Hunting Vampires

Lisa sat across the table from Mark and watched him eat the tail end of his

sandwich the way a vulture watched a dying man.

   As soon as he mouthed that final bite, she would be free to light a

cigarette. She worried her coffee a bit and sighed contentedly as he crammed

two mouthfuls into his goateed maw. That was considerate. He knew she was

waiting politely, after all. She picked up her pack of Marlboro Lights 100s

from the table and lit one.

   There was no relief- just satisfaction as the smoke filled her lungs. She

turned her head and exhaled towards the wall.

   Mark smiled and signalled the waiter for the check.

   It gave Lisa a moment to reflect- this being the longest break in the

conversation all afternoon. When Mark was nervous, he turned into a chatter

box, and boy, was he nervous right now.

   It was a nice thing, owning your own business in the same small town that

you’d grown up in- at least when you were good at what you did. Your clients

were your friends and neighbours and they spread the good word about you. You

also had an opportunity to stay in touch with everyone.

   Lisa inhaled again, watching Mark to see if he was watching her. His eyes

were grey, steely, not really warm unless he wanted them to be. But he did

indeed light up as she pulled smoke into her lungs. Her nose exhale held his

attention as well. That was a start. After debating all week about the favour

he’d asked, she finally decided to help him. But not without a little grief.

   “You don’t want to try and date Mindi,” she said conversationally.

   He perked up a little more. This was what the meeting was really about,

after all. He had an hurt look on his face, though.

   “Why not ?”

   “Well, first of all there’s all those Mark and Mindi jokes. Nanu, nanu and

all that. And you guys would have to move to Colorado.”

   “Very funny,” Mark said, fully sarcastic. “So, did you find out what she’s

doing tonight ?”

   “Well, her date with Brad Pitt fell through, so she’s-“

   Lisa found herself hesitating. She knew all about what Mindi liked from

their days at Vassar. In fact, Mindi ending up here in Moncford was the most

bizarre twist of fate Lisa had ever come into contact with. Considering that

she’d grown up in Buffalo, the chance of her best friend landing here was

almost nil.

   “Come on, Lisa. I’m not asking you to set us up. Just tell me where to go,

and I’ll do the rest.”

   “Okay. But you deserve to know why she’s doing what she’s doing- and why it

will probably mean you don’t have any chance with her.”

   “What does she do ? Haunt the graveyard ?”

   Lisa laughed. “That’s my Friday night gig, Mark. Frankly though, the vampire

hunting this summer has been a bust. It’s been so damn hot. They’re lazy

bastards. And most of the older ones are transplanted Euros who spend the

summer vacationing in Spain or France.”

   “Seriously, where will she be ?”

   “At MacCleary’s-“

   Feigning shock, Mark said “A bar ? Next you’ll tell me she drinks. Do her

parents know ?”

   All Lisa could do was laugh.

   “What’s so funny ?”

   Her cigarette finished, she lit another. “I was thinking about the first

time they saw her drunk. It was a Friday right after mid-terms and they did

something only parents could be stupid enough to do.”

   “The dreaded surprise visit ?”

   “Exactly. We’d gotten into some brandy and we were piss drunk. You how it is

when you close you eyes and the room spins more  than when they were open ?”

   “Unfortunately, yes. Never ask me if I’d like a vermouth. I still don’t know

what the hell it is- except vomit fuel.”

   “It must have been about two-thirty. They’d broken down on the Taconic and

lost about four hours. Mindi and I are laying on our beds, trying to decide

whether or not we’re going to live to see our grades posted when they show up

at our door.”

   “And of course this is the first time they’ve seen their daughter drunk,

right ?”

   “Exactly,” Lisa said. She paused to smoke, knowing that she had Mark’s full

attention. Again, she watched for his reaction as she inhaled. Of course,

watching her smoke was hardly a novelty for Mark, who had- as the dreaded

saying went- always been like a brother to her. He seemed to appreciate the

show only vaguely, but he’d always been an understated sort of guy. 

   Her nose exhale caused him to squirm in his chair slightly, and not from

discomfort. Well, that would make all this easier.

   “They were pretty burnt out from the drive and the problems with the car. To

be honest, they were very cool about it. They just sat down on our couch and

lit up- which would have been fine, because the only thing we weren’t too

drunk to do was smoke. But her father lit up this awful cigar- it was like

two lincoln logs taped together, and that’s about what it smelled like he was

burning. It was a good thing they only stayed a few minutes before heading

off to their hotel.”

   “So,” Mark said, sipping at his coffee as though he might be able to make it

last all afternoon. “she goes to a bar and drinks on Friday night. And based

on this, you think it would be a bad idea for me to-“

   “Stalk her- ” Lisa said, feeling a bit defensive. She inhaled deeply on the

shrinking cigarette and exhaled angrily in his direction, sending a tight

stream of smoke at his smiling face. Her aim, as always, was accurate. He

didn’t flinch, but he didn’t exactly look happy either as the cloud broke

against him.

   “I don’t want to stalk her. Jeesh, by now you should know me, for Christ’s

sake. I don’t have the balls to stalk anyone. Look, what’s the big mystery

here ? She’s attractive, she’s single, and you told me she’s not dating

anyone. So what’s the catch ?”

   “The catch is that she’s not just going to the bar to toss back a beer.

She’s going to do a very specific sort of people watching.”

   “Oh, I see, and I don’t fall into whatever narrow parametre you’re going to

tell me she’s looking for.”

   Lisa smiled and exhaled slowly, letting the smoke surround them. She waved

to a mother and her two teenager daughters who’d just come in and sat down at

the other end of the smoking section. She’d met them a few weeks ago right

here and since then she’d seen them just about everywhere. They smiled and

lit cigarettes and the mother gave Lisa an ‘Is he yours ?’ look. She shook

her head fractionally and answered Mark’s question, hoping it would put an

end to all this.

   “Exactly. You see, she’s looking for men who smoke, and since you don’t, you

don’t have any chance with her.”

   “How do you know ?” he pressed.

   “Well, I’ve known you for fifteen years. You don’t smoke-“

   “No. I mean-“

   “I lived with her for four years in college. I know exactly what she does

and doesn’t like, Mark. Trust me on this.”

   He thought about for a moment, and Lisa could see that this was not likely

to get easy any time soon. He had that determined look in his eyes, mixed

with some sort of outrageous scheming. Before he even spoke she knew exactly

what it was he was going to ask her, and she wondered what was that was wrong

with men. They just didn’t get it sometimes.

   “Teach me to smoke, then,” he said, not seeming to care if that seemed like

an extreme length to go to just to pick up somebody.

   “Mark- be sensible.”

   He shook his head angrily, as though he already was. “You taught Amanda to

smoke.”

   “That was different.”

   He frowned, tried to turn it into a smile as the waiter passed him the

check, and then angrily slapped his wallet down. “Don’t tell me this is some

sort of a woman thing, Lisa.”

   She tapped the ash from her cigarette and looked at it. It was hard to

believe that something which had brought her so much pleasure over the years

was now causing a problem.

   “I’ve known her since we were little. We’d talked about smoking so many

times that I knew she wanted to smoke long before she did. You’re not like

that. You’re just doing what guys always do- which is anything they think

they have to-“

   “Is there anything wrong with that ?” Mark asked, interrupting her

brusquely.

   “I suppose not. But you’re just not someone who strikes me as a smoker,

that’s all. Especially when that’s not going to guarantee you anything.”

   He picked up her pack of cigarettes as if he was planning to take one and

light it. She reached out and took it back, letting her hand rest on his for

a moment.

   “What, you can’t share ? Let’s go to the store and get some, then.”

   It was obvious that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

   “It’s just not that simple. Walking into the Gas ‘n Go and buying a pack of

cigarettes doesn’t make you a smoker. And I’m not interested in teaching you

how just so can get into-“

   “How about we make a deal, then ? Even if Mindi shoots me down in the first

ten seconds, I’ll promise you to smoke for at least a month.”

   Lisa decided now was as good a time as any to give into her friend. “Fine.

But that means you and I are going to spending a lot of time together. I

intend to see that you start smoking for real.”

   “Fine. So tell me, how’d you start ? Didn’t you just walk into the store and

buy a pack ?”

   “I was fourteen, Mark. I stole them from my Mom until she caught me and

decided that it was easier to buy them for me. Now I know your mom smokes,

but I don’t think you want to start stealing from her now.”

   “She’s in Boston at a conference. I’d never make it back to MacCleary’s in

time.”

   Lisa finally allowed herself to relax. At least she was going to get

something out of this, no matter what happened.

   They did not go to the Gas ‘n Go to buy cigarettes. After deciding they both

had free afternoons, which was at best half-true, Lisa admitted to herself

that she was going to need some help with this, that deciding what to do and

how to do it were one thing, but-

   What she really couldn’t decide was what brand Mark should smoke. It seemed

like a silly thing to get hung up on, but it was an issue. She knew that

Mindi liked variety and she preferred men who didn’t smoke the same brand as

she did. Which meant Lisa’s own Marlboro 100s Lights were out, which

complicated things.

   There was also the question of what brand he would like.

   She had no way to know that- even to know if he would like it at all. But

she knew someone who might just be able to help in that department.

   It was a long drive to the mall, the better part of an hour each way- if

there was one thing about Moncford which could be annoying it was that

everything seemed to be almost an hour away. But the drive would give them a

chance to talk, which was for the best. Lisa wanted to make absolutely sure

that Mark was really going to be able to follow through on this.

