Chapter 18

When the two of them were done with their snowball fight, they decided to go back to the hotel and warm up. There was a sitting room with a large fireplace that was free for them to use, so once they'd changed out of their wet clothes they got some hot chocolate and sat down in a loveseat, facing the fire.

"Mmm," Jack purred, stretching. "This is real nice, Ennis..."

"Sure is," Ennis agreed, putting one arm around Jack. "It was fun being out there in the snow with you, but...this is good, too. Nice and warm..."

"Yep. Doesn't get much better than this..." They fell silent, just enjoying the warmth of the fire and the company. Ennis was so in love with the man beside him, and hoped that one day, he would be able to make a real commitment to him. Even though they couldn't get married in California, they could still have a domestic partnership. And maybe, one day, they could move to a place where same-sex marriage was still legal. Like Massachusetts, perhaps. It had been legal there for five years now, and there was no sign of it being scrapped.

"What are you thinking?" Jack asked him, blue eyes gazing up at him. Ennis shrugged.

"Just...about us. What we might do in the future. Maybe...get married one day. I know it's not legal back in California, but..."

"Maybe we'll move," Jack finished for him. "I know it's still legal in Massachusetts. It's a possibility."

"Yeah. I love you, Jack...I'd sure like to marry you one day." His heart was beating quickly with nerves, but he knew that Jack would never judge him for anything.

"I'd like that too," Jack murmured, rubbing Ennis's knee with his hand. "I'd like to marry you, too. Still, there are some things we can have back home." He put his mug down and turned to face Ennis. "Like...a domestic partnership. We would have some rights as a gay couple. But...if we wanna get married legally, we would probably have to move to another state."

"Right. Anyway...what are we doing for New Year's? Going down to Times Square?"

"I think so. We're here, so we might as well join everybody else." Jack grinned. "Maybe we could tell the girls to keep an eye out for us on TV."

Ennis smiled. "Yeah, maybe. Gonna kiss you at midnight."

"Where?" Jack asked, grinning even wider. Ennis rolled his eyes.

"On the lips, dumbass. At least in public. When we get back to our room...that's a different story. Gonna kiss you all over." Jack's wicked grin relaxed into a gentle smile and he rested his head on Ennis's shoulder.

"Sounds good." They were silent again for a while, and then Ennis's phone rang.

"Oh, hey mom."

"Hey, sweetie. Merry Christmas."

"Uh, you too. How's things over there?"

"Alright. Kind of quiet...it's just me and your dad. How's New York? And...and Jack?"

"It's...really something," he replied, not wanting to hurt her feelings too much. "Jack's fine."

"Good. What did he buy you for Christmas?"

"A new jacket, fur lined for the cold weather. It's really nice."

"That sounds great. You...you're happy, aren't you?" It wasn't really a question; she knew the answer.

"Yeah, I am. We both are. I know things haven't been easy, but...it'd mean a lot to me if you accept Jack."

"We...we might be able to try, honey. I've been talking to your father...he's still struggling with accepting the fact that you're with someone who has HIV. He's scared, deep down. Scared that you'll get infected. We both are."

"I know that, mom. But...I was talking to Jack about all of this. And I've been doing some reading. There are plenty of couples like us, some of which have been together for years, and the negative person has never been infected. We're always careful."

"I guess I knew that. You've always had a good head on your shoulders. And...it's not like you'd get yourself infected on purpose, is it? Jack wouldn't force you to..."

Ennis shook his head even though she couldn't see him. "No way." He knew in his heart that Jack would never force him into sex without protection; Jack just wasn't like that. "He'd never do that."

"I know. Anyway...I'd better get going, get Christmas dinner sorted. Are you eating at the hotel or something?"

"Uh, yeah. They serve it here in the dining room. We better get moving. Bye, mom."

"Bye, honey." They clicked off and Ennis stretched.

"Well..."

"I know, baby," Jack said to him, squeezing his hand. "Come on, let's go and see about dinner." They got up and headed for the dining room, looking for a free table. They were seated and a waiter came over to take their order. Both of them ordered the traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, with plenty of mulled wine. They'd had it before and enjoyed it with Christmas dinner.

