Chapter 14

Wednesday, June 30th 2010

I've got the cabin door locked as I'm writing this; I keep thinking that Mike's going to come barging in at any moment and catch me writing. He could easily steal it and go showing it to everyone before I could blink, and that just can't happen.

I know I need to go and talk to the captain at some point, and I will. But I'm still scared of what could happen if I do. He could decide to let me go when we get back to the States. And even if he doesn't, Mike will get angry that I grassed him up and he could out me anyway. I don't know what to do right now, but I know for sure that I will not be giving in to him. I love Jack too much to risk what we've got, even for my job.

I talk to Richard now and then, and he keeps on at me to go and talk to the captain too. I'm glad I've got someone to talk to here who accepts me and is willing to hear me talk about Jack. I miss Jack every day and it never gets any easier. Just over fifteen months to go until I'm back with him for good; I can't wait for us to start our life together.

Now and then, I think about what's going to happen when I'm back. We still haven't decided where we're going to live, but there's plenty of time for that. The thing is, I would like to go back to my apartment in Knoxville. It's a great place and I haven't seen it for a long time; I'm sure Jack would like it. But he's already sacrificed so much for me that it's not fair to just decide on this without his input. If he would rather we live in his place together that would be fine with me; I want to be with him, wherever that is.

I catch Mike looking at me now and again, and the looks make me very uncomfortable. I don't like the idea of him being around me at the moment, always reminding me of what he's blackmailed me with. What if he gets drunk again and starts telling the others about me and Jack? I don't think there'd be a way out of that one because everybody would hear it.

I just try to keep my head up and stay out of trouble; I avoid Mike whenever I can and I hope it'll be enough until I can pluck up the courage to talk to the captain. I know I should, and I want to, but it won't be easy for me. I wish I had something of Jack's to hold on to, like a shirt or something. It would remind me of him and make things a little easier, especially at night when I'm alone without him. I love him and I hope that one day we have a life together.

Ennis heard a noise in the corridor and looked up in alarm; someone was trying the door. He knew that his cabin mate was working, so it was either Richard or Mike. Too scared to move, he simply waited. He prayed that if it was Mike, he would give up and go away.

"Ennis? You in there?" came Richard's voice, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He went to open the door and gave his friend an apologetic look.

"I'm sorry...I was writing in my journal and...I kept thinking that Mike was gonna burst in and steal it."

"I can understand that...this whole thing is making you paranoid," Richard pointed out, leaning against the wall. Ennis looked at him.

"Can you blame me?" he asked, putting his journal safely away. "After what he threatened me with?"

"," Richard admitted. "If I was in your position, I'd be the same. Have you spoken to the captain yet?"

Ennis shook his head. "No, not yet...don't have the guts yet."

"Ennis, we're arriving in Sydney today. You have to do something before we leave on the thirteenth or it'll be too late. Mike will tell everyone about you and Jack and you'll be kicking yourself because you didn't do anything."

Deep down, Ennis knew he was right; he couldn't just stand by. Jack wouldn't want him to. "I know...Jack keeps on at me as well. He gets that I'm scared but he knows I have to do this. Every time I pluck up the courage I just...can't do it..."

Richard sighed and put a hand to his forehead. "Okay, I'll tell you what. I'll go with you to tell the captain. I can vouch for how much this is affecting you and you might have a better defence."

Ennis was truly touched by this display of camaraderie, and he smiled. "I'll take you up on that, thanks. Okay, then...I'll talk to him on the thirteenth, before we leave. Then I've got this time on land to get some space and think about what I'm gonna say."

"Sounds fair. You have to do it, Ennis. It's the only way to fix this. I know you're risking your job but you've got no choice."

"Yeah. It really is the only way." Ennis nodded and then stood up. "Well, reckon they'll be getting ready for the landing soon. If we go up to the deck we might be able to see the Opera House."

"Sure." They left the cabin and headed up to the deck, following many of their co-workers who had the same idea. Ennis spotted Mike but stayed well away from him; he didn't need that right now.

He and Richard headed for the front, where they kept an eye on the horizon and wondered how long it would take to get there. Ennis knew that he was running out of time, but hopefully soon it would get sorted. He just didn't want to think about what might happen if it didn't.

They arrived in Sydney and were informed that due to a series of meetings with the head of the local Navy and their own captain, they would be staying in the city for two weeks before heading home. Ennis was looking forward to spending some time here because it looked interesting, but he was dreading the end of it because he would need to speak to the captain before Mike did something.

