September 5th, 2012
Neither Ennis nor Jack got much sleep the night before, mostly because of Jack panicking about what he'd done. Ennis suspected that he feared them breaking up because of it, like the first time it had happened. All he could do was try to reassure Jack that it wasn't going to happen.
Some part of him had always known that Jack could infect him, but after Jack's stay in hospital he had learned to accept that. The medical advancements meant that it might be more bearable now to live with the virus, so at least he might not get very sick. Jack was okay most of the time and could live a fairly normal life.
When they woke up the next morning, Ennis spent a few minutes holding Jack close to him and trying to calm him. If he was infected, he would need Jack to be there for him but he wondered if he could with all the guilt he felt. He hoped that Jack would soon calm down and be able to focus again.
"It's okay," he said softly as he stroked Jack's cheek. "I know you feel bad, but we can't go panicking yet. I might be alright."
Jack nodded, taking deep breaths. "I know, but...I can't help it. Infecting you was always the thing I was most scared of, ever since we got together. The one thing that I never wanted to happen. When I think about how I got infected..."
"Hey," Ennis cut him off, placing a finger over Jack's mouth. "Don't go thinking like that, Jack. This is completely different and you know it."
Jack relented and pressed his forehead to Ennis's, trying to draw strength from him. "I know."
When Lureen entered the kitchen that morning, she could immediately tell that something was wrong. Ennis and Jack were quiet; Jack seemed especially cut up about something. They hadn't been fighting; it wasn't that kind of silence. She could tell that they weren't angry at each other, not with the way that Ennis kept rubbing Jack's shoulder or squeezing his hand.
"Guys? What's going on?" she asked, looking between them. "What's happened?"
Jack tried to speak but couldn't, instead turning away. Ennis put an arm around him. "Something happened last night...and now he's panicking." Lureen sat at the island, looking concerned. Ennis sighed. "Well, we were...in bed, and..." His cheeks reddened slightly at discussing his sex life but he carried on. "The condom split and...there's a chance that he..."
"Oh my God," she whispered, eyes travelling to Jack. Now it made sense to her why he looked so upset. "Jack..." She got up and hugged him, hoping that he wouldn't take this too hard. "So what now?"
"Well...we can't make any more sperm yet, not until I've had a HIV test. So unless you're pregnant now..."
Lureen shook her head. "I don't wanna take a test yet. If I do now and it turns out I'm not pregnant, that'll just make it harder on all of us with the waiting. I'd rather know after you have your test."
"Alright," Ennis agreed, seeing the sense she was making. They had to bear in mind how Jack was feeling right now, and Ennis didn't want him to beat himself up over this. He took Jack's hand. "You okay, bud?"
Jack nodded, trying to smile. "Trying to be. Can't help worrying, though. And I agree that she shouldn't take a test until after we know how things are with you. The waiting's gonna be hard enough as it is."
The three of them made breakfast together and sat down, attempting to have a normal morning. Lureen prayed to whoever might be listening that she was pregnant, especially if Ennis had become infected. If so, then they would never be able to have a biological baby and that would leave them with adoption as their only choice. She knew that they were open to that, but would prefer for at least one of them to have a genetic link to the child.
"Okay, so I'll call John after breakfast and let him know that I need an appointment at the clinic. We should do it as soon as possible, before Lureen has to go. Hopefully we'll get the results before she leaves and can make a decision together, whatever happens."
Lureen nodded. "I agree. It always helps to have a plan, so we'll just have to somehow get through this. But I promise that you guys aren't going to have to deal with this by yourselves. I've always been there for you and I am now."
They smiled back at her, grateful to have her by their side at a time like this. Both of them often wished that she lived closer to them so that they could spend more time together.
After breakfast, Ennis went to call their doctor while Jack and Lureen washed the dishes. When they were alone, Lureen held Jack in front of her by the shoulders and gave him a piercing look.
"Jack, I know you're feeling bad about it. But I reckon Ennis has it worse right now. If he is positive, he's going to need you there to help him get used to it. You guys knew all along that it could happen, so if it has then you need to deal with it." She thought for a moment. "Jack...please don't fall apart on him now. He's going to need you if he is infected. Pull yourself together, for him. If you don't stop moping, I'm gonna slap you." Then she smiled. "He's going to love you anyway no matter what, so just remember that."
Jack nodded and took a deep breath; she was right. He was feeling very guilty, but as Ennis's husband he had a duty to be there for him when needed, and he would do that because he wanted to. At the end of the day, they were always going to be together no matter what.
