Chapter 15

December 11th, 2009

On Friday, Jack dreaded going into work. It was crunch time and today he would find out the results of the anonymous paper ballot that his workmates had submitted to all week. Jack knew in his heart that he would probably end up quitting anyway. Ennis was right; he was starting to become miserable there and knew it would be best if he left.

Before they left, Ennis had held him close and told him it would be alright, and that he would always be here for him. Jack appreciated the support and knew that he could rely on Ennis to help him.

He entered his boss's office, once more ignoring the stares and whispers. He couldn't even look at the girls who used to be his friends. When he knocked on the door, he heard his boss telling him to come in, and entered.

"Jack, hey. Have a seat." Jack did so and Charles saw a man who looked like he was heading to the gallows. "Well...I have the results of the ballot. Are you ready?"

"I guess."

"Well, as you know, excluding yourself there are thirty-two staff working here. And the results...well...they're not really in your favour." He paused, knowing that this would hurt Jack. "We have...five wanting you to stay, and the rest wanting you to go."

Jack squeezed his eyes shut, trying to ignore the feeling of being shot through the heart. "Right..."

"I'm so sorry, Jack. I had no idea there was this much animosity towards you. Will you be okay?"

He opened his eyes and nodded, trying to put on a brave face. "Yeah, I'll be fine. So...when's the best time to leave? Now?"

"Unfortunately, it might be a good idea to stay another week. You'll have to if you want the Christmas bonus. But I'll sign you off, and you'll be free to go after that."

"Alright, one more week. But then I'm out of here. I can't take much more of this. I wonder who those five are...?"

"There's no way of knowing; it was anonymous for a reason, so that people couldn't make their...displeasure known. Anyway, I'm truly sorry that you've had to go through this. Have you any other job options?"

Jack shrugged. "Figured I'd go for a shift at the coffee place where Lureen works or something. Or maybe at the bar where another friend works."

Charles nodded. "Good. At least you have other possibilities. You're not short on cash, are you? To buy your medication?"

"No, I'm fine. My boyfriend said he'd help out if I needed it."

"He sounds like a fine man, Jack. You be sure to keep hold of someone like that."

Jack smiled in spite of himself. "I sure will. So...I'll work for another week, and then I'm going."

"Alright. Take yourself a little break if you want." Jack left the office, intending to try and call Ennis and talk to him for a few minutes.

He stepped outside the staff entrance and pulled out his cell phone, selecting Ennis's number and leaning against the wall, waiting.

"Jack?"

"Hey, bud. Just wanted to let you know how it went."

Ennis was silent for a moment. "Yeah?"

"Well...my boss said there's thirty-two other people working here, and that...five of them voted for me to stay." A lump grew in his throat.

"Just five?" Ennis repeated in disbelief, hardly able to believe it. "Oh, darlin'...I'm so sorry. What did your boss say?"

"He asked me to stay for one more week so that I can get the Christmas bonus, but then I can leave. I'll just have to suck it up for another week."

"Right. But don't forget, bud...next week we're off to New York, remember?"

Jack brightened as he remembered their upcoming trip. "Yeah, that's true. I can't wait..."

"Me neither. Listen, Jack...there's something I've been meaning to say about all this."

"What?" Jack asked softly, knowing that Ennis was about to reveal some deep feelings inside him.

"Those other guys, shunning you just because you're positive...they're not worth worrying over. They obviously forgot what a wonderful man you are. You're really brave for sticking with it through all this, and I want you to know...I'm really proud of you."

Jack smiled, a warm feeling fluttering in his chest. "Ennis...that's the sweetest thing I've ever heard. I love you, baby."

"I love you too...so much. You're braver than you give yourself credit for, Jack. Don't ever forget that. Alright, I've gotta go, but...you gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine. See you at lunch? Coffee place?"

"You bet." They clicked off and Jack went back inside, glancing around. He saw the group of girls that he'd once befriended, and noticed that there were five of them. When they weren't looking, he regarded them curiously, wondering if they were the five that had voted for him to stay.

