Development

With three teenaged girls living in the house, this was bound to happen

sooner or later.

   Hillary sat down in her chair and looked in the pack, counting again.

   Four of the Marlboro Lights 100s were left.

   Four hours ago, there had been five.

   She supposed that most people would have never noticed. But she was a

counter. Not an obsessive Rain Man sort, but a counter none the less. Each

day, she smoked exactly one pack. No more. No less. Tonight, she’d had a

shower to go to at the Anderson’s just a few blocks down Vancouver Street.

   There’d been no point taking the cigarettes. It would have meant carrying

the purse, and for what ? Even when Eve Anderson wasn’t pregnant, she was

about as anti-smoking as a person could get. Carrying the purse just so that

she could have one cigarette on the walk home had seemed like more trouble

than it was worth. So she’d lit one just before leaving and set the pack down

on the coffee table.

   She wasn’t trying to tempt the girls- it had simply never occurred to her

that Wendy, Krysten, or Veronica might pinch one.

   The joys of single parenting. Just two sets of eyes which couldn’t always be

trained on your girls- or Veronica. She would have seemed like the most

likely suspect- after all, Crystal and Walter had always said that as soon as

their daughter turned fifteen, she would be allowed to smoke. The only

problem was that despite constant encouragement, the girl had shown no

interest in joining in the family habit.

   It would be ironic if she started while Hillary’s sister was in Europe for a

year without her daughter.

   Hillary tried to get angry about this. One of them had gone behind her back

and taken one of her cigarettes. One of them had started smoking.

   Not that a single cigarette was exactly smoking.

   But all Hillary could muster was a vague hope that it wasn’t Krysten. She

was still a month shy of fifteen, after all- which was exactly when Hillary

had started.

   She still remembered that night. Mom had been away on a business trip. A

long, two week trip out to the Left Coast. She’d gone out to dinner with Dad,

who’d gotten sick of cooking. He’d ordered a bottle of white wine and let his

daughter have two glasses. She hadn’t exactly gotten drunk, but the alcohol

hold made her a little bolder than usual.

   Crystal was on a sleep over that night, so it had just been the two of them

at home. Dad sat down in his big easy chair and lit a Marlboro 100 before

opening the Times, his other nightly habit.

   For about an hour, Hillary had pretended to watch television, but she was

really watching him smoke. He had such an easy way about it, taking long

casual inhales and filling the living room with smoke. Hillary found herself

imagining what it would be like to share that pleasure, to lift a cigarette

to her mouth and draw the smoke into her lungs. She’d recently asked mom what

it felt like, and her mother had been unable to resist describing how

wonderful it felt. She’d then, of course, added that Hillary would be better o

ff never trying it, but there’d been little or no conviction to the warning.

   Finally, the need to ask overwhelmed her.

   “Dad, I know you’re probably going to be very disappointed in me, but I’d-“

   He folded the paper with a flourish and smiled, interrupting her. “I thought

you were just going to sit there and watch me smoke all night without ever

getting up the courage to ask if you could try it yourself. Go into the

kitchen and get a pack from the carton your mother keeps on top of the

refrigerator.”

   “Really ?” Hillary was shocked at the easy way he’d given in. “I thought for

sure that you’d tell me I wasn’t old enough or that I shouldn’t even think

about trying it-“

   He looked at her- a little sternly. “You are too young. Mom and I have

talked about this because we’ve known for some time-“

   “How ?”

   “Well, you’ve recently asked both of us what it was like, when we started. I

know that your friend Jean has been smoking for almost a month- her father is

beside himself, but – Mom and I were hoping you’d at least wait until you

were fifteen but I suppose that your are in high school now and that counts

for something. I just wish you could have waited until your mother came back

from Seattle, that’s all.”

   “Why ?”

   Roger smiled. Hillary had always been the inquisitive one. “I don’t know if

this will make you think your mother is the coolest person on earth or the

weirdest, but she’d been hoping that you were going to start for a while now.

I’m not sure even I could explain why. All I know is that she started when

she was your age and she’s never once regretted it.”

   “You really-“

   “Go-” he said.

   Hillary had to get a chair to reach the cigarettes- there was no sense

worrying about her growth being stunted as the doctor had recently told her

five four was the best she could expect. As she pulled the unopened box from

the carton she couldn’t help but smile. Right after Jean had started, Hillary

had begun to fantasize about what it would like.

   Of course, Jean had offered to let her try, but Hillary had declined. She

knew deep down that her parents would eventually let her start smoking. The

way they’d reacted to her questions- and Dad was right that she’d asked a lot

of them recently- had indicated they were only discouraging her because that

was what they were supposed to do.

   As she looked at the four cigarettes still in the pack, all Hillary could

think about was how excited she’d been standing on that chair, the prize in

hand. It had been almost as exhilarating as actually lighting that first

cigarette.

   But that wasn’t what Hillary needed to think about right now. No, having a

pleasant flashback to the way Dad had sat down next to her on the couch and

lit her first cigarette with the same grace he did Mom’s was not the thing to

remember, any more than how happy her mother had been to show her to inhale,

how to hold a cigarette so that you attracted attention, how to catch a light

in the wind.

   No, her duty was to be angry about this, not pass it off as unavoidable. It

had to be confronted, dealt with.

   Punishment might even need to be dolled out.

   There’d be no way to tell now. The girls had gotten into the habit of taking

their showers in the evening to avoid getting up early. They all had morning

gym, which required a shower anyway, so it made sense- and it made for a free

bathroom in the morning, which Hillary was grateful for.

   She went upstairs anyway, smoking as she climbed the stairs. She heard their

voices just before she got to the top of the stairs. They were in the study,

no doubt surfing the web, chatting in some virtual room about Melrose Place

or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was her policy never to interrupt these

sessions, not since she’d caught them looking at doctored nudes of Brad Pitt.

