By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: You stand at the front of the church as music starts. Stiff fabric scratches your skin. Married? This was NOT how things were supposed to end up when you started this adventure two weeks ago. What happened? You groan.
Kate tried to scratch nonchalantly at her upper thigh. The stupid rental bridal gown was definitely not the best idea.
But who’s going to buy a real gown for a bogus wedding? So what if we really will be “man and wife” when we’ve signed the license?
“Kate, stop scratching at your butt,” the man next to her hissed.
“I’m not! It’s my upper leg. And I can’t help it! This thing is made from a Brillo pad.”
“Well, get over it. We’re almost done.”
Someone hit Play on a CD player somewhere, and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” blared from the speakers. Kate couldn’t keep the sigh from escaping as she started marching down the aisle.
At least I’ll be able to take off this ridiculous gown and get rid of the feathers in ten minutes.
“We’re supposed to be walking together.”
She felt her face get warm and stopped. Her husband-to-be—oh, wait, scratch that: my husband—grinned as he came and tucked his arm into hers. Something in his smile made her smile back.
“All right, Arjun, all right. Do you have the annulment papers?”
He nodded. “In my pocket. I think we’ve gotta wait about a year for it to be final, but we can go ahead and sign them now and post-date it.”
Arjun caught her just as she started to trip over the ridiculous stilettos the stylist had insisted she wear.
“You don’t have to be so eager about it.”
Something in his tone made her look at him. She thought he had taken this entire wedding as casually as she had, but a pinprick of doubt suddenly made her wonder.
How did I get into this mess in the first place?
Two weeks earlier…
Kate checked her watch as she walked across the apartment complex and looked up to see a suitcase fall onto the sidewalk about five feet in front of her. She ducked instinctively, putting her arms over her head, and with good reason: after a few moments she peeked under her arm and saw a duffel bag suffer the same fate as the suitcase. Within minutes a guy ran out of the building covering his own head.
“And stay out! I’ve had it with you, you…!”
A stream of profanities followed, and the guy turned to look up. Kate followed his gaze and saw a girl in a tank top and boy shorts standing on the balcony of a third-floor apartment, spewing her hatred in the boy’s direction. Kate turned to look at the boy again, and all of a sudden she stopped short.
“Hey, Katie Pie!” Arjun grinned, and his dimples appeared. Kate couldn’t believe it, but even after three years those dimples made her feel a little flutter.
“Hi, Arjun,” she said, trying to stay stiff, “and it’s just Kate.”
“Oh, come on,” he said, putting his hands in his pockets and strutting toward her. “You loved it when I used to call you Katie Pie.”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. So, what’s your deal? You and your latest girl having a difference of opinion?”
“You could call it that,” he said.
“Are you still here?! I told you to get out, you no-good…”
The language that followed made Arjun wince, and Kate couldn’t help letting a smile slip.
“Yeah, you’re getting a kick out of this one, aren’t you?”
Kate covered her mouth in an effort to stifle her giggles. “You could say that.”
“Well, laugh it up. I’ve gotta find a place to go and quick.”
“Get out!! You’re a worthless lowlife, and I don’t want to have anything to do with you!”
This time Kate winced at the girl’s screech. “You know, I live just down the sidewalk here. I need to make a grocery run, but maybe you could take your stuff and hang out in my place until I get back.”
Arjun looked taken aback. “Seriously? You’d let me crash at your place?”
“For a few hours,” Kate said pointedly.
“Wow, Katie—I mean, Kate. That would really help a lot. But, hey, if you’re just going for groceries, let me come and help you.”
Kate couldn’t help frowning. Letting Arjun sit on her sofa for three hours was one thing, but when he became her first serious boyfriend the two of them had quickly fallen into quite the domestic routine. They had even managed to turn grocery shopping into dates, and many times those dates would turn into whole weekends together—
Kate blinked two or three times. “What? Did you say something?”
“Kate, it’s fine. I can just check into a hotel or something.”
His expression had gotten so serious that Kate had to stifle another smile. “No, it’s okay. Let’s go drop your stuff at my place and head out.”
She thought they would be awkward with one another, but Arjun didn’t give her the chance to think about any awkwardness. Within minutes he had charmed her once again, and by the time they arrived at the grocery store she fought to cling to the reason why they had broken up in the first place. She shared a smile with him as they entered, both of them with one hand on the cart and pushing it together through the store.
“Hey, do you still like that bread from the bakery?”
“Yeah, actually, I do,” she said. “Why don’t you go pick up a loaf while I head down the cereal aisle?”
“Okay, I’ll meet you there.”
She smiled at his back, and she turned toward the cereals. She walked down the aisle and perused her choices, pushing her cart slowly. She couldn’t help taking note of the cereals she and Arjun used to buy together. He had even tried to introduce her into some new ones, and most of those experiments had turned out with them laughing.
All of a sudden her cart banged into something and she jumped.
“Oh, my goodness, I’m so sorry,” Kate said, fumbling with some of the groceries. “I wasn’t watching where I was going at all.”
“It’s okay, Kate.”
She looked up. “Carrie, hi! Sorry, I was just lost in another world.”
Carrie nodded. “I can see why. Are you guys back together?”
Kate felt her face flush. “What do you mean?”
“I saw you walk in with Arjun. Did he figure out that he made a mistake when he dropped you for the blonde?”
And there it was, looking her straight in the face despite everything she’d done to forget it.
“Oh, um—well, no, we’re not together. We just ran into each other about an hour ago, and he offered to help me with my groceries.”
“Right,” Carrie said, her tone indicating the opposite. “Well, at least we know he won’t be bothering anyone six months from now.”
“What do you mean?”
Carrie leaned forward conspiratorially even though no one else stood in the aisle. “I heard two of his Indian friends talking about it in the lounge last week. Arjun’s visa is up soon, and unless he can find a way to stay in this country he’s gotta go back to India. That why after he dumped you and the blonde, he started dating the chancellor’s daughter, to get in good with the chancellor and get a grant for the next five years or whatever.”
Kate inhaled wordlessly. Did this drive Arjun away from her? Probably not. He probably had just liked the tube tops the chancellor’s daughter would flaunt around the lab. No, he wanted to break up with her, and he got what he wanted. She’d shed her share of tears about it at the time, and she’d finally come back to a place where she could think about their relationship with only a little bit of discomfort.
“That’s not even the worst part it,” Carrie continued. “I heard from someone else that he doesn’t have anyone who wants him back in India. His dad died from a heart attack years ago, and his mom lives with his aunt, and they even sold the family home to pay their debts and stuff. His aunt basically told him when he was coming to the States that he should only go back to visit.”
“Oh…really?” Kate managed to say.
Just then Arjun approached them, bread in one hand and a plastic bag in another. “Found it. And they had some cinnamon scones, so I picked some up for you.”
Kate swallowed hard. “Tha…thanks.”
Carrie offered an obligatory smile in their direction. “Nice to see you again, Kate. Bye, Arjun.”
“Bye, Carrie,” Arjun said. He watched her walk away, then turned to Kate. “Should we go?”
“Hold on,” Kate said slowly. “I need to ask you about something…”
The drive from Vegas back to Salt Lake City had only taken about five hours, and they didn’t say much on the way. Kate kept fingering the papers in her pocket and wondering. Wondering about the relationship they’d had three years earlier. Wondering whether she’d done the right thing by giving Arjun an out. Wondering about marriage in general. She’d made her choice and now she and Arjun had to find a new normal, hide from immigration until things worked out for him. But what would happen in the meantime?
The flat land slowly morphed into gentle hills, and then the sharp façade of the Rockies became more prominent. Kate exhaled, slow and deep.