Hey guys! Here's the first chapter of my new story. As I have previously warned, the subsequent chapters will have time jumps between them which I will try to fill with the narrative as much as I can. Hope this doesn't put anyone off, and that you enjoy it!
April 13th, 2009
Ennis stepped off the bus and looked around him, wondering where to go first. This was his first time in Jacksonville, Florida and he was looking forward to it. The bus drove away, heading back to the port where the ship was. He had just three days here on land before they would be off again and he wanted to make the most of it.
He started walking, observing the shops around him and seeing that the civilians he passed were nodding at him in approval. He was wearing his white uniform but had some clothes to change into back at the barracks.
At twenty-six, he was a seaman but always looking for the chance to be promoted and make something of himself. His dad had been in Vietnam so Ennis wanted to make him proud; he also wanted to see the world, which was why he'd joined the Navy in particular.
He rounded a corner without looking properly and bumped into someone, who staggered backwards. "Hey, you alright?" he asked the man.
He was met by a pair of deep blue eyes, which were blinking at him in surprise. "Oh," he replied, seeing the uniform. "Yeah, I'm okay. Sorry about that."
Ennis shook his head. "Wasn't watching where I was going. Didn't hurt you, did I?"
"No, I'm fine." The man smiled and stuck out his hand. "I'm Jack, by the way. I take it you're on shore leave?"
"Yeah, just arrived today for a few days. I'm Ennis." They shook hands and Ennis felt a crackle of electricity run through his body, which didn't fade when Jack smiled at him.
"So, um...you new around here?" Jack asked, seeing the map in Ennis's hand. Ennis smiled guiltily.
"Yeah. First time here. Um..."
"Well...if you want, I could show you around," Jack offered, liking the look of this handsome stranger. Ennis seemed a little shy, which he found endearing. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to get attached when Ennis was only here for a few days, but he couldn't help it. There was just something about this sailor.
Ennis nodded and looked relieved. "That'd be great, thanks." They set off walking together in the direction that Jack had been heading in. Jack worked at a local bookstore close to his home, but was on the lookout for something more fulfilling that he would enjoy. There was plenty of time for him to settle down, with someone he loved.
"So...how long have you been in the Navy?" Jack asked him as they strolled.
"Well, I started training at eighteen for four years. Then I was accepted onto the ship I'm on and now I'm twenty-six. How old are you?"
"Same age," Jack replied, grinning. They were walking along Phoenix Avenue, and Ennis kept looking at the map in confusion. "Look, I know it's hard to get used to, but you soon get the hang of it. You see Main Street?" He pointed to the largest street on the map. "That divides the centre of the city between East and West, for the streets that run horizontally. Like the Springfield area. We're in the Phoenix area right now, as you know." He pointed out the different areas of the city and how they were set out, which had never been easy to figure out.
"It's still confusing," Ennis pointed out, and Jack laughed. The sound made Ennis's breath hitch; what was happening to him?
He had known for a long time that he was gay, but current legislation meant that he couldn't serve and be out at the same time. He had promised his parents to keep it a secret from the people he worked with. They both accepted him and hadn't pushed him into joining the Navy, but they did worry for him in case someone found out. A few brief relationships in college had been enough for him to know which way he was more inclined, and he hoped for something more when he'd had enough of this life.
Jack took him to the confusing area of the map, trying to explain everything to him. Ennis listened and paid attention and soon started to feel more confident in getting his bearings.
"And that's where I live," Jack then said, pointing upwards. They were on Birch Street now, near Brentwood Park, and Jack was pointing at a fourth floor window. "That's my apartment up there."
Ennis nodded. "Nice area," he commented. Jack made a sound of agreement.
"Where do you live, by the way? Where are you from?"
"Knoxville, up in Iowa," Ennis told him. "Where I lived with my folks, but I've got my own place that they're looking after while I'm away."
"Right. My folks live out on Fernandina Beach, to the North. And they live right on Ocean Avenue, great view of the ocean from up there."
