T-MINUS FIVE WEEKS UNTIL THE WEDDING
Indira knew, rationally, it wasn’t doing her much good to keep canceling her therapy appointments.
But, irrationally, it was a hell of a lot easier to ride the wave of a decent week than to sit down on Dr. Koh’s beige couch and sift through her feelings until she realized she’d been deluding herself and her week was, in fact, total shit.
Indira also knew, as a psychiatrist herself, that this was called avoidance. And it was bad.
Fatal flaws, et cetera, et cetera.
Pushing away the tiny pang of guilt she felt for canceling, she stopped at the market a few blocks from the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Chris, to buy ingredients for her mom’s old chicken parm family recipe and a way-too-
expensive bottle of wine, hoping to surprise him. While Chris worked from home, he wasn’t much into cooking, and most nights Indira was too tired from her long shifts at the children’s outpatient center to want to whip anything up. They were in a rut of delivered food eaten in silence as they scrolled through their phones, together in the most disconnected way possible.
They’d moved in after only five months of dating, riding a high of decent sex and early relationship happy hormones. But after almost a year of on-again, off-again
whiplash, the relationship was starting to feel more like roommates than romance, and they both knew something had to change.
At least, she thought they both knew that. It wasn’t like they talked about their relationship. They didn’t talk about much, if she were being honest . . .
But it would all be okay. If the emotional roller coaster of Indira’s childhood had taught her anything, it was that there wasn’t a problem out there that couldn’t be (at least temporarily) fixed by her mom’s red sauce.
Indira checked out, even grabbing an impulse-buy of dessert to try and lift her glum mood.
Practicing her brightest—albeit forced—smile, she made her way through the cool October evening to their apartment, giving herself a pep talk. Chris was, at his core, a good guy. And Indira could get over her mental blockade of past relationship failures mixed with melodramatic ennui and get this one to work. Besides, she’d been down the whole single-and-searching-on-dating-apps road. The grass was definitely not fucking greener; relationships take hard work; insert platitude here; blah blah blah.
Indira hiked up the stairs of her building and let herself into the unit, sweeping into the kitchen with a flourish.
The unexpected sound of lusty moans killed the greeting in her throat.
For a moment, Indira wondered if she’d walked in on Chris watching a particularly vocal porno.
And then she saw.
Oh, the horror of the things she saw.
There was writhing.
And an . . . open jar of peanut butter? . . . (???)
Indira’s jaw was on the ground as her fucking boyfriend groped—with very little finesse, skill, or sensuality, thank you very much—a stranger on their fucking couch.
With peanut butter smeared on their faces.
(Seriously, what the hell?)
Her mind was slow and sluggish to process the tableau of betrayal she was witnessing in real time. The entangled couple finally registered her presence, separating their sticky faces long enough to stare back at her. The shocked silence held them all captive.
It was the soul-shattering howl of her cat, Grammy, that finally snapped Indira out of her daze.
Her head whipped around, looking frantically for Grammy, who had a propensity for inserting herself in the center of most human interactions. A little paw batted under the crack in the pantry door.
Indira saw red.
Oh no. There’s no way this dickhead locked Indira’s cat in a closet to pat down the titties of some rando without interruption.
“What the actual fuck,” Indira shrieked, stomping to the door and ripping it open. Grammy darted out, back legs skidding across the tile as she booked it to the bedroom.
Besides Grammy’s continuous wailing, a piercing silence fell between everyone as they continued to stare at each other.
Then Chris turned himself into the world’s douchiest cliché. “Indira, it’s not what it looks like.”
That trite little phrase set off a trip wire of rage in Indira’s chest.
“Really, Chris?” she yelled. “Because it looked like you were tongue-punching
the tonsils of a stranger on the couch I paid for. But please, explain to me what I’m actually seeing.”
Chris’s face turned an alarming shade of mauve as he spluttered, and the woman’s jaw dangled open.
“And why the fuck is there so much peanut butter?” she added, her hands turning into claws at her sides. “That shit is organic. And expensive.” Indira stared expectantly at the duo.
“We . . .”
“I . . .”
