Chapter 26

October 20th, 2009

The next day, Jack headed over to his brother's apartment to talk to him. He knew that his parents would want to know about this, but he decided to put it off for now; it was just easier to talk to his brother. Lureen was at work today, so she gave him a spare key in case he returned while she was still out.

He hadn't been able to sleep much the night before, with nobody beside him. He'd slept in Lureen's spare room but he hadn't been comfortable without Ennis there. Normally, Ennis would be spooning up behind him, holding him close and keeping him warm. But last night, he'd felt so lonely and cold. He knew he wouldn't get much sleep here without Ennis.

He made his way to James's apartment and knocked, wondering how his brother would react to what was going on.

"Hey," he said when James opened the door, a sympathetic look on his brother's face.

"Come on in," he said, leading Jack inside. "I told Emily what's going on..."

"Sure." Jack sat down in a chair, sighing. "It's only been twenty-four hours, but...I miss him already so much."

"I know, bud," James replied, sitting down near him. At that moment, Emily appeared from the bathroom and spotted him.

"Hey, Jack. I heard about you and Ennis," she said, joining her husband and brother-in-law. Jack nodded. "You wanna tell us what happened?"

He did so, starting from when he'd walked into Amy and Jessica's apartment to find Ennis playing happy families with Alma and Junior. They already knew about his illness, whatever it was, so they could see how it had started.

He then described how things between him and Ennis had steadily worsened, to the point where they were snapping at each other. Then he told them about meeting his old roommate and how Ennis had walked in on them.

"I mean, I can see now why he reacted like that. But that night, I was just so pissed off that I refused to see it from his point of view. I thought that he didn't trust me. I know now that he does, at the time I thought he didn't."

"So what happened when he saw you?" Emily asked. Jack sighed.

"He flipped out, and...we started yelling at each other. Right there in front of everybody. It was horrible...we've never fought like that before." He picked at something on his jeans as he spoke. "I could see that Kevin was wishing he could be somewhere else, and I don't blame him. So then we decided to go back to our place and finish off there, away from other people. We got back and...I'd started to realise a few things."

"What like?" James asked quietly, seeing that Jack was struggling to talk about this.

"Well...mostly about whether or not he trusts me. I accused him of not trusting me. And I told him I'd be sleeping on the sofa, which I did. I said I needed to think about everything and decide what I wanted to do about it. I knew that things couldn't carry on like that."

"So you slept on the sofa...what about in the morning? Is that when you decided to come here?" Emily asked, and he nodded.

"Yep, pretty much. By then, I'd had time to think. I know now that he does trust me, and I believe that. But I remember the feeling I got when I thought that he didn't, and I realised just how bad things are for us. He even told me that he didn't trust me that night, when he saw me with Kevin. I know he does now, and I can see why he reacted that way. But I had to get out of there."

"Alright. But he knows that this is only temporary, right?" James asked.

"Yeah; I was sure to be clear on that. He asked me if I was asking for a divorce, and I told him no. I tried to make it very clear that this is only a break. I know it hurt him anyway, but...this really is the best thing for us right now. I need some space to clear my head and try to focus again. If I'd stayed, we could have ended up fighting again...and we could break up for good. At least we can stay together this way. He knows that I love him, and that I'll come back when I'm ready."

James nodded. "Alright. So what are you gonna do here?"

Jack shrugged. "Just...get some space. Spend some time on my own, you know? Do some thinking about all of this. I know I have to think about whether or not we can work this out. I've got to decide if I can do this; it's not fair to him if I can't but I don't tell him. If I decide to...break up with him, I have to tell him right away. I can't leave him with the hope that I'm willing to give it another try."

"You love him, Jack. I'm sure it'll work out. Just get the space you need, then go back and get whatever help you need. The couples' counselling and the therapy for whatever's going on in your head. One step at a time, okay?" Emily told him, and he nodded.

"Yeah, I know. Anyway...what's going on with you guys? Lureen said you're trying to start a family?" Seeing that Jack was seeking to change the subject, the pair of them started talking about their readiness to have a family and what their mother would say when she found out. They had agreed not to say anything until Emily became pregnant; they didn't want to get anybody's hopes up too soon.

Jack spent most of the day with them, grateful to have family here that he could be with and not have to spend this time alone. He tried not to think too much about Ennis; he needed to keep his emotions clear and not allow himself to get distracted.

