“What’s wrong?” Seth asked as Chris flung the keys on the counter, watching them skid and eventually hit the wood floor. They had just walked in the door from going to Heather’s baby shower. She was Chris’s younger sister and was currently eight months pregnant and expecting a baby boy.
When Chris didn’t reply, Seth shrugged off his jacket and tossed it over the chair in their room. It was late now, having been the last ones to leave to help clean up the mess. “Well, Heather and Paul look good. Happy, really.”
“Yeah, they look fantastic.” Chris snapped sarcastically. He was happy for his sister and brother-in-law, really, he was. But at the same time, staring at his sister’s maternity top made jealousy burn in the pit of his soul.
“Okay, Chris.” Seth sighed. “Seriously. What is it?”
It took a long time for him to answer. “It’s just really frustrating.”
“What is?” Seth asked softly, pulling his shirt over his head.
“That would never happen to us naturally. People accidentally get pregnant all the time, but no matter how much we want it, it will never happen.”
“It’ll happen, Chris…” Seth murmured, sliding in on his side of the bed.
“Not naturally. Not without us signing forms and documents and paying enormous amounts of money and getting our house checked and-” he started, ticking off on his fingers.
“It doesn’t happen for some straight couples naturally, either.”
Tears were in his eyes as he turned to face Seth. However, he couldn’t attribute them to any sort of emotion in particular. “At least they have some sort of chance. Two men will never be able to have a baby together.”
He watched his husband’s face soften slowly before he nodded. “Yeah, Chris. I know how you’re feeling. Trust me.” Seth said.
Brushing away the tears, he climbed into bed and into Seth’s open arms, laying on his chest to hear the steady beats of his heart. Chris pressed closer to Seth’s side. “We would make great parents, Seth. I just know it.”
“Soon, Chris. I promise. Soon.”
* * *
HIV does not often have symptoms…
…two strands of the virus…
…eventually can lead to AIDS if left untreated.
…if possible contact, get tested…
“What are you up to?” Seth said suddenly, making Chris jump and close the screen immediately before turning to face him.
“I’m just, um, just killing time.” He forced himself to say with a smile, taking off his glasses and standing up. Really, his heart was beating a million miles an hour and he felt like he was going to pass out an any moment. Chris had not wanted to get tested because of the fear of it coming back positive. But at the same time, he couldn’t live with not knowing. Also, he was running out of excuses of why he and Seth should have to use condoms all the time.
“Aren’t you tired?”
“I had coffee a little bit ago.” That was another lie. Anymore, they came so quickly, Chris didn’t even realize it until it was too late.
“Well,” Seth sighed. “Why don’t you come to bed anyway? It’s getting late.”
Sophia was with Ethan. They sat on the couch together, watching a movie, with her snuggled into his side. What had happened in school earlier that week still sat heavily on her mind, causing her to finally get upset enough to bring it up.
“Ethan,” she murmured, sitting up slightly to look at him. “Can we talk about something?”
He lowered the volume on the remote and stared down into her face. “Sure, babe. What’s up?”
She hesitated long enough to make him brush his fingers across her jaw. Then, her lips parted and Sophia started. “Some girls in school…said things the other day. About you.”
At his puzzled expression, she continued.
“They said you were flirting with them.”
“You think I’m cheating on you?” he nearly snarled.
Sophia blinked. “No, not at all. No. Of course not. I know you’d never do that.” She said quickly, pressing against his side in an attempt to calm him.
“You are accusing me,” he said lowly, pushing her off of him. “I can’t believe you would ever think I would do that.”
“I didn’t mean to. I didn’t think-”
“Right, because you never fucking think.” Ethan said, his voice raising.
“Ethan-” But before she could finish, he whipped around and grabbed her, roughly pinning her against the side of the couch by her forearms, face inches from hers.
“Don’t you ever say anything to me about any of this again. Do you understand me?”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” She couldn’t nod because he had her pinned too tightly. She couldn’t say “yes” because shock had found a way to wind around her voice and choke her internally.