   Oh, she knew the right thing to do was to barge in anyway and demand to know

which one of them had pinched a cigarette from the pack. Individually, each

of them were capable of telling fairly passable lies, but en masse they were

just plain lousy at it. She’d have her answer and then-

   And then she’d have to decide what to do about it- not a good idea right

now. Thoughts of her own early smoking experience had made her feel very

happy, very relaxed. It wasn’t the time to screw up her courage and actually

get mad at someone.

   As the three girls walked out of the house, Hillary had no idea they weren’t

going to the bus stop. She was busy reading her morning e-mail, none of which

was what she was looking for. Her friend and sometimes business associate

Claire was flying in from Albany either this morning or this afternoon, and

it was just like Claire to have either not yet decided or left without

contacting Hillary.

   They waited until they were a block away before Krysten pulled the new pack

of Marlboro Lights 100s from her pack.

   “I can’t believe you made us pinch one from Mom’s pack last night and share

it,” Wendy said indignantly.

   “I forgot I had another pack, okay ?” Krysten said defensively. “You don’t

think Mom will notice, do you ?”

   “Do you remember when we used to take cookies out of the jar right before

dinner ? Take two cookies and Mom would know-“

   “That was because you spill crumbs all over the place.” Krysten tore the

wrapper from the pack, put it in her jeans pocket, and extracted one

cigarette for each of them. Wendy and Veronica took theirs  and waited for

Krysten to distribute the lighter. Soon all three of them were smoking

happily.

   The feeling didn’t last long. They’d walked less than half a block before

Amanda Sheer accosted them. Amanda was a typical high school senior in their

opinion, meaning that she either thought she knew everything or wasn’t afraid

to pretend that she did. She eyed the two sophomores and one freshman with

open disgust as they approached her.

   “Smoking is gross,” she said, her voice dripping venom.

   “How would you know ?” Wendy asked.

   “Everyone knows that. It’s foul and nasty.”

   “In other words,” Veronica countered, “you’ve never tried it, right ?”

   “No, and I never plan to, either.”

   Krysten was usually a little bit afraid of Amanda. Part of that stemmed from

the fact the other girl was half a foot taller and had run her over several

times playing soccer in gym class. There was also the general meek freshman

versus boisterous senior thing at work. Amanda was part of the in crowd at

school- smart, athletic, and totally gorgeous beyond any sort of fairness.

   But this wasn’t the first time Amanda had given them an hard time and she

was a little sick of it, still not appreciating the fact that one day she

would have the opportunity to be an arrogant senior.

   She inhaled as deeply as she could, walked up to Amanda, and exhaled in her

face.

   “I don’t get you, Amanda. Your younger sister smokes, your mom smokes.

What’s the big deal ?”

   “Smoking is immature and stupid. Everyone know that-“

   “Except your mom, apparently. Aren’t you even curious ?”

   “No. If you want to be dumb and gross, I suppose I can’t stop you.”

   “That’s a real mature response,” Krysten said, pressing on. She inhaled and

exhaled again, making sure most of the smoke travelled up into Amanda’s face.

“How can you know what smoking is like ?”

   “Krysten, drop it,” Veronica said guardedly. Watching the look on Amanda’s

face as that second parcel of smoke drifted her way was enough to convince

Krysten’s cousin she was very close to getting slugged by someone who could

easily lay her out right on the pavement.

   “No. I mean, Amanda talks like she knows everything, and I’ll bet the truth

is that she’s afraid to try smoking because she might like it. Right, Amanda

?”

   The other two girls expected the senior to deny this with the same bluster

with which she always carried herself. Instead, she looked at Krysten with

something like understanding in her eyes, tinged with only an hint of anger.

   “What would you know ?”

   “I know that I used to think the same thing.” Wendy looked at her sister.

She was either lying or there was something that she’d never mentioned. “I

wondered what was wrong with my mom that she had to smoke all the time. I

used to think it was gross and disgusting-“

   “And then you tried it. Sounds like an excuse to me.” 

   But there wasn’t much conviction in her voice any more.

   “Exactly. Which is why you should-“

   “I’m not you.”

   “Just one Amanda. I think we can spare one if you’d like to find out for

yourself.”

   Wendy and Veronica were further amased when Amanda didn’t immediately

decline.

   Instead, she seemed to be considering Krysten’s argument. “Just one. And you

have to promise that you’re not going to tell anyone- any of you. It’s not

like they’d believe you anyway.”

   Shock registered on all three faces. Amanda looked at them with her usual

mix of scorn and amusement. “What are you dorks looking at ? Krysten is

right. If I’m going to criticise you for doing something so stupid I should

at least understand it.”

   “Aren’t you afraid that your sister is going to come out and see you ?”

Wendy asked.

   Amanda laughed, but there was a bitter edge to it. “First of all, Diana is

too smart to give me shit about anything, and second, she’s sleeping in. Mom

is taking her shopping today.”

   “Why aren’t you going ?”

   “I’m not going to skip school just to look at clothes. Besides, Diana’s

wardrobe needs a lot more work than mine.”

   Krysten took another cigarette from the pack and handed it to Amanda, who

took it between her index finger and thumb. She studied the white paper

casing and then sniffed the tobacco, making an odd face. She put it in her

mouth casually and asked Krysten for a light, the cigarette bouncing as she

spoke.

   It was obvious that Krysten was nervous, but somehow she managed to get the

cigarette lit and soon Amanda was drawing smoke into her mouth. As she

exhaled, Mr. Linquist, the twenty something bachelour who’d just moved in

next to the girls’, drove by. He slowed the car and took a good long look at

the four smokers. It was quite a sight to behold, smoke hanging in the moist

air around them as all four took simultaneous inhales. The car began to drift

towards the kerb just as he passed them and he corrected the car’s trajectory

and turned away, embarrassed.

   “God, he’s cute,” Veronica said wistfully.

   “I think he likes you,” Wendy teased, performing a perfect nose exhale.

   “So what do you think ?” Krysten asked Amanda, who was taking her third puff

on the cigarette.

   “I still don’t get what’s so cool about this,” she said, speaking though the

smoke which escaped from her mouth.

   “But it’s not gross, either, is it ?”

