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June 15, 2024
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The Boyfriend Identity: Part 3

This is Part 3 of a three-part serialization. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

When the plane lands, the man turns himself over to the police. Handcuffed in the back of a squad car, he contemplates life behind bars. It doesn’t actually sound that bad, compared to the hall of mirrors he’s currently living in. But, before he can further process his situation, the door is abruptly opened. A young woman in a blazer with a pixie cut stands next to a uniformed officer, who proceeds to remove the man’s handcuffs.

“You’re lucky you have friends in high places,” the cop says gruffly. “This is only temporary.”

“Katie’s dad sent me from the hotel to pick you up,” the pixie-cut woman says, extending a hand. “Sorry it’s been so crazy for you getting here!” She leads him to a sleek black S.U.V. waiting on the tarmac.

“Who are you?” asks the man.

“I’m Charlotte,” she says. “The hotel sent me. Everybody’s so excited for you to get there!”

Hotel? The man narrows his eyes at her. She’s taking in the Trader Joe’s bag in his hand.

“Respect,” she says. “T.J.’s is life.”

What the fuck is going on? the man thinks. But he doesn’t see any option other than going with her. He climbs into the back seat of the S.U.V. as she hops in front, next to a burly driver—who immediately child-locks the car.

They pull away from the airport and drive east along a two-lane road as the sun sets behind them. As they pass a gourmet grocery store, the man fights the urge to ask the driver to stop for a bottle of wine to bring as a gift. Then, up ahead, he catches sight of something familiar: a big shingled house with a sign over the porch that reads “Morning Glory Farm.”

And in that moment it all comes back to him. The apple orchard. His assignment. A three-month contract with Katie that was almost up the weekend that he joined her and her friends on the Vineyard to pick apples. He remembers that morning, the moment he got the e-mail with his next assignment: an interior decorator named Allison, somewhere in the Florida Panhandle. . . .

He recalls the feeling of panic he’d experienced as he chatted with Katie’s brother-in-law about G.M.O.s; how he knew that he’d never be allowed to move beyond these meaningless, surface-level conversations with the friends of his girlfriend, and never have friends of his own. How he’d fixed his hopes on a desperate idea that he knew deep down was too crazy to work.

He’d waited until he was alone with Katie in the orchard to pass her the note. He’d taught himself to read using Anthropologie catalogues. He’d take the forbidden pages into the bathroom at night, and, by the glow of a Jo Malone candle, he’d stumble through the words. “Max-i dress. Flor-al romp-er.” It took years. But he’d done it.

He’d watched the blood drain from Katie’s face as she read the note. Read that he wanted out. That he wanted her to help secure his freedom. It would be tough; he knew that. He was a top-performing asset. But he’d promised to make it up to her eventually. He just needed some time and space to pursue his dreams. He had mentioned grad school—maybe art history. Hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail. Trekking with the silverback gorillas of Rwanda.

He remembers the way Katie looked at him then. It was the same look he’d gotten from the woman in the cream-colored suit. But Katie, too, had quickly covered it with a smile and brought him in for a kiss. Behind his back, she’d pressed the panic button on her phone.

Ninety seconds later, a squad of Plus One helicopters thundered overhead.

He’d fled; knocked over a table of cider doughnuts; zigzagged his way through the orchard, with the helicopters following him, until he’d reached the coast. As he dived into the water, he’d felt the bullets rip into his back and thought, Finally, I’m free.

The S.U.V. pulls up outside the hotel entrance, and the man hears the doors unlock. “Have fun!” the pixie-cut woman says cheerfully.

The man gets out and closes the door behind him. Party sounds drift over from an open courtyard on one side of the hotel. He hears jazz, people talking and laughing, the clink of glasses and plates. He zips his sweater—Joy’s sweater, actually—tries to slap some of the dog hair out of it, and then walks the stone path to the courtyard.