After landing in Port Jackson, Ennis looked around and stretched. "Well, guess we might as well try and relax while we're here. What are you gonna do?"

Richard pulled out the city guide that he had pocketed when they'd landed. "I reckon I might head down to the nearest beach and get some sun. You?"

"Maybe later. I wanna check out the Opera House. I'll see you later, yeah?" They clapped their hands together and headed off in separate directions. Ennis hoped that Mike wouldn't be following him.

As he walked, Ennis thought about Jack and what might happen if he was told to leave the Navy. Jack had told him that he was more than welcome to move in with him but Ennis hoped that he was able to stay. He knew his father, while accepting of his sexuality, was a very proud man who firmly believed that service in the armed forces would be good for him. Ennis just wanted to make him proud, to prove that even though he was gay he could still earn his father's respect. That was partially why he had joined in the first place and he sorely hoped that he would be allowed to see it through. He hated the thought of having to leave and then to be told by his father that he was a disgrace for allowing himself to be caught out. A dishonourable discharge would surely shame his father and Ennis didn't want that.

He walked around the bay, taking in the fresh sea air and snapping photos that he thought Jack might like. When he got to the other side, he looked around the Opera House for a while and decided to get some fish for lunch on the seafront. He hoped that one day he could bring Jack here to share this experience with him; he wanted to do so much with Jack that they hadn't had the chance to yet.

During their last phone call, Jack had told him that his mother had been in touch and that she and his father wanted to meet him. Ennis had been pleasantly surprised by this, given how he hadn't even thought about that much lately.

"Yeah, she said she wants to get to know you. If we go up to their place, she'll cook for us. She said something about making a roast."

"That sounds great," Ennis replied, smiling. He wanted to meet Jack's family, since they would be together for good one day. Maybe even one day, Jack would be his family. That would make him happy.

Ennis often thought about the idea of marrying Jack, now that their relationship was so stable. They'd never talked about it, but as far as he knew Jack didn't have anything against it. He was certain that Jack wanted to get married one day and he would love it if he could be the one that Jack married. However, he knew that it wasn't legal in Florida, but was in Iowa. That meant that if they wanted it to be legal, they would have to live in Iowa. He had no idea if same-sex marriage was going to be made legal in Florida any time soon, but maybe it would be by the time he returned for good. There was still over a year to go, after all.

He kept thinking about it as he walked around, wondering what it might be like. He knew it was way too soon in their relationship to ask Jack to marry him, no matter how much he loved him. They were moving quite quickly, but he didn't want to scare Jack by putting so much pressure on him. That wouldn't be fair. But he had to admit that he wanted to marry the man he loved, one day.

Over the two weeks they had here, Ennis walked around a lot while thinking. Sometimes he was alone and at other times Richard would join him. They talked about what they would say to the captain and how they might get him to take the situation seriously. Neither of them had any idea of how the captain felt about gay people, but Richard reminded Ennis of his options whenever this doubt came up.

"You know what'll happen if you don't do anything," he said as they were sat in a café one day, close to the end of their visit. "Mike will tell everyone and...they'll tear you apart, Ennis. There'll be nasty jokes, might even turn physical and then you definitely will be kicked out for fighting. My brother got that at high school and that was enough for me to know that I hate it when people do that to anyone they think to be different. I don't wanna see you going through what he did, because here it'll be so much worse."

"I know," Ennis agreed, nodding and trying to eat. "You and Jack both keep telling me that I have to do this and I know that you're right.'s not easy. Coming out to you was hard enough, but the captain...he can decide my future on this ship."

"True, but he could surprise you. I know there's the law, but surely it's up to him how he works with it. He's in charge, after all. I mean, captains have the right to conduct marriage ceremonies, so why not? He can probably do whatever he wants."

Ennis nodded again and thought about Jack, hoping he knew how much he was loved and what was about to risked just to keep their relationship safe.

July 13th, 2010

It was Tuesday, and also their last day. They were due to be leaving in a few hours and even though Ennis had enjoyed their time here, he was looking forward to returning home. He'd taken lots of photos for Jack and had even bought him a couple of gifts, which he thought Jack would like. The captain had pointed out that it would take them a bit longer to get back, which meant they would still be away until October. But that was fine with Ennis; maybe he would be there for Jack's birthday at last.

