Gillian sat down in the plush chair, allowed herself to sink back, and

thought about how much effort it would take to forget this day.

   A lot. More than she had, by a wide margin. It had been the sort of day

which would defy all attempts at being forgotten.

   Yet she would be compelled to try.

   The first step was to start up the brand new Nine Inch Nails CD she’d bought

yesterday at the Attic. It was something called a maxi-single, ten tracks

which were really only four songs in a variety of dour iterations. Reznor

started in on Head Like a Hole and Gillian felt some sense of relaxation.

   Not much, but it was a start.

   Her cat Piper jumped up on her lap. It wasn’t looking for attention- Piper

certainly was above wanting affection- but rather for the warmness of the

lap. The air conditioning was on a bit too high, something Piper despised.

   Just then, the phone rang. Gillian opened her eyes and looked down at Piper,

who gave her an easy to read look. Don’t get up. Ignore it.

   It might well be David, looking to apologise, playing out the shy

intellectual act, but Gillian wouldn’t have it.

   Sensing that she was about to be displaced, Piper growled and jumped off the

warm lap angrily. Gillian followed her into the kitchen, grabbed the phone

from the wall, and by the time she’d let loose a curt “What ?” Piper was

enjoy a fresh dollop of cold, wet meat.

   “Bad day, Gilly ?”

   “Sorry, Marissa. The worst. I thought you were someone else-“

   “David, right ?”

   “Yeah. It’s no big deal. What’s up ?”

   “I was wondering if you wanted to go out, grab a meal and a few brews at the

Terrible Lie ?”

   Gillian had to smile at the irony of that.

   “Why the hell not ? You want to pick me up or meet me there ?”

   “Well, why don’t I swing by. One of us is bound to get too drunk to drive.”

   “We can flip a coin…”

   Marissa pulled up in her Saab 900s. It was a slick car, black, with black

leather and a black rag-top.

   Gillian was glad the top was down. Marissa was smoking another in her endless

 supply of Virginia Slims, pulling hard on the long, freshly lit cigarette.

They would sit in the Lie and be crammed together at a small corner table and

Gillian would be forced to inhale second hand smoke all night. But it would

be worth it because there was only one person who could possibly make her

feel better.

   “You didn’t say why you’re having a bad day-” Gillian said as piled into the

car. Marissa took one last pull on the cigarette before driving away from

Gillian’s condo.

   “Gee, do you need to guess ? At twenty-five, I have a six figure job, my own

house, five weeks of vacation time- so it must be my career path, right ?”

   “Gordon dumped you ?” Gillian asked, shocked. Gordon had seemed- well, too

submissive to dump anyone. Much too submissive. But in a nice way.

   “Why do you look so shocked ?” she asked, trimming ash into the wind.

   “Because you’re- well, you’re you, Marissa.”

   Marissa laughed, tossing long curls of sandy hair off her shoulders. The

laughter became, in short order, a frightening thing, a frame-shaking,

gut-wrenching spasm, like some psychotic Shaker. This sarcastic laugh was

what Gillian referred to as her friend’s ‘other bad habit.’

   Finally, she was able to stop. The effort of it had worn her down, but she

quickly refreshed herself with a long pull on the cigarette. Sanity flooded

back into her eyes as she pulled the car to a stop at the red light and

regarded her friend with her crystal blue eyes.

   “I’m me. And that’s supposed to make me invulnerable to this sort of thing


   “It could be worse. You’re attractive, you’re rich, and you’re aggressively


   “You failed to mention my large breasts and small feet.”

   “Well, that covers two of the more obvious sorts of fetishes-“

   “Feet and money ?”

   They both laughed now, but the tension remained. Part of it was Gillian’s

fault. At times she could be almost bitterly jealous of her old friend- and

it was most likely to creep up upon her precisely when Marissa was mired in

some low moment of her life. As though the very concept was anything but a


   “What happened ?” she finally asked, driven by her own curiosity past the

edge of not wanting to know.

   Marissa paused to inhale one last time and then crushed the cigarette in the

ashtray as she exhaled a thick flood of dark white smoke into the cooling

night air. She considered lighting another but decided to wait as the Lie was

only ten minutes away. For a long moment there was only the rush of the wind

in their ears as the convertible cut air.

   “He- he wanted something I wouldn’t give him. And I’m not sure I want to

talk about it.”

   “You asked me out, Marissa-” Gillian said. Just then, Marissa took Dead

Horse Shank, the tightest turn in the county, at almost forty miles an hour.

Her pack of cigarettes and lighter, sitting up on the dash precariously,

slid, quickly picking up speed. Gillian caught them just before they would

have rocketed out of the car.

