Innocence and Guilt

“You do know how hard this has been for me the last three years, raising you

alone, don’t you ?”

   Daphnie looked at her mother and sighed. This was going to be so unpleasant.

And it really wasn’t her fault.

   No, Jocelyn had slipped the cigarettes into her purse during last period

today and begged her to hold onto them until tomorrow. Someone had slipped a

bogus lock onto Josie’s locker, and they hadn’t gotten around to cutting it

off. Suddenly it was end of day, and Josie had very good reasons for not

wanting to be caught with those cigarettes. Daphnie had agreed to help

because it never crossed her mind that her mother would go into her purse.

   Or that she would tell her to.

   Why had she put her car keys in her purse ?

   “That wasn’t a rhetorical question, Daph.”

   “I don’t know mom. I’m usually pretty well-behaved, so I would think the

answer was that it wasn’t that hard. But feel free to correct me.”

   “Well, it hasn’t been easy. Not in the least.”

   Daphnie had been toying with the idea of admitting the cigarettes were hers

and taking her punishment quietly. But the accusatory tone in her mother’s

voice and the way she was carrying on about how hard it was being a single

mother had gotten to Daphnie. 

   “They aren’t mine, Mom.”

   “Then whose are they ?” she asked sternly.

   “Like I’m going to tell you which one of my friends smoke.”

   “It beats me thinking you smoke. Trust me. Just give me a name and we can go

from there.”

   “No way, mom.”

   Anne thought for a moment. There were two possible scenarios here. Either

Daphnie didn’t smoke and was telling the truth, or she did smoke and was

lying. One thing was sure. She knew how loyal her daughter was. She wasn’t

going to wig out and tell on one of her friends. No amount of coercion would

change that.

   There was only one thing to do. Either they were hers and she was lying, or

they weren’t, which meant that she had tried smoking and didn’t like it. Anne

remembered being fifteen well enough to know that if your friends smoked, you

at least tried it yourself. There was no such thing as no thank you.

Curiosity would always win out over common sense.

   So Anne decided on a course of action that was most definitely not to be

found in a parenting handbook.

   She didn’t say anything. Instead she walked over to the china closet and

took out the best crystal ashtray in the house, the one her father had given

her for her cigarettes and John’s cigars. It hadn’t gotten much use since

she’d quit three years ago, but it still felt like an old- and dangerous-

friend in her slim fingered hand.

   After she set it down between them, she pushed the cigarettes and lighter

across the table to Daphnie.

   “Go ahead. If you are smoking, this is going to be your best chance ever to

do it right here in the house. If you’re not- well, then we’ll talk about

this more later. But I’m warning you- don’t play games. I’ll know, one way or

the other. Remember, I smoked for twenty years.”

   Daphnie couldn’t believe this. Her mother was asking her to smoke ?

   Well, she could believe it. Mom wasn’t the most orthodox of parents by a

long shot. The question was what to do. If she pretended- if she could

pretend, for that matter- that she did smoke, it got Jocelyn off the hook,

but put her in deep shit. If she let nature take its course, it was likely

that she would get into even worse trouble for refusing to out her friend.

   “I’m waiting.”

   There was no arguing with mom.  If she said to choke down a cigarette, well,

that was just what Daphnie was going to have to try to do.

   She picked up the pack and lighter and tried to look like she knew what she

was doing. It was hard getting a cigarette out of the pack- only two had been

smoked- but she finally extracted one and put it between her lips. It was

lighter than she expected, feather-weight that felt strange between her lips.

She could look down her nose and see the end of the cigarette there, waiting

for a light.

   She thumbed the lighter the way she was used to seeing other people- all her

friends- do. It caught immediately. The way the flame jumped startled her and

she almost dropped it.

   Somehow she managed to get the tip lit without burning half the cigarette.

As she put the lighter down, smoke curled up and into her eyes. It was harsh

but she willed herself not to let her eyes tear. Instead, she put the first

two fingers of her left hand around the cigarette and tried to inhale.

   It didn’t work. Her lips weren’t closed tightly enough and she garnered only

a tiny bit of smoke. It had a strange taste, cooler than she had expected,

neither pleasant nor foul. It was just different.

   She tried a second time. This time her lips were closed, but that only made

her draw her breath through her nose. She got nothing more than a noseful of

second-hand smoke, which she was more than used to by now. That at least she

liked, because it reminded her of her friends, but it didn’t do anything to

convince her mother, who was watching her like a hawk.

   Daphnie understood the mechanics now. She was supposed to close her lips and

breath through the cigarette.

   But it was too late.

   Her mother put out her right hand, first two fingers separated, and Daphnie

passed her the cigarette. That was something she knew how to do. She’d held

Jocelyn’s cigarettes many times by now while her friend tied her shoes or ate

part of a sandwhich.

   “This is how it’s done, pumpkin.”

   Anne took the cigarette and put it between her lips. She inhaled deeply, a

strong enough pull to make the tip flare and hiss. The flood of smoke into

her lungs was definitely welcome. It had been so long. 

   That wasn’t true. It had been less than three weeks, but it felt like three

years.

   She spoke through the exhale. “That’s how you smoke a cigarette.” Daphnie

had been encouraged- instead of annoyed, which was usually the case- by her

mother’s use of the pumpkin appellation. But her voice was stern now- even

disappointed.

   “Well, these aren’t yours, that’s for sure. I want you to go to your room

and think about how much better it would be for both of us if you just told

me who these really belong to.”

   “But we haven’t even had dinner.”

   “I know, and I made chana. I’m serious, Daphnie.”

   Her daughter stood up and left the room quietly, because she knew when she

was beaten. That was one of Daphnie’s finer qualities.

   The truth was, wanting her to leave the room had nothing to do with being

mad at her. The truth was that Anne wasn’t mad at Daphnie at all. they

weren’t her cigarettes, after all. And loyalty was a scare commodity these

days.

   No, the truth was that she wanted to finish this cigarette and do it in

peace and privacy.

   “Thanks for bringing me dinner, Mom.”

   “Well, I can’t starve you. But I will ask you one last time to tell me who

gave you those cigarettes.”

   Daphnie signed. She wasn’t overly keen on disobeying her mother, but there

was nothing else to be done.

   “I can’t do that. And whomever it is, you’re not that person’s mother. It’s

not up to you to-“

   “If they were yours, I’d want whoever it was who found them to tell me.”

   “That’s because you’re a parent. I’m a- teenager. I’d want my friends to

keep silent.”

   “Well, there’s a reason they let parents run the show-“

   Daphnie stood up angrily. She’d never thought smoking would be an issue

between them. Her mom had smoked for so long that for years she’d merely

assumed that one day she’d smoke too. She still hadn’t decided that she

wouldn’t. In fact, at times the knowledge that all her friends smoked- that

she could start smoking at any time if she wanted- was enticing, exciting.

   Other times it just seemed like a gross, inexplicable thing to waste so much

time and money on.

   “Look, mom, I have to get up early tomorrow and get to the library.” It was

a lie, but a little one. She knew that her mother wasn’t giving Josie’s

cigarettes back, and she knew where she could buy more. It meant a long,

early morning, but that was fine. She could use it to think. This little

incident had given her plenty to mull over.

