Abby liked to look like she had it all together. But in reality, even the most ardent type As don’t have it all together; they just put on a damn convincing poker face. The frazzled 28-year-old rushed through the butterfly conservatory—an 85-degree dome brimming with over 100 species of exotic butterflies from Central and South America—on an unexpected shift. Sure, the New York City temperature was steadily dropping (meaning sick volunteers) and the marathon outside made driving nearly impossible, but surely someone could have dragged themselves in.
“Don’t touch that butterfly!” she called out to a curly-haired child with curious fingers as she sprayed each leafy plant with water and checked the sugar water feeders hanging from the ceiling.
She paused to glance at a Ulysses butterfly, its brilliant blue wings spread, basking under a headlight. Sometimes, Sadie would stop by the museum after work, just to coax Abby out of the exhibit. From November through June, Abby was a butterfly expert stationed in the museum conservatory, which was occasionally as cool as it sounded, but mostly meant that she answered the same three questions over and over again.
How long do butterflies live? In their butterfly form, most live about a week.
How many butterflies are in the exhibit? Approximately 500 from 100 different species.
Can I touch one? Only if you want to kill it, and I’m sure you’re no murderer.
Abby spent her summers in research labs studying the insects and working with international butterfly farms to safely coordinate shipments of chrysalises to the museum. It wasn’t always the easiest job—she had to work long days and the occasional weekend—but it was rewarding to work with passionate people and one of the most fascinating creatures on earth.
As Abby greeted the onslaught of visitors passing through the second set of doors into the vivarium, Sadie rolled out of bed and picked up a note on the dresser that read, “Sorry love, work needed me. You’re going to be wonderful tonight—I’m sure they’ll love you as much as I do. xo Abby”
The sleepy blonde sighed, rubbed her eyes, and made her morning trudge into the kitchen. On days like these, she wished she could will a cup of coffee into existence. Sadie stretched her long, slim arms above her head and tried to keep her racing mind off of tonight’s dinner with Abby’s family (a.k.a. impending doom). She already royally fucked it up last time—by not showing up.
This time, she knew she had to—for Abby, for herself, and for the safety of her own posterior.
She walked into the kitchen and scanned a note on the fridge that read, “Made some coffee for you. I think you’ll need it. :)”
That was her Abby: charming, thoughtful, intelligent, and practically a mind reader… Sadie paused to think about her brown-haired, brown-eyed, no-nonsense girlfriend. In the photos, her father and sisters bore the stereotypical Irish features of blazing red hair, blue eyes, and endless freckles. But Abby was the spitting image of her tan-skinned and elegant Italian mother. Despite Sadie’s own good looks, she felt woefully inadequate next to Abby.
Zane heard rustling and trotted into the kitchen, leaving his long Persian hair in clumps over the worn leather couch in the living room.
“Zaney! You had tons of treats last night. Abby would kick my ass—literally—if I gave you any more.”
Sadie reached into the cupboard for his bag of treats anyway, a mischievous smirk on her face. “Luckily for you, she’s not here right now,” she said, holding her treat-filled hand out to Zane, whose sandpaper-y tongue scooped them up in seconds flat.
Suited in the plaid Gap button down, leather oxford loafers, black skinny jeans, and black bow tie that Abby had picked out for her, the slim and boyish Sadie looked like the lawyer or doctor Abby would typically have on her arm. Put simply, she cleaned up nicely.
And yet, something felt off. Sadie ran her fingers through her carefully combed hair, making it just a little messy. She fought the temptation to ditch the crisp button down and pristine oxfords in favor of a leather jacket and beat up Converse. Sadie tried to ignore the fact that her hands were shaking and her stomach felt like it had dropped about a foot. She was happy Abby couldn’t see her in an utter panic. She was meeting her girlfriend’s family, but it felt like preparing for judgment day.
Sadie grabbed the bouquet of pink roses she’d picked up earlier that day—a gift for Abby’s mom—off the dresser, shut each light, and locked the front door behind her. Abby had texted Sadie about an hour earlier to let her know that she was going to be leaving the museum. By the time she commuted back to Brooklyn on the Sunday-schedule R train, Sadie would be minutes away from Abby’s parents’ place. Perfect timing—at least, that was the plan.
But everything was not going according to plan on Abby’s end. Running uncharacteristically late (a young and overenthusiastic Girl Scout had attempted to dash out of the exhibit with a Monarch in her hands), the panicked conservationist bolted out of the museum bathroom in her little black dress, flats, and coat.
Abby’s heart sank when, minutes later, a conductor announced that her train had stalled due to a switch problem at 59th Street. Sadie would be on her way right now and she was stuck in Manhattan, wedged between a ukulele-strumming hipster and a teenager applying inch-long faux lashes.
Dianne led Sadie through Abby’s childhood home—a sprawling, four-bedroom Victorian on Shore Road. Mere minutes from the Verrazano Bridge, it was one of the prettiest—and most expensive—neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Donning a pristine white silk blouse and fitted dark wash jeans, Dianne was every bit the regal mother and lawyer Sadie had expected. She’d flipped through the photographs, but it was still intimidating to look at the woman before her.