Over in Provincetown, Ennis was trying his best to carry on without Jack. It had been very difficult to sleep the night before on his own, without the man he loved by his side. The entire apartment felt horribly empty without Jack, and he hoped that it wouldn't be for long.

When he thought about it, he could understand Jack's reasons for calling for a break. Perhaps he was right about them breaking up if he stayed; it was very likely that they would continue to fight without solving anything until it got to the point where they'd had enough. At least this way, they weren't sick of each other and wanted to remain married.

Still, none of that made it any easier. He could see that Junior was trying to cheer him up but he didn't know if he could even summon a real smile right now. Being without Jack felt like losing half of his heart, and Ennis knew he wouldn't be truly happy until Jack returned. Despite their issues, Ennis knew that there was nobody else he would rather spend his life with.

He was trying to eat lunch in their apartment when his cell phone buzzed; it was Lureen. He took a deep breath before answering it. "Lureen?"

"Hey, Ennis. I know that you know Jack's here. He's...actin' strange. He barely talks right now, seems to be doin' a lot of thinkin'."

Ennis sighed. "Is he alright, though? What about those voices?"

"He says he might have found a temporary solution," she informed him. "A way of keepin' them at bay for a while until he gets the help he needs."

"An' he did that by himself, without me," Ennis replied, feeling miserable. "Maybe he don't need my help after all."

"Ennis, don't say that. I know he misses you. An' he does need your help for the more long-term solution. This is just tidin' him over until he goes back home to you. He's gonna need you before all of this is sorted."

"I miss him too, Lureen. The feels empty without him, even when Junior's here. I couldn't sleep last night...feel like a huge part's missin'."

"I know. I'm sure he feels the same way, but I think he's right; maybe this is for the best right now."

"Yeah, I was thinkin' the same thing. Maybe he was right...if he stayed, maybe we would still be fightin', an' then..." He couldn't go on; the very thought made him feel as if an iron fist was clenching around his heart. He couldn't allow himself to think of the possibility.

"Try not to worry, Ennis. He's doin' okay, but he does miss you. I'm keepin' an eye on him. If anythin' should happen, I'll let you know."

"Thanks, Lureen. Is he there?"

"I'm actually on a lunch break; he went to see his brother. Sorry, Ennis...if he was here I'd try an' get him to talk; you know I would."

"Yeah, I know. Thanks anyway. You think I should call him? He didn't say if he would call or text..."

Lureen bit her lip. "I don't might be worth a shot. But remember...he has to concentrate on what he's tryin' to decide. I'm sorry, but...he don't need to get distracted right now."

"I know, Lureen. I just wanna talk to him...tell him that I love him. You know?"

"I guess that'd be okay. Ennis...I was there when he came out, remember? I know how hard it was for him back then, an' I'm tryin' to support him now." He heard her sigh. "I know you love him, but I think he needs a friend right now. I hope you don't take it the wrong way..."

"No, it's okay," he assured her. "I know what you mean. I'll just...send him a text to let him know I love him, an' that'll be it."

"Alright. I really hope you guys can work this out, Ennis. When he came out, I didn't know for sure if I would ever see him happy. But then he met' I knew everythin' would be okay. Just give him the time an' space that he needs, an' I'm sure it'll all work out."

"Yeah. Thanks, Lureen."

"Bye, Ennis."

"Bye." He clicked off and put his phone on the table, thinking. Deep down, he knew that she was right; Jack needed a friend and not the one whom he was having trouble with. But that didn't mean that Jack didn't love him; Ennis knew that he did.

He looked at his phone now and then while eating his lunch, trying to decide what he wanted to say. He couldn't go overboard; Jack didn't need that right now. He had to keep it simple and clear so that Jack knew he was thinking of him.

Eventually, he came to a decision. Picking his phone up, he formed a simple yet heartfelt message.

Hope you're okay. Take as long as you need. I love you.

He read it several times to see how it might look to Jack, and then sent it, his heart hammering. He wasn't sure if Jack would respond soon or at all, and he tried to tell himself that it was okay if there was no reply. Jack would see the message anyway and know that he would wait for him. That was all that Ennis could hope to achieve with this right now.

He cleared the dishes away and headed back outside, ready to face the afternoon. Work was going well, but he wondered if Emily had reviewed Jack's portfolio yet. He would have to ask Jessica to keep an eye on that; perhaps Jack would be offered a promotion to paid work after all, and nothing would make him prouder. A part of him had the feeling that everything would work out; they had too much going for them to simply give up now, and he would rather throw himself off the nearest cliff than let Jack go without a fight.