   “Okay, p-Daphnie. But you aren’t getting those cigarettes or that lighter

back, understand ?”

   “Yes, mom.”

   Anne was sitting in her window. She’d had to remove the screen to do it, but

it was worth it to be out in the nice cold air- or half out in it anyway.

Fortunately, Daphnie’s window was on the other side of the house, so she need

never know-

   “Hello, Joella.”

   “Let me guess. Lunch tomorrow, right ?”

   “How’d you know ?” Anne asked. She then inhaled on her third cigarette of

the day, enjoying the way the smoke make her faintly light-headed.

   “Well, every time the urge to smoke overwhelms you, you pick up the phone

and call me.”

   “And there’s a good reason for that. Of all of us, you’re the only one who

doesn’t give me an hard time about having quit.”

   Anne inhaled. Joella laughed.

   “Of course not. Because you haven’t really quit. You just abstain a lot. I

mean, how long has it been ? Almost three weeks ?”

   “No. Actually, I’m smoking a cigarette right now-“

   “What ?”

   To say there was some surprise in Joella’s voice would have been an

understatement.

   “I found a pack in Daphnie’s purse. But they weren’t hers.”

   Anne looked down at the street. Two houses to the west on the other side of

the road, a woman waved from a bedroom window. Anne took a deep inhale on the

cigarette so that Joella could see the tip flare. But that was it for the

cigarette. She crushed it in the crystal ash tray and then explained to a

disbelieving Joella how it was that she was sure they weren’t Daphnie’s

cigarettes.

   “Not exactly standard parenting, Anne.”

   “Well, it worked, in a way, or after a fashion. We can talk about it more at

lunch. My car or yours ?”

   “Mine. See you at twelve-thirty.”

   That abruptly the phone conversation ended, leaving Anne to light one last

cigarette.

   When the alarm had gone off at five-thirty, Daphnie had been convinced that

it was a cruel joke, that in fact it was Saturday and there was going to be

no school whatsoever.

   Now, at five ’til six, she could clearly understand what a mistake that had

been. She had indeed set her alarm for five-thirty, and a few ticks shy of

six she was almost ready to take that long out-of the way drive. A drive

which would not have been necessary if Josie hadn’t decided to turn her

friend into a swag bag.

   As Daphnie finished her coffee, she noticed that Mom wasn’t up yet. That

wasn’t good. If she wasn’t in the shower by six she was almost certain to be

late- Daphnie had learned to let Mom have the bathroom first because it was

the closest thing to a true rule which they kept in their house.

   Daphnie walked up the stairs slowly, still mad at her mother. Part of her

wanted to let mom oversleep. It wouldn’t really make a difference, anyway.

Everyone who worked at Seven Sisters had their own key. But mom liked to get

in early, arrange her schedule. That sort of thing. Lead by example was what

she always said.

   She walked down the hall and saw that her mother’s bedroom door was closed,

which was odd, to say the least. Doors were not closed in this little two

person family.

   Daphnie didn’t bother to knock. She swung the door open and was hit by a

blast of cold air.

   The window was open, making the room almost uncomfortably cold. It might be

high summer, but this close to the Canadian border, nights were still cold as

a matter of simple fact. Mom was sound asleep in her massive bed. She looked

so small and alone in the middle of the bedclothes that it brought an old

Police song to mind from mom’s favourite CD. The Bed’s Too Big Without You.

   She also saw the ashtray on the desk by the window. It was sitting on the

far side of her 21″ monitor, half-obscured. It had two spent cigarette butts

sitting in it and Daphnie understood why the window was open. She tried to be

angry, tried to turn around and walk back out of the room, but couldn’t. So

what if she’d not only refused to give Josie’s cigarettes back but was

smoking them herself ?

   It was kind of cool.

   Instead she walked over to her mom, kissed her gently on the cheek, and then

put her hand on her face.

   “Mom ?”

   Anne had been in the middle of some dream and there was a wide smile on her

youthful face. Looking at her like this, Daphnie was struck by the idea that

this was how a slightly older sister would have looked. The years of worry

and depression which had coated her mother’s face since Dad’s death seemed to

have faded from it.

   “Pumpkin ?” she asked, startled out of her reverie.

   “It’s six o’clock, Mom. Time to get up.” As she spoke, her eyes went back to

now almost hidden ashtray. There was the faintest aroma of stale smoke in the

bedroom, something which had once filled the entire house. It was not

unpleasant, but rather homey.

   Anne followed her daughter’s eyes, saw the edge of the tell-tale ashtray.

   “Snagged, huh ?”

   There was a window every morning, five or ten minutes after mom first woke

up, when the parent-daughter relationship was supplanted by something else.

Daphnie thought of it as the friendship window, when the two of them were

close without the usual boundary lines between them. It was always a pleasant

time.

   “Mom, it’s not like I care. I mean, I never had a problem with your smoking.

You had a problem with it.”

   “I”m not going to start smoking again, Daphnie. That’s not what this is

about. It was just-“

   “I know. They were there- well, I just want to say that if you change your

mind-“

   Anne sat up, saw that it really was after six, and allowed a mild sense of

panic to set in.”I won’t be changing my mind. I will, however, be very late

if I don’t get going.”

   “Me too,” Daphnie said, and with that she was out of the bedroom and halfway

down the stairs. There were times when Anne missed having that youthful

energy- although today she felt a little more energised than usual. It wasn’t

hard to guess why. These days, even a little nicotine was likely to stay with

her for hours.

   The front door slammed and a moment later Daphnie pulled her car out of the

driveway and headed off for school.

   Anne had made it over to the window into to see the car pull away, and now

she was left staring at the dew on the early morning grass and the odd way

the sun seemed to be in the process of being devoured by dark grey clouds.

   Looking down, she saw the pack of cigarettes.

   They were very inviting, those cigarettes.

   What Anne really needed to do was get in the shower, get ready, and go

downstairs and drinking some of the coffee Daphnie would have left for her.

   But then again, if she was going to smoke, the best thing to do was get it

out of the way. Smoke first, shower later. It would be a change in plans, but

what was life for. Coffee and a cigarette, then a quicker than usual shower

and one of the pre-set outfits she saved for when she was in hurry.

   Feeling like a schoolkid- like whichever one of Daphnie’s friends had forced

those cigarettes on her- she walked over to the pack and picked it up.

   The familiar feel of the box was pleasant. It brought back the certainty

that Anne had never been happy about quitting.

   Of course, after six months of psychotherapy, her therapist had finally told

her that the real reason she had quit was a reaction to John’s accidental

death- just not the one she had assumed it to be. No, this was not a fear of

death reaction, but a self-punishment, a sort of you can go on living but

don’t you dare try to enjoy it response.

   Anne had stopped the therapy soon after, because the therapist seemed to be

scorning her for her decision to quit. Then again, her therapist smoked-

during sessions.

   Right now, giving in to her interpretation seemed like the easiest thing to

do.

   But that was not reason enough.

   I just want to say that if you change your mind-

   Daphnie wouldn’t mind. The truth was, Daphnie was probably a smoker just

waiting to happen. Anne had her Joella, and she was willing to bet that

Daphnie’s friend Jocelyn had given her those cigarettes. Maybe hoping that

she would try one. Anne had done such things as a teenager, and they had

worked. Twice. Francine and Helena had both started smoking after doing

exactly what Daphnie had done yesterday.