   “Why can’t I just have one of your cigarettes ?” he asked as she lit her

first of the drive. As soon as she’d gotten in the car, she’d lowered the

window and opened the sunroof in anticipation of the unbridled joy of smoking

in her own car- one of the great pleasures of life. But she’d waited until

they were on the road to light up because Moncford’s tight winding roads

weren’t well suited to driving with one and an half hands.

   “Because if you can’t handle it, you’ll yak all over my plush leather

interior, and this car is worth more than both of us put together.”

   He frowned again. “At least roll up the windows so I can get used to the

smoke.”

   “It doesn’t work that way. And even I prefer to have the windows down. One

of the things you’ll learn is that smoking outside is even more enjoyable

than smoking inside. Wait ’til wintertime. Some cold day will come and you’ll

get a chance to light up outside and you’ll wish it would never be summer

again.”

   “You know, I’ve been thinking and I just realised that this isn’t the first

time I’ve had a crush on a teacher who smoked.”

   Interested, Lisa asked who that might of been. Each word was carried on a

thick cloud of smoke, deepening her voice in a way she’d come to love.

   “Ms. Christenson.”

   Lisa burst into uproarious laughter, which came to an abrupt halt when she

very nearly let the car drift off the road.

   “What the hell is so funny ?” Mark demanded.

   “Two things,” Lisa said, recovering her composure. “First, I always wondered

what your deal with her was. You had that crush on her junior year, right ?”

   “Yeah. So ?”

   “I’d be going out to the smoking lounge to have my first cigarette and

there’d be the two of you, walking across the street to the deli. That

started about two weeks after I had my run in with her. But you never said

anything about it, and you used to talk to me about girls all the time.”

   “She wasn’t a girl,” Mark said defensively. “What’s the second thing that’s

so fucking funny you have to almost kill us ?”

   “I was the one who got her to start smoking again.”

   “What ?”

   “She quit when she got the job at Moncford High. She was afraid that she was

going to be denied tenure if she smoked because she’d be setting a bad

example- at least until I told her that Principal Thorton smoked. But I’m

getting way ahead of myself.”

   “The principal smoked ? She was like, such an hard ass.”

   “I guess you should know. You used to get sent to the office once a week for

fighting- I never understood that either, even when you explained. You seemed

like a magnet for assholes.”

   “Everyone was jealous,” Mark quipped, “of my good looks.”

   “Right. But didn’t you ever wonder why you never actually sent into

Thorton’s office. I remember coming out of there once and she came out behind

me at sat down on the couch across from you and started chewing you out.”

   “That was the time you got suspended for a week for smoking in a classroom,

right ?”

   “It was raining outside and I was having a long talk with Julie Weatherburg

about some boy she had a crush on. I never imagined that janitor was going to

come into the room to empty the trash. I was so mad.”

   “Well, so you got called into her private digs- why’d I get my lecture in

the main office ?”

   “The only people who actually got called into the office were the ones who

got caught smoking. She figured it didn’t matter if they knew she smoked. I

guess when you’re the principal, you can do whatever you want- even smoke in

your office- to a point.”

   “So,” Mark said, “what’s this about you getting Ms. Christenson to smoke ?”

   “Well, we have some time to kill, so…”

   Lisa walked out the front doors of the school and smiled. Fittingly for

January, it was almost bitterly cold. It had snowed most of the day and

couldn’t have been more than about -10 C.

   In other words, it was a perfect day to walk home.

   She paused long enough to light the first cigarette of the rest of the day

and it was a sweet as she had hoped. It was almost a shame that summer was

coming. The smoke seemed more voluminous, more expansive as it entered her

lungs. The coolness of the smoke in her mouth was undeniable.

   Ms. Christenson walked out the doors and walked over to where Lisa was

standing. She didn’t say anything. She just watched Lisa smoke, a knowing

smile on her face.

   At first, Lisa smiled back, but as the pause lengthened, she began to be

wigged out a little by the woman’s silence. Finally, trying to break the ice,

she said “Great class today, Ms C..”

   “Is that all you have to say for yourself, Lisa ?”

   “It’s kind of cold today, isn’t it ?” she added, fishing with her B

material.

   “I’m afraid it’s about to get even colder. You’ll be serving a day of

in-school suspension tomorrow, and I hear the heat isn’t working down in the

Mouth.”

   Lisa let the shock show on her face. Oh, technically, the rules were pretty

straight-forward. The only place students could smoke at any time on school

grounds was the smoking lounge- Lisa had the detentions and suspensions on

her record to prove it. But she’d never gotten into it for smoking outside

the school, especially this time of year. A day in the Mouth for this was

unheard of.

   “Ms C.-” Lisa pleaded, sure this was a misunderstand.

   Amy leaned closer to Lisa just as she exhaled, getting herself caught in the

sweet smell of the smoke. Lisa noticed immediately that the young teacher

didn’t seem to mind in the least.

   “Look, I don’t want to give you a day in the Mouth for this, but basically

what I was told in mid-year review was that unless I showed more of a stomach

for discipline, I was going to have an hard time getting tenure.”

    This was more than Lisa wanted to know, and to be honest, she had no idea

why Ms. C. had shared this information.

   “What ? They gave you a detention quota ?”

   Amy laughed. “You’d be surprised. Why do you think I’ve been patrolling the

bathrooms all week. They looked at my record and found out I haven’t given

out a single detention all year. A day of in-school suspension will really

help me out. Look, I’ll make it up to you. I’ll give you a ride home.”

   “Actually, I like to walk home. So I can smoke.”

   “In this cold ?” she asked.

   “It’s perfect smoking weather,” Lisa answered.

   “I-” Lisa would have sworn she’d started to say “I know”, but instead she

finished the thought with “-let’s get going. You live off Fairlawn Lane,

right ?”

   Lisa nodded and moved to put out her cigarette in the sand bucket, which was

now a snow bucket.

   “Don’t bother. You got snagged, you might as well enjoy it.”

   The girl inhaled sharply on the cigarette, savouring the clean taste of

smoke and winter air as they walked towards Amy’s well-travelled Volvo. Lisa

hesitated outside the car as Amy started it up, then the teacher rolled down

the window and said “Get in. It’s going to start snowing any minute now. I

don’t car if you smoke in the car.”

   As soon as Lisa got into the Volvo, she noticed the smell of old smoke. This

was a smoker’s car. She knew the scent well from her own family’s cars.

   She kept the window down and politely blew her smoke out the window. But she

thought back to the way Amy had watched her as she smoked, tested the smell

of the car one more time and decided to take a chance.

   “You used to smoke, didn’t you ?” she asked, turning to look at her teacher

as she prepared to pull out of the parking lot onto Route 138.

   “What makes you say that ?” she asked, her tone hostile and defensive. But

she didn’t deny it.

   “The smell of your car. Both my parents smoke and this is exactly how their

cars smell. It’s exactly how my car is going to smell, once I can convince

Dad to buy me one.”

   Amy turned right onto the road. Just then it began snowing. Or rather

blizzarding. Within seconds it was like a white out. Amy never took her eye

off the road but she didn’t panic either. She just flipped on her lights and

slowed to a comforting twenty miles an hour.

   “Yes. I used to smoke.”

   “Why did you quit ?” Lisa asked. She’d discovered as soon as she’d started

smoking that she very interested in way other people did or didn’t smoke- in

fact, it always came as a complete surprise when someone told her they’d

never even thought of trying it. A chance to find out why this pretty young

teacher had quit wasn’t something to be passed up.

   “Simple. I want to get tenure. Smoking is one of those things which the

administration might use against me- a bad influence and all that.”

   “But Mrs. Thorton smokes- right in her office.”

   “So I’ve heard. But Mrs. Thorton is the principal. She can strip naked and

sing Elton John songs all day if she wants as long as she’s behind that

door.”

   “She doesn’t do that, does she ?” Lisa asked jokingly.

   “I don’t know. I’ve never been in her office. Damn, it’s snowing hard.”

   “Do you miss it ?”

   “Snow ? Not at the moment.”

   “I mean smoking. Do you miss smoking ?”

   For the first time, Amy took her eyes off the road. Just for a second. But

Lisa could tell from her look that she missed smoking quite a bit.

   “Of course. I started when I was twelve- oh, I know, that must sound awful-“

   Lisa shook her head, took a long drag on her cigarette, and exhaled

gracefully- this time not bothering to guide the smoke out the open window.

“It sounds perfectly normal. I mean, i was fourteen, but I wish I had started

when I was twelve.”

   “Well, it wasn’t like I smoked much. My older sister Diana used to let me

sneak one every day. It was like a game, when would we have a chance for me

to smoke without anyone noticing. But after about six months, I got to a

point where one cigarette a day wasn’t enough. God, I can’t believe I’m

talking about this with a student. If anyone found out-“

   “Your secret dies with me,” Lisa said, her nose exhale now aimed ever so

slightly in Amy’s direction.

   “Okay. That’s a comfort. So anyway, two became four, and well, by my

fourteenth birthday I’d been smoking about thirteen months and was getting

tired of relying on my sister. She’d gone to summer camp for a week and I was

crawling the walls by the third day. There’s mom, smoking all day and me

without a single cigarette. I don’t know why, but the thought of just

pinching one never came into my head.”

   She was silent for moment as she negotiated the slippery road. Lisa finished

her cigarette and hesitated to light another until Amy told her it was all

right.

   “So, my sister comes back the day after my birthday. I was miserable. I

begged her to buy me my own pack. She got all weird about it and walked out

of my room. I just sat there, moping, reading Jane Eyre and wondering what

she was going to do.”

   Lisa lit her cigarette and inhaled sharply. She carefully exhaled in a way

which spread the smoke throughout the car. Amy seemed to almost smile as the

smoke engulfed her.

