Late in the afternoon, a week after the accident Sophia was able to come home, when she was strong enough to do so and honestly, she looked a lot better. However, she still had that dead look in her eyes that made Chris worry if she was even there at all. Luke understood all that was happening and had been helping around the house, even without Chris asking. Lacie knew something was up and Chris simply told her about the accident and that Sophia got hurt. That things were going to be a little rough. Willow begged for her sister to come back, not quite grasping the idea of a car accident. One that nearly claimed Sophia’s life.
But because of what had happened, and Sophia’s diagnosis, Chris’s parents took the kids for the rest of the week.
It was Seth who drove the three of them home. Chris had to control his heart and his near giddy excitement over being this close to him again. Both of them, driver and passenger in the car with their daughter in the backseat, it almost looked like they were just a normal family. Except they weren’t and they all knew that.
Sophia had her eyes shut the entire ride back to their house, not staring at the slowly darkening sky. Seth frequently glanced back at her in the rearview, keeping his pace a tad slower than normal. This reminded him of back when Sophia was only a baby. Before that point, Seth would drive recklessly. Too fast, no seatbelt. Distracted. Once Sophia came along, all he had to do was look in the rearview and catch a glimpse of Sophia, or the car seat if she wasn’t with him, and remember exactly why he couldn’t afford to take chances.
“Are you hungry?” Chris immediately asked when she stepped into the house. Sophia kept her eyes trained on the floor, feeling both of her fathers staring at her intently.
“No,” she said shortly.
Seth glanced at Chris who shot a look back, nervous. “I’ll make you something.”
“I said I’m not hungry.”
Seth swallowed, placed a hand on her shoulder and tried to meet her eyes, “Sweetheart,” Seth started. “You heard what the doctor said.”
Yes, Chris and Seth had had that painful conversation. After alerting the doctor to his suspicions, Chis found out that she had callouses on her knuckles. That the enamel on her teeth had begun to wear, that her esophagus was eroded. All signs of bulimia.
Then she went to the psych ward and was formally diagnosed with an eating disorder.
Bulimia. That word, the one that Seth knew all about from medical school and psychology classes and his years at the hospital, they never packed a powerful punch. Not until now, anyway, when it was attached to his little girl. She was showing anorexic tendencies, if that somehow complicated their issue. Meaning Seth nearly didn’t have a choice on coming home.
Sophia stalked upstairs to her room and Seth found himself standing alone in the foyer, shuffling behind him from the kitchen. He stepped quietly down the hallway and peered in, watching as Chis took out pots and pans. Began to measure some flour out, with shaking hands. He looked as though he was trying very hard not to cry.
“What are you doing?” Seth asked tentatively, watching Chris pour water into the bowl with the flour.
“I’m making dinner for Sophia.”
She was on a strict regimen of a certain number of calories a day. Not to mention that she had to go to therapy once a week for forever and ever. Someone had to babysit her while she ate, and stick around after to make sure it stayed down. She would be under constant supervision.
The doctor had warned them of the sneaky behaviors most people with eating disorders tend to have. Stuffing food into their pockets to make it look like they consumed more than they actually did, jiggling their leg to increase metabolism. Pretending to swallow only to spit it out when someone turned away. All of that did nothing but make Chris on edge.
He began to cut up some of the way overpriced fruits in the refrigerator. Nothing was in season, but since Sophia refused meat, they had no choice. Chris would still not look at Seth. Instead, the tears began to slowly brim his eyes.
“I won’t lose her to this,” he said, his voice wavering. With how badly his hands were shaking, it was a wonder that he was even cutting the fruit at all. “I’ve…I’ve already lost you,” Chris began to slowly sob, not taking his eyes off the cutting board. “I refuse to let her go, too-Ah!” he cried suddenly, dropping the knife with a clatter.
For a few seconds, Chris gazed at the slice on his palm that was oozing a deep red as if it belonged to someone else entirely. He could not draw himself to comprehend anything else.
