Chapter 18

September 8th, 2009

A couple of days later, Jack had to work through lunch so Ennis decided to go and see Amy. He wanted to know her opinion on what was going on and maybe get some advice on what to do; Jessica would be there too. Jack was still distant and was even hesitant when they were in bed together. They managed to have sex the night before, but Ennis had seen in Jack's eyes that his heart wasn't really in it. Still, Jack had told him that he'd wanted to do it. He would never force Jack into anything, but he had to wonder why Jack had agreed even though it was clear he wasn't in the right frame of mind.

"I just don't know what to do," Ennis told Amy as they ate lunch together. The girls were both very worried about Jack and what might be bothering him so much. "He's just...distant. He talks to me if I say somethin' to him, an' he sometimes starts conversations about things.'s like he's only half there. Like the other half's far away or somethin'." It wasn't the Jack he knew and loved; he wasn't sure where that Jack was right now.

"He's been like that at work," Jessica informed him sadly. Jack had been her best friend at work and now she felt like she was losing a brother. "He won't talk to anyone when he comes in, and barely says hello to me when I see him. It's just not like him."

"Is his work sufferin'?" Ennis asked, fearing that Jack would lose his internship due to this. That was bound to make his self-esteem suffer even more, and things would just get worse. "What about the portfolio? He told me it's nearly done."

"I don't know. But if I know Emily at all, I know that she'll have noticed something. I can't see her not asking him what's wrong; she's a counsellor and knows all the signs."

"Yeah. Maybe I should call her," Ennis mused, knowing that Jack wouldn't say anything if Dr Green had tried to help. "An' maybe I should take a look at that portfolio, to make sure he really is nearly done. I don't want him to miss out on that promotion 'cos of whatever's botherin' him."

"How did it start?" Amy asked, looking puzzled. "Was it just because of him seeing you with Alma and Junior? He knows the score on that front; you two are her primary parents now and even Alma's accepted that."

"Yeah, but...he thought we looked like a family an'...maybe now he's thinkin' that we ain't never gonna be," Ennis replied, hoping this wasn't true. He felt like more of a family with Jack and Junior than he ever could have felt with Alma. "I keep tellin' him that we are, but..."

"Ennis..." Jessica started, biting her lip. "He's been asking you if you're happy, right? Maybe...he's thinking about your decision to stay with him back in college, and then seeing you with Alma and Junior..." She thought for a moment. "Maybe he's wondering if you made the right choice. Maybe he thinks he took away your chance of having a normal family."

"That's bullshit, then," Ennis replied, shaking his head. "He didn't take nothin' from me. I always knew that I was never gonna be happy on that ranch, or with Alma. Even before I met him, I knew I wanted somethin' different. If anythin', he gave me so much more than I coulda had if I'd stayed. He gave me a new life an' a new way of livin'. I owe him for that 'cos he's done so much for me."

"You need to tell him," Amy said firmly. "If Jess is right, and that's really what's getting him so down, you have to head him off before he decides to try and let you go."

Ennis looked down, an image of a life without Jack flashing before his eyes. He could recall how miserable he was before they'd met, and the prospect of divorcing Jack was a bleak one. It would be like returning to the cold prairie of Wyoming after the warm sands of Provincetown, even if he never returned to his old home state. He just couldn't live without Jack and didn't want to.

"You're right. If he starts thinkin' that I'm better off without him..." He shook his head. "I need to talk to him, tonight. Could you do me a favour an' pick up Junior from school, an' just keep her until tonight? I wanna get him alone."

"Of course," Amy responded, as Jessica nodded her agreement. "We'll take care of her; you just focus on keeping your husband on the right track. What are you gonna say if he tells you he wants a divorce, even though you know he's trying to do the right thing for you?"

"I'll just tell him there's no way," Ennis replied. "If he forces me to leave him, he's gonna regret it right away. I could never be better off without him, ever. He might think it's the best thing for me...but he's wrong. He's the best thing for me."

