Seth was in the shower while Chris was about five feet away, shaving. That was the thing about marriage, he guessed. There wasn’t any sort of awkwardness between them and to some people that was comforting. To Chris, it was boring.
He hated to admit it. That he was bored in his marriage.
There was nothing new and exciting that sparked between them. They had sex in the same positions. They followed the same routine for work and school meetings and appointments for the kids for things like doctors or dance lessons, soccer, piano, etc.
It felt like whenever they got to be good again, Seth’s schedule picked back up and Chris took to backburner in his life. He hated it, God, he hated it. He wanted to be Seth’s first priority. But that wasn’t an option. Sometimes Chris couldn’t help but wonder if he loved his job more than he loved him.
The water in the shower stopped and steam wafted around the two of them. Seth wrapped a white towel around his waist and stepped out, accidentally brushing against Chris in the process. He held his breath, watching his husband in the mirror with water droplets running down his tanned chest, dripping from his hair. At the way his muscles flexed and stretched.
This could be their chance, Chris thought. A chance for something romantic to happen. In the movie that played in his head, he imagined what that little brush could bring. Seth would grab him, kiss him roughly. They would take it back to the bedroom. Or maybe change things up and continue in the bathroom. Chris would walk around for the rest of the day with his face half shaved because he was just so busy becoming reacquainted with his husband’s body.
But what really happened was so strikingly different that it shattered Chris’s heart. Seth’s eyes barely met his in the mirror. And he mumbled, “Sorry,” before silently sliding out of the bathroom and into their bedroom to get dressed for work.
Chris dropped his razor in disappointment. He didn’t say that it was okay. Because it wasn’t.
Sophia sat next to Jace on the sandy bank on the Rappahannock river. They watched the water twist and turn itself around bends, flashing white then back to its usual muddy brown. It was summer, but still not warm enough for the water to be crowded yet. Plus, that was their bank. The one that was considerably hard to get to.
Sure, it started with a trail. But they always veered off and hiked through a thicket of trees, zigzagged their way over jagged rocks and avoided thorns and poison ivy to get to their destination.
Well, she liked to think only her and Jace knew where it was, but in reality, dozens of people had probably been there before her.
“…and she just wouldn’t shut up. Mrs. Campton kept glaring at her the whole time. It was great.” Jace laughed, laying back on the bank with his hands behind his head. Sophia wasn’t exactly listening, but she had a lot on her mind. All day, her cell phone had been going nuts and it was either one of two people. Her dad, telling her that he needed her to babysit. Again. Or Ethan, telling her he needed her more than the world. Again.
She didn’t want to deal with either of them.
“Soph?” he asked her, poking her side. She cringed, knowing there was a splotchy purple bruise hidden under her shirt where he just touched. The result of Ethan and his last frenzy for something like what she was wearing or not telling him where she was.
Her cell phone chimed, another text message.
“Is it that ass again?” Jace sighed. “Ethan?”
She shrugged. He fell silent before staring back up again. “I don’t like him. He treated you like crap.” Jace said bitterly.
“He loves me.” Sophia whispered because she had to believe it. It was the only thing to keep her sane anymore. And as much as she didn’t want to admit it, she was starting to really miss him. The way he held her, the way he looked at her like she was the only girl in the world.
Jace shook his head. “He just wants to get in your pants.”
“How would you know?” Sophia almost snapped, picking up a flat stone and trying to skip it only to let it sink on the first try. A long time ago, her dads had tried to teach her how to skip a stone, and she did it twice. But after that, she just couldn’t do it anymore. Not without their help, at least. If one of them guided her wrist, she could do it fine. But if she had to do it on her own, she was out of luck.
He shrugged. “He’s just that type.”
Sophia didn’t know what he meant by that and she almost didn’t care. Yeah, he was a little intense sometimes, but it was only because he loved her more than anything in the world. She knew that because he kept telling her just how much in the texts he was sending. Just because she wasn’t answering them didn’t mean she wasn’t reading them, necessarily.
