It was after dance class that Jace approached Sophia at her house, waiting on her front porch quietly. She hitched her bag higher on her shoulder, heavy with pointe shoes, extra tights, bobby pins, Band-Aids and lamb’s wool. “Hey, Soph.” Jace said almost uneasily, hand on the back of his neck.
She barely glanced at him before looking at her own feet, calloused and raw inside of her flip flops, padding up the porch stairs. “Hi.” Sophia muttered, dropping her bag halfway on the welcome mat.
“H-how’ve you been?” Jace asked her, his mossy eyes clouded.
“You’re talking to me now?” Sophia cut immediately, folding her arms over her chest.
He swallowed. “I just…look, I think you should know something.”
Sophia raised her eyebrows, waiting for Jace who stared at her, unsure. They listened to the sound of summer for a few moments, the crickets chirping and the sound of wind chimes in the distance. Then, finally, Jace spoke. “I was at the mall the other day and Ethan showed up-”
“Jace, I swear to God…”
“Wait, Soph!” Jace begged. “Listen, he was there with some of his friends and I heard him say some things. About you.”
At that, she was rather curious. But she didn’t let on. Maybe it was something completely irrelevant, or maybe it was out of context. Jace hated Ethan, so of course he would hear something he said and take it a different way.
“He was…well, he was telling them that he slept with you.”
Her heart turned over and she felt all color drain from her face. He had promised that he wasn’t going to tell anybody. Swore it, said that what had happened was purely between them. And that was that. And now this. Jace wasn’t lying, she knew that, because in all of the years that they had known each other, he never once lied to her.
But Ethan had.
“Is…is it true, Soph?” he asked. But his tone didn’t sound judgmental. He sounded wounded, and a little sad, if she was honest.
She didn’t nod or indicate one way or another. But she did sink down on the porch swing and bury her face in her hands. “He promised me he wasn’t going to say anything.” Sophia whispered, stung.
Jace sat next to her, arm around her shoulders. And it wasn’t until then that she realized that she was crying. She felt sick, that was for sure. What a stupid mistake on her part. She should’ve never had sex with him, of course he was going to tell. And now everyone was going to think she was a slut or a whore. School was going to be hell. And, oh lord, it was probably already all over the internet.
“Are you okay?”
“I can’t believe he would do this to me.”
“He’s an asshole. You deserve better.”
She didn’t even want to snap at Jace. She just wanted to crawl under her covers and die. All of his friends would tell their girlfriends. Who would tell their best friends. Who would tell their…
Everyone was going to know sooner or later and assume the worst about her. That she had been with lots of guys or whatever when really, the truth was that she was a virgin.
God forbid, she thought suddenly, that it get back to her fathers.
Jace wrapped his arms her tightly, and she leaned on his chest, tears soaking into his t-shirt. It smelled like him, like dryer sheets and Axe.
They stayed like that for a long moment, both of them forgetting that they were supposed to be mad at each other. Both of them, forgetting that they weren’t supposed to be talking.
Chris stepped over a mound of clothes just in the walkway of the rundown apartment. It was small, big enough for just one person to live there. There were little heaps and piles of clothes all over the place, as though he was constantly doing laundry. The apartment opened into the living room, which was little more than a TV on the floor, an overstuffed loveseat and a low coffee table covered in Playgirl magazines and filled ashtrays.
The whole place smelled of cigarette smoke and somewhere in the distance, an ambulance went roaring. Chris found himself wondering if Seth would be the one to treat the unfortunate soul who found themselves caught in the middle of disaster.
“Make yourself at home,” the owner of this place told Chris, smirking and disappearing around the corner. The idea of it nearly made Chris laugh. To think that, once upon a time, he had lived in a place just like this with his husband. Back when they loved each other. “Sorry about the mess.”
“It’s fine.” Chris said, looking around and turning his back to the kitchen, where the guy, Nick, disappeared into. He was just staring at the TV, trying to figure out what show was on when he pushed Chris down on the little loveseat, kissing him roughly. The angle that Chris fell at made his wallet slip out of his back pocket, flipping open to reveal the pictures he kept inside.
“These yours?” Nick asked him, distracted and picking up the wallet. He was looking at the one of the kids. Sophia with Willow on her hip and Lacie and Luke in front of her.
“Yeah,” he said. “They’re my kids.”
“Hm.” Nick said, studying their faces. “How adorable.” But his tone suggested that he didn’t particularly care. Chris could sit there all night telling Nick about his kids but what good would that be? Nick didn’t want to hear it, first of all. And kids were kind of a big mood killer. He slid the wallet back towards Chris, pulling something out of his pocket.
In the palm of his hand, Nick held out a few white pills. “Wanna push off first?” he asked.
Chris studied them. His knowledge of pills, or drugs in general, were limited. He never did them, unless he counted those few times in college where he tried smoking weed. For three whole seconds, Chris considered taking them, even though the better part of him was shouting not to. He had kids that he had to eventually go home to. How could he take care of them when he was high on whatever the hell that was?
