Chapter 14

December 3rd, 2009

A couple of days later, the weather was continuing to turn colder, and Ennis and Jack spent a lot more time in bed, keeping warm.

Their trip to New York would be in just over two weeks, and the two of them were sat in the coffeehouse at lunch; they had spread out numerous flyers of things to do in New York. The flight was booked for seven in the evening on the 18th, so they hoped to be in New York by midnight. Despite Jack's nerves about being near Central Park, he was looking forward to the trip. He wanted to see his mother again and introduce her to Ennis.

The pair of them rifled through the leaflets, reading out passages of interest, while Jack told Ennis the things he could remember about the city. They planned to visit museums and art galleries, and eat at good restaurants. And they were both very careful about the budget.

Lureen watched them with interest from the counter, a slight smile on her face. She was glad that things were getting better for them; they deserved some happiness and a break after everything they'd been through lately. And she would always be grateful to Ennis for making Jack happier than he'd ever been; when he'd been attacked and then diagnosed, she wasn't entirely sure if she would ever see him smile again. She could still remember a few months ago, when he'd arrived in the city five years after the diagnosis and having tried to settle all over the country.

"Oh, Jack..." she sighed, looking at him. He'd told her he would be coming here, and she'd agreed to let him stay with her until he found his own place. She just hoped that he would be okay in the long run, and that he could find a job and buy the meds he needed.

"Lu...I..." He couldn't speak, but they embraced tightly, and he was shaking. She pulled back and tugged at his jacket.

"Come on, let's get you dried out and I'll make you something to eat and drink." He nodded and she led him inside, the misery pouring off him in waves.

She shook her head of the bad memory; it was long gone now, and Jack was so much better than he had been. Ennis was good for him; that much she knew with all her heart. Even if she one day decided to leave the city, she knew that Jack would be well looked-after as long as Ennis was there. It would be alright for her to leave if she wanted to, and she wouldn't have to worry about Jack.

Jack was making a list of all the places Ennis wanted to see and everything they wanted to do. Apart from seeing his mother, their timetable was basically free during their trip. He knew that at some point, they would be going to Central Park, and he had a little time to prepare for that.

His father was another matter. Jack wasn't entirely sure if they would even see him, much less try to have a conversation with him. What if they did run into each other? Would he ignore them? Would be rude to him or Ennis? Jack wasn't entirely sure what might happen.

"Jack," Ennis said softly, breaking into his thoughts and covering Jack's hand with his own. "I can see you worrying over there. Cut it out, okay?"

"Sorry," Jack replied, shaking his head. "Thinking about my dad...he works in the city, and what if into him? What if he's rude to us?"

Ennis shrugged. "Wouldn't matter, would it?" Jack felt a stab of annoyance; something he'd never felt with Ennis before.

"It would matter to me," he said sharply, and Ennis saw that his temper was rising. He grabbed Jack's other hand, trying to soothe him.

"Easy, bud...didn't mean to rile you up. What I mean is...would it really have any effect on us? Would it make you stop loving me just to make him happy?" Jack shook his head.

"No...but despite everything, I...I'd still like to get his approval, or at least his acceptance. He couldn't even do that."

"I know. So it would matter in the short-term, but not the long-term. At the end of the day...we love each other, and nothing that anybody says or does can change that. Right?"

Jack smiled, bringing Ennis's hands up to kiss them both. "Right. Sorry for snapping at you..." Ennis shook his head.

"Don't worry about it. I know thinking about this stuff puts you on edge, and I'm trying to keep you calm..."

"You do a real good job," Jack told him earnestly. "I'm serious, Ennis. Whenever I'm upset or worried about something...all I have to do is turn to you hold me close, tell me that everything will be alright. And you know what? You make me believe it, even when I don't think I can. You just have that gift..."

Ennis's heart was bursting with love as he let Jack's words wash over him, and he smiled. "Darlin'...don't really know what to say to that." Jack smiled back.