The girls nodded, glad that Ennis wasn't going to just give in to Jack's irrational thoughts. Jack wasn't in the right frame of mind and Ennis had to make sure that nothing bad happened to them as a result.

With this decided, the talk turned to more pleasant things. Amy and Jessica had agreed to get married in the spring, and asked Ennis if he and Jack would be their witnesses, providing that Jack was able by then. Ennis assured them that everything would be okay; Jack just needed some help.

He knew that he had to try and hold onto Jack no matter what; the man meant too much to him to just give up when things became difficult. He loved Jack and wanted to be with him, so that was all there was to it.

Ennis finished work early for the day and surprised Jack by waiting for him outside the clinic. "Hey, bud." Jack looked happy to see him, a rare smile forming on his face as they kissed in greeting.

"Hey," he replied, wondering what was going on. "How come you're here? Where's Junior?"

"Got the girls to take her for tonight. I wanted to talk to you alone, an' maybe go for a walk before we head home." Jack nodded and they set off, Ennis reaching out to take his hand. Jack swallowed and tried to act normal, even though he knew Ennis wasn't fooled.

They ended up on a bench a little way into the park, hands still entwined. Jack had a feeling that Ennis was going to ask him what was wrong, and he braced himself.

"Jack...I know somethin's wrong with you at the moment, an' that you think you can't tell me without somethin' bad happenin'. But I need to know what it is, 'cos it's eatin' you up an' I can't stand it."

Jack sighed and nodded; he had seen this coming. "Alright. I know I gotta tell you, Ennis.'s not easy for me to talk about it."

"Okay. I was talkin' to Amy an' Jess about it an' we think we might know what's wrong. So I'm just gonna tell you, an' you can tell me if we're right. That might make it easier." He looked into Jack's eyes. "When you saw me an' Alma with Junior that day, lookin' like a family, you felt left out, right?" Jack nodded, trying to keep Ennis's gaze and not look away in shame. "Right...we reckon that you...started thinkin' about when Alma came to visit me in Amherst that December, right before Christmas. An' you were thinkin' about my decision to stay with you, an' now you've been wonderin' if I made the right choice."

Jack was taken aback that Ennis could read him so well, and saw no point in denying it. "Yeah, I was. I could've had a normal life, Ennis. A wife, kids...and nobody would've said anything bad to you about it. You'd be normal...but instead you chose a life where people tell you it's a sin, and that we're going to hell. I keep thinking...that I took that away from you. Somehow, I made you fall in love with me so much that you declined to go back with Alma that year."

"You didn't make me do anything, Jack," Ennis told him. "I got feelin's for you before that day in the locker room, when we nearly kissed. An' all you did at that time was be my friend...I wouldn't have been attracted to you if it wasn't meant to be. I was supposed to be with you, an' I made the decision to stay with you because I wanted to."

"But...if Alma had told you then that she was pregnant...I know you, Ennis. You say you wouldn't have gone back with her, but you wouldn't have just left her to deal with it by herself. You're too good for that."

"Maybe," Ennis reluctantly agreed. "But I wouldn't have been happy, Jack. Woulda been damn miserable without you."

Jack didn't reply right away, but then sighed. "'re right. I do keep wondering if you did the right thing, and made the right decision. I keep thinking about how we got together, and wondering if...I somehow forced you into it. I asked you to go swimming with me that day; if I hadn't..."

"You don't know that we wouldn't have got together, Jack," Ennis reasoned with him. "It coulda happened anyway, some other time. You didn't force me into anythin'."

"Keep thinking I'm a bad person," Jack said quietly, looking away from Ennis. "That I ruined your life...or the life you could have had."

Ennis stared at Jack, unable to believe that Jack could be so self-depreciating. Jack was a wonderful person as far as he was concerned, and he didn't like to see the man he loved like this. "Jack...don't do this. You ain't a bad person."

"You say that now..." Jack started, heading into his deepest fears. "But what want more kids? Biological kids? I can't give you that, so...what if you...decide to leave and find a woman who can? One day, you could realise that you're better off without me."

