I’m in my dorm, studying for the High Renaissance through Modern Art final, when my phone buzzes. I try to ignore it, but after looking at slides of Brunelleschi and Caravaggio back and forth to try and make sure I could determine the differences between them at a glance for the last twenty minutes, I’m more than ready for a distraction. The text is from my friend, Claire.
Nora. Nora. Need to talk to you. Right. Now.
I roll my eyes at the message; it always seems to be an emergency with Claire.
I text her back.
I’m studying for the Ren and Mod Art final, can’t this wait?
I try to turn my attention back to the notes from class, but almost as soon as I put my phone down, it’s buzzing again with another text from Claire.
Seriously, girl. I’m coming up right now.
I shake my head and prepare myself for the ordeal of listening to another story about an ugly penis from some Tinder hookup she’s landed, or a crisis about finding one of our professors on Bumble; something like that.
Claire has never experienced a true emergency in her life, and normally I’m pretty down for tales of her misadventures, but right now—with my last tests and my final project on the line before I finally get my degree—I just don’t feel up to giving her the reaction she wants.
But Claire has also been my best friend since the first week of freshman year, when we met at orientation, so I feel like I have to humor her. Besides, I tell myself that everyone says the occasional break is good during long study sessions. I might as well go along with it, since Claire obviously won’t leave me alone until I do. So, I put my laptop aside and set my notes down on the coffee table, and by the time I’m ready for her, there’s a knock at my door.
“Okay, so I don’t want you to freak out or anything, but this is kind of big,” Claire says as I unlock the door to let her in. She’s got her phone in her hand, and I’m convinced she’s about to tell me some long story about some guy from one of the dating apps turning out to be a catfish or something, so I get myself ready to laugh.
“Just tell me what’s going on so I can get back to studying, okay?” I throw myself down onto the couch. “You may not have any finals to worry about until next week, but Drexler is going hard for Ren to Mod, so I definitely need to bring my A-game to the final.”
“This is kind of more important than finals,” Claire says, and I see she’s actually starting to look nervous; maybe even doubtful.
“Stop dragging this out, Claire,” I tell her. “Whatever dude sent you a picture of his herp-infected dick probably doesn’t deserve this much drama.”
“That’s not what I’m here about,” Claire says. She sits down in what my roommate and I call the “guest chair” since, by default, we both claim the couch, and presses her lips together.
“So, what is it?” I just stare at her, hoping she’ll get to the point already. “Spit it out.”
“Well, it does have to do with Tinder, so you were partly right,” Claire says, biting her bottom lip. “But the thing is...okay, just…just look, Nora.” She hands me her phone and I raise an eyebrow. Her screen is locked, but I’ve had her passcode memorized for a year now, so it takes me all of two seconds to get it open.
I’m expecting a dick pic, or some weird picture with some bizarre fetish with one of her exes, or something like that; maybe at worst some text message from a friend talking about catching an STD from someone we both know. Instead, I find myself staring at a profile from Tinder.
My heart starts beating faster as I read the little bio section; the top picture isn’t of a person, but instead, a car. But the bio section makes me start to realize what Claire’s trying to tell me.
Fashion Design at UKA, so I know how to do a body good. Snap: KingSateen, Insta: LeatherandLace. For the real X-rated stuff, check out MasterDisaster.
“Someone’s catfishing,” I say, shaking my head.
I flip through the Tinder pictures, and there he is: my boyfriend, at his parent’s beach house. It can’t be him, though; we’ve been dating since fall semester of freshman year, almost as long as I’ve even known Claire. He’s been dropping hints all semester that he might propose at graduation. We’ve been planning on moving in together at the end of summer. It just can’t be him; it doesn’t make any sense.
“Nora, what if it’s really him?”
I shake my head again. “No—no, someone’s just...they’re trying to pretend to be him, that’s all it is.” I hand Claire her phone back and I feel like my whole body’s gone cold.
“Nora, it’s not like some of those pictures exist in that many places,” Claire points out. “And why would someone want to pretend to be Ethan?”
“Because they don’t want to get caught cheating on their girlfriend or something. Or they’re—they’re not as cute as Ethan, and want…”
I shake my head again, and I can feel the blood roaring in my ears. It doesn’t make any sense. Ethan and I are happy together, we love each other. Sure, things have been tough from time to time; the guy I started going out with freshman year was a sweet, skinny kid who always took shit for being into costuming, but he’d found his stride with the fashion majors at UKA. Even if his ego had gotten a bit inflated, I figured it was a small price to pay after all his hard work to get the Marchand Prize. We’d had our fights, but he had told me he wanted to design my wedding dress, to make it my perfect day.
I shake off my confusion and look at Claire. “Well, it should be easy to tell if it’s not really him, right?”
