Chapter 16

August 29th, 2009

The following Saturday, Ennis and Jack took Junior to the school to show her the kindergarten and to have her photo taken. They could tell that she was very excited about going and they knew it would be good for her to go; she would make friends and start off with every opportunity they wanted her to have. Ennis would be very proud if she one day decided to go to college like them, but he knew that they would love her anyway if she decided not to.

The three of them walked through the streets towards the school, spotting other families and exchanging greetings. Several included same-sex parents, and Jack loved how normal it seemed. Here was a place where nobody batted an eyelid at two men or two women together. It was as if it didn't matter, and he knew the same couldn't be said of other states. Even where it was accepted, he had to admit that gay people were still a minority and that they might never be seen as equals by society. Here, the majority of residents were like himself and Ennis; just people trying to live their lives quietly and raise their children in a safe environment.

When they arrived at the school, Kate was there to meet them again. "Hello again," she greeted them, and then looked down at Junior. "Alma?"

"Junior, this is Miss Booth," Ennis said to her, seeing that she was shy in front of this stranger. "She's gonna be your teacher." Junior blinked up at her.

"Hi," she replied in a small voice, and Kate smiled.

"It's nice to meet you, Alma. Well, then...are we ready to get started?" Ennis nodded and they followed her to the main hall; they weren't the only ones here for photos. She directed them to wait in the chairs to one side until it was their turn, so Junior sat in between her fathers.

"Am I gonna make a lot of friends?" she asked them, and Jack nodded.

"You sure are, Junior. There's gonna be lots of kids in your class and I'm sure that you might already know some of them from the park. Right?" he asked, looking up at Ennis.

"Yeah, sure," Ennis replied, seeing that Jack was trying to reassure her. "Don't worry, darlin', it'll be okay. An' Miss Booth is a real nice lady; she'll make sure you're okay."

Junior nodded and looked around; there were lots of kids her own age here, who were clearly also to have their photos taken. She was looking forward to going to kindergarten, but she was going to miss her fathers even more. At the moment, they still came to see her at lunch while on a break from work. Now that she was going to be here all day, they couldn't do that.

Ennis was going to miss her a lot during the day now, and all he could do was try to distract himself with Jack during their lunch break. He knew that it would probably be fun and that Jack would try to help take his mind off things, but still. He loved his little girl and they were both trying to be good parents to her. As he sat here with them, he was content to believe that they were doing the best job they could under the circumstances; Junior certainly seemed happy with them and Jack was doing so much better now. He had even been talking about signing the papers so that he could adopt Junior.

At last, Junior's name was called and they led her over to the photographer. Ennis got her onto the seat and an assistant tidied her hair a little while they stood back. The photos didn't take long to do, so soon enough they were meeting up with Kate again, who had offered to show them around.

While the school was fairly big, the kindergarten was only a small part so Junior didn't feel too overwhelmed. Kate told them that they understood how intimidating it could be, so they kept the young children away from the older ones most of the time; at least then they wouldn't get frightened by the sheer noise and the taller people there.

They were shown to the classroom, which was large and airy. There were large pane glass windows on one side overlooking a small garden, and one corner was clearly for story time; Ennis and Jack knew right away that Junior was going to love it here.

"So, do you have any questions?" Kate asked them as they left and headed back towards the entrance. Both men shook their heads.

"No, I reckon we've got it covered," Ennis replied, reaching out to shake her hand. Jack did the same, smiling.

"Term starts on the fifth of next month; all teachers will be in the front playground to collect their classes at nine o'clock."

"Okay." They said goodbye to her and left the school, walking back through town and to their usual area. " two wanna go to the beach for a while?" Ennis asked, looking between them. Jack nodded and Junior grinned.

"Can we, Daddy?" she asked, and Ennis smiled down at her.

"Sure we can, darlin'." They walked towards the beach and watched as Junior ran ahead of them, joining a few friends from the park who were building a sandcastle. While she was busy, Ennis and Jack sat down side by side and watched the goings-on.

"Another good day," Jack sighed, resting his head on Ennis's shoulder. Ennis kissed the top of his head.

"Yep. Everythin's comin' together for us now, I reckon. An' look at Junior...she's real happy."

"Sure looks like it, bud. And she's not the only one," Jack replied, smiling at him. Ennis put his arm around Jack and rested his head against Jack's.

"Yeah...we are, too. I've got you an' Junior...that's all I need now, darlin'."

"Right back at you, Ennis," Jack replied, watching as their daughter played.

That afternoon, Alma arrived in town. She had insisted on taking a taxi from the airport despite Ennis's offer to pick her up, so he used the time to take Jack into their bedroom and hold him close. He knew that Jack was dreading this visit, and all he could do was try to reassure him that it was going to be okay.

