June 28th, 2009
It was Jack's mother's birthday, and they had already sent on their gift of a voucher to her favourite spa in Charleston. They knew that she would love it and Jack often said that she deserved things like that after everything she had done for him. She loved Ennis like a second son, and had danced with both of them at their wedding.
Jack wondered what she thought about Junior living with them. He knew that she seemed certain of things working out, and that she was great at giving advice. He wished that she could come to Massachusetts soon; he wanted her to see the young girl for herself and to reassure him that everything would be okay.
Over the weekend, he and Ennis had taken Junior to the zoo along with Lureen, and they had all enjoyed it very much. Jack would never forget the look of sheer wonder on Junior's face as she'd stared up at the elephants, so much bigger than the ones in her book. They'd all bought souvenirs for themselves and for Junior, and it had been a wonderful family day out. Both Jack and Ennis had come to think of Lureen as a sister over the years, so she was very welcome.
When they got back, they found the Pride celebrations in full swing all around town. Knowing that it was important to them, Lureen offered to take Junior back to the apartment so that Ennis and Jack could spend some time alone together. Jack thanked her and then grabbed Ennis's hand, leading him into the crowds.
They enjoyed running around town and seeing what was going on, and it allowed both of them to get their fix of this year's celebrations even though they couldn't really leave Junior. But as they headed home later on, Jack came to realise that he'd actually missed Junior while they were out. Maybe he was getting old, after all.
On the Sunday, Jack called his mother to wish her a happy birthday. "Hey, mom."
"Sweetie, hi. How's it going?"
"I'm good. I just wanted to wish you happy birthday. Ennis and Junior are here, and Lureen is too. So happy birthday."
"Happy birthday," Ennis and Lureen called into the phone, and Ennis leaned in close to Junior. "You wanna wish yer grandma a happy birthday, Junior?" he asked her softly, but everybody heard it. Karen groaned at the thought of being a grandmother at her age, Lureen looked amused and Jack looked shocked but pleased. He hadn't expected that from Ennis.
"Happy birthday!" Junior repeated, grinning. Jack could hear his mother laughing.
"Thank you, honey. I'll be seeing you soon, okay?" Ennis and Jack were looking at each other, the words hanging over them and settling like dust. It had somehow felt right to Ennis to say that; she was Junior's grandmother in a way because of him being married to her son. There was no other word for it as far as he knew.
"You coming up soon?" he asked her when he could tear his eyes away from Ennis's.
"I was thinking about it, since it's the summer. I'll bring your dad and your sisters with me and we could spend some time on the beach. That'll be fun."
"Right. Well, we'll look forward to it. The summers are always great here."
"Okay, I've gotta go. But I love all of you and take care, you hear?"
"Yep. Bye, mom." They clicked off and Jack looked around at his companions; Lureen was once more playing with Junior and Ennis was hovering nearby, eyes darting to Jack's face now and then.
"Um...hope it was okay for me to say that," Ennis mumbled, not sure of Jack's reaction. Jack couldn't help but laugh.
"I think you made my mom feel old, but never mind. She'll get used to it."
"Are you okay with it?" Ennis asked him. "I mean...we never talked about that."
Jack shrugged and moved closer to him. "Bud...it's okay. Junior's your kid, and we're married. That does kind of make my mom her grandmother when you think about it." He leaned in and gently kissed Ennis on the lips, sensing Ennis's nervous state. "Hey...it's really okay, bud. It...it felt good, to be honest. Like I really am part of this. Guess I should be thanking you..." He smiled and moved into Ennis's arms, and Ennis acted on instinct by pulling him close.
"Well...guess yer welcome , darlin'. Glad I could help." He kissed the side of Jack's face and was oblivious to Lureen watching them. She was becoming more and more convinced that everything would be fine.
When Jack went to the bathroom, Lureen cornered Ennis and gave him an approving look. "That was a good thing to do, even if you didn't plan it."
"It just slipped out," he told her, not entirely sure himself how it had happened. It had just felt like the right thing to say, and clearly it was. Lureen smiled.
"I'm glad it did, Ennis. I think Jack needed to hear that from you...some confirmation that he'd part of this family. He's been feeling left out a little since Junior came here...that's why he's been acting in a certain way."
Ennis hung his head, feeling guilty that he'd hurt Jack in that way. But even then, he promised to himself that it wouldn't happen anymore.
"I'll sort it, Lu. I'll let him know how much he means to me. That it's not just me an' my kid, an' him taggin' along. He's part of it, too." Ennis looked down at his left hand; the ring there had once been just a commitment ring when they spent their first Christmas together, and now it was a wedding band. They had made their promises to each other and he wanted this to work so much. He loved Jack with all his heart and never wanted to be without him. He knew that as long as he let Jack know how he felt, they would never part.