By now they were wandering into another shopping district, where there were a lot of people walking around. Ennis could once again see people nodding to him, and Jack smiled. "You're getting a lot of respect there. But don't you have any more clothes with you?"
"They're at my barracks at the port," Ennis told him, looking around.
"What rank are you?"
"Seaman. Kind of like a Private in the army. I'm hoping to get a promotion before I leave."
"You're planning on leaving?"
"One day. Maybe when I'm about thirty unless...I meet someone sooner." He glanced at Jack but then tore his eyes away. Jack was just being friendly; there was no reason to think that he would be interested.
"Right." Jack thought about this; what were the chances of Ennis being gay, especially of being interested in him? With Don't Ask, Don't Tell being in effect, he knew that there wasn't much chance of him finding out.
"Say, um...you wanna get something to eat?" he offered, knowing it was around lunchtime. "My treat."
Ennis looked at his hopeful face and nodded. Maybe there could be something here after all.
Jack took Ennis to a small, steamed-up café that he loved. Out of respect for Ennis's possible desire to stay discreet, he knew it wouldn't look good to take him to a romantic restaurant. What if someone that Ennis knew saw them? That would be a disaster for him.
"Hope this is okay," he said as they approached an empty table. "Not exactly haute cuisine, but..." He shrugged, wondering if Ennis would want something nicer than this.
Ennis shook his head. "It's nice...kinda cosy, you know?" A large, mother-type woman made her way over with a pad and pen in her hands, smiling at the new arrivals.
"Hey, Jack. Ain't seen you in forever, honey."
"Wendy, I was in here the other week," Jack told her with a grin. With his own mother living so far away, Jack was glad to have her around. "This is Ennis," he added, gesturing to his new friend.
"Hey there, sailor," she replied, shaking his hand. Jack's cheeks reddened; she knew he was gay and probably thought they were together. "You on shore leave, then?"
"Yeah, for a few days. Nearly knocked Jack over when I was rounding a corner, and he offered to show me around."
"That's our Jack, he's a sweetheart," she said, smiling at them. Jack grinned and handed Ennis a menu. Their fingers brushed for a moment and he gulped.
"I'll have the usual," he said to her, and she wrote down his order. He loved the chicken pies she made.
Ennis ordered a panini and they settled into the warm atmosphere. "Wendy's kind of taken me under her wing since I moved here away from the beach. I came to college down here and got sick of commuting all the time so I moved as soon as I found a job."
"Where's she from?" Ennis asked, thinking that he recognised the accent.
"Kansas," Jack replied. "Isn't that next to Iowa?"
"Not quite. It's to the south-west, but there's Missouri first. My dad's family came from there; that's how I know the accent."
Jack nodded, and decided to throw caution to the wind. "So, um...you have someone waiting for you back up there?"
Ennis shook his head. "No. Live on my own. Um...you got anyone here?"
"No, just me. I mean...still searching for...Mr Right." He looked at Ennis carefully to gauge his reaction. There was no mistaking what he'd just said.
"Oh. So you're..."
Jack nodded again. "Yep. Known it since I was in college. Um...Ennis, if you don't wanna tell me either way, it's fine."
Ennis looked around the café; there was nobody here who knew him. "Well...I am. Gay, I mean. I dunno why I'm telling this to someone I hardly know, but..."
"It's okay. Just...interesting. I mean, you can't be out 'cos of that law. That can't be easy."
"No...none of the others know and I don't want them to. If they grass me up I might get kicked out. I really don't want that..."
"Your parents know? You said your dad was in Vietnam."
"Yeah, but he's okay with it. It was my decision to apply for the Navy. I wanted him to be proud of me anyway."
Jack smiled. "Right. So, um...are you...looking?" He was treading dangerous waters now; surely if anything happened it could only be for a few days? That wasn't something that appealed to him very much. He didn't want to end up heartbroken.
