Ennis and Jack walked through the streets to their apartment, Jack seething with anger and Ennis trying to keep up with him. They were silent as they reached their building, knowing that what they had to say had to be said in private. Neither of them wanted any further audiences for this; their argument in the bar had already been too public for their liking.
As they climbed the stairs, Ennis found himself wondering what was going to happen. He couldn't guarantee that they would be able to work this one out, and the thought scared him. What if Jack was of the opinion that they had no choice but to split up? He knew that if Jack called time on their relationship, he might not have the strength to put his foot down. He had only ever wanted Jack to be happy, whatever that meant for him.
They reached their apartment and Jack opened it up, not speaking. Once inside, he headed straight for the fridge and pulled out a beer. Ennis gave him a look. "You know that ain't the answer, right?"
"I don't care right now," Jack replied, glaring at him. "You interrupted my drink with a friend."
"Jack, I saw you huggin' another guy. Someone I didn't know. What was I supposed to think?"
"You were supposed to trust me," Jack shot at him. "You know damn well that I would never mess around behind your back. It used to be that you did know that...not sure anymore."
"I know, Jack," Ennis tried to assure him. Deep down, he knew he'd acted irrationally. He still felt as if he'd had reason to think the worst. "But the thing is...you told me a little while ago that you feel lonely. With me takin' care of Junior so much, we've hardly had any time...in bed," he finished, looking at the man on the other side of the room; it seemed as if they were miles apart. "An' when we do...it ain't all that it used to be."
Jack drummed his fingers on the worktop. "I know. And, yeah...I've been feeling lonely. But that doesn't mean I'll go for someone else just because you won't do it."
"I've wanted to; I thought you didn't want it," Ennis replied, shaking his head. "I'd never force you, Jack."
"This isn't about force...it's about you making all of the decisions with us and deciding how it's gonna be. You just assumed that I didn't want to do it lately; you never asked me."
"I would if you were in the right mind," Ennis tried to soothe him, but Jack grew even angrier at these words. It always came back to that and he was sick of it by now. "But you're ill...it didn't seem right."
"Yeah...who'd wanna fuck a nutjob, right?" Jack retorted, his voice wavering slightly. Ennis sighed; he was tired of this same argument.
"Would you stop with that? You ain't crazy..."
"Sure as hell not sane," Jack answered, drinking from the bottle. "Hearing voices, always panicking, crying, flying off the handle...what exactly do you find attractive about all that?" he asked, tilting his head. "I sure as hell don't know how you could still want me."
"I love you...I promised to be there for you no matter what," Ennis said, trying to remain calm. Jack put the bottle down and folded his arms.
"Ennis...I don't know anymore. I...I love you, but...the way you strode over to us and immediately insinuated that I was cheating was horrible. That made me realise something that not even the voices could convince me of. I didn't even hear them at the time but I could still see what was going on." He looked directly into Ennis's eyes. "I saw it in your eyes...that flash of anger and mistrust. You can deny it if you want, but...you didn't trust me then. And it doesn't matter what you say now...I know what I saw."
Ennis bit his lip; he had briefly thought that Jack was cheating on him in that bar, and he had felt very mistrustful of Jack in that moment. He hung his head and Jack took it as confirmation. "I knew it."
"Jack, I...I'm sorry about what happened tonight. I do trust you..." He looked up and his heart ached to see that look on Jack's face; the one that he'd put there. "But you gotta see it from my point of view. I didn't know the guy, an' then you told me who he was an' that made it worse, knowin' how you used to feel about him."
"Exactly; used to," Jack said. "I thought I loved him, but when I developed feelings for you, I knew I'd been wrong about that. I didn't love him; it was simply a crush. It was always so much more with you..."
Ennis nodded, feeling miserable. He didn't think that he deserved Jack's love anymore. "I'm sorry, Jack...can we please sort this out?"
"I don't know," Jack replied faintly, making Ennis's blood run cold. Jack was questioning the future of their relationship. "I need to think...about all of this."
"What are you gonna do?" Ennis asked, fearful of the answer. Jack looked to the living area.
"I'm gonna sleep on the sofa tonight. Can't be near you right now. Tomorrow, I'll decide what I wanna do. Ennis, I...I'm not trying to hurt you. But I need to think about what's best for me, considering my health right now."
Ennis nodded; he would give Jack anything he wanted, even if it broke his own heart. "Okay. You want somethin' to eat?"
Jack shook his head. "No...think I'm gonna get some sleep." Seeing his cue, Ennis walked through to their bedroom and started getting ready for bed, not turning when Jack grabbed the thick blanket from the chair in the corner, along with his pillow. When he was alone, Ennis sank onto the bed and curled up around himself, no longer able to fight back the tears.
