Chapter 17

Wednesday, October 20th 2010

It's only been four days, but it still feels like a lifetime. I'm still not sure where exactly we're headed this time, but I do know we're making our way towards Russia. I'd like to see that country; I love going to new places and this is part of why I wanted to be in the Navy.

But I'm still not without problems. Mike is still making me nervous every time I see him, and I know he has this hold over me to keep quiet about his threats. I wonder if Jack was right after all; that Mike will use this to proposition me again. I hate the thought of cheating on Jack, even if he knows about it; I just can't do that to him.

Being with him for an entire fortnight was amazing, every single day. I never thought that I'd get to spend so much time with him while still in my contract, so it was a nice surprise for both of us. I think we adapted really well to living together, like it was a trial run for the real thing; I loved helping him with all the domestic stuff and I know he did too. When we live together for real, I know we can make it work.

I'm really happy that his parents seem to like me, and that they've given us their blessing. It means a lot to me to be accepted by them, and I really hope that when Jack meets my parents that they do the same thing.

I keep thinking about where we're going to live when I'm out of the Navy, and I know we agreed to take a look around my apartment before deciding. But lately I've been feeling homesick. I miss my parents and my apartment, even the neighbourhood. It's been years since I set foot there and I would love to go back. But I don't know how Jack feels about that; he might not want to even if he sees it first. I want him to be happy most of all, so if he doesn't like my place then that's the deal-breaker. I want to live with him, and I want him to be happy with our home.

It's not easy to be away from him for so long, and I was quite surprised by him taking my shirt. But I can understand why he did it, and if it helps him to sleep then that's fine with me. I should know how hard it is to be away from someone you love, which is why I took one of his. I've slept with it every night since getting back to the ship and maybe it's all psychological, but it somehow works. I really do feel less alone because it's almost as if he's here with me.

I just don't know what to do about Mike. I really worry about the upcoming Halloween party and what he might do when he gets drunk again.

Ennis sighed and put his pen down, not really knowing what to say next. He was always going to live in fear of what might happen when alcohol was involved, given Mike's track record for not being able to handle his liquor. But Ennis realised he could just hide away in his room during the party; maybe then Mike wouldn't be provoked into saying anything. But would that be enough to stop him? If Mike was going to oust him to everyone then he might as well be there for it.

He heard his phone beep and looked at the screen; it was from Jack. He loved how they could correspond like this without anyone sneaking looks over his shoulder or eavesdropping on his conversation.

I love you xxx

Ennis smiled; there was no need for Jack to have said anything else. Those three words were perfect, and he quickly texted back.

Love you too xxx

He wished that he could still be there with Jack, holding him close and kissing him. They'd had a lot of sex over the two weeks of his shore leave, mostly on Jack's birthday, and he felt closer to Jack than ever before because they knew each other so intimately. He knew he was very lucky to find someone who he not only had amazing sex with, but who he also cared about. It wasn't easy to find that combination so he wasn't about to go risking what he had by giving in to Mike. It just wasn't worth hurting Jack like that.

I was thinking, could your folks send photos of your place? Don't get enough time off to go visit and I wanna see your place so we can think about where to live xxx

Ennis thought it was a perfect solution; this way, Jack would be able to get a sense of what his apartment was like and if he might want to live there. He knew that Jack would like the place, so maybe it would be enough. His parents could certainly send photos to Jack through email; they certainly wanted to get to know Jack better and he figured it was only fair since he had met Jack's parents. One day, their two families would be united so they might as well make a start on that.

Sure, good idea. I'll tell them right away and give them your email address. I know you'll like it xxx

Ennis so wanted to live with Jack and he knew that the next twelve months were going to drag by because that was just how it worked. He didn't know how much time they would get in April but he knew it wouldn't be two weeks again; that was very rare. Still, a few days were good too because at least he got to be with Jack every day. He had no idea what it would be like to live with Jack for more than two weeks, but he couldn't wait to find out.

A little later, there was a knock on his door and he looked at it warily. "Hello?" he asked, hoping that it wasn't Mike. To his relief, it was Richard who opened it.

"Hey, just wanted to check that you're okay. I know that Mike's been looking funny at you again."

Ennis waved him in and allowed him to sit down. "Yeah, I'm fine. I don't know what's gonna happen but I'm trying not to panic right now. He'll probably get drunk at the Halloween party again and then he'll expose me."

"Are you still gonna go?"