The food was delicious, and the company was well-received. They talked and laughed, exchanging stories of Christmases from their childhoods. One thing that they had in common was that as they'd gotten older, they'd felt lonelier. Especially after hitting their twenties; they'd always wanted someone to share the holidays with, and never really had. But now, they had each other, and that was all they needed.

"This is great," Jack commented, steadily eating his way through the pudding afterwards. "Kind of like how my mom makes it...especially the rum sauce."

"Mmm," Ennis agreed; he had the pudding with white sauce; he'd never cared for rum or brandy. "Sure is good."

When dinner was finished, they slowly made their way out of the dining room and walked slowly through the hotel, hand in hand. They were feeling warm and relaxed from the day, and they were looking forward to the evening, when they would slowly make love and revel in what they had together. Their love was precious to both of them, and Christmas was a magical time. This was the best one they had ever had.


On Boxing Day, things slowed down after the excitement of Christmas, and the city was preparing for the New Year celebrations. Ennis and Jack had spent yet another wonderful night together, and it seemed as though they were going from strength to strength. They couldn't wait to see what the following year might bring them.

There was one thing that Jack wanted to do while they were here, and he thought over it while he was in the shower. He knew that in the city, there was an AIDS hospice where people who were dying of the disease ended up when they could no longer be cared for by their families. He also knew that for a lot of them, they had long since been disowned by those they loved and forgotten, so they never had any visitors over the holidays.

Jack had been terrified of ending up like that, old and alone, so he was more determined than ever to make his relationship with Ennis work. He didn't want to die alone.

When he exited the shower, Ennis saw the thoughtful look on his face. "What's up?"

"Hmm? Oh...I, uh..." Jack paused, not really knowing how to say this. "Nothing, I...just something I was thinking about."

Ennis nodded slowly. He'd learned by now that if Jack wanted to share what was on his mind, he would do so in his own time. "Okay. Wanna go get some breakfast?"

"Sure." They left the room, hand in hand as usual, and went downstairs to the breakfast buffet. When they'd loaded their plates and sat down, Jack started to speak.

"There's something I wanna talk to you about, bud. And...there's something I wanna do while we're here."

"Okay." Ennis waited patiently for Jack to get his thoughts out.

"Well...here in the city, there's this AIDS hospice. Full of people dying of the disease. And the thing is...a lot of them have pretty much been forgotten by their families, so they don't get any visitors over the holidays..."

Ennis nodded, seeing where this was going. His wonderful Jack...always thinking of others despite his own issues. "Bud...you wanna go visit them?" he asked gently, covering Jack's hand with his own. Jack nodded.

"Yeah. I, uh...I've never been before. When I was diagnosed, my doctor suggested it, so I could talk to people who understood, but...I was too scared. They've just been left alone, most of them disowned, and...I was terrified that I'd end up like that."

Ennis squeezed his hand. "Darlin'...that'll never happen. I swear...I won't ever leave you alone. I know that you need me, but...I need you too."

"That's why I really want this to work, Ennis...our relationship. I don't ever wanna be without you."

"You won't," Ennis promised him, hoping against hope that he could see this through. "I'm right here. You still wanna go over there?"

"Yeah. I'd just like to talk to them, people who know what it's like. I mean, no offense, but...as much as I love you, and as great as you are with all this..." He trailed off, wondering if what he was thinking was too harsh.

"But I'll never really understand," Ennis finished for him, sensing his discomfort at voicing this. "I know that, Jack. I know I'll never understand what it's like to live with it, unless I was to get infected. But...that doesn't matter to me. I'm still here, standing by your side."

Jack smiled. "Thank you...that means...so much to me."

"It's alright, bud. I'm here for you. Want me to go to the hospice with you?"

"If you don't mind," Jack replied, looking hopeful. "Might be good for both of us, to see all that." He swallowed. "I...I love you, Ennis. You mean more to me than I could ever say...more than you'll ever know."

"I feel the same, Jack," Ennis murmured, stroking his hand with his thumb. They returned to their breakfast, the intensely emotional moment passing as they commented on how good the food was. Feeling suddenly hungry, Jack went back for seconds.

