September 18th, 2009
On Friday morning, Darren called to say that they had the results of Junior's blood test, and that they needed to bring her in as soon as they could. Ennis was unable to take a second day off in the same week, so Jack offered to do it. Remembering their argument on this topic, Ennis agreed and assured Jack that he trusted him. He didn't want to cause another fight with Jack; it just wasn't worth it.
The week had been as slow as ever after the events of Monday night. The morning after, Ennis had apologised to Jack again, but Jack simply told him that it was no big deal. Ennis knew he was lying but decided not to press the issue. They did manage to give each other oral on Tuesday night to make up for it, and had even had full sex just last night, but Jack remained slightly distant. Ennis couldn't tell if Jack was truly enjoying sex anymore or if he was just going along with it because he felt like they had to.
Truth be told, he was starting to feel stressed. He couldn't switch off the thoughts running around his head, Junior was ill and now his sex life with Ennis was suffering. Everything was going downhill and he felt powerless to stop it.
But he tried not to worry as he sat with Junior in the waiting room, wondering what the results of the test showed. He hoped that it wasn't something too serious and was treatable. When they were called in, Darren looked surprised to see him. "Hey, Jack. Where's Ennis?"
"He couldn't get another day off in the same week, so...I offered to do it," Jack replied. He knew that Ennis trusted him to do it, but he wanted to prove it to himself.
"Well...Ennis told me what happened that morning. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine," Jack told him, nodding. "So...what's the score?"
Darren sighed. "Well, I had hoped to speak to both of you, but I'm sure you can pass this on to Ennis. I'm afraid Junior has tonsillitis." Jack's eyes widened and he looked at the young girl sat next to him. The word meant nothing to her, he knew, but Ennis would panic. This was exactly what they didn't need.
"God...that explains the sore throat and the throwing up."
"Yeah. Very common in children, and it's treatable. Just one of those things that happens to children."
Jack nodded, trying to shoulder some responsibility. "Okay. So what do we need to do?"
"I've written out a prescription for antibiotics; you can get them from the pharmacy. If we find that they don't work, I can put her on stronger ones. They tend to work in most cases of tonsillitis."
"What if they don't?" Jack asked, dreading the answer.
"Then...she would need to have her tonsils removed. If it gets too bad and the antibiotics don't work, she could end up with breathing problems and we don't want that. So surgery is the final option. But it might not come to that; she should respond to the drugs."
Jack nodded. "Okay. I can sign for the prescription, right?"
"Yeah. Through your marriage to Ennis and that you guys have custody, you're legally her guardian. But...you may want to consider signing the papers that Junior's mother gave you, just to be on the safe side."
Adoption, Jack thought to himself. There was no way he could do that yet, not with the way he was feeling. He was so conflicted right now and wasn't in the right frame of mind to be signing anything. "Well...I dunno about that right now. If needs be, Ennis can get them after today."
"Fair enough," Darren replied, knowing that he couldn't put pressure on Jack. Ennis had told him that he was giving Jack the space and time to come to that decision by himself. "Anyway, here's the prescription. Come back in a couple of weeks and we'll see if there's any improvement."
Jack nodded and took the paper, looking at it. He did feel good about taking this on and doing something for Junior by himself, but he did wish that it could be under better circumstances. She didn't deserve to be ill; she hadn't done anything wrong.
He felt Junior grasp his hand again as they headed for the pharmacy. She was completely dependent on him right now and the thought terrified him.
Just as they reached the building, Jack heard a familiar voice and turned to see Amy. "Hey, how come you're not at work?" she asked him as she reached them.
"Junior had a blood test on Monday 'cos she's ill and we got the results today. Ennis couldn't get a second day off."
"Oh...is everything okay?"
"No...she's got tonsillitis," Jack informed her, and Amy looked down at Junior.