October 21st, 2009

Jack was in Lureen's spare room, trying to get to sleep. It was almost one in the morning and he kept tossing and turning, his mind full of thoughts. The more he tried to shut them off so that he could sleep, the more they came to him.

He had enjoyed seeing his brother and was considering going to see Ennis's mother, but most of the time he was trying to decide what to do. Lureen was leaving him to it, knowing that he needed to decide this on his own. He was very thankful to her for taking him in.

Earlier in the day, he'd been out having lunch by himself when he'd received a text from Ennis, which said that Ennis hoped he was okay and that he loved him, and also to take as much time as he needed. Jack was grateful for the support and was happy to receive a message from his husband, but he hadn't yet texted back. He just didn't know what to say in response.

Every time he asked himself what he wanted to do, he drew a blank. There always seemed to be two options; go back and apply for divorce, or go back and stay with Ennis. He couldn't stay in New York forever; he knew that. Besides, his portfolio was being reviewed and he was hoping to get the job he was after. If he took it, then that would mean staying in Provincetown. He couldn't ask Ennis to leave the area if they split up; that just wasn't fair. Could they live in the same town even after a divorce, acting as if they were merely friends or not even going near each other? What would it mean for them to break up if they both stayed there?

Jack turned onto his side and started chewing his lip, thinking. There was really only one question he had to answer; did he still want to be with Ennis? When he thought about it, he could feel it in his heart that he did. The idea of going back and them working it out gave him hope. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with Ennis, and wasn't a marriage supposed to be for the bad times as well as the good?

He remembered the vows they had exchanged on the beach last year, promising to stand by each other no matter what happened. He had to at least try. Jack looked down at his wedding ring, remembering when they had first swapped these at his parents' house during their first Christmas together. Back then, they were simply commitment rings; now they were so much more.

I want to be with him, Jack thought to himself, knowing that if nothing else. And I know he wants to be with me. He even said to take as much time as I need; that means he's willing to wait for me. I'm damn lucky to have someone like that...I can't take it for granted. We have a lot to talk about and work through if this is going to work, even before we carry on with the counselling. We need to be absolutely sure of everything if we're going to solve this. The problem was with me freaking out about him leaving, but I know he's not going to do that.

Jack thought about his temporary method of beating back the voices in his head, and wondered if it would be enough to help him repair their relationship enough to go for counselling together. Perhaps it was the solution he needed in order to progress to psychiatric therapy for himself. He practiced the technique whenever the voices tried to assault his mind, and it seemed to work; all he did was tell them to shut up and that he was calling the shots on his decisions, and they would leave him alone. Maybe it was a question of willpower.

He reached for his cell phone and went to his photo albums; there was one of himself and Ennis in more private situations, usually of them in bed together when they were relaxing after making love. Ennis had the same photos on his phone because he'd sent them to him, and they both liked to look at them.

He clicked through the photos, a smile forming on his face as he remembered them. There was one he had taken of Ennis as he'd slept, and he knew that Ennis had a similar one of him. Ennis looked so peaceful and Jack felt his heart soaring at the very thought of him. He couldn't deny the feelings if he tried; he was very much in love with his husband and wanted them to be together.

That's it, then, he decided, nodding to himself. Maybe, this method might be enough to tide me over until I can get proper help. In the meantime, we can work on our relationship and get back on track.

Jack smiled wider, finally feeling content. He wasn't quite ready to go back home yet, but at least he had a plan. Now he had something to work on while he was here; he had to improve his ability to knock back the voices so that they stayed away for longer.

He put his phone back and curled up, closing his eyes and allowing himself to dream of Ennis and happier times. He dreamed of them in bed together, with Ennis holding him close as they made love. Ennis steadily thrust into him and whispered in his ear how much he loved him; the words were music to Jack's ears and the dream melted into passion and love.

When Jack woke up the next morning, he saw that he'd shot on himself in the night as a result of his dream; he couldn't prevent the smile on his face and didn't want to. Everything was going to be alright, and he wanted to assure Ennis of that as soon as possible.

Later in the day, Jack was relaxing at Lureen's place while she was at work. He thoroughly appreciated that while she had given him a place to stay, she also understood that he needed to be left alone to figure this out; she had told him that she was there for him if he needed her.

Jack had his cell phone in his hands, debating with himself whether to call or text Ennis. What would happen if he heard Ennis's voice? Would it make things easier or harder? He wasn't sure, but he knew he wanted to be with Ennis.