"Give it a try," he prodded gently. Ennis nodded, thinking.

"Well...when I see you like that, upset and everything...makes me...ache, you know? All I wanna do is help you feel better. Can't stand to see you hurting, bud.'re the love of my life, Jack..."

Jack gulped, the intensity of the love between them overwhelming him. "I feel the same way, Ennis..." They leaned over the table and kissed, unable to hold back any longer. It was a sweet kiss, full of love and promises for them both. Maybe they might never legally marry, but their connection was strong, and that meant more to them right now than a ceremony.

When they pulled apart, they smiled their secret smiles at each other, lost in their own world. Everything was as it should be right now, and that was enough.

After lunch and a few more hours of work, they were finally finished for the day and decided to meet up in the park. While they had been working, snow had been falling outside and was already in a thick blanket by the time Ennis got to the park, waiting for Jack so that they could spend the evening together.

He looked around, seeing children playing and dogs rolling around in the snow, the sound of laughter in the air. The holiday season had always been like this, and even though he was approaching thirty, he still loved it.

Just as he was wondering what had become of Jack, he felt something cold and wet slamming into the back of his head and jerked forward. He shook his hair of the snow and turned to see Jack, a bright grin on his face. Ennis smirked and picked up his own snowball, aiming for Jack, who ran and could be heard giggling as Ennis gave chase.

They tore through the park and around the lake, laughing and throwing snowballs at each other, enjoying this precious moment that they would always remember. It was their first experience of a snowfall together and Jack loved playing with Ennis like this. Their lives could be so intense sometimes, that this light-hearted activity felt like a welcome relief.

"Get back here, Twist!" Ennis called after him after missing him yet again. Jack stuck his tongue out at him.

"Not happening! You've gotta catch me!" He ran off again and Ennis abandoned the snow in favour of catching up to him. Luckily, his long calliper legs gave him the advantage, and he almost grabbed the back of Jack's coat, just missing him by inches.

Jack was laughing, and even in his rush to catch him, Ennis marvelled at the beautiful sound. He loved to hear Jack happy like this.

Knowing that he wouldn't be able to grab Jack, Ennis simply made a small jump onto Jack's back and pulled him down into the snow, drawing a yelp out of him. They tussled for a moment and Ennis pinned him down by the wrists, straddling him. Jack was still laughing, blue eyes flashing and cheeks flushed pink. Ennis thought that he'd never seen anything more beautiful in his life.

He smiled fondly down at Jack, whose laughter had subsided and was now gazing up at him. "Hey, darlin'..."

"Hey yourself," Jack replied, grinning. His dazzling smile made the snow pale in comparison, and Ennis released his wrists, leaning down. He quickly glanced around to make sure they were alone, and pressed his lips to Jack's, making him moan. Jack's arms came up and wound themselves around Ennis's back, pulling him close until they were lying pressed together, Ennis's warm weight covering Jack's.

They kissed for several heavenly moments, and then Ennis nuzzled their noses together in an Eskimo kiss. Jack smiled even further.

"Hey...wanna make some snow angels?" he suggested, and Ennis nodded.

"Sure, but...I've already got one of those, right here..." Jack's heart leapt at the wonderful words and he kissed Ennis again before they got up, brushing themselves off. They found a clear, untouched patch of snow and grinned at each other, spreading out and letting themselves fall backwards into the snow, coughing a little and starting to make the angels. They waved their arms and legs through the snow until the shape was defined and then stood up, careful not to disturb it as they stepped out. Turning, they admired their work, and Ennis put his arm around Jack. "Not a bad job, bud."

Jack nodded. "Yep. I always loved this time of year; how you could do so much with the snow...especially when you have someone to share it with," he added, looking at Ennis, who kissed his temple.

They ended up making a snowman while it was still light, and Jack joked around by putting the small stick for the nose in an inappropriate place, flanked by two acorns. Ennis rolled his eyes in amusement and put them on the snowman properly.