"Oh, honey..." She crouched down and stroked Junior's reddish-brown hair. "You feeling okay?" Junior shook her head and Jack watched them as they talked. How was it that everybody but him could bond so easily with the young girl?
"She's gotta take antibiotics," he informed Amy as she stood up.
"Right. Does Ennis know?"
"He'll be coming home at lunch; I'll tell him then." Amy nodded and grasped his shoulder.
"I know that things haven't been easy for you lately, Jack. Just...try to keep on going, you know? I'm sure that everything will work out in the end." Jack half-smiled at her and then watched her walk away, hoping that she was right.
He got the antibiotics and then took Junior home, sensing that she was tired and needed to rest. While she slept in her room, Jack decided to sit on the sofa with his laptop and talk to Lureen for a while; he knew that today was her day off and she was likely to be at home. She had always been there when he needed to talk to someone and he hoped that she could help him now.
Ennis came home for lunch as agreed, and Jack was dreading having to inform him what was wrong with Junior. This was the last thing they needed right now and he hoped that the antibiotics would work.
She was still asleep in her room when Ennis came in, and Jack had just finished talking to Lureen online. She was doing well in New York and was ready to listen to Jack as he talked about what was going on. She knew that things weren't easy for them right now and she told him that he had to try and work things out with Ennis.
Just as he was thinking about this while preparing lunch, he heard footsteps outside the door and Ennis walked in. Jack couldn't help but smile at the sight of him despite what was going on. "Hey."
"Hey, bud," Ennis replied, moving over to the kitchen and giving Jack a kiss on the lips. "So...?"
"You better sit down," Jack told him, and Ennis took a seat at the island, wanting to know what was wrong with their daughter. Jack sighed. "She's got tonsillitis, Ennis."
Ennis rubbed his forehead, taking it in. "Shit. What did Darren say?"
"He's prescribed antibiotics, and I gave her the first dose when we got back. She's sleeping right now."
Ennis nodded. "Okay. Will they work?"
"Darren reckons they will, but there's some stronger ones available if they don't. And...if they don't work they'll have to remove her tonsils altogether. You know, surgery."
Ennis lowered his eyes, worrying about his little girl and hoping that she wouldn't have to go through that. "Shit," he repeated, and Jack nodded.
"I know. I dreaded telling you, Ennis...I knew it'd hurt you and...I don't like hurting you." Ennis looked up at him, seeing an image of the old Jack there. He looked genuinely concerned for her wellbeing.
"Bud...ain't your fault. Ain't like you made her sick."
"I know, but..." Jack shrugged, unsure of himself. "I just...we're going through a lot of stuff right now and...now we've got this to deal with too." He took a deep breath and looked into Ennis's eyes. "I know it's been hard on you, having to deal with me and what's going on in my head. I haven't been fair to you, Ennis. Been so caught up in how I'm feeling that I just haven't stopped to think about you. I'm really sorry about that..."
Ennis stood up and walked around the island to Jack, placing his hands on Jack's shoulders. "Darlin'...it's okay. You don't mean to be that way, an' I know that. When I decided that I wanted to marry you, I knew it wouldn't be easy. I knew we could have some tough times ahead. But I proposed to you anyway, didn't I? Then I married you knowin' it wouldn't be easy. I knew what I was signin' on for, Jack."
Jack rested his hands on Ennis's arms. "Yeah, but...when we got the results earlier, I got to thinking about all of this. It would be a lot easier for you if you had less to deal with, so-"
"Wait," Ennis replied, starting to panic. "Are you talkin' about leavin' me?"
Jack's eyes widened. "What? No, Ennis...no way. I didn't mean that." Ennis felt his heart rate return to normal. "What I meant was...you can't deal with all of this on your own. So...I'm gonna try and...just be there for you. I'm gonna talk to Emily about what's bothering me and try to get some help. I haven't been feeling like myself lately, and...it's time I did something about it instead of piling it all on you. You've got nobody looking after you right now. That should be my job, 'cos we're married."