   “All of the sudden my mother walks into my room and sits down. She’s

carrying her cigarettes and an ashtray. That told me something bad was up.

She only smoked in my room when she was planning on having a long

conversation and the last time had been when she told me that dad was taking

a job in Europe for two years- without us. So I get all nervous.”

   The snow was so heavy now that Lisa was beginning to worry. She had no idea

how good a driver Amy was or wasn’t and home was still two miles of twisting

road away. Not to mention the final hill down to the house.

   “She lit a cigarette, blew smoke all over the room in that way of hers, and

said ‘So, young lady, I hear you want to start smoking. Now don’t get mad at

your sister. I’m disappointed as it is that you couldn’t bring yourself to

tell me, not to mention that you’ve been sneaking around- although that’s

Diana’s fault. Sometimes she thinks you’re the live action doll she never

had.'”

   “Well, at this point I think I’m in deep shit- pardon me. I couldn’t speak.

Mom, she’s never had that problem.”

   “‘I didn’t let Diana start until she was sixteen, so what do you think that

means ?'”

   “I thought I knew. I can’t smoke until I’m sixteen, I said.”

   “Mom smiled. It was a real icebreaking smile. ‘No, it means she waited two

years longer than you did to get around to wanting to smoke.’ I couldn’t

believe what she was saying. ‘If you want to smoke, that’s fine with me. But

there are some conditions. It seems no one really minds that we let Diana

start at sixteen, but I have a feeling that letting you start at fourteen

would turn into an issue. So no smoking in public, no bragging to your

friends or showing off. You can smoke at home as much as you’d like, but

that’s it until you get a little older. How does that sound ?'”

   “It sounded great, and I said so. I couldn’t believe she was going to let me

smoke.”

   “‘What brand do you like ?’ she asked. She was so casual, so cool about it.

I developed another whole layer of respect for her. That probably sounds

terrible, too-“

   “My mother let me start when I was fourteen, so I think it sounds perfectly

normal,” Lisa said.

   “I’d been smoking the same cigarettes you do. I told her that as she seemed

relieved. ‘Good. It will look less suspicious if I don’t have to buy two

different brands. Like I said, for everyone’s sake, I’d like to keep this

quiet for while.’ With that, she just walked out of the room- leaving the

cigarettes, her lighter, and the ashtray behind. I smoked from then until the

day I started teaching here.”

   “Don’t you sneak cigarettes at home or something ?” Lisa asked, finding it

hard to believe that Amy had given them up all together.

   “No. I could never quit for real if I did that.”

   “Too bad. For you, anyway. Jesus, it’s snowing hard.”

   It was snowing hard, so hard that Amy could no longer afford to talk, except

to confirm directions once or twice. Little did she know that Lisa was

already hatching a plan which would have her smoking by the end of the night.

The girl used the silence to think, which was very dangerous for the young

teacher- depending on point of view.

   An inch of snow fell in the first ten minutes, another in the next five. By

the time they reached the entrance to the road Lisa lived on, the girl was

feeling just guilty enough about what she was about to do that she asked Amy

if she wouldn’t really rather just let her off here.

   Amy looked at Lisa strangely, as though the last thing on her mind was

whether or not she’d be able to get the world’s safest car back up her steep,

winding road.   

   In fact, the teacher had a decidedly sheepish look on her face. “I was

hoping that- I hate to impose, but I live at the top of a very long and

twisting road. I’ll never get home in this. Would you mind-“

   “If you could wait out the storm at our house ? Sure thing.”

   Lisa’s eager acquiescence might have worried another woman, but the truth

was-

   Amy left herself unacquainted with that truth.

   The trip down that unnamed road was more than nightmarish enough to convince

both of them that Amy was going nowhere else in the near future. The car

lurched and slid drunkenly, sluicing and cut through tight turns with a mind

only vaguely influenced by its driver. Finally, after twenty minutes of Amy

using every trick in the book to avoid trees, ditches, boulders, and other

obstacles, she twisted her way into the driveway, coming to a lurching 270

degree spinning halt.

   “Cool,” Lisa crowed, but Amy wasn’t of a mind to agree. She was sweating

heavily and panting, her nerves shot. But when Lisa hugged her

enthusiastically, careful to turn her cigarette away from Any’s long blonde

hair, the teacher responded. She then started to cry, half from exhaustion

and half from relief.

   It lasted only a few seconds, and then both women slipped into their

assigned roles.

   They were both of a mind to get into the house as quickly as possible. The

snow was still getting worse and there was no question where Amy would be for

the night. Lisa lost her cigarette to the heavy snow and high wind as they

slogged for the door. She half-expected her mother to fling the door open as

they raced up the steps, but she wasn’t waiting.

   Instead she was by the fireplace, trying to get a fire going, no easy task

with the wind from the storm driving down the chimney.

   “I thought you’d end up getting stuck at school, Lisa,” her mother said,

turning her head for just a brief moment. “I see you brought company. Make

yourself at home, Ms. Christenson. I’ll be through her in a few minutes.”

   Amy nudged Lisa. “You didn’t tell me that your mother was one of the school

board members.”

   “You didn’t ask,” Lisa said, just as her mother got the fire roaring. She

then settled back on the hearth, took one of the long fireplace matches and

held it to the fire until it caught, and then used it to light her Virginia

Slims 100. Lisa walked over to her and gladly took a light from the same

match.

   “Do you smoke ?” Kelli asked, knowing full well that Amy didn’t.

   “No, but I don’t mind if you do,” Amy said, the encouragement in her voice

making it sound as though she very much wanted them to smoke.

   “Ms. C-“

   “Amy,” the teacher corrected.

   “Amy used to smoke, until she came to Moncford, Mom,” Lisa said, matching

her mother’s inhale with a deep one of her own which brought back extremely

pleasant memories for Amy. Lisa noticed once again that her teacher was-

quite openly now- watching her smoke. This was going to be easy, she decided.

   “Really ?” the school board member asked archly. “And tell me, Amy, what

made you decide to quit ?”

   Amy thought about answering the question honestly, but her curiosity was

overwhelming her.

   “Your name is Hamilton, right ?”

   “Yes,” Kelli said. She was used to this line of questioning from out of

towners, so she understood the woman’s confusion. “And Lisa is a MacDonough.

When I married Richard, I kept my maiden name because of my father’s

construction business. It’s always been in the Hamilton family. Speaking of

which, it’s girl’s night in. Richard is stuck in Concord, submitting a bid on

the new National Bank building. I knew it would storm. Every time he goes

down there-“

   Lisa decided to help Amy out.

   “Ms. C- Amy- quit smoking because she was afraid that it would affect her

chances of getting tenure.” She giggled as she finished saying this and Kelli

began laughing. In fact, she laughed so long and hard that Amy’s feeling

began to bruise. Finally, the young teacher could take all the mirth no more

and demanded to know what was so funny, her voice carrying a perfectly stern

teacher’s tone.

   Kelli left her cigarette in her mouth, not allowing it to dangle lazily, but

rather talking around it while holding it tightly in one place. She ticked

items off on her fingers.

   “Let’s see. Superintendent Griswald smokes. The high school principal

smokes. Of the eight members on the school board, seven admit that they smoke

and the eighth one sneaks around as if the rest of us don’t know. And you

were worried someone might not look kindly on the fact that you smoke ?” She

took a long pull on the cigarette and removed it from her mouth.

   “Well, in some school districts-“

   “Yes, in some,” Kelli said, her nose exhale mixing pleasantly with the wood

smoke in a way which reminded Amy of a weekend she’d spent at a ski lodge

last winter. The snow had been wet and slow, but then again, no one had gone

there to ski-

   “Haven’t you ever wondered why Moncford doesn’t have any anti-smoking

campaign, why we have a smoking lounge at the high school ?”

   Lisa smiled. “Actually, the whole reason that I was lucky enough to get a

ride home from Amy was that she caught me smoking on the school grounds. She

was-” Lisa emphasised the word, “-going to give me a day of in-school-“

   “Damn state board of ed dictates. We have to enforce the smoking rules or we

get shit from the capital about it. You know, any of the other teachers could

have told you-“

   Just then, the power went out and the room was bathed in the yellow-orange

glow of the fire. It was a warm romantic sort of light, enhancing the

pleasant memories of a time when Amy had smoked without fear of censure- the

better half of her life, she admitted silently.

   “I haven’t really made any friends on staff. All the women in my department

spend their free periods smoking and drinking coffee in the teacher’s lounge.”

   “Coffee and cigarettes are the prerogative of school teachers world over.

Don’t you ever go out ?”

   “Everyone smokes, Kelli. I don’t have the willpower to be around smokers all

the time.” She thought about what she was doing- about how miserable the last

four months had been, and added “I want to smoke so badly.”

   “Something like that,” Lisa said smartly, “could have a terrible effect on

your teaching.”

   “And here you thought my brooding freshman teacher act was natural, eh ?”

   “Beer or wine ?” Kelli asked Amy.

   “I don’t know. I’ve read it harder to stay away from smoking if you drink. A

few beers and you offer me a cigarette, I might not be able to say no.”

   “Exactly. So, which will it be ?”

   “Beer,” Amy said, and Lisa chimed in that would be fine with her as well.

Kelli disappeared into the kitchen and Lisa slid closer to her teacher.

   “There’s no reason for you to wait until you get tipsy to start smoking

again.”

   She crushed her cigarette out in the ashtray and took two from her pack.

   “Don’t you usually just have one at a time ?” Amy asked, teasing.

   Lisa talked around the two cigarettes in her mouth. “Well, I might need some

help with the second one .”