That evening, they had to say goodbye to Lureen once more. The weekend had passed too quickly for their liking and she had to get back to work, but they were all happy to have seen each other. Jack was especially grateful to her; she'd been there for him when he'd realised that he was gay, and again when he'd fallen for Ennis. Now she was here for him during this latest issue, and he didn't know how he could ever repay her.
He decided to take her to the airport while Ennis stayed with Junior; it would give them time to talk in private about everything. Jack didn't like having to keep things from Ennis, but he didn't know what else to do. Everything was fragile right now and he just wanted to keep the peace.
"So, you'll be okay?" Lureen asked as he waited with her in the seating area. It wasn't yet time for her to go through the gate, so he figured they could have a few more moments.
"Yeah, I think so," he replied, nodding and hoping that it was true. "I mean...Ennis really is trying to make things better for all of us. I don't know what you said to him..."
"I just told him that you seem really down about Pride and how you maybe don't spend as much time alone. I know things are different now that there's a kid, but I reckon that's no reason to let your relationship suffer. You know?"
"Yeah. And he told me that things are gonna get better. He's got a date planned out for us." He smiled at her. "That should be fun. And we're making plans for our anniversary trip."
"Good. I know he loves you, Jack. Anybody who knows you guys can see that you're head over heels for each other. Having a kid around shouldn't change that. Junior really is a sweet kid, Jack, just like you said. An' I know you'd be a good dad if you just let yourself."
He looked at her, seeing the wisdom of her words. He wanted to be a father figure to Junior, but his own issues were standing in the way. He just didn't know how to get over this whole thing; that they were having to raise a kid that wasn't his. He didn't know how to stop feeling so left out, because it was clear that Ennis was trying to include him as much as possible.
"Maybe. I want this to work, Lu...and I don't want it to get to a point where I can't take it anymore. I could never leave him, not after everything we've been through. But I know we need to talk this whole thing out at some point. We've talked a few times, but...I don't think it's helped."
"He needs to ask you what you're really feelin'," she advised him. "An' you need to be honest with him. I'm sure it'll be fine as long as you guys just talk."
"Yeah." Just then, there was a call for Lureen's flight and she was allowed to go through to the gates; it was time to say goodbye. They stood up and faced each other. "Well..."
"Yep. Guess this is it...again. Wish we lived closer to each other."
"Me too. Maybe we could set up a webcam for our laptops so we can see each other more often," he suggested, and she nodded.
"Yeah, I'd like that. I'll look into it when I get back." She smiled and hugged him tightly, hoping that things could work out for him and Ennis. They were her best friends and she'd always wanted them to be happy. Just because things were shaky right now didn't mean that they would always be that way. "You guys take care of yourselves, okay?"
"We will. And you too." They broke apart and she kissed him on the cheek before heading off, leaving him alone with his problems. He hoped that her visit had done some good for them.
He sat in his car for a little longer than he'd planned, thinking about what it would be like when he got home. Would Ennis greet him enthusiastically, or would he be too distracted? Jack sighed to himself and started the car, a part of him not looking forward to this.
When he entered the apartment, he could hear Ennis talking to Junior in her room; he must be putting her to bed. Jack got himself a beer and sat down on the sofa, waiting.
Ennis emerged and spotted him sitting there; a grin spread across his face. "Hey, you're back."
"Yep." Jack couldn't help but smile back at him and Ennis sat down. "Miss me?"
"Like you wouldn't believe," Ennis told him, leaning in for a kiss. Jack responded and was glad that everything seemed okay. He then rested his head on Ennis's shoulder and sighed.
"I hate having to say goodbye to her. Seems like she does a lot of good for us when she's here."
"I know. She, um...she told me that yer feelin' left out, Jack." At this, Jack sat up and stared at him. Ennis shook his head. "I'm sorry if I'm makin' you feel like that. You know I don't mean to..."
Jack didn't have the energy to argue; he simply resumed his previous position. "I know. And...she tried to assure me that we're gonna be okay. I hope...I hope we are, Ennis." Against his will, he could feel a lump growing in his throat and his voice became shaky. "God knows...I couldn't stand it if...we..." He bit his lip and Ennis saw it coming. He took the beer from Jack and set it on the table before taking Jack into his arms.
"Shh...it's okay, darlin'. Nothin's gonna happen to us...we're gonna be just fine. I couldn't stand that either...but it ain't gonna happen. We're gonna make this work." He kissed Jack's temple and rubbed his back, trying to soothe the confused and frightened man in his arms.
