Chris awoke just as the sun was cutting through the curtains in their bedroom. The bedroom, he realized suddenly. Not the couch. He turned over to see if Seth had stayed in bed or left for the couch himself and ended up waking him in the process. For a few moments, Chris pretended none of the past year or so ever happened. He pretended this was just an average, ordinary Sunday, that nothing was wrong with their family, that he didn’t screw up in the worst possible way.
Seth groaned and sat up slightly. Their eyes met and Chris smiled at him shyly. Seth didn’t return it. Instead, he blinked and dropped his gaze to the sheets. That couldn’t have been a good thing, but Chris didn’t want to dwell on it. Not right then. “I can leave, if you want me to.” He offered weakly, hoping Seth would say otherwise. That he wanted him to stay. That all was forgiven.
There was a long pause between them. Chris noticed that Seth had put his boxers back on at some point during the night. He suddenly felt vulnerable and exposed, causing him to reach for his own on the floor. “I just don’t want you to think that…last night…changed my mind or anything.” Seth admitted.
It was as though ice overtook Chris’s insides. “What do you mean?” he said, surprised that his voice was as strong as it was. His chest seized and he felt doused in a cold sweat. We made love, he thought frantically. He initiated it. I had nothing to do with that.
“I just,” Seth began. He stopped, sighing. Pulling a hand through his hair, he looked uncomfortable and like he couldn’t find words for what he wanted to say. “I mean, sometimes, I feel like I could forgive you. Because I don’t think about it, and you do something that reminds me of college or…when the kids were little or something. But, I don’t know.” He paused again. Chris felt his throat tightening. “Other times, I think about it. And it just really pisses me off. And then I just don’t even want to look at you. I think, sometimes, I might even hate you.”
“Thanks,” Chris whispered.
“I’m just trying to be honest.”
It was Chris’s turn to be unable to look at Seth. His cheeks were crimson with anger and humiliation as he snatched the rest of his clothes from the floor and haphazardly put them on with quaking hands. “I wish you would’ve told me all that before letting me crawl back into bed with you.” He pulled a shirt over his head and kept staring at the floor. “You said you loved me.”
Seth snorted. “You asked me to.” He was just about to touch the doorknob when Seth said it. “I don’t see how that would’ve mattered to you.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Seth’s ice eyes glowered at him pointedly. For a second, Chris hated him right back. “If I had told you. I mean you could fuck half the men in Fredericksburg without expecting anything after, but you can’t with me.”
Chris’s jaw dropped, stunned. “So that was all last night was to you, then? Just some random fuck, some easy thing?”
“Don’t act like sex is some sacred thing, now. You’ve been with people you didn’t even know, or have you forgotten about all that?”
“I was starting to—”
“Good for you, Chris! I’m glad it’s so easy for you to forget that you ruined our marriage!” Seth snapped.
Disbelief struck Chris openly. He stood, by the door to their bedroom, blinking at Seth and trying to remember all the times Seth put his career before his family, before Chris. Yes, Chris messed up—and badly. Cheating wasn’t exactly the most ideal thing for either of them to do, but Seth wasn’t a saint, either. He was never home, and when he was, it nearly felt like he wasn’t. Things had been broken between them long before Chris cheated.
“You didn’t listen to a thing I said last night, did you?”
“I’m trying everything I can to move on, to get you to forget, too, so that you could move on. I am doing everything in my power to just make this go away, because they didn’t mean anything.” Chris said, his voice forced steady, and sounding it. “I’ve said that from the beginning.”
“What is so different between me and them, Chris? Why is it that you can screw them, then get up and leave like it never happened, like it didn’t mean anything, but when it’s me, you want more? Why can’t I just be like another one of your flings?” Seth shouted.
“Because you’re my husband!” Chris yelled back. “Christ, is it that hard of a concept to grasp? I love you! God, you are the most infuriating man on the face of this earth, but I love you anyway, Seth! It’s been like that since I was a goddamn teenager!”
Seth shook his head, shifted his eyes away from Chris who was still shaking. He didn’t say anything.
“Fine.” Chris reasoned. “Fine, okay? I guess I deserve this. You’re right. I’m a huge fuck-up. You’re right, because you’re always right. And I’m sorry, but that doesn’t mean anything to you. There’s nothing I can say that would make anything go away so okay.” With that, he pulled the door open and slammed it shut behind him.
Anger bubbled in Seth. For a moment, he hated and resented Chris. He thought about him with all those men, the ones that supposedly didn’t matter, the ones that were better than him, at least for one night. It made a rage spur within his stomach. Chris put random strangers before him. He put random strangers before their children. He betrayed the vows they made to each other.
To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
“So much for that, right?” Seth grumbled to himself before tossing the covers off and ripping the door open again. Chris was halfway down the stairs. “Am I just supposed to forgive you for lying to me for all those months, just like that?” he shouted at him. “Because if I am, I don’t even see how that’s fucking possible.”