   “I might be able to do something about that,” Amy decided aloud.

   Lisa lit the two cigarettes and inhaled just deeply enough to get both of

them started. She took one out of her mouth and held it out to Amy. Kelli

stood in the dining room and watched unseen as Amy tried to decide whether or

not to accept her student’s offering.

   “You know, this isn’t an easy decision,” Amy said, looking at the burning

cigarette. “I mean, quitting was the hardest thing I ever did. It might also

have been the dumbest, but-“

   Lisa took the other cigarette from her mouth and sat there on the floor

crossed legged, a cigarette in each hand, smiling.

   “Smoking one cigarette doesn’t make you a smoker, Amy. You know that.”

   “You’ve never seen me smoke. If I take that cigarette from your hand, I will

be a smoker again. That’s the way that I want it to be. Once I take a single

puff on that cigarette, I will be a smoker again.”

   “And the problem is-“

   “There isn’t a problem.” Amy reached out with her long, slim fingers and

took the cigarette from Lisa with only a vague sort of hesitation. She held

it between her fingers unmoving for some stretch of time, and then finally

brought it to her lips slowly, deliberately, as though the action was of

momentous proportion.

   Perhaps it was. She’d made one decision that she thought would help secure

her future, and now she was making another, one which would allow her to be

happy again.

   Lisa understood what Amy meant as soon as she inhaled. The look of peace was

undeniable. After months of war, she’d finally reached a settlement which

appeared to return sanity. She smiled and held the smoke deep in her lungs

long enough for Kelli to walk back into the room holding a tray.

   “I see you didn’t need the beer after all.”

   Amy exhaled, a long steady stream of milky white. As the smoke swirled in

the heat of the fire she inhaled again, deeper, and held it again for a slow,

measured nose exhale.

   “Thank you, Lisa.”

   “It’s what you wanted from the minute I got in the car, isn’t it ?”

   Amy smiled sheepishly, understanding how transparent it must have been.

   “Try from the minute I saw you on the steps and you’re on to something.”

   “I guess I have a lot to thank you for,” Mark said.

   “Oh,” Lisa sighed, blowing smoke into the cabin of the car so that Mark

could enjoy it, “You’re just saying that so that I’ll feel better about what

I’m doing.”

   “No. I’d forgotten all about it. While your story is a little fantastic-“

   “My yearbook is on the back seat. Go ahead and see what Amy wrote.”

   “Why is your yearbook in the car ?”

   “Mindi wanted to see it. Go ahead and take a peek.”

   Mark did as he was told, reaching into the back seat. He turned to the page

Amy was on with a speed that Lisa couldn’t help but notice.

   ‘Lisa,

   Thanks for getting me to start smoking again. I can’t tell you how much

happier I’ve been. It’s been a great year and an half. Good luck at Vassar.

Stay in touch.

   Love,

   Amy.’

   “You should see what she wrote in my yearbook,” Mark said with a sly grin.

   “What does that mean ? And were you really attracted to her because she

smoked ?”

   “I remember the first day I started talking to her,” Mark replied, his smile

spreading. “It was dead winter time- the week after the storm. I walked out

into the freezing cold- out the side door there- and she was just standing

there, her back huddled against the wind. I couldn’t figure out what she

doing, and to be honest, I didn’t care. I’d never thought twice about her.”

   “You could have fooled me,” Lisa said.

   “Well, once I started, I couldn’t stop. Anyway, I walked past her and I saw

that she had a long white cigarette in her mouth. It wouldn’t light. The wind

was really ripping and she couldn’t get a light. So I walked over to her,

cupped my hands, and she was able to catch a light.”

   “Just like you used to do for me- except that I had to beg you for help.”

   “I never had a crush on you,” Mark teased, not saying it meanly and not

quite catching the look on Lisa’s face. “But the moment I saw her inhaling

from that cigarette, I- it was like she was suddenly a different person.”

   “She was,” Lisa said, inhaling herself and once again filling the car with

smoke.

   “All of the sudden this question about for ‘Whom the Bell Tolls’ popped into

my head. I asked, and she answered by asking me if I was going to the deli. I

was so surprised she’d noticed that I was a deli luncher- but the hard part

was trying to come up with some dumb question every freaking day.”

   “So what did she write in your yearbook ? Thanks for the ham ?”

   “The salami, maybe,” Mark quipped.

   “What ?” Lisa demanded. It wasn’t too hard to diagnose what that comment

meant.

   “You don’t want to hear the explanation.”

   Lisa finished the cigarette and found herself needing another one, given

where the conversation was leading. But the highway was under construction

and had narrowed down to two very tight lines hemmed in by concrete barriers.

The road was heavily sloped and it was a little bit like an amusement park

ride gone bad.

   “Can you light a cigarette for me, Mark ?”

   “Sure,” he said. She rolled up the windows and although she wanted to watch

him do it, she found herself unable to take her eyes off the turning road.

She heard the snickt of the lighter and he quickly handed her the burning

cigarette. She transferred it to her left hand and rolled the windows back

down. After she got one good inhale in she asked him to tell her what she

didn’t want to hear.

   “Remember I worked that summer in the National park as a junior ranger ?”

   “I really thought that was the queerest thing- ‘junior rangers.'”

   “Well, I was pulling down 260 a week take home. How do you think I was able

to afford that first Mac of mine ?”

   “I thought you asked your parents like I did.”

   “No. They wanted to buy me a car- so I let them. But that’s not the point of

the story.”

   “You’re not telling me that you and Ms. C-“

   “We used to meet in the park. There was an entire section that was mine to

patrol. Like anything ever happened. They gave me a few acres on the farthest

end of the park- it was practically inaccessible to anyone who didn’t know it

was there. Amy and I became friends during the winter and spring and

eventually-“

   Lisa exhaled smoke into the cabin, glad to see it drift in Mark’s direction.

He drank it in and that was a good sign. Whether he was making a conscious

effort or not, he seemed to be enjoying spending time both with her and her

smoke.

   “All this because you saw her smoking one day- and you never mentioned this

to the person you used to ride bitterly about her smoking ?” Lisa asked,

letting a little hurt into her voice.

   “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you were always so full of yourself

about the fact that everyone accepted your smoking so naturally. Like the day

you were named May Queen and you talked them into having the coronation

outside in the smoking lounge. You stood there on the podium, the sun

gleaming in your hair- you really were so beautiful that day-“

   “And I’m not now ?”

   “You are, and you know it. But you stood there in the breeze, smoking a

cigarette and- you really didn’t say much. You looked like someone who was

just using this outdoor love fest to show the whole world that you were a

smoker.”

   “That was exactly what I was doing. Remember how there were three other

girls in the court. Gina, Margaret, and Pam. Well, Pam didn’t smoke back

then. We’d be after her for weeks to start. The school was renting us a limo

and we’d been told that we couldn’t smoke in it unless all four of us were

smokers. I know, that must sound silly now-“

   “You got your way. I remember that Pam smoked all night at the dance. That’s

exactly why I used to tease you. You always got your way. It was so easy. I

was just-“

   “I know. Bringing me back down to earth.” The construction zone ended and

Mark and Lisa’s eyes met. She was in the midst of a picture perfect nose

exhale which reminded him exactly what conversation they’d been having.

   “I can’t believe I had forgotten about all this. There was something so- I

don’t know, when she smoked, something-“

   “Sexual ?”

   “Exactly. Well, we used to meet there. I mean, it started innocently enough.

You know, a walk over to the deli together. A walk back. In between we’d

pretend to do other things- at least I would. I think at first I was just

hanging on, but by the summer time she was interested too. I don’t remember

exactly how it started. But she’d meet me on my little private parcel of

land. It was always early. I think she sleeps a few hours a night, tops.

Always in the same place. She’d be backlit by the sun, the mist would be

coming up off the water and the smoke from her cigarette would be drifting in

the moist hot morning air. The sun would catch it and there would seem to be

so much of it, as though she could have filled the world with it if she

chose. The taste of it in her mouth was so sweet-“

   “You were right,” Lisa said, cutting him off. “I did not want to hear this.

What I want to know is how you keep this a secret. I mean, you didn’t brag to

one of your guy friends-“

   Her exhales were now being almost entirely contained within the car, and

Mark seemed to hardly notice. She’d snuck the windows halfway up and not only

did he not mind, but he seemed to be breathing deeper and more slowly.

   “I promised her that I would never tell anyone. As you’ve discussed, her

tenure was at stake. That’s why it didn’t carry past the summer. And why

would I tell any of my guy friends when I didn’t tell you ?”

   Lisa trimmed her cigarette out the window and inhaled deeply. She spoke

through the exhale, her voice throaty and dangerous. “Because-“

   “Because you’re the closest guy friend I had.”

   “Oh, I swear, if you don’t take that back, I’m turning this fucking car

around and going home- and I’ll leave you on the side of the road.”

   Mark couldn’t really understand what would make her so upset about-

   That wasn’t true. He’d been ‘like a brother’ enough times to understand it

perfectly.

   “Sorry, Lisa. That was just a clumsy use of the english language. But you

know that we were always able to talk to one another because-“

   “We were never attracted to one another. But that doesn’t mean I thought of

myself as one of the guys.”

   “Look, it was a dumb thing to say.”

   They didn’t talk for a while. Lisa smoked quietly and concentrated on

weaving through the staggered traffic- there was no worse time to be out on

the roads than in the early afternoon when the silver set rolled out their

Lincoln Towncars and Buicks and cruised the roads as though they were driving

Model T’s.