Jack tried to get comfortable on the sofa, but he kept turning and felt restless. His fight with Ennis had been awful, but a large part of him knew that he was right. Ennis hadn't trusted him in those few seconds, and it made Jack wonder if Ennis trusted him at all.
He stared up at the ceiling, wondering about tomorrow. He'd told Ennis that he would have come to a decision by then, but he didn't know what it would be. Should they break up or stay together? He didn't know, but felt as if he was standing at a crossroads; the road he chose would affect the rest of his life.
On the one hand, he still loved Ennis deeply and wanted to be with him. He knew that if they could get themselves sorted, maybe he would have a chance of getting better. But on the other hand...he still remembered the anger in Ennis's voice upon finding him with Kevin. Maybe their time together really had run its course after all; a bleak thought. Jack thought through both options, trying to make a decision. Either way, he could still get the help he needed; it would just be harder without Ennis. If he chose to stay, would that only make things worse for them? Would they just keep arguing and hurting each other every time something happened? Or, by some miracle, would things work out? He had so many questions and no answers; he had to make this decision himself.
"Ennis..." he sighed to himself, trying not to think of the blonde man in their bed, where he should be. Jack wondered if he should join Ennis in there, but he knew it would be a bad idea; he couldn't succumb to weakness right now when he had to choose a path. He turned onto his side and placed his hand under his head, chewing his lip. He couldn't even remember a time when they had both been truly happy; it was so long ago and so much had happened.
To his annoyance, the voices floated through his mind. He doesn't trust you. You're better off without him. He can't help you now...it won't do you any good to stay here.
"Knock it off," he whispered to them. "This is my decision to make." He was surprised to hear the voices stop, and wondered if he was on to something there. But nothing could lift his spirits right now; he missed Ennis so much.
Needing to see Ennis, he slowly rose from the sofa and quietly padded through the apartment to their bedroom. The door was slightly ajar, and he managed to open it without any creaking. Ennis was lying there, curled up and facing away from the door. Jack paused, unsure of himself. Ennis was either asleep or faking it, and he didn't want to know either way.
Slowly, he walked around the bed and saw that Ennis's eyes were closed. He crouched down at the side and gently wound a curl around his finger, remembering when he used to do this simply out of love. He sighed and pulled away, not wanting to wake Ennis up.
Ennis only opened his eyes when he heard the door shut, unable to move. Jack had been right here as he'd feigned sleep, and he didn't know what this might mean. Perhaps Jack was swaying more towards fighting for their relationship?
Sure as hell hope so, he thought to himself, thinking about Jack caressing his hair. He'd sorely missed that from Jack; it was such a loving gesture that meant a lot to him.
Ennis prayed with all his heart that Jack had decided to stay, and he vowed to do whatever it took to get them back on track. Things had been going so well for them, and might have stayed that way if Alma hadn't come to see Junior. Prior to that, it had looked as if everything was going to be okay. Jack would have slowly gotten used to having Junior around and they would have become a family. But now...it didn't look very likely. Everything had been ruined and he had half a mind to call Alma.
"Please don't leave me, Jack," he murmured, closing his eyes. "Don't wanna be without you..."
Back in the living room, Jack was once more trying to sleep. Being near Ennis hadn't improved anything; he felt uncertain about what to do. He lay there, thinking it over multiple times and trying to come to a conclusion.
Not long after he left, he thought he could hear someone talking within the apartment. The door was locked, so nobody had broken in. He would have heard them anyway. The sound was coming from their bedroom, and he wondered if Ennis was mumbling in his sleep or sending up a prayer that everything would work out. Jack wished he had an answer but he didn't.
He only knew of one thing for sure; he and Ennis needed some space, him in particular. They were fighting all the time and he was sick of it. They weren't happy right now and he didn't want them to divorce, so this may be the best solution. They could take a break from each other for a little while, just until his head was clear and he could breathe again.
Can't spend every night on here, he thought to himself, and then a solution came to him. Maybe I could...get out of here. Go see Lureen and my brother in New York. Haven't seen either of them for a long time, and I know I can't stay here right now.
It would hurt to leave Ennis behind, even for just a short while, but he needed to do this. He didn't want it to get to a point where they were sick of the sight of each other, and it was bound to happen if this carried on. This was the best option for both of them.
October 19th, 2009
By the next morning, Jack had ultimately decided on his next move. In New York, he could take the time to calm down after everything that had been going on here. He would call Lureen after breakfast and explain the situation to her. He knew it would be hard to say goodbye to Ennis, even though it was only temporary. But he didn't want things to get even worse between them, and that would happen if he stayed; this was the best thing for them right now.