Ennis hesitated. "I don't know. Never thought about it to be honest. I figured I'd settle down once I'd quit." They looked at each other and neither of them could deny that they were attracted to each other. They had only met about an hour ago and hardly knew one another, but they couldn't ignore what they were feeling. But like Jack, Ennis wasn't sure if it would be a good idea or not. "Jack...can we talk about this another time? I don't really know what to say right now."
Jack nodded and smiled in an apology. "Yeah. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to put you on the spot like that. Wasn't really fair, was it?"
"I like you, but...I don't know," Ennis told him, hoping he hadn't hurt his new friend. "Just need to think it over, you know?"
"Ennis, it's okay. Really. Don't worry about it," Jack told him sincerely. He didn't want to put any pressure on Ennis, no matter what was going on in his heart when Ennis looked at him. He couldn't deny what he felt, though. And at least Ennis did like him in that way; that was something to think about.
After lunch, Ennis and Jack walked around a little more before Jack remembered he had the afternoon shift at the bookstore soon. He told Ennis this with a heavy heart, reluctant to leave him so soon.
Ennis smiled at him. "It's okay. I can head back to the barracks for tonight." Jack realised that Ennis meant they should spend the night apart so that they wouldn't just give in to temptation, and he nodded.
"Yeah, okay. So, um...can I call you or something? Could we maybe meet up tomorrow?"
"I'd like that," Ennis replied, nodding and smiling. He found a piece of paper and wrote his number on it, giving it to Jack. "Here you go."
"Thanks." Jack walked Ennis to the bus stop where he could get a bus back to the port, and he sighed. "So, um...tomorrow, then?"
"Yep," Ennis said, and he wanted to show affection but it was too risky. "See you, Jack."
"Bye," Jack said softly as Ennis got onto the bus, clutching the paper with the number on it. he wasn't entirely sure what had just happened, but he knew that something had started. He liked Ennis a lot even though he barely knew him; maybe they would get to know each other better tomorrow before Ennis left, and maybe they could keep something going while Ennis was away. It was something to feel hopeful about.
The next day, Jack didn't have to work so he'd invited Ennis to his apartment for lunch. He didn't quite know how things had been left between them the day before; it had certainly been somewhat awkward for both of them. He knew he liked Ennis a lot and was fairly sure that Ennis felt the same even though they didn't really know each other. But there was still time for them to do that before anything started.
He paced nervously as he waited for Ennis to arrive; he'd buzzed him into the building just a minute ago and couldn't wait to see him; he wanted to know if anything could happen between them.
There was a knock on the door and he took a deep breath before opening it. Ennis was dressed in everyday clothes and looked as good as he had the day before. Jack grinned. "Hey."
"Hi. Um...good to see you," Ennis replied as Jack waved him inside. "You okay?"
Jack nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. Um...got some soup on for lunch, and it shouldn't be too long now. You wanna watch TV or something?"
"Sure." They headed for the sofa together and Jack found something for them to watch; he couldn't deny that he was incredibly nervous about having Ennis so close to him and wondered if he should be the one to bring up the subject that was on both their minds.
Ennis looked at him, knowing that they had to talk about it. "Yeah. I don't want you feeling like you've put pressure on me, 'cos you haven't."
Jack nodded. "I didn't mean to anyway. It's just...I like you a lot. Yesterday was a lot of fun and I enjoyed meeting you."
"Yeah. I, um...you know I'm not used to talking about it, considering where I work and what I do. But...I like you too. I just don't know if we're rushing things or not. I mean, we hardly know each other."
"Okay. But we can talk about that," Jack reasoned. "I mean...we can tell each other more about ourselves. Isn't that what being with someone is about?"
Ennis nodded. "I guess. Okay, then..." He turned to face Jack. "Favourite movies?"
"Comedy," Jack replied with a grin. "Even the bad ones. You?"
"Action. Favourite music?"
"All kinds of stuff, really. But since I grew up with 80s music, that's my favourite. What about you?"
"The same. Food?"
"Pizza," Jack replied, grinning when Ennis agreed. "This is good...see, we've got some things in common." He bit his lip. "Ennis...I'm not asking you to promise me anything. I know that you'll be away for six months before you come back, so it won't be easy for us. But I'm just saying...you know..." He tentatively reached out to take Ennis's hand in his own, and felt his heart flutter when Ennis's fingers curled around his. "We could see how it goes?"