   Finally, sensing that Mark was almost too embarrassed to talk, she broke the

ice. “It’s ironic in a way. I guess I have to believe that you were first

attracted to Ms. C because she smoked, and now, eight years later, you’re

attracted to another young, new teacher who smokes. And they’re good

friends.”

   “Good friends ?” Mark asked sheepishly. It was the reaction Lisa had hoped

for. She was fine with him squirming a little.

   “Yes. When Mindi came here the first thing I did was introduce her to Amy-

we’ve gotten to be friends. I figured she could take Mindi under her wing and

it was a nice way for me to bring together two of my old friends. By the time

they were making their New Year’s resolutions- Mindi gives up coffee every

January first- and it never lasts a week- they were pretty tight.”

   “Well, Amy promised she would never-“

   “So did you, and you told me-“

   “Shit,” Mark exclaimed. Suddenly, his nervousness was back, in full force.

And Lisa was loving it.

   “Tell me where we’re going again-“

Hunting Vampires – II

   Where was Tobacco Trail. It was one of a number of tobacco stores that

Lisa’s friend Mr. Singh- to this day she didn’t know his first name- owned.

There was no chance he’d be here today- he was never actually here anymore.

But that didn’t mean that she couldn’t find some help.

   They paused just outside the entrance to the mall. Mark looked at the bright

red graphic stuck on the door glass. A burning cigarette with a red circle

around it and a line drawn through it. He had a feeling that he was going to

start loathing that sign.

   Lisa put a fresh cigarette between her lips and lit it casually.

   “Lisa-“

   “There are times,” she said, blowing smoke over head, “where you’ll learn to

ignore that stupid little sign. The tobacco shoppe is just inside the mall

here, and you can smoke there. In fact, the smoking law isn’t really enforced

anywhere inside this mall- Mr. Singh is the controlling interest landlord- he

owns almost two-thirds of the floor space in the mall.”

   Mark held the door open for Lisa, who inhaled again. She waited to exhale

until she was well down the corridor, and she spread more smoke in a wide arc

around them. Three teenage girls walking towards the door saw Lisa with

cigarette in hand and stopped walking. As they passed the girls, all three

opened their small purses and extracted packs of cigarettes. The scene

unfolded in slow-motion cinevision. Mark saw the brands. Marlboro Lights

100s, Salem 100s, and VS 120s. All three girls smiled at them and lit their

cigarettes as if encouraged by Lisa.

   Mark made eye contact with the well-endowed blonde smoking the 120. She

pulled it from between her lips with serious flair, smiled at him, and gently

pushed smoke from her petite, perfect nose. She was wearing an oversized

Moncford High letter jacket which was undeniable sexy and her face- she

reminded him of someone from a long time ago.

   Lisa tugged at Mark’s arm and he broke the contact unwillingly.

   “It’s like a whole world has opened up for you, isn’t it ?”

   His beeper tingled and he stopped to look at it.

   “The office,” he said. He used the excuse of digging for his cell phone to

find the young smoker’s eyes.

   They were a startling Jamaica sea water blue. He could almost see the white

sand in their bright, youthful depths. The girls were frozen in place now,

letting the blonde flirt with Mark as he dialed the number. Lisa decided to

allow it because the more of this sort of exposure he got now, the easier

things would be later on.

   He was struck by the how perfectly the long cigarette complimented the

girl’s look. She wasn’t tall, which made the cigarette itself more

spectacular. She was holding it down by her waist, the long white tube

burning hot in the still mall air. Knowing what he wanted to see, she lifted

it to her mouth again and wrapped her lips- perfect without lipstick or

gloss- around the filter. The inhale was audible from twenty feet away.

   It was long and measured.

   He noticed she was holding a box of cigars in her free hand and suddenly he

found himself wishing he was to be the recipient of that gift.

   As if reading his mind, Lisa said “They could be for her, Mark. Do you want

to forget Mindi and see if you can-“

   His eyes felt glazed and detached as he looked at his long-time friend, who

looked marvelous on her own as she enjoyed a sensuous inhale on her Marlboro

Light 100. A new world indeed. What switch had been turned off in his brain

that he’d been missing this ?

   No,  he thought.  Denying this.  It had always been there, hadn’t it, since

that day he’d first seen Amy with a long white cigarette pressed between her

lips, making him forget about her perfect breasts or the shapely legs that he

could see even when she was wearing a long skirt. All of which had paled in

comparison to what he’d gotten to know about her as a person that summer.

   “No. Sorry.”

   “Mark ?”

   He looked at Lisa, who was combining nose and mouth exhale in a way he now

realised had always been peculiarly hers. It was gorgeous. So was the blonde

girl with the long cigarette and the cigar box. But neither of them were

talking to him.

   “Tamara ?”

   “You called me, Mark. Are you okay ?”

   “Actually,” he said, smiling- but not for the benefit of his administrative

assistant or his old friend, “you beeped me.”

   “Yeah. I know I said that I wouldn’t have the new accounting system

estimates finished until Monday, but the landscape has changed. The accserver

crashed this afternoon while they were doing the AccPac month end.”

   “And you didn’t call me ?” Mark asked angrily. Amasingly, he found his

attention still taken by the beautiful blonde girl, who had the most

wonderful way of expanding her breasts as she inhaled. It made him wonder if

she was in the high school choir, which was a weird thought. Her exhale was

so monstrous that he almost dropped the phone.

   “No. You’re brilliant, after all.”

   Lisa wondered why Mark suddenly blushed, but she passed that off as an

affect of his flirtation. She gave him something else to look at and his eyes

were drawn to her own inhale. For the first time in his life, he noticed that

Lisa wasn’t wearing a bra. The cool air-conditioned mall air, now heavy with

her smoke, must have been having that effect on her nipples.

   He was half in nirvana and half terrified that his dad was going to be

furious he’d taken the afternoon off.

   “What do you mean ?”

   “I mean that your dynamically refreshed backup server came up immediately.

It took half an hour but they got all that damn DOS data back. If they

hadn’t, I would have called you.”

   He heard the tell-tale snickt of a lighter. His dad owned the building that

now housed Gigantium International- what a stupid name, even if it had been

his dad’s idea- so there was no no smoking policy anywhere in the building.

But out of respect to her non-smoking boss, Tamara never smoked in the office

if he was there. He had a feeling that with the obvious stress she must have

been under this afternoon, she’d been smoking Marlboro 100s all afternoon. He

could see her twenty-one year old face now, the smooth young brow creased

with the same worry that he often saw the days she had night-school exams.

   “Did the backup run after that ?”

   “Yes, but the primary server is fried. Helena looked at it and confirmed

what you’ve been saying for two months. It’s fried. She said something about

how it crashed like a stock car driver with a broken tie rod, whatever that

is.”

   “So, how does this simplify the proposal ?”

   “Your dad cored Mike a new asshole about holding up your proposal based on

what he called platform bigotry.”

   He could hear Tamara pull on her cigarette and while he was listening to

that sound, he managed to do something unique to his experience. He split his

vision along two separate lines. In one he could see the unnamed blonde take

another long, satisfy drag on the slim, elegant 120. In the other he watched

Lisa do the same. Although her cigarette was half gone and much shorter than

the girl’s, he found both displays compelling.

   “So, it’s 20 9600/233’s. By when ?”

   “Monday, 5 pm. With all the data ported over to the new DB by Friday, 3 pm

for the week ending.”

   “You didn’t tell them I can have the data ported over by Wednesday, did you

?”

   Tamara actually laughed, and broke into a fair imitation of Mr. Scott. “I

dinna ken if I can dooo it, Captain ? I’m not a miracle worker.”

   “Thanks, Tamara. Why don’t you fax the proposal over to me at home and we’ll

meet in the morning.”

   “I already tried. I think that damn old paper fax machine of yours is out of

paper again. You should start taking your phone messages on your

workstation.”

   “Can you drop it off ?” He looked at Lisa. “Five-thirty ?” he said,

questioning both of them. Lisa nodded. Tamara confirmed this would be fine.

The young blonde flashed him another smile.

   It was too much at once for Mark. If this was a new world, he’d found it by

leaping off an high cliff and he was in free fall. Then understanding finally

hit him. There was nothing wrong with watching any number of beautiful women

smoke. He’d been standing here feeling guilty about the fact that while his

interest was in Mindi he was also flirting with some girl who probably still

had a year of her life left worrying about homework.

   That was silly. Oh no. He was planning to do plenty of looking, and come to

think of it, he spent eight hours a day in a smoking-friendly environment-

suddenly having a mom and dad who smoked and owned the family business lock,

stock, and building seemed perfect- with a very attractive smoker.

   “One other thing ? Can you have one of those marvelous executive ashtrays

built into my desk this afternoon.”

   “What ?” Tamara said, sounding downright excited.

   “One of those white gold ashtrays with the platinum banding. Remember, I’m

left handed-“

   “So I’ll have it put on the right corner of your desk. That way you can

write and smoke at the same time. But what-“

   “My friend Lisa finally helped me see the light- or the lighter. I’ll want

it there for our morning meeting.”

   He could hear the grin in his assistant’s voice. “Cigars or cigarettes ?”

she asked, genuinely interested.

   “Well, I’ll start with cigarettes,” he said.

   There was disappointment in her voice as she spoke. “Your dad will be

disappointed, I think.”

   So will I, her voice said.

   “Well, maybe I’ll give that a try at some point, if I can find someone

willing to teach me-“

   “Anytime,” Tamara said brightly, surprising her supervisor greatly.

   He cut the connection.

   “I’ll need 20 workstations by 9 am Monday and your help with the installs.

Can you handle that ?”

   “It’ll cost you-” Lisa said.

   “How much ?”