"She can't do nothin' to us," he murmured as he ran his hands up and down Jack's back, swaying slightly. Jack nodded, breathing deeply.

"I know. But I can't help feeling like something's going to happen. That feeling I used to get...about something not being right but not knowing what it's been coming back. Ever since she arranged to come here, I've kept having that feeling again."

"Shh..." Ennis shushed him, knowing that the thoughts scared him. "It's okay. Whatever this feelin' is...if it means anythin''s gonna be alright, Jack. I'm right here." He kissed the top of Jack's head and simply held him until he felt better.

The three of them were sat on the sofa when there was a soft knock at the door, and Jack looked at Ennis. "Well...too late to go down the fire escape now." Ennis squeezed his hand and went to answer the door, wondering if they were ready for something like this.

She looked the same as ever; reddish brown hair that Junior had inherited, hazel eyes and a face that could look meek to others but not to Ennis. He remembered how clingy she used to be. "Hey, Alma," he said nervously.

"Hey, Ennis," she replied, trying to keep her composure. She had already seen two guys kissing on the street on her way here, and had shuddered at the sight. She didn't like the place they were living and bringing Junior up in, but it wasn't for her to say anymore. She had given them custody and her new in-laws would never allow Junior to be a part of the family now. "Um..."

"You wanna come in?" he offered, stepping back. She walked inside and spied Junior, who had stood up and was grinning at her.

"Mama!" she ran to her mother, who scooped her up into her arms.

"Oh, honey...I've missed you..."

"Me too. Daddy an' Jack told me you were comin'." Ennis saw Alma's expression change at the mention of Jack's name; he knew that they had never even met. Jack stood up slowly and cautiously, eyes fixed on the woman before him and trying not to make any sudden movements. Alma was looking at him now; at the man who had stolen Ennis away from her.

Ennis was starting to get nervous now that the two of them were in the same space and eyeing each other. He hoped that there wouldn't be any fireworks. "So, um...Alma, you want a drink?" he offered, and she nodded, putting Junior back down.

"Thanks, Ennis," she replied, and he left them to it, not knowing what else to do. Jack made to turn away and escape to the kitchen with him, but Alma stepped forward. "Jack..."

Bracing himself, he turned back to her and felt like he was a ten-year-old all over again, sat in the Principal's office all over again for something he'd done. "Um, hey Alma..."

She stepped closer to him, looking at him carefully. Junior was with Ennis, who was watching things from a safe distance. "I, um...I just want to say some things to you."

"Okay," he replied, knowing that he was in for it now.

"Well...I don't like that Ennis left me for you. I can see now that maybe it was a good thing I didn't tell him then about bein' pregnant. The way he defended you when I called...I could see that you mean a lot to him. An'...he tells me you're great with Junior."

"I try to be," he replied, shrugging. "Wasn't easy at first, having to bring up the child he had with you. Felt like I was the odd one out."

"I know, an' I'm sorry about that. I hated you at first, Jack. For stealin' him away. But then I thought about how it was before he left Wyomin'. His dad pressurin' him to stay, him wantin' to get out. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be with us. I can see now how I was...clingy, an' it must've annoyed him before he left. I don't hate you now," she said, looking at him.

Jack was very surprised by her speech, and he glanced at Ennis; he looked equally taken aback. "Well, um...I dunno what to say. I was expectin' you to have a real go at me." He could honestly say that he wouldn't be at all surprised if she had, given what had happened.

She nodded. "I can understand that. But...I ain't gonna. It was all so long ago an' I'm married to someone who does love me. An' is Ennis. He's married to someone who can make him happy, an'...I guess I wanna thank you for that." After a moment, she added, "An' thank you for makin' Junior happy."

She held out her hand for him to shake; an olive branch between people who could easily hate each other. Jack looked at it for a moment and then took it, nodding.

"Thanks for not hating me," he replied with a tentative smile. "And...I'll take care of them both. Promise." Alma nodded and Ennis came over with the drinks, sensing that there wasn't going to be any wars around here. They all sat down and Ennis began to tell her about getting Junior enrolled in kindergarten, showing her photos of the school. Jack and Alma would never be very close under the circumstances, and might never really become friends, but at least they could be civil to each other and be in the same room. That was really all that Ennis could hope for, and he was very glad that things were working out so well.

September 2nd, 2009

Alma's visit started off very well. Once the air had been cleared between her and Jack, they got along okay enough. As Ennis had predicted, she spent most of her time just being with Junior and doing some shopping. They wondered what it was like for her to be in a place full of gay couples, but decided not to ask; that would only create tension and it was the last thing they wanted.

