It is the day of senior prom. Ruby drives and Karter rides shotgun. He is dressed in a black tuxedo and she is wearing a flowing blue dress. Karter holds her hand as she drives. He can’t take her eyes off her because she is beautiful and he loves her.
“You look so stupid,” she says.
She laughs. “You’re staring at me and licking your lips.”
“What?” Karter says, his face stoic. “I wasn’t looking at you. I was looking past you. I was thinking.”
“Something,” he says, turning away to hide the smile spreading across his face.
They come to a stoplight and a bright red car appears next to them. It is Ruby’s sister with her prom date. She smiles and waves to him and Ruby. Karter’s heart leaps a bit at the sight of her even though it shouldn’t. They drive past the red car and Karter and Ruby ride in silence for a while, enjoying each other’s company.
Ruby breaks the silence.
“I’ll miss this,” she says.
“Me too.” It is an unspoken conversation. They will soon be off to college going to separate schools and chasing different dreams. An unspoken tension lingers in the air between them. It is as if they are trying to savor every moment they have together.
Ruby parks the car and they arrive at Thomas Jefferson high school. They walk through the crowded high school and into the gym. They dance and dance and laugh and laugh and stare into each other’s eyes. At the end of the night, before they get into the car, Karter tells Ruby to come with him. They walk to the field and Karter takes her to the very top of the bleachers. The stars shine out from the sky brightly and at the top of the bleachers, they have the perfect view of everything. Ruby sits next to Karter and they look up into the starry night sky.
“I love you,” Karter says and there is certainty in his voice.
“I-” Ruby begins to say but Karter cuts her off.
“I wanted to give you this,’ he says, and from his middle finger, he pulls off a ring that Ruby hadn’t noticed he was wearing before. He grabs Ruby’s left hand in his and places the ring around her ring finger.
“A promise ring,” he says.
“Promise ring,” she echoes.
“Yea. So you will always remember me.”
Ruby leaned close to him then and Karter could feel her breath on his face. She took his head in her hands and kissed him with sudden abandon. Karter savored every second of it. He could smell the scent of flowers in her hair and could taste her. She tasted like ramen noodles with peanut butter.
10 years later…
Karter is 28 now. Thoughts of Ruby are gone. Out of thought, replaced with ambitions and dreams for his career. He’s forgotten about the promise ring he’d given her 10 years ago, promising more, promising a future. He is getting married soon. His parents had told him so. Arranged marriage. Adora Singh, they’d said. He’d barely talked to her and now they would soon be married. They’d met a few times, that was true, but they hadn’t really clicked. She was nice enough and good-looking but she didn’t feel right.
It was the quiet times that did not come. She was always talking and talking. Karter would always just sit and listen, sit and listen to all her rants about life. It was exhausting listening to her talk but he would marry her because it’s what his parents wanted. He was too busy anyways, working 60+ hours a week as a surgeon and quickly gaining respect and popularity.
The day of the wedding came around. There was dancing and partying and there were over 300 people that came to the wedding. He didn’t know half of their names. There was a great feast with dal and lamb vindaloo and Gulab Jamun and curry with rice. Things were going well.
“Excited?” Adora asked.
“Yea,” Karter lied, turning his back to her.
Presently, the two of them sit under the traditional red canopy of marriage. And then, from Karter's peripheral vision, a woman catches his eye. It is one of Adora’s friends who she’d invited to the wedding. But she is one of Karter’s friends too. His friend from a decade ago. Rubber Ducky, he’d nicknamed her – Ruby Daiyu. It all comes flooding back. The memories. The night he’d given her the promise ring, the way he’d held her in his arms as they looked up into the stars. Memories before that moment when they were smaller, sneaking off during classes to meet in the middle school bathrooms. The first time they’d kissed. All those times ago kissing her on the forehead before she got on the bus and left for home. The times he’d lied to his parents to escape and meet her at the park. And another memory that makes him smile. A time he’d lost a bet. She’d tickled his feet and it had been so painful because, for some reason, he could not bear to be tickled. Then he’d trapped her. He sat behind her on the bench and grabbed onto the table on either side of her with his hands. She was blocked from behind by his chest, blocked from the front by the table, and barred from the sides by his arms. But Ruby didn’t mind being trapped by Karter.
“This is punishment,” Karter had said. And there was an odd assortment of moaning and groaning and laughing. It was a punishment of the best kind.
He is broken out of his reverie when the pandit takes his scarf and ties it to Adora’s, an Indian tradition. He stares into Ruby’s eyes and she stares back at him. She remembers, but unlike him, she never forgot. But it is too late. Too late for them because he will be married in a few moments. And there is something else. A ring on her ring finger. The promise ring. But it isn’t. It is a wedding ring. A sign of marriage. And there, sitting beside her is a man Karter hadn’t noticed before. A handsome man with a strong jawline and eyes as blue as the ocean. He holds Ruby’s hand and they look at each other like star-crossed lovers. A sudden foreboding fills the air around him and suddenly, everything is happening too fast. It is as if life is playing at double speed.
