Nerve Classics

Bizarre Love Triangle

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“I have a boyfriend,” said Mickey as our conversation swerved from mildly flirtatious to brazen. This wasn’t news to me. I’d scoured her MySpace profile from top to bottom, hoping to find a point of conversational entry, and stumbled upon a picture of Derek: the guy she had been dating for four-and-a-half years and living with for three. I was wondering when she would mention him. The declaration came just as her body language suggested that she wanted to be kissed.

I had already bought three rounds of PBR, and I was holding out to see if buying a fourth would pay dividends. Mickey was one week into a monthlong vacation in Manhattan, leaving Derek in their rented house in the Florida panhandle. We’d emailed back and forth for weeks before her visit, but tonight was the first time we’d met face to face.

“I know you do,” I said without breaking eye contact. I read her statement not as an order to cease and desist but as a dare. She seemed to teeter at the point of no return for several moments before grabbing my face and kissing me hard, knocking my drink into my lap in the process.

Before this precise moment, I’d taken a very dim view of infidelity. My less-than-positive self-image meant that I always sympathized with the cuckold in these situations. Since I got my first girlfriend ten years ago, I’ve been so terrified of being cheated on that I made a karmic vow never to step out on anyone. But now I found myself in the unlikely position of being the other man and, to my surprise, I was reveling in it.

We were at Sophie’s, a dive bar next to the minuscule apartment where Mickey and her friends were bunking. It was four in the morning, and we were being asked to leave. Mickey had been drinking for an hour or two before I’d met up with her and was slightly the worse for wear.

“Let me walk you back to where you’re staying,” I said.

“I’m not tired,” she said. “I still want to hang out with you. I want to see where you live.”

Could it be? Was I really just minutes away from fucking somebody else’s girlfriend? Summer had just begun, and the day’s heat radiated from every surface as we walked the nine blocks up Avenue B. As luck would have it, I’d left my ancient air conditioner on, hours earlier; I congratulated myself as we walked into the welcome chill of my third-floor walk-up. We made out on my couch for a while before I carried her into the bedroom and threw her onto the mattress, provoking a squeal of girlish excitement that I’d like to think emanated from her.

I’d decided that I liked Mickey long before this point. I’ve often been guilty of liking people too much, too soon, but not like this. Superficially at least, she was everything I looked for: sweet, easygoing, funny. I’d been the male usurper for mere minutes, and already I wanted to be her boyfriend. I reached underneath her short denim skirt and found her modest cotton underwear soaked through. I slid them down her legs.

“No.” she said. “We can’t. I have a boyfriend.”

I made an attempt at masking my disappointment and kissed her on the forehead before we passed out cold.

I awoke some ninety minutes later. Mickey was frantically trying to locate her underwear. The friends she was staying with were also friends of Derek and she wanted to get back to the house before they awoke and started asking questions. Having no idea where that house happened to be, she asked if I’d walk her back.

“Nobody would believe I just did that,” she said. “Everyone thinks that Derek and I are the perfect couple. They think we’ll get married.”

“Do you?” I asked.

“I don’t know anymore,” she said before offering several anecdotes that painted a picture of a fairly decent, charming and affable but flawed and ultimately selfish man. Though my commentary was peppered with disbelief at his narcissistic and inattentive behavior — what do you mean he forgot your birthday? What do you mean he doesn’t take you anywhere nice? What do you mean you’re only having sex about once a week? — the vast majority of my exes might describe me as similar, though probably worse.

Yet her demeanor suggested I still had a chance. When Mickey called me to hang out a week later, I made a conscious effort to become the anti-Derek. I was fun, spontaneous, chivalrous, gregarious, generous. Mickey had never seen Times Square before, so before I could think about it too hard we were sipping $20 cocktails in a revolving glass restaurant next to a couple from Omaha in matching American flag T-shirts. More booze? Sure! Watch the man pretending to be a statue for twenty minutes? You’re the boss! A horse and buggy ride in the park? Why the heck not?

As we stumbled home, her cellphone rang. “Shit,” she said. “It’s him. I really have to take this. Sorry.”

I smiled and kept walking.