   The craziest thought came into Gillian’s head. She was so angry with David

after today. It was, to be honest, now nothing more than blind fury, no

longer directed solely at him- or anyone. It was just an hunger demanding to

be fed. A single act of defiance usually quelled the fire. Too often, this

involved a large ticket item purchase.

   But right now, that liberation seemed to be held in her hand. She wanted to

light one of Marissa’s cigarette- light it and then smoke it. Inhale the

smoke deeply, feel lungflesh sear. She wanted the smoke to burn her eyes and

nose and make her throat raw- the way it had Marissa when she was 14. Funny,

but Gillian thought she might just remember Marissa’s first cigarette better

than she did.

   Why smoking a cigarette right now was so obviously the answer was beyond

Gillian, but she didn’t care. The pace of her heart quickened. The night air,

once cool, became warm and heavy again. Within her empty stomach grew a

flower of anticipation. Faints sound rang in her ear, below the level of the

rushing wind.

   As she teetered on the precipice, ready to give into this momentary urge,

stripped down to the most defiant need, Marissa answered the question.

   “He wanted me to do the black leather thing, you know ? Pseudo-dominatrix-“

   “Like Marv Albert-” Gillian said.

   Marissa noticed that Gillian’s voice sounded strange, as though she was

eating something. The road had straightened out, affording her the

opportunity to look at her friend.

   When she saw why it was that Gillian’s voice had sounded odd she nearly

drove the car off the road. Between her lips was one of her own cigarettes.

Although she had not seen it, she imagined that cigarette bouncing up and

down in Gillian’s mouth as she spoke.

   “What the hell are you doing ?”

   Gillian looked at her, the cigarette still held surprisingly firmly between

her lips. “I’m going to smoke a cigarette, if that’s all right with you.”

   Marissa forget the visions of black leather which had been plaguing her all

day. Because this was a far more delicate situation. She had her fits of

laughter- painful, throat-rending fits- and Gillian had her defiant moods. Of

course, they were usually expressed in a shopping frenzy- mail order

catalogues being the most entered gateway to temporary insanity.

   This was different.

   To say that Marissa had tried to talk Gillian into trying smoking would have

been the grossest of understatements. Since the day she started at 14- a day

Gillian was there for- Marissa had tried every trick in the book. Recently

she’d even begun lurking in a usenet group dedicated to smoking glamour,

hoping someone would post tips on how they’d gotten their girlfriends to


   She couldn’t say for sure what the obsession was. She preferred to date men

who smoked, but it wasn’t a rule. And Gillian was the last person to give her

an hard time about her own smoking. Yet she’d become increasing obsessed with

the idea of Gillian picking up the habit. While she’d read a few articles

about how this was perfectly natural, it seemed anything but.

   Here was the opportunity she’d been waiting for. After a month of beating

around the bush, of trying to slip seemingly casual comments about the

pleasures of smoking into casual conversation, there was Gillian, sitting in

her car with an unlit cigarette in her mouth, ready to light it and join the

club with no prompting whatsoever.

   There was only one thing to do.

   Without taking her eyes off the road, Marissa took a swipe at the cigarette

with her right hand. It was hard making sure that she missed using only her

peripheral vision, but she managed to come up short by just over an inch. It

had looked good, however, and that was the whole point.

   Gillian turned her head sideways.

   “What’s the problem ?”

   Marissa found the sound of her friend’s voice, muffled by the cigarette, to


   “You don’t smoke, that’s the problem. You’re just acting out because you’re


   “So. Unless I’ve really misunderstood you, which I doubt, you’ve been trying

to sell me on the joys of smoking for our entire adult lives- and you’ve been

hoping I’d start ever since you did.”

   “That’s selfish of me,” Marissa said. She made another false attempt at

grabbing the unlit Virginia Slims, and missed by as much as before. “I

shouldn’t push that off on you.”

   “Selfish is acting like you can’t spare one fucking cigarette for your best

friend. Right now I want this.”

   Inside, Marissa smiled. Gillian might have wavered at any point up to now,

but she was committed. There would be no turning back. She would light that

cigarette, and if Marissa was very, very lucky, her friend would actually

enjoy it.

   As Gillian bent her head and cupped her right hand around the lighter,

Marissa rolled the car windows up to cut the wind.

   The lighter flared and the cigarette caught. As soon as that part of it was

complete Marissa forced her attention back to the road.

   But a profound relief which she couldn’t begin to interpret engulfed her.

   After inhaling- and it wasn’t much of an inhale at all- Gillian lifted her

head and blew a tiny wisp of smoke up and over the car, to be torn away by

the wind. Marissa rolled the window back down so that Gillian wouldn’t smash

the cigarette against the glass. Then she snuck a glance at her and saw

another inhale taking place. This one was also of the juniormost variety, but

it showed clearly that she did know how to smoke, if haltingly.