Ennis was taken aback; Jack had actually suggested talking to Emily himself, without any prompting. And he was willing to take control of his life again and be there for his family, which was more than Ennis had expected.
"Jack...I dunno what to say," he admitted, cupping Jack's face. "Didn't expect this."
"I know. Been thinking on it all morning. Junior needs both of us right now. Her...parents." The word still felt strange to say, but he would work on that. He knew that he needed to. He smiled a little. "Talked to Amy earlier, spoke to Lureen online...they're both certain that we can work through this. Our friends have got faith in us, and they can see we're supposed to be together. Can't go disappointing them, right?"
Ennis nodded, seeing that Jack meant every word he was saying. Jack clearly knew that he needed help, and Ennis was relieved that he seemed to understand that now.
"Darlin'...thank you," he replied finally, pulling Jack close and embracing him. He just wanted the love of his life back, and now it looked as if he would get that. "I love you, Jack," he murmured, the words like music to Jack's ears.
"I love you too," he said softly, enjoying the feeling of Ennis's arms around him. He felt like how he used to; as if nothing could hurt him when Ennis was here. For the first time in three months, he felt more like himself and less like some outsider that didn't belong in a happy family.
There was a sound by the door and they broke apart to see Junior standing there, rubbing sleep out of her eyes. "Daddy?" she asked tiredly, and Ennis let go of Jack with a kiss to his cheek. He picked Junior up and let her hold onto him while Jack returned to making lunch, a smile on his face.
Ennis sat with Junior while they were waiting for lunch, telling her that everything was going to be okay. He told her that he and Jack would take care of her and he felt better about the future now, after Jack's speech. Things had been going well until Alma's visit, and now maybe they could pick up where they'd left off.
Two days later, Jack was starting to feel the pressure. Junior was still sick and although he'd promised Ennis to try and help, it was harder than he'd thought it would be. He tried to distract himself from his thoughts by helping Ennis with her, but it wasn't working as well as he'd hoped.
By some miracle, he and Ennis had managed to have good sex the night before. He'd actually enjoyed it very much and he knew that Ennis could see that. Ennis had made him feel wonderful as they'd made love, showering him with kisses as he moved inside him. Jack recalled looking up into Ennis's face and seeing a look of pure adoration in his eyes.
The memory warmed his heart, but it was the only part of the last two days that had been good. Ennis spent most of his time taking care of Junior, and Jack was trying not to feel resentful of this. Every time he did, he ended up feeling worse about himself. His self-esteem was taking a nosedive and he knew that Ennis could see it. He hated how Ennis had to deal with so much on his own and that was why he'd been trying to help, but it was hard.
As a result, he had asked to talk to Emily and was now sitting in her office, waiting for her to arrive. If anybody could help him, it would be her. He just hoped that it wouldn't have an adverse effect on his employment.
Emily entered the room and smiled at him. "Hey, Jack. I'm glad you came to see me."
"You are? Why?" he asked as she sat on the other side of the desk. She sighed.
"I know you, Jack. I can tell that something's been bothering you lately and...I hoped you would come to me about it. You want to tell me what's going on?"
Jack nodded. "Well...it started when Ennis's ex Alma came to visit Junior."
He told her everything; about how he had seen Ennis and Alma with Junior and looking like a family. He described his feelings of paranoia where their marriage was concerned, terrified that Ennis was going to leave him purely to have more biological children. He told her that Ennis had assured him he wasn't going anywhere and that he was now scared he was becoming too much of a burden for Ennis.
"Anyway, now Junior's been diagnosed with tonsillitis and it's a lot for him to deal with. I don't wanna leave him, but...I've gotta do something. I promised him that I was gonna help him with her, and I've been trying. But..." He trailed off, unsure of how to carry on. "It's hard. I know I need to get help, so that's why I came to you. I'm hoping that you can help me, Emily. Before things get worse than they already are. I mean, what if we start fighting? I don't..." He shook his head. "I don't wanna lose him."
