It had been a week since Sophia came back from the hospital. In that week, she had been eating regularly and keeping down, under the watchful eyes of her fathers. She hated it, hated herself and feared the calories more than anything. Sophia watched her figure fill out. She squeezed herself into jeans and spent an hour the other day poking her stomach in a mirror.
She wanted to hate her fathers, but even after everything, she couldn’t bring herself to do it, no matter how hard she tried.
“Sophia!” Chris called up the stairs. “Luke! Dinner!”
Luke was out of his room and running down the stairs before Sophia could even get the courage to open her door. Something that was so simple, so routine and so normal for other people was a major struggle for her. Food, eating, weight, they were all battles. Wars, fights, something she had to get through. Something she would rather not face.
“Sophia!” Seth shouted. “Dinner! Come on!”
She sighed and headed down the stairs.
Everyone was just getting to the table and were chattering about. Lacie was telling Seth about the caterpillar that had built a cocoon in school and that she hoped for it to hatch soon. Chris was setting things down on the table and looked up to shout for Sophia again only to realize that she was standing right in front of him.
“Okay, come on,” Seth said as everyone sat down. Sophia looked at her plate, the fresh green salad and the pasta with thick sauce. Immediately, she thought of the carbs, the starches, the extra calories that she didn’t need.
“I ate earlier.” Sophia lied suddenly.
“Eat your dinner, Sophia.” Seth told her, dismissing her bogus comment immediately.
She forced herself to load a forkful of salad. Chris and Seth made polite conversation that her brother and sisters added to. She pretended to fit in although it was glaringly obvious that she did not, remotely.
It was sad, really, what was going on with her family. They were broken pieces haphazardly and carelessly glued together. It was abundantly clear they didn’t fit, not anymore. Admittedly, Chris and Seth had put on a good show. At least, one that was able to fool her little sisters. She figured Luke had his suspicions, but stayed silent, afraid to voice them aloud.
Chris slept on the couch. Every night. And every morning, they put it back together before any of the kids woke up to see it. They pretended to get along even though their smiles never reached their eyes and sometimes, Seth forgot to conceal the disappointment on his face when he looked at Chris. The whole thing was heartbreaking.
Sophia bit back her tears as she forced down the salad and felt that familiar fullness in her stomach. The one reminding her that she needed to get it out, if she knew what was good for her. In reality, she just sat and tried to act like she wasn’t silently fighting a war with herself. Mind verses body for control.
Somehow, she managed to make it through dinner and even the hour her dads made her sit at the table to make sure that she wasn’t going to try to throw it all up again. Finally, they set her free, and Chris began the dishes.
From the windows, he saw Seth outside, leaning over the railing, staring at the pool surface that was covered and out of sight. Chris’s mind told him to stay put or better; turn around and walk upstairs. But in the end, it was his heart that pulled him outside. He knew it was a bad idea the second he closed the screen door behind him and attributed his shivering to the fact that it was cold outside and he wasn’t wearing anything with substantial weight.
Seth flicked the ash off the cigarette in his fingers, exhaling what looked like cool, white, mist from the window but only turned out to be smoke. Chris felt an immediate sense that something was horribly wrong. “I thought you quit.” He offered weakly, tentatively stepping closer as though he was trying not to scare away a rabbit.
“Yeah. Well.” Seth said as if it was an adequate explanation. It wasn’t and they both knew that, but Chris decided against probing for more answers or for chastising him.
Chris found himself wanting to say something but Seth had given him nothing to work with and, for the life of him, he couldn’t find anything else to say. Amazing. After twenty or so years of marriage, even the best of couples would eventually resort to complete and utter silence. Not because they didn’t want to talk, although that was probably something, but because there was just simply nothing left.
“It’s bad for you,” Chris claimed weakly.
The smell of the cigarette launched Chris into a headlong chasm of memories that he tried very hard to block out. It was too painful to remember them at all at the present moment, when he wanted nothing more than to forget that once, Seth made him the happiest person alive. That would lead to him feeling worthless and shitty about ruining his marriage, the trust his husband had in him and the precious lives of his children.
“Funny,” Seth said with a humorless chuckle. “You never seemed to care about my health before.” Chris felt his heart stutter in his chest.
Seth turned, and immediately Chris gathered an instinct to run. But he stood, riveted. Anchored helplessly and staring at the flaming danger in Seth’s eyes. “You didn’t seem to care about getting me sick when you were out there fucking all those men.”
As if the blow of the words could leave a mark, Chris turned away. “It didn’t mean anything.”
“And neither did I.”
Chris opened and closed his mouth a few times, trying to find the words, trying to figure out what he had to do to reverse the damage he had done. He came up empty. “That’s not true. I’ve always loved you. I still love you.”
“And you’re still fucking lying to me, Chris! Jesus!” he cried, angrily. But even the anger in his voice, in his eyes, in the way he was shaking, none of that hid the tears that welled up on his lower lids heavily.
“I’m not lying.” Chris tried. “Seth, I…” he began before shaking his head thoughtlessly.
“I don’t want to do this right now,” Seth whispered, pulling from his cigarette and keeping the smoke in his lungs longer than normal.
