The call came that morning when Seth was getting ready for work. Chris had just walked out the door, on his way to visit his parents with Willow in tow, and the kids were getting ready for school. With everyone running around him, Seth reached for the phone before shouting over his shoulder, “Sophia, hurry up, you’re going to be late!” he pressed the Talk button. “Hello?”
“Hello, I’m Sarah Kane with Regency Medical Associates, calling for Mr. Christian Grafton?”
Seth furrowed his brows and looked behind him for his kids. “I’m sorry, you’ve just missed him.” He replied confused.
“Oh, okay. This is regarding his results for an HIV blood test. Have him call back at his convenience.”
He went pale, feeling his heart beat wildly against his chest and he couldn’t breathe as the phone fell out of his hands. Surely he didn’t hear the woman right. Surely she didn’t say Chris had been tested for HIV.
When he got home from work, he checked everything he could. He called friends, he called his in-laws. He looked through bank statements, credit card bills, their important documents. There was every sense of normality there. Their bank accounts reflected average activity. Chris had paid the mortgage, the kids’ tuition and the electric bill. With his credit card, Seth saw that Sophia used it at a makeup store and that Chris had swiped it in normal places; grocery store, bookstore, toy store. There weren’t any charges for a hotel room, expensive gifts, places that Seth didn’t already know about. The only thing he found was in Chris’s cell phone bill. Calls to and from numbers he didn’t recognize.
Then, he waited.
He waited until that night to bring anything up. Chris appeared to be in a good mood on top of things. But he kept calm, or as calm as he could’ve under the circumstances, until later. Chris went upstairs and Seth followed shortly after, turning into the master bedroom where he gathered their laundry together in a bundle.
“You got a call today.”
“Oh? From who?” Chris asked, glancing over his shoulder before picking up a pair of pants and tossing them into the laundry basket.
Seth swallowed past the lump in his throat that he knew was his heart. “Your blood work came back. About your HIV test.” He said softly. Chris stopped in his tracks, holding a shirt clenched in his fist. Slowly, he turned around to see tears welling in Seth’s eyes. “Something you want to tell me?” he asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Seth,” Chris murmured, closing his eyes. His heart sank. This was what he was trying to avoid, hurting his husband. Because he never wanted to do that in the first place. Ever. “Seth, please. I can explain it.”
“How?” he said, voice cracking. “How can you explain this?”
“Who is it? Do I know him?”
“You owe me that much, Chris!” he cried, the tears streaming down his face. Chris watched, helpless, wanting to comfort him but knowing that he could not. Even if he knew how, Seth would not want him to come anywhere closer.
“Please…” he whispered. “They didn’t mean anything, Seth, I swear to you.”
“They?!” Seth gasped, eyes widening, more tears cascading down his cheeks. “How many is ‘they,’ Chris?” he breathed.
Chris was sure that every drop of blood had left his body with how numb he felt. Seth was shaking, his arms folded around his chest as if to hold himself together. In twenty odd years or so, Chris had never seen his husband this vulnerable.
“I…I don’t know.” He answered finally, watching Seth blanch. “Seth, please, I’m sorry.” He tried. “I’m so sorry, please believe me. I was going to tell you.”
“Yeah, when?!” Seth nearly yelled.
“I was going to tell you,” he said again, softer.
Without warning, Seth yanked a suitcase from under the bed and strode to the closet, ripping clothes from their hangers. With his back to Chris, there was no denying that he was sobbing, still shaking, horrified. “W-what are you doing?” Chris asked suddenly, panicked.
“What do you think?” Seth whispered through his crying. He grabbed essentials from the bathroom and stuffed everything inside the suitcase.
“No!” Chris cried. “Please, Seth, please don’t go!” he begged, watching as Seth zipped the suitcase shut. He turned back to face Chris, shaking his head.
Without saying another word, he exited the room.
“Seth!” Chris shouted down the hallway. “Things are going to be different now, I promise.”
