Chris watched Seth on the back of a horse through the kitchen window as he helped Joey dry dishes. The way he looked, expertly maneuvering with the horse around the open field, it was mesmerizing. As though he had done this his whole life. In fact, Chris wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that he had.
“She’s really fighting him, huh?” Chris smiled, wiping off the face of a plate.
“Aphrodite’s young. She still thinks she’s in charge. But she’ll learn.”
“I don’t know how he does it.” He said, watching the horse buck underneath of Seth, trying desperately to throw him. He pulled hard on the reins to settle her and she tossed her mane in defiance.
“He’s been doin’ it since he was a kid and all.” Joey explained, handing a wet pan to Chris to dry. He took it, rubbing the white towel across it. Chris never got to hear much about Seth’s childhood, because he never offered. Chris knew better than to ask, but he had to admit that he was curious about his boyfriend’s past. “His momma got him on the horses when he was young. Never seemed to get off ‘em. Especially after she left.”
“His mother liked horses?” Chris asked, careful to only identify her as Seth’s mother and nothing else, in case it was still a touchy subject for him.
“Oh, yes, she did.” Joey smiled. “My Helen loved them. Wanted a whole heard of ‘em. Course, we couldn’t afford that, not at the time. Seth was a baby then and we had trouble enough making the mortgage on time as it was.”
Chris listened, rapt with interest at the story Joey was telling. He wanted to know everything he could about Seth, about his family, about his life. He just wished, sometimes, that he’d hear it from him and not his dad.
“I got her Blue for her birthday. Beautiful chestnut mare. Helen barely spent any time in the house after that. Was always with Blue.” He ran a sponge around a pot, the soapy water wrinkling his already pruned and liver-spotted hands. “Helen begged me for another. So then we got Dane.”
Outside, Aphrodite bucked wildly, almost sending Seth sprawling. At the last second, he grabbed hold of the reins and pulled, shushing her to calm again.
“Danielle had come along around them. She didn’t take to animals like Seth did. Liked ‘em, sure. But Seth? You couldn’t get him away.” Joey handed over the pot and Chris began to dry it, now far more interested in the story being told than he could ever be in cleaning the dishes. “So then Dane ‘n Blue had Lace. Seth took to her almost right away and then the rest was history.”
“What happened to Dane and Blue?”
“Passed on, of course, like we all do. Damn near broke Helen’s heart. Seth’s too. But they had Lace and eventually, Aladdin, too.” The look in the man’s eyes was misty and far away. Chris wondered if the storytelling had gone too far, if he would’ve preferred to stop. However, he continued. “Course, by the time we got Aladdin, Helen was already gone.”
Seth had Aphrodite trot around the inside circle of the fence, keeping at a steady pace. Once she had made three laps, Seth rewarded her with a sugar cube.
“Old age?” Chris asked, mainly to keep Joey off the subject of Seth’s mother.
Joey shook his head. “Not Dane. He got spooked and bolted—right through the fence. He broke both of his front legs. Seth was on him at the time. I was watchin’ from this exact window as they both went down. Helen said Dane saw a snake or something. Horses startle easy.”
“Horses have to be put down for a break?” After being born and raised near a city, only ever owning a dog that died when he was young, Chris had no idea about most animals. Especially the ones that people could ride on.
“Most of the time, yeah. They weigh a lot. Can’t support themselves on three little legs like that. And Dane? He broke both front ones. Ain’t no comin’ back from that one.” He handed over another plate to Chris. “After that, something changed in Blue. She refused to eat most of the time. Didn’t run. Damn near didn’t do anything. Seth said she was depressed about Dane. After Helen—well, I could understand why.”
Chris nodded solemnly. Seth had always told him that he believed animals could feel all the things humans do. They love just like humans, they play and bond and trust like them, too. It was no wonder that they could get depressed. Especially over losing a mate like that.
“Seth got hurt, too?”
“He was thrown. Wasn’t the first time, though. He’s always been mostly okay though. Scraps and bruises. Couple of stitches a few times. Nothin’ we couldn’t deal with.” Joey pulled the stopper out of the sink and let the water drain out, turning on the tap. He rinsed out the soap and rung the washcloth, leaving it on the faucet. “Thanks for your help with this, Chris.”
“Yeah, of course.” He replied, putting the last of the silverware away in a drawer just as Seth swung his leg off of Aphrodite and led her back into the barn. All the while, Chris couldn’t help but think of how well Joey raised his son.
The psychologist sat in front of them, bobbing her high-heeled foot. She was a younger woman, with dark hair and a quaint office. The room was painted a dark red, housing a gold couch and a green armchair. A black bookshelf took up an entire half of a wall, stuffed and piled high with numerous books on many things Chris had never heard of. He read the titles as Seth explained the situation to Dr. Rosenthal. Love and The Psych; Explaining Divorce to Children; Sex, Intimacy and Devotion: The Ups And Downs of a Sexual Relationship; Depression’s Toll; Anxiety From A Cultural View.
“Chris?” she asked, pulling him from his thoughts of horses, book titles and why Seth was sitting so far from him on the couch. “Is there anything you want to add to that?”
He shook his head. “He got everything, I think. I messed up and that ruined everything. It’s the same thing that had been explained since it happened.” Next to him, he could almost feel Seth shut his eyes for a long moment, exasperated.
“When was the last time you had sex?” the question came quickly, but both had to have known that it was going to come at some point. Both squirmed uncomfortably, remembering exactly the last time they had been intimate. Even though the first thing to jump to Chris’s mind was with each other?
“Two and a half, three months ago.” Chris answered. “And before that, it had been…Six months?”
“It was not six months.” Seth murmured.
“What was that, Seth?” Dr. Rosenthal asked.
“Before the last time—it hadn’t been six months.”
“It was.” Chris insisted, immediate anger growing at the fact that Seth couldn’t even remember fucking him. Had their marriage gotten so boring that Seth would rather just forget any time they spent with each other. “Before your hate-fuck, the last time we had sex was in September.” It was March. So, Chris was right, mostly. A little over six months. But who was counting anymore?
“Why is that?” she asked the men. Both just stared before Chris turned pointedly to Seth.
“Yeah, Seth. Why is that?”
He looked defensive, suddenly. “It’s not that I didn’t want to have sex with you. I did. But I work, and when I get home, I’m exhausted. Plus, with the kids and everything, we never had the time.”
Did. Chris didn’t want to dwell on the word, but it was haunting and a little frightening. Like, Seth wanted to sleep with him back when he thought that Chris was just a doll to play with when he was bored. Anymore, Seth didn’t want to touch him. He had made that pretty clear, even to the psychologist.
“Something that tends to work with many couples going through problems, and something that I’m going to send home with you two for homework—is to make time for yourselves, privately. No kids, no work, not distractions. Just each other. It could be for half an hour. It could be for two hours. Not necessarily time just for sex, although it could be, if you so decide. But mostly, it could just be for coffee in the morning. Or to chat for an hour before bed. Something. It’s important not to lose sight of your spouse, no matter how hectic life gets.”
Seth nodded. Chris had his fists clenched, wondering if Seth was even going to take her advice, if he was even serious about getting their marriage back on track.
“I want you both to come back next Thursday at three. Okay?”
And with that, the both of them said their goodbyes to the counselor and drove home together in complete silence.