Seth was bent over his Human Anatomy textbook, chewing the end of his pen, desperately trying to memorize all of the arteries and veins in the human body. The terms swam in front of him, making sense, but at the same time, making him irritated. He was more of a visual learner, and, of course, he had a huge practical exam tomorrow morning. Seth would be instructed to raise and identify certain arteries. To trace droplets of blood through the chambers of the heart, ending out the aorta and circulating back again.
Chris looked on, half-amazed and half-wondering if he was dating a lunatic. Seth was murmuring to himself, words Chris couldn’t hear, and probably couldn’t identify if he did. In all fairness, they had only been dating for about four months now, which really wasn’t that long. But it apparently didn’t take long for Chris to become infatuated with everything Seth did. He loved the way he talked with that faint southern accent, the product of being born and raised in Virginia. Chris adored his cocky attitude, even. His take-charge sort of domineering presence. It was attractive, really, the way he casually went about even the most stressful of situations.
He loved the look in Seth’s eyes when he talked about his father. The hard-working man who tried his best to give his son everything. And, by everything, he meant a good education. Seth had it rough as a kid, in Chris’ standards. He lived in a tiny house where his mother was just gone and his father lived paycheck to paycheck and did his best to take care of his two kids, Seth and his younger sister, Danielle. Unfortunately, by the time Seth was a senior and started applying to colleges, his father was only able to afford books, but insisted that he would find a way to come up with the money. However, that ended up not being a problem because Seth was currently studying pre-med at the University of Virginia on a full-ride scholarship.
Seth wholeheartedly worked his ass off to make his father proud, but Chris could still remember the softness that clouded his face when he talked about the tears in his dad’s eyes as he walked across his high school’s stage to receive his diploma. Chris hoped that, one day, he would meet Joey Grafton, the wonderful man that shaped Seth’s life so much.
He groaned in defeat, dropping his pen on his textbook and swearing loudly. “I’m just going to fail tomorrow. I know it. I could feel it.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Chris sighed, pressing a hand against his boyfriend’s back. “You’ll do fine, I could tell.”
“Not if I can’t remember these things!” Seth cried, almost completely outraged. Then, a light bulb went off inside his mind. His eyes widened, bright, and he gathered his Sharpie markers. One black, one red and another blue. Seth turned to Chris, enthusiastic. “Let me practice on you?”
Chris’s eyes widened as well. Now, he hoped Seth didn’t mean letting him cut his chest open to look at what was inside. But then Seth held up the markers.
“Take off your clothes.”
Chris complied, having had taken off his shirt and his jeans, but left his boxers on because he absolutely had to. Seth had never seen him like this before and Chris was sure his face was bright red the whole time. When Seth touched him, Chris shook lightly before he grew used to Seth’s hands roaming his body and the sticky stroke of the Sharpie’s tip.
Seth used blue for oxygenated blood, red for unoxygenated blood. Black for naming things and some other vein or artery that Chris probably couldn’t pronounce. Chris was laying in anatomical position on Seth’s bed that was little more than a mattress on the floor in his far too cramped house. His off-campus apartment was tiny, and Seth liked to joke that he could cook and shower at the same time.
“There,” Seth announced. “Done.”
Chris looked down at himself, at the zigzagging lines that traced the movement of his blood passing around his body. The map of his veins. Seth pressed his palm against Chris’s chest.
“So the blood pumps here.” His finger brushed over the right side of his heart. “Fills here, runs through this valve, passes to get oxygen.” Seth’s smoldering eyes flicked to Chris’s. “Oxygenated, it runs back into the atrium. And pushes the blood into the aorta that sends it to the rest of your body.” He felt Seth’s fingertips run down the center of his chest, murmuring the names of various veins. But when he could feel him against his thigh, Chris gasped.
“Femoral artery.” Seth whispered before kissing him.
He had started to reach too far down, making Chris turn away again. “Sorry,” he gasped, making Seth smirk and remove his own shirt.
Before Chris could really comprehend what was happening, Seth slid his hand down the waistband of Chris’s boxers. He swallowed hard, telling himself that this was all okay, that this was fine, that he wanted this.
Seth kissed a trail down Chris’s Sharpie-tattooed chest, his palms flat against it. Presumably, he discovered his rather fast heartbeat and stopped, sitting back on his haunches to look at Chris with a puzzled expression. “Is this…your first time?” he asked in a whisper.
Chris, biting his lip, nodded.
Blinking a couple of time, Seth cupped Chris’s cheek. “I’ll be gentle.”
And, even though Chris knew he tried, the pain was inevitable. When Seth pushed against him, Chris felt his heart beat wilder, in pain. His eyes snapped shut and he held his breath.
“Relax,” Seth advised softly. “It won’t hurt so much if you relax.”
