Something’s bothering Greg but he won’t tell me what it is. I keep asking but all he does is mumble “Nothing.” I’m still in bed when he steps out of the shower, and I watch him shave through the open bathroom door. A towel hangs loose around his waist.
I’m getting a crick in my back but I can’t bring myself to change position. I breathe deeply to keep myself calm. If I turn over the usual gauntlet will run through my mind. I bite the inside of my lip to keep from examining the headboard ten times, once for each fingertip. I need to bring this up when I see the doc tomorrow.
I reach out to touch his arm when he walks by but he moves it out of reach. It’s subtle but deliberate. He’s pouting, which seems to contrast sharply with the gray at his temples.
The hold on me snaps and I’m able to sit up. “Oh, come on. Just tell me what’s bothering you.”
He grabs a set of clothes with a huffy sigh. “I really shouldn’t have to.”
He heads back into the bathroom to get dressed. This is a pretty new thing he’s done the past couple weeks. He bitches that I don’t touch him, but goes out of his way to keep me from seeing him. I get out of bed, tighten the drawstring of my pants, and go to follow. He shuts the door and I knock.
“Christ, babe, how is this supposed to work? Is it supposed to go away if we don’t talk about it? You know, whatever it is?”
I knocked three times, and I’ve noticed. I tap the door with my fingertips, too lightly to make any sound, and that’s barely enough to keep myself under control. I don’t know that the Anafranil is working anymore.
“Just don’t worry about it,” I hear him snap.
“Jesus, something’s been bugging you for weeks now. We’re practically just pissy roommates at this point.”
“Yeah, we are.”
I have to swallow, and my eyes get that heavy feeling like I’m about to cry. I don’t usually cry, actually, but I almost always feel like I’m about to. Maybe I should bring that up tomorrow.
“Jesus Christ!” He whips open the door and nearly shoves me as he moves past. “Do you really have to fucking whine about it so much?”
I shower a little longer than usual, because the need for a systemic pattern rears its head. Goddammit. Is this because I’m upset?
I decide to skip shaving, and when I’m dressed he’s having coffee by the carport door. He doesn’t look at me.
“I’m probably going to be working late,” he tells me.
“That’s fine.” Now he looks at me, like he’s ready for a fight. “I’m going to be out late with Chanda anyway.”
“Of course you are.”
“Wait. Does Chanda have something to do with why you’re such an asshole lately?”
“What do you mean ‘lately?'”
“You fuckin’ well know what I mean.”
He sighs but doesn’t answer.
“What the fuck’s your deal? Do you have some beef with her?”
“Well, I don’t know, Nate. Should I? Is there anything I should be worried about?”
I catch what he means. “Oh, Jesus Christ. You can’t be serious.”
“You’re always around her!”
“She’s been my best friend for fifteen years. What the hell? You’ve been a huffy little princess for weeks because you’re, what…jealous of my beard?”
“I’m sure Chanda would love to hear you call her that.”
“Now you’re worried about insulting her.”
“Nate.” He rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “It’s not like, you know…it’s not like you’re not attracted to women.”
“Are you seriously playing that card now? Are you telling me I’m inherently unsatisfied if I’m not cheating?”
He puts his mug down and grabs his keys. “Forget it.”
“How can I?” He shuts the door when I catch up to him, but I open it again and call out: “You’ve been making such a fucking point of reminding me!”
He ignores me and gets into his car.
The bookstore kills me today. It’s buyback time, and when I’m not helping with the register I help lug the massive volume of textbooks into the back for inventory. We’re going to be working all weekend just to get everything cataloged. More fuel for Greg’s fire.
I prefer it busy. When I’m busy, scrambling to meet the demands of others, I don’t have time to slow down and wait for the same thoughts to force my attention inward. They’re still there, mind you. They don’t call it obsessive for no reason. But they’re in the back of my mind, not the forefront, and there is no time to act on the compulsions they inspire.
I stay until six, when Chanda calls me. “Look up,” she says, and when I do she’s waving at me from the window by the doors. Her bracelets glitter in the yellow light of the student union.
“Heyo! I’ll be out in a second. Coffee upstairs?”
“Sounds good. I’ll head up! See ya in a bit!”