Jack tried to get through the morning at work, but it was hard to inspire people when he was feeling so low. He just wanted to go home and spend time alone with Ennis. He thought about what Lureen had said to him, and he knew he couldn't keep feeling sorry for himself like this. Ennis would need him if the results were positive.
Lureen went out shopping for the day while they worked, and Ennis had his HIV test during their lunch break. The pair of them met up in the park, where Jack felt the need to apologise to Ennis again. He knew that Ennis wasn't angry at him and wouldn't leave him over this, but he couldn't help it.
As soon as they met up, Jack found himself in Ennis's arms in a warm embrace. Ennis nuzzled his hair, knowing that it must have been hard for him to counsel others when this was happening.
"How did the test go?" Jack mumbled into his shoulder. Ennis shrugged.
"Same as last time, to be honest. John told me it really is best to wait before Lureen takes a test, then at least we'll know if it's worth making any more sperm for her." He pulled his face away but kept holding Jack. "Bet work was hard for you..."
Jack nodded, taking a deep breath. "Yeah. Ennis, I...I wanna say sorry again. I didn't want this..." He chewed his lip. "But Lureen told me this morning that I can't go moping around. If you're positive, you'll need me to help you. And I promised that if I ever did infect you, then I would help. So...even though this hurts a lot, I am gonna get over my guilt. But then...you might not even have it. Remember that scare we had a couple of years ago, the second one? I came inside you then and nothing happened. So maybe you'll be fine this time."
Ennis smiled back at him, glad that he was calming down. They walked over to a bench and sat down, opening the sandwiches that Ennis had brought. "Maybe I will be. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Come on, you've gotta eat. I know you didn't eat a lot at breakfast."
Jack nudged him gently. "Remember the first time we shared sandwiches in a park? Back in San Francisco, after we first met but before our first date."
"Yep, I remember. I brought them with me, just like now. And you kissed me on the cheek afterwards. That was when I started to really like you, even though I hardly knew you."
"I know...I just looked at you and knew that you might be able to make me happy," Jack replied, smiling at him. "I was so alone when we met, and when I told you about me being positive I was sure that I would never see you again. But you said you wanted to see me again and look what happened."
"Yeah." Ennis pressed his lips to Jack's cheek, glad that he was cheering up. "Guess it was just meant to be for us, huh?" Jack nodded and looked around the area, thinking.
"Sure was. Ennis...if you're positive and Lureen isn't pregnant, then that means we can't have a kid that's related to either of us. So then...our only choice is adoption. I'm okay with that, but I keep thinking about what Peter told us...about gay people being way down on the list and how long it could take. Could we really cope with that?"
Ennis took his hand. "I reckon we could, so long as we stick together. We'll get through it, no matter what happens. We'll be fine, darlin'." Jack smiled and they finished their lunch. Ennis then pulled Jack close to him and kissed the top of his head. "Come on, just relax. We've got time before we have to go back to work."
"If you're positive, you think I should tell them?" Jack asked. "I mean, it's a real personal thing." Ennis nodded.
"I'd be fine with it. You've been honest with them so far; why stop now? They need to know what it's like to live with the virus, every part of it. And it might help them to understand why their partners can react badly to the news. If you don't wanna tell them, you don't have to. It's up to you, Jack..."
Jack closed his eyes, breathing deeply and sliding an arm over Ennis's stomach. "I know...guess I'll think it over. Just hoping I don't have to say anything."
"Me too. This is why I'll need you, Jack, if I'm positive. You'll have to help me get used to it. I'll admit that it scares me..."
Jack looked up at him, sorrow in his eyes. "I'm sorry," he murmured, but Ennis shushed him gently. He didn't need to hear an apology.
"Stop apologising. It's fine, really. It was always a risk for us, so I've been prepared for it for two years. When you were in hospital and I promised to stick with you, I knew then I had to accept that I could get infected. I did that, so...that's just it. But what I don't want is you beating yourself up over it if I am. Seeing you hurt...it hurts me. I love you so much, Jack...the kind of love that almost hurts because it's so strong. I don't know what I'd do without you."
Jack blinked the tears away at the sweet words and he kissed Ennis's hand. "I feel the same about you. We're soul mates, Ennis...can't ever be apart. I won't fall apart on you if you're positive...I know you'll need me."
They sat there for the remainder of their lunch break, embracing warmly and just enjoying the blissful moment. Soft kisses and whispered words were exchanged as they blocked out the rest of the world, only focusing on each other and their love. This would get them through the bad times that were sure to come.
