Smoking Project

The snow was still falling. Tiffany looked out the window and turned up the

radio, listening to the school delays.

    The phone rang.

    She picked it up and said “Hi, Mom.”

    “How’d you know that it was me ?”

    “It was either you or a telemarketer. It’s seven-thirty.”

    “Is school delayed again ?”

    “Hour and an half- but I’m still holding out on a cancellation. I have a

lot of work to do.”

    “Well, try and behave yourself, okay ?”

    “What does that mean ?”

    There was a long pause, as if mom was unwilling to say what was on her

mind, which meant that Tiffany knew what was coming next.

    “I’d rather you didn’t take this opportunity to sit around smoking all

morning, honey.”

    Then she heard her mom draw on her cigarette.

    “Mom, I’ve told you that I don’t smoke- well, not as much as you think.

I really do have a lot of work to do.”

    “Well, all right.”

    That was how the conversation ended, awkwardly as it did any time the

subject of smoking came up. It was always aggravating, and Tiffany responded

to that by reaching into her purse, pulling out the pack she’d bought on the

way home from school yesterday. She’d only smoked two cigarettes on the walk

home and hadn’t had one since, but she lit one now and almost immediately,

there was a knock on the door. She pulled her still wet hair into a ponytail

while holding the cigarette in her mouth, exhaled, and went to see who was

there, as if she had any doubt.

    It was Lee, smiling as always.

    “Hey, smoker. What’s up ?”

    Tiffany opened the door, looking at her friend sourly. “Why do you always

have to call me that ? I have a name, you know.”

    “Does it embarrass you ?”

    “When you do it in front of our teachers- or my mother- a little.”

    “She giving you an hard time again ?”

    Tiffany blew smoke at her friend. “Not since ten seconds before you got

here.”

    “You don’t help. You could be more circumspect.”

    “That would be less fun.”

    “Well, are you here to help with our psychology project, or are you just

going to bug me about my smoking ?”

    “Bugging you about your smoking is a lot more fun. Plus I get to watch

you smoke more.”

    “You like watching me smoke ?”

    “I keep thinking if I watch you enough, I’ll understand it.”

    Tiffany inhaled, smiled while she held the smoke, and exhaled playfully.

    “You can’t understand smoking by watching it, silly.”

    “I think I can.”

    “But you’ve lived your entire life with two people who smoke.”

    “I understand you better than them. And I think that I am learning a lot

by watching you.”

    Tiffany drew on the cigarette, exhaled sharply. “And just what have you

learned ?”

    ‘Well, Mom and Dad smoke habitually- literally out habit. They can smoke

any time they want- except when they are working, I suppose, but I don’t see

them then. I’m not saying that they don’t enjoy it, but it’s different with

you-“

    “How so ?”

    “Well, every time you light a cigarette, it’s because you really want to

smoke.”

    “Of course. But I would smoke more often if I could.”

     “That’s something I’m curious about. It won’t be long before we go off

to college and when you do, you’ll be able to smoke whenever you want. What

do you think is going to happen ?”

    “I think someone has decided on changing our paper topic.”

    “Well, how much do we know about underage drinking ?”

    “A little bit-” Tiffany blew more smoke and then stubbed out the

cigarette.

    “Not as much as we know about underage smoking.  I was thinking that we

call it Underage Smoking: A Case Study.”

    “You want to do a case study on your best friend ? Like I’m a lab rat ?”

    “You are a smoker, Tiff.”

    “No, Lee.”

    “Yes, Tiff.”

    “I mean that no, we don’t do it that way. First of all, we won’t call it

underage smoking. That stigmatises perfectly normal behaviour. Secondly, we

don’t know a lot about smoking. I know a lot about smoking. That isn’t the

same thing.”

    “I’m the objective observer.”

    “You can’t write a paper about smoking without first hand experience.

That’s like an archaeologist writing about brown dwarf phenomena in solar

system dynamics. If you don’t smoke, we don’t write this paper.”

    While Tiffany and Lee were arguing about that, Tiffany’s mom was walking

around the empty office. Well, not quite empty. There was only one other

person here, Bethany. She was on the phone, nodding in that quiet, polite

way. She finished the call and hung up the phone.  