When they were finally finished, they headed back to their room to gather their things before venturing out. Jack was stood facing the mirror in the bathroom, trying to tidy up his hair, when Ennis came up to him from behind and pulled him close.

"You alright, darlin'?" he murmured, rubbing Jack's stomach. Jack smiled and closed his eyes, relaxing into the warm embrace that only Ennis seemed to have. Nothing else ever felt quite like this.

"I'm fine. This time last year I was in this grubby little apartment in South Dakota...on my own with nobody around. Last Christmas was so lonely...thought they were all gonna be like that."

"You're not alone now, Jack," Ennis told him softly. "Open your eyes." Jack did so and they locked gazes. "I'm here...you're with me now. You'll never be alone again if I can help it." Jack swallowed and pulled Ennis closer to him, emotion filling him up and causing a lump in his throat. These moments between them always pulled at his heartstrings.

"I always hated being alone," he whispered, as if afraid to admit this. "Dating nothing but my right hand because nobody would stay after finding out what I've got...wishing that the phone would ring but it never did. Tried one of those positive-only dating sites once...didn't like it. Felt like...I was in some kind of segregation or that I was second class or something. Like I was only allowed to see guys like me. And for a while I believed it; that I was never going to have a successful relationship with a negative person."

"But you have," Ennis murmured, kissing his earlobe. "Things are going real well for us." That was an understatement; he and Jack were very happy together.

"Yeah..." They stood there until Jack was ready to move, ready to venture out into the world once more and visit those who were less fortunate than himself. He figured that that was what Christmas was all about.


The pair of them found their way to the AIDS hospice in the city, holding hands tightly. Neither of them was entirely sure what to expect from it, but Ennis had a feeling that Jack needed to do this, for him. He had promised Jack that he would stand by him no matter what, so he would do so.

The building was lovely, with potted plants outside. It was built from red brick with white pillars at the porch, with steps leading up to the front door.

"Sure is a nice place," Ennis commented, looking up at it. "At least they get to live somewhere like this..."

"Yeah. Just wish they didn't have to live with the disease. I wouldn't wish this on anyone." Ennis squeezed his hand and they moved forward, walking up the steps. The door was open, so they stepped through and looked around. It was very quiet, yet the inside was beautiful.

After a moment of standing and admiring their surroundings, they were approached by a man who was at least ten years older than them. He looked tired, but friendly enough. "Can I help you?"

"Oh...well, we're just visiting. I, uh...I'm HIV positive, and...I'm from around here. Just wanted to visit the residents, knowing that...some of them don't always get visitors at this time of year."

The man smiled. "Well, that's very nice of you. We're all in the sitting room, except those who can't leave their beds. Would you like to come in?" They nodded and followed him. "I'm Alan, by the way."

"I'm Jack, and this is my boyfriend Ennis," Jack introduced them as they were led into the room, where numerous men were gathered. Most of them were older, and may have been victims of the disease during the pandemic of the 80s. Ennis felt his heart sink at the thought of all these poor people; from what Jack had told him, AIDS was a lot worse than HIV, and could kill. He sincerely hoped that Jack would never end up like this.

"Guys," Alan said to the room at large. "This is Ennis and Jack, and they're here visiting, if you wanna talk to them." The guys smiled at the thought and beckoned them over.

The two of them sat down and introduced themselves, with a synopsis of how they'd met and their lives together so far.

"So you just quit?" a man named James asked in interest at Jack's tale of leaving the store. Jack nodded.

"Yep. I couldn't take it anymore." He squeezed Ennis's hand. "Just glad I had someone to lean on."

James nodded. "You're very lucky, Jack. I never had much luck with love when I was your age. Nobody wanted to get involved with someone who had HIV."

"Yeah. Had that myself for five years before I met Ennis. He's been my rock."

"Don't ever let him go," another resident told him, nodding.

"I've got a few questions for you guys," Jack started, taking a deep breath. At their nodded consent, he continued. "I just...how do you cope when you find out it's turned into AIDS? I think Ennis is a little worried, and to be honest, I am too."