"Alright," Emily replied, trying to make sense of everything he'd told her. "Jack...the first thing you need to get in your head is that Ennis loves you. He chose you, and maybe things would have been different if Alma had told him back then that she was having his baby. But the point is...that didn't happen. She didn't tell him, so he was able to stay with you. If we all were to dwell on what might have been in our lives we'd never move forward. All you can focus on is what did happen. If you carry on wondering...you will get even more paranoid. Just remind yourself that Ennis decided to be with you. That can't have been an easy decision for him, considering where he's from. But he did it anyway for you."
"I know," Jack agreed. "But I just...the thing is, I know these thoughts I'm having about myself aren't true. I know I'm not some kind of monster who ruined his life and all that stuff. But I just...I can't seem to stop these thoughts and doubts. I don't know what to do anymore and it's driving me crazy."
"Maybe you just need to calm down and stop thinking about things too much," Emily advised him. "Just step back and breathe. Maybe you two should have another trip away together or something to clear your heads. Your trip to Vermont worked until Alma showed up, right?"
"Yeah, it did," he said with a nod. "But I don't think we could do that now, with Junior being ill. I just wish that things could get back to how they used to be...but that's not gonna happen now."
"You need to try and move past this, Jack," Emily told him, seeing in his eyes how lost and alone he felt. "You love Ennis, right?"
"Of course I do," he replied, looking at her. "Love him more than anything."
"Then you need to focus on how much you love each other. Remember the good times you've had, and you'll probably make it through this rough patch. But if you do need to talk, I'm always here as your friend. And don't worry about your internship; I won't hold this against you when you're considered for paid employment. Your work isn't suffering right now, but you do need to be in the right frame of mind for this field. So I would advise you to just...try and keep calm about things. If you start to worry about anything, talk to Ennis. Or talk to me. You're not alone, Jack."
Jack nodded at her. He knew deep down that she was right, but he couldn't quite shake off the feeling that he and Ennis were growing apart. They didn't have sex as much as they used to, and when they did it wasn't always the way it used to be.
But apart from that, he felt like he was slipping away beyond their help. He was trying to remain strong, but it became more and more difficult with each day that passed.
Later, Jack was trying to get some work done. His portfolio was almost finished and the war veteran they were trying to help seemed to be getting better. He was certainly a lot calmer from when they had first met him, and Jack was genuinely happy for him. He just wished his own life could be improving.
His talk with Emily had shown him that he did need help and that she was willing to try, but Jack knew that he couldn't do it alone. He would need to somehow approach Ennis and directly ask him for his support; while he knew that Ennis was trying to help him anyway, he felt the need to ask by himself.
He was absolutely dreading what could happen if they didn't sort this out soon; he didn't want to be without Ennis because that wouldn't fix anything. He knew for sure that they were better off together and that he had to make the effort to keep them that way. He hated to think that he was becoming a burden to Ennis and vowed to try and avoid that.
Not knowing what else to do, he found himself calling his mother. She would be there with a kind word and sound advice, which he needed right now. He wished he could go to Ennis, but he couldn't bring himself to do that when that was where his problems lay.
"Karen Twist," she answered, making Jack's heart ache for her.
"Hey, mom," he replied wearily.
"Jack!" she said, sounding surprised to hear from him. "Honey, good to hear from you."
"Yeah...I know it's been a while..."
"Jack? You don't sound too good...everything okay?"
"Not really. Still feeling messed up about everything, to tell you the truth. Ennis is trying to help me, but...it's hard for me to talk to him right now."
"Are you still having those thoughts about yourself?" she asked, and he sighed.
"Yep. I know they don't make any sense at all, but I just can't...I don't know how to shut them off. And every time Ennis comes near me...I like having him near but then I start feeling horrible about everything again. It's hurting him and I don't...I don't know what to do."