Ennis looked into his eyes and knew that he wanted what Jack was suggesting, but he wasn't sure about what he would be asking of Jack. "It's just...asking you to be celibate for all that time...not really fair."
Jack shook his head. "Don't care. I'll be fine. So...what d'you say?" They stared at each other and Ennis realised that he did want this, more than anything else. He knew it was crazy, since they'd only known each other for twenty-four hours, but it still felt right.
"You know what?" he asked, squeezing Jack's hand. "I'm thinking...I wanna kiss you right now."
Jack grinned, liking the sound of that. "Well, um...that would...be okay," he said, wondering what it would feel like when he had those lips upon his own. Ennis shuffled closer, eyes gazing into Jack's and sending a shiver down his spine.
"You sure?" he asked softly, cupping Jack's cheek with his free hand. Jack trembled slightly at the touch, knowing in his heart that this was supposed to happen.
"Yeah." Ennis needed no further encouragement; he leaned in and gently captured Jack's lips with his own. Jack's heart soared and sparks flew; he'd never felt like this in his life. He pressed his lips against Ennis's as much as he could and was rewarded by the feeling of Ennis's tongue seeking entrance. When he opened his mouth and felt himself being explored, he moaned softly and laced his fingers through Ennis's; this was incredible.
Just as he felt himself starting to become aroused, he felt Ennis pull away for air and blinked several times. "Wow..."
"I know," Ennis breathed, staring at him in wonder. "That was...something else." He glanced at the kitchen. "Um...lunch ready yet?" he asked, and Jack shot up before something could happen to it, albeit with shaky legs after what had just happened. They had identical grins on their faces and both knew that they couldn't turn back now.
Ennis got up and leaned close to Jack, wanting to be near him. Jack shivered and tried to concentrate, but he was having trouble when he was still so turned on. He wanted more, so much more, but that definitely had to wait. It wouldn't be a good idea to invite Ennis into his bedroom right now, no matter how much they both might want to. Going too fast too soon was never a good idea and it always ended badly; he didn't want that.
Truth be told, Ennis didn't want to take things that far just yet either. If they had sex now, when things were just starting, one of them might think it was a mistake and that would be the end of it. He wanted to wait, but he hoped it wouldn't hurt Jack's feelings when he told him.
As they ate lunch together, they kept glancing up at each other and then looking away with reddening cheeks. That kiss had been amazing, and they wanted to kiss again but they also had to talk about what was going on. Both of them were painfully aware that they were on borrowed time.
After lunch, Ennis and Jack returned to the sofa and were soon kissing again. They took it slowly, not wanting to let the moment cloud their judgement. As much as they were attracted to each other, neither of them wanted to rush things.
"Mmm," Jack moaned when they broke apart for air. "You're a great kisser, you know."
Ennis smirked and kissed him again. "You're not so bad yourself."
"Can I ask you something?" Jack asked as he kissed Ennis's jaw.
"How many guys have you kissed?"
Ennis paused. "Um...not many. Had a few things in college, but...nothing really serious. Never lasted long. You?"
"Pretty much the same. Are you, um...a virgin?"
"Depends. Had a girlfriend in high school, so not in that way. As for guys? Yeah, I am."
"Me too," Jack confessed, feeling suddenly shy. "I mean...I had offers, but I didn't wanna do it with someone random. Call me an old romantic, but I'd rather do it with someone that means something to me."
Ennis nodded. "I think that's smart...you know what you want. I've thought about it too, but...never found anyone I wanted to do it with."
"Right." Knowing that he had to ask Ennis this was hard for him to admit, but he just had to know what might happen for them. He did want to sleep with Ennis, but he didn't want just a one night stand where Ennis would leave him the next morning to go back to the ship. This was quite a dilemma. "So...would you ever consider...you know...with me?"
