“Do you believe in God?” Chris asked Seth. They laid on their backs underneath the rural stars, soft grass cushioning them. They passed a bottle of vodka back and forth, getting drunk. It could’ve been the way the stars always looked, or the fact that he was already pretty good and tipsy, but something made Chris think about this suddenly. The existence of God, of something controlling the universe. It seemed like a pretty big job for one guy. Hard to fathom.
Seth exhaled through his nose, took another swig from the bottle and rested it by his side. “I used to, I think.”
He nodded. “Pop’s one of those God-fearing-Christians. Used to go to church every Sunday. But after momma left, I wasn’t so sure about all that anymore.” Seth was silent for a long moment where Chris dared to peek at him. The look in his eyes always changed whenever the subject of his mother came up. He looked vulnerable, scared. A look that Chris saw so rarely that he couldn’t help but to watch in awe when it did happen.
It was nearing two in the morning, but the sky was so beautiful. Chris figured that was probably the alcohol. But maybe he had just never really looked at it before. He never noticed how there are more stars out where Seth lived than where he lived. City versus country, it’s darker out by Seth. Or maybe he was just happier with him, and noticed more of his surroundings that way.
“What about you?” Seth asked. His speech had begun to slur a little while ago, mixing in with his southern accent. Chris took the bottle from Seth’s loose grasp and took a swallow. The taste had started out how it always did; bitter and agonizing, refusing to go down smoothly. Partly due to the cheapness of the vodka, and partly because Chris was getting used to drinking. Before Seth, the most alcohol he had had was sips of his parents’ wine at special dinners or champagne on New Year’s. Before Seth, Chris hadn’t really lived much, had never really been what one would consider a “proper” adult. At least, to the kids to desperately tried to be much older than they were.
He had found out, though, through process of elimination, which drinks he liked. After being violently sick after too many shots of tequila one night, he ruled that one out. Beer was okay, but too filling and didn’t leave much room for anything else. Rum was only good with Coke and gin wasn’t good with anything. Vodka seemed like a good fit for him. A little rough at first, and then smooth as glass that left a warm feeling deep in his bones. Seth, who preferred Jack Daniel’s whiskey that made Chris nearly gag, bought the vodka instead, for him, instead of pushing anything else. Much to his personality. Every day after a night of drinking, as Chris was nursing a hangover and swearing that he’d never drink again, Seth would miraculously be perfectly fine, as if he hadn’t touched a drop. He was good, though, offering Aspirin and water.
“Only been to church a few times. Never really thought of God much besides that.”
There was a flick of a lighter next to him and a deep inhale. After a pause, Seth exhaled the tobacco he swore he could quit at any time. The scent of Marlboro Reds filled the air, the scent that Chris would forever associate with this man. “I feel like you only think of God when something goes wrong.”
Chris thought about this for a while, watching the smoke from Seth’s cigarette billow around them, looking like fine silk. He reached out for it to which Seth passed it to him. Chris took a drag, tried not to cough, let it out and gave it back to Seth. He took another gulp from the vodka.
He sat up suddenly and then felt how much alcohol was raging through his blood. The horizon swam before clearing into an unfocused center. “The Christians say that we’re sinning.”
“Everyone says we’re sinning.”
It was true. Sexuality still wasn’t as versatile as everyone would’ve hoped yet the Christians were still spearheading the fight against homosexuality. They got Bible verses quoted at them consistently, took much of their abuse, and in some cases they had heard of, thrown out of church. Chris worried about things like gay-bashings, of being murdered, of the constant assumption that he had AIDS and was going to drop dead at any moment. Seth never seemed to have any of those fears but Chris had caught the look on his face a couple of times when a jab at their relationship, a remark about his sexuality was raised—sadness. They had just been kids when Harvey Milk was assassinated and sometimes it felt like the hope of acceptance died with him.
“I used to be really conflicted with it. You know, thinking I was sinning and all. Church was still a big deal to Pop and here I am…”
Chris listened as Seth spilled about his teen years, something that he never really talked about. In fact, Seth never talked much about his life at all. About his mother, about his past, about anything. Chris found out from drunken conversations and other family members about the things that went on during his childhood. From the sounds of it, it wasn’t a happy one, which would explain why he never wanted to talk about it.
“Did you think you were sinning?”
Seth thought about it for a moment, drank before he continued. “I was always so torn about it. I kept hearing all these awful things about it. About gays, about having sex with other men. At the time, I was with a guy that I thought I really loved. I remember wondering how something that made me feel so good was a sin.” There was a long pause. “Then when he left me, I got cynical about it all. Got kind of homophobic, I guess. It’s weird. But I still wanted to find love. To find someone who actually gave a damn about me.”
And then you found me, Chris thought but didn’t say aloud.
“Word got out about me and that guy. I got the hell beat out of me, and that was when I stopped believing in God. Four guys jumped me. I was fourteen and had to miss school for a week.”