Chris and the blond woman looked at each other with a combination of fear and longing that made Indira want to dry heave.
“We both really love peanut butter,” Chris eventually whispered, saying it like he was delivering the world’s most melodramatic line in a play.
Indira slow-blinked at him for a moment before throwing her head back and shrieking out a laugh. If she didn’t laugh, she’d scream.
“Un-fucking-believable,” she said. “I’m out of here, you piece of shit.”
Indira darted to the bedroom, ripping through the closet and grabbing any bags she could find. She moved like an efficient tornado, shoving shoes and chargers and shirts into duffel bags as she went.
Grammy added to the drama with her ceaseless cries in the background. Indira didn’t even know a cat could make noises like that. She made a quick mental note to ask Harper, one of her best friends, if earth-shaking screams were normal in felines or if Indira had unwittingly adopted a demon-possessed creature instead of an old, docile ball of fluff. But at the moment she had more important things to
“Indira, hold on,” Chris said, standing in the doorway, hair mussed, pants unzipped, and shirt on backward, globs of peanut butter visible under the fabric.
“Let’s just calm down and talk about this like adults.”
“That would require you to be one, Chris. And from where I’m standing, you’re a cheating, cat-imprisoning man-child with the emotional intelligence of a rusty nail. So, no. I won’t be calming down.”
She marched to the bathroom, picking up what she could from the floor as she went, then used her entire arm to swipe her toiletries into a bag.
“You don’t understand. This is different. You and I . . . we haven’t been happy for months. I—”
Indira stopped in her tracks, eyes so cold and hard Chris slammed his mouth shut.
Months? In that moment, Indira didn’t think she’d ever been happy with the asshole.
“Get out of my way,” she said through clenched teeth. Chris at least had the decency to lower his head and slink back to the couch. She stormed through the apartment, dropping bags on the kitchen counter as she gathered up odds and ends.
Moving back into the bedroom, Indira took a deep breath in preparation for her final mission: saving Grammy.
Grammy was no one’s idea of cute. She perpetually looked like a bolt of lightning had just jolted her wiry frame, sooty hair standing on end at wild angles and back permanently hunched like a dramatized Halloween cartoon. To top off her loveliness, she had a half-missing ear, a curled lip that always displayed one stained fang, and the spectacular ability to infuse havoc into any situation.
This dazzling creature was currently hanging (sagging) from the bedroom curtains, her claws gouging through the fabric in long tears and head thrown back as she continued to howl as though she were being electrocuted.
“Get a cat, they said. It’ll be fun, they said,” Indira muttered to herself. They primarily being Harper, who had enabled Indira’s impulse decision to adopt a furry companion to fill the dull and gnawing sense of loneliness that hit Indira regularly.
But, observing the unearthly noises and mentally preparing to lose at least a nipple, if not an entire boob, to Grammy’s claws in what was about to go down, Indira wondered if she was making a fatal mistake.
With no other choice, she walked across her bedroom, unlatched Grammy from the curtain, and winced as the cat’s claws slammed into her skin. The torture continued as she pried Grammy off herself—Indira’s sweater gaining some lovely rips in the process—and squeezed the poor gremlin into a cat carrier before moving back to the kitchen.
With rage still pumping through her system, Indira found a surge of superhuman strength and, like a mother lifting a car off her child, hefted all of her earthly possessions onto her back and into her arms.
“Don’t fucking call me,” she said to Chris, who had the audacity to stare at her like a startled owl. His companion still had her mouth hanging open.
Indira had her hand on the doorknob when the other woman cried out, “Wait!”
Indira stopped. She wasn’t sure if it was the weight of the items she carried or the hurt that was radiating out from the center of her chest, but she realized she was trembling. She turned to look over her shoulder at the stranger.
“It’s . . . We’re in love,” the woman whispered. By the look on her face, Indira could almost believe it.
“What’s your name?” Indira asked, swallowing past the knot of emotion in her throat.
“L-Lauren,” she replied, her big blue eyes shimmering. She was blond. Freckled. Beautiful.
“Well, Lauren,” Indira said with a pitying smile, “good fucking luck.”