Chapter 17

September 4th, 2009

By Friday, things hadn't improved. Jack was still full of doubt about everything he'd done so far regarding Ennis. He kept thinking about the scene at the girls' apartment and how Ennis and Alma had looked like real parents to Junior, which he knew deep down he would never be. When he thought about that, his thoughts shifted to when Alma had arrived on campus looking for Ennis and how he had decided to stay.

At his desk, he was trying to do some of his portfolio; it was due in next month and he'd been making good progress until this week. Now it seemed as if every waking moment was devoted to worrying.

He remembered how Ennis had told him that even if Alma had told him back then that she was pregnant, he still would have chosen to stay in Amherst. This, more than anything else, made Jack worry about the choice that Ennis had made. He wondered if Ennis had made the right one after all, or if he should have gone back.

If she had told him, he might have gone back, Jack thought to himself, recalling his conversation with Amy on the subject. He's a good man and he wouldn't have left her to do it on her own, even if it didn't mean them getting back together. Jack sighed and took a sip of his water, feeling very distracted.

No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't shake off the feeling that he had somehow forced Ennis into staying with him back then. He kept feeling that he'd seduced Ennis into a relationship with him, back in the locker room all those years ago. If he hadn't coerced Ennis into taking a swim with him, then their near-kiss would never have happened and Ennis wouldn't have fallen for him. They had had a crush on each other back then, but still. He kept thinking that if nothing had come of it, then Ennis would have gone back with Alma and that would have been the end of it.

What did I do to him? Jack thought to himself, unable to concentrate on his work. He could have had a nice, normal life that wouldn't have made him feel different from everybody else. Instead, he has to put up with people saying that he's an abomination, saying that what we do is a sin, all of that...he doesn't deserve it.

Jack knew that he could never try to get Ennis to leave him for any reason, not even for what Jack thought was his own good. Ennis would simply not do it because he loved him, but this made Jack feel even worse. He couldn't let Ennis go if he tried; the man was just too stubborn for that.

His cell phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out to see a text from Ennis; he did this yesterday to try and cheer Jack up somewhat.

Love you, bud xxx

Jack felt a lump grow in his throat and managed to shakily text a response, to keep Ennis from worrying if nothing else. He knew that Ennis was worried about him after their talk the other night, when he'd broken down in Ennis's arms, but he didn't know what to do. He wanted to tell Ennis what was wrong, but didn't think he would ever have the guts to tell Ennis that it would be best for him to leave. Jack didn't understand his thoughts; Ennis's decision to be with him had never really bothered him before. On the contrary, he'd been humbled by this choice and vowed to make Ennis happy.

But now, all that he could think about was what Ennis had given up for him; the chance of a normal life.

There was a knock at the door and Jessica came in, looking apprehensive. Ennis had given her and Amy an account of what had happened on the beach, telling them everything he knew for sure but admitting that there was something Jack wasn't saying. Neither of them could figure out what it might be, so they were just trying to be there for their friends.

"Jack?" she asked cautiously. "Um...just wanted to see if you're okay. You've hardly left the office all day."

Jack looked up at her, managing a brief smile. "Hey, Jess. Come on in." She entered the office and sat down on the other side of the desk, watching him closely.

"Well? How're you feeling? Ennis said that...something was wrong. Ever since that scene at our place."

Jack nodded; he knew that his friends were worried about him but just couldn't bring himself to say anything about his deep thoughts. He knew he was bound to crack under the strain soon and just couldn't help feeling like he was heading down a slippery slope. "I, uh...I'm sorry about just tearing out of there like that. I know you girls were planning lunch for all of us, and..."

Jessica shook her head. "It's okay. Junior ate most of it anyway. We're worried about you, Jack...this isn't like you. Ennis is at a loss as to what to do for you right now...he just wants to help you but you won't tell him what's really going on." She leaned forward. "Look...if you can't tell him yourself, for whatever reason, you can always tell me and I'll tell him for you. Would that make it easier?"

Jack seriously considered it, but then recoiled from the idea. If he was ever going to tell Ennis what he was thinking, it had to come from him and nobody else. "Thanks, Jess, but...I'm gonna try and tell him myself at some point. Just...need to pluck up the courage first."

"Okay. But just remember, Jack...whatever it is, you're not alone. You've got Ennis, you've got us...we just wanna help. So...I'll leave you alone now but you know where I am, okay?" She got up and left him alone with his thoughts, wondering what to do for the best.

