can?"
"Yeah, I will. We'll find someone who'll let me sit in with you. Someone with brains when it comes to gay people."
Jack nodded, playing with Ennis's fingers. "I love you, Ennis...you're so good to me. Don't know where I'd be right now if we hadn't met...probably would've already left by now. Never could settle in one place. But now, with you here...I feel settled, and I like being here. You...you make me feel at home," he said softly, and Ennis kissed his temple.
"To be honest, Jack...I'm not sure I would've stayed much longer if we hadn't met, either. I was starting to feel like I wanted to get out, see more places. But, like you said, I feel better about staying now. Like this is where we're meant to be."
Jack smiled up at him. "Take me to bed, Ennis..." he whispered, and Ennis felt arousal flowing through him. Without a word, he took Jack's hand and lifted him up off the sofa, heading for his bedroom.
They walked into the bedroom, hand in hand. Ennis could tell that Jack was tired and worn out from recent events, and he hoped that he could make Jack feel better tonight. Knowing that Jack needed to relax, Ennis had bought some massage oil and was prepared to do anything to help him.
He turned to Jack, kissing him softly on the lips. "Get on the bed, darlin'. Gonna give you a backrub." Jack smiled and started to pull off his clothes, lying face down on the bed and sighing. Ennis followed him, pulling off his own clothes and straddling him. "You alright?"
"Uh huh," Jack replied, breathing deeply. Ennis reached into the nightstand for the massage oil and warmed it between his hands, wanting to make this good for Jack. He started to rub Jack's back, kneading out the tension and working the sore muscles. Jack was carrying around a lot of pressure these days, and it damn near broke Ennis's heart to see it. He hated seeing Jack suffering.
"S'alright, darlin'...I'm here. Nobody's gonna hurt you..." Jack sighed and felt as if he could melt into the mattress right there.
"I know...I love you..." Ennis finished with his back and moved down, rubbing his legs and then feet.
"Want me to do your chest, too?" he offered, and Jack shook his head.
"No, it's okay...but...I..." Ennis crawled back up and nuzzled Jack's ear.
"What is it? Tell me what you want..." Jack made to turn over onto his back, and Ennis let him until they were locking eyes.
"I want you inside me," Jack whispered, eyes full of need. Ennis slowly nodded.
"Please..." Jack replied, ready to plead if he had to. "I wanna feel you in me..." Ennis kissed him and reached into the nightstand for the condoms and lube. He prepared himself and lifted Jack's legs, wrapping them around his waist. When he was in position, he looked down at Jack.
"Look at me, bud...open your eyes..." Jack did so and Ennis smiled. "It's okay...I won't hurt you..."
"I know you won't," Jack replied, smiling back. Ennis started to push in, their eyes fixed together. He leaned forward and pressed himself against Jack, starting to move ever so slowly inside him. Jack closed his eyes and felt arousal and pleasure flowing through his body. Ennis was being so gentle and tender with him, and he appreciated it. "Oh..."
"Feel good, darlin'?" Ennis asked, pushing deeper and yet remaining tender. Jack nodded, unable to speak. He changed his angle, trying to find that special place inside him that would make him forget everything that was troubling him.
A few more thrusts, and Jack was there, shuddering and groaning, legs shaking. Ennis followed suit and collapsed onto him, panting for breath. "You alright?"
Jack nodded, running his hands up and down Ennis's back. "Sure am...thank you..." Ennis rose up and smiled down at him.
"I'd do anything for you, Jack...you know that." They kissed again and Ennis pulled himself out, flopping onto his back. He pulled the condom off and got up, staggering to the bathroom.
Jack was feeling warm and sleepy, but he wanted to have more time with Ennis before they fell asleep. Ennis crawled back onto the bed and slipped an arm around him; Jack opened his eyes. "Mmm..."
"You feeling okay?" Ennis asked, concern in his eyes. Jack nodded.
"I'm fine. Sure am glad I've got you on my side. Just want you to know...your support means the world to me. No matter what happens, with work or my dad or whatever...I know I've got you."
"I'm always gonna be here for you, bud," Ennis promised, stroking his face. "Not going anywhere..." He nuzzled into Jack's neck and heard him sigh. "You wanna get some sleep?" Jack nodded and they moved away from each other so they could stretch out, burrowing under the covers. Before they fell asleep, they spent a few moments looking at each other in the darkness and smiling.
Ennis awoke a few hours later, and saw that Jack was no longer in the bed. He looked around and saw that the bedroom door was a little ajar, so slipped out and pulled his pyjama pants on, going in search of Jack.
He found him standing at the window, looking out at the lights of the city in the dark. Everything around them was quiet, but they could hear the sounds of traffic outside. Ennis slipped up behind Jack, making him jump.
"Easy, darlin'...it's just me..." Jack relaxed into the embrace, Ennis's head resting on his shoulder and arms encircling his stomach. "Can't sleep?"
"Not really. Can't stop worrying about what's gonna happen, with work and all. I know it's probably a good idea to quit, but it scares me. I need that kind of stability. It's more about the money and being able to get the meds."
"Don't worry about it," Ennis told him, nuzzling his neck. "If you can't get a job straightaway and you're short on cash, I'll help. I'll look after you..." Jack smiled and Ennis could just see it reflected in the glass.
"Hmm...the city looks beautiful like this, doesn't it?" Jack mused. "All lit up in the darkness."
"Yeah. Maybe one night...we could go out, run around the city and have some fun. That sound good?"
"I guess...as long as we're careful." Jack turned his head to look at him, smiling. "But I know we'll be alright, as long as we stick together. We're nearing thirty; can't go doing that stuff for much longer. Might as well make the most of it."
"Uh huh." Ennis kissed Jack's cheek and rubbed his stomach. "You ready to go back to bed?"
"Yep." Ennis pulled his arms from Jack and led him back to the bedroom. They got under the covers again and huddled close, Ennis wrapping one arm around Jack and rubbing it until he fell asleep. He swore to himself that he would do whatever it took to make Jack happy. It was worth it.