Ennis made Jack look at him, hands on his face. "Cut it out, Jack. I ain't better off without you, not by a long shot. Shit, you know how miserable I was when we met. I don't never wanna go back to that, an' I will if we break up. I had a feelin' that you were thinkin' this...don't you dare try an' let me go, you hear?"

"But," Jack started, breathing shakily. "You could decide you wanna be normal again...have a quiet life that nobody'll judge you for."

"I don't want that," Ennis told him sincerely, meaning every word. "I want this life with you. I know it ain't perfect, but I don't care. I've got you, darlin'' I've got the kid I want. If I wanna have more...that could be where the girls come in. We did say that maybe one day we'll arrange somethin' with them."

"I know," Jack replied, head falling to Ennis's chest. "I know that these thoughts don't make any sense, and deep down I know we're better off together. But I can't shut these thoughts off, no matter what I do." He looked up into Ennis's warm, caring eyes. "I know that something's wrong with me, and I know I'm not a bad person or any of that stuff I've been thinking. But I just get this constant stream of thoughts that I am, and that you're better off without me."

Ennis leaned in and kissed him, seeing the problem at last. Jack understood that these thoughts were completely irrational and senseless, but they were there all the same, niggling at him. He felt sorry for Jack, having to deal with this inner turmoil.

"'s okay," he soothed when they broke apart, wiping Jack's tears from his eyes. "We'll sort this out, together. I ain't goin' nowhere, an' neither are you. When we got married I promised that I would do anythin' to make you happy. Gonna stand by that now." He pulled Jack close to him again, holding him tightly until Jack stopped shaking.

The next day, Junior fell ill. It started off as what appeared to be a simple cold, but she was so feverish that Ennis decided it would be better for her to stay off school that day. Amy was willing to take care of her while he and Jack worked, so it was one less thing to worry about. He knew that Amy would look after Junior in their absence, and he was just a phone call away if she needed him.

After his talk with Jack in the park the day before, Ennis told him that it might be a good idea for him to talk to Emily; she had experience in this field and might be able to help him. Ennis just wanted Jack to stop having those irrational thoughts and fears; Jack was aware that there was nothing to them in reality, but he couldn't get rid of them either. That was the strangest thing to Ennis; that Jack knew the truth deep down but his fears were sort of blocking it and preventing him from thinking properly about everything.

He sat at his desk, thinking of Junior and hoping that she would be alright. He felt a little stretched right now, having to make sure that she was okay and also trying to help Jack. But this was what he'd signed on for and he wanted to help them both when they needed him to. He was fiercely loyal to his family and would do anything to protect them. More than anything, he didn't want to see Jack hurt. Ennis could almost feel a heaviness in his own heart when Jack was miserable, as if their hearts were truly entwined together.

Jack was probably the most pressing matter; Ennis still couldn't believe how the man could be so degrading about himself. He was normally so upbeat and full of confidence. That was part of why Ennis had been attracted to him in the first place, because he was so different from anybody that Ennis had ever met at that point. But he still did love Jack as much as he ever did, and hoped that he could do something for him.

His phone rang on the desk and he saw that it was Jack. Hoping that nothing was wrong, he picked it up. "Jack?" he asked, ears peeled for any sign of sadness.

"Yeah..." came a weary voice. "I just...wanted to hear your voice. Sitting here, trying to work...sorry if you're busy..." Jack sounded hesitant, as if he was wondering whether or not this was a good idea.

"It's okay," Ennis replied, getting comfortable. "Ain't no trouble, Jack. You wanna talk?"

"Yeah, for a while. How's Junior doing?"

"Amy called about half an hour ago; she's still got a fever but she's eatin'." Something normal for them to talk about; Jack needed that right now to shut off his thoughts.

"That's something," Jack said, glad to hear Ennis's voice. He couldn't explain it; he'd just felt a desire to hear that soft voice caressing his ear the way he loved. He was relieved that he'd managed to tell Ennis what was wrong, and that Ennis wasn't going to hear anything about them breaking up. He was glad for Ennis's stubborn streak right now; he really didn't want to lose him and hated those thoughts that he should let Ennis go. "Um...are we still on for this Friday? Dinner and a movie?"