Ennis was also trying to work, but all he could think about was Jack and if he was okay. Yesterday, he'd sent a text to Jack every so often telling him that he loved him, and while Jack always replied Ennis couldn't help but feel that something was amiss. He recalled the happy look on Jack's face throughout their trip to the cabin just last month, and how they had made love through the nights. They'd been so happy just a couple of weeks ago, and now everything was messed up.

He received the text from Jack and tried to smile, but he couldn't stop worrying. Jack had looked so lost and alone on the beach the other day, talking about the feeling of not belonging to the family and that he was scared of losing Ennis. And that night had started off reasonably well; they'd even managed to have sex. But Ennis recalled Jack crying and shaking in his arms and knew that something was wrong; something so bad that Jack was too scared to tell him about it.

His phone buzzed on the desk, and he saw that it was Amy. "Hey."

"Hey, Ennis. I just wanted to see how you're doing. You okay?"

"Yeah, I...I'm alright. Just worryin' about Jack an' wonderin' what to do."

"I know. I've been talking to Jess about it, but we can't figure out what it might be. We just know that he looked really freaked out when he saw the three of you."

"Yeah...he kept talkin' about feelin' like an outsider, like he don't belong in the family. I told him that he does...that he belongs with me. He looked terrible when I found somethin' changed inside him that I can't change back."

" think this has anythin' to do with your decision to stay with him, rather than to go back with Alma when you were in college?"

"Maybe," he replied, thinking back to his conversations with Jack on the matter. "But I didn't know then that she was pregnant. An' even if she had...I would've wanted to stay with him."

"I know, but...would you have done it? I know you, Ennis...and so does Jack. You're the kind of man who would never leave a woman you'd knocked up to deal with it by herself. You would have gone back to help her out, even if it didn't mean getting back together."

Ennis knew that she was right, and he was even more grateful that Alma hadn't told him back then. He loved Jack and simply couldn't imagine a life without him. "You think Jack knows?" he asked quietly, worrying even more.

"Probably. I was talking to him about it when you were collecting your mom from the airport and he seemed to know. That could be why he's being like this. He's scared of what could have happened..."

"That don't make sense," Ennis replied, shaking his head. "He knows what happened an' that's just how it is. I chose to stay with him, an' I'm glad I did. So even if I had gone back with her, I wouldn't have been happy without him. I wouldn't have got back together with her, not even for Junior's sake 'cos I never really loved her. Not like I love him."

"I think he needs to know that, Ennis," Amy told him, and he knew that she was right. "He needs to know what he means to you."

"I tell him all the time...I'm sure he does..."

"Even so...I think he needs to hear it now. He's probably feeling very vulnerable right now, and he needs that reassurance from you."

Ennis nodded to himself, seeing that she was right. It wasn't enough to tell Jack that he loved him; he needed to do more right now. Even though he had never had much confidence with vocalising how he felt, he knew that he had to step up now and give Jack what he needed. He had to tell Jack his deepest feelings for him; the ones that he held close to his heart. Jack needed to know them right now.

"You're right. There's a lot of stuff I feel for him that I ain't never had the guts to tell him. Reckon he needs it right now."

"Yeah. Tell him how you feel, Ennis. Make him see how much he means to you in spite of what you gave up to be with him. Let him know that you made the right choice."

"I will, Amy. Gonna talk to him as soon as I can an'...try to fix this before it gets worse. I don't wanna lose him...but I already feel like I am. He's...driftin' away from me, an' that can't happen." Ennis knew that he simply couldn't bear to have Jack leave his life, after everything that they had been through together. He had to tell Jack that he meant the world to him, and was the first thought that he had when he woke, and the last thought he had when going to sleep. Jack was the one he mainly thought of when they were apart. He did think of Junior and hope that she was okay, but Jack still held the majority of his heart because Ennis felt so strong about him.

He said goodbye to Amy and tried to carry on working, thinking about what he had to say to Jack to try and hold things together. If Jack was truly having doubts about himself, then all Ennis had to do was remind him that he was loved and cherished; that he wanted to shout from the rooftops how much he loved Jack. He would happily do that if he knew it would work and put a smile back on Jack's face. All he had ever wanted was for Jack to be happy, hopefully with him, so he had to fight to keep them together. He would do that without a second thought; Jack meant too much to him to just let go without a fight.

Alma left on Saturday, much to Ennis's relief. While he knew that it was important to Junior to see her mother, he was also aware that the problems with Jack had only started upon her arrival. Now that she was leaving, maybe things would go back to normal.

He took Alma back to the airport, and she apologised to him for any upset she might have caused. Ennis told her that it wasn't her fault and that he would manage to sort it; he just hoped that he would be able to.

