Sophia used to be fearless. In fact, that was something that had always scared Chris when she was little. He had to keep a close eye on her to make sure she wouldn’t pick up anything that would hurt her, or totter into something dangerous. Her childhood was filled with him fretting to Seth about her disappearing into a car with a stranger or falling off of something tall. For that exact reason, they never took her on a boat.
Seth always got a kick out of the way that she seemed to exhibit absolutely zero fear about anything and passed it off on a childhood thing. Kids are naturally curious, he would tell Chris, she was just exploring. Soon, she would come to realize danger on her own and in the meantime, they just had to keep a close eye on her.
In fact, she was now the complete opposite. Ever since she started dating Ethan, she hung back. More and more, her personality ebbed. But, naturally, Chris attributed that to wanting to fit in or simply just growing up and becoming more reserved. Never did he think her new love interest was slowly changing her from the inside out.
Chris found himself wondering if that was how she ended up with Ethan in the first place; that she wasn’t able to recognize danger. He wondered if that was his fault.
But the literature all told him the same thing. That was all he had been reading about in those self-help books or online websites. Abusive men are charming and sweet. Alluring, even. And then they just become controlling.
All the while, Chris couldn’t help feeling like he failed as a father.
The door slammed and then there was the unmistakable sound of a backpack falling before Sophia’s heels clicked across the wood floors.
“How was school, sweetheart?” Chris asked her.
She grabbed an apple from the refrigerator and turned away from him. “Okay, I guess.” Sophia relented.
That was a tentative subject, especially considering seeing Ethan was virtually unavoidable. But today, Sophia had made it through her first full day since he and Seth had found out about everything. Since all of that, her routine was thrown completely off balance. Either she didn’t go to school, or she would show up late. If she went in on time, she would call Chris to come pick her up.
He would sit by the phone all day, carry it around the house with him as he did the laundry, as he fed Willow, as he vacuumed the upstairs. Waiting, with the phone ever-present in his hand, for a call from Sophia who always sounded at the verge of tears.
Chris forced a smile at her when she glanced up at him, as though to reassure her that everything was normal. That nothing had changed, actually. He watched as she tossed her hair over her shoulder, crossing her arms over her chest and adverting her eyes to the ground. A couple of seconds later, when she threw the apple core in the trash can and stalked off to her room, Chris exhaled a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Anymore, it seemed that they were all walking on eggshells around Sophia. One wrong move and she would’ve completely slipped through their fingers.
He listened until he heard the snap of her door shutting. How long could he keep up this charade of an all-knowing, supportive father when really, he had absolutely no idea what he was doing? When the only thing on his mind was the same burning question: Where is my daughter?
How long until he would let his guard down and just admit everything? That he didn’t know who his daughter was anymore. That he was sleeping with every man but his husband. That his marriage was headed towards a divorce if he took his eyes off it for even a second. That he could possibly have HIV. That he was addicted to drugs. That he was one messed up man who pretended he had it all together.
The only reason why Sophia didn’t tell her dad about how school actually was going is because she was tired of hearing the lectures. And, on the other side of that, she was getting irritated with their fake sympathy. Or real sympathy. Either way, she couldn’t stand the thought of someone pitying her.
So, that’s why she left out her English grade. Or that she was absolutely exhausted because over the entire week, she had probably gotten about seven hours total of sleep. She excluded the fact that, besides the apple, she hadn’t eaten for a good few days. That she had no intention of going to dance again that week and that she heard some girl whispering to her friends in the hall that she had supposedly hooked up with a senior behind the gym. Most importantly, she didn’t tell him that her and Ethan were still seeing each other.
That would be enough to watch him shatter.
She stripped her uniform off swiftly and discarded it to the floor, pulling on a pair of pajama shorts and an old Harvard shirt she took from the dresser in her parents’ bedroom. Her hair was soon tied up with a ponytail holder, in a messy bun and she reached for her makeup remover.
It was such a hassle, every morning. She got up at an ungodly hour to shower and blow dry her hair. Depending on her mood, she would style it up or down or possibly even straighten it. Then came the makeup. Applied painstakingly, it took about half an hour. And, even though she wore a uniform, there was still an unwritten protocol on what was “cute” and not. For instance, her skirt had to sit low on her hips and tight around her thighs and had to end two inches above her knees. She was either supposed to wear knee-highs or ankle socks. And the V-neck pullover sweater vest was a must, even in the hottest months of the year. But she still changed into pajamas the second she got home.
No matter how much she told herself otherwise, nothing was the same anymore.
Chris sat in the uncomfortable chair outside of the doctor’s office. His palms were sweating with anticipation over the looming blood test. This would either make or break everything in his life, finding out the results of his HIV test. It couldn’t come back positive. It just couldn’t.
