Chapter 8

Thursday, December 3rd 2009

It's been eight months since we met, and seven weeks since Ennis left again. They say that time flies when you're having fun, and that is definitely the case because every day drags by like a week. I miss him so much and think about him every day. I picture him on the ship, just walking around or sometimes working. I think about him with his shirt off, sweating in the heat. I know what it looks like now and I love picturing him like that.

I told him about what I did after he left; how I couldn't change the sheets until his scent had faded from them. I just couldn't bring myself to do it any sooner and I wish it hadn't faded at all. I used to curl up on his side and breathe him in, and it helped me fall asleep because it was almost as if he was there with me.

When I walk in the park, I sit on the bench that I once shared with him and thought about the days we had together. I can't wait to form even more memories with him when he comes back.

Christmas is coming soon. The snow will fall in a few days, I reckon, and it's always beautiful in the park. I'll take some photos and send them to Ennis when I can; I know he'll like them. The major downside is that Christmas can be a romantic time for couples, and I really wish Ennis could be here to share it with me. I want to kiss him under the mistletoe, and to sit in front of the fire with glasses of wine and just talk all night before going to bed. I want to wake up next to him on Christmas morning and remember just how lucky I am to have him.

Every time I think about all of this, it cuts into me like a knife how we can't be together at this time. I want to share everything with him, like couples are supposed to do but we won't even spend Christmas together for at least a couple of years, as well as our birthdays. I look around and see other couples ice skating and holding hands, wishing that I could have that too.

But I know how things are; he's got his job to do and I know I can't ask him to give that up for me. I don't even want him to because I'm not selfish like that. I just want him to be happy, and he says that I make him happy. But I want more for him than just me. He should be happy with everything in his life, not just his love life.

Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing him again. I'm counting down the days and I know it'll be great when we're back together. Until then, I've got my memories of him. They'll be enough for now, I reckon.

Jack closed his diary and looked around the living room, still half-picturing Ennis everywhere he looked. He wondered what it might be like when they actually lived together, a few years from now. He hoped that they would adjust okay, considering how little experience they had of living together. Jack knew in his heart that their love for each other would surely help them through it.

He knew that Ennis hated being on that ship sometimes, but it meant a lot to Jack that he was sticking with it anyway despite that. Jack admired him for his bravery and had told Ennis so.

He recalled the phone call, when he'd told Ennis about curling up on his side of the bed to get to sleep. He wondered how Ennis had felt about that; he'd certainly seemed taken aback. He wished he could have seen Ennis's face at this declaration; Ennis sometimes acted as though he truly didn't know how much he was loved, and Jack wanted him to know because he thought that Ennis deserved to. He recalled the nights they had spent together here, and what Ennis had said to him.

"I love you," Ennis whispered to him, nuzzling his neck as they cooled down. "You're amazing, you know that?"

"Hmm," Jack replied, smiling as Ennis caressed him from behind. "I must be, if you keep telling me that."

"You really are," Ennis told him, kissing his ear. "I swear it,'re everything I need..." He squeezed Jack tighter and heard him purring. "I like it when you make that sound..."

"You're making me do it," Jack pointed out. "It's the way you make me feel, Ennis. I, and everything's gonna be okay." He turned his head to kiss Ennis on the lips, feeling a smile form on his lover's mouth. "Mmm..."

He turned back and was rewarded by Ennis rubbing his stomach, which immediately made him feel drowsy. Soon enough, he had dropped off in Ennis's arms. He vaguely recalled Ennis humming in his ear as he fell asleep, and he felt very lucky to be here with this wonderful man.

Jack smiled at the memory, and thought of what he'd told Ennis. He'd said that while the sex was the most intense experience he'd ever had and he loved it when they did it, their relationship wasn't just about that. They were in love and the emotions were right there under the surface when they made love, sometimes spilling out as they kissed and whispered to each other. It was both a physical and emotional thing that meant a lot to him and he knew that Ennis felt the same.

He pulled out his phone and looked at the recent texts from Ennis; this was just one of the many things that he loved about Ennis. They weren't just lovers; they were becoming best friends too and he loved that thought. Lureen would always mean a lot to him, but Ennis was becoming everything he needed and he looked forward to the day when Ennis returned for good.

After he'd eaten some dinner, Jack retired to the sofa and switched on the TV. There was a chill starting to set in during the evenings now even with the fire on, so he grabbed the afghan from the back of the sofa and draped it around himself. He wished he could feel Ennis's arms around him, but this would have to do.