   Gillian found herself unfazed by the cigarette. The small, brief inhales

were far from what she would need to open her eyes to the side of smoking

Marissa knew so intimately. It was neither pleasant nor un. Still, the urge

to rebel was now fading, and that had been the whole point of this particular


   “So, was this whips and chain black leather or biker bar and tattoo black

leather ?”

   “I don’t know. As soon as he started in on the whole leather kick I told him

I’d had enough.”

   “He doesn’t seem the type.”

   Marissa snuck another glance at her friend, who was managing to inhale


   It made her feel a little flush, that image.

   “Well, that’s the problem. They never do seem the type. And then one day

it’s ‘Hey, you’d look great in a black leather bra and knee high boots.

What’d’ya say ?”          

   “You know,” Gillian said, feeling bolder with each successive attempt to

inhale, “I can’t say I really like the menthol.”

   “Well, that’s good, because I only brought that one pack and it has to last

me all night.”

   “Can we stop and get another ?” Gillian asked, animated. “I’d like to try

the brand that my sister smokes.”

   Again, Marissa was struck by the need to play this precisely the right way.

One miscalculation and there would be no more smoking for Gillian. She was in

one of her moods, and this could be used, but only if it was played


   “You’re not going to start smoking,” Marissa said in a matter-of-fact way,

as though the issue was not up for discussion.

   “Just for tonight. I feel- liberated, like I’m finally an adult or

something, you know ?” She punctuated this statement with another pull on the

fading cigarette.

   “That’s just the clever advertising. Are you absolutely sure you want to do

this ?”

   “There’s the store. Please stop.”

   Marissa was not going to ignore her friend’s plea. She pulled the car into

the convenience store parking lot and tried her best to relax, which wasn’t

easy. Gillian might think that she was just going in for one rebellious night

of innocent smoking, but that was not going to be the case by a long shot.

   “Will you get me a box of Marlboro Lights 100s ?” Gillian asked as they got

out of the car.

   Marissa smiled. “No way. If you want a pack of cigarettes, you’ll have to

buy them yourself.”

   “I don’t know how-“

   “Just walk up to the cash register and ask for them. It’s not against the

law- not yet anyway.”

   They walked in together, and Marissa decided to make things easy on her

friend when she saw her waver, as though she was going to roam the store

looking to pad her purchase. Marissa had learned a long time ago that padding

was just a waste of money. They kept hundreds of packs of cigarettes behind

the counter for a reason and the truth was, no one cared whether you smoked

or not- at least not in this venue.

   “A pack of Virginia Slims, please.”

   The teenage boy behind the counter smiled a little too eagerly at Marissa

but quickly produced the cigarettes. He scanned then and then handed them

over, taking Marissa’s fiver with only a faint grin on his face. Then he saw

Gillian and turned his attention to her as he dispensed Marissa’s change.

   “What can I get you ?”

   “A pack of Marlboro Lights 100s, please,” she asked around a palpable lump

in her throat.

   “Box ?”


   “Can I see some ID, please ?”

   It was hard for Marissa to avoid laughing.

   “I’m twenty-five-“

   “You’re the youngest looking twenty-five year old I’ve ever seen. Look, they

watch us on camera. It’s not like I care-“

   As Gillian dug for her license she pointed her thumb at Marissa. “You didn’t

proof her.”

   “I don’t have to anymore. She stops in all the time. But I’ve never seen you

before-” He took the plastic, scanned it. “Gillian. That’s a cool name.”

   “Thanks. How much ?”

   As soon as they were back in the car, Marissa looked at her friend, who was

only slightly the worse for the wear.

   “See that wasn’t so hard, was it ?”

   “I haven’t been proofed in two years.”

   “It’s a compliment, Gilly. I think he liked you.”

   Gillian had torn the cellophane off the pack of cigarette immediately. She

now cracked back the top of the box, extracted a cigarette, and lit it

casually. Once it was burning, she inhaled, another slight effort but better

than before. If anything, the look on her face suggested that she enjoyed the

stronger cigarette more.

   Marissa decided to be honest for a moment. She studied her friend, the way

her blonde hair framed her pleasant face, the gentle angle she held the

cigarette at while she waited to take another puff. The long white cigarette

looked perfect in her hand.

   “What the hell are you looking at ?”

   “I- you look good with that cigarette, Gillian. That’s all.”

   “Well, don’t get too used to this. I just want to try it for one night-“

   Marissa promised herself then and there that they’d look back and laugh at

that one day.