He was silent as Ennis prepared breakfast for the both of them. He could sense that Ennis was waiting for him to talk about what he'd decided, and he was trying to work up the courage; this was the hardest thing he'd ever had to do.
Ennis felt as if he was walking on eggshells; he had no idea what Jack had decided and if there was a future for them. The silence in the room was enough to make him worry. He set the breakfast down on the table and cast a wary glance at Jack, who had thanked him quietly before starting to eat. After a few bites, Ennis couldn't take it anymore; he just had to know what was going on.
"So, um...did you decide anythin' last night?" he asked unsurely, looking at Jack. His partner met his eyes and nodded; he looked tired but somewhat determined.
"Yeah, I did," he replied, twirling his fork absently. "I...I did decide what I'm gonna do." Knowing that Ennis needed an answer, he sighed. "I'm gonna go to New York for a little while."
Ennis could practically feel his heart breaking. "Jack..." He couldn't believe it; their marriage was over. "Are you...leavin' me?"
Jack looked at him, seeing the real fear in his eyes. He shook his head. "No, I'm not. I'm asking for a break, maybe a week or so. Ennis, look at me." When he did, Jack was sure to be clear. "I'm not asking for a divorce, okay? I can't breathe here anymore; I need to get away for a while. I need to clear my head and try to think about everything. I can't do that here; we just end up fighting about everything."
"Can't we work this out here, together?" Ennis pleaded, trying to keep hold of Jack even as he slipped away.
"I'm sorry...but I don't think we can. If I stay now...things are gonna get worse. We'll fight more and more...and Junior doesn't need to see that from us. If I stay...we will break up for good. I can see it coming, Ennis. I don't want to, but it's there."
"Is this about you feelin' like I don't trust you?" Ennis asked, searching for answers. "You gotta know I do, Jack."
"I know you do," Jack replied, nodding. "I swear, Ennis...I know you do. But last night...that feeling of you not trusting me, it made me see how bad things are becoming for us. Even without the voices, I can see by myself what will happen if this carries on. I love you, Ennis. And I still want to be married to you, but I know that if I stay...a time will come when I wish I wasn't. I really don't want that to happen."
Ennis nodded, a lump in his throat. Even if this was only temporary, it still felt like he'd lost Jack. How was he supposed to get through a week or more without his other half? He didn't know if he could take it.
"Ennis," Jack said softly, knowing that this was hurting him. "I don't wanna hurt you with this; I know this is the right thing for us; like it or not, we need some time apart. It's the only way to save what we've got." He reached over and made Ennis meet his eyes. "You're the love of my life; the only person I've ever truly loved. That won't change even if I'm in New York. I'm doing this because I love you, okay?"
"Jack," Ennis finally managed to choke out. "I don't know if I can...go a week without you." Jack cupped his cheek.
"You can," he replied, nodding. "You're stronger than you give yourself credit for. Just...don't be alone, okay? Spend time with the girls; try and focus on Junior. Try not to worry, okay? I'm gonna call Lureen after breakfast and ask if she can take me in. I'll spend time with her and see my brother. Maybe I'll even go to see your mom. But I'll make sure they all know it's not a breakup. Alright?"
Ennis nodded, trying to ignore the prickling in his eyes. Jack saw it and stood up, walking around the table to him. "Come here." Ennis stood up and they embraced, clinging to each other as if they never wanted to let go. It was the first time in a while that they had hugged like this, and Ennis was going to miss it a lot.
"I love you," he said shakily, and Jack squeezed him. He was no longer angry; just tired and worn out by everything. But hopefully this trip would do them some good; he was fairly certain that it would.
"I love you too. Remember, Ennis...I'm not mad at you anymore. I can see why you reacted like that last night, seeing me with Kevin. And I'm sorry I flew off the handle about it. I know what we have to do now, and I'm sure it'll work. Just...work with me, okay?"
Ennis nodded, unwilling to let go of him. Jack gently prised them apart, hands on Ennis's face. "It'll get better," he assured Ennis, nodding. "Gonna miss you, cowboy."
The endearment made Ennis smile as much as he could. "You too, darlin'." Jack leaned in and briefly kissed him, not wanting to make things any more difficult than they already were. When Ennis opened his eyes, Jack was heading for their bedroom to pack.
Ennis took Jack to the airport, resulting in another emotional goodbye. It hadn't been cheap to buy a last-minute ticket, but he understood that Jack needed to get out of here. As Ennis slowly drove back, he thought about their parting.
