The following is an excerpt from my book-in-progress.

I Know My Lover Is Watching

As dusk falls on the city of Oxford one evening about halfway through the semester, I make a decision: I will have my first kiss tonight.

The move is cold and calculated. I am not even very attracted to my target, a stocky, bearded fellow with (as my roommate will later put it) “a creepy middle-aged man vibe.” I am not particularly curious about what a prolonged kiss feels like. No, this is my juvenile attempt at role play with god.

I am not supposed to be any of the things I become that night: assertive, flirty, cognizant of my body’s allure. Will god spank me for being a naughty girl?

My conquest that night is easy. I know my target is into me, an unfamiliar yet unmistakable feeling. I know, as we cram into the Eagle and Child pub with a couple of other students, that I am attractive. I am wearing my Primark faux-leather boots, a brown tweed skirt, and a burnt orange shirt that shows off my curves. And I know, as we drink stout and talk and laugh into the night, that my cleverness is an asset.

My lips are full and red and sitting across from me is a genre of man that makes all my thicknesses an advantage. The substance packed into my brain, my unruly eyebrows, my dark wiry hair, my full thighs and breasts–I have more than enough to turn the head of anyone with even a hint of sapiosexual desire.

Together, we leave the pub and walk toward the seclusion of a walking path illuminated by lampposts.

My conquest doesn’t know that all this is foreplay to my tryst with a divine lover.

We stop at a small bridge that looks over the Thames. He takes out the cloves we’ve purchased earlier that evening and we light up. I’ve never smoked so much as a cigarette before, but I’ve seen all the movies–I know what to do. My gestures are smooth and casual. The cloves taste sweet.

We talk, as students steeped in evangelical purity culture do, about what lines we have or haven’t crossed, how far we’ve gone, and how far we’re willing to go.

I know he’d have sex with me if I wanted, but I don’t. He’s not the kind of person I want to lose my virginity to and I’m not ready for that yet. This is not about exploration of my body or the body of another. This is about the production of erotic danger, and the truth is I don’t need to go very far to light my god’s fire.

Love is, as the poets bear witness, a delicate dance. Finesse and nuance are crucial. If I go too far, I’m damned. Sex before marriage will push me outside the deity’s realm of acceptance and he’s bound to divorce me. But a kiss? A little petting? These are dire transgressions, but ultimately forgivable. Just enough to make the deity jealous, but not enough to drive him away from me forever.

I am playing the role I’ve rehearsed for ages: mistress of transgressions. This gendered need planted in me long ago has flowered. I must know: If I break the rules will my god still love me? If my face is twisted will he still want to look at me?

I will dance a thousand dances and cut myself a hundred ways if you’ll just tell me you love me and make me believe it. I’m sorry, baby. Tell me you’ll have me back and make me beautiful again.

I know you love me, baby. Oh, how you love me. I know you hate it when I move, when I dance to the beat of my own drum. I can’t be trusted, baby. I know I can’t be trusted. Take me back under your wing.

We finish smoking and move from the light of the bridge into the shadows of a bench just off the path, looked over by silent trees.

We sit close. I move my body closer. The darkness helps. I can’t see his eyes, but I can feel the warmth as he responds to my movement. My cheek is against his cheek and our lips start to explore each other. I slip my tongue inside and his hand slides gently up my spine.

After a time, we pause to feel the air between us.

“You’re a beautiful woman, Rebekah,” I hear him say.

I know my lover is watching, gritting his teeth and counting me among the rebels. I laugh, knowing my part. “So how did I do at my first kiss?”