One would think that, after being presented with this sort of news that he would slow down, but that hasn’t happened. Chris had done very little to change his lifestyle and honestly, he didn’t think nearly anything would. But that didn’t mean that he didn’t desperately want to go back in time and change everything. That didn’t mean that he didn’t want his husband, that he didn’t want his entire family to just go back to normal, that they were all stuck in this horrible mess of a family.
“Christian Grafton?” said the round-faced nurse with a clipboard in her lap. Hesitantly, Chris stood and made his way over to the door, pretending he was anywhere else but there. “How are you today?” she asked brightly as they made their way down the hallway.
I’m here to take an HIV test, Chris thought bitterly, how do you think I am today? But instead he just smiled at her and said, “I’m fine.” As if that would convince him. She stopped next to a room and had Chris enter before her. When he did, she closed the door behind her and sat down on the stool in the middle of the room.
“Alright, so, you’re here for blood work, yes?” the nurse asked, lifting up the sheet of paper and looking over his forms.
Chris nodded hollowly.
“When were you in contact with the HIV virus?” she asked.
He thought back quickly. His anniversary was in June. It was now December. “Six months ago.” He answered unevenly. Six months? Six months he had been sleeping with random stranger after random stranger? Six months he had been lying to his husband, neglecting his children? Six months he had lost himself for?
She made a note on the files. “Are you sexually active?”
“I’m married,” he answered as if that solved everything. As if that one phrase would’ve saved him from everything that had happened.
“But are you sexually active?”
“Yes,” Chris answered. But not with my husband, he thought. She made another note on the files and Chris safely let her assume that he was there because of his partner’s infidelity, and not because of his own stupidity.
She stood and prepped a needle and syringe and his arm. “Alright, Mr. Grafton. It’s just going to be a little pinch.”
Who would’ve thought that a pinch was what it felt like when your life fell apart?
“We won’t stay long, I promise.” Seth said lowly to Chris, shooting smiles at certain people. They were in the middle of a gala for New Year’s that some of the doctors held at the country club. Everything was decorated elaborately and festively. Attractive young men and women walked around with silver trays of champagne flutes and fancy hors d’oeuvres.
“It’s okay, Seth.” Chris murmured back, feeling incredibly awkward. All the people there were doctors and their spouses. Important people. Smart socialites. And he didn’t really fit in that class at all.
Seth talked from the corner of his mouth as he waved back to a couple grinning and waving enthusiastically at him. “That’s Dr. Harper and his wife Savina. He’s an anesthesiologist. She works in a doctor’s office herself as a receptionist and has been having an affair for forever. Jack’s been swearing he’s gonna file for divorce for years, but he never has.” They made their way over to them and a lead weight sank in Chris’ stomach. Seth beamed, faking interest and Jack laughed.
“Seth, good to see you.”
“Jack, how are you?” he says sweetly. “Savina, you look lovely.”
“I’m great.” he turned to his beautiful bombshell of a wife who had to be at least ten years younger than him and exotic looking. Her long dark hair was twisted up in ornate braids and she looked around the room with a bored expression and bedroom eyes. Dr. Jack Harper’s arm was possessively around her waist.
“This is my husband, Chris. Chris, this is Dr. Harper and his wife Savina.” Seth told him. He acted like he hadn’t heard about them before even though Seth gave him the rundown just two minutes before.
“Good to meet you, Chris.”
“Likewise.” Chris grined, shaking his hand just as someone from behind shouts Seth’s name. They turned to see two women striding to meet them. The one who hugged Seth was blonde with a short bob cut, wearing a black cocktail dress. The other was sporting a blue dress, her hair wavy and red.
“Oh, Natalie, it’s been awhile!” Seth gushed. She laughed that way people always seem to laugh when they haven’t seen someone in a while. They started to chit-chat about how she moved offices and now is working with another doctor. Blah-blah-blah. The redheaded woman stood there awkwardly.
Finally, she extended her hand with a warm smile. “Hi, I’m Beth.”
Seth and Natalie turned to them, she chuckled. “Oh, God, I’m sorry. This is my wife, Beth.” Natalie clarified.
Chris felt Seth’s hand on the small of his back suddenly and was sickeningly reminded of the possessive hold Dr. Jack had on his wife’s waist. “This is my husband, Chris.”
Really, he wasn’t too shocked to discover they were lesbians. They obviously couldn’t have been mother and daughter and Chris doubted sisters. Perhaps co-workers, but any other relationship didn’t make sense. They just stood and talked, allowing Chris time to superficially chat with Natalie’s wife Beth.