    “Well, that was the last of them- Caryn herself. She’s not coming in

either. She said we can either stay and work or try to get back home.”

    “I’m going to stay. Now that I’m here, I figure I might as well wait

until the storm lets up and they have a chance to plow.”

    “She thought you’d say that. She says she’ll make it up to us- and if

we’re going to stay, we might as well work on the layout for the Soho

article.”

    “Well, since no one else is coming in- would you mind if I smoke in my

office. I’ll keep the door closed and the window open.”

    “You don’t need to do that. Caryn smokes in her office when she comes in

on the weekend.”

    “I’m not Caryn.”

    “Does that bother you ?”

    “What do you mean ?”

    “Well, I don’t want to put this the wrong way, but-“

    “She’s twenty-six and she owns the company and I’m forty and have been

here ten years and I have to work for someone who’s closer to being my

daughter’s age ?”

    “Something like that. I mean, I’m twenty-eight, so it doesn’t bother me,

but-“

    Brianna smiled. “No. She earned it. I mean, she started up an internet

company in grad school, sold it for several million dollars, and came in and

turned this place around. The company is worth four times what it was when

she walked through the door. We were in trouble. Mr. Wilson had alienated

half the advertising base, morale was low- no one wanted to tell you when you

started, but half of us were ready to find other jobs. I mean, you were only

here maybe two weeks before she came in.”

    “Well, I’ve heard some of the stories. But sometimes I worry that having

turned the company around, Caryn will sell it the same way she sold her first

company. Her degree is in corporate restructuring.”

    “Hold that thought, and I’ll tell you something she told me one day in a

few minutes. I really would like a smoke.”

    Beth waved her hand. “Please. Smoking doesn’t bother me. Come on, we’ll

go into your office, you can tell me what Caryn said, and then we can start

working on that layout.”

    “I have to finish the article first. The deadline for that was ten, so I

was planning on starting it at-“

    “Nine-thirty ?” Beth teased.

    “No ! Nine fifteen.”

    They laughed.

    Bree settled in behind her desk, took her cigarettes and lighter from her

purse, and then pulled an ashtray from the top drawer of her desk.

    “You’re sure that you don’t mind ?”

    Beth considered something. “Let me tell you a little secret. I haven’t

told anyone in the office this- I mean, there’s what, thirty-five people in

this office and twenty-five of them smoke. I used to smoke, too.”

    Lighting her cigarette, Bree looked at Beth with new interest. “Really ?

I would never have known. You always seem kind of- well, just barely tolerant

of the fact that most of us smoke.”

    “What do you mean ?”

    “When we go out after work, you get that look on your face when we start

lighting up.”

    “Reflex, I guess. Maybe a little jealousy.”

    “Tell me more,” Bree said, exhaling a voluminous cloud of smoke.

    “Well, I started when I was sixteen, and I went through so much shit. My

parents found out and grounded me for a month. I kept right on smoking,

though. This is going to sound prissy, but I was one of the popular kids, and

all the popular kids smoked, and we were ‘good kids’ otherwise, good grades,

active in school functions, so the teachers just kind of looked the other

way. Finally, my parents realised I wasn’t going to stop, so by the time I

was seventeen they just gave up and let me. I smoked all through college,

too.”

    “Did you like it ?”

    “Yeah- I loved it.”

    “Then why ?”

    “Same old reason.” Beth watched Bree’s deep pull on her cigarette and

felt that old familiar longing to join in, mixed with what had become a

familiar if unsettling sexual attraction which she knew was trouble, what

with them being all alone.

    “I started dating this woman I went to school with the summer after I

graduated. She hated smoking- and she was- is- so freaking gorgeous- and the

sex-“

    Bree thought she might just be blushing, so she hid herself behind a

cloud of exhaled smoke.

    “Anyway, we’d been dating about a month and I made a deal with her- I’d

quit as soon as I got over the stress of finding a job by actually finding

one. The last day of my life as a smoker was the day before I started working

here.”

    “You poor thing. You mean-“

    “Exactly. I would never wish that on anyone. I was so petrified, starting

my first real job and quitting smoking at the same time.”