   “David’s right,” Marissa said.

   Maddeningly- at least as far as Gillian was concerned- her friend paused

after this statement to light a cigarette. The defiance creeping back,

Gillian lit one of her own- her sixth from the pack. Although she still

wasn’t truly inhaling, she was making progress on that front, and Marissa had

little doubt that she was watching the transformation of a non-smoker into a

smoker. For most neophytes, this sort of consumption would have been

overkill, but Gillian was used to smoke, from family and friends, so there

was no surprise at her quick acuity.

   “Explain.” She exhaled a short wisp of smoke and tapped the cigarette with

her index finger, a perfect trim.

   Marissa was a little concerned about-

   She let that slide.

   “You get too attached to the characters. I mean, three novels in eighteen

months with the same protagonist. David’s too driven to want to stay with one

anti-hero forever.”

   “And I’m not driven ?” Gillian asked, punctuating the question with her

sharpest inhale yet. A good deal of smoke quickly made its way into her lungs

and Marissa could see her friend enjoy the sensation.

   Marissa pulled hard on the Virginia Slim. Watching her friend smoke the

Marlboro Lights was making her wonder if it wasn’t time to try the menthol


   “You are- that’s the whole point. David understands the part of the business

you don’t-“

   “We’re a pair of twenty-somethings. It’s not like he’s ten years older than

me. We started this little venture in a dorm room at four am one night, drunk

and happy. Besides, what do you know about publishing ?”

   “I know,” she said, exhaling a long cloud of smoke which washed over her

friend, “that you can’t milk one cow for the rest of your life. You got too

attached to Jacob and now you hate David for killing him off.”


   What was the right answer ? That she, in a sense, loved the dark knight

they’d both gotten rich off of. That David was a pragmatist and she was a

fool. It was just a stupid character in a novel, after all.

   “He didn’t ask. He wrote that last chapter without me and then asked me to

rubber stamp it, as though my credibility with our readers isn’t an issue.”

   Marissa signalled the waitress. This was turning into another pitcher of

beer sort of night. Why she cared about this aspect of her friend’s life was

beyond her, but-

   “What you and David do is unique. You sit in a room eight hours a day

professionally married to two Power Macs and each other and you bang out

these fantastic novels. You walk into the office and it’s a job, but it’s

like you’re creating this whole other world. You two can do this for the rest

of your lives and get filthy rich- but not if you can’t walk away from it at


   “If I could walk away from it, I wouldn’t carry a powerbook with me all the


   “I can’t believe that you brought that damn thing to the beach last


   Gillian’s inhale was deeper.

   Her exhale was sensuously complete.

   “If I get to a point where I can turn it on and off, it’s not art anymore.”

   “Now you sound like one of those starving Soho types. There’s nothing wrong

with the way you and David do your work. But you can’t hate him- when I read

Songs of Madness, I knew the next novel would be the last in the Jacob

series. Tell me a part of you-“

   “A part. And I hate that part the way I hate David. He uses my creativity,

but in the end he sculpts- and destroys- the characters.”

   Taking a long, slow inhale, Marissa watched for the watchers. It was more

obvious tonight. She was used to it- the Terrible Lie was the sort of place

where there were few antis, and she knew well enough that she attracted

plenty of male attention when she smoked. But now there were two of them,

both smoking, and with the way Gillian had quickly discovered the right ways

to hold her cigarette, they were getting plenty of attention.

   Marissa elongated the inhale, dragged out the exhale. Gillian unconsciously

mimicked her.

   A trio of boymen two tables over were pretending to watch the Giants-Jets

preseason game, but not convincingly. Gillian was blissfully unaware.

   “Are you starting a new novel tomorrow ?”

   “Well, maybe in the late morning or afternoon. We have a teleconference with

our main editor first thing- he’s more of a rubber stamp these days than I

am. David ftped her the beta draft before we left for the day-“

   “Over your objections, right ?”

   “Yeah. We’re doing a story chart tomorrow-“

   “Well, it’s time you came up with the next antagonist. Don’t let David do


   Gillian inhaled, the deepest one yet, and saw the way in which Marissa

appreciated its deepness. The white hot anger she’d been feeling towards

David was fading. Marissa was right. It was time to let it go. If nothing

else, every puff she took on each cigarette seemed to please Marissa that

much more, and-

   Gillian had lit the first Virginia Slim out of a sense of base defiance, but

now each inhale was a little deeper because she was-

   Enjoying it. And it was giving her an idea for tomorrow.

   Like that, the anger was gone- for an hour or so- and the conversation

turned to leather. Black leather. It was a two pitcher talk.

   “Very interesting. We make the switch to a female protagonist. I like it.”