When there was nothing more they could do with the snow, they stretched and decided to retire to Ennis's place for dinner and to get warm. Jack linked his arm through Ennis's as they walked, feeling more in love than ever now that they had played together like this. They'd had their fun together in the last few months, but nothing really like this. The snow only came once a year (usually) so it felt unique, and Jack liked that he'd shared this momentous occasion with Ennis. He felt as if they were closer than ever.

They were both shivering as they entered Ennis's apartment, and Ennis immediately put the heating on as they took off their cold and wet outer clothes. "Bud, could you get the hot chocolate while I see about dinner?" Jack nodded and kissed his cheek before walking into the kitchen. Ennis got out the small rack and set it in front of the radiator, spreading their clothes out on it so they could dry.

He entered the kitchen to find Jack making the hot chocolate, and smiled to himself at seeing this wonderful man in his home. Maybe one day, they would have a home together.

"What do you want for dinner, darlin'?" he asked, looking around at the cupboards. Jack shrugged.

"What about some soup? I think I saw some tomato in the cupboard." Ennis nodded and found the packets of soup, taking out two of the tomato and preparing them, switching on the kettle. As they waited for it to boil for the food and drink, they leaned against the counter and talked for a while.

When they were sat in front of the TV with their hot chocolate and soup, neither of them had ever felt as happy or as at peace as they did now. They'd come so far in such a short time, and they knew that they had so much more to look forward to from their relationship.

A couple of days later, Ennis and Jack were spending a rare day alone together, but they had a good reason. They were Christmas shopping for each other and the girls, so they had to buy their gifts separately. As much as they liked to spend time together, they didn't want to see their gifts from each other until Christmas. They would be exchanging their presents in a hotel room in New York.

Jack went back to the Western-style store where he'd bought Ennis's boots from, hoping to find a suitable jacket for him. He wanted something warm and thick, and entered into the shop, the smell of leather greeting him once more.

Cassie was there again, and she recognised him. "Hey."

"Hi," he replied, smiling a little. "Christmas shopping today."

She nodded. "Okay. Your boyfriend again?" she asked, not at all hostile. This man didn't make her uncomfortable; in fact, if he was straight, she might have considered going for it.

"Yep. He wants a jacket; something to keep him warm in these months."

"Alright. Come on over here..." She led him to a corner of the room, where a number of jackets were on display. "What's his size?"

"A sixteen," Jack said, having checked in Ennis's other clothes that morning.

"Okay." She pointed out the appropriate jackets for the size, and left him to it. He rifled through them, one style in particular catching his eye. Some of the jackets were fur-lined, and he knew that these would keep Ennis warm outside.

He paused at one in particular; it was tan-coloured, but with fur on the inside. It was exactly what he was looking for, and he knew that Ennis would like it. He took it from the rack and examined it, noting how well-made it was.

Cassie came back over to him. "You found one you like?" He nodded and held out the jacket in his hands.

"Yeah, this one's nice. I think he'll like it." Jack checked the price list; he could afford it. He then nodded. "Yep, I want this one." Cassie led him over to the cash register and wrapped it up, placing it in a white box. Jack paid for it and left the store, looking around and turning his collar up against the bitter cold air. He and Ennis had agreed to meet at the coffee place when they were done. The next place on his list was a jewellery store, looking for Alma and Lureen's presents. He set off down the road, looking for somewhere suitable.

Meanwhile, Ennis was walking around a different part of the city, looking for a present for Jack. He wasn't too sure what to get, so he decided to buy presents for the girls first. He entered the nearest jewellery store and headed for the catalogues.

He picked out a necklace for Lureen with a garnet and a pair of earrings for Alma with aquamarines set in them. As he headed for the counter to order his purchases, his eye caught something, and he looked over at the watches. Jack did wear one, but he'd mentioned that it was old and that he could do with a new one. Ennis smiled to himself and noted down the number, taking the form to the counter.