Ennis shrugged. "Don't know yet. Thought about just hiding away...that if he doesn't see me while he's drunk he won't be provoked. But then...if he's gonna do it anyway at some point I might as well be there to take it. Jack's always saying that I'm really strong...I don't know if that's true but I might as well try and live up to that."

"He's a nice guy," Richard said, smiling. "And it's clear that he loves you very much. I'm happy for you, Ennis. My brother still hasn't found anyone that can make him happy."

"Yeah...he does make me very happy, despite all these issues," Ennis replied. "At the end of the day...we want to be together and that's just how it is. I can't imagine spending my life with anyone else."

"Good for you; not everybody feels like that about someone," Richard told him. "That's how I feel about Claire..."

Ennis nodded. "How's it going for you guys?"

"We're good. We've been talking about living together too, since I live in a different state like you do. So who knows? Maybe we'll both get that happy life."

"Sounds good. I've been thinking about me and Jack living in Knoxville...I know we said we'd visit my apartment so that we could decide, but...I really miss my place, and my parents. To be honest, I really want to live back there again but how the hell do I say that to Jack without him thinking that I just want to take charge and have everything my own way? I don't wanna hurt him."

"Well...I'm sure that if you explain to him how much you miss it, he'll understand. He didn't seem the type to blow up at you over something, especially not this. Does he even have a temper?"

Ennis smiled. "I've never seen it; he's never even snapped at me. Maybe it's because he's so happy, I don't know. But yeah...he really is calm about everything and he'll at least hear me out if I say it right. Anyway, he texted me earlier asking for photos of my apartment because he might not get the time to see it before we have to decide. So I sent his email address to my parents along with his request and my mom said she'll get onto it. I really hope they like him when they meet him, since Jack's parents liked me."

"I'm sure they will. you guys talk about getting married at all? I mean, it's not legal in Florida but it is in Iowa, where you live."

"I know, and maybe that's part of why I want us to live there," Ennis admitted. It had been weighing on his mind for a while. "The thing is...when we talk about it, it's always in a hypothetical way. We talk about it happening one day in the future, really far away. I guess there's a part of me that wants to propose to him, but I know it's way too soon for that. I don't wanna scare him off, not now that things are going so well for us. I like how things are going."

"That's great, but you're right. You don't want to put a load of pressure on him. What about next year, when you go back for good? Maybe you could do it then, since you guys are already living together?"

Ennis thought it sounded perfect, and it might also be good timing. But marriage was a huge deal and he didn't want Jack to feel like he was being forced into it. What if Jack only said yes so that he didn't break Ennis's heart? If he said yes, Ennis only wanted it to happen because Jack truly wanted to marry him and was ready for it. He knew that Jack wanted to, since he had said so, but they had never put a time frame on it. Jack had made no indication that he was ready for that step yet, and Ennis respected that.

"I don't know...maybe," he replied, shrugging. "I'll give it some more thought...maybe once we decide where we're gonna live, that might help. I just don't want to go doing something that'll freak him out and cause us to break up. I'll never forgive myself if I lose him because I wanted to rush things. I can't lose him..."

Richard sighed. "'re probably right. It's clear that you guys love each other a lot, but you can't rush the big relationship things, like moving in and marriage. Sometimes, rushing into marriage might work, but sometimes it doesn't and there's no guarantee which one it'll be for you guys. I'd say wait until this time next year when you return for good, and see how you feel then. If you're sure he'll say yes, and because he wants to, then go for it. You never know...but I think it would be perfect for your return. To come back and start your life with him by not only moving in with him, but by getting engaged too. Talk about a happy ending."

Ennis smiled at him, thinking about what it might be like to propose to Jack. He did want to, very much, but he understood that he couldn't rush it. There was plenty of time to prepare for that, and he knew that when he was ready to ask the question, Jack would be ready to hear it.

October 31st, 2010

Ennis was nervous, and for good reason. The Halloween party would be starting soon and he had a bad feeling about it. What if Mike exposed him after drinking too much? There was a high possibility of that, after all.

There came a knock at his door and he opened it to find Richard there. "Hey."

"Are you gonna make an appearance tonight?" he asked, and Ennis bit his lip.

"I thought about it, but...what if he gets drunk and exposes me?" That was his worst fear at the moment; Jack wasn't here to support him.