   “Well-“

   Just then the bus started rumbling up the street, belching blue smoke from

the muffler. Amanda hastily dropped the cigarette on the ground and crushed

it out. “Shit. Anybody have any gum ?”

   All three girls reached into their purses. Amanda took three sticks of

Cinnaburst from Krysten and jammed them in her mouth, barely pausing to

unwrap them. “Not a word to anyone about this,” she said tersely as the bus

pulled up beside them. The girls nodded- as if- and began walking again so

that Mr. Krycek wouldn’t stop and try to convince them to ride the bus. He

acted as though it was a personal slight they chose to walk, as though he

didn’t understand why they preferred not to.

   Thankfully, he pulled away as soon as Amanda was on board.

   “Don’t let me forget to put the film in the drop box on the way this

morning,” Krysten said.

   “I can’t believe you shot a whole roll of us smoking that one cigarette,”

Veronica replied.

   “Come on, it was fun. Once you get the courage up to tell Mom you’ve started

smoking you can send a picture to your Mom and Dad. You know they’ll be

thrilled.”

   “Just don’t leave them where Mom can find them, little one. We’re lucky that

she’s picking up Claire at the airport. She’ll never have time to stop by the

photo shop.”

   Krysten realised they’d all finished their cigarettes and passed out more.

But she hesitated as Wendy reached for hers.

   “Don’t call me little one, okay ?”

   Hillary had forwarded her home phone to the office. It would be just like

Claire to call home and let her know that she was at the airport.

   The main line rang and Beth picked up immediately. A moment later she walked

into Hillary’s office, carrying a stack of papers to be signed.

   She dropped the papers on the desk. “That’s the billing on the Regina

account for you to sign. And the photo shop is on line three, Ms. Daignault.”

   Hillary looked sourly at Beth “If I gave you a big fat pay raise, would you

start calling me Hillary ?”

   “Maybe, Ms. Daignault. Go ahead and try it.”

   Shaking her head, Hillary reached for the phone. Beth had been working for

her for almost nine years now and in the office, there was no getting her to

use her first name. She just seemed uncomfortable with the concept.

   “This is Hillary. What can I do for you ?”

   “Is Krysten there ?”

   “No. Did she drop film off this morning ?”

   “Yeah,” the teenage voice at the other end of the line confirmed. “It’s

ready to be picked up. You’ll need the tear slip.”

   “How about the credit card it’s being charged to ?” Hillary asked. She was a

little tired of this. Krysten had somehow gotten the lead photographer’s job

on the yearbook staff- no small accomplishment for a mere freshman- and she

got a roll developed three or four times a week. And every time Hillary went

to pick them up, they asked for the tear slip, which of course she didn’t

have.

   “I suppose that will do, but you really should try to start getting those

tear slips from your daughter. It causes-“

   Hillary hung up the phone, not really caring what it caused. She signed,

initialed, signed some more, and handed the papers back to Beth, hesitating.

Beth was only thirty three, but she had a beautiful sixteen year old daughter

named Jenny, who’d started smoking about a year ago. Beth had never said

anything about it, but there was a picture of her daughter on her desk with

her girlfriend Jill. Both of them were holding cigarettes and smiling for the

camera.

   “Did you have something you wanted to ask me ?”

   “Yes, actually. I noticed you have a picture on your desk of Jenny and she’s

smoking.”

   “One of your girls pick up the habit ?”

   “I don’t know. I came home last night and someone had taken a cigarette out

of my pack.”

   “I know exactly what you’re going through. We single moms- it’s not easy.

Jenny didn’t pinch from me- her girlfriend Jill was supplying her, I guess.

I’ll never forget the day she came home from school and in one long breath

told me that she’d started smoking and  she was going to the junior prom with

another girl. Talk about your conundrums.”

   “What did you do ?”

   Beth paused to light a VS 120. “I wanted to be mad at her about something.

But I thought about it- it’s amasing how much thinking you can do in ten

seconds when you’re forced. I mean, it was obvious from the first moment how

happy she was- well, dating- Jill. And that’s something I discovered I was

cool with immediately. It’s actually kind of intriquing. So I decided to

concentrate on the smoking issue.”

   “I guess you didn’t have much success there.”

   Her friend and assistant laughed as Hillary lit a cigarette. It was her

seventh of the day- and she fully intended to make sure all twenty were hers

today.

   “Actually, I did. I thought about it and decided that there were only two

real reasons why Jenny might have taken up smoking. Either because she liked

it, or because Jill did. I thought if it was the later, I’d be able to tell.

So I asked her to smoke for me- and that answered all of my questions.”

   Just then the phone rang again and Hillary answered it herself.

   “Hello, Claire- no, can’t say I’m surprised that you’re landing in ten

minutes. You better get off the phone before the pilot has a cow. I’ll see

you in half an hour.”

   “Have you ever regretted letting her smoke ?”

   Beth paused to think about this, pulled on her cigarette. “No,not really.

It’s kind of fun, having another smoker in the house- or two others. But you

better get going-“

   All things considered, Hillary knew better than to think she had time to

stop and pick up those photos. It was a suicide run.

   She did it anyway.

   The boy behind the counter- well, he wasn’t really a boy anymore. He was

Harry Tomlin’s kid, almost twenty now. The first thing he did was ask her for

the tear slip. When she said she didn’t have it, he hesitated, as though

there might be some reason he wasn’t willing to trade her plastic money for

Krysten’s film. He seemed to be mulling over the possibility of refusing,

then finally reached behind the counter and found the right envelope on the

third try.

   He ran her card will still holding the pictures, which was also unusual.

Normally they were handed over for inspection at this point, but Billy, who

was working in the photoshop instead of attending Yale for a reason, had

changed the agenda. Hillary glanced at her watch and groaned. The airport was

fifteen minutes away and knowing Claire, she was already standing on the

sidewalk, looking more like cab bait with each passing second.

   By the time the slip was spit out of the Verifone, Hillary had lost all

interest in the pictures. She signed her name illegibly and ran out of the

photo shop as though someone had lit her hair on fire, leaving Billy to

wonder idly just what he’d done. He knew one thing for certain- he wasn’t

looking forward to explaining this to Krysten.