“What do you mean?” she shrugs.
“I mean, we can check him out online; do a little snooping. If this is someone else, it’s gotta be obvious, right?” I swallow down the lump forming in my throat and think about that. Sure, even if someone had linked to Ethan’s Instagram and his Snapchat, then there had to be some kind of proof otherwise. Anyone who’d done a quick search for his stuff online would have turned up those things.
“When I tell Ethan someone’s using his name and stuff to impersonate him, he’s going to be pissed,” I say, picking up my laptop. I open a new tab and type in the one screen name I don’t recognize from the profile, rolling my eyes at how cheesy it is. Ethan would never pick a handle that ridiculous, I tell myself. Whoever is pretending to be him isn’t doing a very good job of it, obviously.
“See? It can’t be him. Ethan would never have a profile on a site like this,” I say, as the results start coming up: Fetlife, UPorn, all kinds of sites that I would never in a million years expect Ethan to even really know about, much less have any kind of profile on.
“Well, let’s just make sure, because I mean, if you don’t at least look, then you’re going to keep wondering, right? But as soon as you look at a picture, or a video, or whatever, and it’s not Ethan, then you’ll know,” Claire suggests.
I can’t really argue with that logic; I have to admit that after almost four years, I should be able to recognize my boyfriend—and figure out that someone isn’t my boyfriend—in a picture or video, even if the face isn’t there.
I click on the UPorn link and there are at least two dozen videos on the profile. The titles of some of them are enough to make my stomach twist. Some of them are things that Ethan and I talked about maybe trying, but always chickened out of; BDSM stuff, mostly. But there aren’t any good preview pictures that would relieve my mind. I take a deep breath and click on one at random, telling myself that there’s no way it’s actually Ethan; it has to be some other guy.
The video is shaky but the picture is high-res, and at first, all I see is a girl—someone I’ve seen around campus, but never really talked to or learned the name of—tied up on all fours, dressed in an outfit that looks like something Ethan would design: it’s a black leather maid’s outfit with fine white lace and white satin touches, and part of me has to admit that it looks well-made. The girl is looking directly at the camera, her makeup already all smeared, with drool on her chin.
“Do you want Daddy’s cock in your mouth again, you filthy little slut?”
I don’t even have to wait until I see an image. That’s Ethan’s voice, I know it.
But instead of closing out the video or pausing it, it’s like I’m transfixed. I’m just staring as the camera pans down, and I see what is unmistakably my boyfriend’s erection—with its little slant to the right, his quarter-inch trimmed pubes, and the tattoo on his upper thigh of his family crest that he got back when we were sophomores. I can’t help but watch as the video continues with this girl using her mouth to go to town on my boyfriend’s dick, and then he starts taking her from behind with the skirt of her fake maid’s uniform pushed up over her hips.
Claire eventually grabs the laptop from me and closes out the tab, and I’m just sitting there with my hands on my lap, staring at nothing at all.
“Okay,” she says, and I don’t even look at her. “Okay, so this is fucking awful, and—”
“And I’m going to kill him,” I say quietly. But I don’t actually believe it; they’re just words that are leaving me. Because I don’t even really know how I feel other than sick.
“You’re going to break up with him, right?”
I’m not even crying, but it feels like a huge lump is growing in my throat, like my eyes are starting to sting and burn. I want to scream. I want to break something. I want to tear the hair out of my own head—or maybe tear it out of Ethan’s head.
“I have to,” I say. Even with the undoubtable evidence right in front of me, there’s a part of me what wants to believe it’s not true, that it’s all a lie, or some kind of terrible prank.
But there’s no way.
“I think this calls for butterscotch pudding from the dining hall, a gallon of cookie dough ice cream, and approximately all the fries in existence,” Claire says.
I can’t really disagree with her on that. My stomach feels sick, but just the mention of junk food is enough to make me want to devour mountains of it. I can’t even think of studying anymore.
Claire leaves and I sit there in a daze, trying to make sense of what I’d just uncovered about my boyfriend of nearly four years. Trying to understand how he could be the same person who held me close in his dorm room and told me that if I ever left him, he would die, but also the person who not only openly sought out hookups with strangers, but posted videos of the results online for anyone to see.
If Claire hadn’t decided to start using Tinder to find dates after things ended with Charlie, I might still be in the dark about what Ethan’s been doing. And what would have happened? Would we still be getting engaged after graduation? Would we still be moving to the city for me to start my MFA while he worked as an intern for some fashion designer?
I know I have to call him, I have to confront him with what I’ve found out, but I still feel frozen from head to toe, like everything around me is going too fast and I can’t move. I don’t even feel like I can breathe. It takes me only a few minutes after Claire has left to start crying.