He backhanded her roughly, making her gasp. “Do you. Understand. Me?”
Catching her breath and looking into his eyes, she nodded.
With her still pinned down underneath of her, she watched his face soften. “God, baby. I’m so sorry.” He murmured. “I…I didn’t mean to.”
Sophia was too scared or shocked or upset to move.
He leaned down and kissed her. It didn’t take long for his hand to roam under her shirt and over the fly of her jeans. Sophia moved the best she could from under him and broke away. “Can we…not? Not tonight. Please.”
“You’re so beautiful, though.” Ethan said not looking her in the eyes and leaning to kiss her again while simultaneously unbuttoning her shirt.
“Ethan, I’m serious.” She pressed her palms flat against his broad chest and pushed with all her might. The only problem was she was in a compromising position and he weighed 190 pounds. He didn’t seem to be phased by it, and this scared her. He had never done this before. Normally, when she told him to stop, he stopped. Maybe he’d complain about it, but he would stop.
“No, Ethan. Really. I don’t want to.”
“Don’t lie to me like that.”
She felt her jeans being tugged down and listened to his fly unzipping. “Ethan! I’m being serious! Stop!”
Before she knew what happened, his hand was on her throat, holding her down. “Just shut up, Soph, honestly.”
He didn’t listen to her protests, instead doing whatever it was he wanted to do. Ethan wasn’t paying attention to the way she was shaking or that she was sobbing or even that she kept covering her face with her hands. But eventually, it was over and he zipped back up. As par routine, he told her to grab her coat and shoes as he snatched his car keys. And he walked to the door without waiting for her.
The entire ride home, she let tears roll down her cheeks. Mainly because she was unaware that they were even there in the first place.
She didn’t give Ethan so much as a backwards glance when she got of the car and bolted into her house, trying to suppress her sobs until she was safely in her room. On accident, the door to her bedroom slipped from her grasp and slammed against the doorframe.
Chris pulled away from Seth and sat up slightly at the noise.
“It’s just Sophia,” Seth whispered, lips on Chris’s neck then his collarbone, his shoulder. The air in the house had changed, electric, that no longer had anything to do with Seth’s kisses.
“No,” Chris said lowly. “Something’s wrong.”
He stood, Seth falling away from him, and headed out the door and into the hallway. “Chris,” Seth called, not too loudly considering the other kids were asleep. “Come on, it’s late. I’m sure everything is okay.”
“Sophia?” Chris called through the door, knocking. From inside, he heard her sobbing. The light was on. He tried to twist the knob, but no luck. “Let me in, Soph.”
“Leave me alone!” She yelled.
Before Chris got a chance to turn around and grab a bobby pin, Seth was at his side, holding one out to him. He took it, and popped the lock.
“I said to leave me alone!” she cried to her pillow as Chris stepped into her room. He assumed that she and Ethan had had a fight, but by the way she was crying, it had to have been bad.
“Sweetheart, what happened?”
At a closer inspection, and because of the way she was laying, Seth noticed something purple and splotchy on her hip. Her shirt had ridden up and there was a space between the hemline and the waistline of her jeans. With his heart thudding surely against his ribs, he slowly lifted her shirt, revealing a bright and angry bruise. Next to him, Chris gasped.
“Get off of me!” she shouted, swatting them away. At that exact moment, Seth grabbed her arm and lifted the sleeve. More bruises, in the shape of hand marks.
“Sophia, oh my God.” Chris said, breath hitching sharply.
Calmly and gently, Seth turned her face. For a while, they both started at her as she cried with her whole body. “Did he do this to you?” Seth whispered, voice sounding even. To Chris, it seemed forced, but he was in too much shock to care.
She didn’t say anything.
“Sophia.” Seth said, brushing the hair out of her face. “What did he do to you?”