"Well, there's no one way of knowing. You just...have to make the most of the time you have. Be sure to tell each other, every day, that you love each other. Live every day like it's your last."

"And remember one thing," said a man named Ben. "Don't make too many big plans for the future, because you just don't know when your time might be up. Just live in the now." Jack nodded and smiled at Ennis, who looked more relaxed.

The pair of them ended up making a donation to the hospice, having enjoyed spending time there. By the time they left, Jack was feeling lighter, and he looked a lot happier than he had done lately.

"You have a good time in there, Jack?" Ennis asked, smiling at him.

"Yeah, it was great. They're really nice guys...sure is a shame they have to live there, though. Don't have family that'll take care of them." He stopped suddenly, expression turning worried.

"What is it, bud?" Ennis asked in concern, eyes raking over his face.

"Ennis...can you promise me something?" Jack said to him, eyes imploring. Ennis nodded.

"Sure, what?" At the look on Jack's face, Ennis knew that he would promise Jack anything he asked him for.

"If it turns into AIDS and I get sick...promise me you won't put me in a home. It's a nice place, but...I can't..." A lump grew in his throat. "Don't leave me alone like that..."

"Hey..." Ennis pulled Jack into his arms and rubbed his back. "It's okay, baby...I won't ever let that happen. You'll always have me..."

"I know," Jack replied, trembling a little. "I know that, deep down, but...I had to fend for myself for so long...I'm terrified of going back to that."

"You won't," Ennis soothed him, rubbing his neck. "I'll never do that to you. You'll stay right where you belong, with me." He wished he could marry Jack, and make vows to him; in sickness and in health. This would have to do. "I love you, darlin'..."

"I love you too." They stood there holding each other, not even noticing when it started to rain. When the snow began to turn into slush, they made their way back to the hotel, trudging through and keeping hold of each other.

When they returned to their room, they stripped off their wet clothes and crawled into bed for a little afternoon delight. They kissed for a while and then Ennis smiled at Jack and grabbed a condom before disappearing under the covers. Jack was soon moaning and bucking, his knuckles turning white as he grabbed the headboard. He collapsed onto the bed and sighed, a smile on his face.

In good time, he took care of Ennis and they curled up together, dropping off into sleep.


The day after, Ennis and Jack were due to meet up with Jack's mother again. Karen had called the night before, asking if they wanted to meet for lunch. Jack knew it was only fair; she hadn't done anything wrong and he wanted to see her again before they left. He just hoped that his father wasn't going to be tagging along; he didn't know what to do where his father was concerned. Time couldn't heal all wounds, no matter what people said.

The two of them were sat in Bistro Coffee again, where they'd had lunch with her before, sat at a corner table and looking out of the window as they talked. Ennis looked at Jack now and then, wondering what he was thinking. He knew that Jack was hesitant to talk to his father after everything that had happened, and for good reason. Ennis himself was in no rush to talk to his parents, not after what they'd said. He was still waiting for an apology from them and knew that he wouldn't have anything to do with them until he got it; both he and Jack.

As they waited, Ennis reached over and took Jack's hand. "It's gonna be alright," he said softly, squeezing Jack's fingers.

Jack tried to smile at him. "I know. It's not that I don't wanna see her...I do, but...what if she wants me to talk to my dad? I don't know if I can..." His voice trailed off and looked like he had no hope whatsoever.

"Maybe you could, bud. You're stronger than you think," Ennis told him, hoping that Jack could see that it was true. "You should give yourself more credit."

Jack shook his head. "I don't know. It was awful, what he said to me. I don't know if I could ever forgive him."

"I don't expect you to," Ennis replied. "If you could just...talk to him. If he apologises, you could accept it, even if you can't forgive him. You'll still be able to move on from the hurt."

Jack seemed to think about this; Ennis had a point. Just as he was thinking it over, he looked up and saw his mother approaching, smiling at him. "Hey, mom."

"Hi, sweetie..." She arrived at the table and they both stood up to hug her. "Did you have a good Christmas?" she asked as they sat down.