   The thought of Daphnie smoking didn’t bother Anne the way she felt sure it

should have. No, it made her excited. She knew that made her a bad parent,

but right now, with the thought of lighting one of these cigarettes singing

through her veins, the idea that Daphnie would start soon was compelling. If

she did, this three-year charade would crumble. If she did, the crystal

ashtray sitting below her hand would take its rightful place in the living

room.

   She’d left the ashtray out on purpose last night. She’d hoped that Daphnie

would see it- why else would she have turned her alarm off ?

   The box was lifted, opened, a cigarette removed.

   After last night, this was no big deal. Smoking each cigarette would be

easier, less a defeat and more a victory.

   What did it matter anyway ?

   Quitting had been nothing short of a victory. Proof positive of her own

willpower. But most of her friends still smoked- everyone in her office, for

that matter, with the exception of she herself smoked-

   That reminded her that she didn’t have time to linger. If she was going to

smoke, she’d better have done with it and get on with her life.

   The cigarette was lit. It wasn’t quite as fresh as it had been last night-

Anne was spoiled still by her years of smoking where she smoked exactly one

pack each and every day, meaning that the first cigarette of the day was from

a fresh pack-

   Well, if she opened a second pack in a day, it was always finished as well.

The first cigarette of the day should be the freshest, the most rewarding.

   Still, the one she lit was fine. The cool crisp morning air made it special.

She lingered upstairs, smoking half the cigarette before moving towards the

kitchen-

   With the pack in the pocket of her robe. If she was quick enough with her

toilette, she could have two before her shower.

   Daphnie pulled her car into the parking lot of the Gas Up and killed the

engine.

   All the kids knew this was the place to come to buy cigarettes. They never

carded, and no one got caught. Not that anyone in the town seemed concerned

about teenage smoking. It might be an issue on Capitol Hill, but not here in

Millerford. There was no anti-smoking initiative in the school, no civic progr

ammes, but then again, this was Vermont, which hardly even wanted to be in

the Union.

   Daphnie thought that was crazy, but right now the laize-faire attitude was

to her advantage. Even though the Gas Up was off the beaten path by ten

miles.

   She had a ten, which would be more than enough to replace Josie’s cigarettes

and lighter. The problem was that the pack had been minus two cigarettes

yesterday and she had no intention of explaining to Josie what had happened.

   That was silly, considering how terrified Josie was of being caught smoking-

why was a mystery, since her parents smoked, but- well, there was the pride

thing. No need for Josie to know her mom had gotten the wiggins when she

found out that her daughter was carrying cigarettes. No reason at all. Some

secrets were truly better kept.

   She walked into the Gas Up and saw immediately that the place was empty,

which was unusual.

   But fortuitous.

   She marched up to the counter and boldly pronounced that she needed-

   “Two packs of Marlboro Lights.”

   She’d made that  decision just as she’d spoken.

   The girl behind the counter, who looked to be college age, nodded and put

two soft packs of Marlboro Lights down on the counter. 

   Daphnie frowned. That was definitely not what she wanted.

   “Is there a problem ?” College-girl asked. Daphnie, who was busy staring at

the large laminated sign on the counter “Under 18- No Tobacco- We Card.”

   What a joke.

   “Um, that’s not what I wanted. I’m sorry. I need 100s.”

   “Box or soft ?”

   “Box,” Daphnie said, embarrassed. For her part, the girl didn’t seem to

care. She plopped two boxes of the correct sort down and Daphnie sheepishly

added a lighter. She knew at this point the girl could have easily guessed to

card her and the charade would be over. But instead she asked for five

dollars and seventy-three cents.

   Daphnie couldn’t get out of there fast enough. As she passed through the

doors a red pick-up rolled into the pump area and the girl found herself

holding her unbagged purchased close to her body to hide them. She made sure

not to meet the driver’s eyes, but instead looked up at the rapidly darkening

sky. An hot day followed by a cool night. Nestled in between the mountains,

that could easily lead to morning thunder storms.

   Piling into the car, some of Daphnie’s embarrassment faded. She’d done

nothing-

   Well, actually she had done something illegal.

   But not very illegal. She pulled the wrapper off one of the packs of

cigarettes and stuffed it into the car’s small ashtray. It took a while, as

the stiff cellophane resisted staying balled up. That done, she turned the

key in the ignition, started the car, and then impulsively depressed the

cigarette lighter.

   She had decided that she was not going to waste the two cigarettes. She

might not smoke them either, but she was at least going to hold and let them

burn between her fingers. She was, in fact, going to try to learn how to do

what had come so easily to her mother the night before. It had been

embarrassing when Mom had taken the cigarette from her hand and showed her

how to smoke it, as if smoking was a task that was too difficult for Daphnie

to master.

   Then again, she had been pretty inept.

   The lighter popped.

   Pulling it out, she saw that it a bright glowing orange, the metal dangerous

looking.

   As she’d done the night before, she put the cigarette in her mouth. The

pickup driver was walking into the Gas Up to pay his for his gas and he never

so much as looked in her direction. Satisfied that she was entirely

unobserved, she put the lighter around the end of the cigarette and gently

moved it forward until she felt contact. She held it there for about one full

second, just as she was used to seeing her mother- in what seemed like a past

life- do, and the cigarette caught easily.

   Once it was burning, Daphnie pulled the car out and onto the deserted

stretch of 111 that lead- eventually- to school.

   She was holding the cigarette in her left hand and all she could think of

was that it must be a nightmare to drive and smoke on a regular basis. She

was glad that the road was empty this time of morning because her attention

was at least half on the cigarette.

   Finally, the urge to try and smoke again became overwhelming. She approached

a straight stretch of road and holding the wheel tightly with one hand,

brought the cigarette to a space between her lips.

   She closed her lips around the cigarette and thought about what her mother

had showed her.

   Wrap the lips tightly around the filter. That was terribly important. Then

breathe through the cigarette.

   It turned out to be easier than she thought. Suddenly her mouth was full of

smoke, too full.

   She exhaled rapidly and the air between her and the windshield was fogged

with clean white smoke. If anyone had been in the car with her she would have

been embarrassed, which was the whole point of doing it here. The taste of

smoke coated her mouth and tongue. It was odd, a taste unlike the smell which

didn’t fade even when she stuck her left hand out the window so that the

cigarette smoke wouldn’t fill the open car.

   What was surprising was how quickly- how insidiously- the urge to take

another puff on the cigarette overtook the young smoker waiting to happen. It

was odd that she was thinking of herself in exactly the same terms as her

mother had, like some vague psychic connection. Even as she was wondering,

even imaging, that mom was putting her shower off long enough to smoke one or

two of the borrowed cigarettes she now possessed, Daphnie took another drag

on her own.

   This time she tried to inhale.

   The smoke was overwhelming. It seared her throat made her nose feel

painfully dry-

   And was wonderful anyway.

   “Wow,” Daphnie said.

   It was worth the pain. The feeling of lightheadedness which overcame her

almost made her forget that she was driving a car.

   She exhaled, smoke filling the car. It was quickly washed away by the cool

morning air.