He could admit that he was a little disappointed with knowing that Ennis wouldn't be here for Christmas, since it would otherwise be a very romantic time for them. He longed to curl up in bed with Ennis on a cold morning and just snuggle together to keep warm before they had to get up. All he could hope for was that one day, they would have that.

He thought about sending Ennis a present but he had no idea if he could send something bigger than a letter. Maybe he could buy something and keep it as an anniversary present for when Ennis returned in April; that might be the best option for him.

Jack knew it wouldn't be easy to be alone during the holidays. Every time he saw a sprig of mistletoe he wished that Ennis could be here for him to kiss. He wondered if there would be a party on the ship and if Ennis would go to it; he knew that the Halloween party hadn't gone well for Ennis. He'd been surprised to learn that Ennis had been offered an apology.

"It was weird," Ennis told him over the phone. "He just came up to me and said sorry for making me uncomfortable. I kept thinking that they never noticed that. Wonder what got into him?"

"Maybe he really does see you as a friend, and he felt guilty for embarrassing you like that?" Jack suggested. "I know you think they're all complete assholes, but...maybe you were wrong..."

"Yeah, maybe. I guess they're not so bad when they're not talking about the endless list of girls they've got in each port. You know, before I joined up I didn't believe that whole thing. I thought that nobody could be so cold-hearted as to have sex with someone they barely know and then just leave them without a word, and then to do the same to someone else. But they really are like that, Jack. I don't know what to make of it..."

"'re always gonna find guys like that, I reckon. Gay or straight, it doesn't matter...some of them like to do that stuff. Maybe girls do too, I don't know. I agree that it's not right, because they could break someone's heart or even get a girl pregnant and leave her to deal with it by herself. But it's the way some people are and they're never gonna change. As long as we're okay with what we've got, that's all that matters to me."

"Jack...I'm happy with you. I really am and I can't wait to see you again."

Jack smiled at the memory and flipped through the channels until he found a Christmas movie. As he watched it, he wondered what a Christmas with Ennis would be like. Would they go walking in the park and end up in a snowball fight? Perhaps they would chase each other through the snow until one of them was pinned down. He liked the idea of Ennis's warmth pressing him into the cold snow on the ground, maybe with Ennis kissing him too.

He thought about Christmas morning, and how they could spend it together if Ennis was here. He would like to spend some time in bed before opening their presents, to warm each other up on a cold morning and to have an early present. Then afterwards they could eat breakfast together and maybe go for a walk in the park. He would love it if they had the freedom to hold hands without fear of someone Ennis knew seeing them together, but maybe that would have to wait anyway until after he'd quit.

Maybe they could have Christmas dinner alone or with Jack's parents up near the coast, or maybe even invite Ennis's parents down for dinner. Jack wanted to meet them and he also wanted Ennis to meet his parents; he figured it was something that couples did when they were serious about each other and he knew that he and Ennis certainly were.

There was so much more for him and Ennis to do as they spent more time together and he couldn't wait. He wanted to experience everything with the love of his life and knew that Ennis wanted the same thing.

His cell phone buzzed and he looked at it eagerly; there was a message from Ennis flashing on the screen.

Thinking of you, hope you're okay xxx

Jack smiled when he saw this: Ennis could be really sweet to him sometimes and he loved to see that side of him. When he'd first clapped eyes on Ennis he never could have guessed that such a gentle soul was resting beneath that strong exterior. Ennis may be strong and dependable when he needed to be, but Jack knew he also had a vulnerable side that he didn't show often; he'd seen it, though. He knew how Ennis hated being part of a group that he couldn't be honest to about who he loved and who he was. He knew how scared Ennis was of being found out; not because he was ashamed but because he didn't want to feel like a failure.

He'd told Ennis that no matter what happened, he would always have somewhere to go. For all he cared, Ennis could stay here with him if he got kicked out and Jack would never judge him for anything. He had more or less promised Ennis his unconditional love and support, and when Ennis returned he might just say it out loud so that Ennis knew it for sure. Then maybe Ennis wouldn't be so scared anymore.

December 12th, 2009

On Saturday, Jack met up with Lureen for lunch. He did like spending time with her anyway, and she was one of the few people he could talk about Ennis to. He missed his lover so much and was counting down the days until he came back.