Even if they were, it doesn't mean anything. They still won't talk to me or come near me. So...let's say it was them. They want me to stay, but will go on ignoring me if I do. Go figure.

Shaking his head, Jack made to carry on walking, until one of them called his name. "Jack..." He turned and saw that they were all now looking at him. "We, um...we're sorry about all this."

He shrugged. "I don't care either way. You've all been giving me the silent treatment these past few weeks, ever since Darren did what he did. Silence speaks volumes, and I know that I'm not wanted here. I'm gonna stay one more week to get the bonus, but then I'm out of here. You won't have to worry about getting infected if I sneeze or something." Jack knew he was being hateful, but he felt like he had the right to after everything that these so-called friends of his had done.

He turned on his heel and prepared for the first customers of the day, determined to see through the final week before he could move on.


Jack saw through the morning well enough, knowing that he'd made his statement with his workmates and that they knew how he felt about their treatment of him. That was enough for him, and he couldn't help but smirk to himself about it.

At last, lunchtime arrived and he was heading for the coffee place to meet up with Ennis, feeling a little more comfortable and confident than he had been lately. He entered the building and spied Ennis in their booth, drinking a coffee and reading a newspaper. Jack strode over to him and planted a kiss on his mouth, Ennis making a surprised sound from the unexpected gesture and melting into it.

Jack pulled his lips away and grinned at Ennis. "Hey, baby." Ennis couldn't help but smile back; Jack's wide grin was infectious.

"Hey yourself, darlin'," Ennis replied as Jack sat down. "You're in a good mood, considering."

"Well, I had a little word for those girls I used to be friends with. They said they were sorry for giving me the cold shoulder, so...I just told them I didn't care anymore; that I was leaving. I called them out on it, and told them they didn't need to worry about becoming infected just by being near me or if I sneeze. That seemed to shut them up."

Ennis nodded. "Good, Jack. That's the way to deal with it, and not let them get to you." He slid his hand over to cover Jack's and squeezed it. "Meant what I said before...you're really brave for going through this as well as you have. I'm proud of you."

Jack smiled wider. "Thank you, Ennis..." He cleared his throat. "So...only a week until we're off to New York. I can't wait..."

"Me neither, bud. I, um...I was looking at the website of the hotel before...they're having a Christmas party on Christmas Eve." They would be staying at The Hudson, and their room would have a view of Central Park. "Do you wanna go?" Jack nodded.

"Sure, sounds great. And we're going to Times Square for New Year's, right?"

"Yep. When do you wanna meet up with your mom?"

"Not sure when she'd be available. And she'd have to leave when my dad's out. I'll call her once we're there."

"What about your dad?" Ennis asked tentatively, and Jack shrugged.

"I don't know. I can still remember what he said to me when they found out I'm positive...it was horrible. I don't think he'd want to talk to me." Lureen brought a coffee over to Jack and he smiled his thanks.

"Maybe you could talk to your mom about it," Ennis suggested. "You never know, he might have mellowed by now...it's been five years."

"Yeah, maybe. Anyway...how's things over at the vet's?"

"Um, pretty much normal. But there's this dog that had to be neutered. I didn't have to do it, but I was helping out." He smirked. "Felt sorry for the poor thing."

"Yeah...don't think I could live without mine," Jack agreed, grinning again. "I know you love it..."

Ennis went a little red. "True enough..."

"I love yours, too," Jack went on matter-of-factly, smiling at him. They continued to drink their coffee and Lureen came back over.

"You guys want something to eat?" she asked them, pad and pen in hand.

"Um...what do you want?" Jack asked Ennis, and he shrugged.

"How about one of those paninis? Ham okay?" Jack nodded and Lureen wrote it down, walking away. He smiled at Ennis and they linked hands again, smiling at each other and thinking.

The pair of them ate their lunch together, talking about the upcoming trip. There was so much they wanted to see and do, and they would have enough to fill up their two weeks until they had to return.

"How are you feeling about going into Central Park?" Ennis asked, looking at Jack warily. Jack paused before answering.