   Then disaster struck. She put her hand out the window to trim ash from the

cigarette and it slipped from her hand. She looked in the rearview and saw it

bounce on the road, sparks flying.

   “Damn.”

   That was certainly disappointing.

   Anne was sitting at the table, sipping her coffee in a much more reserved

manner than her usual gulping.

   There was nothing like smoking and drinking coffee, which was why she was on

her second cigarette. She’d decided that if she was a few minutes late to

work this morning it wouldn’t hurt anything. After all, today was not a day

she was looking forward to, especially in that she was sitting in her kitchen

smoking.

   Today she was planning to go into work and tell her eight employees that she

had decided not to convert the third conference room in their oversized

office space into a smoking lounge, despite the fact that the lease

specifically allowed smoking. The only non-smoker among them was going to

tell them that they would just have to gone on standing outside in the rain

and the snow- under an awning- if they wanted to smoke.

   She would explain that by not having an official ‘smoking area’ on site that

she saved five percent on their group help insurance.

   She would calmly cajole them into somehow believing it was for their own

good.

   And it was all true, but the truth was that while she found herself able to

resist the urge to go outside and have a smoke with her co-workers, she would

not be able to do so once they had a smoking lounge. The smell of cigarette

smoke and the laughter and the companionship which she no longer allowed

herself would overwhelm her and she would start smoking again.

   Of course, if Daphnie started smoking she would experience the same

feelings.

   That was her wild card. She let herself enjoy the sort of stylish nose

exhale which would have turned John’s head and-

   “That’s why I quit,” she said aloud and then paused to inhale again. She

made it a double, pulling in enough smoke to perform a joint nose-mouth

exhale. John had the fetish, he’d told her about it the first week she’d

dated him, and as he’d explained how hard he got just watching her light a

cigarette, much less smoke it, she’d known she’d be happy for life.

   Until the bastard had gotten himself killed in a stupid accident. He and his

BMW-

   She stubbed the cigarette out and ran upstairs to the shower, trying to fly

ahead of the tears.

Innocence and Guilt, Part II

   Daphnie had never felt so awake at twenty past six. Just a few puffs from

one cigarette had opened up a whole new world for her, and she now understood

why people started smoking when they went to college. Coffee and cigarettes

had to equate to better grades. She’d read a New England Journal of Medicine

author’s article last spring for health class which linked smoking to better

retention and mental awareness. Of course, the effects were short lived-

which meant that you needed to smoke more than one cigarette to feel the

benefits.

   Even though the clouds were rolling in and the day promised to be horridly

bleak for early September, she felt bright.

   She pulled into the parking lot of the Perfect Donut and killed the engine.

She then paused while considering lighting the other cigarette she would need

to smoke to trick Josie. Should she do it now, or wait until she had her

coffee and croissant ? Would anyone she knew be in the Donut this early ?

   Would that be an encouragement or a discouragement ?

   That was an hard question to answer.

   She wasn’t a smoker. After last night, she understood that being a smoker

was a little more complicated than successfully tweaking a lighter or holding

a lit cigarette. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to be a smoker, but-

   It was a cop out. If someone she knew saw her smoking, they would identify

her as a smoker, and the sooner people started associating her with smoking,

the better off she would be in the desire to become a smoker. Yes, once she

let other people think she had crossed over that line-

   She saw Gretchen’s car and her heart leapt. Gretchen, who’d put her college

career on hold to come in and play her mother’s right hand, was a smoker

herself. And if she saw Daphnie smoking, she was sure to tell Mom.

   It was a plan. Daphnie had somehow come to the conclusion that she did want

to be a smoker, to be able to light a cigarette in front of her mother and

not be mocked for her lack of ability. And there was another consideration. A

smart girl, she knew why her mother had quit smoking, even though she often

asked the question in a way which suggested that she didn’t.

   After all, she’d seen the videos.

   Last month, her mother had attended the Mac Expo in Boston, and like most

curious teenagers, she’d decided to pay a surreptitious visit to her mother’s

closet. There was a regular treasure trove of pictures in there, Mom and Dad

in albums from adolescence and high school, college and the earliest years of

their marriage. Priceless captures of bad hair, bad clothes, and good

memories. They really had been happy.

   But there had also been a baker’s dozen of videos, VCR tapes buried in the

farthest corner of the closet under college sweatshirts.

   Seventy eight hours of tape filmed over three years, each one carefully

labelled. Home videos. Vacation videos. How they’d shot all of them without

ever tipping her off was beyond Daphnie.

   Ninety percent of it was Mom smoking- clothed, naked, smoking while they had

sex (which had been a very jarring image- parents having sex was never

something palatable). The other ten percent was Dad smoking cigars in the

same variety of activities.

   The audio on the tapes was almost professional quality, no surprise

considering what Mom did for a living.

   The things Dad had been saying left no doubt about the reason behind the

filming.

   He’d been quite turned on by Mom’s smoking, which was, to say the very

least, images that were as sexy as your own mother could get.

   Mom had no idea these lovingly filmed videos with their write-protect tabs

punched out had been viewed by her offspring.

   It was a shame that she was making herself miserable over Dad’s fetish.

   Strangely, the best argument Daphnie could concoct for talking her Mom into

smoking again was that if she could recover that sensual form, she might just

meet somebody- which might just be exactly what she was afraid of.

   Daphnie lit that second cigarette and hoped she would be able to find

Gretchen quickly.

   The place was almost empty, so it was somewhat inexplicable that there was

no sign of Gretchen anywhere. Daphnie felt a surge of disappointment as she

walked up to the counter to order breakfast.

   But that faded as she saw that Stephanie Burns-Telemann was working behind

the counter. If there was one senior in the whole school who would trumpet

loud and clear to the entire student body that she’d seen the junior class

valedictorian in waiting smoking a cigarette, it was Steph.

   “Hi, Daphnie.”

   Daphnie put the cigarette between her lips and inhaled as deeply as she

dared. The rush was so full and satisfy that she almost forget to exhale

before repeating the process.

   “Hi Steph. Can I have a Vanilla Nut Grande and an egg ‘n cheese croissant ?”

   “Sure. Hey, when did you start smoking ?”

            What was the right answer ? Last night ?

   No, that hadn’t been smoking. Daphnie inhaled again, as deep as sensual her

mother’s video exhibition. Stephanie clearly appreciated the show, which was

to be expected.

   “This morning.”

   “I guess all that studying requires a little pick me up, eh ?”

   “There’s nothing like it.”

   “Tell me about it. I don’t get off for an hour, and the first thing I’ll do

is light a Winston 100 and relax. But I didn’t know that valedictorians

smoked.”

   “I haven’t locked it down yet. And you’re a certainty to be second in the

class, right ?”

   “Unless Dave gets straight A’s this semester. But I’ll never catch Elisa.

And she’d die before she lit a cigarette. Too bad, she’s so hot already-“

   A tired-looking trucker strolled in and Steph went off to fill Daphnie’s

order. She got the impression Steph was trying to avoid the grimy looking

road warrior, who was openly leering at her perfect behind. Boy, was he

shopping the wrong item, Daphnie thought to herself. The black lapel button

with the pink triangle should have been a dead giveaway, but he didn’t look

like someone up on current events or the icons of sexual expression.