Unable to make a decision right now, he put his phone in his pocket and switched the TV on, trying to distract himself. He knew that he needed to reassure Ennis that everything was going to be okay, but there was time for that. He had at least decided to do it by the end of the day, and he would stick to that.

As he sat there, he thought about how long it might take for them to get the help they needed. He figured that if he returned soon, perhaps the couples' therapy would last until the Christmas holidays. After that, maybe he would be able to progress to psychiatric help for whatever he was suffering from. Hopefully, he might be alright by next summer; in time for their second wedding anniversary. That was something for them to aim for.

He wasn't really paying attention to the TV; it was just something to do. If he was at home, he and Ennis would make out on the sofa if they couldn't find anything to watch. They were good memories and he wished that things could be like that again. Maybe one day, when he was better.

The program finished and he sighed, knowing that he had to make the phone call soon before he could really relax. He just had to tell Ennis that everything was alright. He pulled his phone out once more and selected Ennis's number.

"Jack?" Ennis asked, as if he couldn't believe it.

"Hey, bud," he said quietly, unsure of how to proceed. "'re you doing?"

"I'm...okay, I guess. You?"

"Yeah, I'm better than before. I got your text, and...I wanted to say thank you. For...waiting, I guess."

"I'd wait forever for you, Jack," Ennis replied, sounding as if he had a lump in his throat. Jack smiled.

"Well...there was another reason I wanted to talk to you. I was up late last night, and I got to thinking about all of this. I've made a decision."

"Oh?" Ennis asked, sounding worried.

"Ennis...don't worry, okay? Everything's gonna be fine. I still love you, and I still wanna be with you. But I just need a little more time out here, okay?"

He heard Ennis sigh in relief. "Okay, bud. I hear what you're sayin'. It's like I said, Jack...take as long as you need. I'll be here when you wanna come home."

"Good," Jack replied, smiling. "I promise, Ennis...we're gonna be fine." This much he knew by now; somehow, everything would work out for them.

"Okay. Um...give my best to everyone there, especially my mama."

"Will do. And...tell Junior I'll be home soon, alright?" He did miss the little girl and wondered if he might be able to adopt her once they got back on track.

"Yep. I...I love you, Jack."

Jack smiled wider. "I love you too, Ennis." He reluctantly clicked off and sighed, lying down on the sofa and looking up at the ceiling. As much as he missed Ennis and knew that this break was for the best, he had enjoyed speaking to him. They were going to be just fine.

He heard a key in the lock and sat up in time to see Lureen enter the apartment. "Hey, Lu."

"Hey, how's it goin'? What are you up to?"

"I, um...I called Ennis," he told her as she put her bag and keys down, and she looked at him in surprise.

"Really? What...?"

"He sent me a text yesterday, telling me to take as long as I need, and that he loves me." Jack grinned at her. "So I called him today."

"He did talk about sendin' you a text when I spoke to him," she replied, nodding to herself. "I didn't know if he'd do it, though. He knows you need space."

"Yeah, but I appreciated it. I liked hearing from him. Last night, when I was trying to get to sleep, I decided that at the end of the day...I still love him and wanna be with him. I still need more time by myself, but...I know that much. Things are gonna be fine for us."

Lureen smiled and joined him on the sofa. "I'm glad to hear it. So what happens when you do go back?"

He outlined his plan to her, including his temporary solution for batting away the voices and how he could use it to his advantage. She agreed that it might be just enough to keep him going and help him get through couples' therapy, until he could get the help he needed. And at least he had decided about his marriage; he still wanted to be with Ennis.

"It sounds like it could work, Jack," she said to him, nodding. " want some lunch?"

"Sure; I'll help you." They both got up and set about making lunch together. Ever since he had gotten together with Ennis, he'd hoped that Lureen would find herself a good man. He remembered her short-lived relationship with a guy in their old dormitory building in college, but knew that she wasn't seeing anyone right now. Despite being gay, he did appreciate having a female friend that he could spend time with. For their first year of college, Lureen had been the only one who had accepted him without question; he hadn't even told his parents until the following summer. Now he hoped that she found herself the happiness she deserved; he knew all too well how difficult it could be to find.

Late that night, Ennis was unable to sleep. For one thing, he missed Jack terribly. The phone call had been wonderful and he'd loved hearing Jack's voice again. But now he missed Jack even more than before.