June 30th, 2009
The veteran that Jack and Dr Green were supposed to be counselling was with them today, but Jack was a little distracted right now. He and Ennis had planned a date for tomorrow night and he was looking forward to it. They hadn't been out together on a date since before Junior had come to live with them, and he'd missed it.
He kept trying to focus on what Emily was saying to the veteran, who was named Richard. He had been officially diagnosed with PTSD following the events in Afghanistan and his double amputation, and he was in a wheelchair. Jack had taken one look at him and realised that his own problems were pretty minimal in comparison; this guy had it so much worse than him.
"So, how have you been feeling?" Emily asked, clipboard in hand. "I know yesterday was a bad day for you..." Richard had heard that one of his comrades had died on the field from a shrapnel blast, and had taken it badly. Jack had learnt that PTSD was common in such cases.
"Yeah...just can't believe he's gone. We talked about opening some kind of business when we were both out of there, since we live near each other and we became good friends. And now...it's not gonna happen."
Emily nodded. "Well...I understand that it's not easy. But you have to remember how lucky you are. You're still alive, and you've got to take care of yourself. He wouldn't want you to beat yourself up over this, would he?"
"No, guess not. Just...feels like I'm gonna miss out on so much." He looked down, and Jack could see the flicker in his eyes at the sight of his missing limbs. "Like...I wanna get married and have kids one day. What woman in her right mind would have me?"
"Richard...it's okay. You'd be surprised; a lot of women don't care about things like amputations. You're bound to find someone. A woman who'll love you for who you are; who'll recognise how brave you've been." She smiled a little. "There are plenty of women like that."
Jack was busy taking his own notes for the portfolio he had to put together; he was learning a lot from these sessions and from talking to Emily and he knew that he could do this. He liked being busy; it distracted him from his problems at home and gave him the opportunity to focus on something else. As much as he loved Ennis, he needed some time by himself at the moment. He knew that Ennis understood, given the circumstances.
"Yeah, maybe," Richard replied, sounding unconvinced. Jack felt sorry for him; this disorder really ate into a person's spirit, it seemed. He hoped that it never happened to him or Ennis; he couldn't imagine living with something like that. But then, he could never imagine going off to a war like that; he'd never be able to spend so much time away from Ennis with their only communication by letter. "I don't know...don't believe much of anything anymore."
When the session was over, Emily and Jack returned to her office and she sighed. "This is gonna be harder than I thought it might be, Jack. It's clear that he doesn't believe he's going to have much of a life now. It's understandable, but it's not impossible to fix."
"What do you think we should do?" he asked her, feeling a little out of his depth in this real-life application of the theory. He'd never done anything like this before.
"Well, that's what I was going to ask you. Part of your portfolio is what you think ought to be done for him. You should do some research into treatments of PTSD and decide on what might work for him. I do have my ideas and I think I know what would work, but I'd like to know what you think."
He nodded, determined to prove himself. "Okay. I'll get right on that."
"Good. So...until then...is everything okay for you? I heard about Ennis's daughter coming to live with you..."
"Yeah, she did. I...I'm trying to cope with it, but it's not easy. He's really good with her and I admire him for it. I just wish I could be like that with her...she's my stepdaughter, after all. And her mother did give me parental rights so I can adopt her."
"Are you going to do that?" she asked, and he shrugged.
"I don't know. I think Ennis wants me to, because he wants us to be a family. And...I do want to. But I'm just so messed up about it right now."
She nodded. "Well...I'm not your counsellor so I can't give you much advice. But I can tell you this; talk to Ennis. I know he loves you and that he'd be willing to listen to you."
"Yeah. I mean..." He smiled a little. "We've got a date planned for tomorrow night. I'm looking forward to it."
"Good. It's important to keep things going. Just take each day at a time and keep talking to each other. That's all you can really do."
"I know. And we're both trying to make this work...it seems to be okay right now. I just struggle when it concerns Junior, 'cos she isn't mine. And I can't sign those papers and adopt her until I've got my head sorted out. That could take a while."
"Okay. Well, I've got some more work to do today. Why don't you go on over to the library and get started on that research?" He nodded and left the office, looking forward to getting some fresh air. He and Ennis had planned to meet for lunch as they usually did, and he liked having some normality in their lives again.
He wasn't too sure what was going to happen with their current situation, and he was scared that he might not be able to deal with it at all. He didn't want to be without Ennis, ever.
That afternoon when they got home, Ennis and Jack started preparing dinner together while Junior watched TV. Summer was wearing on and the weather was always good here; they'd enjoyed taking Junior out.