When he got back, he could see Junior in her room with the door ajar, and Jack on the sofa. Knowing that he had to talk to his husband and try to make him feel better, Ennis went over to him. "Jack?" he asked softly, hoping that Jack would be in the right frame of mind to truly appreciate what he was about to say. "You feelin' okay?"

"Yeah, I guess," Jack replied, half-smiling as Ennis sat down. Drawing from his studies at college and what he'd learned in Psychology, he was trying to push down the thoughts he'd been having lately. He knew that it was merely a defence mechanism that would never deal with the actual problem, but it was all he could do. Ennis put an arm around him as they got comfortable.

"Look," he started, making sure that he had Jack's attention. "I know it ain't been easy for you, with Alma around. An' I know why. You saw us with Junior, an' I can see now that we probably did look like a family. You gotta know, Jack...I'm real sorry about that. You an' Junior are my family, but Alma's still her mama an'...we've gotta try an' get along for her sake. But I time she comes here, we won't do nothin' family-like without you. Okay?"

Jack nodded; that did help a little bit and he appreciated the effort that Ennis was making, but it was still a struggle to push away his thoughts now that they had taken root. "Yeah, bud. Ennis, I...I don't regret that we got together and I can't regret that you chose me over Alma. I'm real happy here with you. But I...sometimes I wonder're happy. I mean...with a guy." It was close to what he wanted to say, but he didn't think he could elaborate any further than that.

Ennis sighed and kissed the side of Jack's head. "Darlin' know I am. Listen, there's some things I wanna tell you. Stuff I've always felt but never really had the guts to tell you. I was talkin' to Amy about it yesterday an' decided it was time, with what's goin' on right now. Just might make you feel better."

He looked into Jack's eyes, hoping that he could get through this. "Jack, got no idea how happy you've made me since we got together. I know it wasn't always easy for us, but...I reckon the hard times make us appreciate the good ones more. I...think of you, all the time when we're apart. Like when I'm sittin' at my desk, my mind wanders now an' then. Sometimes I think of Junior, but she's always with Amy an' I know she's doin' well. I think more of you, 'cos...I don't always know for sure that yer okay. Especially this week. I worry about you, Jack...hopin' that you're okay."

Jack could feel a lump growing in his throat; these were very sweet words coming from the man he loved. He knew he should feel happy, but the thoughts of not deserving this were coming back to haunt him. "Ennis, I...I'm normally okay. Just this week...wasn't easy..."

"I know, darlin'," Ennis replied, squeezing him. "But it's over now...just the three of us. You wanna know somethin'? Every night, before I go to sleep, I think of you. An' every mornin' when I wake up, I think of you again, even if you're still asleep. Seein' your face when I wake up...makes me remember how damn lucky I am to have you." He smiled at Jack, whose eyes were lighting up a little bit, the way they used to. "Sometimes I wanna shout from the rooftops how I feel about you, Jack."

"Ennis..." Jack sighed, resting his head on Ennis's shoulder. "Don't deserve you..." Ennis shook his head.

"Yeah, you do. You deserve all the good things in life, Jack. Love, family,' you're gonna have 'em all. How's that portfolio comin'?"

"Pretty good...should be finished soon," Jack replied, glad for the change in subject. "Hoping to get more done now that this week's nearly over."

"Good. An' yer always gonna have me, promise you that. I...I can't live without you, Jack. An' I don't wanna, 'cos I'd be damn miserable if we weren't together." He nuzzled his nose into Jack's hair, drawing a smile out of him.

"You mean that?" Jack asked in a small voice, as if he really did need some reassurance right now. Ennis nodded.

"I do, Jack...I want us to be together as long as we live. That's all I've wanted since we got together." He held Jack close to him, hoping that he'd done enough to prove to Jack that he loved him with every fibre of his being. He just didn't know what else he could do; they were already married and had everything they were going to. "I love you, Jack...more than any words could ever say..."

Jack closed his eyes, letting the words wash over him and wishing that he could allow himself to just switch off the deep, self-depreciating thoughts. He knew that they didn't make any sense; Ennis was happy with him and content with the choice he had made all those years ago. This man wasn't going anywhere; they were bound for life and Jack knew he had to remind himself of that every day; it was the only way to keep himself from falling victim to his fears.

The day was fairly quiet. They spent their time at home, not feeling up to going anywhere, and Junior was happy enough to stay in one place. She played in her room while Ennis and Jack watched TV, curled up on the sofa together and trying to keep things normal.

