Okay guys, an even bigger warning for this chapter. Tread carefully as you get nearer the end, and please don't throw things at me!
February 23rd, 2010
The next day, neither Ennis nor Jack felt like getting up and going to work, but they knew that they had to try and find a way to carry on, to try and get used to being without each other.
Jack was completely heartbroken that Ennis had left him, even though he knew that Ennis hadn't really wanted to do it. He'd started to build his entire life around Ennis, and he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do now he was alone. How could he go back to that lonely existence after so many months of being so close and intimate with someone else, someone who had not only been his lover, but also his best friend?
He was trying his best to perform that morning, to produce sperm like he was supposed to, but it was a real effort when his heart was so torn. He got hard enough to do the job, but it was weak and he hadn't enjoyed it at all. He sat in a chair in the staff lounge, trying to read a magazine and not think about Ennis. But it was difficult; he thought about Ennis all the time and he was still used to that.
"Jack?" asked the doctor, shaking him from his thoughts.
"Oh, hey," he said distractedly, looking up.
"What's wrong?" Joe asked, looking at him with concern and sitting down. Jack sighed.
"Ennis and me...we broke up." Joe's eyes widened.
"Oh God...how come?"
"Well...we were...having sex last night, and...the condom broke. He completely freaked out..."
"Really? I thought he was okay with all this...about you being positive..."
"He is, it's just...I don't think he really thought about how being with me is a risk. And last night, I think it hit home that I could infect him if that sort of thing happens. I let him leave, told him it was okay. He said he needed to be alone and think about whether or not he can do this, especially if we live together. I asked him, a while back, if he would still love me even if I infected him, and he said he would. So I guess that last night just hit him funny, and he needs to think it over."
"I'm sorry, Jack...are you okay?" Joe asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"Yeah, I'll be fine...just gonna be hard to be without him, you know?" Jack sighed, leaning back into the chair. "Didn't get much sleep last night...and this morning wasn't easy..."
"I bet. Look...do you want to cancel your talk this afternoon? I can just tell people you're not feeling well..."
Jack shook his head. "No, it's fine. I have to try and carry on. Thanks anyway." He gave a half-smile and Joe nodded. He got up and left the room, sensing that Jack needed to be alone right now.
After he'd gone, Jack curled up in the chair and stared at the wall. He knew he would have to have lunch at the coffeehouse today, so that Ennis could pick up his boxes, probably with Alma's help. Jack just didn't want to be there for that.
Over at the vet's, Ennis too was struggling as he sorted out paperwork, trying to keep focused on his task and steering his mind away from blue eyes and dark hair and that hard muscled body.
But more than anything, he missed Jack's sweet voice; that warm breath in his ear when Jack whispered to him in bed, the adoring words Jack said to him when they were alone. He missed everything about Jack, and tried to convince himself that this was for the best.
There was a knock on the door, and Sarah the receptionist came in. "Hey, they want these sorting, too," she said to him, smiling a little. He'd been looking distracted all day.
"Right," Ennis replied, nodding as she put them on the desk.
"Are you okay?" she asked, tilting her head. He sighed.
"No...Jack and I split up," he admitted. Her eyes widened.
"Just...you know...something went wrong," he said, looking at her meaningfully. She nodded, figuring out what he was saying.
"Wow...so how are you doing?"
"I'll be honest...I really miss him. But I need time on my own, to figure out if I can handle the fact that he could infect me...I don't know if I can..."
"Ennis...I thought you were okay with knowing that," she said to him, sounding confused. "Was it just...hypothetical?"
"I don't think so...I guess I honestly thought I could, but I never thought I'd have to because we always use protection. I just never considered that it might go wrong like that...should've thought about that before now...before I let myself fall in love with him..."
"I guess," she acknowledged. "But if you had...what then? Would you have stayed away, or would you have gone for it anyway?"
Ennis thought about it, and knew right away. He would have gone after Jack anyway, because he'd really liked him at that time. And even if they never got back together, he would never regret allowing himself to have a relationship with Jack. They'd only been together for about six months, but he would always cherish the moments they'd had together.
"Guess I would've gone for it anyway," he admitted. "But...I still need to think this over. I was too scared to stay there last night, needed space. And he let me go because he knew it wouldn't be fair to make me stay. That's the great thing about him...he put my feelings first, just like I put his first. I'm always gonna love him..."
Sarah nodded. "I know you will. Anyway...I'll leave you to it." She left the room and Ennis dug out his cell phone, scrolling through the names until he reached Jack's. His finger hovered over the call button, but he snapped out of it and put his phone away. Calling Jack now wouldn't help. He had to get his boxes out of Jack's place and back to his own, and it would be hard enough without hearing Jack's voice ringing in his ears.