“It’s not his fault-”
That was all it took for Seth to let go. He slammed his fist into the wall, making Sophia scream and Chris jump before chastising him. And then he just simply left the room, floating on the edge of his own fury. When he looked at Sophia, he saw a toddler holding onto his index fingers as she balanced herself on her own two feet. He saw a little girl with freckles and straight-across bangs and training wheels. He saw an infant in his arms, tiny toes that curled and a dark tuft of hair.
“Seth!” Chris yelled, following him down the stairs. He watched, shock still overtaking his body, as he grabbed a coat, car keys. “Where are you going?”
“Where do you think?” Seth spat, turning away from his husband and striding to the door roughly. Chris trotted after him.
“Seth, you can’t!” he gasped, taking hold of Seth’s shoulder. His response was immediate and scary. He whipped around suddenly, clutching Chris’s arm and holding him against the wall.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t tear him apart.” He all but growled.
“Assault charges. He’s seventeen years old. You’re an adult-”
“Christ, Chris. Spare me the legal bullshit.”
When Seth just turned away from Chris again and made to the door, anger rose inside of him like a helium balloon. “I don’t think it’s good for Sophia.” Chris almost yelled at Seth’s back. “To see her father react violently to something like this.”
“How is that any different than what he did to her?”
Again, Seth turned to glare at him darkly and for a moment Chris felt his heart flutter at the thought. He looked like how he did in college. Slightly reckless, unpredictable. Wild. He pressed his arm against Chris’s chest and set his face just an inch away. “Don’t you dare compare me to that son of a bitch.” He snarled.
Chris stood, watching in equal parts admiration and shock. Then, Seth turned away again, striding back to the front door. As a last leg of hope, Chris shouted to his back, “If you walk out that door, then you lose.”
“This isn’t a game, Chris!” Seth screamed. “This is about our daughter!”
“You’ll lose me. You’ll lose the kids. You’ll lose Sophia.” He reasoned roughly.
It was quiet. Just when Chris thought it had sunk in, Seth uttered, “You really don’t get it, do you, Chris? We’ve already lost her.”
And then the door closed behind him.
Seth was gone for two hours. When he trudged upstairs, he noticed that Chris was not in the master bedroom, as par usual. His first instinct was anger that he would leave the kids alone in the house, especially after what Sophia had gone through. But when he rounded the corner to check on her, he saw Chris.
Sophia was asleep, laying with her head on his chest. Chris was atop the covers, fingers weaving through her hair calmingly. His heart dissolved. “How is she?” Seth whispered.
Chris glanced at her bruised face. “It took her a while to stop crying.” Finally, he moved slowly, detangling her arms from around him before standing up and striding out of her room in front of Seth.
They laid down and it was dead silent for a long time. “I’m calling my father in the morning.” Chris said suddenly, breaking the earsplitting quiet.
“I don’t want to know what you did, Seth.” Chris muttered quickly, pressing his face against the pillow. Seth touched his shoulder softly.
“I didn’t do anything. I drove.”
Chris didn’t know if he should believe him. Sure, Seth had never lied to him before, but this was a serious matter. This was about one of their kids. With high stakes like that, there’s no telling what Seth would do. “I’m still calling him tomorrow. To see if it’s worth it to press charges.”
“Of course it’s worth it.”
“The law sees things differently from how a parent does. We might not have a case.”
Seth sighed deeply on the other side of him. After a few moments, the bed shifted so slightly as he rolled over. Chris closed his eyes and fell into a memory.
Chris trembled underneath Seth, so sure that he was about to make a horrible mistake. After telling himself he was in idiot a couple of times, he let Seth’s hands work the buckle of his belt free, mouth never leaving his own.
That still didn’t stop the fear that bubbled up the pit of his stomach.
He became distracted suddenly, staring at Seth’s shoulder. “How’d you get this?” he asked, finger tracing over a thin scar, white as bone. Seth stopped, blinking down at Chris for a few moments before turning to look at his shoulder.
“Oh. When I was like, thirteen, I fell down my stairs. Cuffed my shoulder on the bottom of the banister. Loose nail.” Seth explained.