   Half an hour later, Krysten walked out of the school, glad for a break.

She’d taken a quick shower at the end of gym and snuck out of the locker room

with just enough time to smoke one cigarette in the outdoor lounge, but that

had been almost three hours ago and she was looking forward to forty-five

minutes of uninterrupted smoking.

   Fortunately, Veronica had developed to a point where she could buy

cigarettes on her own, which she would do during her and Wendy’s lunch, so

there was no further need to share.

   She’d just put a cigarette in her mouth and was preparing to light it when a

voice behind her almost caused her to drop her lighter.

   “What’s up, Krysten ?”

   There was no mistaking that voice. She heard it every morning during

homeroom, as Amanda had landed the job of reading the announcements.

   There was an unusual cheeriness to the voice which Krysten wasn’t accustom

to, however.

   She finished lighting the cigarette, turned around, and inhaled without

touching it. She then inhaled a second time and removed it from between her

lips, blowing dense smoke in Amanda’s general direction. Just then Ms. Tooms

walked out of the double doors and lit a Marlboro 100. She inhaled deeply and

smiled at Krysten, who had been glad on more than one occasion that the

librarian was a fellow smoker.

   “I was just about to spend my lunch smoking cigarettes and picking up my

pictures from the photo shop. Want to join me ?”

   It would have made perfect sense had Amanda said no, had she even gone the

extra distance to belittle Krysten. But instead she just nodded her head.

   “Does that mean that you’d like a cigarette ?” the freshman pushed boldly,

not wanting to let this go in the slightest.

   “Well,” Amanda began, hesitating. “I would- it’s just that I didn’t get much

of an opportunity this morning, you know ?”

   “Somebody might see you.”

   “So what ? Is it illegal to smoke ?”

   Krysten inhaled deeply, smiled at Ms. Tooms, whose cigarette was already

half gone, and then laughed. “Of course it’s illegal. You’re not eighteen

yet.”

   “So ?” Amanda asked.

   “Hey, it’s fine with me.” She handed over her cigarettes and the lighter and

watched as Amanda worked to fish a cigarette out of the pack. As always,

there were students and teachers coming and going in an endless stream, but

Krysten noticed with some degree of admiration that Amanda didn’t seem to

care.

   She finally got one cigarette out, handed the pack back to Krysten, and then

lit it with surprising ease. Once again, her inhale wasn’t, just a tight

short drawing of smoke into her mouth, but as she handed the lighter back,

she caught the barest hint of a smile on the older girl’s face.

   “So how long have you been smoking ?”

   “About six weeks,” Krysten said. “It’s kind of funny. I was the first one of

the three of us to finally give it a try. I was at Reggie’s party-“

   “I was there. I didn’t see you.”

   They started walking off the school grounds. Without any hint of bitterness,

Krysten said “Like you would have seen me if you’d tripped over me.”

   “Actually, I got drunk about half an hour after I got there. I fell asleep

in the hot tub and woke up in Reggie’s sister’s bed. It was kind of

embarrassing.”

   Amanda took a more concerted pull on the cigarette. There was a strange look

on her face. Krysten would have sworn it was simple enjoyment.

   Just as they reached the edge of the school grounds, Amanda’s friend Lisa

met them.

   “Amanda ? What are you doing ?”

   “Taking a walk-“

   “You’re smoking !”

   “No I’m not.”

   “I have news for you. That thing in your right hand is a lit cigarette and I

just saw smoke coming out of your mouth. So you are most definitely smoking.

And it’s about time.”

   “Actually, she’s just experimenting,” Krysten said, trying to help.

   “What do you mean, it’s about time ?”

   Lisa reached into her purse and pulled out her own pack of Marlboro Lights

100s. She didn’t answer until she’d lit one.

   “I mean, most of us smoke, but not around you, because you’ve always been so

anti.”

   “Who’s most of us ?”

   “Karen, Julia, Kyle, Nathan-“

   “Nathan smokes ?”

   A long cloud of smoke answered Amanda’s question. “Cigars, just like his

dad. We just-“

   “You’re saying that you’re all afraid of me ?” Amanda took a short puff on

the cigarette and Krysten watched her closely. She held the smoke in her

mouth far longer than she ‘needed’ to, and her exhale was almost hesitant.

   “Well- look, tell me how the experiment is going.”

   Amanda thought about that for a moment. It was hard to say. There were

things about this that she had decided were unquestionably enjoyable, but the

fact was that it was still smoking. Which was a gross and disgusting, totally

bad for you habit.

   Except that it wasn’t. It was kind of cool- and she knew she really wouldn’t

start to understand just how cool it was until she started to inhale and felt

 what it was like to smoke. Besides, she now understand why it was her main

group of friends had seemed less and less interested in spending time with

her, and she had a way to solve that problem.

   “I think if Krysten here can teach me to inhale, I’ll have a better feel for

it. I suppose you’re going to tell everyone that I’ve started smoking…”

   “Of course. It’s too cool to keep to myself- unless-“

   “No, go ahead. But don’t make any promises. I haven’t made up my mind yet-“

   Lisa took a long, deep inhale and smiled, holding the smoke in her lungs

until she spoke. “You will, don’t worry. See, your sister did actually know

more about something than you.” She glanced at her watch and swore. “Shit.

I’m going to be late. And you know Thorton. Forty kids in class, but he

notices you’re missing right away.”

   “Let’s go get those pictures,” Amanda said. “On the way, talk to me about

inhaling-“

   The restaurant was crowded, but a quick call had gotten Hillary lunch

reservations. Knowing the owners had its benefits, after all.

   They were quickly ushered into a private kiosk in the back of MacMurtry’s

smoking section. As they sat down, Hillary noticed that there was a bottle of

expensive white on the table, which meant that Janice was back in the kitchen

today.

   “What’s with the sour grapes ?” Claire asked.

   “I did the redesign of the restaurant interior last year. Business is up

thirty percent since it was finished- and it came in under budget.”