"Hi, how can I help you?" asked the attendant in a cheery voice. A nametag told Ennis that her name was Becky. He smiled back and held out the form.

"Uh...I'd like these three items, please," he said to her, and she took it, nodding.

"Okay. Just wait here." She went off into the storeroom, leaving him to wait there, listening to the Christmas music playing over the speakers. He thought of Jack and how he was faring with his gifts. Hopefully they would be able to meet up soon; they hadn't been apart for long and Ennis already missed him.

Becky came back holding three small boxes and smiling. "Here we go," she said, settling them on the counter. She opened them up for him to examine; the jewellery was beautiful and he knew that the girls would love the pieces.

Jack's watch was silver, with a black face. It was simple enough, but he had a gut feeling that Jack would love it. He always seemed to love the things that Ennis bought him.

"Are these okay?" Becky asked him, and he nodded.

"Yep. They look great, thank you." He paid for the items and they were wrapped up carefully.

When he stepped out of the shop, he checked his own watch; maybe Jack would be done by now. He headed back to the coffeehouse, knowing that he could at least talk to Lureen until Jack got there.

He entered the coffeehouse and looked around; sure enough, Lureen was wiping down tables. Jack was nowhere to be seen. "Hey, Lureen."

She turned and smiled. "Hi, Ennis. How's it going?"

"Alright. Got all my shopping done." She nodded.

"Good. You want a coffee?"

"Uh, yeah. Thanks." He took their usual booth and set down the bag, stretching his legs under the table. Lureen brought him a coffee and he pulled out his cell phone, sending a text to Jack to let him know where he was.

Fifteen minutes later, Jack walked in and grinned at him, walking over. He sat down opposite Ennis and leaned over, kissing him warmly. "Hey, how's it going? You get all your shopping done?"

"Yeah, at least for you guys. I don't know what to do about my parents, though," Ennis admitted. Jack nodded.

"I know. I'm gonna get my mom something over there, I reckon. That's about it." He looked around. "Listen, when we get back to your place, how about we compare jewellery for the girls?"

"Sure." Lureen brought Jack a cappuccino and they warmed themselves up, Jack rubbing his foot against Ennis and making them both smile. A light snowfall started outside, and it was cold, but they were happy here. That was all that mattered.

Two days later, on the Monday morning, Jack went to talk to his boss after some encouragement from Ennis, intending to confirm his HIV status and ask his workmates whether or not they wanted him to stay. He just couldn't go on pretending that the stares and silent treatment weren't hurting him.

He said goodbye to Ennis at the entrance to the park, feeling nervous. Ennis held him close and rubbed his back.

"It'll be alright, darlin'," he soothed. "Whatever they decide, you know you'll never be alone. You'll always have me, and the girls..."

Jack nodded, hugging Ennis tightly. "I know. Just...really scary." They embraced for a few more moments and then let go, kissing warmly.

The two of them reluctantly prised apart and went their separate ways. Jack had promised Ennis that he would send a message when it was done, and he'd decided to give his workmates a week to decide what they wanted him to do.

He entered the store, ignoring the others, and went straight through to Charles's office and knocked. "Come in."

Jack poked his head in nervously. "Um, hi sir. I was wondering if I could talk to you..." Charles waved him in.

"Of course, come in." Jack sat down opposite him and took several deep breaths. "What can I do for you, Jack?"

"Well...I've been doing a lot of thinking, ever since Darren pulled that stunt on me. I've...been talking it over with my boyfriend, too."

Charles nodded. "Alright. So what have you decided?"

Jack looked him in the eye. "I think I want to quit the store. I can't take much more of the stares and silent treatment. I used to get on great with these people, even when they found out I'm gay. But now..." He trailed off. "Anyway, I want to ask my workmates, straight out, if they want me to go. I was thinking...if I ask them today, and give them until Friday..."

"That sounds fair. If it's what you really want, Jack, I can't force you to stay. But rest assured, if you do quit, you will still get the Christmas bonus. Consider it my Christmas present to you." He smiled sympathetically; Jack was a nice guy and a good worker; he didn't deserve what was going on.