At lunch, Jack went to the coffeehouse like he'd planned. He knew that Ennis would be picking up his stuff at his place right about now, and he just didn't want to be around when that happened. Jack didn't think that he could handle seeing Ennis right now.
Not wanting to sit in the booth that he and Ennis had adopted as theirs, he sat at the counter and stared at his coffee, as if it held all the answers. Lureen kept looking at him and shook her head. She could understand Ennis's fear after what happened, but as far as she was concerned he didn't have to leave. She could remember when Ennis had first found out that Jack was positive, how he had left that night and arranged to meet Jack the next morning, and wondered why they couldn't have just done that this time. She had half a mind to go over there and tell him off.
But instead, she attended to her friend first; he needed her more. "Hey," she said softly, standing in front of him. He looked up at her and tried to smile, with little success. "Guess you're still not feeling too great, huh?"
"Not really," he admitted, picturing in his mind Ennis going for the boxes in the corner and bringing them back to his apartment. Did Ennis even care how much this hurt?
"He probably didn't wanna hurt you," Lureen told him, as if she could read his mind. "Fear can make people do crazy things."
"I know...and I realise that he never wanted to hurt me, but...it's just hard. I've spent most of my days since August with him, sometimes all day when we weren't working. I don't know if I can get used to this." He pulled out his keys and found the key ring that Ennis had given him for Valentine's. It had only been just over a week ago; he could still remember that romantic dinner.
He looked at the picture of them, looking so happy and in love, and blinked back tears. Turning it over, he once more looked at the simple inscription. I love you.
"Shit," he muttered, wiping his eyes with his thumb. "This is stupid...I'm the one who let him go...I said it was okay. So why does it feel like someone stabbed me in the chest?"
"Because it's not okay," Lureen told him, putting her hand on his shoulder. "You miss him and obviously still love him, and the pain is still very raw. I know it's gonna be hard, Jack...but you just have to find a way to cope."
"I don't know if I can...I was building my whole life around him...and now he's not even in it anymore. He's the love of my life, Lu...I don't know what to do now. I thought that me and him...that it'd be a forever kind of thing. Like in songs and movies..."
"I think we all did," she told him. "When you guys got together...I was sure that you would last forever."
Jack nodded, his mind travelling against his will to his apartment, where Ennis would be right now.
Down the road, Ennis and Alma entered Jack's place and Ennis looked around, remembering last night. It had been the worst night of his life and even now, he was still trying to convince himself that he'd done the right thing.
He sighed and went for the boxes in the corner. "Guess we'd better get this over with."
Alma watched him sadly, knowing how much he must be hurting inside. She had genuinely been happy for him and Jack, even when they had announced they were moving in together. While it hadn't always been easy, she had recently become distracted by the guy she was now seeing, which had made it easier to be happy for her ex. And to see him heartbroken like this was making her both sad and a little confused.
"Are you sure about this?" she asked. "I mean...can't you guys work this out?"
Ennis shook his head. "I don't know...I just need to do some thinking, and not let my feelings for Jack cloud my judgement." He picked up a couple of boxes and she took the rest; there weren't many and they were only light anyway. They got them into his car and Ennis looked down at the key Jack had given him. "Better leave this for him..." She nodded and watched him go back inside, looking like a man who'd lost everything.
He entered the apartment one last time and looked around, seeing Jack's imprint everywhere. Finding a blank crumpled-up piece of paper, he moved to put it in the bin and saw the remainder of the pizza they'd had for dinner the night before. Ennis choked down the lump in his throat and left the kitchen. If he thought hard enough, he could almost see Jack himself around the living room; putting the TV or radio on, sitting on the sofa and waiting for Ennis to join him...something that they could have had full-time if he wasn't such a coward. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the book of love coupons Jack had given him for Valentine's. A lot of them had been used, even though it had only been just over a week.
Ennis reached the back of the book and paused. He'd never seen the last coupon before. A ticket to a long and happy life together with the man you love with all your heart. He felt tears starting to trickle down his cheeks and snapped the book shut, wiping them irritably.
He stopped at the doorway, looking around and thinking of Jack, whom he would always love no matter what. With one last glance at the bedroom door, he stepped out and locked the door, slipping the key underneath for Jack to find later. He felt as if he was saying goodbye to more than just Jack, but also to a piece of his heart that Jack would always hold.