“I don’t know what else you expect me to do, Seth.” Chris said. “Please, tell me. What is it I should do now? Get down on my knees and—”
“I think you’ve done enough of that.” Seth snapped.
“You son of—”
It was in that moment that Sophia stepped out of her room, looking from one father to the other, her face red with rage. “Stop it!” she was screaming, her voice shrill and angry. “God, both of you, just shut up!”
Both of the adults stood, stunned, at their teenage daughter.
“You’re both so fucking childish. I thought the whole point of getting separated was so you didn’t have to fight. God.” She scoffed, brushing past Chris on the way down the stairs and out the door.
“Sophia!” Chris called after her. “Where are you going?”
“Like you care.” And the door punctuated her sentence.
* * *
“The river looks like it might flood.”
“Because of all that rain we’ve been having.” Sophia replied, staring up at the threatening clouds. She had called Jace because he was the only one who’d understand. Without hesitation, or saying anything, actually, they both headed to the river. They sat, quiet, on the sandy bank, fingers skimming over stones and listening to the sound of the water lapping over the rocks in the middle of it all.
The Rappahannock was one of the only places they felt like they could have privacy anymore. since Ethan’s death, everyone had nearly been on top of Sophia, and it felt like she was suffocating. Every phone conversation she tried to have with anyone was being eavesdropped by her fathers or siblings, and everyone was being so… nice lately. As if she couldn’t handle herself. Her fathers were weirdly attached and typically went through the Twenty Questions when she tried to leave the house, even if it was just to go outside to breathe. Where are you going? Who are you going with? When are you going to be coming back? What will you be doing? Sophia was constantly flip flopping between wishing everyone would just leave her alone and mentally willing someone—anyone—to talk to her.
“You okay?” Jace asked.
“Let’s talk about something else.”
“Come on, Soph,” he sighed. “I just wanted to know how you’re doing. It’s been a rough couple of—”
“No, you don’t. You just want to make sure I’m not going to do something batshit crazy.” Sophia retorted. She threw a stone in the water, hard, and folded her arms around her knees. “That’s all anyone cares about. They don’t want to know how I’m doing. Not really, anyway.”
“You know me better than that.”
“I feel like I don’t know anyone anymore.” she relented. Jace shook his head but remained silent for a long moment. She wanted to tell him that every night, she saw Ethan’s face in her dreams and sometimes she woke up crying. She wanted to tell him that sometimes it hurt like hell and other times, she was glad it was just over. She wanted to tell him that her dads have been driving her crazy, mostly because she knows they both still love each other, but they’re too proud to admit it. There were a lot of things she wanted to tell him, wanted to tell anyone, really. But she also knew a lot of things were better left unsaid. And all of those things definitely fell under that umbrella.
Jace brushed his shaggy, blond hair out of his eyes and sighed, squinting across the river to the other banks. They had never been to that side, and probably never will be. The trees looked thick from where they sat, not to mention they probably didn’t have any trails cut into them yet. Uncharted territory. Sophia thought the idea sounded appealing.
Without warning, or thought, for that matter, Sophia grabbed Jace’s face. She kissed him roughly on the lips, making him gasp. Not missing a beat, though, as if this was planned, his arms snaked around her back, pulling her closer. Her tongue ran across his bottom lip as her fingers carded through his messy hair. There on their bank of the river, she leaned on him until he was lying flat on his back and she was straddling him. Sophia pulled away and met his eyes. Jace was wearing a curious expression somewhere between shock and happiness. She slowly unbuttoned a few of her shirt buttons.
“Sophia,” he whispered. He tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear.
She ducked down to meet his lips again. Only, this time her hands flew to the fly of his jeans. With numb and shaking fingers, she fumbled with the zipper and button. Jace’s hands fell on top of hers suddenly. At first, she thought it was to help, but he pushed her hands away.
“No.” he started. She ignored his comment because she needed this and managed to get his jeans undone. “Stop,” he told her sternly, speaking through the kiss.
She drew back as if he had slapped her. “Don’t you want me?” she asked, panting.
Cheeks bright with embarrassment, Jace did up his pants again and refused to look at her. “Of course I do.” He murmured.
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Well, first off, we’re at the river. It’s getting late, there’s a storm coming, and who knows who could be walking by. Not to mention there’s snakes out here.”
Sophia rolled off of him, defeated, and tried not to let the tears brim her eyes. “That’s such a bullshit excuse.” She spat, buttoning her shirt back and tying her hair up.
He exhaled slowly and sat up. “Soph,” Jace began. She didn’t look at him. “I love you. I’ve always loved you. But I don’t want to do this just because you’re mad. And I know you are—you have every right to be. Mad at your dads, mad at Ethan, at everyone in school. I just…I don’t want to be the revenge sex you never got a chance to have.”
She wiped away her tears angrily. Sophia refused to acknowledge that he was right about anything that he just said, mainly because it would be too painful to. “Take me home.” She said instead.