Before he knows it he is hearing the voice of the Pandit behind him declaring, “You are now husband and wife.” And it is wrong. All wrong. Because he should love Adora but he doesn’t. Instead, he longs for a married woman. He longs for Ruby.
The wedding procession ends and there is partying and dancing. He stays by Adora’s side because that is what a husband is supposed to do. He tells himself that in time, he will learn to love Adora. Time. He should have had more time. More time to decide whether he wanted to marry or not. Suddenly the room feels too small and he feels like he cannot breathe. The DJ music is deafening and it is too much. It is all too much. He needs to breathe. He needs to go outside.
“Where are you going?” Adora asks.
“I need to get some air,” he says, leaving her as he heads towards the door.
It is cold outside. There is a full moon shining brightly overhead and he can see his breath in the air. He takes a seat on the steps leading up to the double-doored entrance of the wedding chapel.
“What are you doing out here?” Her voice makes him unsteady.
“I couldn’t breathe.”
She scoffs. “Couldn’t breathe?”
“Yea,” he says, “too many people eating the oxygen.” Ruby laughs and comes to sit next to him. He looks her over and he sees that she is wearing a beautiful dress that is the perfect shade of blue. That is when Karter realizes it is the same dress that she wore to the prom all those years ago.
She sees him looking over her and says, “Like my dress?”
“It’s nice.” He doesn’t add that he recognizes it, that he knows it is the same dress. That she is still as slim as she was in high school. Ruby frowns slightly as if she had been hoping he would recognize it.
“I’ve missed you,” she says.
“Me too.” But it is a lie. Because he hadn’t missed her. He had forgotten her. Too busy doing doctor stuff. Ruby must sense the lie because she turns her face away from him.
“Never called,” she says.
“Neither did you.” And perhaps Ruby had forgotten about him a little too. It is an odd picture. The meeting of two former lovers who are now both married.
“It was real,” Karter says. The street lamps light up the sidewalk in front of them. Crickets sing in the distance and if you listen carefully you can hear the owls hooting far away.
“It was… love,” she says. Because it was.
“And now?” Karter asks.
“Now– now it’s nothing. Nothing but memories.” The pair are silent for a while.
“When?” Karter breaks the silence
“When did you marry?”
“One month ago,” she says and perhaps there is a tinge of regret in her voice.
“Oh.” It is oh because that is all there is to say. If only they had met two months earlier, then maybe, just maybe things would be different. But it is not two months earlier. It is November 17th, 2035 and it is two months too late.
Then Karter says suddenly, “I was always better than you at basketball.” Ruby laughs and it sounds the same as it did 10 years ago when they were 18.
“You were actually so shit at basketball. You couldn’t even make a layup.” It is true. Karter was always trash at basketball. So bad in fact, that Ruby had broken his ankles on many occasions. The two of them begin to catch up on each others’ lives. They start to fill in the huge gap between high school and the present day. And that is the thing about Karter. He listens, really listens to what Ruby has to say and Ruby cannot help but tell him as much as she can about what has happened in the last 10 years. Things are not right. Because they find each other wishing that they could spend more time with other, that they got to talk for a long, long time.
But it is late and people will soon be wondering where the groom went and so they get up together and walk back into the chapel. Inside, Adora sees him and waves for him to come to her. Music is playing loudly.
“Friends with Ruby?” She asks.
“Yea. We used to be friends in grade school. I guess she needed some air too”
Adora and Karter talk for a while and dance the rest of the night away. But something is off because Adora isn’t talking as much as she normally does. She has a guilty kind of air around her.
1 month later…
Karter is at Ruby’s house. Ruby’s husband, Ray, has gone out for his guy’s night out and will be sleeping over at a friend’s house. Ruby sits across from Karter at a large mahogany dinner table. They eat seafood pasta with garlic bread, carry out from Vito’s pizzeria. It is delicious. They drink red wine. It is getting late, but they are drinking and drinking. Soon they are both drunk.
“I love you, Karter,” Ruby says. She laughs loudly and kisses him.
“I love… ducky,” Karter replies. He kisses her on the lips and suddenly they are wrapped up in each other’s arms. They are walking drunkenly to the guest bedroom down the hall. And before they know it, they are naked and he is pushing into her with the clumsiness of a person that is way too drunk. When they are done, they collapse onto the bed breathless.