Sadie adjusted her bow tie for the seventeenth time and ran her fingers through her disheveled blonde locks in an attempt to tame them.
“This is great—uh—a great p-place,” she stuttered as she sat on a painstakingly embroidered salmon and gold vintage couch next to a window overlooking the frigid waters of the Narrows. “My dad and brother used to fish together. They would have loved a place on the water like this.”
“Oh, how lovely,” Dianne responded politely, flattening the collar of her blouse. “Do they still fish together?”
“Erm…no,” Sadie replied, staring down at her oxfords. “Well, they probably would, but my dad died when I was 11 and my brother has some issues with drugs, so he doesn’t do much of anything anymore.”
Where, oh where, was Abby?!
“Ah. I’m so sorry to hear that, Sadie,” the wavy-haired woman responded. She had Abby’s eyes. Abby’s were slightly rounder, but that same intensity burned deep into Sadie’s core, making her open up—maybe a bit too much.
Before Dianne could conjure up a proper response, Prue and Penny, Abby’s younger, wild-haired, freckled twin sisters burst through the door. At 12, the two were placing in state math bees. At 19, they were steadily climbing the academic ranks at NYU. At 22, the math whizzes secured jobs as associate accountants at major Manhattan hedge funds.
While Prue was reserved and introspective, Penny had a wild streak running through her veins. Dressed in a thigh-length Rasta tee, opaque tights, combat boots, and a leather jacket, she looked like she belonged in a Hot Topic rather than a stuffy office—she was just damn good crunching numbers. The shorter and slimmer of the twins, Penny rushed up to Sadie, who stood up awkwardly.
“God, I can barely reach you,” she cried, wrapping her arms around the girl in a tight embrace.
“Ma, I can see why Abby likes this one. She’s cute, eh?” Penny said with a wink at Dianne, who smiled and nodded.
“I think there’s something a bit off about her,” Prue piped up, despite Dianne giving her a death glare.
Sadie could feel her cheeks go from a flushed pink to beet red in two seconds flat as Prue approached her and tilted her curly head. The twin reached out, unclipped Sadie’s bow tie, and unbuttoned the first three buttons on her shirt.
“There, that’s better!”
“How could you tell?” Sadie asked, still flustered.
“Well, aside from adjusting your bow tie three times in two minutes, your face gives just about everything away.”
If there was one thing Prue was good at, it was math. If there were two, it was math and reading people. Sadie realized, with mild discomfort, that her worst nightmare would involve being trapped in a room with Prue and Abby. She’d be in trouble all the time. Thank the gods she wasn’t dating Prue, she thought with a shudder. But she happened to be seeing a woman named Abby, who was supposed to be here right now.
Suddenly, Sean emerged from the kitchen, a stack of Bud Lights in hand.
“Lovely roses, Sadie. Here, take a beer,” he said, tossing a chilled beverage to the lanky blonde, who caught it easily. Those years of softball practice in junior high paid off. “I’m Abby’s dad, Sean. I’m sure she showed you photos. If not, well, Christmas is in a few weeks and she shouldn’t expect presents from us.”
“Oh, Sean,” Dianne scolded her burly husband, who released a hearty chuckle.
“Speaking of our girl, where is she?” the retired stock broker and current chef/baseball card aficionado/house fixer-upper asked, looking at Sadie.
“I tried calling her right before I rang your bell,” Sadie replied. “Her phone went straight to voice-mail.”
“Huh,” Penny said, iPhone next to her ear. “It’s still going to voice-mail. Train traffic, I’m guessing. Guess you’re stuck with us, huh Sadie?”
“I’m sure it’s every woman’s dream to meet her girlfriend’s parents for the first time, alone,” Dianne said, smiling warmly at Sadie.
This wasn’t so bad, Sadie had to concede. She took another gulp of beer. Just as it looked ever more likely that Abby had been attacked by a swarm of butterflies or was abducted by aliens, they all heard a rapid tapping at the door. Out of breath, her lipstick smudged and her hair a mess, Abby stood on the front steps, profusely apologetic.
“Oh pant god pant I pant remembered just pant how much pant I loathe pant Sunday pant trains,” she huffed. Abby stormed inside as soon as a bewildered Prue pulled open the double doors. She kissed her mother on the cheek, hugged her sisters and father, and sprinted toward Sadie, embracing her tightly and whispering “I’m so sorry, love,” into her ear.
Hand in hand, Sadie and Abby sat on the couch. Almost as soon as they settled down, Abby glanced at her love in horror. The older girl’s stomach dropped as she realized that this dinner would get worse before it got better—if dinner even happened at all.
Because there was one major detail, in all the rush and confusion, that Abby had missed: calling in their order from her mother’s favorite Italian restaurant, which was probably so busy now that their dishes wouldn’t be ready before closing.
“Mom, I think we have a problem,” Abby said, pulling her hand out of Sadie’s and clutching her head in embarrassment.
-TO BE CONTINUED-