They entered the same café that he and Ennis had been to and settled into a window table. Wendy took their orders and they were left alone. It was getting colder by now so they were glad to be inside where it was warm. Lureen smiled at Jack. " long until Ennis comes back?"

Jack shrugged. "He said April, but he doesn't know exactly when. He won't know until they get closer."

She nodded. "Well, at least you've got some idea of when he's coming back, right?"

"Yeah. I can't wait to see him again...there's so much more I want us to do together..."

"I'll bet there is," she replied, winking. Jack grinned.

"Not just that, but other stuff too. I mean...last time I offered him a place to stay when he's on shore leave. I said he could stay with me every night instead of moving his stuff between my place and the barracks."

Lureen smiled. "That sounds great, Jack. I bet he was surprised when you offered that, wasn't he?"

"He seemed to be. Was quite taken aback..." He smiled. "You know what? I was thinking about what I could give him as an anniversary present. He said I didn't have to get anything, but there's something I wanna give him." He took a deep breath. "I thought I'd...give him a key to my apartment. So he can come and go as he wants when I'm at work, you know?"

"Oh Jack...that's so romantic," Lureen sighed, smiling wider. "He'll love that."

"I hope's all I can think of to show him how much I love him. I know it gets hard for him that we can't be together more often and he has to deal with all that stuff on the gets to him that he can't talk about me."

"I'll bet. You told me about the Halloween party and...I can't believe that the guy just embarrassed him like that."

"Yeah, but he told me that the guy apologised a few days later. So neither of us really knows what to make of that, you know?"

"Well, maybe he really was sorry about it. People can do crazy things when they're drunk, after all."

"I guess so. Anyway, I keep telling Ennis how proud I am of him for carrying on and not letting it get to him too much. It's all I can do to keep him going, I reckon."

Lureen leaned forward, chewing her lip. "Jack...I need to ask...what'll happen if Ennis is found out? Will the captain dismiss him?"

"I don't know. Depends on what the captain thinks about gay guys. If he's okay with it then maybe he'll let Ennis stay. But I worry about the other guys, especially the one who was winding him up at the party. Something tells me he'll make it hard for Ennis if he finds out about us. I've got a bad feeling about him."

Lureen looked thoughtful. "And if he is kicked out? You know it'll wreck his confidence..."

"I know, but I already told him he could stay with me, more or less. I'll tell him properly when I talk to him again. I want him to know that no matter what, he'll have a place to go and I'll look after him while he adjusts."

Lureen smiled. "'re a good man, you know. And I'm sure Ennis will appreciate that when you tell him. You know...I'm a little jealous. You've got something good there, honey."

"I reckon you'll find someone of your own, Lureen. You're beautiful, funny, sweet...a guy would be lucky to have you," he told her sincerely, squeezing her hand. She grinned and their food arrived at last.

"That's sweet, Jack. Ennis is a lucky man." They started eating and Lureen thought over their plans for Christmas. "You know, I was wondering...since Ennis won't be here, you gonna have Christmas dinner at your folks' house?"

He shrugged. "I've no idea, to be honest. Don't know what I'm doing. My parents are coming over for dinner tonight so I'll figure it out then. They might have their own plans.

"I see. Well, if you want you can come to mine for dinner. You can't be alone on Christmas."

He smiled at her. "Thanks, Lureen. I appreciate that. I might take you up on that if they've got plans. Wish I could have dinner with Ennis too, though..." he lamented, wishing his lover could be here.

"You will one day, Jack. I know it. Gonna be a while, that's true...but one day."

"I know. I keep thinking about what it's gonna be like when he comes back for good. I'd like to live here with him for at least a while, but he lives in Iowa. If he wants to move back up there then that wouldn't be the worst thing."

"Really? You've lived in Florida all your life,'ve always lived here in Jacksonville. You really think you could move?"

Jack nodded. "To be with him...I would move to another country if I had to. He could want to go and live in Australia with me and I'd go with him." He looked up at her. "I'd do anything for him, Lureen. I really would."

She smiled. "You're really lucky, love someone that much and have them love you back. It's something else. I'm happy that you've finally met someone like that."

They kept eating and Jack thought about what he'd said. He didn't know what his and Ennis's plans were for the future, but he was certain that they would end up together and that was enough to keep him happy for now. He wanted to be with Ennis for the rest of his life.

That evening, Jack was getting dinner ready for his parents' visit. He always looked forward to seeing them and he knew how lucky he was that they were so understanding of him and his life, not to mention who he'd chosen to be with.