February 25th, 2010
On Thursday, Jack was half-heartedly eating a dinner of chicken soup, not having the energy to prepare much else. He hadn't heard a thing from Ennis, but they had awkwardly run into each other at lunch earlier today. He'd been entering the coffeehouse just as Ennis was leaving, and the exchange had been brief.
"Oh, hey," Ennis said in surprise, stepping back to let Jack in past him, unable to meet his eyes for long.
"Hi," Jack responded, yearning to grab Ennis and kiss him for all he was worth. "Um...you okay?"
"I guess. I gotta get back...said I'd work during lunch today." Ennis was mumbling; a habit Jack recognised as when Ennis was unsure of himself.
"Right. Take care, then."
"Yeah, you too." Ennis left and Jack stared after him, fighting the urge to yell after him. Or better yet, to drag him back to his place to talk this whole thing through.
Now, he was feeling heartbroken all over again. He'd seen the longing in Ennis's eyes, the same yearn to grab on and never let go, but he'd still seemed guarded. Ennis hadn't made any mention of his "thinking things over", and Jack was starting to lose hope that they would ever get back together.
Lureen had invited him to come and watch a movie at her place after dinner if he wanted, and he was starting to think that it was a good idea. He didn't want to be alone all night; it was bad enough that he had to sleep alone.
He was supposed to be going to New York this weekend to see his parents, as he and Ennis had been doing for the past few weeks. But he just didn't feel up to it, not on his own, and he knew he would have to call soon to let them know, and to tell them why he wouldn't be coming. He was dreading that.
Stepping into the apartment two days ago to find the key on the floor was particularly hard for him. It meant that Ennis had been here, and had taken his things away, back to his own place. Jack barely got any sleep that night, even when he moved onto Ennis's side of the bed. He didn't want to wash the sheets just yet; Ennis's scent was still there and he wasn't ready to let go of that yet.
During the last two mornings, as he'd been taking his meds, he'd spread them all out on his bed and had thoughts of ending his pain, but had always put them back again; that wasn't the answer and he knew it. It would hurt his parents if he did that, but there was another reason why he would never do it. If Ennis found out about it and realised it was due to their breakup, he would never forgive himself. No matter how much Jack was hurting right now, he still didn't want Ennis to feel guilty if anything happened to him. He loved Ennis too much to do that, and he didn't really want to die anyway. He would never truly give up hope that they would find a way back to each other.
Jack sighed and put down the spoon, unable to eat any more of it. He sent a message to Lureen to let her know he was coming over and then dialled the house on Long Island, dreading what his mother might say.
"Hello, Karen Twist."
"Mom, it's me," he said, choking down the lump in his throat.
"Hey, sweetie. You guys ready to come over here?"
"Um...we can't make it this weekend."
"Really? Why?" she asked in concern. "Is everything okay?"
"No...we broke up." His voice cracked at the end and he chastised himself for not being stronger. "Three days ago."
"Oh, Jack...that's awful! What happened?"
"Something...went wrong the other night. The...the protection broke. I didn't infect him, but...he freaked out. He said he needed to spend time alone and figure out if he can really do this...be with someone like me. But I haven't heard from him since..."
"I'm so sorry, honey...are you okay?"
"No...I really miss him," Jack admitted, trying not to break down. He would not do that over the phone, not even to his mother. "I saw him today and we barely spoke...it's been awful. I can't concentrate at work and I could get fired if I can't deliver, you know?"
"I'm sure that won't happen," his mother tried to reassure him. "Does your boss know you've broken up?"
"Yeah, and he says it's okay if I can't do it as well as I used to, but...if I can't do it at all they'll probably want to replace me with someone who can."
"Try not to worry, Jack. What are you planning for tonight?"
"I'm going over to Lureen's, just don't wanna be alone. And...I'm not feeling too great, to be honest." It was true; he'd had stomach ache all day and it hadn't really shifted.
"You be careful, honey. You know you can't afford to just dismiss stuff like that. If it gets bad, go and see your doctor."
"I will," he promised her. He'd been thinking the same thing.
"Good. You know, Jack...if it gets too hard to live there around him now you're not together...you're more than welcome to come back here."
"I...I'll think about it." He just wasn't sure about that right now. Even though he and Ennis weren't together, he wasn't ready to just up and leave yet. He was holding onto the hope that Ennis would see sense and want to start over with him. "Anyway...I'm gonna go. Give my best to dad, alright? And I'll see you maybe next weekend."
"Alright, Jack. Take care of yourself."
"Yep, you too. Bye."
"Bye, sweetheart." They clicked off and Jack sighed, mind spinning. He just wasn't sure what to do right now. He could only think of one thing; maybe Lureen would have some alcohol he could drown his sorrows in.