   He switched his attention to Daphnie, who suddenly took a serious interest

in her sneakers.

   Just as Stephanie handed over breakfast, Gretchen emerged from the bathroom.

She was holding a just lit Marlboro Lights 100 and when she saw Daphnie she

smiled. The smile turned into a broad, excited grin when Daphnie sat down and

it became clear she was holding a still-long cigarette in her smallish hand.

   She sat down uninvited.

   “When did you start smoking, girl ?”

   “I’m not really smoking,” Daphnie answered.

   “The lit cigarette would have fooled me. Don’t look now, but that greasy

trucker is watching us.”

   Daphnie inhaled, exhaled, inhaled again, trying to capture as much smoke as

possible. Gretchen brought her own cigarette to her lips, inhaled much more

deeply than Daphnie was capable of, and blew smoke over both of them.

   The girl exhaled, her own cloud smallish and inadequate next to the older

woman’s.

   “You’re learning how to inhale. I’d sure as hell say you were smoking.”

   “What I’m really doing is disposing of two cigarettes so that I can-“

   She explained the whole story from the night before, how her mother had

found the cigarettes and tried to make her tell whose they were, how she’d

later smoked some of them herself. As she talked, she drank coffee and smoked

and found the mix unbelievably compelling.

   “I wish I had friends like that. If someone had talked me into holding their

cigarettes, I would have started smoking sooner. I’ll never forget the day my

mother found out and asked why I’d waited so long. I was so freaking pissed

off.” She watched her boss’s daughter pull on the cigarette and smiled. “But

if you don’t think you’re smoking you’re fooling yourself. It’s a good look,

Daphnie. You should keep at it.”

   Inside, Daphnie smiled. Two encounters, two encouraging responses to her

smoking. It was a nice start.

   She finished the cigarette and found herself wishing that Josie had given

her a pack with fewer cigarettes in it.

   As if reading her mind, Gretchen, who’d just finished her own, pulled two

from the pack and lit them both. She handed one to Daphnie.

   “This one’s on the house.”

   Daphnie took it happily. As Gretchen tossed her beautiful reddish hair,

Daphnie asked for a favour.

   “Sure thing. I won’t say a word-“

   “No. I want you to tell my mother that you saw me smoking. Tell her I was

just making up for Josie’s pack, but-“

   “You could have thrown the two cigarettes away. That’s only a quarter. I

mean, your frugality is admirable, but-“

   “I didn’t want to. I wanted to have an excuse to smoke. I’ve always wanted

to try it.”

   “Smart girl. But why on earth would you want me to tell your mother ? It

sounds like she was pissed just finding the cigarettes in your purse.”

   “She still smokes, you know.”

   “Yeah, you said she had a couple of your friend’s. But that’s not smoking.”

   Daphnie shook her head. “No. She sneaks off with Joella Davis two or three

times a month. They have lunch or dinner and she smokes the whole time.”

   “Really ?” Gretchen asked, thinking of a perfect way to use this info. “How

can you be sure ?”

   “Joella and I are kind of friends. We talk about mom sometimes and she told

me how she’s always looking for an excuse to be alone with her so they can

smoke.”

   “Fascinating.”

   “So anyway, can you promise to tell Mom that you saw me smoking this morning

?”

   “Sure. But are you really certain-“

   Daphnie nodded that she was and exhaled a mouthful of smoke which was almost

like that of a smoker. Gretchen smiled and then excused herself. After

hearing about Anne’s not so secret smoking, she had an idea-

   The shower was over. Anne’s hair was still too wet to blow dry. She usually

dressed during this stretch of the morning, selecting an outfit and

finalising it in the mirror while she waited for the hair to reach blow-dryer

state.

   But this was no one of those days.

   In fact, she was standing by her bedroom window, the third cigarette of the

morning burning slowly in her hand.

   This was, plainly put, out of hand. One or two cigarettes would have been

fine, but the third one suggested that she neither could nor wanted take a

step back. Smoking this third cigarette- alone at 6:45 in the morning-  was a

clear indication that once again, the urge had become overwhelming.

   Then of course, there was guilt because she was enjoying every last puff.

Since there was no way to deny that guilt, Anne was working on accepting it.

That was actually not so difficult. Although she’d invested a lot of energy

into not being smoker, Joella was right. She’d never quit. She’d just

abstained a lot over a long period of time, and as she blew smoke out the

window into the increasingly heavy air, she understood that struggle was

winding down.

   Fifteen minutes later she was in her car- and despite the imminent threat of

rain, she had the windows rolled down. It was almost second nature to thumb

the cigarette lighter and the anticipation of it popping back out was

entirely expected.

   It was no surprise to Daphnie when Josie strolled into the library. It

probably shocked Mr. Head, the scottish-born librarian, but Daphnie had left

a sticky on her locker which indicated she was here. It was mildly intriguing

that she knew where the library actually was-

   “Do you have them ?” Josie asked, not wasting valuable smoking time on

chit-chat.

   “Of course,” Daphnie said carelessly, not bothering to look up from

Dreiser’s American Tragedy.

   “I love you,” Josie said, and closed for the sort of hug only Josie could

pull off without annoying Daphnie.

   “Hey, you smell smoky. What gives ?”

   Daphnie thought about telling her that she’d had three cigarettes this

morning. But the whole point of smoking the first two had been to avoid

letting her friend know she’d gotten snagged-

   Still-

   “I ran into Gretchen in the Donut this morning. She offered me a cigarette

and I accepted-“

   “No way !”

   “Way, Josie. Are you going to stand here and talk to me or are you going to

use the half-hour you have to your advantage ?”

   “Want to join me ?”

   Daphnie shook her head. “I have a lot of reading to do. And it looks like it

could start pouring any minute now-“

   “Come on- you can finish that in math class. It’s not like you don’t sit

there every day reading while Ms. Thompson is putting the rest of us to

sleep- when she can even bother to teach.”

   “It is kind of weird how she writes the problem set on the board and then

just sits there while we do them. I thought Calc would be harder.”

   “It’s not hard ?” Josie asked.

   “Not for me,” Daphnie said, honestly enough.

   “Can I borrow your brain for that test next week, then ? These derivatives

are driving me crazy.”

   “I guess you’re not going to leave unless I come with you, huh ?”

   Josie smiled and tossed her jet black hair over her shoulders. “Well, now

that you’ve opened the door, you have to expect that I’m going to make a

smoker out of you.”

   Daphnie gathered all her stuff together and threw it into her backpack. For

the first time she noticed that the small pocket in the front of the

undersized leather pack was perfectly shaped to hold a pack of cigarettes. In

fact, that appeared to be what it had been designed for. Interesting in that

it had been a gift from Mom last christmas.

   “So when did you decide that you wanted to start smoking ?” Josie asked,

pitching her voice louder than usual for Mr. Head’s benefit. He looked up,

met Daphnie’s eyes, and instead of garnering a scowl from the stiff Scot, she

was treated to a semi-warm smile.

   She returned the smile.

   “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time- and just because I had one

cigarette, that doesn’t mean I’m a smoker.”

   “No, but it should.”