Jack smiled a little. "Thanks, sir." He sighed. "So when's a good time to ask them?"

Charles checked his watch. "Now's as good a time as any, while they're all here and there's no customers yet. Come on." They left the office and went over to the microphone, Jack blocking out the memories of Darren using it. Charles cleared his throat and picked it up.

"This is a staff announcement from your manager, Charles Goodwin. I would like the attention of all staff, please." Everybody turned and looked, seeing that Jack was there, too. A few murmurs were exchanged. "As you know, things have been a little strained lately, with the recent occurrences amongst a couple of staff members, and it's time to sort this out. Jack Twist is here with me, and he would like to speak to you all." Charles nodded at Jack and handed the microphone to him.

"Uh, hey guys. I know you all remember what Darren did a little while ago. And I know that you're all giving me the silent treatment and whispering about me behind my back. The thing is...yes, I'm HIV positive. I've had it for five years. I used to live in New York, and when I was in college, I was...sexually attacked." He took a moment to gather his composure; he no longer cared about keeping his past a secret, and he knew that honesty was the best policy.

"I moved here in June, and I met my current boyfriend soon after. He's been an absolute rock to me and has been helping me through what's been going on lately. Now...I can guess why you guys are shunning me. You probably don't know much about HIV, or are scared of being infected. Let me tell you now...there is absolutely no chance of you guys catching it just by being near me. It's not like a cold. I know that if I were to get a paper cut or something, I would bandage it up so that nobody is at risk. And the only other way would be...well, by having sex with one of you. And since I'm with a wonderful man who I love, there's no chance of that happening."

Jack coughed to clear his throat. "So...that's the truth of it. I'm thinking of leaving the company, because I can't take much more of the stares and whispers. I've talked it over with the boss, and he agrees that you've all got until Friday to decide. Maybe we could set up anonymous paper ballots or something..." He looked at Charles, who nodded. "So that's all I wanted to say. Whatever you guys decide will be fine." He moved away from the microphone and Charles took over, talking about the paper ballot and then putting the microphone back.

He turned to Jack. "That was a very brave thing you did, Jack. Telling them how you got it."

"I just wanted them to be sure I'm not promiscuous; that I'm not about to go chasing after one of them or something. Besides...if I keep it to myself all the'll drive me crazy. People should know that it happens to guys, too." Charles nodded and left him to get to work.

Jack went into the bathroom and pulled out his cell phone, sending a message to Ennis.

Just done it. They're gonna do a paper ballot. Will know by Friday.

He sighed and leaned back, breathing deeply and trying to calm his frayed nerves. A few minutes later, his phone buzzed with a reply.

Good job, bud. I love you.

Jack smiled and sent one back before leaving and getting to work, a little spring in his step that hadn't been there before.

I love you too xxx

At lunchtime, Ennis and Jack did something they'd never done at this time before; they went back to Jack's apartment to be alone. They both needed it after what Jack had done that morning. He was a little stressed, so Ennis offered to make him lunch, which he accepted.

They entered Jack's place and Ennis turned to Jack, smiling a little. "Come here, darlin'..." He pulled Jack close and rubbed his back, inhaling the familiar scent. "You gonna be okay?" he asked, hoping to inject some warmth into his body.

Jack leaned into him and nodded against him. "Yeah, I'll be fine. Just...kind of getting to me right now. I did everything I could...up to them now. I'll know by Friday, one way or the other."

" want some lunch?" Jack nodded again and they broke apart, Jack walking through to the bathroom and Ennis to the kitchen. He looked around in the cupboards and found some chicken soup, so filled up the kettle and switched it on. He then got some orange juice out of the fridge and poured it into two glasses, thinking about Jack and everything he had to put up with lately. It broke his heart to know how much it was hurting his beloved Jack, and he wasn't sure what to do for him.