Ten minutes later I’m sitting by the Starbucks kiosk, sipping lemonade while Chanda blows on her tea. She reads me like a billboard and immediately asks what’s wrong.
“Greg. He’s…still Greg, I guess.”
“And that’s a bad thing now?”
“You think New Greg is Permanent Greg?”
“I think it’s safe to say he’s shades of permanent.”
“So what’s his deal?”
I sidestep the direct issue. “He thinks I’m stepping out, I guess. He gets in these moods if he sees me talking to women. The bisexual thing doesn’t sit well with him.”
“Well you are kinda flirty.”
“Not…not like, consciously. Okay, I mean,” she straightens up, concentrating. Her words here need to be precise. “Okay, so, you come off as flirty, is what I mean, even if you’re not actually flirting. And…and you act differently around women than you do around men.”
The faint Indian accent she got from her parents makes her sound almost English.
“Like…” She pauses, looking up and to the right. She sets her tea down, and raises both hands, palms up. She sits cross-legged in her chair. For some reason the pose makes me think of the Bharatanatyam she danced when we went to her cousin’s wedding. Even now she slides her neck while she considers what she wants to say. The image of her writhing jade choli starts playing in my head. It’s preferable to the day-long replay of Greg shutting the bathroom door in my face.
“Like, when you talk with women, you’re very masculine, but then you practically bat your eyes around men.” She leans her head to the side. “You’re all ‘come hither.’ And with chicks you’re like…”
She lurches forward, creep-staring me, and cocks an eyebrow. She drops her voice an octave or two and grunts “DTF?”
“Are you fuckin’ serious?”
She shrugs. “S’what I’ve noticed, anyway.”
“Well.” I lean back in my chair. “Son of a bitch.”
Greg’s asleep when I get home. I decide to crash on the couch after my shower, and in the spring heat my mind goes back to Chanda dancing at her cousin’s wedding. Her date…I can’t remember his name now…he’d been affectionate all night, and I remember being a bit surprised at the naked desire in his eyes. When he looked at her, they almost seemed to sparkle in the light of the silver jari in her skirt. He didn’t seem to mind that she danced so much with me. I was already with Greg by then. She and I could’ve fucked in front of her date and the guy probably still would’ve assumed I was just “the gay friend.”
I remember wondering what it was that he wanted so badly from her, from this woman I’d known since I was ten. When I thought of Chanda it was with memories of middle school acne and baby weight that hung on through high school. But when she danced then I saw the fine-tuning ballet had finally worked on her body. She coiled her arms above her head and slid her neck from side to side. Her curling lips were dark like plums, and her stomach twisted like a python.
When I finally go to sleep, my mind is stuck on the image of her lehenga. I see its delicate hem billowing against her ankles, like a sail caught on a river wind.
Dr. Hale is a very fatherly guy. Soft voice, direct speech, always encouraging. Ideally fatherly, I guess I should say.
“So how are ya, Nathan?”
“Ahhhh.” I twist my hand from side to side.
“My thoughts are turning more obsessive lately. Repeated imagery, mostly. Some anxiety.”
“Any compulsive behavior?”
“Not that I can’t control.”
“Is it getting harder to control?”
“A…a little, yeah.”
“How’s the Anafranil working?”
I shrug. “I mean, I’ve been pretty stressed lately, and you know how bad it used to be if I was stressed.”
He knits his brows together. “What’s been bothering you?”
“I think Greg and I are gonna break up.”
“Why do you think that?”
“He’s mad all the time. He won’t talk about it. He’s been getting real jealous of Chanda lately.”
“Of you spending time with her?”
“Of just being around her at all, really.”
“Now, Greg knew you weren’t exclusively attracted to men when you two got together, right?”
“Oh, yeah. I made a big point of making sure he knew that.”
“Okay. Now, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but have you given him any reason to think you haven’t been faithful?”
“Not that I can think of.”
Dr. Hale is quiet for a minute. “Is there any possibility you’re attracted to Chanda?”
“Hold on. Why are we getting into this?”
“Trust me, there’s a point to it.”
I’m quiet for a long while. The silver jari in Chanda’s skirt sparkles behind my eyes, over and over. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I am.”