   “In other words, they love you.”

   “Exactly.”

   After pausing to light a Salem Lights 100, Claire picked up the menu and

studied it briefly. “So how are the girls ? Sorry I didn’t think to ask

sooner, but-“

   “I know. You like flying about as much as you’d like being shot out of a

cannon. Except of course that the landings are easier.”

   “Not much. I hate those small jets. I swear the pilots enjoy bouncing us all

over the runway. I have a bruise from the seat belt.”

   How were the girls ? Hillary considered how to best answer this question as

she lit a cigarette of her own.

   “Well, I have a little problem.”

   “With which one ?”

   Just then the waiter came over. He was a young one, early twenties, probably

juggling the job with college. He flashed a genial smile. “I can give you

some more time to look over the menu, but Mrs. Franks would like to treat the

two of you to an house specialty, if you don’t mind. It’s not on the menu- a

smoked salmon with aspic that’s absolutely exquisite.”

   The two women exchanged glances. Hillary nodded. If Janice was ready to

serve up something special, who was she to argue ? She simply handed over the

menu and asked the waiter to give Janice her regards.

   “You really do get the special treatment, don’t you ?”

   “It’s embarrassing. Knowing Janice, she won’t let me pay for anything

either.”

   “I wish I had your problems,” Claire said, laughing. “Now tell me, which of

your fine girls is causing you a problem ?”

   “I don’t really know if it’s a problem,” Hillary said. She looked across the

room and saw Terry Sheer sitting at one of the tables with her daughter

Diana. They were both smoking long, white cigarettes. Diana, who was only

Krysten’s age, had been smoking for a few months now and it seemed that every

time Hillary saw mother and daughter together they were both smoking.

   What was the big deal ?

   They were enjoying themselves, that was for sure. Terry was laughing at some

story Diana was telling. The girl’s face was animated and happy. As she

spoke, she waved the cigarette around, completely unselfconcious about it.

They obvious had a nice bond between them. Which was something that Hillary

had always thought she shared with her own girls- and even with her niece

Veronica. Yet one of them was going behind her back and smoking.

   Maybe that was the problem.

   “Are you there ?” Claire asked, leaning in towards her friend as she spread

mentholated smoke through the small area.

   Her eyes followed her friends and at once she understood.

   “One of your girls start smoking ?”

   “Yeah. How-“

   “Well, you’re staring at that mother-daughter pair as though they both have

three heads. I get the same looks from people when Karen and I go out. Brian

says he gets it too. You should see when the three of us go somewhere. Karen

will be sitting in the back seat, smoking a Marlboro 100 and the way people

glare at us, you’d think we had her tied to the back bumper.”

   “Karen smokes ?”

   “Of course. She’s sixteen, for Christ’s sake, just like Wendy. She was

hounding me about it for almost a year before I gave in. We used to fight

miserably about it, too, which was stupid. I always knew she would start

smoking someday and I kept trying to put it off. I mean, she was smoking

anyway- and it wasn’t until I finally gave in about three months ago that

Brian told me he’d been letting her smoke when I wasn’t around for almost a

year.”

   “You must have been furious-“

   “I was. At myself. You know, I look back and wonder what the hell I was

thinking. I wanted to be angry with Brian when I discovered what he’d been

doing, but I couldn’t find it in myself. It wasn’t until I finally came

around that I started to think about how it was when I was her age. All that

sneaking around. You and I used to find the dumbest excuses to get out of the

house and go somewhere. Karen was doing the same thing, and then she and

Brian started sneaking off. I don’t even want to tell you what I was

thinking.”

   “You know Brian better than that-” Hillary scolded. She took a long pull on

her cigarette and felt the bottle of wine. It had been perfectly chilled, and

even as she was thinking how appealing a glass would be the waiter

reappeared, corkscrew and wine stand in hand.

   “Sorry. I should have opened this before I went away.”

   “Big test today ?” Hillary asked.

   “Yeah, as a matter of fact. I’m trying to get in some last minute cramming

between tables.”

   He handed the cork to Hillary, who sniffed at it briefly and nodded. He

poured the wine with adequate touch and Hillary quickly approved it.

   Once he was gone, Claire laughed nervously, a little embarrassed. “Of course

I know Brian better than that. Really, it was kind of comical. They were like

co-conspirators in some drama, you know. I felt like a first-class dork when

I found out what was going on. But you know, it’s nice. The three of us can

sit down and have a meal like this and be relaxed. I think Diana was actually

starting to resent me.”

   “But that’s just giving in, isn’t it ? I mean-“

   Claire’s exhale expressed her agitation with her friend. “You pull this

single-parent shtick sometimes, Hillary. It’s hard to believe that someone

who is so open-minded lets herself get trapped in that kind of silly thing.”

   “But I am a single parent- hell, now I have my sister’s kid to worry about,

too.” Her inhale was sharp and angry. As she exhaled, Terry caught her eye

and waved. Hillary waved back and so did Diana. Her face was so bright and

cheerful. Without the least sense of embarrassment, she inhaled, tossed her

hair, lifting her head to blow smoke high into the air.

   The girl was really enjoying herself, and Hillary knew part of that was

because her mother was-

   A victim of common sense ?

   “So. What’s that in your left hand ?”

   “A cigarette. As if you need to ask.”

   “You’re not embarrassed to be a smoker, are you, Hillary ?”

   “Of course not. If anything, I go out of my way to encourage smoking.”

   “I know you do. And we both know that even now, kids take their cues from

their parents. The statistics say that Krysten and Wendy have a seventy

percent chance of becoming smokers. Do you really think you can stop that ?

Or that you should ?”

   “So I should just give in, right ? Absolve myself of any parenting and let

them do whatever they want.”

   “No.” Claire stubbed out her cigarette and drained her wine glass.

Instantly, the waiter appeared and refreshed it. Curious, she pulled out a

cigarette as he was setting the bottle back in the stand. As she moved the

cigarette to her lips, he pulled a lighter from his smock and lit it for her.