"It might happen," Richard admitted, leaning against the door frame. "But you know what? You can't let this idiot ruin any fun you might have on here. We don't get a lot of this with working all the time, so you should make the most of it and stop hiding away. He's not worth it."

Ennis knew he was right; Jack wouldn't want him to hide away and have no fun. He was by no means a coward, and he was sick of being scared all the time. "Alright, then. Let's get moving." He stood up and Richard clapped him on the back as they left.

They found the party already starting by the time they got there, and sure enough Mike was there downing shots with his friends. Ennis sighed and wondered what was going to happen tonight.

"Just try to have fun," Richard advised him, and Ennis nodded.

Mike then glanced at him, swaying slightly, and Ennis felt his blood run cold. "Speaking of strange you doing over there, Ennis? Heard from your boyfriend lately?"

Richard looked at Ennis, whose face had paled. "You wanna leave?" he asked quietly, and Ennis shook his head. He had to face this now. He didn't notice Richard slip away out of the room.

"That's right, folks. Ennis over there is a queer, seeing someone in Jacksonville for nearly two years now. He told us about having a girlfriend, and he was lying." There was a murmur going around the room, making Ennis wish that the ground could open and swallow him up. "That's why he's always so cagey about where he goes and who he's talking to on his phone."

Mike slipped off the stool and walked over to him, albeit shakily in his state. Ennis stood his ground, watching Mike with hatred and fear. "You fucking queer," Mike slurred, and Ennis had half a mind to tell the onlookers the truth behind this feud.

"Shut your mouth," he growled, eyes boring into Mike's. "I'll tell them about you if you don't leave me alone."

Mike sneered at him and stepped back. "You wouldn't dare. People like you...they don't deserve a good life like us. You should pack your bags and start swimming back to your queer lover. You don't belong here."

Before Ennis could defend himself, Mike had punched him and he was on the ground, groaning. Several people helped him up, to his surprise; he saw that they were the quieter group he'd spent time with before. Maybe he had been right about them, after all.

"Leave him alone, Mike," said one of them, glaring. "Who he is...that's none of your business."

"You want some?" Mike replied, stepping closer and raising his fist.

"Knock it off!" came a harsh, commanding voice. They turned to see that the captain himself was there, and all straightened up in his presence. Ennis was holding a cold cloth to his cheek that someone had given him, and the captain looked at him. "What happened, Ennis?" He noticed that Richard was there, and wondered if he was the one who had summoned the captain.

"Mike just told everyone about me being gay, then he slugged me," Ennis replied, wincing. The captain nodded.

"Right, you lot. I've turned a blind eye to your parties so far, because I know how hard it is to be away for so long. I even let you drink as long as you control yourselves. But I will not tolerate violence or homophobia on my ship. This will not go on and anyone who engages in it will be harshly punished. I'm aware of what the law says, but the upholding of it at sea is at my discretion. I decide on what happens in these circumstances. Ennis had already been threatened and blackmailed with exposure, and I will not allow this."

"You're gonna let him stay?" asked Mike, looking furious. "That's not right."

"Quiet," the captain replied. "Jones, I want to see you in my office first thing tomorrow morning. Go back to your cabin and sleep it off. As for the rest of you...if I hear one thing about Ennis, or anyone else for that matter, being harassed in such a way, the culprit will find their job to be at risk. Got that?" The group all nodded and replied their assent. "Good. Now then...the party can continue, but you're all to return to your cabins by midnight." He left the room and Ennis sighed, glancing at Richard.

"How did he know? You had something to do with it, didn't you?"

Richard shrugged. "As soon as he started, I slipped outside to the in-house phone and got them to send the captain. I just said that there was gonna be trouble tonight and told them where. I didn't know that he knew about the parties, but I guess he's cool with it as long as we behave."

"Yeah, he's a decent guy. Thanks for doing that, but...I don't wanna stay now." Ennis looked around him; some of the guys were looking at him in an unfriendly way now that they knew the truth, and he didn't want to be here. "I'm gonna go to bed."

"Sure," Richard replied, nodding. "See you tomorrow." Ennis left the room and headed straight for his cabin; he had to talk to Jack tonight to let him know what had happened. He needed to hear that beloved voice.

When Ennis had sat down on his bed and was certain that he was alone, he dialled Jack's number and hoped that he wasn't out; Jack hadn't mentioned going to a party tonight.

"Hey, bud. Thought you'd be drunk by now with your friends," Jack said when he picked up, clearly happy to hear from him. Ennis sighed.