Since their fight and reconciliation, Jack had tried to ignore his feelings of being left out. He knew that Ennis had never meant for that to happen, and he could see that Ennis was trying to prevent it from happening again. It meant a lot to him, so he vowed to do his part and try to be more of a father to Junior.
As he'd been doing research in the library, he'd taken the time to really think about everything. Some of Junior's things from Wyoming had arrived that morning and they were due to decorate Junior's room to make her feel more at home. Jack was supportive of this effort and he figured that it might help him. He knew it was important to Ennis for them to be a family, so all he could really do was try; he didn't want them to break up just because he couldn't get over it.
Jack didn't understand what was really bothering him about it; something was there and he didn't know what it was. But when he looked over at Ennis and saw him chopping the carrots like nothing was wrong, he knew he couldn't let it bother him. All that mattered was that they were together and happy. They were still as much in love now as they had ever been.
There was suddenly a buzzing sound and Ennis went to answer it. "Hello?"
"Got a delivery for Ennis Del Mar," a voice replied. "From Wyoming?" Jack looked up at this and Ennis nodded at him.
"Be right there." He turned to Jack. "Could you...?"
"Yeah, we'll be fine. Go on," Jack told him, smiling a little. Ennis smiled back and went to collect the delivery. Jack put the food on a low light and went over to Junior, feeling nervous. "Looks like your mom's sending more of your stuff, Junior," he said to her, and she looked up.
"Is mama gonna come an' see me soon?" she asked him, looking so innocent that his heart melted. He wished he knew how to answer her.
"I don't know, Junior. Your dad never said if she would...but I bet she misses you. Guess you miss her too, huh?"
She nodded and leaned against him. "Yeah." Jack put an arm around her in an attempt at comfort, and was relieved when he heard Ennis coming back upstairs.
"Her drawin' table, all packed up," he was saying as he came through the door. "I wonder how much more there's to come?"
"Maybe you could call Alma and ask," Jack suggested, and Ennis looked surprised. Jack didn't normally talk about Alma at all if he could help it.
"Yeah, I guess. Anyway...we'll get this set up later, Junior." She nodded and Jack re-joined him in the kitchen.
"Listen, bud...Junior's been asking about Alma. Wondering if she's gonna come and visit sometime."
Ennis looked at him. "Really? What did you say?"
"I just said I didn't know...'cos I really don't. Wasn't sure what to say to her...but...I can see she misses her mom a lot. She's only five, Ennis...and she's just had Alma since she was born. I bet they were close."
"Yeah. Maybe I will call Alma an' ask her about that. I don't know if she'd go for it, though...with her fiancé's family not approvin' of it all. Maybe she don't wanna offend 'em or anythin'."
"Right. Still...Alma said they don't approve of Junior being around, right? Did they say anything about Alma coming here to visit her?"
"No. Maybe you're right, Jack...it's worth a shot." He smiled at his husband, pleased to see some progress. "Well...you're doin' well with this, bud. Fightin' Junior's corner like that."
Jack shrugged and looked down. "I just...when she asked me, she had this look on her face and her eyes were all...big and innocent, you know? Just...really got to me." He looked into Ennis's deep brown eyes. "Actually...they reminded me of you. Guess those eyes do something to me."
Ennis smiled widely and kissed him on the cheek. "Well, I appreciate it, bud. Means a lot to me that yer tryin'." He returned to the food and Jack joined him, feeling pleased with himself that he'd managed to do something for Junior.
After dinner, they got Junior's drawing table set up in her room; it was a soft pink colour and Junior squealed with delight when she saw it. "Daddy!" Ennis ruffled her hair affectionately and she hugged his legs. "Thank you!"
"You're welcome, darlin'," he said to her. "We gotta get you ready for bed soon, so you can have a little time with this if you want. Okay?" He couldn't deny her that when she was clearly so happy.
She nodded and grabbed some paper, eager to use this again. Ennis and Jack left the room and flopped down on the sofa. "That went well," Jack noted, and he turned so that he was perpendicular to Ennis, resting his head on Ennis's lap. "Turned out to be an alright day."
"Yeah." Ennis was smiling down at him and stroking his hair, an expression of deep love on his face. "I'm gonna call Alma at some point, an' I'll ask her about visitin'. Would you be okay with her bein' around?"
Jack thought for a moment. "Well...I know I'm not her favourite person in the world. But I reckon that as long as she's civil to me, it'd be alright. That's all I really ask."
