Seth left for work after saying goodbye to the kids, but without saying a word to Chris. He tried to pretend that he didn't even notice, although he was sure the thought would burn with him all day. It would pass, hopefully, the feeling of Seth ignoring him. He just hoped that at some point, the mistakes he made to the marriage would pass over them swiftly and they can get on with their lives together again.
It was when he went to pack Lacie's backpack that he saw it. On the kitchen table, next to the bills that needed paid, a note with his name on it in Seth's handwriting. His heart leapt in his chest excitedly as he sat the pink bag down to pick it up.
Once he saw what was underneath, however, his insides turned to ice and he felt as though the floor had fallen out from under him.
The Commonwealth of Virginia
PETITION FOR THE DISSULSIONMENT OF MARRIAGE
His ears began to ring and for a few moments, he forgot how to breathe. Divorce papers. Seth served him divorce papers. Real things, there, in his hands.
"Daddy?" Sophia asked behind him.
"Go put your things in the car. Help your brother and sister." Chris said, shocked that he was even able to form words at the moment.
"Go, Sophia!" He snapped over her, hand over his mouth, the other one still quaking holding onto the papers.
She hesitated for a moment behind them. "I can take them to school if you want."
"Fine, fine." Chris relented, not letting his eyes leave from the document that would end his marriage. Seth had already signed them. The date of his signature was yesterday. What would happen after this, after they go to court? Custody battle, where they divvy up the kids' time between the two. Dividing their assets. Their accounts, money. Alimony settlement. All this legal stuff his dad had gone over with him but that Chris only half listened to, thinking that they would somehow fix what had happened.
What a crack dream.
And then what? Each one would have to live their lives as if the other hadn't happened?
The front door closed and suddenly, the house was just silent. Nothing. No kids laughing. No one talking. No one yelling at someone to get out of the bathroom. Nothing. Everyone was off at school and Chris was finally as alone as he felt.
Anger flooded him.
Immediately, he called Seth.
"Doctor Grafton?" he said into the phone once he picked up.
"I'm not signing them." Chris snapped angrily. On the other end, he heard the doctor sigh and then say nothing. "I'm not fucking doing it."
He couldn't believe it. He couldn't believe that things would just be over between them just like that. Twentysomething years of marriage, ending with the swift stoke of a pen, the flick of Chris's wrist and both of them wondering how the hell they got there.
"Don't make this harder than it has to be okay? I've been through enough, the kids have been through enough-"
"And what about me? Haven't I been through enough?"
"Oh, don't act like you're the innocent victim in all of this!"
Chris exploded. "Yeah, Seth. Yeah, I made a mistake. I made a ton of mistakes and I take full responsibility for ruining everything we ever had. Okay? But I'm not a horrible person. I've been trying. For months, I've been clean from everything and trying my damndest to get things right with us. So, no, I'm not an innocent victim in all this, but I'm sure as hell not the only villain." He shouted.
A few seconds passed while neither of them said anything. Chris felt his heart pounding heatedly against his ribcage and his breath came in short bursts as if he had run miles.
"Sign the papers, Chris." Seth said finally before the phone line went dead.
Frustrated, angry, a lot of things he didn't want to stop to comprehend, Chris slammed his phone into the tile of the kitchen, swearing loudly. He hated Seth in that moment, but at the same time, he still loved him. And that was what infuriated Chris so much about the whole situation. Even when Seth wouldn't give him the time of day, even when he wanted to file for divorce, Chris still loved him more than anything.
What did he have left after their marriage falls apart? Not his kids, if Seth could find some way to say that Chris was an unfit parent. Not his friends, because anymore all he and Seth knew were other couples that seemed to think divorce was contagious. They'd side with Seth, anyway, because Chris was the one who cheated. Chris was the one responsible for all the bad things that had happened between them for the past year and some months. His family, maybe, if his brother and sister didn't find some way to despise the thought of leaving a spouse. He'd have proven his parents right, that he and Seth wouldn't last. Even though they liked him, loved him, even, they never exactly thought that Seth was right for Chris.
There was nothing he could do now. The divorce papers mocked him but the only thing he could do was sit around and stew, waiting for Seth to get home.
Seth made his rounds at the hospital, checking in with his patients that he had taken care of that morning. The woman on the bed in front of him was rubbing her swollen belly with both hands. "Is everything still okay, doctor?" she asked. Seth glanced up at her and grinned quickly before looking back down at her charts. She had come in that morning with a case of bleeding. Frantic, she babbled about how this was her first baby and that her husband was at work and that she didn't know what was going on. Seth had calmed her down enough to examine her and discover everything was fine.
"Yep. You look good. Baby looks good. Everything is fine. Just a little spotting."
The woman beamed. On her form, Seth saw that her name was Ashley Fisher. Seven months pregnant. She was twenty-seven and, as other doctors discovered, suffered from endometriosis. Theoretically, she wasn't able to conceive children.
"Thank God." She sighed. There was a pause. "It would've been our fourth miscarriage."
A surge of hurt rushed through him unexpectedly. He knew the pain of wanting a child so badly and not being able to have one. He and Chris had run into a lot of red tape and denials and hurt feelings before they were clear to adopt Sophia.
He went to check her vitals.
"Do you believe in miracles, doctor?" she asked him as Seth checked her heart rate.
"Yeah, sure. I think it could happen." Heart rate normal, breathing normal.
"It must be possible." Ashley rubbed over her belly again. "Or else she wouldn't be here."
Seth watched her. She was glowing, happy, excited. Nothing could make her happier than knowing that she would not have to bury another one of her unborn babies. Seth knew this. As his role as a doctor, he knew this feeling. As his role of a father, he lived hoping and praying his children would always be safe.
Miracles, he thought, had to be real. If they weren't, Chris would've left a long time ago.
It wasn't until late that night that Chris walked into the room he once shared with Seth. As par usual, he was lying in bed, reading. For a long moment, the two men just stared at each other. Neither had spoken to the other all day and that was disheartening.
"Just wanted to remind you that we have that parent/teacher conference tomorrow at Sophia's school." Chris said finally.
"That wasn't what you came in here to tell me, was it?" Seth replied after another long pause.
"No." Chris relented. Still standing in the doorway, Chris bit his lip. Seth never wanted to give him the time of day before, so why would he do it now? "Gloria knows this really good therapist. I think it would be beneficial if we go." He finally said.
Seth blinked a few times, flagged the page he was on and set the book in his lap. "A psychologist? You want us to go see a psychologist?"
"A…marriage counselor, yes. I think it could help."
He shook his head and looked down at his hands.
"Look," Chris continued. "I don't want to get a divorce. But it's pretty clear that we can't fix this ourselves."
Seth still didn't say anything. Yes, miracles happened every day. But maybe they didn't come from nothing. Maybe they came from hard work and a lost cause.
"I'll give you six weeks." Seth said. "If we're not somewhere in six weeks, then I want to proceed with the divorce."
Chris nodded and turned to leave, pulling the door shut behind him. Seth returned to his book for a second but could not concentrate on the words. Finally, he reached into the bedside drawer where he put the divorce papers. He read them through for what had to have been the hundredth time.
He couldn't make sense of any of it. But he knew that he didn't want it, either.