At least Jack seemed certain that everything was going to be okay between them; he wouldn't have said so if he wasn't sure. And Ennis was willing to give him however much time he needed until he was ready to come home. He did miss the sex; he couldn't deny that. But most of all, he just missed having Jack there with him. He missed the very presence of his other half and hoped that Jack wouldn't need much longer.

Just hope that he can keep those voices at bay until he can see that psychiatrist, Ennis thought to himself, staring up at the ceiling. Maybe his plan, whatever it is, can help. I sure as hell don't wanna lose him.

There was another thing bothering Ennis; Junior's condition didn't seem to be improving. Darren had told them that it could take a while for any effects to be noticed with the stronger antibiotics, but Ennis had expected to see some kind of improvement by now. But she seemed as sick as ever and had a high fever; he was doing his best to keep an eye on her and wished that Jack could be here for him. He wished that everything could go back to how it was, so that nobody was sick. But that was wishful thinking on his part and he knew it; this was the reality of their lives now and there was nothing he could do about it.

Still, he tried to get some sleep while he could. It wasn't easy without Jack by his side, but he was trying his best. He looked over at Jack's side of the bed and moved over, sniffing. He hadn't changed the sheets since before Jack left and he could still smell Jack's shampoo on the pillow. He smiled and shuffled over, burying his nose in the familiar smell and not caring how it might look; this gave him comfort.

I miss you, darlin', he thought to himself, wondering if Jack could hear his thoughts. He had never seen the interior of Lureen's apartment, and tried to picture what the spare bedroom might look like. He tried to picture Jack lying there, either awake or asleep, and hoped that Jack knew he was thinking of him. I love you more than words could ever say, an' I hope you know that, Jack. I'll be right here when you're ready to come back, an' I'm never gonna let you go. Gonna hold on as tight as I can 'cos I just can't lose you.

Ennis closed his eyes, thoughts of Jack on his mind. Unconsciously, his thoughts turned less than pure as he pictured Jack's body underneath the sheets. He sighed and allowed himself to think of those strong muscles and deep, deep blue eyes.

When he opened his eyes, Jack was lying there next to him, a smile on his face. "Hey, cowboy," he murmured, stroking Ennis's thigh with a dark, lustful look in his eyes.

"Jack..." he sighed, leaning over. Jack claimed his lips and immediately pushed his tongue into Ennis's mouth. It was warm and moist, and Jack couldn't help but moan at the feeling.

"Mmm..." He rose up and pushed Ennis down onto his back, breaking the contact and grinning. "Ennis..." He leaned down and nuzzled Ennis's ear. "Wanna fuck you," he murmured, sliding a hand down to touch Ennis's erection. "Wanna be inside you..." He felt Ennis hardening in his hand and grinned, Ennis just couldn't resist being touched like that, or the dirty talk when he did it.

"Okay," Ennis croaked, unable to protest even if he'd wanted to. He let himself be at Jack's mercy, just lying there while the other man kissed and fondled him for a little while. When Jack decided that he'd teased enough, he grabbed the lube and quickly smoothed it over himself, biting Ennis's ear as he did so. Ennis tried not to moan too loudly when Jack spread his legs and started to push in, but it was difficult when it felt this good. "Jack," he sighed, letting his eyes fall shut as Jack kissed his neck.

"That's it, just relax," Jack soothed, nuzzling as he moved steadily into Ennis. "Gonna make you feel good, baby."

"God, Jack," Ennis groaned, hands grabbing Jack's forearms as he felt the other man push in further. "God, I love you..."

"Love you too," Jack breathed in his ear, once more taking hold of him and stroking in time to his thrusts. "Come on, come for me...Ennis...come on..."

Ennis couldn't take it anymore, not with the words being whispered in his ear and the light, teasing touch that Jack was giving him. He shot in between them, stomach clenching and teeth gritting. He felt Jack come inside him and then fell back to the pillow, gasping for breath.

Jack pulled out of him and stroked his cheeks, smiling when Ennis opened his eyes. "I love you...don't ever forget that, okay?"

"I love you too," Ennis managed to say just before Jack kissed him again.

Ennis jerked awake, breathing heavily. He could feel a sticky substance on his chest and realised that his orgasm had been real. His cheeks reddened even though he was alone; it had been a while since he'd had such a dream and he could recall how good it had felt to have Jack inside him. He thought for a moment that his ass actually felt a little sore, as if Jack really had just fucked him. He smiled to himself and simply rolled over, once more burying his nose in Jack's scent. If everything went well, then maybe one day he would experience it for real once more. Either way, he couldn't wait to have Jack home where he belonged. That was all he cared about right now.