"Yeah, you bet, darlin'. Gonna try an' help you enjoy yourself, Jack," Ennis told him, affection in his voice. "We'll have a good time an' you ain't gonna worry about nothin', you hear?"

Jack smiled in spite of himself, grateful that Ennis had no intention of letting him worry too much. The doubts and fears may well simmer down to nothing as long as Ennis kept up a steady show of affection and support to him. He knew from his studies that love could be a powerful antidote to all kinds of problems, and he had the love of a good man.

"Thanks, Ennis. I was so scared to tell you what's wrong..." He was still scared that his fears would come true, even though Ennis had told him that nothing of the sort was going to happen. Sometimes he got the feeling that all of this was too good to be true.

"I know, bud. I get that now...but you don't hafta be scared of nothin'. I'm right here with you an' I ain't goin' nowhere." He wondered what he could say that would make everything alright again. "You're stuck with me, Jack."

Jack sighed and felt relief flooding through him. Ennis didn't think he was too much trouble to be with, or that it was too much for him. He was standing by Jack and that mattered. He felt his heart lift slightly; Ennis just knew how to cheer him up.

"Love you," he said quietly, a sigh in his voice. "Sure am glad I don't have to deal with this alone."

"You really don't, darlin'...I love you too." Ennis looked at his clock; it was almost time for his lunch break. He wanted to see both Jack and Junior now; his family. "Listen...gonna be lunch soon. You wanna go an' check on Junior?"

"Yeah, sure. Um...see you there, then."

"Yep, you bet. Bye, bud." Ennis hung up, feeling slightly drained by the conversation but more determined than ever to help his husband. He figured that as long as he kept assuring Jack that he was staying put, then maybe Jack's thoughts would fade away. All he could do was try.

Junior didn't appear to be any better when they visited her during lunch, but she was happy to see them. Even Jack could feel his paternal instincts rising as he became concerned for her wellbeing. Amy noticed that Ennis was trying to get him more involved in everything and she knew that Jack appreciated it. Maybe now, things would start to get better.

That night, Ennis and Jack were lying in bed together. They were just talking quietly about the day so far, wondering if Junior would be okay. She hadn't eaten much when they'd picked her up from the girls but it hadn't dampened her spirits too badly; she had been happy to see them. And she was tucked up in bed now, hopefully to sleep through the night. They both knew from experience that sleep was a good remedy for a cold, if that was truly all it was. Considering her young age, they knew that they needed to keep an eye on her.

"Reckon she'll be okay," Ennis said softly, playing with Jack's fingers. "But...scares me when stuff like this happens to someone I care about." He looked up at Jack as he said this, and Jack managed a small smile. He was having some success at keeping his dark thoughts at bay, reminding himself that Ennis loved him and wasn't going to leave.

"Yeah, I know," he replied, nodding. "Look...if she doesn't start getting better soon, we'll just take her the doctor, okay?"

"Right," Ennis agreed, smiling at him. He leaned forward and kissed Jack as gently as he could, knowing that Jack felt fragile at the moment. He'd told Jack that there was absolutely no pressure for them to have sex right now, and he was standing by that. He was a grown man; he reckoned he should be able to go without it for a little while.

When they pulled apart, he could see pure love in Jack's eyes. "You feel okay now, bud?" he asked softly.

Jack nodded. "Yeah. Better than I was...glad I've got you, Ennis." He smiled when Ennis wrapped an arm around him, giving him a gentle squeeze.

"Me too, darlin'." He lifted his hand to stroke the back of Jack's head, running his fingers through the dark locks and just admiring the face before him. Even when Jack was feeling as conflicted as this, he still looked perfect to Ennis. "You've got beautiful eyes, Jack..." he said softly, the words slipping effortlessly from his lips.