    “How did you ‘””

    “The sex. Every morning, every night- all night. But eventually,

something had to give. I got so irritable and- well, it’s funny. Right about

the time I regained my emotional balance, she bailed on me. But since I’d

already quit, I just decided not to go back.”

    Bree trimmed, drew, exhaled, and Beth thought about what a long day it

was going to be.

    “Do you ever slip ?”

    “Yeah. A couple of times a month I get together with my college buddies

and we go out. Once I get a couple beers in me, I start bumming off my

friends. But that’s maybe eight or nine cigarettes a month.”

    “There’s half a case of Newcastle in the fridge from the Christmas party.

I could get you a little greased.”

    Beth tried her best to smile and then laugh the suggestion off. “It’s

eight-thirty in the morning.”

    “Hey, we need to be sober when we drive home, so if we’re going to get

started, we might as well do it now.”

    “You are joking, right ?”

    What was the right answer to that question ? Bree knew something Beth

didn’t- or at least something Beth didn’t know she was aware of, and this

was the perfect time to test that.

    “Come on, just one beer. Let’s make this fun.” She stubbed out her

cigarette, walked out of the office, and while she was alone, Beth tried to

straighten out her wild hair and checked her pits for sweat stains. This

couldn’t really be happening.

    Bree came back, handed her associate an opened bottle, and settled in

behind her desk, immediately lighting up.

    “So what did Caryn tell you ?” Beth asked, retreating to safer ground.

    “Well, a lot of people here have been worried ever since that staff

meeting when she announced the company’s net aggregate value had jumped 400

percent. I mean, with an MBA in corporate restructuring, and a gem like this

on her resume, well, it makes sense people would be worried she’s going to

jump ship. But she told me that she sold the internet company because it

didn’t feel real. It was all just databases and transactions on servers, just

ones and zeros. Now, four times a month, she gets a new magazine on her desk

and she can pick it up and look through it and the quality is good, the

advertising base is phenomenal. She took four mags that were on their way out

and breathed new life into them, got them on the internet, the subscriber

base is up, the mail from the readers is positive. She said she can see

getting married and having a kid so that she has someone to pass it onto when

she’s ready to retire at 50.”

    “Caryn? Married with child ? Can you see that ?” Beth joked.

    “No. But then again, if she put her mind to it- hell, she could get

married tomorrow. They’d line up outside her office door with flowers and

champagne. She’s a blue chip.”

    Bree inhaled, held it, and nose exhaled, watching for Beth’s reaction,

which was slight but noticeable.

    “You’re right. But she’s not my type.”

    They laughed at that. Beth wasn’t shy about her sexuality.

    “Too bossy ?”

    “No. Too straight.”

    Beth took a long pull on the beer, found the bottle half-full.

    “Feeling like a cigarette yet ?”

    “We really should get to work.”

    “Well, pull your chair around and we can write the article together and

lay it out as I go.”

    Beth slid the chair around the desk, parking it at the corner.

    “Come on. The screen on this iMac isn’t that big. Get closer.”

    Beth did as she was told and found her chair right up against Bree’s.

She could smell her- a mix of herbal shampoo and cigarette smoke. Bree

exhaled and they were both in the smoke. She took another pull on the beer

and started to get that happy feeling.

    “Maybe I will have just one,” she said, and picked up the pack. It felt

good in her hands. She took out a single cigarette, placed it between her

lips and Bree was there immediately to light it for her.

Smoking Project

Part 2 of 4

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Lee said.

    “Sit back and relax and I’ll make this as easy as possible.” Tiffany took

the cigarette and handed it to Lee, who cupped it in her left hand.

    “Not like that. Between your fingers, silly.”

    Lee did as she was told.

    “Now put it up to your nose and smell it.”

    Lee ran the cigarette along her nose, inhaling.

    “That’s a nice smell, isn’t it ?”

    “Yeah, actually it is.”

    “Look at it. Those clean white lines. You know what that is ?”

    “It’s a cigarette, doofus.”