"Yeah, it was good. We, uh...we went to the AIDS hospice yesterday, talked to the residents there. Made a donation too." Jack felt proud of himself and Ennis for doing that; for doing whatever they could to make those peoples' lives that little bit better. Jack knew he would appreciate it if it were him in that situation.

Karen nodded. "Well, that was a really nice thing to do." She looked as if she wanted to say more on the topic, but didn't. "Anyway...we had a quiet Christmas. Just me and your dad." She looked at him, knowing that she would have to get him to talk to his father, otherwise he would regret it for the rest of his life.

"Right..." Jack felt his heart sinking; he should have known that this would happen. A waitress came over to take their orders, and then Karen started to speak again, sounding hesitant yet determined to get through to him.

"Jack...he wants to see you. To talk to you."

"Mom..." Jack started, sounding worn out. He was starting to become weary of this same argument time and time again. He didn't want to see his father.

"Jack, honey...he feels terrible for what he said. And when you just left the house when he came home...made him feel even worse."

Jack's head snapped up. "If he feels so bad about it, he's had five years to apologise. Why now?"

"I don't know...he misses you. You're our only child, and...he feels like he's messed up his chances of ever having a relationship with you."

"Damn right he has," Jack fumed, now looking annoyed. "I can't believe him..."

Karen looked pained, and then sighed. "Alright. I'll tell you the truth. He...he's sick. And...he asked me not to tell you myself. I promised I wouldn't, but...you have to talk to him."

For the first time in he didn't know how long, Jack felt concern for his father rise up in him. "Sick? What...?"

"You have to ask him yourself, Jack. He wants to talk to you. And I'd do it soon if I were you."

Jack looked at Ennis, wondering what on earth might be wrong with his father. "Uh, sure...I...I'll call him later. You got his number?"

Karen didn't seem surprised in the least that Jack had deleted his father's number. Hopefully now, the two of them could reconcile before it was too late. She gave him the number and then their food arrived.

All through the meal, Ennis and Jack were both wondering what might be wrong with John Twist, and why he was extending an olive branch now. Jack wanted to be cruel and say that the old man was better off dead, but he just couldn't do it. In spite of everything, that wasn't how he felt. He was worried for his father's health.

When they were finished, the conversation turned to Jack's work prospects upon their return to California, and how Alma and Lureen were faring. One of them called every other day and they would exchange news.

Outside, they bid goodbye to Karen and Jack promised to call his father. Ennis had many thoughts about what might be wrong, but ultimately had no idea what it might be. He held Jack's hand tightly as they slowly walked back to the hotel.

"Wonder what's wrong?" he murmured as they strolled down the street. Jack shrugged.

"No idea. She seemed a little shaken, though. Like it's really bad. Guess we'll know soon enough." They were silent as they headed back, each of them thinking of the forthcoming phone call and what news it might bring.


When they got back, the pair of them sat down on the bed, Ennis putting his arm around Jack. He was staring at his phone in one hand, with the piece of paper in the other that had his father's number written on it.

"Whenever you're ready, darlin'," Ennis told him gently. "I'm right here." Jack nodded and started to dial the number.

"Hello?"

"Dad, it's me." Jack was shaking a little, and Ennis was rubbing his back.

"Oh, hey Jack. I guess you saw your mom."

"Yeah. She said you wanted to talk to me."

"I did. What did she say?"

"That you...you're sick," Jack replied, wondering what was going on. "What's wrong with you?"

His father sighed. "Jack...this isn't easy to say. I...I've got pancreatic cancer."

Jack almost dropped the phone in shock, and Ennis looked at him in alarm, having heard everything. He pressed his forehead to Jack's face, rubbing his back again.

"Dad...what...? Are you having treatment?"

"Doctor says it's too advanced. He's given me six months."

Jack could feel his lip trembling. "Oh my God...I can't believe it."

"Son...I just want you to know...I'm sorry for what I said. When you told us you're positive."

Jack broke down, sobbing into the phone, and Ennis felt so helpless for not being able to do anything for him. "Dad, I...I spent so long hating you for what you said. Deleted your number...refused to talk to you..."