Sure enough, Lureen had a bottle of wine open and ready when he arrived. "Figured you could use some," she said to him with a sympathetic look. He nodded and made his way inside.
"Got that right," he replied as he sat down on the sofa, Lureen next to him. "Just couldn't stay at my place any longer. It's bad enough that I'll be sleeping alone in there later."
She nodded, pouring them both a glass. "I know. What took you so long, anyway?"
"Had to call my mom, tell her I won't be going over there this weekend. I'm just not up to it and I'd rather stay here anyway. Told her we broke up and she was all sympathetic. I know she means well, but...I don't want a big fuss. This...this is for the best and I'm just gonna have to learn to deal with that."
Lureen sighed to herself. "I sure wish you guys could work it out...I hate seeing you apart."
"I don't like it much either...but this is the way it is now. I guess you were watching today?"
"I was," she admitted. "I thought that if you guys came face to face, you might remember how much you love each other, and that it might be enough to reconcile you."
"I could see it in his eyes, Lu," Jack told her, remembering. "He still loves me and I could see he wanted to say something, but he held back. Didn't say all the things I hoped he would." He shook his head. "I thought that maybe we could get back together if we just talked, but...after today...I don't think it'll ever happen. It's pretty clear that even if he wants to, that it's not gonna happen."
"So what now?" she asked softly, touching his arm. Jack shrugged.
"Don't know. When I told my mom, she said I could go back there if I wanted to, stay with them for a while."
"Are you gonna do it?"
"I don't know. On the one hand...it would probably be the smart thing to do, right? To distance myself from all of this, and to stop holding onto hope for something that'll never happen. But on the other...I don't think I'm ready to leave. I might not fully believe that things will work out for us, but...I'm still hoping, really. Today was really bad, seeing him like that..."
Jack pulled out his keys and looked at the key ring, at the picture of the two of them. Frozen in time, so happy in love without any inclination of what was soon to happen to them. "I miss him so much...and when I saw him today, it actually hurt. Right here..." He pointed to his gut. "Felt like I'd been kicked there and...it was horrible."
"I know. When I saw you guys there, I thought that something might happen. That you might get pulled towards each other and kiss, unable to hold back. But...guess that didn't really work out. Are you really gonna just give up, just like that?"
Jack rubbed his forehead. "Can't think of anything else to do. He had the chance to tell me he wanted to work things out, but he didn't do it. So...I don't see that there's any other chance for us..."
"So what are you gonna do?" she repeated, looking at him closely.
He looked down at the key ring and thought about his mother's offer. It was very tempting to just give in, pack up and leave. But he knew it would involve saying goodbye to Ennis, and what if he caved and ended up staying, living with a broken heart? He couldn't just leave without saying goodbye, though. That would just be cruel and he at least owed Ennis something before he left. Staying here, where they both lived, wouldn't be good for him. He would still see Ennis a lot of the time, and what if he moved on and found someone else? Jack would have to see it, and he knew that he would never be ready for something like that.
There was really only one option; to leave, go back to New York and try to get over Ennis. It wouldn't be easy, but it wouldn't be as hard as staying here.
He sighed to himself. "I think I'm gonna go back home," he said quietly. "I can't stay here, especially if he finds someone else. So it's just easier to leave."
Lureen nodded. "When are you going?"
"Well...I can't afford to buy a last-minute ticket, so...I'll give it another week, I guess. Fly out next Saturday. It'll give me time to sort everything out."
He got up, intending to use the bathroom and try to get rid of his nagging stomach ache. It had been bothering him for a while now and he would definitely be going to see his doctor tomorrow. Hopefully he would know what was wrong, and Jack hoped that it wasn't serious. That was the last thing that he needed right now.
He made it only a few steps before a sharp pain ripped through him, making him double over. He groaned and fell to his knees. Lureen looked around in alarm and rushed to him, concern on her face.
"Jack? What's wrong?" she asked, eyes wide and skin white as a sheet. He could barely speak, was using all of his energy to breathe.
"Don't know...had stomach ache all day...sharp pain just now," he choked out, seeing lights flashing before his eyes. He groaned again and keeled over, unconscious.
Lureen, panic running through her, went for her cell to call 911 and hopefully get an ambulance here soon. She would call Ennis as soon as she knew something; he deserved to know regardless of what was going on with them.
As Jack drifted through darkness, he thought about Ennis and all the things he wanted to say to him. He figured that Ennis would never know them now, and was filled with regret that they hadn't seen each other one last time before one of them left.