    “No. It’s more than that. It’s power. Power of enjoyment, and sexual

power. You learn how to hold it and smoke it and it will attract boys. That’s

one of things about smoking you don’t understand yet. Why do you think I’m

so popular ?’

    “Arrogant much ?” Lee asked, trying for defiant.

    “No, I’m serious here.”

    “Well, you’re fucking gorgeous. That perfect little nose, those fucking

breasts. And your legs. Shit. I would kill for your legs.”

    Tiffany took her friend’s free hand and dragged her into the downstairs

bathroom.

    “Look in the mirror.”

    Lee did, and she saw two girls, one beautiful, with straight long blonde

hair, a perfect face. And a second girl with wild red hair, fat lips, goofy

blue eyes that didn’t match the hair and studious black wire-framed glasses.

Her own breasts were passable, but she hid them under a baggy black mock

turtleneck.

    “I see two gorgeous girls. If I was a lesbian, I’d be all over you in a

second. Your lips are so- kissable.”

    “But you get all the boys.”

    “Because of this-” Tiffany said, taking Lee’s left hand. “Put it up to

your mouth.”

    Lee did a passable job of looking like she was smoking the cigarette.

    “Here.” Tiffany took the cigarette between the first two fingers of her

right hand, drew it up to her mouth, faked an inhale, and removed the

cigarette from her mouth. She lifted it, holding it with the two fingers

angled away from the rest of her hand up by her ear. Then she handed it back.

    “Now you try it.”

    Lee took the cigarette, inserted it between her lips, inhaled, tasting

the sweet tang of unlit tobacco, and then mimicked the hold. She pursed her

lips and pretended an exhale.

    “See.”

    And it was an epiphany. Lee did see, did understand. She did it again.

    “Power.”

    “Power to burn, girlfriend. Now, back to living room.”

    Tiffany guided Lee to the chair, sat her down. Lee brought the cigarette

back to her lips and Tiffany lit it for her.

    “Now go easy. I don’t want to be washing puke out of the fucking carpet.”

    She stood behind her friend, rubbing her shoulders the same way she did

when Mom came home tense after a day of work.

    “Relax.”

    Lee drew the smoke into her mouth and exhaled it through her nose without

taking any of the smoke into her lungs. She repeated this three times and

then tapped the ash away into an ashtray.

    “I want to see myself.”

    This time she grabbed Tiffany’s hand and pulled her back into the

bathroom. She brought the cigarette to her lips, drew, and nose exhaled again.

    “Now you-“

    Tiffany took the cigarette, pulled deeply on it, and coated them in

smoke. Lee watched her friend’s breasts heave, watched the look of joy on her

face as she exhaled. She trimmed the ash into the toilet and then handed it

back.

    “Inhale and hold. Exhale. Concentrate on the way you hold the cigarette

in your hand.”

    Lee did, looking at herself in the mirror.

    Tiffany stepped behind her friend and hugged her around the waist,

peaking her face over her other shoulder, half concealed in that red hair. It

was nice hair. It might not be blonde, but it was nice. She held the

cigarette exactly as Tiffany had. She put her other hand on Tiffany’s and

squeezed.  

    She brought the cigarette back to her lips, inhaled, let some of the

smoke slip into her lungs, fought the urge to cough, exhaled.

    Tiffany guided her hand towards the toilet.

    “Just a tap. Always keep the ash trimmed. A long ash is nasty.”

    Lee tapped on the cigarette with her index finger. Once, twice, and the

ash fell away, leaving a rounded tip.

    “Perfect. Again.”

    Inhale. Smoke held, cigarette moved, exhale.

    Trim.

    Again.

    “Wow, this is cool.”

    “I told you.”

    “And smoking is like, well, it’s performance art.”

    “In a way, yes. It’s enjoyable in itself, but it needs to be done right.”

    “I could get used to this.”

    “You’d better.”

    “I’m just doing this for the paper, smoker.”

    “Whatever, smoker-in-training.”

    The day had gone by quickly. It was already three-thirty. They’d knocked

off the Soho article around noon and done two more after that.

    But Bree had only been able to get Beth to smoke three cigarettes that

whole time, and she found herself disappointed and invigorated all at once.

She liked Beth- liked her a lot.

