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When attending a masked ball, sometimes "less" is "more."

When that happens, they just go around and everybody introduces themselves. In AA we have what's called the "meeting after the meeting," when people can talk one on one. I got to talking with a couple old guys I know when I notice a woman standing near, listening to our gab. I stood back a little to open the circle to let her come in, and she did.

When she was standing next to me, I became instantly aware of her. I'm about five-eleven, and she must have topped me by a good four inches. She was pale and heavy, black hair and a wide face. That's not to say she wasn't pretty-she had a long neck despite the extra pounds, a wide, soft body hidden beneath an unattractive sweat suit but excellent posture, dimples when she smiled and beautiful teeth. He voice was a low and furry buzz, and I could tell she was whip-smart though she didn't say much. She told me how much she liked my approach and asked if I might sponsor her. She was forthright about asking me, which I appreciated. I started to give the patter about men not sponsoring women, but she reached her hand and grabbed my forearm.

"Please," she said, her eyes desperate. "I've tried so many times to stop. I know you can help me."

So I said yes. We arranged to meet. As I drove away, it occurred to me that her hand was so big it almost encircled my arm. I put that out of my mind.

Over the next several months we would meet once or twice a week to read through the Big Book and follow along in the process of what exactly you need to do to recover from alcoholism. I won't share any of that except to say that if you can't stop drinking and you want to, go to an AA meeting and keep going until you meet somebody who says they are recovered. Those people can help you.

When I met Tawny, it was late September. We had a long winter, and usually we met in the evenings at my place or the Alano Club downtown. Often we'd get coffee after. We mostly talked about AA, but Tawny told me a little about her life. She said she was always a natural athlete, the best on whatever team she'd been on. When she drank, she could drink all the football players under the table. She told me she'd been in jail a few times, but that's common enough in AA. Winter hung on that year, week after week of ice and chill winds.

I noticed that she was looking after me differently, and I was starting to do the same. Lingering glances. We started to see each other more often, dinner and sometimes a movie. She was doing great in her program, told me she was starting to work out and get back in shape. I tried to put that out of my mind. The first year of sobriety is delicate, and I felt it would be wrong for me to let my fetish run away with me. Besides, I never had seen her wearing anything but sweats and a jacket.

Then the day came that every AA dreads and most have experienced. Tawny didn't show up to meet me, didn't come to any of our regular meetings, didn't answer her phone. When this happens, we are instructed to let the person di what they gotta do. Sometimes you're just not done. I really cared about this one, but principles are principles.

I was awakened a few nights later at three o'clock in the morning by a pounding on my door. I got up, groggy and half-asleep. Tawny was outside on my porch. She was crying, torn jacket and a hell of a bruise on her cheek. I opened the door and let her in. She smelled like a burning distillery, the wave of booze and smoke preceding her like a song.

She was crying, staggered toward me, arms open.

"Oh Joe," she said, slurring. "Oh Joe. I did a bad thing. I am a horrible person." She grabbed me and hugged me hard. Her arms felt like a machine, hard as stone as she lifted me clear off the ground, squeezed the air out of me. I tried to wriggle free, but she didn't seem to notice that I was there as she continued to sob. Finally I was able to gasp out her name, begged her to put me down before I passed out.

"Oh my God, Joe! I'm so sorry," she said as she

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