Muffled voices yelled from downstairs, but Sophia drowned them out by turning up her music, determined not to hear what her dads were fighting about now. It was always the same old thing, that Seth needed to work, that Chris needed his husband. It was a constant battle, and Sophia just didn’t want to hear it anymore.
She looked down at her biology homework, the question she couldn’t concentrate on. Ethan, her boyfriend, had been texting her nonstop and she had yet to answer. He was going to flip when she actually did but, at the moment, she didn’t feel like getting into a fight.
Or listening to one.
A mother has type A blood, her baby has O. The suspected father has type O blood. Could he be the father?
For a moment, Sophia thought about putting a random yes or no, then BSing a Punnett square, but instead, she slammed her textbook shut and flopped on her bed. Their yelled elevated and then came the crying. Probably from Chris, she had never seen her other father cry and doubted he ever did.
An insistent knocking came from her window. Immediately, she knew who it was and when she turned to look, her suspicions were confirmed. Sophia crossed her room and lifted the glass letting Jace lean inside her room. “Hey, Soph.” he smiled, his blond hair spilling into his eyes.
Jace Willis was her best friend. And he had been for as long as she could remember. He and his family lived a couple of houses down and their parents got together often. It was a common occurrence for Jace to lean his father’s ladder outside her house to talk to her through her window.
A door slammed downstairs and Jace’s smile faltered. “Something going on?”
Sophia sat back down on her bed, folding her legs up underneath of her. “Yeah, my dads are fighting. Something dumb, I’m sure.”
Jace exhaled, shaking his head, before he grinned his bright smile again. “Wanna go for a walk?” he asked her before holding up his hand to reveal colorful tubes. “I brought Freeze-Pops.”
She thought about Ethan, about how she should text him back and tell him she was going to hang out with Jace for a little bit. But he wouldn’t like that, having hated Jace on principle. He was a guy who, as he put it, “was uncomfortably close to his girlfriend.” Sophia rolled her eyes at the thought then got up. “Sure. I’ll meet you out front.”
“Awesome,” Jace said, climbing his way back down the ladder.
“I’m going for a walk with Jace.” Sophia called out to whoever was listening. Seth was sitting on the couch with his arms folded over his chest and the TV off. In front of him was a shot of amber liquid.
“Don’t be too long, Sophia.” Seth answered, looking at the clock.
Sophia stopped, looked around for a moment. “Where’s Daddy?” she asked, eyebrows knitting together as she tied back her long hair into a ponytail.
Seth shrugged. “No idea. He left.”
A pang of concern rushed through her. “Is he…coming home?”
Again, her father shrugged. Perhaps things at home were worse than she thought, much worse, and that was all she needed, right? She didn’t want her parents to split up. She loved them both dearly, they were the ones who raised her. And Sophia knew they loved each other, too. So that meant they could get through this. As a family, they could do it.
Seth got up and strode back into the adjoining kitchen, double-taking at his daughter. Sophia had been wearing a tank top, which was a mistake. A splotchy purple bruise rounded itself over her upper arm. He touched it gently, but she pulled back. “What happened here?”
Sophia felt a blush crawl up her neck as she walked to the coat closet, extracting a light hoodie to cover up her mistake. Quickly, she pasted a smile on her face, then cranked out a forced laugh that she hoped would’ve fooled her dad. “I ran into the doorframe at school. Well, I didn’t run into it so much as Jillian pushed me into it.”
It must’ve worked because she watched her dad smile and shake his head, thankful that her little story made him happy. “Why did she do that?” he asked.
Sophia shrugged and slid into her plain black flip flops. “I guess she thought it’d be funny.”
“Push her back next time,” her dad winked. Sophia tried her best to smile again, making her way out the door. Just when she stepped into the front room, her hand on the doorknob, her cell phone vibrated in the pocket of her shorts again. Ethan, no doubt.
Where r u?
They walked around the neighborhood, palms growing colder as the flavored ice stained their mouths. For a couple of moments here and there, they were silent. But Sophia talked to Jace about her dads because he could understand better than anyone else. Even though she was the only person she knew with two gay dads Jace nodded and offered advice as though he was going through the same thing at home.
“So Doc has no idea where he is?”
Sophia crunched down on the piece of blue ice in her mouth and shook her head, even though Jace probably couldn’t see. “Nope. No clue.”
The friends that came by the house often just called her dads by their first names, to avoid confusion. But the ones she was extremely close to like Jace and Jill and Hope and Ethan simply called Seth “Doc.” Of course, Seth got a kick out of it but still told them he hoped to never see them in his place of work.
Then, it was quiet. The two walked in silence, letting the cool spring breeze pass them over as they absently headed to their neighborhood park. For Sophia, memories flooded back to her as they sat on the swings, slowly rocking without talking still. She remembered back to when everything was terrific, still. How her dads and Jace’s parents would bring them there and push them on swings and let them build sandcastles.
Now, they were too big for it. When they sat on the swings, their toes dug in the sand.