Jack had loved the words Ennis spoke to him, but there was still a part of him that felt like he didn't deserve to hear them. It was a part that told him he was a horrible person for what he'd done to Ennis; that he'd ruined his life by taking him away from Alma. Logic told him that this wasn't how it happened; Ennis had made the decision by himself because he was in love, but this only made Jack feel worse. He briefly wondered if he was developing schizophrenia, but reasoned with himself that he wasn't hearing voices; it was just a feeling he had deep inside him. He didn't know where this had come from, but it had all started upon seeing Ennis and Alma with Junior the way he had.

He tried not to think about it when they went to bed, and instead just tried to concentrate on Ennis. It was clear that he wanted some action tonight, and Jack was hoping that he could see it through.

They kissed deeply once they were alone, standing at the end of their bed. Ennis started off by holding Jack's face in his hands, before moving them down to Jack's hips. Jack sighed into his mouth; it still felt good despite his inner turmoil. "Mmm..."

Ennis broke away, nuzzling his nose. " you."

"Love you too," Jack replied, finally feeling the fire starting up inside him. He kissed Ennis again and moved his hands down, squeezing Ennis's ass and hearing a surprised sound escape.

"You're in a better mood," Ennis observed as Jack attacked his neck, and Jack mumbled his agreement. It was usually easy to switch off when sex was imminent, and he wanted to take full advantage of this reprieve.

Their clothes were shed and Jack pushed Ennis down to the bed, crawling up to the head with him and sliding their legs together. Ennis was warm and familiar and everything he loved; all he wanted right now was to be a part of that.

"Ennis..." he whispered, kissing his husband's earlobe. "Can I...fuck you?" Ennis was surprised by the request, given how Jack had been feeling lately. But he could sense that Jack needed to feel in control of things for once; he could understand that. He nodded up at Jack.

"Sure, darlin'," he murmured back, giving Jack a kiss before turning over. He felt Jack widen his legs apart for easier access and bit his lip, wondering if Jack really was up to it.

Jack kissed his way down Ennis's back, trying to block out the thoughts racing in his head. He needed to do this and was grateful to Ennis for letting him. When he was ready, he grabbed the lube and smoothed it over himself, knowing that Ennis needed a little more since he didn't bottom often. He got into position, forehead pressed against Ennis's back and breathing deeply as he tried to penetrate.

Ennis knew immediately that something just wasn't right. When Jack topped him, he was usually unstoppable and full of lust. But tonight, something was off.

As soon as he touched Ennis, Jack had a flashback of Ennis with Alma and Junior; the family he'd nearly had. It was the life that Jack felt he had stolen from Ennis, and yet here he was about to do this. Now he felt even worse about himself than he already did. He went cold all over and knew he couldn't do it.

Ennis heard a sound of frustration escape from Jack, who hadn't moved. "Jack?" he asked softly, trying to look behind him. "What's wrong?"

"Can't do it," Jack managed to say. "I'm sorry, Ennis...I just can't fuck you right now. Not when I'm feeling like this..." Ennis turned over and pulled Jack into his arms.

"'s okay. You don't hafta if you can't." He lifted Jack's chin and saw tears in Jack's eyes; the very sight caused his heart to start aching. Seeing Jack like this affected him, and he didn't know what to do. "Baby...don't get upset. Can't you tell me what's wrong?"

"I want to," Jack whispered, wiping his eyes on the bed sheet. "But I...I don't know if I can. There's something I'm afraid of, Ennis...and I keep thinking that if I tell'll come true. Like one of those self-fulfilling prophecies. It's scaring the hell out of me."

"Jack..." Ennis sighed, rubbing his back. "'s okay. I had a feelin' you might not be up to it tonight, but I wanted you to decide that for yourself. I know you haven't really control this past week. I wanted you to feel that again."

Jack sniffed, resting his head on Ennis's chest. "Me too, Ennis. But when I was about to do it just now...I got an image in my head of you with Alma and Junior. And it just...messed me up."

Ennis sighed; he had no idea why this was bothering Jack so much, despite his numerous attempts to tell Jack that everything was okay for them now. He wondered if he should just give up and let Jack figure it out for himself, but when he looked at the man in his arms he knew he couldn't do that. Jack was so lost and felt alone right now, and Ennis just wanted to convince him that everything was going to be okay.

"I love you, darlin'...if that helps," he murmured, stroking Jack's dark hair. Jack squeezed him.

"Not really...but I'm grateful all the same, Ennis. And I love you too." Ennis nodded and let him be, feeling relieved when he felt Jack falling asleep. Maybe now he could get some much-needed rest and start to heal from whatever was bothering him.