Jack gulped and nodded, emotion rising inside him. " have too, you know. They're...warm and...deep. I can see in them...that you do care about me."

"You know I do," Ennis murmured, continuing to caress him. "I really do..." He kissed Jack once more, feeling the other man starting to relax again. Over the years they'd had together, he'd soon learned what could make Jack relax and feel better about whatever was on his mind, so decided to use this knowledge now.

He brought his hand around and instead started to rub Jack's stomach, knowing that he liked that. "How's that feel, darlin'?" he whispered, and Jack closed his eyes in pleasure.

"Mmm...just fine, cowboy..." Ennis continued to rub his stomach until he fell asleep, his head falling to the pillow. With Jack asleep, Ennis decided it would be okay for him to slip out of bed and check on Junior.

When he reached her room, he found her coughing and half-awake. "Hey, Junior. How you feelin'?"

"Daddy..." she managed to say before coughing again. He gave her some of the water that he'd put by her bed until she was able to breathe normally again. "Don't feel well..."

"I know, darlin', but you've just gotta get some sleep. You might feel better tomorrow."

"Yeah..." She lay back down again and looked up at him. "Daddy...can you read to me?"

Ennis smiled and nodded, paternal instincts rising up once more. "Sure, darlin'." He grabbed one of her books and sat near her on the bed, seeing the large brown eyes just like his own look up at him.

He read to her from the book until she too was asleep and then got up, happy that the people he loved were content and relaxed. Maybe now he would be able to sleep because he wouldn't be worrying about them.

Before he returned to their bedroom, he stopped by the bathroom and looked into the mirror, thinking. He had watched Jack closely today for any signs of depression; Jack had seemed a little quiet but otherwise okay. At least he would talk when prompted and sometimes he even initiated conversations. That was more than Ennis could have hoped for right now, and he prayed that Jack's fears were simmering down now. While he was under a lot of pressure right now, Ennis thought that he would be able to handle it as long as nothing too bad happened. He was just barely keeping it together right now.

He wondered what was wrong with Jack, for him to be thinking such things. The best he could come up with was some kind of paranoia after seeing him with Alma and Junior. Perhaps Jack had been having these thoughts ever since Junior came to live with them, but they had only surfaced upon seeing the family-type situation in front of him.

Ennis sighed; Jack had nothing to worry about as far as he was concerned. He would never leave Jack for any reason; he just couldn't live without his other half. Even if he did want another biological child at some point, they had somewhat agreed to a kind of partnership with Amy and Jessica to achieve this. He could think of worse things than raising a child with the girls; they were good people and good friends of theirs. Jack needn't worry about him wanting to be with a woman just to have kids.

He hoped that Jack knew in his heart just how much he was loved and appreciated. Ennis had always thought that Jack did know it, but his rational thoughts had been squashed down by his fears. There and then, Ennis vowed to try and help Jack get back to his normal self. They would probably need professional help in the long run, but he silently promised to do whatever he could and stand by Jack to help him heal.

Jack awoke not long after Ennis left, and he blinked at the darkness around him. He turned and tried to find Ennis, but the bed next to him was empty.

Panic rose in him like a dormant snake, and he sat up. The bedroom door was ajar and he couldn't hear anything. This is it; he's gone...he's not coming back...

"Ennis!" he called out desperately, praying to whoever might be listening that he was wrong; that Ennis had simply gone to the bathroom. "Ennis!"

Down the hall, Ennis heard the anguished yells and hurried back to the bedroom to see what was wrong. He locked eyes with Jack, who looked terrified. "Ennis..."

"Jack, what's wrong?" he asked, closing the door and coming back to bed. He put an arm around the other man, feeling him shaking. "You have a nightmare? You're shakin' like a leaf over here..."

Realising that he'd been wrong, Jack now felt slightly embarrassed about panicking like that. "No, I...I woke up and you weren't there...I thought..."

He thought I'd left, Ennis realised, and he sighed. "Darlin'...I'm right here. Sorry if I scared you..." He lifted Jack's chin and kissed him gently. "See? Right here..."