“You’re damn right,”
Sophia opened her door, poked her head out and watched in time to see Chris following Seth down the stairs. Seth held a suitcase. He was crying, for God’s sake. Immediately, fear and pain flooded her chest.
Seth didn’t say a word as he opened the front door, not even when Chris was protesting to his back, holding the door open. He flew out after him and watched in horror as Seth threw the suitcase in the backseat of the car next to Willow’s safety seat. “Seth, please don’t do this. It’s always been you. I love you, only you, I promise.” He caught Seth’s hands in his own, yet his blue eyes would not meet Chris’s brown ones. “Please. I’ve always wanted you.”
He shook his head sadly, jerked his hands free and pried open the car door. “You don’t know what you want.” Seth whispered.
Protesting, begging, pleading, Chris watched as Seth sped from the driveway, jerked the wheel and slammed the gas down the street.
“Daddy!” Lacie cried, bolting out the open front door and into the middle of the street. She was in her pink pajamas, her hair wet from her shower and barefooted. But she was quick, and ran right past Chris as she ran after Seth’s car in tears. She cried hysterically for her father, chasing after his car with Chris running as fast as he could behind her to catch up.
“Lacie!” he shouted. “Lacie, stop!”
He caught her and she dissolved in his arms, sobbing for her father, shouting for him, words that Chris did not know how to console.
“Daddy!” she continued to scream, even after Chris picked her up and carried her back into the house, locking the door behind him.
Seth knocked on her front door, hoping that she’d be awake still. He was in a state of shock, trying to absorb all that had just happened. Chris cheating, the possibility of HIV, the fact that he had just left his family. His world as he knew it had somehow tipped over in the course of one day.
“Seth,” Danielle said, blinking at her crying brother standing on her front doorstep. She was in a pink bathrobe and slippers, her auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail. “Oh my God, are you okay?”
“I didn’t know where else to go.”
“Jesus, what happened? Here, come inside.” She said, stepping aside to let him in. Seth couldn’t speak. He tried in vain to wipe away the tears, but more came in their place. “Oh no, it’s not one of the kids, is it?” she asked, alarmed.
“No, no. The kids are fine. They’re…they’re fine.” He hiccupped. For now, he reminded himself slowly. Once they realize what’s happening with him and Chris, he couldn’t be sure if his previous statement would be a lie.
His sister, placing a hand around his shoulders, led him to the kitchen. “Calm down, Seth. It’s okay now. Sit down, I’ll get you a drink.”
Seth sat, face buried in his hands, as Danielle poured him a whiskey. She waited until he was able to control his breathing and after he had downed the drink in one gulp. Without a word, she poured another, kept the bottle on the table in front of both of them. Then, softly, “What’s going on, Seth? You’re really worrying me.”
“It’s Chris.” He murmured slowly. “He had an affair, Danielle.”
The words, out loud and around them, floating around her kitchen, made everything that much more concrete. And, somehow, that was a lot harder to swallow than the whiskey.
He watched her jaw drop, her eyes widen in shock and horror. For a long moment, she didn’t say anything at all. Then, she took a swig of whiskey. “Seth, I…I don’t even know what to say.”
“Neither do I.” he felt her fingertips brush away one of his tears. She notched her chin over her wrist and cocked her head at him. In her blue eyes, he found nothing but compassion. An expression he had seen on her more times than he can remember. Even though she was younger, she had always seemed to have the mothering trait their own didn’t seem to possess.
“Did you talk to him about it? Did he tell you anything about why or how or…”
“God, what…explanation could he possibly have for-” he cut himself off before he said something else out loud that would sink all too heavily inside him. Seth finished the rest of the amber liquid in his glass, poured another one. Maybe if he got drunk enough, he wouldn’t remember any of this. Maybe if he drank too much, he could become numb enough not to care. “He got tested for HIV.” He blurted suddenly, using the heel of his hands to rub away tears.
Danielle pulled back, stunned. “It’s not…it’s not positive, right?” she breathed.