Seth snatched a paper towel. “You’re bleeding,” he gasped, rushing forward. “Let me help you.”
That was when Chris felt the sting. Seth placed the paper towel over the cut and applied a little pressure with his thumbs. Closing his eyes, Chris exhaled slowly, biting his lower lip. Seth was holding his hand. Inadvertently, but it was better than before, when Seth didn’t even want to look at him. This was progress, he told himself. This was a step in the right direction.
“It hurts,” Chris murmured without meaning to.
Seth let up on the pressure a little bit. “It’ll feel better soon.”
Chris shook his head, opening his eyes to meet Seth’s and biting back more tears. He folded his fingers over Seth’s thumbs, holding him in place. “I’m not talking about my hand.” he breathed. “It hurts to be so close to you.”
Seth’s eyes slipped away from Chris’s and he let go of a slow breath. The gash on his hand has probably stopped bleeding, but Seth kept holding on anyway. Again, Chris took this as a good sign. A sign that maybe, just maybe, he cares a little bit. That he still wants him, at least a tiny bit.
So Chris chanced it. And something compelled him forward. And he kissed Seth.
He hesitated for three whole seconds before his lips rounded over Chris’s. Warm, familiar, inviting. Everything he had missed so much. Everything that he thought he lost. Seth dropped Chris’s hand and the paper towel floated to the floor between them. A white flag of surrender.
Chris backed up so that he was leaning against the counter and Seth shifted closer to him. He slowly hoisted himself up on the counter so he was sitting, pulling Seth even closer, yet. Seth wrapped his arms around Chris, fingers sifting through his hair. Of course, Chris wanted so much more. More than he probably wants to give. More than he deserved.
What Chris wanted no longer meant anything.
He clawed at Seth’s shirt desperately, slipping the buttons free as quickly as he could with a damaged palm and nervous fingers. Chris could feel his heart steadily beat faster, and wondered briefly if Seth could feel it as well.
After a few agonizing moments, he dropped his hands to Seth’s belt, hearing the familiar tinkle of metal on metal and he unbuckled it. Groaning, Seth tightened the grip on Chris’s hair. Without thinking, with motions filled with urgency and need, Chris undid his own jeans before reaching again for the fly on Seth’s. He felt as though he was floating, flying, soaring. He was boundless, suddenly, wanting more. Always, it seemed, Chris wanted more.
He wanted Seth, more importantly.
Seth broke away with a sudden groan, stepping back from the counter, from Chris. “I can’t,” he gasped. Chris watched the tears well up in his eyes and felt something shatter painfully inside of him, knowing this was the pain he caused. “I just can’t.”
“Seth, please.” Chris murmured slowly. “Give me another chance.”
But he just shook his head, buttoning and zipping his pants. He turned away, fixing the belt as he went, without saying another word to Chris who still sat on the counter.
Chris was shaking as he hopped down, doing up his jeans again. He begged the tears not to come even though he knew it was a useless thought. Already, he could feel the knot in his throat, the emotions that he had forced himself to swallow. Steadily, he began to restart Sophia’s dinner, carefully measuring everything, focusing on the preparation.
The end result was her go-to comfort food; chocolate chip pancakes. He placed three large ones on a plate and added a couple of pats of butter to each one, making sure that it melted enough for her not to be able to tell. The powdered sugar dissolved into the butter and syrup he drizzled. Chris scooped some of the fruit salad he had prepared earlier into a small bowl and poured a glass of whole milk. She drank skim or 1% but Seth had bought whole the other day. Anything to squeeze in the extra calories.
He carried it up to her and she eyed it almost longingly. “I told you I wasn’t hungry,” she said, though, not taking her eyes off the plate.
“You need to eat.” Chris stated simply, pacing the plate on her lap and the bowl of fruit with the milk on her bedside table. He took the seat at her desk and fixed his eyes on her.
“Are you going to stay in here the whole time?”
“Yep,” he answered definitely.