Karter wakes up at 3:00 am. He doesn’t remember what happened. He is naked and alone in the bedroom. There is a funny scent though. It smells like… ramen noodles and peanut butter. It is a smell that makes his dick harden a bit. He throws on his clothes and silently leaves Ruby’s house.
He hails an uber because he is still very intoxicated. When he arrives at his home, he stumbles to the door, fumbles with his keys, and lets himself in. He falls onto the couch and falls into a deep slumber.
Karter awakes the next morning to the smell of Adora baking. She is making her famous apple tart. Music is playing while she bakes. He recognizes it as “Love Someone”. He lies on the couch trying to remember the night before. He can’t remember anything besides eating pasta at Ruby’s house and then stumbling home. He groans.
“Finally awake?” Adora asks.
“I got hit by a truck.”
“Yea, It’s called a hangover. Ruby texted me this morning. Sounds like you and Ruby had a bit too much to drink.” She laughs. “You usually never drink.”
“How was girls' night out?” Karter asks, changing the subject.
“It was nice.”
“Hee Theng say anything?”
“Nope,” she says, “no gossip.” That’s strange, He thinks. It is strange. Adora and the girls are always gossiping.
“Where’d you guys go eat?”
“Oh, you know the usual place.”
“Carletto’s pizza,” she says, playing with her hair a little as if she is nervous.
“It’s closed on Sundays,” Karter replies. Adora is lying to him.
“You know what I mean,” she says, “we had pizza from Domino’s.” There is uncertainty in her voice. She pauses. “Ok fine. I moved my girls' night out to next week because I had a lot of work to do. Plus I didn’t feel all that great. I went shopping though.
“Oh,” Karter says, “why lie then?”
“Cause I didn’t want you to worry about me. I wanted you to enjoy your dinner.” Karter says nothing more and Adora continues baking. Monday comes around and Karter goes to work. Ten hours later, his shift is about to end. But then an ambulance rolls up to the hospital. A girl is wheeled out of the ambulance on a stretcher. She has been badly injured – a ruptured spleen. But this is no ordinary girl. Even before he sees her he recognizes the shade of her skin, the black color of her hair. It is Ruby and he must remove her kidney or she will die. His hands are shaking now. He takes a deep breath, steadying his hands. He pretends it is not Ruby, that it is just another patient. He cuts into her abdomen. He is on the verge of breaking down but he knows he must keep going. He removes her spleen and stitches her back up. He exhales a breath. Everything is going to be okay. Except it’s not.
Because then the heart monitor lets out a high-pitched squeal of a scream and the zig-zagging line on the screen goes flat.
“3 - 2 -1, CLEAR!”
The nurse performs CPR and Karter prays with all his heart that Ruby will survive.
“3 - 2 - 1, CLEAR!”
More CPR, even more praying.
They continue for the next minute and a half but it is no use. Karter collapses on the floor. Ruby is dead. But then Karter sees a mole on the woman’s cheek. A mole that Ruby’s face does not have and he realizes that this woman is not Ruby. It is her only sister. Her twin sister whom he hasn’t seen in over 10 years.
The surgery has made him realize how much he loves Ruby. If she had died then, he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself. But Ruby is married to Ray and he cannot marry an already married woman. He is stuck. Unsure what to do.
3 weeks later…
Karter comes home early from work. There is an extra car in the driveway. It is Ray’s car. Odd. He unlocks the front door and calls out, “Adora?” He hears movement in the bedroom. He casually walks up the stairs and opens his bedroom door. Even as he opens it he knows something is wrong because he hears the sudden intake of breath from a person that is not his wife. Ray is in his bed with Adora. They both wear only underwear and Adora is snuggled into the crook of Ray’s arm, their heads bent together.
“What. The. Fuck is happening in here?” he says.
Adora and Rays’ faces go as red as a cherry tomato. They are speechless.
They get dressed quickly. Karter stares right at them the whole time, adding to their embarrassment.
“You fucked my wife,” Karter says. A sudden realization that lingers in the air for a moment too long.
Ray stays silent. And then he says, “My wife is pregnant.”
“What?” Karter asks, surprised.
“My wife is pregnant but it’s not me who got her pregnant!”
“And what does that have to do with you being in my bedroom with my wife?” he yells.
“Nothing, but you are the only male person we’ve had at our house in the past two months.”
Karter freezes. He remembers the dinner. The drunkenness. And he knows, knows the mistake he has made. He is suddenly shamefaced. “I’m sorry,” he says because there is nothing else for him to say.
5 weeks later…
They stand there, Karter and Ruby, in front of a shimmering pond. It is a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The birds sing chirps of glee and the geese splash happily behind them. They smile at each other and Karter holds Ruby’s hands in his.
They kiss for a long time and the Pandit declares, “You are now husband and wife.”