   Although it had continued to darken outside it was not yet raining. As soon

as they were a few dozen yards from the building, Daphnie pulled the

cigarettes and the lighter from her purse, careful not to let the other pack

show. She handed them to Josie, who shook her head, refusing to take them.

   “You first-“

   “I don’t really know that I want another one,” Daphnie lied. Suddenly,

Josie’s easy acceptance that her friend would smoke was making Daphnie

annoyed. Josie wasn’t as smart as she was- it was a rude thought, but

entirely true- yet the girl was one of those people who always seemed to get

exactly what she wanted, when she wanted.

   Which was exactly what Daphnie was planning to do to her mom.

   She pulled a cigarette from the pack and lit it easily. Once she’d taken a

long pull, she handed pack and lighter over to Josie, who was much less

casual about lighting her own. It was obvious that seventeen hours without a

cigarette had taken its toll on her friend. her inhale was even deeper than

Gretchen’s and the exhale fogged half the air in the county with

sweet-smelling second hand smoke.

   “Why don’t your parents let you smoke ?” Daphnie asked, gently tapping ash

from the end of her cigarette with her index finger before taking another

puff. “They let Marissa start when she was sixteen-“

   “Don’t tell anyone this, but that cost Dad the Chief of Staff position. They

really don’t like the fact that he smokes cigars right in his office-“

   “Your mom is head of Gynecology and she smokes-“

   “They didn’t know that when they hired her. Word got out that Marissa was

smoking with Mom and Dad’s blessing and Dr. Michaels used that to get the job

for himself.”

   “And now he’s leaving for a job in New York, right ? They must regret that

decision.”

   Josie inhaled deeply again, once then twice, making up for lost time with a

lung bursting double pump followed by a long, patient nose exhale.

   Daphnie copied the nose exhale, which she rather enjoyed. Judging from the

video evidence, Dad had been particularly fond of mom’s nose exhales.

   “Dad thinks he’s a lock for the job this time, but he can’t afford a repeat

of two years ago. I have a feeling that once he gets the position he and mom

will lighten up, but if they knew I was smoking, they’d slap the patch on me

and place me under house arrest. Let’s take the cross-country trail. The corn

field is a great place to smoke-“

   Daphnie looked up at the forbidding sky and thought that getting any farther

away from the school right now was probably a bad idea. Then she imagined

Josie sharing another cigarette with her and suddenly it didn’t matter if she

got a little bit wet. She re-enforced this notion by taking another longer,

more satisfying drag on the cigarette and found herself willing the rain to

hold off until seven-thirty.

            They walked up the hill together, trailing smoke.

   “Your mom doesn’t smoke anymore, does she ?”

   “That could change,” Daphnie said. “She’s been miserable ever since she

quit, and she sneaks cigarettes with Joella Davis all the time.”

   “Really ? I don’t suppose I could come and live with you for the next

month-“

            She stopped in mid-sentence. At the top of the hill, walking down towards

them, was a shady and indefinable figure.

   “Shit-” Josie said, getting ready to put her cigarette out. But Daphnie

recognised who it was immediately, and stifled a laugh. It was Roger Corbin,

the hottest junior in school history, and the only boy Daphnie had ever known

her friend to have a crush- albeit an eight-year crush- on.

   “It’s just Roger, for christ’s sake. Don’t wig.”

   Josie still looked as though she had half a mind to put her cigarette out,

until she saw that Roger was lazily working a long cigar.

   “I didn’t know that Roger smoked-“

   “I saw him at a party this summer smoking a cigar. Turn you on ?”

   It was a viscous question, in a way, but Daphnie just couldn’t get those

videos out of her mind, and while she was mildly ashamed of herself, she had

to admit that her father had a nice way with a cigar- although she much

preferred it when he was clothed.

   “Yes,” Josie said enthusiastically, and already Daphnie could see the wheels

in Josie’s head turning. Her eight year crush on Roger had been fruitless in

one sense because the two seemed to have nothing in common.

   “Hi Roger,” Josie fairly shouted up the long hill.

   He was puffing on the cigar, seemingly lost in thought. But he looked up,

and even from here on a cloudy, sunless day, his blue-diamond chip eyes

reminded Daphnie why her friend had such a crush on him. He was little too

greek-godly for Daphnie’s tastes- although as she took one last draw on her

shrunken cigarette, she admitted that her tastes had changed in the last day

or so.

   But not that much.

   “Josie ? Daphnie ?”

   Daphnie noticed he wasn’t wearing his glasses. He was horribly near-sighted-

the only reason he hadn’t made the football team, according to the gossip.

   They struggled up the steep hill, and as soon as they reached him, Josie

whipped out another cigarette and lit it quickly. It wasn’t until Daphnie

nudged her that she got the notion to share again. Suddenly, turning Daphnie

into a proper smoker was no longer at the top of her list of priorities.

   Daphnie was on that plan now without assistance.

   “I didn’t know you smoked, Roger,” Josie said.

   “I didn’t know Daphnie smoked. I guess you’ve been having a positive

influence on her.”

   All three of them smiled. In the far-off distance, thunder rolled.

   “I just have one cigar in the morning. Then another two or three after I get

home. I picked the habit up from my father.”

   “He lets you smoke at home ?” Josie asked, and Daphnie could understand her

frustration.

   “Oh yeah. He tried for about a year to get me to start before I finally gave

in. He says he doesn’t trust a man who doesn’t understand the pleasures of a

good cigar.”

   “You look like you enjoy it.”

   Daphnie decided to help her friend out. “I’m going to head back in. I need

to get some more reading done by fourth period. Takes for the cigarettes,

Josie.”

   She walked down the hill without so much as looking back a single time. It

took all her self-control, until she decided to concentrate on her smoking.

She experimented with different ways of holding the cigarette, finally

deciding that down by the waist with her wrist cocked upwards worked the

best. She mixed nose and mouth exhales and tried a double-pump, but that was

too much given her meager experience.

   Still, by the time the cigarette was gone  and she walked inside she’d put

Roger and Josie out of mind. And just in time, as the rain started to fall in

earnest.

   Gretchen looked up as Anne walked in. She was the first person in besides

Gretchen, but she was still half an hour late. For her, anyway.

   “Late start ?”

   “You want to come in my office ?” Anne asked, so brusquely that Gretchen had

more than half a fear she was about to be fired.

   “I was just going to go out and have a smoke-“

   “In that rain ?” Anne asked. She was surprisingly wet looking for a woman

who parked under an awning right in front of the main door.

   “Unless you have a better suggestion.”

   “Grab that ashtray you keep in your desk for the days I’m on the road and

bring it into my office. I won’t have my best employee standing out in the

rain.”

   Well, that alleviated the fear of being fired. But Anne had spent a thousand

dollars on that awning precisely so that her entire staff of smokers wouldn’t

have to stand in the rain or snow. Gretchen was excited. If she was going to

be allowed to smoke in Anne’s office- well, that was certainly a good sign,

especially this morning.

   “Close the door.”

   Again, her tone was almost hostile.

   “What’s wrong, Anne ?” Gretchen asked as she sat down. She put the ashtray

on the left hand corner of the desk and waited for Anne to give her the

signal to light up, which she did quickly, a slight nod of her head. Gretchen

wasted no time lighting her long cigarette, and as soon as she’d inhaled, she

felt herself relax.