“Do you love me?” Chris choked, feeling more broken then than he had since the whole thing had even started.
“Don’t do this to me.” Seth groaned, flicking the ash again. He had yet to turn and face Chris, knowing that if he did, neither of them would be able to move on. Knowing that he could not say what he had been planning for a week. Knowing, just knowing.
Chris felt the tears coming and knew it would only be seconds before he voice shattered in his chest completely. He tried to swallow past the lump in his throat, but it would not budge. In fact, it only seemed to get larger and more painful so he ignored it the best he could, a process that seemed to be his default for whenever things became rough. “I just…need to know.” He begged.
“You’re just making this harder.” Seth admitted softly. The curves of his Southern accent bent gently around Chris like an old, worn jacket. There was no way this could continue. There were too many things between them to just let go, just like that.
“Making what harder?”
Then, Seth turned around, almost angry, with his eyes fiery and yet solemn at the same time. He looked Chris dead in the eye, his left hand clenched into a fist and said it. “I want a divorce, Chris.”
It struck him with the weight of a cannonball. Seth’s words punctuated the cool night air, penetrated straight through him, right at the center where he was sure emotions hid themselves. It shattered the tension around them, leaving them stuck in some sort of vacuum. Chris couldn’t honestly say that he was surprised by the news, but that still made it far from welcome. He couldn’t breathe, it felt like. Every time he inhaled, it was as though the air had turned into shards of glass.
Again, he wanted to say something, anything to make Seth stay, but he was struck dumb, just standing and looking at this man stupidly.
Seth shook his head and then his whole body began to quake. He suddenly began to walk closer to Chris. “I just can’t do this anymore.” He whispered before sliding open the screen door and walking back into the warmth of the house.
* * *
Sophia dug the spoon into the softened chocolate ice cream. It wasn’t Ben and Jerry’s, but it would do. Her dads were still fighting, which was hilarious and depressing all at the same time. They were separated, but they still fought.
Sitting with her back against the wall in the kitchen, she let the spoonful of ice cream melt to liquid in her mouth, shutting her eyes. She thought of Ethan suddenly, and of their first date when they went for ice cream after a movie. At the time, they were so happy. At the time, she was so happy. Ethan was perfect. He doted on her, he took her places, treated her like a princess. Her dads, they laughed with each other, they shared precious moments together. The only times Sophia would babysit was when they would go out on dates, maybe once a month. Their family had game nights once a week, they had dinner together every night. Her and her brother and sister would do homework at the kitchen table, their dads cooking and there to help with algebraic equations or chemical reactions.
She didn’t know what happened to their All-American family.
But she knew enough to want it all back again.
“Soph?” Chris whispered softly just as she came into view. She didn’t look up at her dad, not wanting to face anyone. The metal clicked against her teeth when she pulled the spoon out of her mouth, finally turning her eyes to meet him.
“I’m just…” she began but could not find the words. Just being pathetic? Just remembering how things were before they got bad? Just trying to think of how everything fell apart?
Chris sat down next to her so that their arms were touching. “You could talk about it if you wanted to.” He murmured.
The fact that he knew what had been upsetting her and wasn’t mad at the fact that she was thinking about Ethan after what he had done made everything spill out.
“I feel like such an idiot.” Sophia relented, leaning her head back in an attempt to make the tears disappear. “I trusted him. And he loved me. I always knew that he was being honest about it.”
Chris didn’t say anything as they both sat there, backs flat, staring out at the cabinets in front of them with the tub of ice cream melting between their thighs. He could feel her sorrow, her shame and her anger roll off of her in waves, each one hitting him with force.
This was the pain that Chris could not fix. This was not a scraped knee from a fall off a bike. This was not a broken favorite toy. This was not childhood anymore. This was adulthood and thus, Chris found the gap between himself and his daughter shrinking. She was dealing with problems much like he was and the thought scared him.
“It started with him telling me what to wear. At first, I thought it was because he was looking out for me. I don’t know what to think anymore. All I did was make excuses for him to the point that I don’t even know how I’m actually feeling about the whole thing.”
He waited, still, refusing to say a word. Just instead offering his silent support. Chis would act as a trashcan for her if she needed it. A place to throw away everything she was feeling so she wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore.
“I made a huge mistake.” She whispered. “I gave him everything.”
Chris closed his eyes, knowing what she meant. He had figured as much, that she and Ethan had had sex. But hearing her say it was something else entirely. Especially when he knew about the details of their relationship. Especially when he knew that this was his baby that boy was hurting.
“But even after everything, I still wish I could see him again.”
She was crying in earnest by then. He listened to her for a few moments, wishing there was something he could do. Wishing that he could uproot the whole family, move to some obscure place and lock all of his kids away. He wanted to protect his family. The only thing was that he didn’t know how.
“And I still feel like no one believes me about what happened. That he did it on purpose, that he wanted to…That it was deliberate. They’re all backing him and leaving me in the dust.” She wiped her tears away, even though that did very little to stop the others that came in their place. “I’m not lying.”
Chris covered her hand with his own, gave a small squeeze. “Sophia, even if you were lying,” he told her. “I would still defend you.”