He and Richard were outside the captain's cabin, ready to talk to him about what was going on. Ennis appreciated having some support with him but he was very nervous.

"Just remember," Richard told him as they waited to be called in. "Even if this backfires, you'll be okay. You've got Jack, remember?"

Ennis nodded and they were asked to come inside. They did so and were directed to a pair of seats in front of the desk. The captain, whose name was Martin, smiled at them. "Okay, so what can I do for you two?"

"Um, well..." Ennis started, feeling terrified but wanting to get through this. "The thing is, sir...I'm being blackmailed by another member of the crew. And I was hoping you might be able to help me."

"Oh...well, tell me what's going on and I'll see what I can do."

"Sir, I...I know what the law says but I have to tell you this. I'm gay, and I've been seeing a guy in Jacksonville. And someone found out about it and now he's blackmailing me."

The captain looked surprised. "Well, I wasn't expecting that. But hey...there could be any number of gay men on this ship and I wouldn't know. As long as you're good workers I'm fine with it."

"You are?" Ennis asked in relief. "I thought you might tell me to pack up all my stuff." The captain smiled.

"Far from it, Ennis. So, you're seeing someone in Jacksonville, on shore leave? And now someone's blackmailing you?"

"Yep. He said he'll tell everyone unless know..." He couldn't say it; the thought alone made him shudder because it would involve cheating on Jack and that made him feel sick. The captain nodded.

"I see. You don't have to spell it out, Ennis. So...what brings you into this?" he asked Richard.

"Ennis told me about him being gay a while ago, because he was missing his fella and wanted someone to talk to. Being away for so long isn't easy on them, sir. And when he told me about being blackmailed, he was so scared to come to you that I offered to come with him. My brother's gay so I know how difficult it can be to tell someone; he didn't tell us for years because he was so scared."

"Right. Okay then, what's the name of this person blackmailing you?"

"Mike Jones," Ennis replied, and the captain made a note of it.

"I know him...never thought he'd turn out to be like this. So he's blackmailing you with exposure in return for sexual favours, am I right?"

"Yeah," Ennis sighed, wishing it wasn't true.

"Right. I will have a word with him and see if I can sort this out. It may be that I might need to see all three of you at the same time."

"Sir...I'm worried about that. What if he gets angry that I came to you and tells everyone anyway?"

"I understand your fears, Ennis. But I can issue a gagging order on him, in relation to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I can tell him that if he tells someone and they start harassing you, then he will be sacked on the spot and warned to keep away from you. I know that might not be enough to shut him up, but that's all I can do that doesn't involve tying him up somewhere and actually gagging him."

Ennis managed to smile; he hadn't know that the captain was like this. "Well...thanks anyway, sir. I was really scared about coming to see you."

"That's understandable, but you've nothing to be scared of with me. I have to ask then...what are your plans? Do you intend to leave us soon?"

"I want to see through my contract; it ends next year," Ennis told him. "Then I will be leaving. I'm gonna move in with Jack."

The captain smiled. "Sounds good. I wish you and your partner the best of luck for your future, I really do. And I will try to get this sorted out as soon as possible."

"Could it be today?" Ennis asked, remembering his time limit. "Mike said if he doesn't get an answer by today..."

"Certainly," the captain replied, and he pressed the intercom. "Sarah? Can you please get a Mike Jones up here to see me as soon as possible?"

"Yes, sir," his secretary replied, and he smiled.

"Done. Try not to worry, Ennis. I know that'll be hard but we'll do everything we can to keep you safe. As the captain, the upholding of the law is at my discretion so I won't be punishing you for telling me that you're gay. But I won't tolerate blackmail like this. I'll see this Mike Jones today and I'll give him a warning. If anything happens, please come to me. It might be that I need to make an official announcement that homophobia of any kind will not be tolerated on my ship."

Ennis nodded and they both stood up, shaking his hand. "Thank you so much, sir. I really appreciate this."

"It's not a problem. Dismissed." He waved them away with a smile and they left the office, both breathing sighs of relief.

"Guess that's sorted," Richard said, nudging Ennis. But Ennis wasn't celebrating yet.

"I don't know...I don't think it's over. If Mike backs down because of'll be too easy."

Ennis tried not to worry too much as he went back to his cabin. Just because he wasn't going to believe that his troubles with Mike were over didn't mean that they weren't; maybe he was just paranoid. He did hope that he would get some peace after this but he just couldn't let himself believe that yet; he knew that Mike was bound to get angry that he'd gone to the captain for help. Bullies like Mike didn't like it when they were confronted; they took their anger out on their victims in any way possible.