"'s happened. Mike was drunk and he told everyone."

"Oh shit..." Jack groaned. "Ennis, are you okay?"

"He punched me, but it doesn't hurt so much now. I'm more worried about what'll happen now. There was a lot of people there and they heard everything."

"Okay...I know this is really bad, but try not to worry too much, okay?" Jack told him. "Just tell me what happened. What did he say?"

"Told them I'm a liar, since I said I had a girlfriend. And he said I was seeing someone in the city. He said...that I should pack up and go home because I wasn't welcome here. That I didn't deserve to have a good life."

"I'm so sorry," Jack told him, sighing. "What are you gonna do?"

"Well, when Mike started on me, Richard called the captain down and he came in. He told Mike to get out and that he'd talk to him tomorrow."

"That's good. What about the others, though? You said everyone heard it."

"Yeah, but...the captain said that if anyone harasses me for being gay, then when I report it they'll have their jobs at risk, you know?"

"And so they should," Jack replied vehemently. "So he really hit you?"

"Yeah, but I'll be fine. When I landed on the ground, some of the guys helped me up even though they knew the truth. And one of them gave me a cold wet cloth for it. So I guess they won't all hate me, right?"

"Sounds promising," Jack agreed. "Wish I could be there to kiss it better..."

Ennis smiled. "Me too, Jack. But the thing is...I'm scared right now. I don't wanna go to sleep yet because my cabin mate isn't back yet. I can't lock the door on him but...what if someone attacks me when I'm asleep?"

"'s okay. If it makes you feel better, stay awake until he comes back and then lock it. Can you trust him not to hurt you?"

"I don't idea how he feels about all this but I know he was there. Hang on, I think he's coming back..." Sure enough, the door opened and his cabin mate was there.

"I just want to let you know...I heard what Mike said. And...I don't have a problem with you being gay. He said you're seeing someone, so...I take it to mean you're not interested in me and...I don't worry about sharing a cabin with you. So...there." Darren nodded and managed a small smile. "We cool?"

"Yeah, sure," Ennis replied. "When are you coming back? I don't wanna lock the door on you but...I'm worried about going to sleep right now with an unlocked door."

"I'll stay for another hour or so," Darren replied. Ennis nodded and watched him leave, sighing.

"Did you hear that?" he asked Jack when he was alone.

"I sure did," Jack told him, sounding happy. "Looks like he's okay with it. See? Not everybody is like that bastard Mike. You've clearly got friends who have more brains than him. They look at you and see their friend, rather than just a gay guy. You were gay when you became friends with them, and they probably realise that you haven't changed at all. The only difference is that you're out now. It would be really petty of them to shun you now, when you've always been like this."

"Yeah, I know," Ennis agreed, nodding. "Anyway, I...I really needed to hear your voice, Jack. I miss you."

"Ennis..." his lover sighed. "I miss you too, baby. Do you know when I can expect the email from your parents, with the photos?"

"Well, it turns out that they're about to go on vacation. They'll be gone from the start of November to the day after New Year's. A long trip that they've always wanted to do. So it'll be in the New Year when you get it. But that's okay, right?"

"Yeah, that's fine. When you get here, we can look at them together. I'm looking forward to seeing what your place is like, bud."

Ennis didn't know how to tell Jack how much he missed his roots in Knoxville, but he knew that he would have to; he was starting to yearn for that place again and he wondered how Jack was going to react. What if Jack liked the look of his place but still wanted to stay put? What if they ended up arguing so much that they called the whole thing off? He didn't want to think about that.

"Ennis? You still there?" Jack asked, and shook himself from his reverie.

"Uh, yeah," he replied. "It's just...I wanna tell you something. But I can't do it just yet. Nothing really bad, so don't worry. Just something I need to get off my chest."

"Alright," Jack said simply. "Just tell me when you're ready to. You know that I would never put pressure on you for anything, Ennis. You can tell me when you get back in April, does that sound okay?"

"Sounds great," Ennis told him. "Thanks, Jack. I'm glad I could talk to you tonight..."

"Me too. Ennis...try not to let them get to you. I know that you're worth so much more than anyone who has a go at you for being gay. I'm proud of you for standing up to him."

"I never told you I did that," Ennis replied, sounding surprised.

Jack laughed. "I know. But I had a feeling, especially since you got punched. Nobody gets that by walking away. I love you, Ennis."