Chris thought about Seth as a young teen. Naïve, reckless, in love. He didn’t like that part, but it was still something that was important to him, at least at the time. He thought about Seth laying on the asphalt somewhere, black eyes, bloody nose, coughing blood. Afraid to move in case the guys hadn’t left. Heartbroken about being used, now in pain because of intolerance and what was just a rumor at the time. In comparison, Chris’s life was boring. He finished what was left of the vodka.
Seth turned to Chris, sat up a little. Their eyes locked, pupils dilated. Seth blinked a couple of times and his hand stroked Chris’s cheek tenderly. “I don’t know how thinking you’re beautiful could be a sin.” He muttered before shocking Chris and kissing him roughly. It wasn’t until when Chris touched Seth’s face that he realized he was crying.
Their bodies collided, hips pressed tightly together, no separation between them. Seth’s hand grasped the outside of Chris’s leg, wrapping it around his waist. There was urgency and need solidified in their kiss and the way Seth touched Chris like he couldn’t get his fill. Buttons on shirts burst open because of Seth’s fingers and a groan worked its way from Chris’s throat.
It could have been the anger at his past of feeling awful and helpless or the alcohol that fueled Seth’s actions. But whatever it was, Chris didn’t mind. Whatever it was, Chris knew that nothing could possibly make that night any better. It was all going to be worth the headache in the morning.
Sophia tried her best to sneak back into her house. Her vision was blurred and she needed to pee for the third time in the past two hours. With her heels in one hand and her keys in the other, she tried to maneuver them in the lock, missing twice before success.
She was beyond drunk. Wasted was probably a better word. She had gone out with some girls from dance that she didn’t typically associate with. They were notorious partiers and Sophia took them up on their invitation to one in hopes of relieving some stress.
It was fine, except that she didn’t really know anyone and that the music was too loud. She down shot after shot of fine golden fire and hoped for the best. When the guy with eyes that looked nothing like Ethan’s told her she was gorgeous, she smiled. It was all fine, except she kept thinking that it was probably a bad idea that she had gone.
The night had ended for her when the guy who called her gorgeous had his hands around his waist. He tasted like cigarettes and bit her bottom lip—hard. She told herself it was okay, even though she wanted to leave, but when his hands found their way up her tank top, she ungracefully disengaged herself.
“I have to pee,” she told him suddenly.
“Uh,” he said, off guard. “Bathroom’s down the hall.”
She nodded, dumped another shot down her throat and shuttered before stumbling off for the bathroom. Sophia couldn’t remember his name and wondered if he had even told her to begin with. When she opened the door, she was met with the overwhelming scent of vanilla. Closing and locking the door behind her, she sat on the closed toilet lid and looked in the mirror in front of her.
Her hair was a mess and her pupils were dilated to full flower. Taking a deep breath and staring at her phone for a long while, she contemplated why she was even there to begin with. Yeah, those drinks took the edge off, but only for a little while and they left her feeling worse in the long run.
In the end, she hit Send.
“Hey,” Sophia said shakily. “Can you give me a ride?”
Jace showed up fifteen minutes later, hair poking up in all different directions. It was almost two in the morning and he had been asleep. He didn’t say anything, at least nothing about the fact that they haven’t talked since that day at the river and suddenly, she’s calling him.
“Thanks,” Sophia sighed, sliding into the car. He didn’t reply.
They drove in complete silence because she could not think of a single thing to say that would change how anything happened between them. For most of the ride, she had her eyes closed, unable to pay attention to the car’s turns and the lights coming at them from traffic on the other side of the road.
Before she knew it, Jace had pulled up in front of her house. Sophia unbuckled her seatbelt but did not make to get out of the car. Instead, she turned to Jace who was staring intently out the windshield. “I’m really glad you picked up.” Sophia whispered.
He nodded stiffly twice.
Knowing somehow that he wasn’t going to say anything, she opened the door and wobbled on her now bare feet, trying to be cautious about closing the door behind her. Tentatively, Sophia made her way up the driveway.
“Sophia!” Jace suddenly half-shouted from the car window. She turned to look, wondering if he had woken her parents. “I’m glad I picked up, too.”
And before she had time to react, he was off and driving down her road.
The second she walked through her door, almost tripping the alarm, Sophia had the sudden urge to be sick. Fighting it back for a few long seconds, she swallowed a few times in a desperate attempt to settle her stomach. Because she couldn’t stop it from happening, she dropped her shoes and nearly fell into the bathroom before vomiting. Only surfacing long enough to register that she had made it into the toilet bowl, another round hit her.
A light flicked on down the hall and she groaned. Footsteps echoed on the stairs but Chris got to her sooner. You’d think I was shot or something, Sophia thought, frustrated at her fathers being too concerned about so little.
“Sophia?” Chris asked, alarmed. That’s when she realized, drunkenly, what this must look like—that she was relapsing. “Are you okay?”
Seth pulled the door open. Both of them stood there for a few stunned moments taking in everything. Their teenage daughter, dressed in cutoff jeaned shorts and a tank top. High heeled shoes were on the floor next to the stairs, what had woken them up. Even though it was glaringly obvious, it was Seth who said it.
“Are you drunk?”