Alma had told Ennis that she was happy for him, having come to the realisation that they could never have been happy together in Wyoming. She told him about her new husband and Ennis could see in her eyes that she loved him; he was genuinely pleased to see her happy.

When Ennis and Jack were both at work, Alma ended up meeting Amy as they took care of Junior together. Seeing a lesbian was somewhat stranger to Alma than seeing a gay man, but she tried not to let it show. She had heard so much about what gay people were like in the cities and how they acted; the people around here were so different. They acted just like anybody else, apart from how they showed affection to someone of the same sex.

Still, she was slowly getting used to being here. She was glad to be staying in a hotel and not at the apartment; it would just be too much for her.

Ennis and Jack were happy enough at the moment. They celebrated the lack of tension with a bubble bath late at night, with plenty of candles and wine, before getting into bed and making love for a few hours.

"Sure am glad nothin' bad happened," Ennis murmured as they were cooling down, his hand running along Jack's side. Jack nodded and yawned.

"Me too, Ennis. She's been nice enough, considering the circumstances. Not sure I could be that civil if I was her."

"You won't never have to try," Ennis promised him. "'Cos I ain't goin' nowhere. Yer stuck with me for life, Jack."

Jack smiled and snuggled closer to him. "Good."

Monday passed much as it ever did, with Ennis and Jack working and meeting up for lunch. Alma spent her time with Junior, not entirely sure when she could next come for a visit. She got to know Amy and then Jessica, and had to admit that they were very nice.

On Tuesday, Ennis and Jack arranged to have lunch with Alma, Amy, Jessica and Junior at the girls' place. They liked getting together with their friends anyway and they thought it would be a good idea.

Jessica left earlier than Jack and was to tell the group that he was on his way. He finally finished for lunch and headed through the streets towards the girls' apartment. He could hear Junior chattering away as he reached it, a smile spreading across his face. He knocked and Amy opened the door.

"Hey, Jack. Come on in. Me and Jess are making lunch, so you can just take a seat with the others if you want." He nodded and let himself inside, looking around. He saw Amy return to the kitchen with Jessica and then looked towards the living area.

He froze when he registered what he was seeing. Ennis and Alma were on either side of Junior, helping her with the colouring book she had brought. Ennis was helping her to pick the right coloured crayons and Alma was praising her efforts. Both parents were smiling and Junior looked very happy. They looked like a family; one that didn't include him.

It was as if he'd had an epiphany; he suddenly realised what had been bothering him for so long about Junior being around. She was Ennis's daughter with Alma; a permanent reminder that he'd once had a normal life. He'd given that up for Jack. Even though he would never have loved Alma the way her new husband could, she had still given him a biological child, something that Jack would never be able to do no matter how much he loved Ennis. And even if he did sign those papers, he wasn't sure that it would make a difference. Junior would always be Ennis's child with Alma, not him.

They hadn't noticed him yet, but the girls had. "Jess," Amy said in a quiet voice, nudging her partner. They both looked at Jack, who hadn't moved since spotting the trio in the living area. They could both see that he was panicking and looked at where he was staring, wondering what was going through his mind.

Ennis looked up and saw Jack, immediately sensing that something was wrong. "Jack?" he asked, sitting up and looking at him. "What's wrong?"

Jack looked between him and Alma. What the hell have I done? He could have had a normal life, and I took the chance away from him. He's never going to have that now. some point he'll want more children. I can never give him one, not like Alma could have. I've ruined his life...what if he realises that? What if he...?

He stepped away when Ennis got up, eyes widening. He couldn't stay here, not when the life Ennis could have had was staring him in the face. Should have had, he thought to himself. He'd kept Ennis with him when Alma had come to see him in college, and now he'd kept Ennis away from his family for five years. He just had to get out of this building.

"I...I..." he stammered, backing away. Ennis looked concerned and wondered what was wrong with him.

"Jack, what is it?" he asked, but Jack shook his head. Before Ennis could say anything else, Jack was gone. He took several deep breaths and turned to the others.

"Keep Junior occupied," he said to Alma. "I'm gonna go find him." He left the apartment and followed the sound of hurried footsteps, hoping that he could catch up to Jack.

Ennis ran out of the building and looked around for any sign of Jack; he spotted his husband turning a corner at the end of the street and hurried on. He had no idea what had happened back there; Jack looked like he'd seen a ghost and Ennis couldn't understand why.