   Hillary followed suit, arching her neck up so that he could reach the

cigarette easily. As he brought the flame towards the tip of the cigarette,

he smiled at her, a gleam in his young eyes. It caught and he winked at her.

Hillary pulled deeply on the cigarette and sat back without removing it from

her mouth, admiring the view as he walked away. She nose exhaled and pulled

again, lifting her head so that the cigarette was standing straight up

between her lips.

   “Did he wink at you ?”

   “Yes, he did.” She took the cigarette from her mouth and held it by her ear.

As he reached the kitchen door he risked a glance back and she smiled warmly

at him.

   “You know, a man hasn’t lit my cigarette in almost a year.”

   “Brian loves to light mine. And you what Karen likes to do ? She’ll light

two cigarettes and hand me one. She has me halfway to switching to her

brand.”

   “I never understood those menthols.”

   “It’s an acquired taste. But I think I’m losing it. I like the Marlboro 100s

but they are stronger.”

   “Too strong for me. He really did wink at me, didn’t he ?”

   “Yeah, he did. Now look, let’s get this thing with you and the girls

straightened out. Repeat after me- it’s okay to stop being a parent and be

their friend, too. You’re a very bright woman, you know the downside of

smoking, but you still smoke. Maybe they’ve come to the same set of

conclusions- on their own, with no encouragement from you. What’s wrong with

that ?”

   “Nothing, I guess-“

   “Exactly. Now,  do you have any pictures of the girls. I haven’t seen them

in almost a year.”

   “That’s not that long.”

   “Are you kidding ? They could have tattoos and body piercing, punk hair-“

   “They aren’t like that.”

   Claire smiled. “Really. Then you must be an halfway decent parent after all.

I thought maybe you’d lost all control, what with one of your girls smoking.

How’d you find out, anyhow ?”

   “I see that you’re still practising the fine art of sarcasm. I came home

last night and someone had taken one of my cigarettes-“

   “One cigarette ?” Claire asked, shocked. “This is about one  single

cigarette ?”

   “Yes and no. I found one missing last night. But the girls just wouldn’t

take one on a whim. I know them too well. This tells me something is up.”

   “Maybe. And maybe you’re just getting paranoid in your late thirties. Now,

do you have any pictures ?”

   “You show me yours, I’ll show you mine.”

   Claire laughed. “I think you should try that line on the waiter-“

   “Claire-” Hillary thought about. The truth was, she wasn’t really the type

to carry pictures. But she did have the roll of film Krysten had shot. She

often mixed in a few snaps from home with the yearbook related stuff. They

had about four hundred pictures of the cat now, as well as Veronica and Wendy

with bedhead, naked coming out of the shower, food in their mouths. Krysten

had something close to a mean streak when she had that camera in her hand-

although the pictures were always sharp and perfect.

   What a surprise she got.

   There it was, in living colour, proof that her ‘situation’ was far more

complex than she had imagined.

   Without saying a word, she handed the pictures to Claire, who smiled broadly

and relaxed.  This was going to be easy, after all.

   “You what ?” Krysten demanded.

   Billy looked at her with his cute but dopey eyes. He blinked once for

effect. “I gave them to your mother. What was I supposed to do ? She did pay

for them.”

   “Jesus, Billy. Did you see them ?”

   “Yeah. What’s the big deal. She must know you smoke. Every time I see you,

you have a cigarette in your hand.”

   This was true. Krysten and Amanda were both smoking right now. They’d paused

outside the shop long enough for Krysten to give Amanda a brief lesson on how

to inhale. She’d caught on quickly.

   It had obviously changed the experience for her.

   “Well, it just happens that mom didn’t know.”

   “Maybe she won’t even look at the pictures,” Amanda offered.

   “You don’t know my mom, Amanda. Of course she’ll look-“

   “So what’s the big deal ?” Amanda asked. She inhaled, not deeply, but

passably, and the look on her face was enough to tell Krysten that in five

short hours she’d converted the senior to the cause.

   “Not everyone is as lucky as you, Amanda. I’m sure you’re going to go home

tonight and tell your mom that you’ve started smoking and she’ll be

thrilled.”

   “So ?” Billy said. “Your mom smokes, too, Krysten. I don’t see what the big

deal is.”

   “It’s that single parent thing. She thinks she has to be the tough one and

not just let us run wild.”

   “You guys are real dangerous, huh ?”

   “It’s not what we’ve done. It’s, oh I don’t know-“

   “Look, there’s nothing that you can do about it now,” Amanda said. “Let’s

just take a walk down to the convenience store-“

   “What for ?”

   “Well, I can’t just keep bumming cigarettes off you, can I ?”

   Watching Hillary pace around the house was driving Claire crazy. It was

almost enough to make her wish that she’d gotten an hotel room.

   Then again, she wouldn’t have missed this for the world. Watching someone

else carry the parenting load for a change. That was something too priceless

to pass up.

   Of course, that was only half the reason Hillary was nervous.

   “I feel really bad about this, Claire. I mean, you’re only in town for three

days-“

   “Look, I wouldn’t stand in the way of your date for a million dollars. I

mean, I love Brian, but god, I don’t know if I’d pass up a chance to date a

college senior.”

   “Claire-“

   “Okay, I would, but you’d be nuts. He really is buff, you know.”

   “I can’t even think about that right now. I really wish I didn’t have to

deal with this.”

   “Well, you do. Look, I don’t want to be the one who pushes you into a

decision that you don’t want to make, but-“

   “I do want to make that decision.” Hillary walked over to the coffee table,

pulled two cigarettes from the pack, and lit them both together. She inhaled

deeply on them, enjoying the double rush, and then handed one to Claire, who

took it gratefully. When she’d gotten to the house and unpacked she

discovered that she’d forgotten to bring her cigarettes along, an

embarrassing omission. While the lights weren’t really as strong as she was

used to in a non-menthol, they did have a nice flavour she quickly getting

used to. One thing she didn’t like about the regulars her daughter shared

with her was the cork tip. It just wasn’t feminine looking.