    She liked her even more when she was smoking. The truth was that it was a

little exciting watching her smoke.

    Bree lit her tenth cigarette and found it every bit as enjoyable as the

first.

    “Sure you don’t want another ?’

    “I shouldn’t. I’m enjoying it a little too much,” she said, slightly

sullen.

    “What’s wrong ?” Bree asked, deciding that she did indeed want to push

this envelope.

    “Well, oh, it’s nothing. Trust me.”

    It wasn’t nothing, of course. In fact, it was pretty important- the

problem was that Bethany thought it was only important to her, which was

wrong. Of course, part of that problem was the way Bree had been acting

herself, straddling the fence to see what would happen rather than giving

more positive signs to work with, because she wanted Beth to do the actual

work.

    “Try me. I’m a pretty good listener and I have an open mind.”

    “You really don’t want to know.”

    “That sounds like you’re thinking for me. What do you always say ? Don’t

think for the readers, let then think for themselves. Right ?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Okay, let me think for myself.”

    “Well, you have to promise me that you won’t let what I’m going to say

have an effect on our relationship.”

    “You mean a negative effect,” Bree said, blowing smoke.

    “Yeah.”

    “Deal.”

    “I- I have a little bit of a crush on you, Brianna.”

    “I know,” Bree said, and she was instantly sorry. It wasn’t what she had

meant to say, after all.

    “You knew ?” Beth said, incredulous.

    “Let me give you some well-meaning advice. If you want to keep a secret

in an office this size, don’t tell it to anyone.”

    “Who told you ?”

    “No one. I overheard something one day.”

    Beth was blushing crimson. “I’m so sorry- I’m so fucking embarrassed.”

    “Why ?” Bree asked, punctuating the question with a nose exhale.

    “Well come on. You’re forty, you have a teenaged daughter. You’re

straight. “

    Bree stood up, walked behind Bree, put an hand on her shoulder and let

her exhale drift onto Beth.

    “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I would expect an open lesbian to be

a little more open-minded.”

    “What ?”

    “The year right before I started dating Gary, I was in a relationship

with the most beautiful woman- the most beautiful person I’ve ever known.”

    “Is that why- why you got divorced ?”

    Bree laughed, thought about the question, smoked, laughed some more. Beth

looked at her with a little bit of wonder in her sweet green eyes.

    “No. Gary had two faults. He wasn’t faithful and he wasn’t discreet. The

first time, he told me it would never happen again and I believed him. The

second time he said it would never happen again and I knew he was lying- he

just didn’t. The third time, I asked for a divorce. By then, Tiff was twelve

and I thought she could handle it.”

    “So you’re bisexual ?”

    “No- I’m open minded. I don’t think of it as being bisexual. When the

right person comes along, I act on it.”

    “Does Tiffany know ?”

    “it’s never really come up- although she wonders why I’d rather watch

Buffy than Angel. I have no problem telling her, though, if that’s what

you’re worried about.”

    “What ?”

    “Well, do you still have- I don’t know- a crush on me ?”

    “Yes,” Beth said, sound like her teeth were being pulled.

    “I’m flattered. You’re very attractive and you’re a great person.

You’re also twelve years younger than I am and I have a teenage daughter. Can

you handle that ?”

    “I- jesus, I was never expecting this, you know.”

    “Well, it’s time to stop fantasising and start acting. Why don’t you

come over for dinner and really get to know Tiffany a little. We are a

package deal, after all.”

    “I-“

    Bree exhaled, bent down, and kissed Beth. Kissed her hard, her mouth

still smoky. Beth kissed back.

    “Sure. Dinner. Let me just go collect myself a little.”

    The phone rang.

    Lee handed the phone to Tiffany.

    “Hello ?”

    “Tiffany ? What are you doing ?”

    “Lee and I are working on our psychology paper, Mom.”

    Giggling, Lee lit her fourth cigarette of the day. Although she had

initially been enthralled by the concept of smoking, how it looked and felt,

she had settled herself into a way of thinking about it- that this was just

experimentation, that she would smoke for the next few days until they

finished the paper on Thursday and handed it in on Friday.