He sat on his bed for a while as he waited for them to set off again, flicking through his journal and smiling as he thought of how Jack was waiting for him. He loved Jack so much and was looking forward to meeting his parents; maybe one day they would be his in-laws, and that was an encouraging thought.

There was a knock on the door and he froze, staring at it in fear. There was nowhere to hide if this was Mike. "It's me, Ennis," came Richard's voice again, and he sighed. He had to stop panicking like that every time someone knocked on the door.

"Come on in." He put his journal down and his friend entered the room, looking worried. "What's going on?"

"I was just up near the captain's cabin and I spotted Mike going in there. I reckon he might get a warning for this but I know one thing; he's not gonna be happy. What if he gets drunk again and starts shooting his mouth off?"

"I know, but you and Jack were right. I couldn't just stand by and do nothing. I had to take action, and at least I won't regret anything now." This way, everything was on his terms and he wouldn't kick himself for letting Mike get his way.

"I hope you're right." A few minutes later, there was a banging on the door; there was no mistaking the visitor this time.

"Ennis! Open this door or I swear I'll kick it down!" It was Mike, and the tone of his voice was enough to make Ennis scared.

"Oh God..." He put his journal safely away and stood up, glancing at Richard. He nodded.

"It's okay. You can't let yourself be intimidated."

Ennis opened the door and came face to face with a furious Mike. "You think you can just grass me up to the captain and get away with it?"

"You think you can blackmail me and get away with it?" Ennis retorted, folding his arms. He was terrified, but he had to keep his head held high. Mike glared at him.

"The captain gave me a warning just now. Said if I spread rumours about you and something happens, I'll get the sack. So even if someone else finds out on their own, I'm gonna get the blame."

Ennis shrugged. "You should have thought about that before you started blackmailing me. You tried to get me to cheat on someone I love."

Mike stepped closer, eyes full of hate. "Now you listen here, you goddamn queer. If you think you can keep me quiet, you're wrong. I know guys who love beating up people like you, so you'd better be careful. I'll tell all of them what you are, and what's the captain gonna do? Sack all of us? I don't think so."

Ennis felt fear running through him; he'd known that Mike could react like this but he'd hoped that it wouldn't come to that. Now Mike was going to tell everyone that he was gay and seeing a man on shore leave, and that would be it. What if they beat him up in the middle of the night? Even if he recovered, it would still be over for him because he wouldn't want to continue working here. Worse still, what if they followed him on the next shore leave and hurt Jack too, out of spite? He would blame himself if something happened to Jack, even if Jack himself didn't.

"Well...I'm not backing down," he replied, trying to stay strong. Jack would want him to, so he had to make him proud. "You shouldn't have blackmailed me, and then this wouldn't have happened. It's your own fault, Mike."

"You're going to regret this," Mike said in a low voice, making Ennis wish that Jack could be here with him; Jack would probably hit Mike right about now. "Everyone will know the truth and you will get what you deserve."

He stepped away and started walking back down the corridor. Ennis exhaled in relief to see him go and leaned against the door frame. He was glad that Mike was away from him, but he knew exactly what was coming next. "Shit...I knew this would happen."

"You had to do it," Richard pointed out, clapping him on the shoulder. "That guy's an asshole and he shouldn't be allowed to intimidate anyone like this. I know there's a huge risk of him telling the others, but maybe he was bluffing. Maybe he's too worried about losing his job to actually do anything, but he wants you to be afraid so he's letting you think that he's going to tell the others, you know?"

"Maybe," Ennis replied, though he didn't believe it. "But the way he looked at me...I think he's serious. They'll probably all know by sundown." He sighed, thinking about how this would spell the end of his career for sure. He certainly wouldn't want to carry on working on the ship if everyone made fun of him or beat him up, so he guessed that this was it.

Ennis knew that he still had Jack and that this would never change. Jack would be there for him when he returned and would take good care of him; he'd never doubted that. He had hoped to see out the remainder of his contract but obviously that wasn't going to happen now.

July 20th, 2010

A week later, Ennis decided to call Jack and let him know how things were going; he knew that Jack would want to know how the talk with the captain had gone so he figured it was only fair.