   “I mean, you’re right. I smoke, I like it, I like other people who smoke. It

makes sense to let my daughters smoke- and Crystal will be ecstatic. She’s

been on Veronica about starting for months. She’s going to want to know how I

managed it.”

   “But you’re still a parent, right ?”

   “Exactly. And as a parent, I’d at least like them to tell me, not the other

way around-“

   “Maybe those pictures were their way of letting you know-“

   “I’m not that unapproachable,” Hillary murmured. But she wondered.

   Amanda walked into the house around three. Mom’s car was in the driveway,

which was fine.

   It was great.  

   She walked into the house, threw her pack into the corner, and headed for

the kitchen. She could hear Diana and mom chattering away- it was amasing how

close they’d become lately. She paused in the hall long enough to trim her

cigarette in the ashtray by the phone and then walked into the kitchen

smiling.

   “Hey guys, what’s up ?”

   As they turned to look at her she inhaled deeply on the cigarette, just the

way which Krysten had taught her.

   Twin looks of amasement froze on their faces.

   “What are you doing, Amanda ?” her mother finally asked, still dumbstruck.

   “Krysten talked me into trying a cigarette this morning and I decided I

liked it. You don’t have a problem with that, do you, Mom ?”

   “A problem ?” she stammered. “No. In fact, I think this calls for a

celebration. Let me call your Dad. Maybe we can get into the Ardent tonight.

He knows the chef.”

   As she made the call, Diana got up and walked over to her sister. She was

holding an half-smoked cigarette which she took a deep drag on. The sisters

filled the kitchen with smoke. “Krysten talked you into smoking ? How come I

couldn’t do that ?”

   “You are my little sister. I could never admit that you were right about

anything, could I ?”

   “Well, it looks like you just did. Welcome to the club.”

   The two sisters hugged. “I wish I’d listened to you, little one.”

   “Hey,” Diana said, breaking the embrace. “I’m not complaining. At least we

get a decent meal out of it. It’s mom’s turn to cook and she was going to

make meat loaf-“

   “Again ?” Amanda asked, laughing. Her sister watched as she inhaled deeply

again, a smile on her face. “Maybe now you and I can start to get along

again, huh ?”

   “I don’t see why not. Come on upstairs. Mom bought me the coolest shirt-“

   Jeanne watched her daughters walk out of the kitchen, really talking to each

other for the first time in weeks. Finally, she was taken off hold and

transferred to Dick’s line.

   “I have something that falls into the ‘anything is possible’ category,

Dick-“

   It was all Krysten’s fault. Although she’d volunteered to shoulder the blame

as soon as she’d told Wendy and Veronica about the pictures, they hadn’t

exactly let up on the fact that she was the one who’d decided photographic

evidence of their smoking was in order.

   So they’d looked to her to come up with a plan and after a little hemming

and hawing she’d decided there was only one thing to do. Veronica agreed, but

Wendy wasn’t sold yet.

   “She’ll whig on us for sure,” Wendy said angrily as they walked slowly

toward the house. She dropped her cigarette in the catch basin and popped

three sticks of gum in her mouth.

   “We don’t need to do that anymore, Wendy,” Krysten said, getting one last

deep inhale out her cigarette. “Look, ten to one mom is fine with it. But

it’s better off we tell her.”

   “She already knows. “

   “Well, act like she doesn’t. We can at least pretend to be honest with her

about it.”

   “It’s a shaky plan,” Veronica said, “but it’s the best we’ve got.”

   They were back home all too soon, and at that point there was nothing to do

but walk into the house.

   Mom was waiting at the door for them. Krysten’s heart sank. She had such an

odd look on her face.

   “Hello, girls.”

   “Is Claire here, Mom ?”

   “Yes, she’s in the living room.” Hillary inhaled generously on her

cigarette.

   “After Veronica meets her, do you think the four of us could have a little

talk in private. We have something we want to tell you.”

   “Sure. I think maybe that’s a good idea.”

   They walked into the living room slowly, like three teenagers headed for the

principal’s office. Claire leapt up from the couch and exchanged long hugs

with the sisters, then shook Veronica’s hand politely.

   “I’ve got some business calls to make, so I’m going out on the porch now.”

   Krysten caught the look she exchanged with her mother and she knew for sure

the pictures had been seen. There had always been some hope, but now that she

was sure- Claire’s abrupt exit scotching it- she decided to change tactics

and hope that Wendy and Veronica would understand.

   “I hope you’re not too mad at us for not telling you that we’d started

smoking, Mom.”

   She didn’t even look at Wendy or Veronica. She met her mother’s seemingly

cold stare and continued hoping this would all work out. She was anticipating

a long discussion during which the dangers of smoking would be laboriously

trucked out. There would be the usual ‘I’d like to think I could ask you not

to do this, but I know better’ guilt trip, and-

   “All three of you have been smoking, right ?” Hillary asked.

   The girls nodded.

   “Well, I’d like to say that I wished you had told me before you started, and

I’m not happy to- oh hell, you three know I’ve seen the pictures Krysten took

and I know you all smoke. So, the question is, what is uptight mom slash aunt

Hillary going to do about it ? Well, as of today you three have my permission

to smoke whenever you want. I’ll even go so far as to buy you cigarettes when

you need them if you ask- and pay for them.”

   There was a long pause. Finally Wendy broke it. “That’s it ?”

   “What did you expect ? A long, boring speech about how smoking is bad for

you and some day you’ll wish I’d been stricter about it and not let you smoke

? Your grandparents let me start when I was fourteen and I still haven’t

regretted anything except having to quit while I was pregnant.”

   Veronica impulsively stepped forward and gave her aunt a big hug. “Thanks,

Aunt Hillary. Does this mean we can smoke in the house ?”

   “Yes. In fact, I’d like to see that.”

   “You’ve already gotten a pretty preview, didn’t you, Mom ?” Krysten asked.

   “It’s not the same. Come on, everybody. Light up and let me see.”

   She waited until the three girls had lit their cigarettes- Krysten had her

own pack and Veronica and Wendy shared from a single one- to drop the other

shoe.

   This would be the hard part.