The brightly lit space is completely empty, save for a single chair at its center. In it, a fiftysomething woman wearing designer sunglasses sits with her legs crossed. She raises her hand and flicks her wrist. The party sounds abruptly stop; the man realizes they’d been piped in through speakers set up around the lawn.

“Hello, John,” the woman says nonchalantly, removing her glasses. “It’s been a while.”

Seeing her face, his memory flashes back to one of the pictures from the steel box. The older woman in the sports car. The one he had his arm around. He steps closer, narrowing his eyes.

“Who are you?”

She laughs. “Come on, John,” she says, pursing her lips. “You remember. Zzzzhhhhh. Zhhhhhh.

The weird whirring sound jolts him back. The training in her pristine, white condo. The whirring sound of the dishwasher. Zhhhhh. Zhhhh. Run. Unload. Load. Run. Unload. Load.

He’d learned her takeout orders. Dressing on the side. No cilantro. No cilantro. Then, the flash cards. Hours of flash cards.

“Do you think she’s pretty?”/“No.

“Would you mind running over to CVS to get [blank]”/“Sure.

“Don’t you hate when [blank] does [blank]?”/“Yes, I hate when [blank] does [blank], and here’s another thing I hate that [blank] does.

When he messed up or stuttered, she’d slammed the pillowcase full of rocks against his legs. Never the face. She wouldn’t dare touch his face.

She’d broken him. And rebuilt him.

Imogen lights a cigarette. Tucks a lock of platinum hair behind her ear. “You’re my best work. So you see how this is personal for me.”

Part of him wants to bash her brains in. But another part wants to go home with her, put on their shlumpies, order Thai food, and watch three hours of “Shark Tank.” He grits his teeth, strangles the impulse. He needs answers.

“Who am I?”

As she gets up and saunters toward him, he sees that she’s holding a gun.

“You really don’t know?” She cocks her head. “You’re a billion-dollar lab diamond. The very first military-grade boyfriend. The ultimate”—she pauses for effect—“Plus One.”

The words hit him like a punch to the gut. He fights to stay on his feet. She continues.

“Do you know how hard it is to find a good boyfriend? Emotional support. Intellectual stimulation. Sexual satisfaction. Tallness. They’ve never occurred together in the wild. Until you. Until I made you.”

He gulps. “Made me?”

She’s just a few feet away now, but for some reason he can’t will his body to move. He stands frozen, staring at her.

Imogen smiles. “I remember the night I found you in that foster home. You were eleven years old—just a kid, but the potential was there. So I watched you. I watched you for years.”

“You watched a kid in a foster home for years?”

“On your seventeenth birthday, I brought you back to my apartment and trained you myself. Broke you down. Built you back up. You’re my top-performing executive companion, John.”

Imogen is now standing directly in front of him, her gun pointed at his chest. “It’s not too late to patch things up, you know,” she says quietly. “You’re only thirty-one. You still have a lot of great years ahead of you. Travel . . . parties . . . women and men who adore you. You’re going to make one hell of a zaddy.”

The man feels his last bit of strength leaving him. He’d come here to end this, but now he feels too tired to fight. He sinks to his knees and stares at the grass. “Whatever you wanna do is fine.”

A cruel smile creeps across Imogen’s face. “Really? Thanks, babe. You’re the best.”

Imogen slips a syringe from her blazer, uncaps it. Tilts the man’s head toward his shoulder to expose the length of his neck. “I think we’ll just take you back to the lab, remove those pesky parts of your brain that keep thinking. Let Mommy put you down for a nap.”

Just as Imogen is about to drive in the syringe, a carabiner of keys slices through the air, nailing her in the side of the head. She stumbles.

“The fuck—?”

The man hears a familiar voice call out from the shadows.

“C’mon, buddy! You got this!”

As Imogen rubs her head, trying to make sense of what’s just happened, the man’s eyes dart to the source of the sound—and there’s Joy, wearing a fleece pullover blanketed in dog hair.

Click Here to Visit Orignal Source of Article https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/the-boyfriend-identity-part-3

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