But he wasn’t the kind of guy who just cared about getting laid. He loved her, she knew he did, and he wanted their first time to be special. That’s what he kept telling her. Even though she had wanted to go on the pill first, and being honest, what fifteen year old girl wanted to have that talk with her two gay dads? He seemed pretty understanding but his desire for her was fairly obvious in the way that he kept begging her. That they would be okay. That he would be careful. That they would use other protection.
With all that, sometimes, Sophia couldn’t help but wonder if the real reason why she kept putting off asking her dads for birth control was that she just wasn’t ready for sex.
“Has he?” Jace asked tentatively.
“Has he what?” Sophia asked, blushing that she wasn’t paying attention again. Jace was sitting up, facing her in earnest now, trying to get a straightforward answer.
“Has he…you know…” Jace hinted. Sophia blinked at him a couple of times before she realized what exactly he was answering. Once she figured it out, she reddened even further.
“No, we haven’t.” she answered truthfully. He looked relieved, in a way that she couldn’t figure out, if she was honest with herself.
There was a long pause that hung between the pair of them. For quite a while, the only sound to fill the empty spaces between them was the rush of the river. The smell of wet sand and vegetation poured into Sophia’s nose and she kept her gaze focused on the collection of large rocks on the other side of the Rappahannock. Beside her, Jace looked like he wanted to say something, but wasn’t quite sure.
He wasn’t the best with words, nothing compared to Ethan’s poetic language. But he was Jace, in all his awkwardness, the guy who would drop everything and go if Sophia had asked him. They shared so much of a history that it was impossible not to bend over backwards for each other.
“Do you love him?” he asked finally, defeated.
Sophia swallowed and tried her hardest to keep staring at those rocks. She couldn’t look at Jace, not when his blue eyes were so trained on hers. “Yeah,” she answered finally.
Jace exhaled a breath neither one of them realized he was holding in. That’s when she turned to look at him to find the most depleted expression wearing on his features. “Sure.” He said it so lowly that, at first, Sophia wondered if he even said it out loud. That made her angry. That Jace doubted that they were in love, even though they weren’t together.
“Jace,” she sighed. “You have no idea what love is like.”
“Yes, I do!” he retorted, indignant. His face turned red, as though he was suddenly sunburned, and his lips sealed shut, as if he had already said too much. Sophia scoffed at him.
“Oh, right. And how is that?”
He didn’t say anything. Sophia gave up after a few minutes and turned back to staring out into the middle of the river. Dusk had begun to fall over them and she slapped away a couple of mosquitos angrily.
Then, without much of a warning, his hand covered hers softly. “I’ve seen the bruises, Soph.” Jace whispered lowly. “That’s not love.”
Sophia faltered, ashamed and scared. If Jace knew, who else knew? She thought she had done a good job at concealing everything. By shopping for the right clothes, for becoming a master with her concealer and foundation to make a bruise disappear from view. But supposedly, she had let it slip. She had essentially betrayed Ethan again and went against his wishes. That their relationship was their business only and no one else’s. That they had no right to anything that they did. “He cares about me. That’s all it is.” She murmured after a long moment’s pause. And even though she felt tears sting her eyes, she kept her voice calm and steady.
Jace shook his head. “I know what love is. And some guy beating you isn’t it.”
“He doesn’t beat me.” Sophia cried, suddenly angry. “You don’t understand. You’ve never been in love.”
He opened and closed his mouth a few times before his voice wrapped around her, as soft as a summer breeze. “I love you.”
That’s when Sophia pulled her hand away and felt her breath hitch inside of her chest. Jace wasn’t a thing like Ethan. And she couldn’t decide what she felt about that. “Jace,” she tried quietly, biting her lower lip. “We’re just friends.”
Just friends, the words cut a barrier between them like a guillotine. Jace dejectedly folded his arms across his chest and Sophia moved to sit on her hands. He didn’t say anything else, not even as they began the walk back about an hour later.
He didn’t say a single word. Not even when Sophia’s cell phone chimed again.