"Take care of yourself," Jack said, hugging him tightly. "I still love you, and I promise that I'll come back. We'll get the help we need and work this out, okay?"
Ennis nodded, trying to be strong. "Yeah. Say hi to the others for me. I'm sorry about all this, Jack..."
"Me too. It's not any one person's fault, not even Alma's. Just the way things have turned out. But we'll set them right together, I promise."
Ennis shook his head and focused on what he was doing. He knew that Junior would be asking after them and dreaded what the girls would say when he told them. He slowly made his way to their apartment, wondering what the reaction would be.
He knocked and was soon met with Jessica, who smiled at him. "Hey, there you are. Did Jack keep you up all night when you were making up?" she grinned, and he blanched. Jessica saw the look on his face and frowned. "Oh God...what happened? Come on in; Amy's here."
"How come you ain't at work?" he asked her, and she shrugged.
"Had a day off. Where's Jack?"
"Headin' for New York," he told her as Amy walked into the room.
"What?" she asked from the doorway, as if she hadn't heard him properly.
"He asked for a break," Ennis told them. "He's gone to New York to stay with Lureen an' see his brother."
"What the hell happened? Sit down; Junior's still asleep." He took a seat and they sat near him, faces full of confusion. He sighed.
"I went lookin' for him, an' found him in a bar. Remember us tellin' you about his roommate before me, that Kevin guy?"
"The one who rejected him and was horrible afterwards," Amy replied, remembering the story.
"Yep. Well, he was in town seein' his ex an' she told him about Jack livin' here. I walked into the bar to see them...huggin'." Jessica's brows furrowed.
"It was just a hug," Ennis told them, sure of that now. "Kevin's still straight, an' Jack got upset over what's goin' on with us. He apologised to Jack for what he did an' was just tryin' to cheer him up. I saw them, got the wrong end of the stick. Me an' Jack...we started yellin' at each other in the bar, even with people watchin'. He kept sayin' how I don't trust him anymore just 'cos we haven't really been together for a while. I know it now, but last night...I didn't trust him."
He went on to describe the rest of their fight, and how Jack had ended up sleeping on the sofa. "This mornin', he told me that he's goin' to New York for a break. He knows now that I trust him, but I made him feel like I don't an' he thinks we need to spend time apart for a while, before things get even worse. I can see his thinkin', but...it hurts like hell. I didn't want him to go, but he'd made his mind up. He's right; it probably will be good for us. If he stays, we could end up fightin' even worse an' break up for good."
The girls were silent as they listened, taking it all in. They had thought that Ennis and Jack could overcome any problem together no matter what it was, and clearly this was not the case. "Ennis...we're sorry. Did he say how long he'd be gone?"
Ennis shrugged. "He said at least a week, maybe more. Jess, could you tell them at work? Just...say he's had to go for a family emergency or somethin'."
Jessica nodded. "Don't worry, I'll take care of it. Are you gonna be okay?"
"I guess. Just...gotta take one day at a time."
"Daddy!" chirped a voice from the other side of the room, and Junior came running into his arms.
"Hey, Junior. You have a good time with Amy an' Jess?"
"Uh huh. Where's Jack?" she asked him, blinking innocently. Ennis sighed, putting her on his knee.
"Jack's had to leave for a while, honey."
Junior's eyes widened. "Are you not gonna be married anymore?" she asked fearfully. "Is he comin' back?"
"He will come back, an' we're still gonna be married," he assured her, stroking her hair. "Jack's havin' a hard time right now 'cos he's ill, an'...he needs to spend time away."
"Is it my fault?" she asked him, and he shook his head.
"No, Junior. It's nobody's fault. Except mine, he thought to himself. "He's got a friend in New York, an' his brother lives there too. Like Grandma. Jack's gonna go spend time with them while he's there."
"Gonna miss him," Junior sighed, resting against his chest. Ennis nodded, rubbing her back.
"Me too, Junior. But he'll come back; said he would." Ennis hoped that Jack wouldn't change his mind about that. What if he only came back to apply for divorce and pack up the rest of his things? Ennis prayed that wouldn't happen.
The girls made breakfast and Ennis joined them; he hadn't finished his after his conversation with Jack. He'd thought that he'd throw up if he tried to eat anything then. Even now, it was a struggle to get anything down when he was feeling so alone. Jack would be on the plane by now and on his way to New York; Ennis wondered if he was staring out of the window, thinking of him and wondering if he'd made the right choice. Jack hadn't even said if he would call or text, and this made him feel even worse. He hoped that Jack was right, and that this trip did them the good they needed. He didn't want to think about the alternative if he could help it.