He shook his head. “I don’t know. When they called with the results, he wasn’t home.”
“And they couldn’t tell you?”
“Not without telling him first.”
She pressed her lips together. “That’s downright horrible. You’re married to him, you’re obviously, you know, involved with him. You have every right to know.”
“Yeah, well, the law doesn’t care about that.” He said bitterly. By that point, the alcohol didn’t even burn his throat anymore.
Silence passed between them as they drank. The only sound in the house was the steady tick of the clock mounted on the wall above the sink. Both of their eyes became locked on the wooden table and Seth had managed to stop the tears. Or perhaps that was the whiskey’s doing. Finally, Danielle shifted in her seat and glanced at Seth. “What now?” she whispered, giving voice to the single thought that rang true in Seth’s mind.
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly.
She stood, placing her glass in the sink and placing her hands on his shoulders. “The guestroom is always open, Seth. For as long as you need.”
“I couldn’t, Danni, I-” he began, twisting around.
“Don’t wanna hear it.” She said, holding her hand up to stop him. “You need time. And some rest. And everything will work out in the meantime.”
He exhaled. At least he would save money from not having to get a hotel room. “And Glen?” he asked. Seth and his brother-in-law had always gotten along, but honestly, the man didn’t even know Seth was in his house at one in the morning.
Danielle just rolled her eyes. “You’re my brother. He’s not going to turn away family. You know Glen.” She said with a wan smile, kissing his temple. “I’m heading up. You know where everything is.”
He nodded. When she was about to climb the staircase, he called out. “Danielle,” and she turned to look at him. “Thank you.”
She grinned. “Of course. Goodnight.”
That night, Seth couldn’t sleep. At least, not restfully or even for very long at all. When his eyelids finally drooped shut around two, he was haunted with his own thoughts that would not leave him alone.
There was Chris, looking like he did back in college. And he was laughing. He looked Seth dead in the eyes and smiled. Suddenly, he faded in the dark and Seth was greeted with the familiar resonance of his husband moaning. But when he turned around to find the source of the noise, it was not Seth’s hands that caused that glorious sound. He watched as a faceless stranger ran his hands down Chris’s chest.
“No!” Seth shouted, but the dream-Chris seemed to pay him no mind, as though he wasn’t even there. “Please don’t.” He couldn’t turn away. Everywhere he looked, he saw Chris with a different stranger and he was so sure he was crying. “Stop it!” he cried to all of them. “What are you doing?!”
All of the Chris-clones suddenly grouped back into one, locked at the hips with a man who was not Seth. In a flash, he glared sharply at Seth. “What’s it matter? I never loved you anyway.”
Seth awoke with a start. He could not breathe. Sitting up, he clutched his chest, sure that his heart was quite literally breaking. Sure enough, he was crying, covered in a cold sweat, and he was hyperventilating, in pure physical pain. This was not happening. Things like this didn’t happen to people like them.
It was later that night that Sophia heard a soft knock on her door. She set down the book she was reading, desperately trying to find a way to get her mind off of what had happened earlier, and sat up. At first, she thought it was her father, but she could still hear him crying in his room. Then, her door opened, and she stared into the face of her tearing little brother.
Eleven was beyond the crying phase for boys. Luke, fraught to look “tough” and to be a “man” had begun to get into the nothing-can-ever-hurt, stage where he did stupid things to show off to his friends. Therefore, it was needless to say that this sort of emotion coming from him surprised her.
“Hey, Luke.” She tried, blinking at him. He wouldn’t meet her eyes. Instead, he fiddled with his hands, twisting her doorknob. “What’s up? It’s late.”
“Soph,” he said, his voice wobbling dangerously close to panic. “Do you think they’re gonna get a divorce?”
Her heart sank lower in her chest. She couldn’t lie to him, and she didn’t want to fill him with false optimism or pessimism, either. Sophia bit her bottom lip, struggling to answer that loaded question thoughtfully, sensitively and rationally.
After what seemed like too long, she finally whispered, “I don’t know.”