"I think...it might be okay. You'll be there with me, and...that guy probably isn't even around anymore. Like you said, it was five years ago..." Ennis squeezed his hand again.

"Yeah. I've been meaning to ask you...did that guy ever get caught?"

Jack shook his head. "No. I never saw his face, so I couldn't identify him. And it was in a dense area, early in the morning...no witnesses." He looked down into his coffee, thinking. "So...I don't know who it was that did this to me."

"Oh, darlin'..." Ennis sighed. "Sorry to bring it up...I know you don't like thinking about it."

"It's okay, bud. I have to learn to talk about this, or it'll haunt me forever." He looked up at Ennis. "I...I wanna make some kind of life with you, Ennis. Maybe here, or if we ever decide to move. I want us to be together. And...I don't want my past to hang over that; if it does, then this won't work, as much as I love you. I have to learn to get over it, both the attack and the HIV. Then I can focus on you and me. Living together...maybe getting married if we can...a place of our own...hell, maybe even kids one day. I want all that with you, one day..."

Ennis nodded. Jack's ideas for the future together were putting wonderful images in his head. He could just imagine living that sweet life with Jack. "Darlin'...I want all that too. All that stuff you just said. I'd like us to...be partners, or whatever it's called. And...I'll do whatever it takes to help you get over everything. I promise." Jack smiled at him.

"Thank you. I love you so much..." he murmured, looking deeply into Ennis's honey-coloured eyes, warm and familiar.

"Love you too." They returned to their lunch, thinking about what a real life together might be like; where might they end up living? Would they have some kind of ceremony? What about children? The prospect was a little scary, but they couldn't wait to find out what the future held for them.


December 15th, 2009

Three days before he and Jack were due to leave for New York, Ennis received a call from his mother. It was the first time they'd spoken in so long, the memories of that disastrous dinner still fresh in his mind.

It had started out as an ordinary day. He and Jack had been packing things that they would need for their trip that they didn't need beforehand, and they were excitedly talking about everything they would do while they were there.

Jack's remaining week at the store was going okay. He still got stares and the silent treatment from most of his co-workers, but he just kept reminding himself that after this week, he was free to go. Once he and Ennis returned from their trip, he could start looking for another job. In college, his major had been economics, so he figured he would like to start working for a business of some kind, maybe some office work.

But one thing that he did know was that he was truly grateful to Ennis for standing by him and helping him out throughout the entire fiasco with what Darren had done, and the backlash. He just hoped that he could find some way of paying Ennis back for his unwavering love and support, and he vowed that when things settled down, he would try his best to make Ennis happy; it was all he had to give.

The pair of them were at his place on Tuesday evening, eating their dinner, when Ennis's phone rang. "It's my mom," he said in surprise, looking at Jack.

"Oh...you gonna answer?" Ennis nodded and shakily pressed the button, bringing the phone to his ear. He hadn't spoken to either of his parents in weeks; hadn't wanted to hear anything they might have to say.

"Hey, mom."

"Ennis...sweetie, how are you?"

"I'm fine. We both are," he told her, looking over at Jack.

"Are you...still seeing Jack?" she asked, and he thought he could still hear a trace of disapproval in her voice.

"Yeah, I am. It's going really well, and we're happy."

"Okay. Look, I know you wanted to go to your uncle's for Thanksgiving. They told us when we went over there. I'm sorry you couldn't join us."

"That's because of what you and dad did to Jack when we came for dinner," Ennis reminded her, almost bristling. "You really hurt his feelings, especially when you suggested to me that I break up with him."

"Ennis, we're both sorry. We're your parents; we're only trying to protect you."

"I'm twenty-seven, mom. I can take care of myself."

"Well...I was wondering...are we going to see you over the holidays?"

Ennis took Jack's hand, squeezing for comfort. "No. We're going to New York for the two weeks we have off. We'll be there for Christmas and New Year's. We both need a break."

His mother sighed. "Oh, honey...I sure wish we could see you..."

"Mom...we need to get away. Jack's had a real bad couple of weeks at work." He glanced at Jack, who nodded his permission. "A workmate of his used the microphone there to expose his HIV to everybody in the store, and now people won't even go near him. How do you think that makes him feel?"