As he cooked, he thought about his plans for Christmas day. Since Ennis wouldn't be here, he could spend it with either his parents or Lureen. Maybe they could compromise and invite Lureen to have dinner with them.

He thought of Ennis and what he could expect from Christmas; Ennis had told him that they had turkey dinner on board the ship and there was usually a party, but Jack wondered if Ennis would even go to that considering how badly the last party had gone for him. He hated how Ennis had to put up with homophobic people every day; that couldn't be an easy environment to work in.

The buzzer sounded and he went to let his parents into the building. There was soon a knock at the door and he stood smiling at them. " was the journey?" he asked as he hugged his mother.

"Quiet, actually," his father replied as Jack hugged him. "How's life in the city?"

Jack grinned. "I'm doing good. Still looking for a job that I'll enjoy, but I like working with Lureen at the moment."

"Good. How's Ennis?"

"He's alright, I guess. But he tells me he's having problems with the other guys on the ship..."

"What like?" Karen asked as they sat down. Jack sighed.

"'ve probably heard things about sailors on shore leave and what they get up to. Ennis says the guys he knows are just like that, having girls in every port and all that. And they're always talking about their conquests and he hates how he can never talk about me. It really gets to him because he thinks they wouldn't understand anyway. He's more of a gentleman than they are, I reckon." Jack knew this was true, from the way Ennis had been okay with waiting before having sex; the fact that Ennis hadn't just pounced on him told Jack a lot about his whole personality.

"Well...I reckon you get guys like that everywhere," his mother suggested. "Gay, straight...sailors, civilians...some are just like that."

"That's what I said. But it got bad during the Halloween party. Ennis hates being the centre of attention, and there was this drunk guy who kept trying to get him to do some shots. He wasn't quiet about it so Ennis left." He sighed. "But a few days later the guy apologised so I guess that's sorted now."

"'re certain that nobody on the ship knows about you?" Karen asked, rubbing his shoulder. Jack nodded.

"Yeah. Ennis would have been approached by now and we're in regular contact. He'd text me at least if something happened even he couldn't call without fear of being heard."

"He keeps his phone secure, doesn't he? With those texts you send to each other?"

"Yeah, there's a password. He told me what it is, too...the name of the street where I live here, Birch, with my birthdate at the end. Nobody's gonna guess that because nobody on that ship knows me or the date I was born."

Karen smiled. "That's very smart of him. He sounds wonderful, Jack. I just worry sometimes about you missing him so much...that can't be good for you."

"I know. But I'm really okay because we talk so much. If he was completely cut off from me then it would be a lot harder to cope. But I'm fine, honestly," he assured her, smiling before he got up to get the dinner ready. His mother tried to help but he shooed her away, insisting that they were his guests and that it was his responsibility.

When they had sat down, his father cleared his throat. "So, do you happen to know where they're headed next?"

"Yep, Hong Kong. He's not sure why and I don't think he'd be allowed to tell me anyway if he was. But I know he likes seeing other places. He sent me a load of photos from Alexandria when he got back, and...there was this photo he took of the sunset before they left. He had it enlarged and framed and he gave it to me as a birthday present," he told them, smiling at the memory.

Karen smiled. "He sounds lovely, Jack. He really does. I'm always going to worry, because I'm your mother and it's my job. But if you're certain that you're going to be okay then I can let it go. Does Ennis make you happy? That's all I really want to know..."

Jack nodded firmly, smiling back. "He does, Mom. He makes me really happy even when he's not here and we're just talking on the phone."

They started eating and talking about other things. It turned out that his parents were planning to stay put for Christmas dinner, so Jack would be able to eat with them. He also managed to get an invite for Lureen because he didn't want her to be alone either; she had always been like a sister to him.

Afterwards, he made them some coffee and soon they had to be on their way home. "So, we'll see you on Christmas Day, then," his mother said as they stood at the door. He nodded.

"Yep. I'll bring Lureen with me. But I won't be drinking because of the driving back. I'll save the wine for when I get home," he said with a grin. "Safe journey back," he told them as he embraced them both once more.

"Yeah. Give our best to Ennis when you talk to him, okay?"

"I will do. Take care." He closed the door after them and looked around, wishing that Ennis could be there for him to just relax into. Hopefully one day, that dream would be a reality and they would be a proper couple like he so wanted.

