“Dad,” Chris said cracking the door to his father’s office. “I’m going to Seth’s.”
Charles Harvey peered at his son over his glasses from reading a long list of papers at his desk. Slowly, he shook his head and sighed. “I’m assuming that means you’ll be staying the night.”
Chris hesitated. It wasn’t like his parents didn’t know about his real relationship with Seth. It but it wasn’t like they were jumping with joy about it. Now, they never said anything to discourage it because, in his mother’s opinion, that would send Chris sprinting into Seth’s arms. But at the same time, they’ve never encouraged it, either. “Yeah, I guess so.” Chris relented softly.
“Look, Christian.” Charles said sitting up and blinking intently at him now. “I know you know how I feel about this, so I’m not going to beat around the bush pretending you don’t know.”
“That’s not going to change my mind—”
“And I know you’re engaging in certain behaviors with this boy—”
“Christian. I just don’t want this thing you’re going through to define your life.”
He knew what his father was on about. How could he not? It was everywhere. AIDS. HIV. The Gay Cancer, it was all out there. In pamphlets, in the media, the news. Every day in the newspapers, obituaries were flooded with more young men, dead of this strange illness, contracted through anonymous sex with casual partners.
“It’s not a phase. And we’re not sick.”
“Okay, Christian.” His father said, condescendingly and returning back to those papers that Chris knew were filled with boring legalese.
A sudden rage flooded him swiftly. “I’m in love with him.”
At that, Charles looked up. “You’re nineteen. You don’t know anything about it. About the word, about how things work. Certainly not about love.”
That did nothing but fuel the fire that was slowly consuming every part of Chris. “I know how he makes me feel, Dad. I can’t find that with anyone else.”
“Christ,” Charles groaned, standing up. “All this time your mother and I spent trying to tell you kids not to let this stuff go to your heads, and this is who you pin your rose on?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Chris snapped suddenly.
His father stayed silent, shaking his head again and pointedly refusing to meet his son’s eyes directly.
“Are you saying that he’s not a good person?”
“When did I ever say that?” Charles barked.
“The way you said that makes it seem like—”
“It’s not like he comes from a real stellar background is all I’m saying.” Charles relented suddenly. “He lives out in where was it? Luisa? Caroline? With his father and…where is his mother?” Before Chris had a chance to respond, his father continued. “He’s in school on scholarship, isn’t he?”
“You think Seth is a bad choice because he’s broke?”
Charles, now face to face with Chris, blinked and opened and closed his mouth a few times before he found the words. “I’m saying that if you end up staying with him after college…” then he rethought. Chris waited with bated breath, hands clenched into fists and shaking with rage. He never knew his father could be so pretentious about things that didn’t matter, like the familial income of his boyfriend. “Christian, I just don’t want you to starve or struggle with finances.”
“Starving with him would be better than living here with you for the rest of my life.” Chris snarled before he understood what flew out of his mouth.
Neither he nor his father really registered what he had said for a couple of seconds. Suddenly, a sharp pain shot through his jaw and he stumbled backwards. The metallic taste of blood filled his mouth and it took Chris three whole seconds to realize that his father had sent a punch right at his face. Chris turned to face Charles slowly.
“I’m sorry, Christian. I didn’t mean—”
He touched the corner of his mouth softly. It felt numb beneath his fingertips as he ran his tongue along his teeth to make sure they were intact. When he pulled his hand away, it came back tinged red. Chris spat the blood in his mouth at his father’s shoes and, without saying anything, turned and strode out of his house with his car keys in hand and his mother calling his name from the kitchen.
He drove over the speed limit all the way to Seth’s house. A drive that would’ve normally taken him about an hour and a half only took about forty five minutes, and he was fuming the whole way. The entire time, Chris though of all the things he should’ve said to his father.
Neither of them were sick with HIV/AIDS. And neither of them had any ideas that weren’t consistent with monogamy. And who cared if Seth wasn’t from money? They would get by. The both of them. Chris wasn’t incapable of taking care of himself, he wasn’t incapable of working, of making money. Seth was everything to Chris. And he knew the opposite was true. Why couldn’t his father see that? Why couldn’t everything just be normal.
He nearly fell out of the car in a rush to get inside the house, knocking frantically on the front door. Joey Grafton pulled the screen open and blinked at him a few times. “Chris?” he asked. From behind him, a chair scraped across the wooden floor and Seth appeared next to his dad, pushing the door open further.