She was silent for a long moment. "I'm sorry. Is he...okay?"

"Yeah, he'll be fine. He's leaving the store after this week; gonna look for something else."

"Alright. Um...when will we see you?" she asked hopefully, and Ennis sighed.

"I don't know. After what you said that day...I'm not sure I want you near Jack ever again. I have to look after him and put his needs first."

"Okay," she relented. "Well...you have our number, if you ever wanna talk."

"Yep, bye." He clicked off and put his phone on the table, sighing. Jack squeezed his fingers.

"You alright?" he asked gently, and Ennis shrugged.

"Don't know. If they hadn't said all that stuff...maybe I could have gone back up there sometime. Maybe both of us could. But they did, and...I can't just forget it, you know?"

Jack nodded. "I know. I feel the same about my dad, and what he said to me when I told them I'm positive. On the one hand, they're our parents, so some part of us is always gonna love them. But on the other...things have been said that can't be unsaid, right?"

"Yeah. Like we're just supposed to forgive and forget. I don't know..." Ennis returned to his dinner, eating one-handed. "I don't know if I can ever forgive them..."

"It's okay if you can't," Jack said softly, stroking Ennis's knuckles with his thumb. "Nobody expects you to." He released Ennis's hand and lifted his chin, making him meet his eyes. "Just remember...it doesn't matter in the long run if we're estranged from our parents. The important thing is...we're together, and we'll always have each other."

Ennis nodded. "I know, darlin'." They carried on eating and then washed up together, Jack splashing Ennis with the water and having his ass cracked with the towel in retaliation.

When they were finally done, they brought their beers into the living room and curled up on the sofa, switching on an evening movie. Ennis had his arm around Jack and was stroking his hair gently, marvelling at its thick texture and how soft it felt. Jack smiled and rested his head on Ennis's shoulder, feeling warm and comfortable. Ennis made him feel incredible every time they did something intimate together, whether it was when they were having sex or just doing something like this. With the weather getting colder, they both appreciated these moments all the more.

"Love you," Jack murmured, a little drowsy. Ennis squeezed him.

"Love you too, darlin'. You wanna go lie down?"

"Okay...but we're not going to sleep yet," Jack replied, looking at him with a devilish grin and a twinkle in his eye. Ennis couldn't help but smile at the implication.

"Sure enough."


December 18th, 2009

It was the last day of work before they were going on their trip, and Jack's last ever day at the electrical store. He looked a lot better than he had done lately, and Ennis noticed it. He was glad to see Jack smiling again, and knew that leaving the store would be good for him. He could take the time to find a job that he liked, where he could start over.

They woke up together and spent a few minutes rolling around in bed before getting up and seeing to breakfast. The two of them would be coming back here after work and grabbing something to eat. The flight was at seven and they had to be there for four at least; they would both be getting out of work early today, with it being the holidays.

Ennis walked Jack to the entrance of the park, holding his gloved hand as they crunched through the snow. He was reluctant to let go of Jack so soon, but they would be seeing each other earlier than usual, and then they would have two whole weeks together to enjoy. There would be no stares or nasty comments, and everything would be okay. And he would be with Ennis; that was the main thing to be happy about.

"So...I'll see you at lunch, then?" Ennis asked, looking down into Jack's beloved face and sighing. Jack nodded; he hated being away from Ennis, but this was necessary.

"Yep. We'll have one of those paninis or something." They leaned in and kissed warmly, Jack sliding his hands up Ennis's chest and around his neck, while Ennis massaged his ass, smiling into the kiss. They finally prised apart, adjusting their jeans at the front and grinning sheepishly. "Well, that went well..."

Ennis nodded. "Yeah. So, um...I'll see you later."

"Yep." They kissed again and went their separate ways, already counting down the time until they would be together again.

Jack arrived at work, smiling defiantly and ignoring any stares he might be attracting. Just this one last day, and he would be free. He knew he could get through this; he just kept thinking of Ennis's face and those arms being around him.