Sophia spat and tried to pull herself together for about three seconds. “No, I’m just—” but they were unconvinced as right at that moment, she turned and vomited again.
“Jesus Christ,” Seth nearly yelled as Chris went to go get a glass of water and Aspirin. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You’re seventeen!”
“Calm down.” Chris whispered, ducking into the bathroom with Sophia and holding her hair as she again vomited.
“Don’t tell me to calm down. She comes home at two in the morning, drunk and expects us to just—”
“As if you haven’t been drunk before.” Chris snapped back at him, handing Sophia the glass of water. “Drink this, stay hydrated.”
“No, don’t help her. Let her just have the worst hangover of her life and maybe then she’ll think twice about drinking again. So much for staying at Lindsay’s, right?”
“God, Seth. Cut her some slack, okay?” Chris tried. He rubbed her back. Sophia was laying with her forehead pressed to her arm slung over the toilet seat. Chris flushed.
“This is ridiculous—!”
“Stop shouting! You’ll wake up—!”
“Can’t keep teaching her this is okay—!”
“Shut up!” Sophia roared suddenly. Her head was pounding but that wasn’t the cause for her discomfort. For once, she wanted her dads to just carry on a normal conversation without them screaming at each other all the time. “Just shut up, okay?! This isn’t helping at all!”
“Good!” Seth shouted right back. “Think about this the next time someone offers you a drink and then maybe this wouldn’t have to happen.”
With that, he strode back upstairs. Chris waited until the door to the bedroom shut before he did anything. Sophia continued to lay there, feeling sick and dizzy. “Are you going to be sick again?” He asked her, finally.
“I’m not sure.”
“What did you drink?”
Sophia let out her breath, spat in the bowl again and took a sip of water. “Tequila.” Instantly, Chris groaned and it made a smile slip onto her face.
“Yeah, that’ll do it to you.” He said with a slight laugh. “How much?”
Chris tied her hair back in a ponytail for her like he used to when she was a little girl. For a second, he remembered vividly—them sitting at the kitchen table with Chris doing her hair before school. His sister used to have to do it for her, seeing as Chris had no idea how to braid or even secure a ponytail. After watching her for long enough, he was able to do it. They learned a lot together. They had to, if anything was ever going to function smoothly.
“He didn’t mean all that, you know.” Chris tried lightly.
“Stop making excuses for him.”
“He just wants the best for you.” Chris said. She sat up, drank more of the water.
“Well, he doesn’t have to be a prick about it.” Sophia was beyond irritated. Nothing that night had gone as planned and now she just wanted to crawl under her covers. Chris stood.
“Don’t say things like that about your father.” He chastised, heading off into the laundry room to grab a bucket for her. Filling it a tad with water, for easy cleaning, he replenished the glass of water and headed back into the bathroom. “Come on. Go to bed.”
Uneasily, Sophia got up and—with Chris’s help—got up the stairs. As if she was a child, he pulled her pajamas from her drawers and peeled back her comforter. Chris turned his back as she changed. Even though he wasn’t watching, Sophia blushed when she remembered she was wearing a thong. As she skimmed off her tank top, she had a sudden image of the guy from before skipping his hands too close to dangerous territory. She had to stop thinking about it before something horrible happened, like her hyperventilating.
Once she was finished getting dressed, Chris tucked her in and made sure she drank more of the water. “You’re going to feel like hell in the morning.” He told her.
“I know,” Sophia sighed. She couldn’t keep her eyes closed for very long or else she felt like the room was spinning. “I feel like hell now. I’m never drinking again.”
“They all say that.”
“Yeah, well, I see why.” Sophia replied.
It was quiet before Chris spoke again. “Why did you tonight? Curiosity? Or…”
“The honest reason or the typical reason?” Sophia shot back.
Chris bit his lip. He wished it was just teenage curiosity but there was something about her that told him that it could’ve been something else, something he had more control over. If she had been drinking just to see what it was like, he doubted that she would’ve gotten to the point that she was. He had seen his before. He had seen this with himself, with Seth, with those kids with hard lives in high school, in college. He feared he was seeing it now, with Sophia. “The honest reason.”
“Because I thought it would make me forget about you and dad.”
That was what Chris had thought. That and Ethan. With everything that Sophia had gone through, he and Seth had made out pretty lucky if this was as bad as it got. “Well, this certainly wasn’t a good coping strategy.” He reasoned, remembering not to give a huge long speech or anything. He doubted that she would even remember it in the morning.
“I know,” she said, slinging an arm over her eyes and exhaling slowly. “Can we just talk about this tomorrow? I’m exhausted.”
Chris nodded. “Yeah. Get some rest. Take the Aspirin tomorrow when you wake up. Finish the water.” He reminded, kissing her forehead before turning off her lights and closing the door behind him.
The room was spinning. The whole world was spinning faster than usual and Sophia was met with the sensation that she had earlier of being sick. This sick was the different than what she used to do to herself, the kind she still wishes she could do. She tells herself she was drinking because of her parents, because of Ethan, because of everything. But what if it was because it was an easier and less obvious way of purging instead?