   “Dinner at Le Chart.”

   “Jesus,” he said mockingly. “Why not a new Lexus ?”

   “Dinner. In the smoking section.”

   He agreed as they walked over to the sand bin and Lisa put out her

cigarette. He thought it a little strange that they still had ashtrays or

whatever you called it in a no-smoking mall. Of course, he waited while, as

expected, Lisa lit another cigarette.

   They walked into the Tobacco Trail. The store was huge, almost like the

front of an anchor store. There were plenty of people milling around, mostly

women in their young twenties. While most were smoking cigarettes- Marlboro

Lights 100s seemed to be the brand of choice, some were very happily smoking

cigars. The place was a pleasant smelling haze of dozens of types of tobacco

smoke.

   There was no sign, however, of any tobacco. There was a juice bar to the

left, and to the right was the sort of knick-nack area Mark had come to

associate with the tobacco shoppe. Watches, leather cases, curious of a more

refined nature filled the case. There were a number of young men and women,

all in white t-shirts, all smoking cigars or cigarettes, serving customers.

   Lisa cut through the crowd, speaking over her shoulder.

   “This place is packed every day. All the mall workers come here to smoke.”

   “I can see,” Mark said. He saw any number of worthwhile sights but none

quite like the young blonde girl. He filed the imagery from that away for

later- pleasant- dissection.

   They walked into the shoppe proper. There were four people behind the

counter and about two dozen milling around, many of them sampling a variety of

 tobacco products. But Mark’s attention was arrested by a medium-height

redhead with a dynamic face and sparkling green eyes. She was patiently

working a long, medium-ring, or so he thought, cigar. She had the burning tan

cigar perched between her lips and her eyes were actually closing as she

inhaled. The enjoyment was obvious and intoxicatingly infectious. She looked

at Lisa and smiled.

   They walked straight over to her and the woman’s face brightened.

   “Lisa. Cool. I was just thinking about you.”

   They smiled at one another like old friends.

   “Can we-“

   “Sure.” She lifted a thick wooden gate and ushered them into a private room

with looked like a smoking den except for the Powerbook sitting on the desk

in the corner. She motioned for them to sit in twin plush leather chairs

almost as nice as her own.

   “What can I do for you two ? Cubans ?”

   “No, you know that’s my style, Josephine. This is Mark. He’s thinking about

taking up smoking, but it’s a special case.”

   As Josephine spoke, bluish cigar spoke trailed from her mouth. She held the

cigar in an impossibly feminine way.

   Mark admitted on the spot- silently- that he’d been an idiot for most of the

last twenty-four years.

   “Let’s see. You’re twenty-three or twenty-four. So this has to be about a

woman, right ?”

   Mark glanced at Lisa suspiciously as if this might be a set-up. Of course,

if it was, he didn’t care.

   “Mindi, actually.”

   “Our Mindi ?”

   “Yeah,” Lisa said.

   “So, Mark ? You want Mindi to notice you. Well, Lisa did the right thing to

bring you here.” She looked at Lisa. “If I remember, Mindi prefers men who

smoke something different ? Something unique.”

   Lisa nodded. “I couldn’t come up with anything.”

   “Export A’s. The box alone will intrigue her. Of course, you can’t just buy

them anywhere, but that’s not why I’m suggesting them. You’ll catch her eye

with those, Mark. My promise as a tobacco shoppe owner. Both of them. Lisa,

pour us some brandy and I’ll be right back.”

   She was as good as her word. She came back almost immediately and handed

Mark a long, slim white box of the canadian cigarettes.

   “Are you the co-owner ?” Mark asked, obviously surprised.

   “Don’t look so shocked.”

   “But you’re hardly our age,” he said, studying the white box.

   “I’m not,” Josephine said happily. “I’m just turning 21 today. When I was

eighteen, my grandfather died. He left me, well, more money than I could

spend. Mr. Singh and I were good friends by then- you get to know someone

when they are teaching you the finer points of cigar smoking. I told him

about my sudden prosperity and- I’ll never forget it. He’s such a sweet man.

He said that I had the perfect combination of charm and capital. Given that I

was already halfway through college and doubting that I wanted to be clinical

psychologist, I put my money were my mouth is, and-“

   “Let me guess. Vassar, right ? You were there when Lisa and Mindi were.”

   “She was there more than us,” Lisa said. “She started at 17 and went summers

and got her degree in three years. But her heart was never in it.”

   “Exactly,” Josephine said. “Please, Mark. It’s time you joined us.”

   He slugged the brandy first, lighting a fire in his innards.

   It was over quickly. Before he knew what he was doing, he was smoking.

   Or the cigarette was. He pulled a baby inhale into his mouth, sampled the

taste. It was different. He’d snuck a pull of Lisa’s cigarette in the car but

this wasn’t the same. It was richer.

   He liked it. He looked at Lisa and saw that she liked the look as well, and

that was a start.

   “Excellent,” Josephine said, pulling on her cigar. She exhaled and washed

the taste down with the brandy.

   “Now try inhaling,” Lisa teased. She was slightly worried about this part.

It was what you always worried about with a new smoker. Would his virgin

lungs rebel ? Would he shoot a mouthful of smoke into his stomach and gag ?

   None of those things happened. Instead, he pulled on the cigarette in a

conservative fashion, his eyes swelling as the smoke slipped down his throat.

She could tell right away that he was enjoying the sensation. “Ohmigod,” he

said. “You’ve known this since you were fourteen ?” he asked Lisa,

bewildered.

   “I tried to tell you, Mark. A bunch of times.”

   “Don’t feel bad, Mark. I was sixteen,” Josephine said. “But if I’d had a

friend as pretty as Lisa here, I might have gotten the message sooner. I’ll

have someone bring out enough of those to keep you busy for a few weeks,

Mark.”

   “Before you do that, I need a box of cigars,” Lisa said.

   “I thought you didn’t-“

   “I don’t. But I have a friend who is starting. A female friend.”

   Josephine held out the cigar she was smoking. “This is from a little

plantation in Virginia. A designer blend. Designed for women. It’s not in the

marketplace yet, but I can spare a box for a customer like you.”

   “Make it two,” Mark chimed in.

   “Mark-” Lisa chided. “One thing at a time.”

   “They’re for Tamara. I own her for this afternoon.”

   Josephine nodded. “I can spare two. I’ll be right back.”

   Lisa watched Mark’s inhale. It was deeper. More satisfactory. Not a smoker’s

inhale, but closer.

   “I see you’re going to be a quick student.”

   Mark nodded, and exhaled from his nose. Quick indeed.

   The doorbell rang at five twenty-nine.

   Mark paused long enough to light another cigarette.

   Saying that he liked the taste or the way it made his throat feel would have

been an exaggeration.

   On the other hand, the way it made him feel-

   Lisa said that the taste, which was hardly unpleasant, would grow on him.

That the roughness of his throat would fade in a few days, but that he was

better off getting a good night’s sleep to relieve the stress.

   Tamara was standing there in jeans and a New England Patriots t-shirt,

smoking a Marlboro 100. Her long brunette hair was pulled back into a tight

pony tail and she was wearing large dark sunglasses. With her backpack slung

over her back, she looked every bit the college student she was three nights

a week.

   She pursed her lips tightly and pushed smoke between them, a tight stream of

expanding smoke that broke a few inches in front of him. Her face tilted down

slightly and she saw the Export A in his hand.

   Her smile was genuine and infectious.

   “It’s true. I can’t believe it.”

   “Come on in, Tam. Why can’t you believe it ?”

   “People don’t start smoking at twenty-four, that’s all.”

   They sat down next to one another on the couch, and for the first time Mark

noticed how nice his assistant smelled. There was a mix of shampoo, light

musk, and smoke with he found very pleasant. He understood that there had

been a lot of things he wasn’t noticing, and vowed that would stop.

   She was sweating lightly- he seemed to remember her car didn’t have

air-conditioning- and the sheen on her forehead was enticing.

   “Well, I did. And I have a present for you.”

   She’d put her cigarette in her mouth and was holding it there while she dug

the upgrade proposal from her pack. The cigarette looked right in her mouth.

He didn’t particularly like the cork-coloured tip, but then again, perhaps

that was something they could work on.

   He traded her the box of cigars for the paperwork.

   “I’ve heard about these,” she fairly cooed. “Exports A’s, and these cigars-

which aren’t even on the market yet- you must have gone to the Tobacco

Trail.”

   “Yeah. How’d you know ?”

   “I smoke a few cigars a week, maybe. Once a month or so I take a ride out

there. Josephine finds the most amasing things, and she always knows what you

want. It’s eerie.”

   “You seem to be happy that I’m smoking,” he said off-handedly as he looked

over the proposal, which Tam had made very readable. He wanted to get used to

telling people that he was a smoker now, and having a receptive audience sure

made it easier.

   “Well, I haven’t smoked in the office because you didn’t. I get real cranky

some days. Sometimes when five-thirty comes I feel like I owe you an apology

for being short with you.”

   “I hadn’t noticed,” Mark lied. The truth was, not only had he noticed, but

he’d come very close on more than one occasion to telling his assistant to go

and have a smoke. But she hardly ever took a break during the day, and the

truth was, there was no one to take them with. Almost everyone at Gigantium

smoked right at their desk, whenever they pleased.

   “I never asked you not to smoke, Tam.”

   “I was being polite.”

   “You should have asked me,” he said. “Hell, you should have asked me why I

didn’t smoke.”

   “I thought you knew,” she said.

   “No. I never thought about it.”

