They were a wonderful couple. He loved her and she loved him. They never argued.
Priya and Justin seemed like yin and yang – different to the extreme, but still one heart and one soul. There were weird quirks about them; like that they never had guests. But the strangest thing for Nadine and me was that they never fought. They lived next door to us for more than a year and my wife and we never heard any angry words or banging doors. Since they moved in Nadine and I even had arguments about whether or not we were a good couple – and Priya and Justin were our measure of a good couple; they were the ones we compared ourselves to. No fights; perfect harmony.
Priya was the talkative one; she kept Nadine bound to the fence for hours, talking without break. Nadine didn’t mind the distraction and seemed to enjoy the conversations; I avoided Priya. I liked her, she was nice and fun to spend time with, but her endless streams of words gave me headaches.
That’s why I understood Justin. I never felt like he could be blamed for locking himself in his room all day. She was a team leader in an ad agency and involved in several dance clubs; Justin, as far as we knew him, was involved nowhere. I don’t think I ever saw him have friends over or even go out.
The only thing Justin did was to sit in his tiny upstairs office. Sometimes, when the sun was at the right angle, I saw him hunched in front of his computer, likely coding on a new software project for a client he found online.
I remember the day that Priya and Justin came over with champagne and a cheese platter. Nadine and I had planned a romantic meal – instead we had a celebration and a far too long conversation about what it’s like to be a parent. Justin looked uncomfortable, as if the chairs were too hard for him; Priya sat back with grape juice in her champagne glass and laughed.
“I think Justin and I should leave you two alone,” I said. “Looks like you have a lot of X-chromosome talk to do.”
“Sure, sure.” Said Nadine.
“Oh, no.” Said Priya. “Don’t leave!”
Justin looked at his wife, then at me.
“I think –“ he started.
“Fine.” Priya said. “Let’s get going then.”
And with that they left; Priya with her platter and Justin behind her with empty hands.
On the way out Justin stopped and leaned over to me.
“Thanks.” He said.
The next weeks and months Priya was often at the fence; showing us her belly and discussing with Nadine about details that I never wanted to know about the female physique and the wonder of birth.
“I won’t eat before the birth.” Priya said to Nadine. “The doctor told me that’s a bad idea, but, you know, I don’t want to shit myself while giving birth.”
Nadine laughed, but her head didn’t move.
“Priya is a bit crazy,” Nadine said at night. “Isn’t she?”
“Definitely.” I said. “Sometimes I feel sorry for Justin.”
Nadine punched my arm.
“Hey, they love each other.”
“Sorry.” I said.
“Sometimes you’re an ass.” Nadine said.
Not another argument. I thought.
I stayed quiet.
Nadine rolled to the other side.
Priya was always there; Justin never. Once we even invited them for dinner – and only Priya came.
I saw Justin a few times – when he checked the mail, when he mowed the lawn. But mostly I saw him when the sun was just right, usually around 5pm, sitting behind the closed window in the small office.
These days he seemed to hunch more; as if some weight was on his back.
Scary to have a child. I thought. And then with her.
Once, behind the window, I saw him crying.
“Do you know how they met?” Nadine asked me.
“No.” I said.
She rolled onto my shoulder.
“Priya said they met in a bar and that Justin chatted her up.”
“He doesn’t seem like the bar type to me.” I said.
“Maybe he was different in college?” Nadine asked.
“Maybe.” I said.
The thought stuck with me.
Two days later I saw Justin getting the mail. His pale figure emerged in the doorway and I quickly went out too.
“Hey.” I said.
“Hey.” He said.
“You’re also getting the mail?” I asked.
“I thought I saw you getting yours earlier already?” He said.
“Oh.” I said. “Sometimes I forget that I did it already.”
“Okay.” He said and turned to go back inside.
“Listen,” I said. “If you want someone to talk, you know, someone that’s not your wife – you can come over anytime.”
“Thanks.” He said.