Chris had been waiting for forty-five minutes. Seth, someone who was barely on time for anything, was of course late. The thing was, they had a reservation and it’s not like Chris had planned this last minute or something.
He checked his watch again and sighed. Their server came back around, an older woman with dyed red hair. “Another minute, sir?” she asked sweetly. This was an upper-end restaurant. Something classy, had to be the best. But what was the point if Seth wasn’t even here.
“I’m still waiting on my husband,” Chris said defeated. “I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologize, sir. I’ll come around when he arrives.”
He couldn’t wait forever. All the kids were spending the night at his parents’ house and he wanted to call and check in before it was too late. Another five minutes. That was all he was going to give Seth to show up. After that, he would’ve officially stood him up.
When he only had about a minute left, Seth came running through the door, frazzled and spotted his husband immediately, making a beeline for the table. Seth leaned over and kissed his cheek quickly. “Hi, sweetie. Sorry, I’m late.”
Chris let Seth’s tardiness go. They were out to a nice dinner, just the two of them, completely devoid of kids. And it was great. Plus, Chris really couldn’t complain about his husband. He was a great guy and he worked hard to provide the best. Their kids went to private schools, he and Seth both drove luxury cars. They vacationed, owned a beautiful suburban home. They were able to live comfortably, buy what they needed for their kids and maybe even a couple of things they just simply wanted.
The server must’ve come by again because when Chris snapped out of his daze, a glass of red wine was sitting in front of him. Another thing that Chris particularly liked about Seth was he always ordered for the both of them. It took the guesswork out of everything, and practically forced Chris to try something new.
“How was your day?” Seth asked him, sipping water.
Chris shrugged and smiled across the table to his husband. He still couldn’t get over his giddy excitement about the kids not being there, about having a full night with his husband before they got their kids back the next morning. He was determined to make this night absolutely perfect and Seth’s being late wasn’t going to stop it. Because, God, he couldn’t even remember the last time they slept together. The culprit was Seth’s busy schedule. When he came home from the hospital from a long night on the floor, he was exhausted. Which left him no time to be with Chris. “It was alright, I guess. How was yours?”
Seth sighed. “The usual. People coming into the hospital for frivolous things like headaches or whatever. It’s called an Emergency Room not an I-Need-To-Get-Out-Of-Work Room.”
They chatted for a while about rather monotonous things, other doctors at work, their own little dramas. The kids, old memories. It wasn’t until Seth’s cell phone began to vibrate that Chris noticed he was only drinking water.
“Sorry,” he sighed, standing up. “I have to take this.” Chris watched as he answered the phone, walking away from the table, leaving his heart as flat as a penny. No doubt it was the hospital, probably calling Seth back in.
No, there was no way he was leaving Chris. Not tonight.
But after a few moments, Seth came back, a defeated look on his face as he reached for his suit jacket. “I hate being on-call. I’m sorry, honey.”
Chris exhaled slowly, disappointment and sadness seeping into his chest. “You didn’t tell me you were going to be on-call tonight.”
“Oh,” he replied, brows furrowed together. “I thought I had told you.”
In reply, Chris just shook his head. Seth kissed his forehead and whispered, “I love you. And I’ll make it up to you tonight when I get home. Promise.” And then he was just gone and Chris sat across from no one.
It was an empty promise, something Seth had said a lot. That he would make it up to Chris later, when really, he’d be too tired to. It wouldn’t hurt so much if Chris didn’t sometimes wonder if Seth loved him at all. A marriage with no sex couldn’t possibly be a marriage. They had become just two people who lived in a house together and raised children that weren’t even biologically theirs. Two strangers, that’s what they were, now.
And it wasn’t even that Chris didn’t love Seth with his whole heart, because he did. But it was that he needed…something else that Seth couldn’t give. Not necessarily sex, although that would’ve been nice, but maybe time. Maybe devotion. Maybe…something he couldn’t identify.
The server came bustling over with a bouquet of a dozen long-stemmed roses in her arms, a white envelope on top. “Should I come back?” she asked when she spotted the vacant seat in front of Chris. But he shook his head at her, reaching for the flowers.
“I don’t think we’ll be needing these after all,” he whispered, stung. The woman looked at him sadly, placing the small black book on the table in front of him. The bill would be low considering they hadn’t even ordered yet.
“Sorry, sir. Have a good night.”
He paid in cash, left their server a good tip since she had been patient when Seth was late, and stared at the little white envelope on top of the flowers that he had bought from a florist earlier. He arrived at the restaurant early, gave them to the woman and asked her to bring them to Seth halfway through. It was a special occasion, he told her, and even she looked excited.
But Seth had left and now Chris was sitting alone. What hurt the most wasn’t even Seth leaving as much as it was that he had somehow forgotten.
On the envelope, in Chris’s handwriting: To my Seth.
And under it: Happy anniversary.
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