   David was lounging in his chair, smiling.

   “Well, her name is Gretchen. And all I know about her for sure is that she’s

a smoker.”

   “So she’s a- well, for lack of a better term, she’s a bad guy.”

   “What makes you say that ?”

   “Well, she smokes. I mean, it’s cliche, but-“

   “Break the cliche.”

   “No. You break it. I made Jacob’s framework. It’s your turn. Besides, I’m

not a woman, and I don’t smoke, so-“

   “I thought you were characterisation and I was mood and setting.”

   David’s smile was cold and engaging at the same time.

   “Let’s change that, too. You know a lot more about women- and smoking- than

I do.”

   “You’d be surprised how much I know,” Gillian said.

   “What’s that mean ?”

   David thought for a moment- he had a certain habit of pausing for just long

enough that you began to wonder if he was ever going to speak again.

   “Your parents and your sister smoke. Marissa smokes-“

   “So that makes me an expert ?”

   “Well, my last girlfriend smoked, but-“

   Gillian’s moue of distaste was unmistakable. “Please, don’t mention that-


   He stood up, some agitation in his manner. In his jeans and black peasant

shirt, he reminded Gillian of a young computer mogul, glasses perched

haphazardly on his face, the small black frames seeming too tiny for his

eyes, the look of determination undeniable. “Why didn’t you like her ?”

   “That whole time you were dating her you were-“

   “Unfocused ?”

   “Yeah. Exactly. But you’re right-“

   Gillian was struggling with this. With telling him. Just blurting it out.

Why not ? He was as close to her- perhaps closer. After all, she’d never had

the energy to hate anyone who wasn’t close to her. And there were times, like

last night, when she truly hated David. But now wasn’t one of those times.

   Oh, who was she kidding ? Herself.

   Last night, she’d smoked all but four of the cigarettes. They’d stayed at

the Lie for six hours, right up until closing, and she’d smoked just over two

an hour- amasing even Marissa with her ability to turn on her smoking like a

switch. For a change, it was her friend who was jealous- after all, Marissa

had been smoking for almost a year the first time she put a whole pack away

in a single day. Of course, now she smoked that much every day, but Gillian

could have easily done it in six hours.

   The truth was, she’d made sure to preserve a few for today, because she knew

she’d want more and she wasn’t sure she was immediately ready to go back to

what she’d endured last night. Getting proofed was ridiculous.

   She’d taken her shower before bed, which was unusual- to get the stench of

tobacco smoke from her skin. She wasn’t ready to sleep in that all night. As

the last of the water had drained away, she’d convinced herself that the

evening had been an aberration, that the look in Marissa’s eyes as her friend

watched her smoked wasn’t worth the nicotine hangover she expected- and felt-

in the morning.

   She’d gotten up and stumbled downstairs fifteen minutes late- still plenty

of time to get to the office.

   As she made the coffee she somehow found herself able to ignore the fact

that she’d snuck the almost empty pack of cigarettes into her robe pocket. It

wasn’t until she had drunk half a cup and begun to wake up that she realised

that she didn’t need a cigarette, but she wanted one anyway.    

   In the end, wanting that cigarette was almost as nice a feeling as smoking

it. But the second one had been better.

   In the fifteen seconds of wool-gathering she indulged herself in, David

divined her secret in that strange way of his. Before she could tell him, he

walked over to her desk and snatched her leather jacket off the chair.

Without preamble- and this was something she should have been angry about- he

pulled the nearly empty pack and the lighter from the pocket where she so

foolishly thought that they’d been hidden.

   “Are you disappointed  ?” she asked.

   When David wanted to, he could lay on the guilt thicker than anyone Gillian

knew. But instead of adopting a pensive look, he just smiled at her.

   “Can I tell you a secret ?”

   There was a time when they’d shared secrets the way brother and sisters did.

There had never been any sex between them- both had considered and rejected

the concept at separate points during their college days- somehow, although

they both would have agreed it was trite, their friendship had seemed more


   But it had been a long time since either of them had crossed those lines-

right up until he’d reached into her coat pocket and told her secret for her.

   “I suppose that will make us even, although it would better if I could guess

yours as easily as you did mine.”

   “I saw your secret unfold last night. I wandered over to the Lie- to

apologise for hurting your feelings, I guess. I mean, I still don’t think

that I was wrong, but I did feel bad- you seemed to have gotten very close to


   Gillian frowned. As secrets went, this was no comparison to the time David

had admitted that he’d been sleeping with Professor Kilar, or, as he’d called

her, Kristen. Gillian had never looked at Eastern European literature the

same way again.

