Minus One: A Twelve-Step Journey by Bridget Bufford



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On the run from “broken promises, cocaine and gin, wounds inflicted,” Terry Manescu turns to Alcoholics Anonymous for help. Abstinence alone fails to reform her, though; she resents the meetings, makes every effort to antagonize other AA members, and continues to chase the buzz by substituting sex for booze and drugs. She’s charming, bright, athletic, and not at all shy with the ladies, but also relentlessly self-destructive. Eventually she finds a lesbian AA group of women who’ve faced down their own demons and with their support, Terry learns to tame her rebellious streak and live with integrity.

Sexually charged, by turns harrowing and hopeful, Minus One: A Twelve-Step Journey is a tribute to the meetings and members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Excerpt:

I planned to sleep in, but since I got here I haven’t slept much. Withdrawal from alcohol can cause insomnia, muscle twitching, night sweats, bad dreams; I heard that at a meeting. God knows I have some nightmares.

It’s just before 7:00 on Saturday morning; I might as well get up. I make some coffee, then load the dishwasher and run it. When I lived with Angela before, she wasn’t so messy.

I’m a little tired, a little bored, and way fed up with my life. I could start my laundry, but I’d rather not. Instead I start a letter to Bunica. Beyond letting her know my current address, though, I have nothing to say. What am I going to tell her, that I’m going to AA now? She really wants to hear that. She’d be glad that I’m not drinking, but that would require her to stop pretending that I never did in the first place. I could write about work, I suppose.

The phone rings. “Hello.”

“Hey, what’s up, this is—you’re not Angela.”

“No, this is Terry. Manescu.” I don’t recognize the voice.

“Terry! I didn’t know you were back. It’s Willow.”

“Willow?”

“Brenda, from softball. My name is Willow now; it’s more the reality of who I am.”

Whatever. I vaguely remember a Brenda. “Angie’s not up yet. Can I take a message?”

“Well, I saw Angie a couple of weeks ago, and I told her I was going to be moving, and she said she’d help out.” Willow pauses. “I should have called her yesterday. She’s not up?”

“No.”

“We got a U-Haul, we’ve got to get it back by 5:00,” Willow says. “We’ve already packed everything up, we just need a hand with some of the big things—mattresses and dressers and stuff.”

Might be better than laundry. “I could give you a hand. I don’t have a car, though.”

“I can pick you up. How soon—I mean, when would be good?”

“Any time. Soon.”

“I’ll be there in a little bit.”

“Okay. See you later.”

Angie comes in from the hall. “Who was that?” She pours a cup of coffee, holds up the pot and frowns. “Damn, girlfriend.”

“I like it strong. That was Willow.”

Angela sets down her cup, wide-eyed. “Is she coming over here?”

“She said you were going to help her move.”

“No, I am not!”

“Relax. I said I’d do it.”

“You are going over there?” Angela sputters. “Oh, honey, no! Call her back.”

“She didn’t leave her number. What’s the deal? I don’t mind moving stuff.”

“Oh, no. You don’t want to do this, Terry.” Angela shakes her head, cuts the coffee with a hefty shot of milk. “I threw away that number, though. I have got to get out of here. I’ll be in the shower.”

Willow shows up at 11:30. By then I’m done with my laundry and Angela is long gone. Per instructions, I inform Willow that Angie and I are just roommates. Angela’s awfully touchy on the subject, actually. Like it would be such an awful thing to have me in her bed. I’ve heard otherwise, more than once.

“Willow, where are you moving?”

“My partner just bought this really nice condo, right at the edge of Forest Park. The lease is up on my apartment, so I’m moving in with Erica.”

Shit. “Erica who?”

“Erica Schneider.”

The bitch goddess of head games. I’ve avoided Erica for nearly four years. A couple of times I’ve seen her in a restaurant or at the bar and I’ve had to walk right back out. That woman put me through some serious changes, but I still get a little weak when I see her. She could get me off in ten seconds flat, raise her head and smile.

“Erica said you two are friends,” Willow continues. “She’s really happy that you could help us out.”

“No problem.” My voice breaks, and Willow looks over. Maybe I should feign an illness—heart attack? Stroke? Dysentery? I manage a weak smile, and Willow goes on about Erica and her charms.

When we arrive, Erica emerges from the moving van. “Terry, how nice to see you.” She approaches for a big hug. I smell patchouli—she’s the one who got me started wearing it. I used to steal hers and pour it into the little vial I still carry. Erica presses my face into her breasts and sweat starts down my sides.

She might be a little thinner, but Erica’s still built, blond, beautiful. I can’t help but notice the way Willow pants after her like a dog—too familiar to be funny.

I carry boxes down the stairs and stack them in the truck while the two of them giggle and slobber all over each other. How much of that is for my benefit?

“The kitchen’s empty except for the table,” I yell. I’m not about to enter the bedroom unannounced.

“Good deal,” Erica says. “Willow, go put the rest of the bathroom stuff in that box. Terry, give me a hand in here.”

Willow does as directed. In the bedroom, Erica smiles at me. She pulls off her flannel shirt; underneath, she’s wearing only an undershirt. Her nipples stretch the thin cloth.

“Getting hot,” she says. “Help me take apart this bed. We started to do it after Willow called you this morning, but one thing led to another…”

Erica’s smirk is like a punch in the gut, but I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of my refusal. I help her break down the bed, not acknowledging the brush of her hand across my hip, her body briefly pressed to mine as we pass in the hall later on.

Erica’s building has an elevator; we lock open the doors and fill it nearly to the top with furniture and boxes, then send the load to her third floor condo and race up the stairs to intercept it. I can’t wait to get out of here, away from Erica’s furtive touch and malicious smirk. How can someone so hateful be so hot? The woman is like a bad drug.

I lift the oak headboard and Willow rushes to take an end. Erica says, “Leave that, let the butch get it,” and squeezes my biceps as I pass. In my mind, I smash it through her teeth. In reality, I haul it to the elevator single-handedly, not even gouging the wall.

We empty the van by 4:45. “You two have worked really hard,” Erica says. “Terry, you drop off the U-Haul. Willow can follow you.” She holds out a hundred dollar bill. “Pick up a pizza and some brews with the change.”

Willow casts me an apologetic look. “Honey, Terry doesn’t drive.”

“Oh, right. The DWI. I guess you don’t want any beer with your pizza, then.” She laughs. “Can’t have you flunking your pee test.”

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