"She will be," Ennis assured him, now rubbing his stomach. "I'll make sure of it." He leaned down to kiss Jack again, deeper this time. He was looking forward to their date tomorrow night and knew that nothing would spoil it. A very good evening and night were ahead of them; he was sure of it.
The next evening, Ennis and Jack were getting ready for their date. Junior was staying overnight with Jessica and Amy, so they had the entire night to themselves. It had been a while since their last date, so both were looking forward to it. Ennis knew that they had to get back into this, since their marriage was still so new.
Ennis entered their bedroom to see Jack getting his jeans on, and he was shirtless. Momentarily struck dumb by this sight, Ennis simply stood there. He could see Jack's muscles moving underneath his tanned skin, tight and firm. Jack's ass looked very appealing in those jeans and all Ennis wanted to do was rip them off him and push Jack down to the bed.
Jack felt eyes on him and turned to see Ennis staring at him, and he grinned. "Cat got your tongue, cowboy? You wanna have your way with me right now?" Ennis snapped back to reality and immediately went red at having been caught practically drooling over Jack.
"Um...I was just..." He went to the nightstand to retrieve his wallet and then took a deep breath. "You, um...you look good," he managed, trying not to stammer.
Jack smirked and started putting his shirt on. "Thanks, bud. You know...you don't look half bad yourself. I guess all this coast living is doing us some good, huh?"
"Yeah. So, um..." Ennis looked around nervously, embarrassed by the swelling in his jeans that he was sure Jack could see. "See you out there."
"Sure thing." Jack noticed how Ennis had trouble walking and he laughed to himself; it felt good for them to be like this again after the problems they'd had. Maybe tonight things would be more normal, and he craved that right now with everything that was going on.
By the time Jack was ready, Ennis's blood pressure had gone down and he could walk again. They made sure that they had everything and then headed out, looking forward to a romantic evening together. They took a walk down to the front and went to their favourite seafood restaurant where Ennis had proposed to Jack shortly after moving here. This place meant a lot to them and Ennis wanted to take Jack here tonight because of that meaning; it just felt so right to come here.
They took a booth in the corner and settled in, listening to the slow music being played in the corner by a live band. It was still very romantic here and it was just what they needed.
Ennis took Jack's hand across the table and squeezed it. "I know we need this tonight, Jack. Just you an' me. An' to be honest...I need it too. I love Junior, but I know I've gotta focus on you too. I'm tryin' to find a balance."
Jack sighed and placed his free hand over Ennis's. "It's okay. I know this hasn't been easy for you, either. And I'm trying to put some effort into it. I love you, Ennis...have done for a long time now. And...I really want this to work out." Ennis nodded and then a waitress came over, ready to take their order. They both went for sharing a seafood platter, which they had always enjoyed, and also ordered some wine. Tonight was just about them and their love.
While they waited, Ennis looked into Jack's eyes and gently played with his fingers. He thought about their life together so far, ever since they were young students who had become roommates. He never would have imagined that he would fall in love with this man, but it had just happened. He didn't regret any of it; not even that he'd had to break up with Alma to keep Jack. Even before their relationship had started, Jack had always encouraged him to follow his heart and to do what he wanted without fearing the reactions of his family.
"What are you thinking about?" Jack murmured, seeing that Ennis had a slight smile on his face. It always warmed his heart to see Ennis smiling.
"Just...about when we was just friends. How you always told me to do what I wanted, an' to not worry how my family would react. You were there for me, even then."
Jack smiled. "You were my friend, Ennis. And I kinda knew about following your heart, remember? It was what I had to do, after all, when I came out."
"Yeah. I'm very grateful for that, Jack. I know it...wasn't easy for you when you first heard about me breakin' up with a girl. You had a crush on me an' thought I was straight. Sorry if that hurt..."
Jack shook his head. "No big deal. It's all water under the bridge now, and it worked out; we're together now. Where we ought to be." He leaned over and Ennis met his lips eagerly; even if they hadn't been surrounded by gay couples he wouldn't have cared. They kissed a few times and broke apart to see the waitress hovering with their food, a smirk on her face.
"When you're ready, guys," she said to them, and they grinned in embarrassment. She set their food down and they started eating, eventually feeding each other and trying not to make too much noise.
When they were finally done, Ennis paid the bill and they headed for the beach to take a walk, holding hands as they walked barefoot on the sand. They had been married on this very beach, and both of them could remember how the sunset had looked on the water, turning everything red. It hadn't even been a year yet, but they felt as if it could have been a lot longer. It had definitely been the best day of their lives and they would never forget how they had felt to make that kind of commitment, legally no less. Jack knew that as long as they had such memories to hold on to, they would be okay.