He nods. “Yeah, I think you are too. And I think this is a recent thing. Dollars to doughnuts, Greg is picking up on that.”
“Now remember how obsessive thought patterns can artificially inflate feelings of attachment and attraction? Now, that inflation can become compounded when you take into account existing feelings of platonic affection. You with me so far?”
“Yeah. Her being my friend complicates things. Makes ’em…like, bigger than they are.”
“Substantially. Now, I think you’re surprisingly adept at appraising your own perception. So, bearing all that in mind, would you describe yourself as possibly being in love with Chanda?”
I honestly consider it. Jangling bracelets. The Bharatanatyam.
“I think…I think I might be on the edge of that, yeah. Not yet, but…close.”
He gives me a comforting smile. “Well, there you go, kid. Your symptoms are flaring up because you’re stressed. Love, breakups…that stuff hits all of us pretty hard. And you work in a college bookstore. April is a shit storm for you guys.”
“So what do I do?”
“I couldn’t say, professionally or personally. Those are things you just have to manage on your own. Your boyfriend…I think you already have a course of action in mind in that regard, so I won’t add any input.”
“What about Chanda?”
“What about her?”
“What do I do?”
“There’s nothing to do.”
“Should I tell her?”
“I’m a clinician, Nate, not a life coach. That’s a question you gotta figure out by yourself. I…”
He pauses, then puts his pen and pad down and leans forward, elbows on his knees, hands clasped.
“My wife and I were close friends for a decade before we began dating, and there’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that she’s the love of my life. But…I’ve seen plenty of beautiful, loving friendships fall apart because of the presumption that attraction has to be consummated. Some friends can date, fall in love, fall out of love, and be friends again. Some can’t.”
“I would suggest…” and he points right at me, “…that you consider exactly what Chanda means to you. Not how much. That’s a meaningless measurement. Consider what she means to you. The what is important. What space is her best fit, and yours?”
He looks at the clock. “Alright, kid. I wanna see you in a month. I’ll forward my notes, but I still want you to tell your psychiatrist everything you told me. Off the record, I don’t think there’s anything clinically significant to the increase in your symptoms, but see her anyway, alright? From what I understand, side-effects from Anafranil can be sneaky bastards. They like to play the long game. She might wanna do some blood work.”
I have a weird urge to hug him when I leave, but of course I don’t. Still, though, the image of us hugging replays over and over in my head until I get a text from Chanda, asking if I wanna meet up when she gets off work. After that, the only thing I can picture are the white jeans she wore when we met last night for tea.
Greg stays out all weekend, fuming. While he’s gone I ask Chanda if she knows anyone who can help me move. She comes over in mom jeans and a baggy tee shirt, her friend Rebekah in tow. Rebekah has a sharp, curving nose that almost seems to pin down her extra-wide grin. She has frizzy blond hair that she keeps tied back.
Abhay swings by once everything’s boxed up, and he packs the U-Haul trailer like he does it for a living. He’s tall and athletic and I try not to feel too competitive. He’s a nice guy, eager to heft the heaviest items and joking around while he works. He never seems to sweat or lose his breath. I can see why Chanda likes him so much.
They’re clearly in love. They’re not engaged but obviously they will be one day. Their families would love it if they wound up together. She pretends otherwise, but tradition is important to Chanda. Both are first-generation kids, both have family hailing from the same province. He gets her in a way I couldn’t.
When we take a lunch break Abhay rides with Chanda to pick up food. Rebekah and I sit on the porch, drinking light beer and arm wrestling. She beats me every time. I want to keep going, long after the break is over and we’ve all eaten. I’d like to focus on anything other than the private jokes Abhay and Chanda share.
The apartment looks a lot more spacious now that everything’s arranged. Chanda had to do most of it. Greg was always the housekeeper when we were together.
I get an excited text from her before I head out: “TELL. ME. EVERYTHING.”
Rebekah’s already ordered a round when I find her at a back table. Her hair’s down. It’s less frizzy than I remember it. She has glasses on, thick black-framed jobs. Her huge grin gets wider as we drink. Hours later, while we’re playing darts, I think over and over about us drinking light beer, and her beating me at arm wrestling. I’m still thinking about it that night, when I go to sleep.