When Jack arrived in JFK airport, Lureen was there waiting for him. She was glad to see him but wished it could be under better circumstances. She hoped that he and Ennis would be able to work out their problems and dreaded the possibility of them breaking up.
"Hey," he said to her as he reached her, smiling a little. She moved forward and hugged him, knowing that he needed some support right now.
"I wish both of you could be here," she said to him, and he nodded.
"Yeah, me too. I just had to get out of there...couldn't take it anymore."
"You sure this'll do you good?" she asked, not entirely sure that it would.
"I think so," he said as they broke apart. "All I know is...we've got some serious problems and I need to keep a clear head if they're gonna get sorted out. I can't do that there, with him. Not right now."
Lureen nodded. "Okay. So...how long are you plannin' to stay?" He shrugged.
"A week, maybe more. Haven't decided, really. Thanks for taking me in, Lu." She smiled.
"It's no problem. When you told me that you're gay, I promised to help you in whatever way I could, remember? That extends to a roof over your head if you need one. An' I'm glad to have you here; I missed you. I really hope that you guys can work this out."
"So do I," he told her, nodding. "I love him, but it's really hard right now to be near him."
"Right. Don't worry about it right now. When did you last eat?"
"I didn't have much of breakfast; that was when I told him I'm coming here. Had some chips on the plane."
"Okay. We'll get you back to my place an' I'll make you somethin'. Come on." She took his arm and they headed for baggage claim, Jack trying not to think of the blonde man he'd left behind, who was probably nursing a broken heart. He swallowed; surely Ennis knew that this was only temporary? He'd told him so.
You did, but maybe he fears that it'll become permanent, said a voice in his head.
Knock it off, he thought back, trying to ignore the voice. He wondered if he'd found a way of shutting them up after all. Perhaps he could beat this thing.
When they collected his luggage, they headed outside to the cab that was waiting outside and got in. Lureen squeezed his hand in a show of support, and he was glad to have her there with him.
"Are you gonna visit your brother an' Ennis's mama while you're here?" she asked, and he nodded.
"Yeah, thought I might. How are they?"
"They're both doin' great. James an' Emily are tryin' to start a family," she informed him, which succeeded in raising a smile. "An' Ellen's got herself a job at one of the hotels; she's fine."
Jack nodded. "Good. Think I'll call James and let him know I'm here." Lureen nodded as he got out his cell phone, dialling his brother's number.
"Jack, that you?"
"Yeah. I, um...I'm in New York."
"Really? Is Ennis with you?"
"No, um...you know how we've been having problems lately? I asked him for a break..."
"Shit, Jack...what happened?"
"A lot of stuff. Look, I'll come by and see you, if you've got the time."
"We're busy today, but you're welcome to come over tomorrow," James offered, sensing that his brother needed to talk.
"Yeah, that's fine. I'll see you then. I'm staying with Lureen while I'm here."
"Alright. See you tomorrow, Jack."
"Yep, bye." Jack hung up and sighed. "This isn't gonna be easy," he said, looking out of the window. By now, they were almost at the bridge that would take them to Manhattan. "I miss him so much already, even though I know this is the best thing for both of us."
"Maybe you could text him," Lureen suggested. "Just let him know you're thinkin' of him. He needs to be sure that you're comin' back."
"Yeah, maybe," he replied, watching the scenery fly by. "It wasn't easy to say goodbye to him."
"An'...how's your other problem?" she asked, glancing at the driver. She didn't want him hearing about Jack having voices in his head.
Jack shrugged. "Mostly same as ever. But I think I found a way of dealing with it as a temporary solution. It doesn't bother me as much as it used to."
Lureen nodded. "Good. You know that you're gonna need somethin' more long-term, but I'm glad to hear it."
When they finally reached Lureen's building, Jack was starting to feel more comfortable about being here. He hadn't been to the city often, only a couple of times, and he had liked it here. He just wished he could be sharing this with Ennis; no doubt they would be having a good time.
But he had to stick to his guns here; going back before he was ready wouldn't solve anything. He knew that if he returned now, they would just end up fighting again and could break up for good. He'd done this in an effort to save his marriage, and was fairly certain he would succeed.
Lureen got him sat down in the living area and proceeded to make him something to eat. She started talking about her job and what had been going on in the city lately, and Jack was glad for the distraction. He knew that if he and Ennis were to split up, he could start over here in New York; it was a fast-paced city that was brimming with life. But he wondered if he could ever be happy here, without Ennis. In his heart, he knew that it just wouldn't be possible. His heart belonged to Ennis now, and the thought had always comforted him for he knew that Ennis would take care of it. Now he was no longer sure of anything in his life.