She wrapped her arm around the chain, leaning her head against her hand and popping another piece of ice. She hoped things were going to be okay with her dads. That it was just a little fight and that her daddy went someplace to just cool down for a little bit. Maybe he just went back to his parents’ house or maybe he went to go visit his brother Mark or his sister Heather.
“I can’t wait until I could leave this place,” she sighed. It was a common phrase uttered by most kids around here. They lived in a small town in Virginia. Everything got around and everyone seriously knew everyone. Halfway between DC and Richmond, it was a tourist spot which aggravated most people as they drove the wrong way down one-way streets. Sophia, and most everyone else, always complained that it was too country, that there was nothing to do once you’ve lived there your entire life. But, at the same time, Virginia was beautiful, even though the summers got too hot in Sophia’s opinion.
“Only a couple more years. Then we could go to college.”
“My dads want me to go to UVA. ‘Cause that’s where they went.”
“Well,” Jace said, exhaling, red ice in his mouth. “It’s a good school.”
She shrugged, accidently hitting her bruise and making new pain spread. “I don’t think that’s where I want to go, though.” Sophia said lowly.
Jace was silent for a moment, tipping the last of his Freeze-Pop past his lips. “Then what do you want?” he asked simply.
Sophia stayed silent. Honestly, she couldn’t tell anyone what she wanted anymore.
Her cell phone vibrated again.
Mornings in the Grafton house were always hectic. Three out of four kids had to head to school, the baby was almost always crying, Seth was on his way to work. Chris mediated all activity like a policeman directing traffic.
He had stumbled into the house last night shortly before Sophia and she pretended not to notice that he looked like he had been crying and drinking. He was upset, that was for sure, but in all fairness, they were fighting. She told herself that was why he was distressed. So she quietly slipped upstairs and under her comforter, listening to him still crying softly.
This morning, he looked fine and no one said anything about what happened last night. According to the family, it was just another normal night. They played a board game, or maybe they watched a movie, popped some popcorn. The family laughed and talked and everything was just fine.
A fight? No, no one fought.
As Sophia expected, Ethan was in a right rage when he saw her at school. She hadn’t answered any of his text messages and that pissed him off. Sophia was leaning against her locker, listening to Jill talk about something funny that happened at her job. Their little group of girls giggled but stopped abruptly when Ethan pulled Sophia aside roughly. “Ethan,” she gasped. “I was-”
“This is more important,” he growled.
Sophia looked back at her friends who were staring after her, tossing them a small, apologetic wave. Ethan led them down the deserted Math hallway. Before she could even open her mouth, unsure if she was going to apologize or explain or maybe scream, he tossed her books down the hall and grabbed her by the shoulders, pushing her hard against a row of lockers.
Rage flicked across his green eyes. “Think it’s fucking funny when you don’t answer me?” he snapped, hands closing tightly around her arms. “Where the hell were you?!” Ethan yelled, close to her face. New bruises were sure to be sprouting where his hands clamped against her skin.
It was weird, how everything worked out. Every girl at their school was jealous of her because Ethan, a junior, was drop-dead gorgeous. Him dating sophomore Sophia was pretty much a miracle considering her popularity had soared overnight, making her queen of the school.
Being with him wasn’t worth the status sometimes.
“I-I was with Ja-Jace.” She stammered, her heart pounding against her ribcage.
She watched his nose flare as he shook with rage. “I bet you’re fucking him now, aren’t you?” he said dangerously, making her grimace.
“N-no!” she cried, hot tears prickling her eyes. “I wasn’t-we were just-”
He hauled back and slapped her across the face, sending her brown hair flying and making a small scream escape the barrier of her lips. The tears came now, hot and quick, making black strips of her mascara line her face.
Ethan’s hand twisted in her hair, making her face him. “Next time, fucking answer me.” He said lowly. When she didn’t answer, he tightened his grip, pulling harder. “Got it?!”
Unable to find her voice, she just nodded.
“Good.” He spat, letting her go by shoving her back against the lockers. “Dumb whore.” He hissed, striding down the hallway as though nothing happened. She quickly wiped her tears and the black lines from her face, but more came in their place.
Shaking, Sophia ducked down to retrieve her books and was startled when someone handed her the biology book she couldn’t find. “Are you okay?” Jace asked her softly.
She just nodded and whispered a thank you as she took her book. “What’re you doing down here?” Sophia asked, wondering how much Jace actually saw and what he thought about her, about Ethan about anything.
“I had to make up a quiz in Geometry. I heard someone crying and when I left I saw you.”
She couldn’t look at him. Instead, she hoisted her books higher in her arms and smoothed the pleats on her plaid uniform skirt. So he hadn’t seen anything. For all Jace knew, she could’ve gotten bad news from her dad. She could’ve had a fight with Jill. She could’ve just fallen.
But, sure enough, when she looked down at her arms, a red mark the shape of a handprint was burned into her skin. Hopefully, no one would notice.
Or maybe no one would care.