"Jack..." his mother sighed. "Look, you have to do something about this. It's not right for you to be thinking those things about yourself when you know they're not true. Ennis thinks the world of you and I'm not surprised that your behaviour hurts him. Think about how you would feel if your situations were reversed."
Jack knew he wouldn't be able to cope with Ennis acting like this, and he wondered how Ennis put up with it. "I know. It'd tear me up to see him doing something like this to himself. I, um...I talked to Emily about it. You know, the counsellor I'm working with. She told me I have to try and open up to Ennis about it. That we should talk until he can convince me that everything's okay."
"Are you going to?"
"I don't know if I can...I don't wanna lose him, but I'm feeling...that I am anyway. I keep thinking that sooner or later he's gonna wonder why he puts up with it, and he'll leave."
"You don't know that," she told him firmly. "I'm sure Ennis wants to help you no matter what. He's probably more concerned about you and what you're doing to your self-esteem. He's probably terrified of losing you to this...paranoia. You studied Psychology for six years, Jack. You ought to be aware of what this can do to a person."
"I'm not gonna do anything stupid," he told her. The thought had never crossed his mind, for he knew that he would be leaving Ennis with a broken heart and he would never be able to rest in peace for it. "I just...I've gotta find a way to deal with what's going on. And, um...there's something else you should know. Junior...she's got tonsillitis."
"Oh, the poor thing," his mother sympathised. Jack knew that she had really taken to her granddaughter, as had his father. His brother hadn't reported any pattering of tiny feet yet, so Junior was the only grandchild she had right now. "Is she gonna be okay?"
"Hope so; the doctor prescribed antibiotics. And there's always the surgery if they don't work. But it's a lot of stress and I told Ennis I'm gonna try and work out my issues so he has less to deal with. I'm trying, but...it's not easy."
"I know, honey. But...you three have to stick together now. You all need each other because you're a family. Even you and Junior, Jack. You're her parent whether you want to accept it or not."
"I know, mom," he replied quietly. "I really am trying and I want to do this. I'm sick of feeling so bad about myself and doubting everything. I know I need help, but I'll have to talk to Ennis before I can do it. I need him the most if this is gonna work."
"Maybe...you could try some kind of therapy," she suggested. "Like...couples' therapy or something. It's worth a try."
"Yeah, maybe," he replied, storing the thought away for later; he was willing to try anything to save their marriage. "Anyway, I...I better get back to work. Been good talking to you, mom. Give my best to everyone, okay?"
"Of course. And love to everybody over there, okay?"
"Yep, bye." He hung up and looked at his phone; the wallpaper was a picture of himself and Ennis on the beach. Not just any picture; it had been taken during their wedding. There they stood, with their arms around each other and their future before them. Neither of them could have known what would happen, but Jack knew he couldn't let this destroy them. He would never give Ennis up without a fight, and he would never give up on the best thing that had ever happened to him.
September 22nd, 2009
Two days later, things seemed calmer. Jack was yet to ask Ennis for his help regarding some kind of therapy, but he was doing his best to work up the courage. It was inevitable that he had to do this; nothing else was going to work. The only alternative was to either leave or tell Ennis to go; he knew that he could do neither no matter how hard he tried to. He simply didn't want to live without Ennis.
Because Junior was missing out on kindergarten, they asked for the teacher to come by the apartment every day to spend time with Junior so she didn't feel left out. At the moment, Kate was sitting with Junior while they prepared dinner together. Ennis nudged Jack gently and smiled at him encouragingly.
"You feelin' okay?" he asked, seeing that Jack appeared to be lost in thought. Jack nodded.
"Yeah, I guess. Just...a lot on my mind right now. Um...listen, I know it's your birthday in a few days. I already bought you something, but...I was wondering if you wanted to do anything."
Ennis was touched by Jack's offer in spite of what he was going through, and he knew he couldn't ask too much of him right now. "Well...we don't have to do a whole lot. I'd be happy for us to just go for dinner together. Don't need nothin' special when I've got you."