“Hey baby!” she sounded genuinely excited to hear from him. “Just out with friends. Huh? Oh baby, I miss you too.” I perched myself on a stoop out of earshot. The situation made me shudder to think about the times that I could have been in his position. I felt bad for him, but the feeling was fleeting. If his call had served to snap Mickey back into a faithful mindset, I’d be the one deserving pity. But it seemed to do just the opposite.

“Let’s get another drink, then go back to your house!” she trilled, pulling me into a bar.

I didn’t want to jinx things, but I found myself compelled to ask her how things were going with their relationship, if only to get a better sense of why people do this to one another.

“I’m not really sure anymore,” she said. “I’ve been crazy about him since the day that I met him, but now I don’t know if we’ll be together forever. I used to be so sure. I want you to know that I’ve never cheated on him before. I love him.”

It was nice to hear that she had chosen me, of all people, to puncture the sanctity of a relationship that had lasted five times longer than anything I’d experienced, though in my inebriated state I didn’t dare to take full credit. Two beers later, I had trouble putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, we made it back to my place.

“Just so you know, we’re not going to have sex,” Mickey said as I struggled to put my key in the door.

We immediately fell onto the bed. Shortly afterward we were naked and going down on each other furiously. She in particular was doing a sterling turn, eventually straddling me and rubbing the tip of my penis against her clit.

“Um, should I grab a condom?” I asked.

“No, silly,” she said. “I told you that we weren’t going to have sex.”

“Well what difference does it make now?” I said as she shifted positions.

“This is bad enough,” she said before playing my shaft like a harmonica. “But actually having sex would be . . . you know . . . crossing a line.”

I struggled to follow the logic. “Look, that line was crossed some time ago,” I said desperately. “Only sucking me off doesn’t make you a better girlfriend. It’s a technicality! Derek won’t draw the distinction.”

“Yeah, but I do!” she said suddenly using more spit and elbow grease to usher in an explosive finale.

We lay there in silence.

“I feel evil,” she mumbled.

“Huh?”

“Nothing.”

For the rest of her vacation, Mickey and I saw each other almost every day. This only fueled my confusion about the role I was supposed to be playing. Was I a confidante, a friend, a tour guide, a prospective new beau? Or merely a human vessel with whom she could act out her domestic frustrations? Some days we barely touched, others she seemed just moments away from participating in a little game I like to call “just the tip.”

“What difference does it make at this point?” I’d posed the question to her a dozen different ways, to no effect.

“Well,” she sighed, stroking my angry erection, “it sounds dumb but . . . I feel that . . . that . . . belongs to Derek.”

“I only want to borrow it for ten minutes!” I pleaded. “He can have it right back!”

“You’re silly!” she said, giggling and ruffling my hair.

The truth was that I didn’t merely want to borrow it; I wanted the same dominion over it that Derek had. I wanted her to move here; I wanted her to be my girlfriend. She was someone I’d want to have around, medium-long term. Someone to take home to my parents, co-sign birthday cards, integrate into my circle of friends. As Mickey’s departure date neared, I pushed the idea of her moving to New York harder. On the eve of her flight home, she actually seemed to consider it.

Of course, the idea of us being a bona fide item certainly suggested that I could find myself in Derek’s unenviable position at some point in the future. This was a viewpoint seconded by my friends, whose unanimous advice was to contain the affair as a summer fling. But that sort of squandered the investment I’d put into the thing.

Continuing my portrayal of the anti-Derek, I’d enthusiastically offered to haul Mickey’s 150 pounds of awkwardly shaped luggage down from the sixth-floor walk-up and see her off at the airport. Before she packed her laptop away, she decided to treat me to a slide show of pictures from her and Derek’s vacation to St. Kitts. I found this both strange and acutely sad. It highlighted the distinction between a fling and a relationship, lust and love, subletting vs. ownership. The slide show was set to the uber nostalgic-sounding Modest Mouse single “Float On,” which imparted great poignancy to even the most redundant snapshots: the two of them holding hands on beaches, staring into each other’s eyes, getting matching tattoos, sharing a frozen margarita, etc. I sat there watching and tried to determine why she had chosen to share it with me.

After finishing her packing, Mickey presented me with a book. “This guy reminds me so much of you,” she said, and kissed me. Being familiar with neither the author nor the work, I didn’t really know what to say to that. I opened to the first interior page and it warmed my heart to see that Mickey had written me a long inscription in fantastically girly cursive.