   “Why the change ?” she asked, taking a long pull on her cigarette at the end

of the question. He matched it, finding that on his fifth cigarette he was

already learning how to inhale properly. By seven tonight-

   “Lust,” he said. “You know Lisa’s friend Mindi-“

   “The school teacher ?” she asked. Was that disappointment in her voice ?

   “Yeah. She’s- well, Lisa told me she only dates men who smoke-“

   “A sound policy.”

   “Would you like some wine ? This proposal looks great, but I’ll need to

review the numbers after I get home tonight.”

   “Where are you going ?”

   “MacCleary’s. What about you ?”

   “The same. I’m meeting Donna and Joan from sales and a few people from

Kiley’s. Actually, I need to get going. It’s a long drive home and I need to

take a shower. As it is, I’ll never get there on time. Why I took an

apartment so far out of town-“

   An idea was forming. Mark had been disappointed when Lisa had begged off

going to MacCleary’s with him, and he didn’t want to go alone. He also felt

bad about pranging up Tam’s plans.

   “Unless you were hoping to change, you can shower here. That way you’ll have

plenty of time. I don’t want to be responsible for making you late.”

   “I’ll take that glass of wine, then. And do you mind if I try one of these

cigars ?”

   “No. Not at all. Josephine was smoking one when we met with her. It had a

very nice aroma.”

   “I imagine. She only smokes the best of the best.”

   Mark walked into the kitchen and pulled his best bottle of white from the

fridge. It had been chilling for about an hour and was perfect. Twenty-four

hours ago he knew he would have been standing here in the kitchen thinking-

and thinking and thinking- about what he was doing. He thought back to how

nervous he’d been today at lunch and-

   It was like that person was gone.

   He filled both glasses like he was pitcher pouring beer and carried them

halfway across the kitchen. Then he went back and took the bottle as well.

   Tam had the cigar going nicely by the time he returned. The living room was

full of cigar smoke but he found that not only did he not mind, but he was

glad for it.

   His small house now had the smell of a smoker’s residence.

   It was an homey smell.

   Despite the fact that Josephine had looked quiet feminine smoking a cigar,

he’d expected to be a little turned off seeing petite little Tam smoking a

cigar. This was not the case at all. In fact, it was having quite the

opposite effect and for a moment he forgot completely about Mindi. He was

thinking about how someone who’d he’d kept at arm’s length for the last nine

months now shared something with him- or more precisely, he shared something

with her.

   It was going to make that seven am trip into the office something to look

forward to.

   Tam drained the glass in two long gulps.

   “Wow. That’s amasing.”

   “It’s a private french label. My mother has relatives in the south of

France. They have a little vineyard.”

   “They should get a bigger one. Do you mind ?” She held the glass out with

the same hand that was holding the cigar and he found himself turned on. He

was going to have to watch this. Now that the floodgates were open, it seemed

that he was surrounded by beautiful women who turned him on with their

smoking. That girl in the mall, Mindi, Amy, Tam. Lisa.

   Where did that come from ?   he wondered.

   He poured her more wine and then lit one of the exports.

   “It’s funny. You’re a few years behind, but you started with the same

cigarettes.”

   Mark decided he could go for another story about someone starting to smoke-

it was the topic of the day, after all.

   “When was that ?”

   “I was fourteen. dad got a two year job as a consultant for a greater

Montreal bank. Mom and dad always smoked and by then my older sister Giselle

did as well. We’d been there about a month and- well, all my friends smoked,

my family smoked. In Quebec there’s no laws about age. I just walked into a

little store on Rue St. Anne and asked for a pack of Export A’s. The woman

behind the counter handed them over, told me the price in French, and took

the better part of a fiver. I went home and told my mother I was going to

smoke. I thought I was being so bold. All she said was ‘Go into the living

room and let your father know.’ All he asked was if I had told mother.”

   Mark poured her a third glass of wine, added half to his own, and sat back

and watched her gently work the cigar. No, there was no turn off watching her

lips gracefully interact with the dark tan cigar. None at all. She seemed to

prefer nose exhales of the thicker smoke. He agreed silently that this was a

fine approach.

   “If you don’t mind me asking, why did you switch brands ?”

   “Well, unlike now, I didn’t know anywhere to buy Export A’s. I switched to

Marlboro Lights 100s and I’d still be smoking them now-” she paused. “If I

wasn’t working for you, that is.”

   Although he thought it was a little bit bold, Mark replied that he preferred

the look of the Lights to the Regulars she smoked now. “Those cork filters

are just- strange looking.”

   “I know. They aren’t attractive at all. But I just wasn’t smoking enough. I

found myself smoking constantly when I wasn’t at work, trying to make up for

lost time. Finally Donna suggested trying the regulars. But to be honest,

they’re a little strong. I got so used to the taste of the lights.”

   “Well, now you can smoke as much as you like at work. Speaking of which-“

   “They put the ashtray in around four. Your father asked what was going on. I

told him- I hope you don’t mind.”

   “No,” Mark said, smiling. “Did he say anything else ?” In the back of his

mind he was still worried about this afternoon’s events.

   “Yeah. He said that he should have listened to you sooner. You’ve been

pushing to change accounting’s equipment since you got into the position. He

mentioned a raise-“

   “Really ?” Mark asked, amased.

   “Ten thousand. I was shocked when he told me, but I think he assumes you and

I are close enough.”

   “I’m not taking a raise without you taking one, too, Tam. You put the

numbers together. I’m just a techhead.”

   She looked at him with something-

   It had to be the wine. Her glass was empty again and he drained the bottle

into her glass as she finished the cigar.

   He was feeling almost as flushed as she looked.

   “I really should take a shower.”

   “Third door, top of the stairs. Towels are in the closet outside the door. I

just got a new hot water heater, so you can run the shower as long as you

want.”

   “Thanks.”

   She finished her wine and darted up the stairs.

   Twenty minutes later, she came downstairs again, looking almost radiant. Her

skin had a scrubbed clean down home look and she’d pulled her wet hair back

in that tight pony tail which highlighted her soft cheek bones. She was

flushed from the wine.

   In fact, she asked Mark if he wouldn’t mind driving them to MacCleary’s.

“Donna can give me a ride home. I don’t think I should drive right now, and

with the way I’ve been feeling, I might just keep drinking all night.”

   Mark had noticed that Tam seemed more edgy than normal lately, but he’d

chalked that up to the job.

   “What’s wrong ?”

   “You probably didn’t know, but I was dating Hank Jones from Acquisitions.”

   How detached had Mark really been ? He hadn’t known that, even though he’d

seen Hank hanging around the office often enough to put the pieces together.

   “Was ?”

   “He dumped me yesterday. Something about my being too young and frivolous.

Pisser.”

   “Hank ? Mr. Irresponsible. If he wasn’t Mike’s son-“

   “I know. The guy is allergic to work, and he tells me- well, let’s not talk

about that. I want to go get drunk and smoke cigarettes and listen to the

band. Maybe I’ll meet somebody and you’ll hook up with Mindi and we’ll both

end up getting lucky.”   

   It was a nice thought.

   Mark pulled his Saab into the convenience store parking lot and Tam jumped

out. He wondered if it was on his advice that she’d decided to switch back

from regulars to lights. He decided not to analyse that. For whatever reason,

he’d never liked those cork-coloured cigarettes, and now he wouldn’t have to

see them anymore.

   Not that he’d seen them very much. He felt bad for Tam.

   Who wasn’t holding a grudge. In fact, although it was probably just the wine

and her relationship woes, she was being very friendly.

   She came out of the store quickly, carrying a carton of Marlboro Lights

100s. She pulled a pack out and tossed the open carton in the back seat of

the car. Without hesitation, she lit one and filled the car with sweet,

perfect smoke.

   Perfect because it was what he had already decided he liked best- at least

coming from Lisa’s-

   From a woman’s, he corrected himself, mouth.

   The drive was quite enjoyable.

   They went their separate ways at MacCleary’s, but not before Tam had pressed

a wet, smoky kiss to Mark’s cheek.

   He was glad for the hazy arc-sodium lighting, which hid his blush nicely.

   Mindi and Amy were together at the bar. It was the first thing he saw when

he walked in.

   That was both good and bad. Good because at least in Amy’s case, he had a

reason to say hi. Which was also a bad thing.

   But he’d come a long way for this. He took one last look at Tam, who was

talking animatedly to her friends- who seemed to be questioning her change in

brands. He had no idea how he knew that, but the way that looked at him-

Donna smiled at him for the first time that- hell the first time ever. He

knew.

   He strolled up to the bar, working a fresh cigarette. At Josephine’s

suggestion, he was holding the cigarette box where it could easily be seen.

It garnered a few looks- not all of them kind, at least from the men.

   There were some ignorant backwoods morons who didn’t like french-canadians.

Mark knew that from having lived in northern New Hampshire all his life. But

he wasn’t here to mix with the boys. Anyone who would call a man frog to his

face wasn’t worth the cost of a dirty look.

   He found a niche near the two women and signalled the bartender, who nodded

and went on with his business, letting Mark know he’d get there eventually.

   “Mark ?” Mindi said, surprised.

   Here it was. All this had been for this moment and he was determined to make

the most of it.

   Lisa had told him to act disinterested, but it was hard.

   Amy and Mindi were both smoking the brand. Their cigarettes had just been

lit, were long and beautiful in their hands. Amy smiled at him and let a slow

exhale escape from her nose. Mindi lifted her own cigarette to her mouth and

inhaled in a maddeningly sensuous way.

   Mark realised he was gathering wool.

   “Hi, Mindi. Hi Amy.”

   “You two know each other ?”

   Amy’s smoky smile was broken by a pursing of lips and exhale which he knew

only too well, both from sight and taste.