September 6th, 2009

On Sunday, they were preparing Junior for her first day at kindergarten. They could tell that she was looking forward to it, despite her nerves. Ennis could say that he was very proud to see her starting out so well; maybe one day she really would go to college. Not just for academic success; he'd found the love of his life at college, and maybe she would too one day.

He tried not to worry too much about Jack as they walked around the supermarket, gathering up the food they were giving her for lunches. In an effort to help Jack feel more involved, Ennis kept him close and asked his opinion on what to buy for her, and it seemed to be working. Jack certainly looked less worried with something to distract him, and Ennis was glad to see him smiling.

"What d'you think of this?" Ennis asked, holding out a multipack bag of chips with different flavours. "I think she likes all them flavours, right?"

"As far as I know," Jack replied, realising what Ennis was doing and appreciating the effort. "If not, we could eat the ones she doesn't like."

"Yeah, you're right," Ennis replied, tossing them into the cart. He'd always liked shopping with Jack, for some reason. Maybe because it was something perfectly normal that couples did when they lived together. Usually, they had a good time exploring and finding bargains together for their home. He knew that today was partially about getting Jack out into the fresh air and just doing something that would distract him. Junior was with Amy and Jessica, so it was just the two of them.

He kept thinking about the night before, when Jack had tried to fuck him but couldn't go through with it. It stung a little that the night had fallen through like that, but he knew deep down that something just wasn't right with Jack and that was a more pressing matter to him. He wondered if he should talk to their doctor about it and maybe have Jack taken in for examination, but he didn't want Jack to feel worse than he already did. He missed seeing Jack's megawatt grin; the one that was usually directed at him when Jack was happy. All he'd ever wanted was to keep Jack happy, and now he felt like he was failing at that.

As they walked, he could see that when he wasn't talking Jack kept his head down, clearly thinking about what was bothering him. Ennis wished that Jack would open up to him; they were usually so good at communicating with each other and working through problems together.

"You okay?" he tried, nudging Jack slightly. He saw Jack shrug.

"I guess. Just...thinking about last night. Wasn't all that good, huh?"

"Somethin's botherin' you, Jack," Ennis told him. "I understand if you ain't up to it right now. But I...I wish you'd talk to me about it. We usually talk about everythin'..."

Jack sighed. "Ennis...I know it hurts you that I can't talk about it, and I'm sorry about that, but..." Ennis touched his shoulder.

"It's okay, bud. I can see that it's real bad, whatever it is. So...I can wait until yer ready to talk about it. Just...don't go sufferin' alone, okay? Promise me you'll come to me if it gets too bad, right?"

"Okay, I promise," Jack agreed, wondering how bad it would get before he needed Ennis to hold him. He wasn't sure where these thoughts in his head would go or how much they would start to affect him. He managed to smile at Ennis as they walked through the store, picking up the items on their list and heading for the cash registers.

Once outside, they decided to head down the street to a nearby café and get some lunch together. Ennis wanted to keep Jack busy so that he didn't have to think about what was bothering him; he would do anything to keep Jack from becoming upset. The night before hadn't been easy for either of them.

"You know, I was thinkin'," Ennis said as they were waiting for their food to arrive. "We ain't been out together since we got back from Vermont."

"You a date?" Jack asked, suddenly feeling uneasy. He'd once loved going out with Ennis like they used to, but with his new doubts and fears he wondered if he could ever do that again.

"Yeah. We agreed to go out once a week together. I know we got distracted, with my ma an' then Alma comin' here. But it's just us now...what d'you think?"

"Um...don't know," Jack replied, wishing that he didn't have to answer right now. But he could see hope in Ennis's eyes and knew that it was probably a good idea to just go along with it. Besides, he could do with the distraction and maybe it would help. "Yeah, sounds like a good idea."

Ennis smiled and laid his hand over Jack's across the table. "Great. I like goin' out with you, Jack. Reminds me of when we first got together an' were goin' on dates. I reckon we still need to do that even now..."

"You're right," Jack agreed, nodding. He could see the logic behind it and knew deep down that he had to do something to try and stop his muddled thoughts. He was willing to do whatever it took to get back to normal if he could, and he knew that he could count on Ennis to help him. "So...when d'you wanna do it?"

"What about Friday, after work?" Ennis asked, and Jack nodded. That was usually a good day for both of them.

"Sounds great," he replied, smiling at Ennis across the table. There was part of him still that didn't really believe the thoughts he was having about himself, and he was trying to hold onto that. He knew that he wasn't a bad person and that Ennis being with him had been his choice, but was hard to ignore the voice that told him all of this was wrong.