To his surprise and suspicion, he hadn't been approached by anyone wanting to know if the rumours about him were true. He had honestly expected this and he didn't understand why Mike hadn't said anything. Richard had told him that he hadn't heard a word about him, and Ennis wondered what was going on. He knew he shouldn't tempt fate and he was glad that Mike was keeping quiet, but he hoped that Mike wasn't going to get drunk anytime soon; he just couldn't shut up when he'd had alcohol.

Alone in his cabin, he dialled Jack's number and waited to hear that beloved voice. "Ennis?"

"Hey, darlin'. Sorry it took me a while to get around to calling you."

"It's okay, bud. I know you're busy. How are you?"

"I'm...okay, I guess. I talked to the captain last week, about Mike."

"You did? That's great, Ennis! What did he say?"

"He's okay about me being gay, and he said he won't tolerate what Mike's doing. So he's given him a warning not to harass me. And if something happens, then Mike's gonna get the blame for it and he'll be sacked."

"Good. I hate to think of that bastard making you miserable and scaring you. I really wanna punch him, you know?"

Ennis smirked. "That makes two of us. But then something happened a little later..."

"What? Did he threaten you?" Jack asked, sounding concerned.

"Kind of. I was talking to Richard in my cabin and Mike knocked on the door. He told me I'm gonna regret grassing him up to the captain and that things are basically gonna get really bad. Jack...there's this one guy who he says loves to beat up people like us. What if he corners me, and...?"

"Ennis...I don't know what to say. I wish it wasn't like that and I wish I could be there to help you. But it's like I keep saying; you're gonna be okay. If you get beat up, I'll help you get better. That's just the way it is. You're never gonna be alone, okay?"

"I know that, still scares me. I kept thinking things...what if they follow me on the next shore leave and hurt you? I'll never forgive myself, even if you do."

"Ennis, it won't come to that. You ought to know by now what it's like on that ship; they just like stirring things up. I know that some of them might be violent, but...if it comes to that we'll get a restraining order or something. We might even be moving when you come back next year. We still need to talk about that one, actually."

"Yeah, we do. I don't know what I wanna do about that yet. I think about it sometimes but I can't decide. Maybe we should sit down together and weigh up all of our options, you know? Decide between us what the best solution is."

"Sounds good. I know we're very compatible, we shouldn't have any arguments, I don't think. And I'm looking forward to settling down with you; I can't wait."

Ennis smiled. "Me neither, darlin'. And...I can't wait to be back with you in a few months. Every day brings me closer to you."

"Yeah...I'm looking forward to it. I hope you can meet my parents too, Ennis. I know they really want to meet you."

"I wanna meet them, too. That roast that your mom was talking about...I'd love that. Reckon we'll need something like that."

"Ennis, I...I want to meet Richard too. He's your friend and he's been giving you support, so...I wanna thank him for that. Maybe we could all go for a beer one night or something, you know?"

"I reckon he'd like that. Anyway, the thing is...even though Mike said I'll regret telling the captain, I haven't heard anything. Neither has Richard. It looks as if Mike hasn't said anything to anyone."

"When he threatened it possible that he was bluffing just to keep you intimidated?"

"We thought about that. But...I don't know. Maybe he's biding his time?

"Maybe. But you can't tempt fate, Ennis. You should think yourself lucky that nothing's happened yet. Maybe it'll stay like that and you can fulfil your contract. Then you won't have to worry about what they're saying because you won't be there. It won't hurt you then."

Ennis knew he was right, but he was extremely worried about what Mike might be planning. Halloween was coming up in a few months; what if Mike got drunk again and told everyone?

"I know. And I'm sure glad I've got you on my side, Jack. It's a little easier to deal with all of this, knowing that you'll be there for me if I need you."

"You'd do it for me," Jack pointed out, and Ennis had to agree. He'd do anything for Jack.

"That's true. I can't wait to be with you again, Jack. To hold you and kiss you...I physically miss you, you know? Like I'm missing a limb or something..."

"Ennis...I feel like that too. I can't wait until you're here for good. Even with working, we'll still be together every day. Then everything will be alright, I know it."

"Yeah, it will," Ennis replied, smiling to himself. His heart ached for the day when he would be with Jack for good; there was still over a year to go which was dragging by. "I love you, Jack."

"I love you too. Let me know when you have the dates of your stay, so I can tell my mom. And good luck with everything."

"Yep. Bye, Jack."

"Bye, baby." Jack clicked off and Ennis sighed, wishing that he could just go to sleep and then wake up in Jack's apartment.