   “Well, today’s the big day you guys have been waiting for.”

   “You’re going to nix the idea of turning the spare conference room into a

smoking lounge, aren’t you ?”

   “Well, according to state law, some time in the next six months I’d have to

add an to-the-exterior ventilation system, and I lose that five percent

subsidy on our health insurance premiums. You know how much that would cost

me.”

   Rather than answer that question- there was no good way to ask someone else

to spend their money, after all- Gretchen simply took her best shot.

   “I saw Daphnie this morning at the Donut.”

   Considering that she’d asked a ‘yes-no-dollar amount’ sort of question, this

didn’t seem like the right answer somehow. But intuition, always Anne’s

strong point, compelled her to ask a question she hoped to hell she knew the

answer to.

   “And that relates to this how ?”

   “Two ways,” Gretchen said, deciding not to mince words. She given up a lot

to take this job, and while Anne had been very good to her, there was a point

where you had to get selfish. Besides, it was what Daphnie had wanted.

“First, she mentioned that you’d been smoking. Second- are you sure that you

want to hear this ?”

   “If it has something to do with whether or not to put a smoking lounge in

for u- for the rest of you, yes I do.” Her heart was racing. She was about to

be told that Daphnie had been smoking- and all she felt was a great rush of

anticipation. She should be angry, and disappointed both in her daughter and

herself, but there was none of that.

   She realised that the woman hiding in the closet on VCR tapes was

re-emerging, taking control again.

   As it should be. John or no John, she was still the person who’d gladly

posed on all those tapes, the one whose husband used to get rock-hard not

just because he liked watching women smoke but because she was very- very-

good at it.

   “Daphnie was smoking. Just two cigarettes, to make up for the ones that

wouldn’t have been in the pack you took from her last night.”

   “You mean this pack right here ?” Anne asked, taking the pack from her

purse. She left the lighter there for the moment because she wanted- she

desperately wanted- to hear more.

   “Yeah.”

   “And when she finished those two, did you offer her another one ?’

   Gretchen was taken aback both by the question and its tone, which more

excited than stern.

   “As a matter of fact I did. And she did smoke one more. She doesn’t quite

know what she’s doing yet, but she did seem to be enjoying it.”

   “Of course she did. She’s a smart girl. I knew sooner or later she’d try it,

and that when she did she’d like it. Like mother, like daughter. Were you

hoping that all this would help me to decide to put the smoking lounge in ?”

   “Well-“

   Anne smiled. It was not a cold smile, but it did lack warmth.

   “Sorry. See, the problem with doing that, aside from the costs, the fact is

that all three of those conference rooms are at one end of the building and

if we use three for a smoking lounge, the clients we bring into one and two

are exposed to o- your smoke.”

   Gretchen tried to contain herself, but she couldn’t. “This is really going

to piss everyone off, Anne. They were counting on this.”

   All Anne did was smile. Then she reached into her purse and took out the

lighter. Without explaining herself, she lit a cigarette and settled back

into her plush leather chair. Blew smoke across the space between them.

   “Relax, Gretchen. Sometimes I think your enthusiasm is wasted on the working

world. There is a door between the conference rooms and the office proper.

I’m going to make the office off limits to clients and allow smoking in the

office area. That means you can smoke right at your desk, ten hours a day.

Just like it used to be when I was a kid. But it means when it comes time to

hire again- and Andrea is leaving next month, remember- you and I have to

find a way to screen the applicants-“

   “We can’t hire a non-smoker.”

   “Exactly. But we can’t come out and ask, either.”

   “I’ll figure out something, Anne. I can’t believe this. Everyone is going to

be so happy. But what happened ? I mean-“

   Anne stood up and began pacing across her spacious office. “I- it’s a lot of

things. One, I’m tired of not smoking. Two, part of the reason I decided to

quit- aside from the personal ones I don’t care to discuss- was that I didn’t

want Daphnie to start just because I was doing it. Then came last night.

Those really weren’t her cigarettes- I made her smoke one and she didn’t know

what the hell she was doing. I realised that I was making the decision for

her instead of letting her decide, which is as selfish as forcing her to

smoke by association would have been. She’s a smart girl and she should be

able to make up her own mind.”

   “I guess she is,” Gretchen quipped, “because she learned how to smoke in an

hurry this morning. The one I gave her- well, she’s already inhaling.”

   “I started inhaling on my second one. It comes quickly to some lucky people,

that’s all.”

   “I can’t believe you’re doing this. It’s so cool.”

   The two women exhaled together. Anne felt the bond between them tighten.

   “Make a list of what everyone smokes. Take the company credit card and get

them each a carton of cigarettes. I want those on their desks by

eight-thirty. Understand ?”

   Gretchen nodded and was off immediately. The broad smile on her face erased

any hesitation Anne had felt about her decision.

   Daphnie and Josie didn’t have either of their first two period together, so

Daphnie was shocked when she saw her friend, who looked like a drowned rat .

   “What the hell happened to you ?” Daphnie asked as she dropped her books

into her locker and tried to decide what to do with her free period.

   “Roger asked me to the Fall Festival dance Friday night !”

   “And what ? You sweat yourself into a frenzy ?”

   “No. We got caught in the rain, silly. I-“

   Just then Josie’s beeper went off. She checked the number.

   “Shit. It’s Dad. I wonder what he wants ?”

   She took her cell phone out of her purse, which appeared to have stayed

amasingly dry.

   “Now ? Yes, I have a free period but-“

   Josie put her hand over the phone. “You have third free, right ? Can you

drive me home ?”

   “I guess. I don’t have anything better to do, but-“

   “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

   Just as she flipped the cover back on the phone her beeper went off again.

   “786-5309 ? Who the hell is that ?”

   “My mom.”

   “You gave your mother my beeper number ?”

   “Well, since I don’t have any drug-dealer friends, you’re the only person I

know with a beeper and cell phone.”

   “You can call from your car. Let’s go.”

   “Come on in, Daphnie.”

   Mrs. Lawrence was a hugger, and Daphnie would have shied away but she’d had

gym second period, which gave her a chance to wash the smell of smoke out of

her hair. She didn’t think the woman, who was holding a Virginia Slims in her

right hand, would notice the smell on her clothes.

   So she accepted the hug and then watched as Josie, who was rainwater clean,

got one of her own.

   “What happened to you, young lady ?”

   “I got caught in the rain, Mom.”

   The day had turned nice again as quickly as it had gone sour, and Mrs.

Lawrence, who spent endless hours buried in the bowels of the hospital- some

idiot had thought the basement was the best place for Gynecological Services-

seemed surprised by the notion that there had been any rain on such a bright

and muggy day.

   “Your dad has some news for you. He’s waiting in the dining room.”

   “I’ll wait out here in the hallway, Mrs. L.”

   “Nonsense. You’re Josie’s best friend- hell, you’ve had dinner over here so

many times you’re practically family. Come on.”

   That the mood was festive was unmistakable. There was an open bottle of

champagne on the table in a fine silver holder and four glasses, all poured

full of bubbly.

   “Hello, Daphnie-” Mr. Lawrence said. He waved a long, wide cigar in the air

and beckoned them to have some champagne.

   “I don’t usually drink on my free period,” Daphnie said with a smile, “but-“

   “How’s your mother ?”