He went to his station and stretched, looking around to see if any of his workmates were watching him. He spied the girls talking amongst themselves, but paid them no mind.

Charles came up to him, looking sympathetic. "Hey, Jack. Bet you're looking forward to getting out of here, huh?" he asked knowingly.

"Sure am. You're a great boss, Charlie. And a great guy. But...I can't work here anymore. They're driving me crazy. I'm not going to let it get to me now; I've got too much going on to be worrying about this. Got a trip starting today, after work. Me and my boyfriend are going to New York for two weeks."

"That sounds great, Jack. I hope you have a good time. The Christmas bonus should be in your bank account by midnight, so you'll be okay for a while. I've written your reference and you've got the number on your résumé, right?"

"Yeah, I have. So...guess the first customers will be here soon, right?"

"Yeah. Have a good day, Jack. Can you stop by my office at the end of the day?"

"Sure." Charles left him to it and walked off, leaving Jack to think.

Meanwhile, Ennis was busy at the vet's, and he approached Sarah, the receptionist. "Hey."

"Oh, hey Ennis. How's it going?"

"Just thought you'd want to know...Jack's leaving his job because of what happened." He shifted. "He's been miserable these past few weeks, so this'll be good for him."

She nodded. "You're going on a trip, right?"

"Yep. New York, for two weeks. I'm looking forward to it, and I think he is." He smiled a little. "We both need a break from all of this."

"Sounds great. I hope you have a good time." She smiled sincerely and went back to her typing. He went off to prepare for the morning shift, thinking about Jack and their upcoming trip. Hopefully it would go well, and that Jack wouldn't be too scared of going near the park. Maybe they would wait a few days before doing that, to ease Jack into being back in the city. All he wanted was to make sure that Jack was comfortable and he would do anything to achieve that.

The morning flew by and before they knew it, they were due to meet at lunch. Ennis was passing by the park just as Jack left it, and they moved into each other's arms.

"Hey, baby," Jack greeted Ennis, a grin on his face. "How're you doing?"

"Hey, darlin'," Ennis replied, kissing him deeply and swaying them a little. "I'm okay, how about you? Not had any trouble?"

"No, it's fine. Charlie said the bonus would be in my bank by midnight...just about the time we land, I reckon. I can't wait...it'll be our first real trip together. You and me..."

Ennis nodded. "Yeah. Gonna kiss you at midnight, in Times Square..." Jack smiled and kissed him.

"Sounds good to me. And remember what I said about Christmas? Finding me under the tree naked with a big red bow? I think I can manage it." Ennis went red.

"Um...sounds good. Wanna go get some lunch?" Jack nodded and they pulled apart, holding hands as they headed for the coffee place. They swung their hands as they walked, talking about their morning and what they would have for dinner.

When they were sat in their booth, they busied themselves with kissing over the table, occasionally breaking apart to rub noses and smile at each other. They looked like a happy couple in love, which was exactly what they were. Lureen couldn't help but smile at them as she watched, unwilling to disturb them.

"I love you," Jack murmured, kissing Ennis's cheek. Ennis smiled back.

"Love you too, darlin'."


They were let out of work at two, which allowed them a couple of hours until they had to get to the airport. Both of them were looking forward to this trip and couldn't wait to be in New York, even Jack. He knew he would be just fine with Ennis by his side.

The two of them met up at the entrance to the park and walked back to Ennis's place, hands clasped between them. They'd already said goodbye to the girls and entered Ennis's apartment. Jack turned to Ennis.

"So, what do you want to eat? Maybe some sandwiches and chips?" Ennis nodded.

"Sounds great. I'll get us a beer." They would be taking a cab to the airport. Jack busied himself with ham sandwiches and pouring chips into a bowl, bringing it all over to the table for them. They sat down and stretched, their legs resting against each other's.

"Are we going straight to bed when we get there?" Ennis asked, looking up at Jack. He shrugged and nodded.

"Guess so. It'll be midnight by the time we get there, and we'll be on the flight for five hours...I'd be pretty tired by then."