Jack wasn't sure where he was going, but he found himself heading for the beach. He knew that he needed fresh air so that he could think and maybe calm down. Seeing Ennis with Alma like that had reminded him of back in college, when Lureen had informed them of Alma's presence on campus and that Ennis hadn't technically broken up with her. Back then, he'd been terrified that he was about to lose Ennis for good, and now those feelings were rushing back to him. They looked like a family with Junior, and Jack just felt like an outsider because he wasn't part of that. Despite being the one that Ennis was married to, he still felt like he didn't belong in that group.

As he reached the sand and slowed down, breathing heavily, he realised what he was so afraid of. What if Ennis realised that he might always have the need for a biological child of his own, one that Jack couldn't give him? Jack had always been terrified of Ennis leaving him, but he'd become comfortable over the last couple of years and until now had been certain that it wouldn't happen.

He sank to his knees, watching the waves and thinking. What if Ennis started thinking about having more children like Junior? They could never procreate together no matter how much they loved each other. Worse still, what if Ennis decided he wanted to be with a woman, one who could give him children?

"Ennis..." he sighed to himself, his heart feeling heavy in his chest. Ennis stopped when he saw Jack, on his knees in the sand. He didn't know what was wrong, but he could tell that Jack was deeply troubled by something.

He sighed and made his way over, dropping to his knees next to the other man. "Jack?" he asked softly, placing his hand on Jack's shoulder. Jack turned his head slightly but couldn't look at him. "What's wrong?"

Jack shook his head. "Just...seeing you and Alma like that. You...looked like a family. A real one, properly related and everything..."

"Well, yeah. We're her parents. But so are you," Ennis told him, squeezing his shoulder. "You're my husband, Jack, remember?"

"Yeah, just hit me funny to walk in and see you guys like that. Felt like I was an outsider or something. Like...I didn't belong with you."

Ennis touched Jack's cheek and made him meet his eyes. "You belong with me," he said firmly. "An' with Junior. Look...Alma's made her peace with everythin', an' she can see that you're good with Junior. There's no problems now."

Jack looked into his eyes, biting his lip. I know,'s just a feeling I got back there." He couldn't bring himself to tell Ennis his deeper thoughts and worries; he was afraid that if he did, he would make Ennis think along those lines himself, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. What if Ennis did leave him for a normal life? Jack didn't think he would have the strength to fight for him.

Ennis knew in his heart that Jack wasn't telling him the whole truth, but he decided to let it go. Clearly, it was worrying Jack deeply and he wasn't yet ready to talk about it. That was okay, he figured. There was time for Jack to calm down until he was ready.

"Alright," he said, looking out at the water and the people walking around. "I know somethin's botherin' you, Jack. But I ain't gonna force you to tell me yet if you can't. It's okay. But I gotta know...are you gonna be okay?"

"I guess," Jack replied, shrugging. "Just...I got all freaked out back there."

"Darlin' know that you're the only one I wanna be with, right?" Ennis asked, as if he'd read Jack's mind. Jack nodded, smiling weakly. In his heart he knew this, but he was badly shaken by what he'd seen; the image of a normal family that he'd taken away from Ennis. He felt horrible, like some kind of vile seducer or predator that had snatched Ennis away from the two people that could have been his family. This feeling wouldn't go away for a long time.

Ennis looked at his watch; there was still enough time for them to grab some lunch together before returning to work. "Give me a sec, bud, an' then we'll get somethin' to eat." Knowing that he couldn't take Jack back to that apartment, he called Amy and explained to her that Jack wasn't feeling up to having lunch at their place. Then he got her to put Alma on the phone. It was agreed that Junior would stay at the girls' apartment that night; Ennis sensed that he and Jack needed some alone time tonight to just be together.

When he was done, he pulled Jack up onto his feet and held his face in his hands. "Darlin'...don't worry, okay? Nothin's gonna happen to you an' me. We're rock solid, bud. Always have been." He kissed Jack warmly and saw a flicker of his beloved Jack behind the blue eyes. Jack nodded and took his hand.

"Yeah. Come on." Ennis led him back to town, squeezing his hand and trying to let him know that everything was alright. Jack remained deep in thought; his initial fright had died down by now, replaced by worry. This was somehow worse, as he was starting to doubt everything about himself. He couldn't help but feel like a bad person for stealing Ennis away from Alma; he'd never felt like that before until today. All he could do was hold on and hope that the feeling would go away; he would never settle back down to normal otherwise.

That evening, Ennis and Jack were curled in bed together. Jack hadn't expressed any interest in sex that night, so Ennis simply held him for a while. He was spooning up behind Jack and rubbing his stomach, trying to soothe him.

Jack could hear Ennis humming in his ear, a gentle lullaby that he'd once told Jack his mother used to sing to him to help him sleep. The bedside lamp was still on and casting a dim red glow across the room. It would have been the perfect setting for making love, but it was clear to Ennis that Jack didn't want that right now. He just wanted to see Jack smiling again.

