You can probably imagine how I feel, even after all this time. Stressed out and guilty to have to keep up the act, day after day, of a loving girlfriend. At first, I was full of resentment. He would roll over in the night and kiss me, and I would wish I were anywhere else, preferably in my own bed, alone. I wasn't exactly in a position to enjoy having his arms wrapped around me because I know they don't belong to me. He had all this misplaced love for the person he thought I was, and I just wanted to be gone.
I write to Tasha frequently. She's pretty protective of her man and was reluctant to give her blessing to us sleeping together. She understood the necessity, if her relationship was to survive this ordeal, that I step in for her, and I assured her I wasn't thrilled by the idea.
"I miss him so much," she'll tell me. "When he gets home tonight, can you tell him I love him? That I've been waiting all day for him?"
"I'll be happy to," I tell her.
I've said those words, "I love you" to him a lot. I try to say it every time I see him, in fact. I used to avoid it, waiting until he said it first and offering a pretty weak response. He could tell from my voice that something was off, and he'd ask what, and I'd pause and make up some story about something that happened at work that was often an exaggerated version of the truth. I don't think he ever bought that was the whole deal, but it held things over until I got better at acting.
Now when I say it, I can really sell it and it hardly makes me feel guilty. This is because I know I'm speaking for her. And even though I don't love him, I like him and I want him to be happy. When I look at him and say, as naturally as anything, "Hey, I love you," he lights up, and it's a good feeling, to be able to make someone feel that way, bittersweet as it is. I've grown weirdly accustomed to being the middlewoman in this relationship. It brings me almost as much happiness as any of my real relationships. That's kind of sad, but selfless at least.
I act like I'm so noble for not breaking Tasha and Wade up immediately, like I haven't risked it for stupid reasons, or found my own ways to enjoy it. Yes, I get stressed out from playing the part, but at the end of the night, I have company, devotion, I have physical attention in a way I have almost never had in my life. And I almost fucked it up because I was a little bored. Well, that's a simplistic rationale for why I did what I did with Mykal.
When I had my little flap with Myk, I thought it would be easier to confess to Tasha, assuming she would understand. But she took it hard, too. After all this time she had come to think of me as part of the relationship, and it was as though I had cheated on her as well. Maybe in a way I had. I felt the urge to defend myself, but as much as I think I should be allowed to think of my own desires, this was the wrong way to go about it.
I have worked hard to restore Wade's good faith. I have channelled every ounce of energy and guilt into making him happy and reminding him that there's a woman who really truly cares about him and wants him to feel loved. I text him lovenotes frequently, and it inspires him to do the same. I feel like I shocked this relationship out of a sense of complacency, if there's a silver lining here.
He gets home from work and I have dinner cooking. I'm not the world's greatest chef - it's a lot of pasta but cooking for two has really improved my skills - but it's clear he appreciates the effort. He opens the door to the apartment and sees me standing, apron over my yoga pants and tank top, hair in a messy bun, and he declares himself the luckiest man ever.
I tell him he's not lucky, just very good.
He wraps his arms around me from behind me and I feel warm inside. There's that ambiguous feeling... am I happy for him, or for myself, at this point? He rests his chin on my shoulder. He says I don't have to do this so much, and I remind him that it's not every night - much of the week I work the dinner shift at the bar, so we don't even cross paths until I get home, and so I like giving him the special treatment when I can. We kiss.
He brings me over to the couch and I let myself fall on him. He wraps his arms around me, and it's not like it was in June, July, where I was itching for him to release me. I rest my head on his chest and I can feel him smelling my hair. I can also feel his cock stiffening beneath his jeans just by my nearness. It's flattering, but I'm not really in the mood to do much more than fool around.
We say nothing, but exchange long, deep kisses. I try to keep Tasha in my mind when we do this. A long time passes and we just lie there in contented silence, until I remember there's sauce on the stove that's almost ready. We eat the meal with our lovers' gazes fixed on each other, making polite conversation. This is the part of the relationship that bothers me the most - it's not overly stimulating, although I know Wade can sometimes be very observational and philosophical. Sometimes when I have tried to pull that side of him out by acting a bit more like Meg, he finds me difficult and we fight.
I resent that, but I'm fine suppressing that side of me. I have Tyler to be myself with.
After dinner we flop onto the couch for channelsurfing, Netflixing, whatever crummy old movie he feels like watching. Occasionally we watch something with artistic merit, but he just assumes I'm not into it. I made the mistake of telling him I loved Wes Anderson when Grand Budapest started winning all those awards, and he looked at me like, well, like an impostor. "You told me you couldn't stand him."
"Oh, uh, I guess he's growing on me." Embarrassed emoji.
When things are going well, I feel like I have to keep it to myself. Tyler is usually pretty encouraging but if I lay it on too thick I worry about rubbing it in, alienating him because his experience as Lauren is so different from mine as Tasha. I can tell Tasha, of course, but I have to choose my words carefully to remind her I am not angling to steal her man. I sometimes inquire what she's been up to in her substitute body in Houston, which helps keep things in perspective.
Inevitably, he and I start to kiss, more and more, hands searching each other's bodies. He loves Tasha's breasts. I don't blame him, they're an ample size to play with. Tasha evidently liked letting him get rough with them, which I'm not partial to. Spending too much time on them has the unfortunate side-effect of reminding me they are not something I was born into.
Sex is, believe it or not, quite different as Tasha than it is in my normal body. I was very sensitive, but my injury affected my enjoyment and ability to take on a many different positions. I could get off in a matter of minutes, but Tasha takes so much longer, it often feels like just as we're getting going, he has to stop.
I'd be lying if I said that didn't affect my emotional state as well: if I want true satisfaction I need, like, an entire afternoon to myself. It's probably good that I don't love the sex. It's generally good enough that I don't avoid it. Tasha says she never had much problem. I wonder if the transformation somehow broke something inside of her.
The man is happy, and since I'm doing a penance, that's all that matters. If this were my relationship, there would be more give and take. Hell, if it were my relationship, it would be over by now.
We lie in each other's arms, but I still find it tough to fall asleep with another person in the bed - honestly the weeks when I was on the couch were some of the best nights of my time as Tasha. We talk about what we're going to do tomorrow, or on the weekend, until the conversation drifts off and one or both of us is asleep.
I never asked, never wanted to, why Wade stayed with me after my transgression. Tasha assured me he would and I thought it was weird he would be so forgiving. "He loves me," she said, "He'll do anything to make it work, and if you work with him things will be back to normal in no time."
"Normal sounds nice," I text back, hoping my scoff is implied, "Whatever normal is."
"You're my favorite person," she texts back, "I couldn't have asked for a better substitute me."
"I'm doing my best :)"
I look over at the clock. It's 3 AM. I'm not really able to sleep. I roll over to get up. I hear him moan or mutter "Huh? Babe?"
I tell him I have to get the dishes scrubbed and the leftovers put away.
"Leave it," he says, patting my place on the mattress.
"I won't be long," I say, leaning over to kiss him before walking out to the kitchen.
Once that's done, I take another moment to look out the window. We have a balcony. I used to smoke in college, and I would almost kill for one right now, but smoking in another person's body seems like almost as big of a faux-pas as cheating on their boyfriend for them. Besides, it's still cold in Western PA, and I didn't get dressed.
I go back to bed. He's still awake. "Took you long enough," he whispers into his pillow, playfully. We kiss. "Tomorrow night," he says, "We'll get takeout."
"Sounds lovely," I say softly, wrapping my arms around him, feeling him press his body into mine.
In my head, I think about how much longer it is until I'm back in Maine. It's tough, but I think I can do this.