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The Thrill of It

By:Lauren Blakely

The Thrill of It, -Lauren Blakely,
Prologue





Six Months Ago

Harley

I’m a sex addict and a virgin.

I know everything about sex and I’ve never done it, though I came close last night.

I know nothing about love.

I know men.

I can size up a guy in seconds. If he wants my sweet and innocent side, or my sophisticated persona, or if he just wants me to shut up and nod while he talks about his day, because some just want to talk. I know how he’ll like it, how he’ll want it, and I know by the end of the hour or two if he’ll request me again.

But those days are behind me.

The past is the past.

This is now.

That’s what I have to believe as I walk into a church in Chelsea off Ninth Avenue to repent. It’s a fading white church, rather plain looking, unmarked by flying buttresses or soaring angels. The white brick is streaked with gray from soot and dirt and New York itself breezing by over the years. There’s a requisite steeple on top, unassuming, but still there pointing to the sky, and a small plaque outside the doors that declares its non-denominational-ness. Every flavor of fucked-up is welcome.

On Mondays, you can find the alcoholics. On Tuesdays the former drug abusers. On Wednesdays this place is home to those trying to kick the gambling habit. And tonight? I will spend the next hour with people like me, who are addicted to love and sex, sex and love.

Some to both. Some to only one.

I know both in ways I never wanted to. But in ways I still long for too.

That’s the problem.

I am nineteen years old and I have kissed twenty-four guys, which amounts to four guys per year since my first kiss at age thirteen. I kept a running list of their first names and how they rated. They were all ones or zeroes. Those names on the list are all the reasons why I’m pushing open these wooden doors, the brown paint cracked and peeling.

Fitting. I am cracked and brittle too, hardened by all the things I saw, and mostly all the things I heard over the years.

I spot the first sign and I stop in my tracks. The blocky letters wallop me with the reality that I now belong to a club I never wanted to be in.

On a sheet of white paper the words SLAA-College have been written in all caps with a big blue marker.

How embarrassing. As if anyone can’t figure out what the acronym means. But still, I follow the arrows on the sign pointing to the stairwell, then down the musty wooden steps that creak at every footfall as they announce my descent to the basement. More signs are plastered to the flimsy brown plywall, more arrows directing me through the dark hallway, around the corner, then past another bend, deep into the bowels of the church.

My insides are comprised of knots tightening in and wrenching around themselves, pinching all my internal organs.

I wish, I wish, I wish that I weren’t going here.

But yet, I have to.

I took the fall and that brought me here.

I run my fingers across the fabric of my red shirt that’s touching my shoulder, tender today after my new tattoo. My reminder of who I was. But even so, the reminder on my skin is not enough to quell the nerves. They snake through me, setting up camp in every cell of my body, as I enter a standard-issue Sunday School room with thinning brown industrial carpet. Earlier in the week this room was probably crammed with cutesy blue wooden chairs adorned with drawn angels, clouds and fluffy bunnies. Now it’s filled with cold, hard, folding metal chairs for addicts. The walls are bare, except for a few inspirational posters — “Hang in There” with the kitten dangling from a branch, “Perseverance” with a man climbing a snow-capped mountain, and “Patience” with a lone woman standing at the edge of a cold beach in the winter.

I’m five minutes early and there’s one other person in the room. A thin woman with pink hair cut in a stick-straight bob rises and greets me.

“Hi. I’m Joanne. Welcome to the SLAA meeting,” she says, pronouncing the name of the group like slaw.

“Layla,” I mumble, not sure how words are even coming out of my mouth as I give her a fake name. There is no way I’d use my real name here. Besides, Layla is the name that brought me here. Layla is my other name. Layla is the other me.

I shake Joanne’s hand. It feels smooth and she smells like lavender. Maybe she just put on lotion.

“Coffee?” She smiles brightly at me, as if coffee is the answer to every addict’s deepest desires. Because it’s the only acceptable drug.

I am a junkie. I take what I can get.

I nod, barely able to speak. I sit in one of the chairs as Joanne pours coffee from a pot into a chipped ceramic mug with the slogan When in Doubt, Don’t.