   “Well, it’s nice to know you’ve learned how to share,” she said


   He walked over to her and handed her the cigarettes and lighter. “That’s not

my secret.” He then sat down again and tried to lounge in a relaxed manner.

But it didn’t take- he was so often a nervous ball of energy that sitting

seemed to present a problem. He could pull it off once a day as he had

earlier, but now he was getting wound up- which meant they’d be getting down

to work soon.

   “It’s about Eunice.”

   Gillian’s wry laugh failed to hide the soreness of the subject.

   “I should get this out of my system now, before you start smoking here in

the office and you wonder-“

   “You’re not going to let me smoke here, are you ?” she asked incredulously.

   “This is our  office. Sometimes I think you forget this is a partnership.

You let me bully you and you don’t say anything, just like when we were at

Colby. Yesterday was one of those rare times you actually stand up to me


   “I was wrong. It took six hours, but Marissa finally got me to see that.”

   “What was her problem last night anyway ?”

   “Boyfriend dumped her.”

   “Why ?” David asked, as shocked as Gillian had been. But there was something

else in the question, an hint of interest beyond that casual which Gillian

had no problem identifying. David had sniffed around the topic of Marissa’s

eligibility more than once- somehow, they rarely crossed paths, despite being

her closest friends. She supposed she segregated them for-

   Perhaps the reason wasn’t so hard to divine.

   “I really can’t say, David. It’s personal.”

   “I’m a person-“

   “Yes, a person with a secret, and I’d like to light one of these cigarettes

in my  office, so spill it.”

   He swallowed. It was his nervous tick, a slight gesture less frightening

than Marissa’s baleful laugh.

   “The thing which initially attracted me to Eunice was-“

   It took him a while to come around that final corner. As their working

relationship had tightened, his unwillingness to let her see into his soul

had grown. These days, he was practically stoic, especially considering that

he let her peer into his darkest corners eight hours a day through his


   “-that she smoked. I- I have a thing for women who smoke.”

   “And what in god’s name made you think I need to know that ?” Gillian asked.

She then went ahead and lit one of the two remaining cigarettes, partly

because she wanted one and partly to see his reaction.

   “Because- well, I can’t say I won’t enjoying watching you smoke. You should

be forewarned.”

   Gillian took as deep an inhale as she could manage. This morning had been a

revelation as to just how deep those inhales could be. Last night it had been

all baby puffs, but today…

   Today she had started smoking for real, and she knew why what had taken

Marissa a year had taken her one day. She was older, more ready for it than a

young teenage smoker ever could be.

   She was proud of herself.

   “Is that why you’re always asking about Marissa ?”

   Now it was his turn to smile- although as she’d exhaled before asking the

question, he’d grinned visibly.

   “Well, only partially. The other component there is that it  always makes

you see green, even though you’ve never been the least bit interested in me,

at least that way.”

   “You’re mean.”

   “No, just calculating. But now that you know my secret, and Marissa is

available, will you-“

   “Men,” Gillian said, exhaling again. This was a full bodied nose exhale and

David couldn’t keep the impish grin off his face. She was glad he’d told her-

it was going to prevent a large misunderstanding from developing.

   “What ? What’s with that ‘we’re all little grey men from Reticulum’ look on

your face ?”

   “She broke up with Gordon yesterday. How does that parse out in your mind to

mean that she’s available today ?”

   “Digital processing. Didn’t you know that I had my brain replaced with a

motherboard senior year ?”

   “Considering how little you studied, I had always wondered how you passed-

Anthro excepted.”

   He stood up, clearly agitated. “How many times do I have to tell you I

earned that A ?”

   “I know you earned it,” Gillian said playfully. Before he could answer, she

brought the cigarette to her lips, wrapped them around the clean white

filter, and inhaled as deeply as she dared. She let the smoke trail from her

mouth slowly after she was done with it, liking very much the way the scent

of the smoke changed after spending time in her lungs.

   David’s response was arrested in mid-thought.

   God, I’m going to have fun with this.

   David and Gillian banged out the character of Gretchen and drew up a basic

story flow chart, pausing only long enough for drive-through lunch and a

quick stop at the convenience store. By five, they were ready to call it a


   It was amasing to Gillian how a little thing like their twin admissions

about smoking had seemed to narrow the growing gap between them. It had been

clear to Gillian for some time that they’d made an unspoken agreement to

place their professional relationship above their friendship- which made it a

little sad that he was still one of her two closest comrades.

   But today had been different. They’d talked off topic. They’d laughed. There

had even been a grudging return to the brother-sister touching that had once

been something beyond sexual.

   All because Marissa had left her Virginia Slims on the dashboard.