Chris tried to suppress it, but he snorted in laughter of the thought of Seth, or anyone, really, falling down stairs. “Oh my God, that’s really not funny. I’m sorry.” He laughed, snorting again and watching Seth’s lopsided smile anchor onto his face.
“Glad my bad experience is humorous to you.”
“I just…I remember this one time my sister was bitching about something, I think we were teenagers, and she starts walking up the stairs all full of herself when she missed a step and tripped.”
Seth and Chris dissolved into a laughing fit. That caused Seth to roll off of Chris, heels of his palms pressed into his eyes as they laughed. They didn’t stop, for that matter, for a while. Especially considering they continued to exchange stories.
The clock ticked away, minutes and finally hours passing, as the two laid there only with the light from the moon cloaking the dorm. Seth was laying on his side, arm folded under the side of his head, looking at Chris who was flat on his back. “Tell me about your mother.” Chris whispered gently after about a fifteen minute break from laughing.
Seth’s face sobered but he didn’t become angry or sad. He never talked about his mother, but that didn’t squelch Chris’s curiosity. “There’s not much to tell.” He murmured. “I was seven when she left, so I don’t remember much of her.” He bit his lower lip and sent his eyes downcast. And that’s when Chris placed an emotion to him. Vulnerable. Melancholy.
“Do you know why she left?”
Seth shrugged. “Dad never liked to talk about it. I remember them fighting, though. Don’t remember about what. I just don’t think she wanted to be a mother anymore. My dad never got over it. He loved her more than anything. They had been together since high school.”
Chris nodded, enthralled. This was as much as he had said about his family and Chris was probably the first to hear all of this. He reached to touch Seth’s hand softly. “I’m sorry.”
He shrugged again, half smile. “You get over it. It’s been long enough.”
“Do you ever think about her?”
“Mostly I just wonder if she ever thinks about me. Or Danielle.”
Chris reached to stroke his cheek. “I’m sure she does. Can’t you find her? I’m sure she’d at least want to hear from you.”
He shook his head no, still didn’t look at Chris. “I was so scared that once she’d figure out I’m gay, she’d leave again. I couldn’t take losing her twice.”
That was understandable. When Chris came out, he was sure that he would be homeless by the end of the night. Really, though, his mom cried and his dad poured himself a large brandy. But he still had a home and a family by the end of the ordeal. “What was her name?”
Realization sparked in Chris’s mind suddenly. “Your car…”
Seth nodded. It was quiet between them again before Seth blushed and continued. “I never thought about how much her leaving messed me up.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t get close to anyone, I guess. I’m completely terrified of being left alone again.” He bit his lip again, curled his free hand into a fist. “So I slept around for the hell of it. And because I didn’t really know what else to do. I wanted to feel wanted. And I thought sex meant love. No one bothered to tell me otherwise.”
Not knowing what to say, Chris inched closer to him and nodded again. The entire time, he had the light feeling that this was the first time Seth had ever voiced this out loud. That had to mean something, surely. Maybe that meant Chris wasn’t going to just be some short-time boyfriend. A weak relationship that would end in disaster. A fling.
“The first guy I slept with was older than me. Like, three or four years older than me. I thought I loved him and well…” It was then that Chris watched his eyes glisten like diamonds before a tear slipped down his cheek. “When he left I thought I was going to die. Honestly. It was like losing my mom all over again. I had given him everything. And then he was just gone.”
Chris wiped his tear away.
“So, after that, I thought if I didn’t care…about anything…then I wouldn’t get hurt.”
He leaned forward and kissed him, staying very close so that their bodies were pressed up against each other. “I won’t ever hurt you.” Chris murmured, hand on Seth’s cheek still. Then it was Seth who closed the gap between them.
An hour and a half later, after Seth thought Chris had fallen asleep, he heard it. The sheets rustle and the bed move slightly. Seth’s arm wrapped around his shoulders and pulled him tighter. Then, so softly he wondered if he actually was asleep and dreaming, Seth said, “I love you.”