“God, are you okay? What happened to you?” Seth asked, alarmed. Chris shook his head, wiped the corner of his mouth again where the blood had probably dried.
“Just my dad.”
Seth, without another word, walked out of the house and linked his hand with Chris’s. “We’ll be at the barn.” He told Joey simply who nodded.
The crickets sang hymns as they passed, enunciating the silence between them in Chris’s anger and Seth’s calm. Ahead, the barn came into sight, with the lights already on. The heels of Seth’s boots clicked across the packed dirt floor as they strode inside.
“That bastard!” Chris exploded suddenly. As if knowing this was going to happen, Seth watched him kick over a feed bucket so that it rolled on its side and ran into a pen. “What does he know about anything, anyway?” There were tears in his eyes that he didn’t even realize he was holding back until then.
He looked at Seth who was staring at the toes of his worn out Westerns. His inky, dark hair needed cut and his button-down was rumpled and still had the undercurrent of horses, no matter how many times it was washed. The jeans he wore were old and that much he could tell. Secondhand, Chris wouldn’t be shocked. But money wasn’t everything. It wasn’t even anything. This was the same man who taught him to line-dance, to saddle a horse. This was the same man who could hold both compassion and fury in his ice blue eyes at the same time. Seth, who could make love to Chris gently or fuck him like he hated him. Seth, who’s hands, calloused from working on the farm for most of his life, were gentle enough to bottle-feed a foal and strong enough to wrestle with an ornery horse.
Seth wasn’t perfect. Not by a long shot. But Chris loved his imperfections. He loved everything from the dimple in the left side of his cheek all the way to his southern accent that he had once deemed “uneducated.”
“What did he say?” Seth asked quietly, still not looking at Chris. For a second, he thought about telling him. But what would that do? Nothing. His father’s biased opinion would do nothing for their relationship.
“Nothing. Just nothing.”
“He thinks I’m no good for you.” Seth said. Then, he looked up, met Chris’s eyes for the first time that conversation. “Right?”
Flabbergasted, Chris furrowed his brows. “How’d you—”
Seth shrugged. “If you weren’t going to tell me, what else could it have been?” At Chris’s silence, Seth continued. “Why’s he think that?”
Hesitating again, Chris bit his lip and struggled, looking around the barn. No use bringing it up, no use hurting Seth. But he’d find out eventually. And it was only a little bit obvious to everyone involved that they were two strikingly different people. “Just…” he muttered. “Just the money thing, I guess.”
It was a long time before Seth spoke again. Then, finally. “I dunno. He might be right.”
Shocked, Chris snapped to look at him, unsure if he heard correctly. Seth had been the one that was telling him everything was going to be fine. And then this? “What are you talking about? He’s not right. He’s fucking wrong. He doesn’t know anything about us. He doesn’t know anything about you.”
“Think about it, Chris.” Seth relented. “I don’t have anything to give you.”
He had never thought of their relationship as one that required Seth giving anything to Chris. Especially anything of monetary value. Chris didn’t need it, first of all. Not to mention, he didn’t want it. “It doesn’t work like that.” Chris insisted. “We make our own. You don’t just had me things.”
Seth shook his head. “So we graduate from college. Then what? I’ve got nothing. You know that. Your parents know that. Fuck, the whole world knows that.”
“Then you get into medical school.”
“Who’s gonna pay for it?”
“That’s not enough—”
“I’ll work.” Chris said. Seth stopped, looked at him intently. “I’ll put you through medical school and do what I can to keep a roof over our head and…” he looked into Aladdin’s eyes next to him, seeing the reflection of himself in those dark orbs. “We’ll make it work.”
Chris thought about all of this as he lay on the couch alone, for one more night too many. The tears clouded his vision of the ceiling fan blades, motionless above him. He had tried to make it work. For a long time, that had been enough.
When Seth got into medical school, Chris worked two jobs to support them while Seth took out loans for what they couldn’t afford. It was rough back then, but Chris was so sure that Seth loved him more than anything in that whole world. They were each other’s rock. They were each other’s soulmate, companion. It was them against their own good advice with no one else on their side. It was because Chris got to sleep next to him every night and wake up the same way that he was able to do all of it. Now, though. For a long time, lately, the roles were reversed.
Chris hadn’t wanted to admit it, but he was halfway thinking that Seth had stopped loving him many years ago.