Ennis finished humming and peered over at him, wondering if Jack was still awake. "Darlin', you awake?"

"Yeah," Jack whispered, feeling cold even though Ennis was warm and holding him close. "Can't settle down." Ennis sighed and kissed the back of his neck.

"Hate seein' you like this, Jack. You know it hurts me when you're upset...there anythin' else I can do for you? Just tell me..." Jack bit his lip; he did need comfort right now but wasn't sure if he deserved it.

"Well...there's one thing...maybe..." he started, and Ennis could sense what he was asking.

"You want me to...?" he asked, and he saw Jack nod.

"Yeah...if you don't mind." Ennis nuzzled the back of his neck.

"I don't mind, Jack. You know I don't. How d'you want it?"

"Like this," Jack whispered; he didn't think he could look into Ennis's face right now while having sex with him. He hated feeling so low about himself but couldn't seem to stop. Ennis nodded and grabbed the lube, preparing himself while kissing Jack's ear and hoping that he could make Jack feel better.

When he was ready, he rose up onto his elbow and pushed Jack down further as gently as he could, coaxing him to relax. He then rested on leg in between Jack's, half-straddling him and getting into position. He pushed in very slowly, knowing that Jack needed more care and comfort than passion and lust. It wouldn't be their greatest time ever, but that didn't matter. He knew that Jack just needed him right now.

Jack bit his lip as Ennis entered him, trying to relax and breathing deeply. He could feel Ennis's warm weight against his back and sighed, pleasure drifting over him. When Ennis was fully inside him, he tried to shut off his thoughts and just let go, concentrating on how Ennis was making him feel.

"I love you," Ennis whispered in Jack's ear as he thrust into him slowly, caressing every part of Jack that he could reach. He didn't know what else to say that might help; those three words usually did the trick. "Love you so much, Jack..."

"Love you too," Jack replied, pushing back and letting his eyes fall shut. "I...I don't wanna lose you..."

"You won't," Ennis promised him as he moved, his hand dipping down in between Jack's legs to take hold of him. He moved his hand along Jack's length as he made love to him, keeping his touch firm yet gentle; Jack didn't need teasing right now. "I swear, Jack...I'm always gonna be here..."

Jack turned his head and finally met Ennis's eyes, his own full of need. "Ennis..." He leaned in and Ennis kissed him, hand stroking and legs sliding against Jack's. Their tongues wound together and Jack finally started to feel better than he had since lunch.

Ennis gave a few more strokes and Jack felt himself coming, leaking onto the sheets and whimpering slightly, feeling very vulnerable despite how good Ennis was being to him. Ennis came inside him, groaning into the back of Jack's neck and then sinking down, sighing contentedly. He blinked and then pulled out, wondering if Jack was okay. "Bud?" he whispered, placing a hand on Jack's shoulder and rising back up onto his elbow. He peered into Jack's face and saw that Jack was trembling. "Hey...what's wrong?" he asked softly; it wasn't often that Jack got truly upset like this, and it was always something really serious that caused it.

Jack shook his head, trying not to let the tears in his eyes fall. He felt wretched, like he didn't deserve to have this man with him. But he knew that he couldn't just let Ennis go; he needed him and knew that Ennis wouldn't leave without fighting for him anyway. He wished that he could stop feeling so bad about himself, but he didn't know how. Now that the seeds of doubt had been planted in his mind, it was as if they had grabbed hold of him and would never let go. They were taking root and growing, making him feel even worse about himself.

Ennis saw a tear fall onto the pillow and grew alarmed, wondering what was wrong. "Jack, talk to me...why are you cryin', bud?" Jack shook his head.

"I just...can't help it," he breathed, still shaking. "Feel like shit...not 'cos of this, but..." He took a deep breath. "Ennis...I know you're trying to make me feel better, and that just now was great. It's just...I don't know if it's really working."

"Shh..." Ennis shushed him, knowing that Jack needed to sleep now. "Don't worry about it, Jack. I'm sure you'll tell me when yer ready what's goin' on. Until then, I won't put no pressure on you. An'...when I wanna spend time with Junior an' Alma, we'll include you. You're part of the family too, an' Alma knows that. I'm sorry if we scared you before..." He rubbed Jack's stomach and settled down behind him. "Come on now...get some sleep. You're tired after today."

"Yeah..." Jack tried to sleep, but it was a long time before his brain could settle down and allow him to drop off. With Ennis asleep behind him, Jack was left alone with his dark thoughts and doubts and nobody to stop them from worming into his heart.