Jack let his head fall to Ennis's shoulder, relief flooding through him. "Fuck...I ought to know better than this, Ennis. You said you're not gonna leave me and I just..."

"You saw that you were alone, and you panicked," Ennis said simply, now rubbing his back to soothe him. "It's okay...I thought you were gonna sleep through the night, so I went to check on Junior. She was coughin' so I gave her some water an' then read to her until she fell asleep."

Jack nodded against Ennis's shoulder. "Right..." Ennis felt water on his shoulder and looked down, seeing that Jack was visibly shaking.

"Hey..." he whispered, pulling Jack up so that he could see him. He used his thumbs to wipe the tears from Jack's eyes, seeing just how tired he looked. "What's wrong?"

"I just...felt so relieved to see you walk in the door. Couldn't help it," Jack replied, wiping his cheeks and sniffing. He took a few deep breaths. "Kinda embarrassed now, to tell the truth."

"Don't be," Ennis told him, taking his hands. He could feel Jack's wedding ring against his skin and felt comforted by the notion. If they weren't already married, Ennis felt like he would have proposed to Jack if it would make him happy again. "I understand, Jack. You fearin' that I'm gonna leave you, an' then you wake up to find me gone. Anybody in your position woulda panicked."

Jack looked down at their joined hands, a lump in his throat. "Yeah, but...Ennis, you've gotta admit I'm wearing you out at the moment. I'm a real basket case with all of if you ever wonder whether or not you can do this anymore..."

"Don't say it," Ennis interrupted, placing his hand over Jack's mouth. "I ain't goin' nowhere. Remember our weddin' vows, Jack? I promised that I was gonna stand by you no matter what. For better or worse, right?" He moved his hand to Jack's cheek, cupping it and stroking with his thumb.

Jack nodded, his panic subsiding. "I're right; you did say you were gonna stand by me. I gets to me sometimes that I might be asking too much of you." Ennis shook his head.

"You really ain't, darlin'. Look...for as long as Junior's sick, if you ever wake up alone again just assume that I'm with her, okay? An' I'll leave you a note if I have to go somewhere or I'll wake you up. Like if I have to take her to hospital, okay?"

"Okay," Jack agreed, grateful that Ennis was being so considerate even though he thought he didn't deserve it. "Ennis...I really love you a lot. And...I don't ever wanna be without you."

"You won't be," Ennis assured him, now cupping Jack's face with both hands. "I love you too much to leave you. Wouldn't make me happy; far from it. Even if it would be safer or somethin', I don't care. I wouldn't be happy without you, Jack."

He brought their foreheads together, seeing Jack taking deep breaths. "That's it, darlin'...just calm had a real big shock just now an' you need to get some sleep. In know what? Might buy you some of that lavender stuff. Amy swears by it when she wants to get to sleep but can't on her own."

"I've heard it's good for sleep," Jack replied in a tired voice. "Worth a shot, I guess." Ennis nodded.

"Yeah. You know I'd do anythin' for you, Jack. Come on, try an' get some sleep. I reckon Junior's down for the night." Jack nodded and lay back down, allowing Ennis to spoon up behind him. Ennis resumed his rubbing of Jack's stomach, hoping that it would calm him. He felt bad about causing Jack to panic like that, but he didn't know what to do for the best. Jack needed some kind of help, but he didn't know much about that sort of thing.

His first thought was of Emily, the counsellor overseeing Jack's project. She would be able to help him, certainly, but Ennis feared that it might make her reconsider Jack's potential for promotion. Jack was normally perfect for counselling and up until recently looked as if he was doing great; what if they thought he wasn't up to it after all? Worse still, what if they decided to let him go for his own good? That would be the lowest blow that Jack could receive right now; his work was the only thing keeping him sane right now because it required so much of his attention.

Ennis looked at the back of Jack's head, wishing that he knew what Jack was thinking right now. He often wondered what was going on in there at the best of times; now he was really intrigued, and very worried.