Finally, when they declared they had to get going and relieve their babysitter, Seth turned to Chris, almost laughing. “She’s a good friend of mine. We met in medical school.” he explained.
“So, is she an ER doc, too?”
That’s when he does start to laugh. “She’s a gynecologist.”
Chris stifled laughter. “They have kids, too?”
He nodded. “A baby boy a little older than Willow. Kale.”
“Champagne?” someone asked from behind them. Just from instinct, Chis turned to look and felt all the breath leave his body. For sure his face paled over and he knew that his eyes widened.
His name was Casey. The only reason why Chris knew that was because of Zack, the first guy he cheated on Seth with. It was needless to say that he had also had an affair with him. Except Chris couldn’t tell anyone more than his name and his number. Only if he looked in his phone first.
“Thanks,” Seth said, not reading between the lines, to Chris’s relief. He handed Chris a champagne flute yet Casey didn’t take his eyes off him, a hint of a smile on his lips. Chris exhaled when Casey didn’t say anything incriminating in front of Seth.
“Enjoy.” Casey said huskily. But he winked at Chris before he turned to leave.
After a pause, Seth said, “Do you know him?”
Chris flushed over immediately, down half the champagne in one gulp. But Seth wasn’t looking at him accusingly, only amusingly. “Nah,” he lied smoothly, pretending to be very interested in picking off an imaginary piece of lint on his lapel.
“He was checking you out.” Seth laughed.
“No, he wasn’t. Let’s get out of here.”
And, sure enough, right when they opened the door and waited for Seth to fish out his keys, they hear everyone in the gala chanting as the ball dropped, Chris’s cell phone alighted with a message.
come see me later. Ill start your year off right. ;)
When they got home, Chris broke out a bottle of wine. They had started using the goblets at first, but then it just turned to them drinking straight from the bottle itself.
Seth leaned over on the couch, and kissed Chris. Sweetly at first. He tasted of wine and Chris smelled his cologne. Familiar. Warm. Everything. Chris added more force, tugging at his hair as he felt Seth’s arms snake around his back, pulling him closer. Gently, Seth pushed Chris back so he was laying, Seth hovering over him.
Chris got Seth’s shirt unbuttoned, feeling the warm skin of his chest underneath. The muscle of his heart was beating steadily under his right palm. He groaned against Chris, his hand sliding down the front of Chris’s pants.
Seth broke away suddenly. “God, I’ve missed this.”
“This. Sometimes I forget what it feels like to kiss you like this.”
Smirking, Chris leaned forward, bit Seth’s lip. “Let’s go upstairs.”
It wasn’t until he drunkenly kicked it over that Chris realized the newly opened bottle of wine was now empty.
No one ever realizes how drunk they are until they start walking. Of course, Chris was crashing into the wall. First on the right, then he overcompensated and crashed into the left. Seth snorted behind him.
He shushed Chris, pulled his shoulder and pinned him to the wall for a sloppy kiss, both of them sort of laughing drunkenly.
In their room, Chris closed and locked the door behind them before pushing Seth on his back on their bed. Chris unbuttoned Seth’s shirt the rest of the way, even though it was gaping enough to leave little to the imagination from downstairs, and kissed down his neck to his chest. He groaned, arching a little and squirming under him.
Seth pulled Chris’s shirt off and drunkenly fumbled with his belt buckle. It snaked off from around his hips finally. Seth reached up, fingers brushing lightly over Chris’s chest, sending shivers down his spine. Slowly, Seth cupped his cheek and Chris instinctively leaned into his touch. He looked him dead in the eyes, and it’s not even a lustful look. Not even one of longing.
“I love you,” he murmured, hand sliding back to Chris’s bare torso.
Chris believed him because Seth had never given him a reason not to. “I love you too, Seth.” he told him, not sure if he heard or not.
Out of all the other men Chris had slept with, Seth really honestly and truly was the best. He had known Chris for the longest period of time, obviously. He knew what he liked, what he hated, where to touch. He was the only one to care enough to memorize all those little things about Chris’s body. Plus, he’s a doctor. So he has the best touch.
All of a sudden, the guilt rushes past the alcohol and deflated Chris like a balloon, quite literally, too. He rolled off of Seth with a sigh. Right then, he just couldn’t look at him, knowing what he knew. After doing what he did.
“Chris?” he shrugged back from Seth’s touch. “Did I do something wrong?”
That crushed him. Chris want to tell him no. No, he didn’t do anything wrong. No, he did everything he ever asked him to do perfectly right because he’s just a perfect person or something. Chris wanted so badly to tell him it was he who did something horribly, horribly wrong.