   She stalled, watching the three girls as they smoked. It was quite a sight.

They were attractive girls, and they all smoked with the same grace which had

run in the family for at least three generations before them. She noticed

that they were all inhaling, and their exhales were voluminous and

experienced. They’d been smoking for a while now, and until last night she

had never noticed.

   Krysten, who was holding her cigarette low by her waist with her wrist bent

upwards, seemed to be the most fluid of the three. In fact, the resemblance

to how Hillary had looked at that age was particularly striking today. By the

time the girls were on their third inhales, any doubts Hillary had about this

being the right decision were gone.

   “Claire is going to be taking the three of you out for dinner tonight. I’ve

told her you have my permission to smoke, so feel free. I have other plans”

   “Other plans ?” Wendy asked. “You mean, like a date ?”

   “Like a date, yes. I’m old, not dead.”

   “I’m sorry, Mom. It’s just been a while, you know.”

   “I think she knows,” Krysten said. “How old is he ?”

   “Twenty one,” Hillary said hesitantly. “A college student.”

   “You- and a-“

   Hillary walked over to Wendy, shaking her finger. “Don’t even say it. Look,

here’s an hundred dollars. Whatever happens, don’t let Claire pay for dinner.

I have to get ready. I’m meeting him at four, as soon as his class gets out.”

   With that she was gone, leaving the girls to stare at one another and smoke

in shocked silence.

   Hillary though to herself that now would have been a good time to be

relaxing at home, in the privacy of her own room. But now wasn’t the time to

lapse into relaxation.

   Not in Batterson Park.

   She hadn’t been here in fifteen years, not since the early years of her

marriage, when it seemed fun to sneak away and hang at the high school kids’

make-out spot.

   There was never any reason to believe that she would be back here. At the

moment, they were alone. No other cars. But it was getting past ten- someone

else would be here soon- if only the police, making their nightly sweep at

though there was something wrong with couples getting a little frisky out of

the public         eye.

   “You can’t believe you’re here, can you ?” Kyle asked.

   “What makes you say that ?” Hillary asked, desperately trying not to feel

her age. “Is it the sheet of sweat on my forehead or the look of fear in my

eyes ?”

   “I was actually thinking that you might be worried about getting involved

with someone who lacks maturity.”

   “God, I could use a cigarette right now.”

   “I know what you mean,” Kyle said. He took Hillary’s pack off the dashboard,

lit one cigarette, inhaled deeply, and then passed it to Hillary. “I’ve

always liked sharing cigarettes with beautiful women.”

   “Are you telling me I’m not the first beautiful woman you’ve ever met ?”

Hillary teased, handing the cigarette back. She turned to blow smoke out the

window and saw a car pulling in next to them. It was a familiar-looking late

model Camry. The driver side window was rolled down and she saw that it was

Jenny, who smiled warmly. She pulled the cigarette she was dangling out the

window into the car, inhaled deeply, and passed it off to Jill.

   “How’re you doing, Ms. Daignault ?”

   Hillary had immediate visions of Jenny going home and tell her mother how

Ms. D had been out at Batterson Park, shagging some college boy.

   “Great, Jenny. Hey, Jill.”

   Jill leaned forward, waving the hand holding the cigarette out the window.

“Hey, Ms. D.” She leaned back into car and held the cigarette up to Jenny’s

mouth. She took it between her lips and let it dangle there for a while.

   Turning to look at Kyle, Hillary saw the usual amount of interest in his

face. His eyes widened slightly as-

   Hillary turned back and saw that the girls were kissing passionately.

Experience told her it was hard to see what other people were doing in cars,

but it was pretty clear that Jill had her hand inside Jenny’s shirt and was

gently massaging her nipple. Suddenly they stopped kissing and Jenny’s upper

body disappeared from view. Immediately, Jill arched her head back and closed

her eyes.

   It was obvious what was happening.

   Looking at Kyle, who seemed mesmerised, she had to ask. “Why do guys love

watching women having sex ?”

   He smiled. “You seemed pretty interested yourself.”

   That was true.

   Hillary leaned forward, letting her hand slip down Kyle’s thigh as she

whispered in his ear. “Let’s give them something to watch.”

   It turned out the front of Kyle’s standard wasn’t the ideal place for that

sort of thing. They migrated to the back seat of the car after a few brief

moments of heavy petting.

   That no one else showed up was actually a bit of a relief for Hillary. That

relief intensified as Kyle slowly undressed her. They could clearly hear Jill

and Jenny in the next car. It was a first for Hillary. She never really

reacted much to what Beth told her about Jenny and Jill- who made out on the

couch all the time, apparently. To be honest, Hillary had always thought it

sounded a little- unsettling.

   But she’d stolen enough furtive glances and heard enough to understand it a

little better. She even thought she would have been very interested in

observing in a bit more detail, except that right now Kyle had all of her

attention. And all of her clothes- in his front seat.

   He’d just slipped on a condom- unfortunate but necessary- and was leaning in

to kiss her again- it was amasing how much foreplay he’d offered up- when he

paused.

   “Have you ever smoked while you were having sex ?”

   “No.” It was kind of surprising when she thought about it. Never once.

“Would you like me to ?”

   “Only if you want to.”

   Hillary quickly lit a cigarette. Kyle smiled, leaned in and kissed her deep

and hard, and then slowly, cautiously, slid himself inside her. She was

almost afraid that he would be too gentle. But that fear evaporated. He was

young and strong and before she knew it, Hillary was sweating up a storm.

   Kyle was keeping his head up and watching her smoke. She noticed that each

time she brought the cigarette to her lips his thrusts became more insistent

and pleasurable. She turned her wrist and brought the cigarette to his mouth.

He inhaled deeply and arched his head back, coming just as he exhaled. He

gave one final deep push and she climaxed as well.

   She grabbed his hair and pulled his head down to hers. They met in a smoky

kiss.

   “I liked that- a lot. I hope that you can get that thing going again- soon.”

   Kyle smiled. “All you have to do is ask.”

   She waited only long enough to smoke another cigarette before asking.

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