December 25th, 2009

Jack entered his apartment and looked around; it was as quiet and empty as ever. He sighed and locked the door behind him, having just returned from his parents' house and from dropping Lureen off at her place. She lived a few blocks away from him and often walked to work together if they had the same shift.

He put the fire on and grabbed a bottle of wine from the fridge and a glass, settling down onto the sofa and pulling out his phone. It was a chilly night as usual so he wrapped the afghan around himself again. Jack smiled when he saw the image of Ennis on his phone, wondering what he was doing right now.

"Jack?" asked a tired voice at the other end.

"Hey, bud. Hope I'm not disturbing you..."

"No, I'm fine. Just a little tired. I went to the party for a while and it was better than the last one. Those guys got drunk again but they left me alone, so it was okay. Just talked to some of the others and drank more wine than I probably should have done..."

Jack grinned. "I just got back from my parents' place. Dropped Lureen off and now I've opened some wine. Wanted to talk to you like we planned."

"Did you have a good time?" Ennis asked, and Jack sighed.

"I did, but...I really missed you. I caught my parents kissing under the mistletoe in the kitchen and started wishing that you were there so that we could do the same thing..."

"I know, Jack...I wish I could be there too. It hurts that I can't be there right now...I want to...hold you and kiss you. I wanna feel you in my arms so much and tell you how much I love you..."

"'s really okay. I want all of that too but I know how things have to be. All we can do is just deal with it as best we can and try not to let it get to us too much. I know that's easier said than done, but..."

"But we just have to do it," Ennis agreed, sounding wistful. "I think about you all the time, Jack. Everything just seems to remind me of you. It does make me feel lonely, some way it also makes me feel that you're right here with me. You know?"

"I think I do. My mom still worries about me pining for you so much and being alone but I told her it's okay because we talk so much. I feel a lot less lonely when I think about how you're just a phone call away. It does help a lot...and the dreams are pretty damn good too," he added with a smirk.

"Yeah, same here," Ennis admitted. "They're something else, alright. I can almost feel you here with me, like it was when we really were together. And we do just about everything, Jack."

"Hmm...sounds interesting. Maybe when you get back we could have a little game. See how many times in one night we can make each other come," he grinned. "Could even be a contest."

"Jack..." Ennis replied, and Jack knew he was blushing and probably turned on. "We can't go having phone sex. My cabin mate could walk in at any time..."

"Alright. But I still want that contest when you come back. And the loser will get a...severe punishment," he purred, feeling aroused now. He heard Ennis gulp.

"Well, um...that sounds fair," he answered, sounding flustered. Jack bit back a laugh.

"I'm serious, Ennis...things are always a little tense for us because of how we're on borrowed time. We should just let go and have some fun, you know? I think we deserve it."

"'re right. So when I come back, we'll have that little contest. Just remember to buy a lot of lube," he quipped, and Jack laughed.

"I will. I love you, Ennis. So much...and I can't wait to see you again. Not just for the sex, but...just to be with you again. I'm counting down the days until you're back here."

"Me too. Take care of yourself Jack, okay? I don't want anything happening to you while I'm so far away."

"Ennis..." Jack sighed, feeling more in love than ever. "I'll be fine. Oh, before I forget...there's something I wanted to tell you. I know there's a chance of you being found out. And I know that you're terrified of losing your job and ending up with nowhere to go. But I want you to know...that if that happens you will always have a home. I know your parents might be disappointed in you if you're sacked, but I won't be. So if you can't live near them if you get can stay with me."

" mean that?" Ennis asked, sounding stunned.

"I do. You'll need a while to adjust so you can stay here with me. I'll look after you, Ennis, I promise. Your entire family could turn on you, and I would still be here to give you somewhere to go. You'll never be alone, you hear me?"

"Jack...I don't know what to say. Thank you..."

"It's no problem. All I ask is that you don't break my heart," he replied, knowing that it wouldn't happen anyway.

"Jack, I would never do that," Ennis told him firmly. "Ever."

"Good," Jack said with a smile. "Listen, I'll let you get some sleep now. Can we talk on New Year's Eve?"

"Yeah, sure. I love you, Jack...night."

"Night, Ennis. Love you too." He hung up and smiled, very happy that he was able to offer Ennis something secure if everything else fell apart for him. It was the least he could do for someone who made him so happy, and he silently vowed that Ennis would always have him no matter what else happened. He would protect Ennis fiercely if he had to, but he hoped that it would never come to that.