Ignoring himself, Chris reached out for them and dumped a couple of them into his mouth, swallowing them dry. Nick grinned and popped a couple past his lips as well. “They’re painkillers, if you were wondering.”
“I wasn’t.” Chris admitted, shocking them both.
They laid there on Nick’s bed after, covered in a sheer layer of sweat, and Nick lit a cigarette, inhaling on it deeply and offering it to Chris. The last time anyone had offered him a cigarette was back when he first met Seth. He didn’t want to seem like an idiot around him so he inhaled and coughed up a lung. He found himself remembering Seth fondly, which made him take the cigarette.
“We’ll have to do this again sometime.” Nick said absently when Chris gave the cigarette back.
Chris didn’t say anything. Instead, he climbed out of Nick’s bed and pulled his boxers on, checking the time. It was already one in the morning. He had to get home.
“Here.” Nick said, pushing a baggie of those white pills into his hand. “You’ll want these later.”
Again, Chris was silent, figuring that Nick was coming up with assumptions. He was not a druggie, a user, a dope-fiend. None of those things. But he took the bag for whatever reason and grabbed his car keys, heading towards the front door.
The first time Chris ever rode a horse was with Seth. He was spending a week at the Grafton ranch with Seth, his sister and his father. One morning, bright and early, Chris wandered around back to find Seth trying to tame a young horse.
“Whoa,” he called to her, tightening his hold on the rope in his hands. “Hey, girl. Calm down now.”
Chris watched him for a few moments, leaning on the fence. Seth, in his cowboy boots and jeans, looked like a ranch hand. A farmer’s son. A rodeo cowboy. “Having trouble?” he asked after watching him wrestle with the horse for a bit.
Seth let go of the rope and the horse whinnied, rearing back and trotting along the outside of the fence. He turned to Chris, cocky grin on his face. “She’s wild.”
“Just like someone else I know.”
Either ignoring it or proving it, Seth opened the gate, closing it behind him so the horse couldn’t run out, and headed into the stables. He ushered Chris with him.
Seth was inside the only pen that was opened, and that made Chris want to peer inside. Seth hand his palm flat on a cream colored horse’s nose. The mare blinked her huge dark eyes at Chris and backed up, tossing her head. From over his shoulder, Seth said, “This is Lace. She’s mine. Had her since she was a filly. That horse out there in the field? That’s her daughter, Aphrodite.” He nodded to another pen that housed a giant dark brown horse. “Over there’s her mate, Aladdin.”
Chris nodded, fixated by the way that Lace was nuzzling Seth’s cheek with the same loving affection as a human. He stroked her long neck and her face, turning back to Chris. “Ever ride before?”
“I don’t know about this, Seth.” Chris fretted, watching Seth belt a saddle on Lace.
“She’s gentle.” Seth insisted. “I promise, baby, you’re gonna be fine. With Aphrodite, probably not. But her momma’s a good soul.” He stood, looked back at Chris. “She’s all tacked up.”
“How am I supposed to get up?”
Rolling his eyes, Seth leaned over slightly, cupping his hands next to Lace’s side. When Chris didn’t do anything, unsure as what to do, Seth laughed. “Well, come on, now. Step with your right leg and throw your left one over.”
Trusting Seth without question, Chris did as he was told and found himself suddenly in the saddle of the horse, and looking down at Seth who grinned up at him.
“See? That wasn’t so difficult, now was it?”
Without skipping a beat, he hopped across Aladdin’s back, adjusting himself and sitting upright, tangling his hands in the horse’s black mane. “He doesn’t have a saddle on.” Chris said, blinking at him.
“I don’t usually use one. Reins, either.” He clicked his tongue and the horse began to walk further, from over his shoulder, Seth whistled and motioned for Lace to follow. The horses walked side by side until they were out on the field.
Seth gave Chris a rundown on how to hold the reins and how to give Lace a direction to go in. He told him how make her slow down or speed up or stop. After a few moments, Chris began to get it, and it was easy enough. They set off at a canter over the dusty trail, past Aphrodite running around the pen, releasing her energy.
“So,” Chris said once they stopped on top of a hill where they got a beautiful view of some small river. “Is Aphrodite the only baby they have together?”
Seth shook his head, not looking at Chris, but squinting over the distance. “Nah, she’s the youngest, though. They have a stallion, Buck, and another mare, Annabelle.”
Chris patted the side of Lace’s neck and she pushed her nose against Aladdin’s face. The stallion turned and stepped towards her, nuzzling their noses together lovingly. “Oh, God. I didn’t know horses knew that.”
“I’ve always said horses love the same way humans do.” Seth smiled down at the two, ruffling Aladdin’s mane. “Aladdin, you ladies’ man!”
Chris laughed amazed at the horses’ affection for each other. It was then that he felt Seth’s hand slip in his own. He looked up at his boyfriend who grinned contently at him. And it was there, on top of that hill, horseback with Seth’s hand in his own that Chris realized. He wanted to marry this man.