Lureen tried not to panic as she rode in the ambulance with Jack, who was still unconscious. It wasn't too clear what was going on, but it made sense that it was connected to the stomach ache Jack had had all day. Something was wrong with him, probably to do with his HIV, and she was terrified for him.
They reached the hospital and Jack's doctor Rick was already there. He told her not to worry before heading through the doors after the group. Lureen sat down in the plastic chairs to wait, turning her phone over and over in her hand. She also had Jack's apartment key with her just in case it was needed, as well as his phone.
She knew she would have to call Ennis, but decided to wait until she had something concrete to tell him. Ennis would feel bad enough about the past week in the light of what was happening now, but it would be even worse if he was left waiting and wondering whether or not Jack would die. She didn't want him panicking too.
She waited for what felt like days, until it was almost ten and the sky outside was pitch black. Ennis was probably headed for bed right about now, but she knew he kept his cell phone on the nightstand for emergencies. Maybe now, they could reconcile; Ennis would likely think twice about what he was doing, like a huge slap in the face and a dose of reality.
At last, Rick reappeared and she stood up, not caring how dishevelled she must look. "What's going on?"
He sighed. "It's not good, Lureen. He has acute pancreatitis, caused by the Videx in his HIV medication. His body was starting to react badly to it earlier today, which caused the stomach aches you described to the paramedics."
Lureen paled. "Is he gonna be okay?"
"I don't know. We've got him on saline and off his meds, which should help. He's got a high temperature and we need to get it down. Luckily, his immune system appears to be doing its best to protect him, and we're keeping a close eye on him." Rick paused. "Look...I know he and Ennis broke up, but...I think Ennis needs to be here. There's nothing he can do, but..."
"I know," she replied, nodding. "I was gonna call him anyway."
"Good. Make sure to get him here as soon as possible. And I'll make sure he's allowed to stay in Jack's room through the night; it'll be for his own good."
"Okay. I'll call him and tomorrow I'll call Jack's work to tell them he won't be coming in. I'll call his parents, too. I know Ennis could do all that, but...he needs to focus on Jack, not get distracted by everything else."
Rick nodded his approval and went back through the doors, leaving her to sink back down into the chair. She sighed and opened her phone, scrolling through for Ennis's number.
Ennis was sleeping, dreaming of a blue-eyed, dark-haired man that he'd loved and lost. The dream was warm and full of love as he felt Jack all around him.
The phone ringing on the nightstand shook him from his peaceful sleep, and he mumbled to himself as he picked it up. "Hello?"
"Ennis, it's Lureen." She sounded upset but Ennis's brain wasn't focusing just yet.
"Oh, hey...what's up?"
"It's Jack. He's in the hospital."
Ennis sat bolt upright in bed, waking up properly and starting to feel his heartbeat quickening. "What? What's wrong with him?"
"He's been having stomach aches all day, and he was at my place a few hours ago. He got up to use the bathroom and he collapsed. We're at the hospital now, and his doctor says it's acute pancreatitis, brought on by one of his meds. You've gotta get here, Ennis...he's unconscious..."
Fear flooded Ennis and he nodded, starting to panic. "I'll be right there." He hung up and sprung out of bed, thankful that he'd showered that evening. Quickly throwing his clothes back on, he dashed around the room and gathered up an overnight bag, fully intending to stay by Jack's side as much as he could. He grabbed some food from the kitchen and headed out, thoughts buzzing around his head. Most of them were angry thoughts at himself for being such a coward.
He'd thought that he and Jack were apart for a good reason, for their own good, but only now was he realising how wrong he'd been. There was no reason good enough for them to not be together. They still loved each other and Ennis wanted them to spend the rest of their lives together. However much time Jack had left in this world, Ennis wanted it to be spent with him, if Jack would forgive him and take him back. He knew what he wanted now; to be with Jack. And he would learn to deal with the other stuff; Jack was worth it. He could do this after all.
While he was still scared of being infected with HIV, that fear was nothing compared to the fear he felt now, thinking of Jack in a hospital bed, possibly dying there without him. All that mattered now was getting to Jack and staying there until he was sure that Jack would be okay. He wanted to see Jack's eyes once more, and hear his voice.
But more than anything, he wanted to tell Jack how sorry he was and how stupid he'd been. He'd made the biggest mistake in his entire life by leaving Jack, and he was determined to rectify it. He knew he would regret it if he wasn't there and Jack took a turn for the worst.
Ennis didn't know what might happen tomorrow or next week. He didn't even know if there might still be a future for them. But one thing was crystal clear to him; if Jack died tonight, then Ennis would be by his side where he belonged.