A pair of arms slid around his stomach and he smiled, leaning back. "Hey..."

"Hey, bud. Thanks for taking care of things..."

"No problem, darlin'. Just glad I can do something for you." He turned himself in Jack's arms and faced him. "No matter what the others decide..." he started, putting his arms around Jack's neck. "I'm always gonna be here for you. I promise, Jack."

Jack smiled and kissed him warmly. "I know. Thank you, Ennis...I love you."

"Love you too." They prised apart and Ennis got the soup ready, pouring the water into the bowls of powder. The two of them took their lunch to the table and sat down, sighing in unison.

"So," started Ennis. "If they aren't comfortable with you being around, you'll leave?"

Jack nodded. "Guess so. I don't wanna be around them if things are just gonna be like this. I'm starting to hate that place, to be honest." Ennis covered Jack's free hand with his own.

"I know. Hate seeing you like this, Jack. You're miserable there...might be better for you to quit anyway, no matter what they decide."

"Yeah, maybe...we'll see. Maybe I should just leave. You're right; I don't like it there anymore." He looked down into his soup. "I's probably the right thing to do."

Ennis nodded, squeezing his hand. They finished their lunch and Ennis cleared the dishes away, before taking Jack's hand and leading him to the bedroom. He intended for Jack to get some much-needed rest.

They lay down on top of the covers and stretched off, throwing off their sneakers and sighing. Ennis set the alarm so that they wouldn't be late for the afternoon shift and nudged at Jack. "Roll on your side, darlin'." Jack did so and Ennis spooned up behind him, curling around him protectively and rubbing his stomach. "Are you okay?"

Jack didn't answer at first; he was tired of it all. "I don't know...not really. I just...I can't take much more of it, Ennis. I'm so tired of it all...being shunned because of something I can't control. Why can't they come up with a cure already? The pandemic was twenty years ago, and there's nothing to get rid of it. I just...want the damn thing out of me." His voice broke at the end, and he started trembling. Ennis leaned up on his elbow and looked down at him, hearing the sorrow.

"Darlin'...don't get all upset. They're not worth it. Come on..." Jack shook and Ennis saw a tear leak out of his eye. He felt a surge of pain for the man lying with him.

"Shit...I shouldn't let it get to me," Jack groaned, screwing his eyes shut. "Shouldn't be so weak..."

"You're not weak..." Ennis told him, rubbing his arm. "Come on, turn back over." He pulled Jack onto his back and made him meet his eyes. "You are not weak," he told Jack firmly. "You hear me?"

"I...I don't know..." Jack said unsurely. "They get to me and I shouldn't let them..."

"Baby," Ennis murmured, stroking Jack's face. "I think you have to leave that place. Look what it's doing to you...I don't like seeing you hurting. There's not a lot I can do to help, and...I don't like that, either."

Jack wound his arms up around Ennis's neck, smiling through his tear-filled eyes. "I love you...and it doesn't matter how much or how little you can do for me. You have no idea what it means to me that you're still here, supporting me. No matter what happens at work, I know that I'll be with you at the end of the day, and we'll end up in the same place, either here or at your place. And no matter how much it hurts me to be around always lifts my spirits to know that I'll see you after work."

Ennis straddled Jack and leaned down, nuzzling him. "Good. I'll always be here, Jack. I promise."

"You know what I said about you, while I was talking to them?" Jack asked, suddenly remembering. Ennis raised his eyebrows. "I told them that you were my rock through all of this. And it's've been wonderful." Ennis smiled.

"Oh, darlin'...I love you so much. Can I show you?" he asked hopefully. Jack nodded and smiled.

"Sure..." They slowly undressed each other and slid under the covers, Ennis preparing himself and lifting Jack's legs around his waist. He pushed himself in very gently and made love to Jack as tenderly as he could, trying to tell him without words how much he loved him and that he wasn't going anywhere. He vowed to stand by Jack regardless of what happened, and to be his rock.