"I love you too, Jack. Night, bud." He hung up and smiled to himself, feeling happier than he had done all day.

November 4th, 2010

By Thursday, Ennis thought that things had quietened down. A few of the others had approached him in the last couple of days, telling him that they didn't have a problem with who he was. He couldn't quite believe how much support he had, but he was very grateful for it.

He'd also talked to the quiet group of guys on the ship, and it turned out that all of them were gay. Two of them were having an affair and trying to keep it under the radar, some were seeing people on shore leave like he was, and the rest were single. They explained to him that they had formed their group in a quiet manner as a means of support in a homophobic environment; he'd had no idea that he'd stumbled across something like this. The group welcomed him and he was very happy to have like-minded friends on here. At least now he would always have someone to talk to; Richard was great but he wasn't gay, and couldn't truly understand what it was like. He knew that Jack would be pleased by him having a support group.

But Ennis got the feeling that it was all too good to be true. He didn't know what had happened with Mike, but every time he saw him he was filled with a sense of dread. There were a few rumours going around, including one that Mike had got the sack and would be staying in the States after their next shore leave. Ennis kind of hoped it was true and didn't feel bad for it; it could easily have been him.

Ennis knew that Mike had several friends, including one who got his kicks from beating up gay men. He hoped he wouldn't be returning to Jack with a black eye or fractured ribs.

As he was mopping up in a corridor, he heard footsteps approaching and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. He looked up to see three guys walking towards him, and he recognised them as Mike's friends. "What do you want?" he asked, trying to look brave even though he was scared. Jack would want him to stand up to them no matter how he really felt.

"Mike's gonna get the sack because of you," one of them spat out. So the rumour was true. "His career's over, just like that. And all because of you being a filthy queer."

"Leave it alone," Ennis replied, facing them squarely. "It's none of your business. Mike blackmailed me and threatened to expose me, so I went to the captain for help. But then he told everyone anyway when he was drunk. The captain already gave him a warning to keep his mouth shut; it's not my fault that he can't do that when he's been drinking."

"And now our jobs are on the line," another guy said. "We're supposed to leave you alone, like we can't have an opinion of you."

"You can have whatever opinion you want of me," Ennis said, stepping closer and growing angry. "Just keep it to yourself."

"Make us," the guy snarled. "You can't make us shut up like you can with your boyfriend."

Ennis stepped back. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"We know what you queers like. Filthy stuff," the third one said, giving him a look of contempt. Ennis folded his arms.

"So you never do that with girls?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. "It's not exclusive to gay men, you know. None of it is, really."

The first guy who had spoken grabbed him by the shirt and pinned him to the wall. "Now you listen here," he hissed, and Ennis tried to get free but couldn't. "You shut your mouth about our women. You're the abomination around here, and we'll see to it that you suffer for what you are. Here's a little tip; learn to sleep with one eye open, because you'll need to."

"Hey!" came a voice from further down the corridor. Ennis looked to see Richard heading for them. "Let go of him!"

His attacker did so, giving Richard a nasty look. "Are you his bit on the side, then?" Richard stepped closer.

"I'm straight, but I don't like the way gay men are treated by scum like you. Get out of here, right now."

"We don't want to waste our time on this queer anyway," he replied, giving Ennis one more look of contempt before leaving with his cronies. Richard sighed.

"What the hell happened there?"

"I was mopping the floor and then...they just started on me. They said something nasty about me and Jack, about what we do...and I just asked if they did the same thing with their girlfriends."

"You shouldn't have done that, least you stood up to them. I reckon Jack would be proud of you."

"Yeah, but the thing is...they also said that they'll make sure I suffer just for being gay. You know that rumour about Mike getting the sack?" Richard nodded. "Well, it's true. The captain sacked him for what happened at the party. They were really pissed about that."

He went on mopping the floor, and Richard thought for a moment. " least that's one problem sorted. But now these guys seem to want to pick up where he left off. This can't go on, Ennis...maybe you should report them?"

"I don't know. If I do...there could be more waiting to pick up after them. There have been some guys who support me and don't have a problem with it, but...I don't know how many of them have it in for me. The captain can't go sacking loads of people..."

"No, shouldn't have to take this," Richard pointed out, and Ennis knew he was right. But he just didn't know what he could do that might stop this completely. He was looking forward to next October, when he could leave all of this behind for good and have his future with Jack.