As I drifted awake, I felt a weight on my chest: not metaphorical, but rather Meredith’s nine pounds of fur. I opened my eyes to find her face about an inch from mine, staring at me intently. “Good morning to you, too, Meredith,” I said. “Hungry, I see. Me too.”

The clock read 10:06 a.m. Normally I wouldn’t get to sleep in this late on tour, but since there was no show until tomorrow night, I had a bit of time to recuperate after my two shows in Glendale, Arizona. Ignoring my insistent cat for a minute, I popped out my retainer, then grabbed my phone and my glasses from the nightstand. I had a message from Mom, reminding me to call my grandma for her birthday, a photo from Ed of him poking his head through the costume rack wearing my hat, and a text from Lena Dunham — something that still blew my mind. “Memorial Day lunch the sequel in Toronto?” it said. “Absolutely,” I typed. “Let’s make it happen.” This tour I wanted to find as much time for friends as possible.

I lifted Meredith off me and retrieved a container of kibble from a dresser drawer, then dropped a handful in her bowl. She wound around my legs appreciatively, purring. I headed for the door to see if my breakfast had appeared. That was one of the perks of staying in all these hotels: magical breakfast appearance. Though I couldn’t wait to go home on my break after the Denver show and whip up some buckwheat crepes to start the day.

I opened the door to find my breakfast on a silver cart. Pretty fancy ride for some Cinnamon Toast Crunch, fruit and O.J. There was a copy of the Glendale Star, too, and the front page had a shot from last night’s concert: the photographer had caught my leap off the stairs in “State of Grace.” Not bad height, I thought.   

As I closed the door behind me, I abandoned the breakfast cart and sat on the bed, breaking my rule to avoid reading reviews (just this once ...) and flipping through to the concert review: “The standout moment of Ms. Swift’s performance came before bombastic break-up anthem ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,’ with the sensuous ‘Treacherous,’ a sign that Swift is a broken-hearted high-schooler no longer: this is the willful reckless abandon of a woman who knows that passion comes at a price.”

***

I sat behind the wheel of my silver rental car. Should have got the black one, I joked to myself, it would have been way better camo for nighttime boyfriend-stalking. But it wasn’t stalking if I was invited. Still, I bet the paparazzi would love to get a shot of me right now.

“What am I doing here?” I asked the empty car. “Here” was outside Jake’s New York City apartment, where I’d been sitting for the last 20 minutes, tapping my foot and fussing with my hair in the rearview mirror. He’d texted me from some cool-kid indie rock show — probably by a band that didn’t exist yet — asking if I wanted to come over after. I did, of course, and I’d rushed out my hotel room door before I even thought about it. Now that I was here, I felt less sure.

I pulled out my phone and texted Selena, who I knew would still be up: “I’m at his place. Go in, or not?”

I knew I shouldn’t. I knew I should turn around, go back to my hotel, and engage in something wholesome like eating a tube of cookie dough and going on a CSI bender. Or maybe channel these feelings into a song. I hadn’t been writing much lately, though. I’d been too busy living to get caught up in neat lyrics and pretty melodies. And I got the feeling that this material would take my music into new territory.

I couldn’t get last night out of my head. Eating in a secluded restaurant booth, side by side, our legs just touching, our lips inches apart and not remotely concerned with the food. How I’d felt a magnetic draw I hadn’t known existed, a pull so strong it seemed useless to resist. How we’d left most of the food uneaten, and he’d led me by the hand out the restaurant’s back door. How he’d pressed me against the cold brick of the alley wall, hands expressing everything our lips were too occupied to say.

And I liked it. But I didn’t trust myself with him. Was it even a choice to let go, to be swept away? Or was I already tumbling down a steep slope, the giddy momentum too great to turn back? I knew this wasn’t right, that it couldn’t last, that I was headed for fiery, burning wreckage. But it just felt so good to burn. I wouldn’t stop until it was over.

My text beep made me jump. The response from Selena was a one-word warning: “Treacherous.”

I went in anyway.

***

I shivered involuntarily and dropped the paper on the hotel bed. Yes, I knew the cost, had paid in full. But I’d gotten something too: those nights like roman candles, an explosion of fire and shimmering beauty that faded too fast. And I had the song, which had poured out of me in the studio with Dan Wilson. The song had shown the world that I wasn’t all sparkles and kissing in the rain. That I’d felt that dark, irresistible pull. And that maybe, just maybe, I’d do it again. Because nothing safe is worth the drive.

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