“Read that after I’m gone,” she said and winked.

Then she grabbed the book out of my hands, threw it on the floor, pushed me onto the freshly stripped mattress and popped open the buttons on my jeans. The half-dozen blowjobs Mickey had given me during our affair had been skillful but intermittent, involving a long pause approximately every fifteen seconds as another pang of guilt diminished her focus. But this was different.

It was three p.m., and sunlight was streaming through the bare window, fully illuminating the crime scene. Mickey was under the influence of neither alcohol nor my pathetic attempts at coercion. She went about the task in a learned manner that reignited my desire to make her my own.

“Are we going to . . . ?” I said, hoping that she would catch my drift.

She looked at her watch and for a second or two, seemed poised to hop on.

“Actually, we’re already running a little late,” she said, not missing a stroke. I could have finished the job in mere seconds but I didn’t wish to quarrel. “I don’t want to miss my flight . . . so . . . y’know . . . anytime you feel like it.”

She went back to her business.

“Ready?” she chirped.

The ninety-degree heat and mid-afternoon oral had sapped my strength, but I managed to haul Mickey’s luggage down six rickety flights and into a cab. As the Nigerian cabbie chattered idly, I tried to push my luck and get her underwear off on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

It was no use.

Because of heavy traffic, Mickey was very nearly in danger of missing her flight, so our goodbye was somewhat abridged. As I watched her being temporarily relieved of her metal objects at the X-ray machine, then disappearing down a corridor, I wondered if I’d ever see her again. I’d let her go, and Derek would pick her up. But my sadness was alleviated by the thought of Mickey kissing him full on the mouth at the arrival gate, a mouth I’d occupied just hours before.

Since our first kiss, I couldn’t believe how little the affair weighed on my conscience. I used to imagine the cuckolded beta males of society lived by a code or belonged to some unspoken union — The Humiliated 357th. But being the trespasser has only served to further shade what I’d traditionally thought of as right and wrong. Mickey swore blind that I had been her one and only indiscretion in four years, and that has certainly served to puff up the old ego. But I can’t help thinking that if I’d impressed Mickey more, maybe we would have traversed the final frontier together. The hardest thing to reconcile was that she seemed to be the last person you’d expect to step out on a loving boyfriend. It made me think about the times I must have been lied to, and caused me to shudder with horror.

Taking public transportation back from LaGuardia is a torturous marathon, a bus ride through the ass-end of suburban Queens, then a long stretch on the stop-start 7 train. It did, however, give me time to pore over Mickey’s warmly written inscription, which I read over and over.

Chris,

I hope you like the book

The author really reminds me of you, sorry it’s a little banged up. I re-read some parts.

I’m really going to miss you

I’ve had such a great time getting to know you

thanks for showing me New York (well the bars anyway ; ))

No matter what I hope we always stay in touch.

You have a lot going for you, don’t fuck it up with drugs. j/k

Love Mickey

I guess this is what I learned here: Nothing will infinitely safeguard fidelity between two people. Perhaps our unconsummated fling would bring Mickey and Derek closer together, perhaps it would be the last straw. Perhaps it was best that Mickey didn’t heed my advice to move to the city. After a few initial weeks of excitement, I wouldn’t have been able to maintain the same level of charm. Soon I too would be forgetting her birthday, not taking her out to nice places, and as far-fetched as it seemed, only having sex once a week. I suppose the best I could hope for was to remain a fond summer memory.

The book, incidentally, was aristocratic playboy Jeremy Scott’s autobiography Fast and Louche: Confessions of a Flagrant Sinner. Huh? Really? Me? I wondered what I’d done to make Mickey assume that I was some sort of cad. I figured that by casting me as the amoral party, she could have a lighter conscience.

Mickey suggested that I not call her when she arrived home, so I waited for her to call. Four days later, she did, and spent an inordinate amount of time treating me to a story of how she and Derek had gone out house-hunting that weekend. She was back in the throes of co-habitual bliss, and I was here, alone, as if nothing ever happened — which, in her mind, it hadn’t.

This article originally appeared in Nerve’s Personal Essays.