The rest of the day passed as normally as it could under the circumstances, but Jack was very glad to be on his way home. He sat in the back of a cab as it drove him down to Brooklyn Heights; Ennis and Lureen were already back and making dinner. He knew that they would likely be talking about him and what had happened, but he didn't much care. They were concerned about him and he appreciated that, and he also knew that if Ennis was positive, he would have to get over his guilt and pull himself together.
His phone rang as they were crossing over into the area from Manhattan, and he saw it was his mother. He sighed and opened it up. "Hey, mom."
"Hi honey. Just wanted to know how things are going. You said that Lureen's there now, right? Have you guys...?" She trailed off, sounding hopeful. He knew she wanted to be a grandmother.
He took a deep breath. "Yeah, she's here. And yeah, we've had our first attempt. Don't know anything yet."
"Jack...what's wrong?" she asked when she noticed how unenthusiastic he seemed; it was very unlike him. "What's happened? Are you and Ennis fighting?"
"No, we're not. Everything's okay on that level. We haven't been fighting. But you're right...something happened. I don't know how much I'm comfortable to tell you, though. You're my mom."
"Honey, if it's about your sex life I won't get squeamish. All parents have to face the reality of their kids growing up one day. I know that you and Ennis sleep together; you're married. I honestly don't care if it's sensitive stuff; I'm here for you."
"Alright," he agreed, trying not to blush. "Well...last night, we were...in bed. And...something happened. The...the protection, it...it split. And I...well, you know." It wasn't the most eloquent sentence he'd ever formed, but he was squirming about discussing his sex life with his mother.
"Oh, Jack..." she sighed, knowing what he was getting at even if he couldn't say it. "So now you think Ennis might be infected?"
"Yeah. It happened and we didn't realise it until it was over. He took a HIV test earlier...could be a few days before we find out the results."
"Okay...what about Lureen? You don't know if she's pregnant yet?"
"No. We told her this morning, and she said she didn't want to take a test until we knew how things were with Ennis. She said that if she takes one now and she's not pregnant, then the waiting for his results will be a lot worse. So if he is positive and we get the results, then she'll take her test and we'll go from there. I'm hoping that we got it on the first try..."
"I'm sure you did, Jack. A lot of people do when they go down that road to have a baby. But you all need to prepare yourselves for what could happen. I bet you've been feeling guilty, haven't you?"
He could never get anything past her. "Yeah...don't really know what to do. I feel so guilty, mom. I could have given him this thing that'll change everything for the rest of his life. If I gave this to him...how are we ever supposed to have sex ever again?" he asked, voicing what he was really scared of. "What if he won't come near me if I did infect him? What if I can't move past it and enjoy being with him?"
"Jack, calm down. I'm sure none of that will happen even if you infected him. He loves you and you know it. The way he looks at you, honey...he's head over heels for you and would never leave you, not after everything that happened when you were in hospital. He promised to stand by you even if he got it. He married you, Jack...that's no small thing. He wouldn't have done that if he'd thought for even a second that he might leave if he got the virus from you. Please, have some faith in what you have. So many people, especially gay people, go through their lives unhappy because they either never met the right person or gave them up out of fear. I don't want you guys to go through that."
He nodded, glad for a wise word from this wonderful woman. "Mom, I...thank you. It really means a lot to me that I can talk to you about this stuff. Ennis still won't talk to his folks. I told him that he might regret that if something happened to them, but he's not budging. It's sweet that he's doing it because they insulted me, but..."
"I know, honey. But I'm afraid that if he's sticking to his guns there's not much you can do. It's his problem to sort out. I know that you two support each other and try to help each other, but I think he needs to work on this one by himself. The way they treated you...I know that must have hurt you but think; it probably hurt him a lot worse because he's their son. They're supposed to accept every decision he makes about his life, including who he chooses as his partner. They couldn't do that, even advised him to leave you. That would have left a deep wound inside him that only time and effort can heal."
Jack nodded, seeing that they were getting close to where he lived. "Thanks for all the advice, mom. I'm nearly home now, so...I better go."
"Alright, honey. Call me if you ever need to talk, and give my best to Ennis and Lureen. Let me know how things go with you guys, okay?"
"Yep, I will. Bye, mom."
"Bye." Jack hung up and sighed, looking forward to being home. The first thing he would do was kiss Ennis, even if Lureen was watching and smirking to herself. He knew that he couldn't fall apart if Ennis was now positive; his partner needed him and that was all there was to it.