Ennis smiled and stroked his cheek. "Yeah, I would. Already have, to be honest." Jack bit his lip; he was glad for that answer and didn't know how to tell Ennis that it was too soon.
"Um...look, I...I wanna do it too but...we still hardly know each other. I just don't wanna rush into anything...and I know that you're probably pissed at me now for saying that, but..."
"Jack..." Ennis took his hands. "It's okay. I do wanna do it with you, but you're right. It's too soon for that and if we rush into anything we might regret it. I know what most people think of sailors on shore leave, and the whole 'girl in every port' thing. I know some guys who actually do that. Different bed every time they touch on land. But I never wanted to do that stuff, not even with guys. It just seems...tacky. I never saw the appeal of doing it with someone that you've only just met just for the hell of it."
Jack sighed. "Ennis...I was thinking that I might have to let you down gently, but..."
"But it's okay because I think we're both thinking the same thing now. As much as I like you, it's way too soon for that. I'd just feel like I was taking advantage of you being here and liking me. It's just not right for me to drag you into that bedroom now, and I've got more pride than that."
Jack nodded. "That's fine with me, Ennis. I know that all of this is crazy, since we've only just met. We're talking about sex and a relationship already...anyone would think we've been drinking or something else."
"Well...it is weird, I guess. But it doesn't feel weird, really. Just feels right, you know?" He laced their fingers together. "I like you a whole lot, Jack. I just don't wanna rush it."
Jack kissed him and rested his head on Ennis's shoulder. "Me neither. This is nice...I like this, right now. Kissing and talking...I'm comfortable with this..."
Ennis smiled. "Well...when you are ready, just let me know. Whether it's my next visit here or the one after or whatever..."
"Um...I think...your next visit would be okay. It'll be six months from now and we can call each other, right?"
"Yeah, I can call you from the ship, maybe even send a letter," Ennis replied, liking the idea. Might make the time pass a little less painfully."
Jack felt content, sitting here with Ennis and tentatively making plans for the future. Neither of them knew what might happen beyond their first time together, but they wanted to find out and see for themselves. Jack wondered what his parents would think of him seeing a sailor; no doubt his mother would be proud of him for finding someone so trustworthy who could take care of him. He knew she would worry about it being long-distance, though, because of how much he was bound to pine for Ennis.
The time passed and soon enough Ennis had to leave to get back to the barracks. He stood at the door with Jack, holding his hands. "I'll come by and see you in the morning, before I leave," he promised. "Is eight okay?"
"Yeah, that's fine," Jack replied, fighting down the lump in his throat. He didn't want to say goodbye so soon. "I'll be up for work anyway at that time." Even if he hadn't been, Jack knew he'd get up at any hour to see Ennis one last time.
"Jack...I want you to know something. For me, the hardest thing about the next six months is not being with you. But the second hardest? Not being able to talk about you to my friends. They can't know I'm gay or that I'm seeing someone."
Jack nodded. "I know. And I hate that you can't do that when you obviously want to. You'll have to be careful when you call me. Don't say my name if someone else is nearby."
"I'll think of something." Ennis smiled and brought Jack close to him for a deep kiss which Jack wished would never end. When they broke apart, Ennis whispered in his ear, "See you tomorrow."
Jack watched him go with a heavy heart. Less than forty-eight hours and he had it bad for this handsome stranger who would be away for six months. He didn't understand what had happened to him but he didn't care; he was starting to fall in love.
April 15th, 2009
The next morning, Jack was making breakfast for himself as he waited for Ennis. This would be their last meeting for six months and he wasn't sure how he was going to deal with the time apart. He didn't get it; they still hardly knew each other but he was starting to envision what it might be like to have a relationship with Ennis. Maybe it was just supposed to happen this way; he knew his parents hadn't been together for very long before deciding to get married, and almost thirty years later they were still together. That gave him food for thought.
The night before, he'd rummaged through his things until he'd found a journal that he had bought for himself but ended up not using; he knew that Ennis would find it hard not to talk about him, so this was the next best thing. He also had sent a photo of himself to Ennis's phone, so that Ennis could see him anytime he wanted. Then Ennis had sent one back in return, in his uniform.