   “Can we stop by Marissa’s ?” Gillian asked, knowing it was a stupid


   “Sure. I want to thank her for-“

   “None of that. If I started smoking because of anyone but myself, it was

because I was mad at you.”

   “Point taken. I assume you just want to make sure that she’s all right.”

   “Well, that and I can see if she’s willing to make herself available for

Digital Man.” It was a joke, of course-

   Gillian got quite a shock when Marissa opened the door- and she opened it

just a crack. David was around the corner, looking a suspicious lump of dirt

by the side of the house.

   It was just as well.

   Looking through the cracked door, Gillian was met with one of strangest

sights she’d ever seen.

   Looking out the door, she could see Marissa’s surprise at the cigarette in

her hand.

   That was mild compared to the shock of seeing Marissa in a tight black

leather bra, knee high black leather boots, and straps leading up to matching

black leather panties. She looked- well, strangely enough, she looked

comfortable, in a sexual sort of way. Her long hair, curled out and teased,

was perfect for the part.

   She took a deep pull on her Marlboro Lights Menthol 100 and just then David

peered over Gillian’s much shorter shoulder and said “I see you’ve changed

brands- and tailors.”

   Gillian could have gladly died at this point, but Marissa seemed


   “Why don’t you two come in. I don’t want the neighbours to see me like this.

Mrs. Lansing will call the police and tell them I’m running a brothel.”

   “There’s a hole in your-“

   Gillian elbowed David as hard as she could in the stomach and he finished

with a breathless “-in your lawn.”

   “It’s a termite trap. Don’t ask. Just get inside.”

   She stepped away from the door and they walked inside. As David made his

way- all too casually- into the living room, Marissa stepped close to

Gillian, the smell of leather strong, and said “I can’t believe you told


   “I can’t believe you let him into the house dressed like that.”

   “He’s a little casual, but-“

   “I meant you-“

   Marissa excused herself to go change, and Gillian followed David into the

living room, where she explained what had happened between Gordon and

Marissa. Not that the explanation cleared up why it was that she was dressed

that way.

   Gillian heard the tinkle of glass in the kitchen and was shocked when,

instead of coming into the living room properly dressed, her friend walked in

carrying three glasses of white wine. She distributed the other two, sat down

in her television chair, crossed her legs, and lit another cigarette.

   The stouter Marlboro looked better in her hand than the Virginia Slim,

Gillian decided.

   “So Gillian told you that she decided to start smoking, eh David ? Were you

surprised ?”


   “How do you like my new look ?” she asked, uncrossing her legs to reveal how

tightly the boots fit her stylish legs. But Gillian had a feeling that David

was watching points north. The bra had to be a c-cup, and Marissa was not a


   “You decided to give it a try ?”

   Marissa laughed, but this was a normal one. She looked at Gillian. “You know

how you caught my cigarettes last night and just decided you had to try one.

That’s how I felt today. I mean, Gordon’s history, but I decided that I

wanted to know. Curiosity.”

   “You could have put a robe on before you answered the door,” Gillian


   “I saw you pull up in David’s car. If I hadn’t wanted the two of you to see

me like this, I would have.” She took a long pull on the cigarette and

Gillian knew from the look on his face that David had developed a raging

hard-on. It made her realise just how well she knew him.

   She also noticed that her other friend’s nipples were spectacularly hard,

practically bursting the precision seams of the bra. Then again, with all

that tension, how could they not be.

   Gillian suddenly felt profoundly uncomfortable.

   Not even a deep inhale on her own cigarette calmed her. David glanced her

way in time to catch the exhale- he seemed especially taken by fine exhales,

which made Gillian wonder why she worked to purse her lips and force the

smoke to trail from her mouth in a tight stream. She was even more perplexed

at why she suddenly felt the need to undo the top two buttons of her blouse.

   “So you were pleasantly surprised to find out that Gillian’s started

smoking. Why’s that ?”

   Before David opened his mouth, Gillian knew he’d tell her. If there was one

thing David was, it was an opportunist, and he wouldn’t pass up the chance to

make some progress in his little digital world.

   He sipped at his wine as though he wasn’t fighting to keep his pants from

bulging awkwardly and then grinned that boyish grin of his.

   “I happen to find women who smoke attractive. You don’t think that’s weird,

do you ?”

   Marissa took another long drag on the cigarette, opened her mouth to expose

the ball of smoke resting inside her mouth, and then inhaled sharply, pulling

it into her lungs. As she performed the sort of nose exhale Gillian could

only wish she was capable of, she said “No. In fact, I think Gillian’s a very

attractive smoker.”

   That comment caused Gillian to drain her wine glass in one gulp. Marissa

bounced up from her chair to fetch the wine bottle, and Gillian couldn’t help

but notice that the back of the panties were nothing more than a string.