Ennis nodded. "Wait...have you packed some meds?" he asked, looking a little alarmed that Jack might have forgotten. Jack placed a reassuring hand over his.

"Don't worry, it's fine. I got a fresh supply this week, and I've packed enough of everything for two weeks. They're going in my carry-on; I don't want anybody sniffing around through my luggage and confiscating them or something." He was truly touched by Ennis's concern for his health, and he knew that he'd found a good man.

"That's good," Ennis conceded, worry dissipating. "Sure don't want anything happening to you..." Jack squeezed his hand and they carried on eating.

At quarter past three, the cab was on its way and the pair of them were getting ready, taking last minute bathroom trips and dragging their suitcases to the door. Jack double-checked that he had his meds, and also made sure that he'd packed plenty of lube and condoms, which had made Ennis blush and grin.

They headed downstairs and out onto the street, shivering a little in the cold and waiting for the cab. Ennis ran a warming hand up and down Jack's back. The cab arrived and they got in, grinning at each other with excitement.

"This is it," Jack said, looking at Ennis with pure love in his eyes. "Our first trip together." Ennis kissed his hand.

"Sure is, darlin'."

At the airport, they checked in and settled themselves on the chairs, knowing they had a while to go before they could board. They played cards and talked for a while, and Jack eventually fell asleep with his head on Ennis's leg, stretched out across the seats. At six, they were allowed through to the boarding area where they could get something to eat.

As they ate their shared pizza, they watched the overhead TV and half-listened to snatches of conversation from other travellers. This was all so exciting and new to them, even though they had both flown before; it felt different because they were doing this together.

At last, at quarter to seven, they were allowed to go to their gate and board the plane. Jack had discreetly placed a condom in his pocket, hoping to coax Ennis into joining the Mile High Club with him.

When they were seated, they smiled at each other again and laced their fingers together, too lost in their love to care about stares or whisperings. This wasn't illegal, and they weren't being inappropriate. Jack looked at Ennis, biting his lip seductively.

"Ennis...?"

"Hmm?"

"You ever heard of the Mile High Club?" he asked, eyes alight with lust. Ennis's eyes widened and he gulped.

"Uh...yeah...but we...we can't. We'd get caught for sure..."

"Not if we're careful," Jack replied, leaning closer. "You wanna?" he purred, breath tickling Ennis's ear. He just loved seducing his man. Ennis slowly nodded.

"Okay...you go in first." Jack kissed his cheek and got up, making sure to wiggle his ass at Ennis, who felt himself growing hard in response. Little tease...gonna give him what for.

When five minutes had elapsed, he snuck into the bathroom after Jack and they got down to business, trying to keep their moans on the quiet side as Ennis thrust into his lover, pushing him up against the wall.

"Oh, fuck," Jack breathed, gritting his teeth as Ennis pushed in further, finding the sweet spot. "Oh God, I love you..."

"Love you too," Ennis ground out, shaking and soon crossing the finish line, Jack not far behind.

They returned to their seats, Jack walking a little funny, and didn't care if anybody was watching. At ten, the lights were lowered and they snuggled under a blanket together, hazily watching the TV at the front. Soon after, Jack fell asleep against Ennis, head against his shoulder. Ennis rested his head against Jack's and closed his eyes.

The attendant woke them up gently when they were nearing JFK Airport, telling them that the flight would be over soon. Ennis had already booked a cab to pick them up outside the airport. When they landed, they walked hand in hand out of the gate and to baggage claim, still drowsy from the flight and late hour.

It was almost one in the morning when they finally reached the hotel; luckily there were staff on the night shift at the front desk to check them in. Up on the tenth floor, they barely looked at the room, figuring it could wait until they'd had some sleep. They used the bathroom and stripped off, tiredly moving into each other's arms.

"Glad we're here," Jack murmured, voice thick with tiredness. Ennis kissed his temple.

"Me too, darlin'. Let's get some sleep; got a big day tomorrow."

"Mmmhmm. Night, Ennis."

"Night, Jack." They both closed their eyes and were soon drifting off, thoroughly looking forward to what the next two weeks might bring.