September 8th, 2012
On Saturday, the three of them decided to spend the day at home until a phone call came. Ennis was just washing up after breakfast when his phone started ringing; Jack looked up from where he was reading, eyes wide. Every time it rang he thought it was the clinic wanting Ennis to come in; he knew what that tended to mean, given that he had been asked to come in when his HIV results were given.
"Hello?" Ennis asked when he picked it up.
"Mr Del Mar, this is Dr Newall from the HIV clinic again. I understand that you had to take another test a few days ago due to changing circumstances?"
"Yeah, that's right. There's a chance I might have become infected since my last test," he replied, glancing at Jack apologetically.
"Well...we need you to come in. Perhaps your partner should come in as well; he needs to hear this. Can you come in today?"
"Yeah, sure. We'll be there soon. Bye." He hung up and looked at Jack, whose heart was hammering in his chest. They had asked Ennis to come in, which either meant that there was a problem with the payment or it was bad news. Since they didn't have any real money issues, it had to be the latter.
"What...?" he asked warily. Ennis shook his head.
"They want me to come in today...you should come as well. Lureen...she'll have to stay here," he added, glancing at the bathroom door. Jack nodded, feeling miserable.
The wait at the clinic was unbearable for Jack; he was continuously worrying about having infected Ennis and what this would mean for them now. He didn't know what to do, but he kept hold of Ennis's hand as if it would take all the pain away.
Ennis was nervous about his results, but was strangely not panicking. He had long since resigned himself to the fact that it could happen, and he had accepted it. He'd had to because he'd wanted to be with Jack; this was all part and parcel of being with someone who was positive. He was sure that he would get through it, but only if Jack didn't fall apart. He could only remain strong if Jack did too.
When they were called in, they sat opposite Dr Newall who was giving them a grim look. He had been very pleasant towards both of them during their trips here, but now he looked like someone who hated to be the bearer of bad news.
"Well, Ennis...I'm afraid I have bad news. You said that the other night, the protection broke and that the virus may have been transmitted to you from Jack. I'm afraid you were right; you've contracted the HIV virus."
Ennis closed his eyes, taking in those words and breathing deeply as he digested them. He briefly wondered why he wasn't freaking out, but realised that there was nothing he could do about it now. He then looked over at Jack, who had tears in his eyes. Ennis wrapped an arm around his shoulders and Jack rubbed his back, trying to show him support even though he was very upset by this news.
"Alright," he said calmly, thinking this over. His life would never be the same again but they had to carry on for each other. "So what do I need to do?"
"Well, you're mostly okay right now, but you will need medication at some point so I advise you to get that sorted with your doctor as soon as possible. Perhaps also talk to a nutrition expert; we have one right here at the clinic and I'm sure she can answer any questions you have. Your experience in helping Jack will certainly help you now, but if you ever need to talk then perhaps seek out a counsellor."
Ennis nodded and he peered at Jack's face. "Bud?" he asked softly, nudging him gently. "You alright?"
Jack looked at him. "I should be asking you that...I don't get why I'm falling apart here..."
"Because you feel guilty," the doctor said to him. "I've seen it before. But I will tell you that you don't need to feel that way. It was an accident, Jack. You didn't do it on purpose and you didn't even know until it was too late."
Jack nodded, feeling Ennis's hand squeezing his. He couldn't break down now; he just couldn't. Ennis needed him and he just couldn't leave Ennis to deal with this by himself. "I'm trying...I really am. Guess we just have to deal with this."
Ennis kissed his hand, hoping that everything would be alright. "Is that everything? I think we need to get out of here." The doctor nodded so they left, heading out into the sunshine and fresh air. They looked at each other unsurely.
"Well...guess we should get home," Jack said, scuffing his feet. Ennis nodded and reached out to him.
"Come here." Jack went into his arms willingly, hugging him tightly as if he never wanted to let go.
"This is ridiculous...I should be comforting you," he mumbled into Ennis's shoulder. Ennis rubbed his back, completely understanding why he was feeling like this.
"I know, and when you've calmed down I'm sure you'll do that. But right now, you're feeling terrible about all this. Look, let's just go home and talk this whole thing out, alright?"
They pulled away slightly and Ennis kissed him, very softly. Jack gave him one back and rested their foreheads together, breathing deeply. "I love you."
"Love you too, darlin'," he replied, nuzzling his nose. "Come on, let's go home." They walked down the street together, still holding on to each other for support. Jack was fairly sure now that Ennis wasn't going to leave him over this, and he had to hold onto that thought to make himself feel better and get through this. Now they had to work together to make sure that this news didn't ruin their relationship.
When they finally arrived home, Lureen took one look at their faces and immediately understood. She would talk to them later; right now they needed to be alone. Ennis closed the door behind them and sighed.
