The Thrill of It

By: Lauren Blakely

Chapter One

Six Months Later


I am more than halfway done.

I tell myself that as I walk purposefully to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, taking a deep, steadying breath. Trey is by my side. He holds my hand. He almost always holds my hand.

Correction: He almost always holds my hand when we’re far, far away from the rest of them. “It’s what friends do,” he says, and I hope he says it to remind himself of our rules – rules we have both followed to the painful, white-knuckle letter – no touching, no kissing, no nothing more whatsoever – but this – this we allow. Only we never talk about why. We never discuss what happened the night before we met again. There is some unwritten rule that we are on the other side.

But I won’t truly be on the other side until I can slice off this albatross.

This debt. I have been up late, up early, and up all around. I have been living and breathing and choking out the words this woman demands of me.

All the tawdry tales. All the names – anonymously – from my list.

She makes me dive into them. Makes me share the story behind the kiss, the man, the where, the when, and most of all – the why. Make them titillating but reviling too, she says. Make sure you come across as someone who desperately needs redemption, absolution.

Sometimes, I wish I could punch a hole in the story of my life that I am forced to write for her – Memoirs of a Teenage Sex Addict.

Trey grips my hand tighter, looping his fingers through mine and I shiver. I’m not cold. It’s May, and it’s warm, and any kind of contact from him sends me soaring. The more I know him, the more I want him, and the more I can’t have him. We are in recovery, and he’s told me many times he wants to make it through.

“I don’t need another one of these,” he’ll say, then run his index finger absently across the scar on his right cheek. But I love his scar. I want to trace it and kiss it and touch it. Scars are sexy – they say you’ve lived and that you’ve survived. That’s how I see him. But I don’t want to be the one who knocks him off the wagon. So this friendship, this hand holding is all we allow. No fooling around. That’s what we promise to do in SLAA. One year. Alone. Without anything. Without kissing. Without dating. Without relationships.

But abstinence, withdrawal, a break, whatever-you-call-it doesn’t stop my worn-down, wasted heart from wanting this boy by my side to be more than my friend.

I squeeze back, taking the slightest bit of contact with him. I’ve never held hands with anyone before. The men who ordered jailbait teenage call girls weren’t the type who liked to hold hands. Shocking, right?

Trey flashes me a grin.

“You can do this, Harley. It’ll be over soon.”

I scoff. “Not soon enough.”

When we’re one block away from the church, I say goodbye. “And this is where you must go, my sweet escort.”

He raises an eyebrow. “I should have been an escort.”

“You’d have been the best. Anyway, I don’t want her to see you. She’ll find some way to dig her claws into you.”

He looks over his shoulder as if he’s checking out claw marks on his back. “Damn. I still have some other ones there. Scars everywhere.”

I swat him. Fine, this is another allowed touch. “I like your scars. Besides, I’m sure you had many marks on your back.”

“Covered in ‘em. Everywhere.” His eyes light up. There’s a part of him too that misses his past. Longs for his drug.

“Get out of here, boy toy.”

This is how we operate. I know his past with women. He knows my past with men. And we can tease each other. No one else knows my past.

“Call me later though, okay? Let’s hang out after I’m done with work?”

“Of course,” I say because we are addicted in a new way now. To contact with each other. We talk every day, text every day, see each other most days.

He salutes me and walks off to catch a subway back to the West Village where he’ll spend the evening studying history for his final exams in between making permanent marks on the skin of customers.

I walk one more block, grit my teeth, narrow my eyes, and tell myself I am iron, I am steel, I am unflappable.

I enter another church.

I never thought I’d spend so much time in them for reasons other than worship. I grip my field hockey stick in one hand. I don’t even play anymore. I simply like weapons, and I like flexing my fingers around it as I pass through the musty vestibule, ignore the holy water and the candles, and take my customary spot in the fifth pew from the back, laying the stick across my bare legs.

I’ve been summoned by my Dark Overlord, and I can’t say no.