   “Once upon a time, Mark was my best student. He really had a passion-“

   Mark swallowed hard, found himself inhaling on his cigarette for comfort.

   “-for literature,” she finished. As Mindi turned to look at him Amy gave him

a devilish wink which told him that he was- for now- safe.

   “I didn’t know that you smoked, Mark.”

   He’d talked this over with Lisa as well. Half the truth was what they’d

decided on.

   “I just started. Lisa gave me a few pointers.”

   “Is she coming ?” Mindi asked.

   “What’ll it be ?” the bartender interrupted.

   “A Bass,” Mark said. The bartender went away, came back seconds later with

an open hand and the Bass ale. Mark passed him a five and told him to keep

the change.

   “She’s- no, I don’t think so. She said if she wasn’t here by now, not to

expect her.”

   “That’s too bad,” Mindi said. “Pull up a stool.”

   Mark did so gladly and-

   Lisa was sitting on ‘her’ gravestone. Nathaniel Brown MacDonough. An ancient

relative. It was where she came to think- and to watch for-

   It was best not to think of that. The air was chill, the wind was strong,

and the moon was full. A perfect night for it, but she’d only come here to

think. A beer rested forgotten in her right hand. A freshly lit cigarette in

her left. It was a good night to think. The air was crisp. The smoke from her

cigarette was swirling in the misty air.

   She inhaled deeply and thought about it all. She should be happy. Finally,

after all these years, Mark was finally smoking. And he was happy.

   Of course, he was also thinking about Mindi.

   Mindi was thinking about him. That was why the yearbook had been in her car.

   She’d played the pieces on the chess board. Check would soon be checkmate.

But for whom ?

   Why was sitting in the graveyard drinking a beer and wondering if the tears

would shine in the reflection of soft moonlight ?

   Sting’s Island of Souls was running through her mind, always a bad sign. She

had done all the right things.

   And yet.

   Morose was a bad mood out here when there might be work to do.

   It was the layers of memories that were undoing here. Senior class trip to

Six Flags. She’d held Mark’s head while he threw up after a ride on the

Twister. Prom night- both their dates had ended up- fittingly enough- with

one another. Nights spent studying and cuddling like-

   If she’d been one of the boys, he’d been one of the girls.

   All this time, endlessly.

   No, tonight was the worst sort of night, unless you were looking for a

priest to administer the final rights. She had to get out of here, and get

out now before something she didn’t want to think about finally happened,

after all these years of being so cautious.

   About so many things.

   “Where’d she say she was ?”

   “Out hunting vampires.”

   Amy looked at him strangely, but Mindi just nodded. He looked at his

teacher. “It’s an old joke with Lisa.”

   “Very old,” Mindi added.

   “I didn’t really come here to see her, though. We left it as, you know,

whatever.”

   “Than why did you come ?” Amy asked archly.

   This was not going to be easy, Mark decided.

   “To check out the bar scene, catch the band. Actually, I gave my

administrative assistant a ride. She’s having some man trouble, I guess.”

   “It’s really too bad Lisa couldn’t make it,” Mindi said. She then surprised

Mark by placing her hand on Mark’s. “For her, at least.”

   She’s flirting with me, Mark thought.

   “I was hoping to see you, actually. I was-“

   It only made sense to Mark that just as he was about to take another leap

off another cliff he was interrupted.

   The voice was high-pitched, badly stressed, but eerily familiar.

   “Amy-“

   Mark and Mindi turned and he saw-

   The girl from the mall, minus the jacket but not the ultra-long cigarette.

She looked directly at Mark, her eyes stunningly blue.

   Even brimming with tears.

   “Don’t I know you ?”

   “We- saw each other at the mall,” Mark said, vaguely, but not seriously,

embarrassed.

   “This is my sister, Alicia,” Amy said, and suddenly the resemblance- and the

attraction- made perfect sense.

   “When Dad retired last summer, he and mom went on an one-year tour of the

world. He’d seen it once and decided it was mom’s turn. They sent Alicia my

way so that she could do the school thing.”

   “You two are sisters ?”

   “I was an early child. Alicia was a late child. Some churlish bastards think

we’re mother and daughter.”

   “I never would have made that mistake,” Mark countered quickly.

   Amy smiled and so did Alicia. “Well, you always were advanced for your age.

What’s up, Alicia ? And where’s your letter jacket ?”

   “That bastard Frank took it back. In fact, he took it back and told me to

fuck off. I guess he was mad that I got his precious letter jacket all

smoky.”

   “He broke up with you over that ?” Mark asked. “What an idiot.”

   Alicia inhaled deeply on the cigarette, put forth an exhale which perfectly

mimicked her sister’s- and outdid Mindi’s- then nodded her head. “Yes. I

should have known better than to date the quarterback. They’re always

assholes.” She then burst into tears and buried her head in her sister’s

shoulder.

   Mark found himself remembering that place only too well.

   Mindi took his hand again. “I think we’ll probably be going- before they

spot Alicia in the adult’s section. I don’t know how she even got past the

bouncers upstairs. I think you were going to say something to me, and I’d-“

   She hesitated without releasing the pressure on his hand. Both of them

inhaled together, exhaled together. Mark knew he could get used to this.

   “I’d love to hear it. But I think you should know- Lisa has always-“

   Mark found that one of his internal organs had migrated to his throat.

   “Jesus. We’re going to have to take Alicia home. Girl’s night in. I- well,

I’d rather you talked to Lisa first. If, after that, you want to give me a

call, well- give me a call.”

   Just like that it was over. The three women left and Mark was left alone.

   Talk about your crash and burn scenarios. Mark pulled on his cigarette,

found some relief at least in the gentle heady high the smoke provided.

   She hadn’t said no. In fact, she’d said yes. But in the process she’d turned

the easiest relationship in his life into one of the hardest and suddenly

Lisa’s reaction to his ‘one of the guys’ comment made perfect sense.

   So why was he mad at her ?

   By the time he’d found an answer he’d gotten himself another beer and Tam,

seeing him looking lost, had come to his rescue. And later that night, he

came to hers.

   Tam was lying in his bed with him, wearing nothing but his robe. She was

nestled in the crook of his arm, smoking a Marlboro Light 100. He was

matching her inhale for inhale and the bedroom was full of their smoke.

   Hank had reared his ugly head about ten-thirty. By then, Mark had found

himself in a group of seven women, all smokers, all of whom accepted Mark

immediately. Donna, whom he’d privately thought hated him, had practically

hung all over him any time he separated from Tam.

   On Monday, Mark was going to talk to his father about Hank. Mike’s son or

not, Hank was a problem. It turned out he was as loose with his temper as his

work ethic, and-

   They’d almost ended up in the parking lot. Well, in the end, Mark and Tam

had. It turned out Hank knew the owners of the club- or at least all the

bouncers- and finally the two of them had decided the easiest thing to do was

leave.

   They were not, Mark had decided, going to have sex.

   “Thank you for everything, Mark. I needed a little help tonight.”

   “Well, you’ve earned it. Everyone at work thinks the only reason I’m the IS

manager is because of my last name.”

   “The only people who think that are guys like Mike who are fighting what

you’re doing. You told me once that the first thing they taught you in

college was that an IS manager can’t let a few users dictate IS policy, right

?”

   “Yeah. Look, I’m sorry things with Hank didn’t work out.”

   Tam exhaled a thick cloud of smoke which Mark drank in. “I’m not.” She

deftly undid the strap of the robe and rolled over onto him, still exhaling

smoke. When she parted her lips fully Mark met them.

   Her hand strayed to the opening in her boxers and slipped through. She began

to stroke his penis deftly and it soon became apparent that he might not even

need to remove his boxers.

   They began to kiss, pausing only long enough to smoke. Cigarettes were

finished. New ones were lit after they stripped. Mark found that L- Tam had

very responsive nipples. They mingled their kiss and their smoking while

sitting up on their knees and soon they made love the same way. Mark entered

Tam while she was  in mid-inhale and she managed to hold the smoke until they

began to kiss.

   He was afraid that he would go too soon, that it wouldn’t be as good for Tam

as it felt for him, but in the end she came first- and long and hard. As she

began to wind down he finally came himself. It seemed to last forever.

   When they were done, they lay back together and smoked in silence for a long

time. So long that Tam finally lit another cigarette, which they shared. Mark

was glad for this. He liked the Export A’s well, enough, but this was the

cigarette that he really wanted to try. It was crisp, clean, perfect. A fine

cigarette to smoke.

   It wasn’t until they finished it that Tam finally spoke.

   “You should really work things out with Lisa, Mark.”

   “I came home with you,” he said hotly, tired of the same thing haunting his

every step.

   “And you were sure we wouldn’t have sex, that you were just being nice. I’ve

seen you two together enough-“

   “Then why did we just-“

   “Because we both enjoyed it. It’s just like smoking. It’s time you

understood that it’s okay to enjoy things. When you called this afternoon I

was so happy for both of us, but I assumed you and Lisa-“

   “I don’t want to talk about Lisa,” Mark said, although the truth was-

   They decided that the truth would wait. Tam took two cigarettes from the now

empty pack, lit them both, and handed one to Mark. She sat up on her knees

and Mark followed suit. They began to kiss again, sharing the smoke from

their cigarettes until he was hard and then they made love again. She took it

slower this time, luxuriating in the way he felt inside her, moving back and

forth slowly until she could no longer bend forward to kiss him. They arched

their backs and smoked and came again, and by the time they fell to sleep,

wrapped in sweat and smoke, Mark admitted to himself that he would indeed

have to discuss all this with Lisa.

   Tomorrow.

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