"Well...I guess that's that," he said, looking around. "Um...you want something to drink or eat?" he offered, looking at his partner. Jack looked dejected, like he would never forgive himself for this.
"No, I'm alright," he replied, sitting on the sofa. Ennis walked through the apartment to the bedroom and picked up the box of condoms, knowing that there was no point in having them anymore; it wasn't as if they could make each other any worse now by having unprotected sex.
"Guess we don't need these anymore," he said to Jack when he came back out, giving a tentative smile and hoping that Jack would respond. Jack attempted to smile back but it didn't reach his eyes. Ennis put the box in the trash and came to sit with him. "Bud...talk to me."
Jack sighed. "I just...feel like I can't apologise enough. I've ruined your life..." Ennis made Jack look at him.
"Listen to me; you haven't done that at all. It won't be easy to adjust to all this, but I reckon I can do it. Jack...I can only get used to it if you're there to help me. Please, don't break down...you're stronger than this. I know you are."
Jack shook his head. "Only strong because of you. Now you're infected as well..." He gulped. "What if you get sick?"
Ennis caressed his cheek. "We'll just have to hope that doesn't happen. Jack...there's something you're not telling me here. Something's worrying you...what's wrong?" Jack sat back, looking up at the ceiling.
"I just keep thinking...that you're gonna leave me over this. If you get angry over what I did to you, or if it's too much for you to be with me after this...I just can't stop wondering if that's gonna happen."
"Jack, I'd never leave you over this," Ennis told him firmly. "I swear I wouldn't."
"You left me once and I didn't even infect you that time," Jack replied, looking away. Ennis decided to let that go; he knew why Jack was being like this.
"Darlin'...I know I did. I was a coward who thought it would never happen to me. But I've changed and you know it. Hey," he added, making Jack meet his eyes. "I'm not going anywhere. I need you to help me with this, just like you need me when it gets to you. We're supposed to support each other now."
Jack stood up, clenching his fists as he tried to keep calm. He couldn't understand Ennis's relaxed attitude over these events. "How can you be so...calm about this?" he asked incredulously, facing Ennis. "I've just given you a virus that can kill you, and even if it doesn't your life will never be the same again. How can you look at me after this? How can you not hate me for what I've done?"
Ennis was finally starting to understand why Jack had been so quiet lately. He looked Jack straight in the eye. "I can't hate you because I love you. I could never hate you even if I wanted to, because...I just can't do it. Yeah, you infected me and a lot of people would be angry about their partner doing that. Look...this was an accident and we both know it; this happened because we were having sex and were too...lost in each other to realise that the condom split. So that's how much we love each other, right there. We're oblivious to everything else." He stood up, facing his husband. "Jack...I'm looking you in the eye right now in spite of what's just happened. Does that not tell you anything?"
Jack seemed to deflate before him, his anger ebbing away. "But...why are you so...?"
Ennis shrugged. "We knew this could happen, right from the start. I left you that one time and it turned out to be the biggest mistake of my entire life. When Lureen called me to say that you were in the hospital, I...I knew then that if you died thinking I didn't want you, I would never have forgiven myself. I had to be by your side, to tell you that I love you if nothing else."
He stepped closer to Jack, who didn't protest. Ennis took Jack's hands in his own. "Darlin'...I told you that if being infected was destined to happen in my life, then I would prefer to get it from you than anyone else. At least then I would have someone I love by my side to help me. I stand by what I said then. And remember our vows? In sickness and in health? Sticking to that one, too." He cupped Jack's cheeks and brought their foreheads together. "Jack...come on. We're better than this, you and me. We're really strong together and I know we can handle this."
Jack looked into the warm brown eyes, and he finally believed what Ennis was telling him. He wasn't angry, he wasn't leaving and he wanted them to stick together. There was no way that Ennis would tell him these things if he had any doubts. He sighed and moved forward into Ennis's arms, allowing his husband to wrap him up close.
"I'm gonna try my best to help you," he promised, squeezing Ennis tightly. "Swear to God I am. Nobody should have to deal with this thing alone...especially not you. Gonna be right here helping you, baby."
Ennis smiled and kissed Jack's hair. "Thank you. Can't deny that I'm nervous, but it makes me feel better to know that I can rely on you." He pulled Jack's face away from his shoulder and kissed him, clearing Jack's mind of all the muddled thoughts and just allowing him to relax.
Lureen peeked out of her bedroom door, having heard every word. She smiled when she saw them kissing and silently closed the door again, confident that everything would be alright.