Jack knew full well what he was getting into; he knew that Ennis would be away for a long time and that it wouldn't be easy, but he was quite prepared to wait. Being so certain of what he wanted did help and he knew he could cope, but he didn't have to like it. He wished that Ennis could visit more often, and he wondered how long Ennis was planning on serving.
There came a buzzing sound and he headed to the door. "Hello?"
"It's me, bud," replied Ennis's voice, sounding slightly tired.
"Come on up," Jack told him before pressing the button and returning to his breakfast. Ennis arrived in a few minutes and Jack grinned at the sight of him; he was wearing his uniform again. "You look really good in that, you know."
Ennis's cheeks reddened. "Um, thanks. Reckon the others suspect I've met someone here, judging by their faces when I told 'em I wanted to stop by. They don't know it's a guy," he assured Jack when he saw the look of concern. "I won't tell them anything about you."
Jack nodded and he kissed Ennis's cheek. "You got time for some breakfast?" he offered, and Ennis looked at his watch.
"Yeah, reckon so. I have to leave in half an hour, though..."
"Okay..." Jack turned away, trying to blink away the stinging in his eyes. But Ennis caught his face as he turned and sighed, moving closer to him.
"I know, Jack...I hate it too. But I'll call you and send you letters. Maybe I can take photos of the places we visit and send them to you."
Jack turned back to face him, managing to smile. "Sounds great. And...I really am happy for you that you get to see the world. Anybody would wanna do that if they could. Just...not that easy to say goodbye to you."
Ennis cupped his cheek, looking sadly into those deep blue eyes that had been in his dream the night before. "Darlin'..." he said, the word effortlessly slipping from his mouth. Jack blinked.
"What did you just call me?" he asked in a soft voice, eyes roaming over Ennis's face. Ennis blushed.
"Just...felt right to call you that. Don't mind, do you?"
Jack shook his head. "No...that was...nice. I liked it. I think you've found the perfect name to call me on the phone if there's other guys around."
"Yeah...guess I have." They kissed and Jack started serving breakfast. They talked about the upcoming journey as they ate and all too soon it was time for Ennis to leave. They had anticipated this, but that didn't make it any easier.
Ennis held Jack close to him, not wanting to let go. "Wish I could bring you with me," he sighed, nuzzling Jack's neck. Jack felt warm and welcoming, and he so wished that he wasn't leaving.
"Yeah. Wish it was less than six months. I'm gonna miss you a whole lot."
"Really wish I could talk about you..."
At this, Jack opened his eyes and remembered the journal. "Hang on," he said, prising himself away and heading to the coffee table, where he'd put it. "Here," he said, holding it out to Ennis with a slight smile.
"What's this?" Ennis asked, looking puzzled.
"A journal. You said last night that the hardest thing about leaving is being away from me, but the second hardest is not being able to talk about me. Well...I can't really solve either of them but...I can help with the second one. You can tell this little guy all about me, if you want," he grinned, seeing that Ennis was truly touched.
"Jack...I dunno what to say," he said, taking the journal. "Thank you." He pulled Jack close for another deep kiss, wishing that the next six months would pass quickly. They hugged tightly until they were ready to let go, or as ready as they were going to be. Ennis took Jack's hand. "Take care of yourself, bud."
"Yeah, you too. Best of luck," Jack replied, smiling even though he was hurting. "See you when you get back."
"Yep." Ennis let go of his hand and headed out of the door, smiling at Jack one last time before disappearing and closing the door behind him. Jack looked around his apartment, feeling cold even though it was a warm day. He knew he had to be strong and just focus on his own life for now until Ennis came back.
Outside, Ennis looked up at the fourth floor where he knew Jack was and silently promised that when he returned, he would not only take things further with Jack like they both wanted, but he would also tell Jack exactly how he felt. The photo on his phone would get him through the next six months when he felt lonely, and would remind him of what waited at the end of it.