Justin took another step back towards the house.
“Just a second.” I said.
“I was just wondering,” I said.”Can I ask you a question?”
“What?” He asked.
“Nadine and I have a bet going,” I said. “How you two met.”
Justin turned towards the door.
“You know, was it in a bar or something like that?” I asked.
He pulled the door open.
“Sorry,” he said.” I’m in a hurry.”
“Was it a bar?” I asked.
He stepped inside.
“Maybe.” He said.
The door shut.
I didn’t see him outside anymore since then. Priya began to collect the mail at night, when she came home.
Priya asked Nadine whether she could have the baby shower at our place.
“Our house is not that nice.” Priya said. “And I want to impress my friends.”
Nadine agreed – and I wasn’t asked.
I went upstairs when the high-pitched voices arrived in our living room. I heard the “Oh, so cute’s and Thank you, I love it’s and the It’s so big already’s and understood why Justin hadn’t come.
They named her Manpreet. We visited in the hospital with a pack of rompers and a small teddy. Priya and Nadine laughed and rubbed Manpreet’s belly. Justin pulled me aside.
“Can I have your number.” He whispered.
“I’m sure Priya has it.” I said.
“I need it.” He said.” Your mobile.”
I scribbled my mobile number on the back of a business card. Justin quickly stashed it in his pocket and walked back over to the laughing ladies.
Two days later a call woke me up at 2am.
Nadine rolled over to the other side.
“Please, I need a favor.” He said. “Come quick. And don’t tell Nadine.”
“What, where?” I asked.
“The hospital.” He said. “Please, quick.”
Nadine was asleep again, which made it easy not to tell her anything.
Twenty-five minutes later I drove onto the hospital parking lot. I wanted to drive close to the entrance and hurry to Priya’s room.
Instead a dark figure jumped in front of my car.
“Stop!” He screamed.
I stomped on the breaks.
“Are you crazy?” I asked Justin when he opened the door.
“Drive.” He said. “Please, fast!”
He held a bag in his hands and was struggling with his seatbelt. Only then I noticed the baby in his arms.
“The airport.” He said. “You have to go there fast.”
I stopped the car.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked.
“Please, drive.” He said. “She took my credit card and I can’t pay a taxi. But my family sent me a ticket. Please, I beg you.”
I slowly let go of the clutch and the car began to roll forward.
“What the hell is happening?” I asked.
“She is crazy.” Justin said.
“And you steal the baby?”
“It’s the last chance.” He said.
“Last chance for what?”
I noticed a figure in a white dress running out of the hospital entrance.
“To get away and save Manpreet.” He said. “Please, drive. Drive!”
The figure was running towards us.
“She forced me.” He said. “She forced me to stay.”
“Are you serious?” I asked.
“At first she drugged me.” He said. “And then she locked me inside a basement for months.”
I recognized the running figure as Priya.
“Please, please drive.” Justin said. “I won’t have another chance.”
I hesitated. The car still rolled slowly.
“I just couldn’t leave anymore.” Justin said. “It was as if I wasn’t myself and Priya always made me stay inside.”
The baby in his arms moved.
Priya was screaming and still running closer.
“Please.” Justin said.
He pulled his shirt up. There were hundreds of small, black scars on the pale skin.
“She will kill Manpreet.” He said.
My foot sank on the throttle; the car gained speed just as Priya reached the window. She was screaming and her eyes were wide open. She threw her fist towards the window, but she missed; the car was past her.
We pulled out of the parking lot.
“You can’t get away.” Priya screamed behind us.
We drove silently for a few minutes; then I called Nadine to get out of the house. When I ended the call Justin was crying.
“It’s been two years,” he said. “Since she killed our first child.”
He looked at Manpreet.
“She did it to punish me for leaving the house. That’s why she made us switch states.”
“What the hell.” I said.
“After you drop me, call the police.” Justin said. “The body is lying on our couch.”
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.