Great. If only I’d had a collection of mugs emblazoned with Keep it Simple and Just for Today, maybe I’d never have slid down that slippery slope into Layla.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Layla,” Joanne says, flashing me another happy grin. “Do you knit?”

Crap.

Do I have to make small talk with her?

She gestures to her canvas bag, spilling over with yarn, steely blue knitting needles and what looks to be the start of a maroon scarf.

“I’m not very crafty,” I say and leave it at that as she talks about the scarf she is working on, and how she’s going to pair it with a matching sweater, and I simply smile at her without showing any teeth.

There. I’m keeping it simple.

I’d rather go mute for this meeting because my mouth feels like cotton and my head is a pinball machine and the last thing I want to do right now is talk about how my life has spun out of control.

Except for last night. Because there is one guy who didn’t make it on my list. One guy who never felt like a list. The guy from last night who inked my shoulder, and kissed my body, and who gave me something I’ve never felt before – touch without agenda. A true and real want. He didn’t want anything more from me than me. It was such a foreign feeling, but such a wondrous one.

I’ll never see him again.

Soon the room starts to fill and I keep my head down, doing everything I can not to meet their eyes. I don’t want to know what other addicts look like. I don’t want to know if they look like me. I stare at my shoes, my Mary Janes, the black buckle shiny because it’s always shiny because that’s what made me top of the line. I was the whole package – the shoes, the plaid skirt, the white blouse, the beyond-innocent look on my face.

I hate that I miss that me.

I miss her terribly.

Even after last night, and all that it could have become, all the ways it was different from the past, I still miss me when I was Layla.

The circle of chairs has been filled in with guys and girls. I scan their faces and all I see are their secrets.

Then my blood goes both hot and cold when he walks in. The guy from last night with the scar across his right cheek.


Trey

This is the last place I want to be even though it’s the only place I should be.

Seeing as how I have a permanent reminder on my face of what happens when you go too far.

I’d be able to handle this better if I could extradite the memory of last night from my stupid head. But I can’t because she’s staked a home in my skull, and the images aren’t going away anytime soon. That girl who walked into No Regrets, the West Village tattoo shop where I work, was the hottest girl I’d ever seen, and so damn innocent looking – a combination that killed my self-resolve to start over. She had a sweet smile, a sexy t-shirt and a skirt that left just enough to the imagination at first. She wasn’t like the women I was used to. She was the total opposite. She wasn’t like my regular customers at the shop either. She’d never been inked and she didn’t look like the type who’d want to mark up her body. She was the kind of girl who’d wear pearl earrings, blow dry her hair, and apply pink lip gloss. She was all Manhattan preppy, gorgeous blond hair, and brown eyes, and so not the type for a tat.

“Can you do a red ribbon? The one I sent you when I made the appointment?”

“Yeah. I can do whatever you want. It’s all ready for you,” I said, then brought her back to my booth, and showed her the transfer paper based on the ribbon design she’d sent me online. I figured it was a cause tattoo, like for all those charities that use red ribbons. “Anything special about red ribbons?”

“They’re special to me.” That was all she said on the subject. But we talked about everything else – music and school and what we wanted out of life – as she sat in the chair and pushed up her sleeve to her shoulder. It was a damn good thing I knew how to concentrate because I could smell her. She had on some kind of wild cherry lotion, and the scent drove me wild, along with her hair, her eyes, her body.

Which made zero fucking sense since I’ve never been attracted to girls younger than me.

Never ever ever.

But maybe the scar I’d landed last month was all I needed to change my ways.

When I was done with her tat she said thanks, then turned on those hot little heels and started to walk out.

That’s all.

Nothing more.

But I wanted more. My shift was over, so I followed her to the door. “Don’t go,” I said.

I didn’t have time to craft a line, or feed her some bullshit, and trust me. I know how to feed lines. I know how to spin them on the spot.

But I didn’t want to lie anymore.

We went out for coffee, we wandered around Manhattan, and we rode a midnight train where I first kissed her. There was this strange vibe in the air, like we were in Europe and had met on a backpacking trip, and only had twenty-four hours to spend. So we spent them together.

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