   “Well, you know-“

   That was always the answer that Daphnie gave. Everyone asked, because as a

widow, her mother had been granted some sort of special fragile status in the

town. It was hard question to answer. Say she was great- and lots of things,

like the business, were just that- and you ran the risk of suggesting that

she didn’t really miss Dad.

   Say anything else, and you got that sympathetic ‘well, she IS a widow’ look.

   “I think that the hospital may have some business to send her way.”

   Josie looked at her mother and asked an unspoken question. She got a nod.

The urge to blurt something out was very strong, but Dad loved his surprises,

even when they weren’t, like know. He was like a small child with a shiny new

toy.

   Everyone sat down, and once he had a captive audience, he blurted out his

news. “You’re looking at the new Chief of Staff at Regional Hospital.”

   “I though the announcement was at least a month away, dad.”

   “Well, somehow- and I won’t say how- the board discovered that Dr. Michaels,

who had an eighteen month no-negotiation clause in his contract, started

talking to Saint John’s about six months after he was named Chief of Staff.

They let him go this morning, which is a bit of an embarrassment for him. I

hear that Saint John’s is rethinking their decision.”

   “That’s evil, Dad. I love it.”

   “Well, I never said I was the one who told them.”

   “I was,” Mrs. L said, her words carried on plumes of VS smoke.

   “This is especially good news for you, Josie. I called the school. You and

Daphnie have the rest of the day off. Since I’m getting an hefty raise, I can

now actually afford to send you to college and  buy you a car. I thought you

might want to bring your best friend along. We have an appointment at the

Saab dealership at two-thirty. If you’re free, Daphnie.”

   “Well, my Mom told me she has some news for me. We’re having lunch at noon,

but I think I can shake myself free.”

   “Would you ask her to call me ? We need a new set of television ads and your

mom is the best in the business.”

   “I’ll tell her you said that.”

   “Please do. Now, Josie, I just need you to do one thing for me. Open your

purse.”

   Josie and Daphnie exchanged sick looks.

   “Dad-“

   “This isn’t what you think. Trust me, it’s for your own good.”

   “Dad-“

   Mr. L was, by Daphnie’s standards, a nice guy, but he did not like being

thwarted, as Dr. Michaels had discovered. He visited his sternest doctor’s

look on his daughter, who opened the purse slowly. The pack of cigarettes, as

amasingly dry as the purse, fell right out onto the table.

   “Well, that was easy enough. Now, while your mother and I aren’t happy about

the fact that you continued smoking even though you knew why we preferred you

didn’t, we-” He paused, held his cigar out and gave it a long, fond look.

“-we’d be the two biggest hypocrites on the planet if we said we didn’t

understand.” He looked at Daphnie. “Do you smoke, Daphnie ?”

   Daphnie swallowed hard. Wondered what the right answer was.

   “Yes. I just started. I know that it’s-“

   “It’s not as bad for you as people would like you to think. I find that

nothing relieves stress like a good cigar. I highly recommend you try it

yourself some time.”

   “My father smoked cigars.”

   “Yes,” Mr. Lawrence said. Of course, he knew that. Josie and Daphnie had

become friends because their fathers were old golfing partners, and Dad never

went to the links without a few cigars in hand. “John loved a good cigar

better than any man I’ve known.”

   There was a short, awkward silence.

   Mrs. L stepped into the breach. “Josie, the point is that your father

discussed this very issue with the board this morning. The fact is, he told

them point blank that if they were more concerned with how he raised his own

daughters than what he had to offer the hospital, he wasn’t interested in

taking the position.”

   “You did that for me, Dad ?”

   Mr. L took a long draw on the cigar and his smile was thoroughly warm and

utterly shark-like in the same expression. “I did it for all of us. I don’t

want to take direction from a board that’s more interested in appearances

than results. And I did it for you, because I know that you’ve been smoking

for almost a year and it’s time you got what you deserved.”

   “Which is ?”

   “From now on, you smoke where you want, when you want.”

   Josie drained the champagne in one nervous gulp. “How about now ?”

   “Please. Both of you feel free-“

   They did.

   When Daphnie pulled into the parking lot, Mom was standing outside with

Gretchen. They were laughing about something and-

   Was that a cigarette in her mother’s hand ?

   It was, unquestionably.

   Daphnie piled out of the car just as Joella pulled in.

   “Mom ?”

   She didn’t try to hide the cigarette. Instead, she inhaled deeply, and then

waved with the hand holding the just lit cigarette. The way she smiled

through her nose exhale lifted a virtual ton from Daphnie’s shoulders. She

reached into her purse and pulled out the unopened pack of cigarettes.

   “I bought these for you this morning, Mom.”

   “How did you know I was going to start smoking again ?”

   “I didn’t. I bought these to encourage you.”

   It was strange thing to say, but her mother smiled. “Thanks for the thought.

But I am old enough to buy my own, you know. You keep those. I think it’s

past time I started encouraging you. Go ahead and have one. Quick. I want

Joella to see both of us smoking. It will really  make her day.”

   Daphnie did as she was asked. It took her a moment to get the cellophane off

the pack, so she accepted a light from her mother, forming a bond neither had

hoped would reach fruition so soon.

   Joella smiled at both of them and invited Gretchen to join them for lunch.

   Daphnie found the three older women especially supportive of her smoking,

and by the time she pulled into Josie’s driveway, any questions about whether

or not she was a smoker had been answered with a finality which was very-

   Pleasant was the word Daphnie decided on. As she lit a cigarette in the

driveway, she thought about how far she’d come in one day, and how happy she

was about it.

   She might be smoking a Marlboro Lights 100, but they were on to something in

those Virginia Slims ads. She had come a long way.

   Daphnie and her mom were sitting in front of their Mac, having fun.

   And smoking, of course. They were on Cyberline, in Millerford’s very own

town hall chat area. Millerford had its own virtual environment, and one of

those chat areas just happened to be called the Smoking Lounge.

   It had been Joella’s idea. After some difficult moments, she’d managed to

convince mother, daughter- and Gretchen- that the Smoking Lounge was not one

of those places were geeks hung out to discuss the relative merits of Captain

Kirk and Captain Picard. Not that Daphnie thought there was necessarily

anything wrong with that sort of discussion, but-

   This was a lot more fun.

   They were talking to Mike and Bob. Mike was Mike Olmsford, who owned the

Millerford Microbrewery, and Bob was his son, who was a junior like Daphnie.

   They were both smokers, of course. Anne had just finished telling the story

of how she and Daphnie had come around in the same day, how they’d shared

Daphnie’s very first cigarette and-

   Daphnie, who was still a little taken aback by the videotapes, had thought

this was going to be weird, but she found out that it was fun instead. Bob

was telling his own story, about the first time his father had caught him

smoking a cigar out in the garage at three in the morning, how it had lead to

a long talk about the relative merits of smoking. And how in the end, his dad

had been just as cool about it all as Anne had been with Daphnie.

   About an hour later, Mom asked if she and Mike could be alone for a while,

and Daphnie agreed. They had two phones, after all, and as she lit the last

cigarette from the pack she’d bought for her mother this morning, she went

upstairs to call Bob.

   With a very large smile on her face.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.