"I know...and I deserved that. You're my son, and I just...I reacted the wrong way. I'm sorry..."

"Dad, I...I gotta go..."

"Alright. But...will you come to the house before you leave?"

"Uh, yeah...okay...we'll be there." He clicked off and sat there, unable to speak. "I can't believe it..."

"Baby...I'm so sorry. Are you...?" He stopped himself. "I know you're not okay..."

Jack fell back onto the bed, hands over his eyes. "My God...I just..."

Ennis lay down with him and wrapped an arm around his stomach, heart breaking on Jack's behalf. "Shh..." Jack started tearing up again and Ennis held him, willing to do anything that would make Jack feel better. "It's alright, it's alright..."

They laid there for the rest of the afternoon and most of the night, ordering room service instead of going out. Ennis called Jack's mother while Jack was sleeping, telling her that Jack had spoken to his father, and had been informed of what was going on. Karen agreed that they could come by in a couple of days, and Ennis promised to tell Jack.

When he was done, he sat on his side of the bed and watched Jack sleep, feeling heartsick to see him like this. To have hated his father for so long, and then to have been given a chance to reconcile, only for this to happen...Ennis felt so bad for him. He didn't know what to do for his lover. As the night grew late, he stripped off and settled under the covers, watching Jack sleep until he dropped off.

Sometime during the night, he heard Jack's voice, sounding weak in the dark. "Ennis...? You there?" Ennis opened his eyes and immediately turned to face Jack, placing a reassuring hand on his chest.

"I'm here, baby. I'm here...you okay?" Jack peered at him.

"What time is it?" Ennis looked at the glowing alarm clock on the nightstand.

"Just after midnight. You wanna try for some more sleep?" Jack shook his head.

"No, I..." He hesitated. "I...can we, um...?" His eyes looked larger than usual in the moonlight, and Ennis understood.

"Sure...c'mere, darlin'..." He rolled onto his side and rubbed Jack's stomach. He leaned in and kissed Jack as softly as he could, trying to take it slowly and not spook Jack.

Jack was responding, kissing him back and pressing up against him. His arm came up to wrap around Ennis's neck, pulling him down.

"I want you inside me," Jack breathed, forehead pressed against Ennis's. "Please..." Ennis knew it was comfort sex, and that there might not be much passion to it, but that was okay. If it was what Jack needed to feel better, so be it. He cupped Jack's cheek and nodded.

"Alright, darlin'. How you want it?"

Jack rolled onto his side, facing away from him and drawing his knees up. "From the side, behind me," he replied in a quiet voice. Ennis kissed his cheek and settled behind him, grabbing a pair of condoms and the lube. He prepared himself, covered Jack and then slowly slid in, straddling Jack's lower leg and leaning over as far as he could. He took it slowly and tenderly, nuzzling Jack's neck and kissing him.

"You doing okay?" he whispered, and Jack nodded.

"Yeah...keep going." A hand found its way around Ennis, holding onto his hip and pulling him further in, and he pushed in deeper. They slowly moved together, Jack's breathing and occasional gasps being the only sound in the room. Jack came, trembling all over and spilling into the condom Ennis had put on him. Ennis followed soon after, his forehead pressed against Jack's back and almost sticking to him with sweat. It was an effort to pull out, and then he collapsed again.

They lay there panting, unable to speak for several moments. Ennis leaned up on his elbow and looked down at Jack. "Darlin', you okay?" Jack rolled onto his back and smiled softly.

"I guess. Thanks, Ennis..."

Ennis removed the rubbers and tied them shut, throwing them to the nightstand. It was a habit he'd picked up from not wanting to leave Jack after sex, even to the bathroom. "You're welcome, baby. It...it's gonna be okay, you know. We'll figure this out."

Jack nodded. "I know...you're coming with me to the house, right?"

Ennis nodded. "Yeah, I will. You don't even have to ask, Jack. I'll be there, I promise." He kissed Jack and settled back down behind him, wrapping an arm around his stomach. His rubbing soothed Jack into sleep once more, knowing that he would be okay as long as Ennis held him.