The Nights I Spent With Someone Else's Boyfriend

His girlfriend was not in bed with us that first night. I assumed him single, just as he assumed me complacent. It was only after we had sex that I asked him about her. He didn’t miss a beat, this one — a boy with an answer for everything.

“It’s ending,” he said, then pulled down my shirt. “Goddamn, look at your tits.”

Like I said, a boy with an answer for everything.

Later, when I would recount this story to my housemates, I would add in myself saying, “No shit,” and grinning back at him. I would leave out his comments about my breasts.

My housemates laughed hysterically at the idea of it. Of me, of him, of whatever strange compulsion had propelled us into such a situation. In their eyes, I had reached my peak of womanhood. I had entered the world of the praying mantis women who fuck your man and then tear his head off as a type of foreplay.

That night, though, I just kissed him goodbye.

He came over the next night, still drunk from whatever he had gotten into earlier. We had sex again. And we talked about his girlfriend. While he lay naked on top of me, he told me he didn’t feel guilty, even though he knew he should.

“Your poor girlfriend,” I said, before I could stop myself. We had already breached the sanctity of their relationship, so why end it there?

At first, I did not think of his girlfriend as a person. Rather, she was a barometer against which I could measure my own self-worth.

He told me that they were going to break up soon and that I was pretty. All in the same breath. That second part was all it took. In my run-down house on my cheap superstore bed, being pretty was enough.

He and I were friendly. Not friends, friendly. Sometimes he was on the quad or next to me at the gym, and one night he drunkenly gave my friend sips of Manishewitz because she could count to 10 in Hebrew.

"Mistress" was a funny word to me then, as it still is now. It comes to me bound with images of recalcitrant housewives fooling around with pool-boys.

He and his girlfriend had no kids. They did not share a home. I was still unsure of what constituted a relationship if there was no legal obligation to remain monogamous. To them, I reasoned, I was just a symptom of something larger gone wrong.

At first, I did not think of his girlfriend as a person. Rather, she was a barometer against which I could measure my own self-worth. I was better in some way. He had chosen me that night, and many nights to come, over her.

We fell into a pattern after that, him coming over late and leaving early. At least one of us would be drunk. We would make small talk while we walked to my room, and sit quietly while I drove him home.

Until that point, I had seen his girlfriend only once that semester, at a basketball game back in January. I wandered in stoned, and found my friends sitting in the bleachers. She sat behind us, and in the comfortable buzzing of my mind I did not register her. She was in the background noise of the game, one of the anonymous faces that would make up my collegiate experience.

But it was from that presence of her, as a now significant member of an insignificant crowd, that I could recognize her. A picture of her had been burned in my mind, with no name or place to attach it to. A disembodied presence that I could build to my liking. My very own Galatea, if you will.

In my Pygmalion fantasies it was easy to forget that he had more at stake than I did. The third or fourth time we slept together, he reminded me to keep it quiet. By the fifth or sixth time, he began to ask me who I had told. He would wink and joke with my housemates, yet in my room, his brow would furrow over an ever-growing list of friends who knew why he came over late and left early.

It always rains where I live, a fact that I have consigned myself to. In different iterations of my life, I go to college somewhere sunny and warm, where I study outside and boys with floppy hair ask me on dates. But for now where I live is fine. I wear a long rain coat every day and I spend my nights with someone else’s boyfriend.

She was in bed every night with us after that day. Every time he touched me, she touched me, too.

It was one of those many rainy days that I saw them. I was on the phone, conducting an interview for an article I was writing about financial aid. While the director of the financial aid office rattled off statistics to me, I stood on the second floor landing of an academic building, pacing in front of the floor-to-ceiling window.

I fancied myself lording over my kingdom, a mannequin in the window of modern womanhood. I was now one of those enlightened women, the kind that I thought Sex and the City-era feminism espoused. I was a woman in control, the kind that paces while she speaks on the phone and can have sex without emotional attachment.

Yet it was during that phone conversation, that slip into self-superiority, that I saw them walking together. While the financial aid director recounted the $9,838,203 in grants and scholarships that went to students who did not demonstrate need, the two of them walked past my window, heads bent against the rain.

The clichés of one’s stomach dropping or heart clenching are hard to read on paper, repeated endlessly by those I deemed less emotionally advanced than me. Yet the modern woman I was pretending to be literally felt the wind knocked out of her. I had to catch my breath before I could turn away from the window, terrified that I might draw attention to myself.

There they were, laid out before me like mice to a hawk. And like a hawk to mice, I had pictured this moment before. Seeing them, I realized that in my imaginings of them, they were always fighting. She was crying and he was ignoring her, already mentally leaving their relationship behind.

Yet as this despondent couple made their way past my window, they talked warmly; smiling and laughing despite the rain and the cold. From the second floor landing, I had an intimate view of their relationship, and I was nowhere in it.

I started to look for her everywhere. I felt giddy at the thought of seeing her, of learning something more about her. I set boundaries early on. I would not look her up on social media. I would not learn her name. I would only allow myself to look for her on campus, my eyes always peeled for her tall thin frame.

I started to get her confused with other women, fabricating my feelings of shock. Yet no other woman could compare to when I actually saw her, when I would catch my breath knowing she was an arm’s length away.

She was in bed every night with us after that day. Every time he touched me, she touched me, too. The thought of them together consumed me. Did he fuck her the same way he did me? Did he pull her hair and slap her ass? Or was that reserved for me, the girl he said hello to and nothing more?

I started to have dreams about her. The three of us were in a bed together, and she would mock me. I would beg him to make her stop, winding myself into a panic. He would say nothing, and she would continue to mock me until I couldn’t breathe.

I woke up crying and blamed it on my impending exams.

She was two people to me. She tortured me at night, yet during the day, I was infatuated by her. I fantasized about a confrontation between her and me, with tears and screaming. Or a strange twist of fate leading us together and growing a friendship, her oblivious of what I had done while I silently repented for it.

In late April, they finally did break up. The night he told me about it was the first night he stayed over until the morning, leaving at seven instead of four. I saw her the next weekend at a party. That was the first time I felt pity for her, inextricably wrapped up in the pity I felt for myself. I had won the game she never knew we were playing.

I can’t remember if I asked him if she knew about me. I meant to. I thought about it so often that the memory of him denying her knowledge of me has materialized without a reality to attach to it.

All I know is that I never told her, and I hope she never finds out. I tell my friends that I hope she never has to live with the indignity of knowing she devoted so much time and energy to a man who couldn’t even bring himself to feel guilty.

Yet the real reason I never told her is because I don’t know her. This girl who has consumed my thoughts for months is a figment of my imagination. She has never thought of me, and I hope she never will. I hope she never learns who I am and what I have done, if only because for her to acknowledge me would shatter the only intimacy I found in my relationship with her boyfriend.

Image: Emma Grillo