Sighing, she picked up her fork and cut a piece off. Chris watched as she chewed and swallowed, looking as though she would much rather die in that moment. The both sat in utter silence the entire fifteen minutes it took her to slowly consume half of those pancakes. “I’m eating. You don’t have to sit here with me.”
“I just want to make sure.”
“Can’t you trust me?” she asked softly.
Chris didn’t answer her because he could not. He wanted to trust her, but after everything that had happened, he could not let himself get to the point of almost losing her again. “Eat your fruit.” He told her instead.
Sophia inhaled and let it out slowly, stabbing moodily at a grape.
Finally, after what felt like hours, she pushed away the empty plate and the bowl, smeared with powdered sugar and syrup. Sophia sat back on her bed, exhausted.
“How do you feel?” he asked her, gathering the plate. She wouldn’t look at him.
He nodded. “I’m sure it’ll get better.” He said, hushed. Sophia still wouldn’t meet his eyes, either out of anger or shame. Chris patted her knee. “We’re all in this together.” He popped the top off of her orange prescription bottle and shook two light blue pills into his hand. Sophia held out her palm where he dropped them and took the half empty glass of milk in the other. In one swift movement, she downed the medicine.
Chris kissed her forehead. “Get some rest, princess.”
Just as he turned away, Sophia spoke up. “Daddy?”
She was staring at her hands, wrung together against her lavender comforter. “Can you stay with me until I fall asleep?” her voice was small and scared. Even though it was only about eight at night, and Sophia usually begged to stay up and be left alone, she seemed anxious to sleep. Chris couldn’t leave her, not after staring at her wide, doe eyes filled with concern.
“Sure, honey.” So he sat in the chair by her bed, scooting it closer. Sophia leaned back against her pillows, pulled the comforter closer to her face and turned towards him. With the way the light from the end table was hitting her, Chris could clearly see all the bruises under the skin illuminate. Rage and sadness flickered suddenly in his chest.
One of the side effects to her medication was drowsiness and within about ten minutes, she was asleep. Chris sat next to her bed, stroking back her hair until he was sure she was deeply under. That was when he decided it was safe to turn off the light and close the door behind him.
“How is she?” Seth asked right when the door clicked shut, making Chris jump.
“Christ,” he gasped. There was a hint of a smile on Seth’s face that disappeared before Chris could confirm it. “She’s asleep.” He answered, dropping his eyes to the wooden floors.
“Well. It’s been a long day for her.”
“It’s been a long day for all of us.” Chris relented meeting Seth’s eyes briefly only to find them staring at Sophia’s doorknob. Slowly, his husband nodded. “I’ll, uh…I’ll take the couch.” He offered weakly knowing that they could not possibly share a bed. Not this soon, anyway. Chris wondered wildly if they ever would again. If Seth would ever love him again, or at least forgive him.
“You don’t have to—” Seth started.
“I can take it, it’s fine—”
“Let me.” Chris said finally. Seth’s ice eyes flicked to Chris’s then back down again before sighing in defeat. They both thought the same thing; it was wrong for Chris to cheat then to take their bed once Seth came home. In fact, Seth shouldn’t have left in the first place. If anyone was going to leave, it should have been Chris. The one who messed up.
“Then I guess I’ll…help you get it ready.”
They worked side by side in silence, stretching spare seats over the cushions and spreading a comforter overtop of it. Chris tried to break the silence on a few occasions, but no words tumbled from his dry mouth. He tried his best to resist the urge to touch his husband because he knew that would end in a disaster like the event in the kitchen earlier. So it was best to just pretend that Seth was just a stranger. Anymore, that’s what it felt like naturally.
“Goodnight.” Seth said, still not looking at Chris, before turning to head up the stairs. Chris watched him until he heard his footsteps on the stairs and the hallway light flickered out. Finally, the door to the bedroom they used to share clicked shut.
“Goodnight,” Chris whispered to the dark nothingness that was the downstairs. He sank to the couch with his face in his hands. Who knew that the sound of a marriage ending was the snap of a door shutting in it’s frame?