Jack's cheeks reddened and he looked away. The words still warmed his heart and he knew that he had to hold on to moments like this; they were the ones that could bat away the negative thoughts. "Okay. Um...dinner, then. And...when we get back..." He trailed off, suddenly unsure of how to broach this subject. It was always there, at the back of his mind.
"We don't have to if you can't," Ennis told him gently, resting a hand on Jack's arm. "You know I don't wanna put pressure on you." He would never force Jack into sex; he would rather get hit by a Mack truck.
Jack smiled at him. "I know. But...I'm thinking...I might be able to. Been a few days since we last...and God knows it'd be good." This wasn't entirely true; he still enjoyed making love with Ennis but something was missing. Deep down, Jack knew it was a problem with him. His heart wasn't entirely in it and he was full of doubts. He kept hoping that if they did it enough times and tried to be how they used to, then maybe it would work out. He needed Ennis to remind him of how good it could be between them. "I, um...you know I like doing it with you."
"Yeah, I got that," Ennis replied, smirking. He could see shades of the old Jack shining through now and then, and this gave him hope. He kissed Jack on the cheek, stroking his arm. When he pulled away, he then stroked his thumb over the mole above Jack's lip. "Always liked this," he mused, and Jack shrugged. Ennis had always liked the mole and he'd never understood why.
"Nothing special," he protested, but Ennis shook his head.
"Everythin' about you...is special, Jack," he replied, and Jack felt a lump growing in his throat. Caught off-guard by the tender words, he moved forward into Ennis's arms and held on tightly. Ennis held him close; he knew that his words had thrown Jack and even though he hadn't meant to make him emotional, Ennis knew that Jack needed to hear things like this again. Jack needed to know what he was feeling in his heart.
When Jack stopped trembling, he pulled away with a watery smile. "Ennis...can't believe you just..." Ennis cupped his cheeks, smiling and letting his eyes roam over Jack's face.
"Reckon you need to hear this stuff, Jack. I'm thinkin'...it might help. You keep thinkin' horrible things about yourself...maybe I can help you to stop by tellin' you good things about yourself. You see?" He stroked Jack's skin, every part of him wanting to help this wonderful man who had given him everything he'd ever wanted. There had been times in their past when Jack had taken care of him; when Jack had been the strong one. Now it was his turn because Jack simply couldn't do it now. He would protect Jack and help him as much as he could.
"Ennis...I...I love you," Jack whispered, taking deep breaths to try and calm himself.
"I love you too, Jack," Ennis replied, making sure that he was clear.
"You were right just now...I really need your help if I'm gonna get through this..."
Ennis nodded. "Gonna do it, Jack. I'll help you however I can. If you need therapy, I'll be there. If you fall, I'll be there to catch you. An'...if I can't, I'll help you get better. I'll be there every day until you're healthy again."
Jack sniffed and nodded, feeling Ennis wipe away the tears in his eyes. "Ennis...you're a good man. And...I know I'm never gonna get rid of you. I don't want to...and I'm glad that you're digging your heels in and not going anywhere."
"That's right; I'm not. Stayin' right by your side, bud." He kissed Jack as firmly as he could while staying gentle, and he finally felt Jack start to relax. "Now then...let's get back to talkin' about my birthday. What've you bought me?"
Jack finally laughed; it was only short and his eyes were still red as he did it, but Ennis loved to hear it anyway. "You're gonna have to wait," he replied, smiling.
"Too old for surprises," Ennis replied, seeing that this was doing Jack some good. Jack shook his head.
"No you're not. I know you'll be doing the same thing for my birthday, so it's only fair." He nodded at Ennis. "Thanks, cowboy." He hugged Ennis again, this time out of happiness and gratitude. Ennis rubbed his back, surer than ever that Jack was finding his way back to him.