   Her friend had a very tight ass- which David watched out of sight.

   Immediately Gillian stood up and rushed over to the couch, cigarette still

in hand.

   “What the hell do you think you’re doing ?” she demanded, pushing on David’s

chest with one hand as she used the other to bring the cigarette to her

mouth. She inhaled sharply and exhaled quickly. David leaned into the smoke

and drank the exhale in.

   “What any guy in his right mind would do right now.”

   “Stop it !” Gillian said, not sure why she was so upset. She shoved him

again and he shoved back this time. Only his hand slipped inside her blouse

and caught her breast, cupping it accidently. She brought the hand with the

cigarette back up towards her mouth, trapping his hand in place with her

upper arm.

   They had played this way on occasion in college and it had never led

anywhere. But right now the gentle pressure of his hand along the underside

of her breast was compelling.

   She looked down, unable to meet his eyes, and saw a large hump in the fly of

David’s khaki trousers. Her free hand strayed towards it as she exhaled

again. Mimicking her, her moved his arm over hers and trapped her with her

hand just inches away.

   That was when Marissa walked back into the room, carrying the half empty

bottle. She refilled glasses as though the two were sitting on the couch

discussing current affairs and then squeezed herself in on David’s backside.

She put the hand holding her cigarette on his arm and leaned her chin over

his other shoulder.

   “Am I interrupting ?”

   Gillian moved to release David, but Marissa’s other hand came around his

ribs and pushed her friend’s hand to the place it had unconsciously been

seeking. She then lifted her head and began running her tongue along the rim

of David’s ear. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, his right hand

still on Gillian’s breast.

   For a split second, Gillian thought she must be going mad, and then she

leaned forward and put her head under David’s chin. She began slowly kissing

his exposed neck, pausing only long enough to work one last inhale from her

cigarette. As she moved to kiss him again, Marissa twisted her hand in a way

which clearly offered her cigarette to her friend. Gillian leaned towards it,

found it with her lips, and pulled hard. The cool taste of menthol flooded

her mouth, and she decided that while it was a nice change of pace, certainly

stronger than the VS, it wasn’t for her.

   “Kiss me,” David moaned. Gillian moved as if to exhale but he shook his head

and she understood what he wanted. She brought her lips to his and they

shared the smoke even as Marissa began working his shirt off, which she did

with uncanny speed and skill. Her hand then began massaging his tight, almost

hairless chest and Gillian kissed him deeply. She then grabbed his shoulders

and spun him like a top so that he was facing Marissa. She inhaled and kissed

him the same way that Gillian had.

   Gillian found his zipper hard but not impossible to undo.

   David was lying on the couch, spent. The bottle of wine had been drained,

along with a second. Clothes littered the living room floor. Gillian and

Marissa lit fresh cigarettes and sat down next to one another on the floor.

   Strangely, Gillian didn’t feel at all weirded out by something that she was

sure should have freaked her.

   In fact, for the first time in her life, she felt truly comfortable with

Marissa. Instead of competing for something, they had shared it.

   There was only one thing which was bothering her.    

   She leaned into Marissa until they were holding one another up at the

shoulder. They turned to face one another. Noses inches apart. Emerald eyes

met sky blue.

   “Did you mean what you said about my smoking ?” Gillian asked.

   Marissa lifted her head back and exhaled a long stream of smoke.

   “I could watch you smoke all night.”

   “I can’t believe we did this,” Gillian said.

   David lifted his head. The only bad part about all this was the shit-eating

grin on his face.

   “Believe it.”

   Marissa reached out and gently turned Gillian’s chin towards her. Her skin

was flush with sweat and warm, but it was a pleasant feeling.

   “I mean it, Gillian.”

   Their noses were touching, and though this to should have shocked Gillian,

when they started to kiss, it only made her feel hot again inside. She heard

David draw a deep, satisfied breath, and then she forgot him. There was just

the insistent pressure of Marissa’s tongue against hers, the taste of smoke

in her friends mouth. She found the ashtray, and then with both hands free,

cupped Marissa’s generous breasts. They were firm and round and everything

she’d ever imagined they would be.

   Marissa broke this kiss, brought her cigarette up, and inhaled. She then

turned it around and offered it to Gillian, who accepted gladly. As she was

inhaling, Marissa worked her index finger up and in, finding the g-spot with

the sort of ease only another woman could hope to accomplish.

   Gillian’s breath turned to ragged gasps and Marissa kept the pressure

constant even as she smoked with her other hand.

   “I think I’ve just found something else I love to watch,” David said from

the couch.

   Fortunately, he caught the glass that his old friend threw at him.

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