    “I think you’re probably just sitting around- you’re smoking and trying

to get Lee to join you.”

    “Mom !” Tiffany said, aggravated.

    “Listen, Tiff. I didn’t call to rag on you about your smoking. I have a

limited amount of time here, so I want to tell you a few thing. First, I’m

bringing someone home for dinner.”

    “A date ?”

    “Yes, a date.”

    “Is it someone I know ?”

    “Yes, it is. Bethany Applegate.”

    “Bethany ?”

    “Are you shocked ?”

    “No- that is so cool.”

    “You think it’s cool ?”

    “Mom, that is so progressive.”

    “Well, I’m glad you’re all right with it. Now look, I have one other

request. Or rather, I’m lifting the prohibition on your smoking. I want you

to smoke while Bethany is at our house.”

    “Why ?”

    “Let’s just say that Beth is a lapsed smoker and I want to ensure that

lapse is temporary.”

    “Fine- on two conditions. First, if you are going to make some great

dinner- and I know you will- Leah gets to stay for dinner.”

    “Sure. Second ?”

    “Well, there’s not going to be any temporary lifting of the prohibition

of my smoking. If you want a smoker, you’ve got one. Permanently. And oh, by

the way, if you want us to smoke, we’ll need more cigarettes.”

    “Us ?”

    “I’ll explain later. Can you stop and-“

    “Oh, just take a pack from the carton over the stove. It won’t be the

first time !”

    “Mom, I would never-“

    “You don’t think I can count to ten ?”

    “All right. I’ll admit that I’ve borrowed a pack or two. Do we have a

deal ?  Not just one night-“

    “Hopefully, she’ll still be around in the morning-

    “Mom ! More information than I need. Deal ?”

    “Deal.”

Smoking Project

Part 3 of 4

They walked to the car as they got inside, Beth looked at Bree, slightly

embarrassed.

    “Can I have one last cigarette before we get to your house ?”

    “Why one last one ?”

    “Well, I don’t want to smoke in front of your daughter.”

    “She won’t mind smoking in front of you,” Bree said, handing the pack

over and thumbing the lighter.

    “You let your daughter smoke ?”

    “She is sixteen, Beth.”

    The lighter popped and Beth lit her cigarette.

    “How long has she been smoking, Bree ?”

    “It’s hard to say. We just came to an agreement recently. I let her smoke

and she smokes.”

    Beth cracked the window and exhaled.

    “Does it bother you ?’

    “No. Not at all. She’s a great kid. Good grades. Outside activities. Good

friends. She’s really sweet- and she’s more than that, too. Sometimes I

forget what a good kid she is, to be honest.”

    “I can understand that.”

    “Well, I started to think about it,” and although she fudging the details

a bit here, what she said was true. “I get an hour with her in the morning

and four or five more at night. Why should she been miserable when she’s with

me, because it is the only time she can’t do what she wants to be doing.”

    “So she was smoking outside of home ?”

    Beth tapped ash out the window, wrapped her pert lips around the

cigarette and drew deeply.

    “People I knew were coming up to me and saying ‘You know, I say your

daughter the other day at the- fill in the blank- and do you know, she was

smoking ?’ like it was some terrible thing. Now I can just say ‘Well, of

course I know.’ I’d rather it was that way.”

    And that was the truth.

    “I think that’s cool. I wish my parents had started out that

understanding.”

    “Well, a little honesty is a good thing, right ?”

    “We’ve certainly had our share today. I told you I’ve smoked, you told

me you were willing to give a relationship a chance.”

    “Well, let’s hope both things get off to a great start.”

    Beth reached out and ran her fingers along the back of Bree’s neck

beneath her long hair and she shuddered, but it was a good shudder.

    Tiffany flicked her lighter and lit Leah’s cigarette and then her own.

She watched her mom and Beth get out of the car and was waiting for them at

the front door. She drew deeply on her cigarette just as she met her mom’s

eyes and smiled her wickedest smile, thinking that she was going to have fun

with this.

    “Tiffany, you know Beth,” she said as she walked through the door. “Leah,

this is Bethany, a co-worker of mine- and my date tonight.”

    Leah switched hands, then extended the right one to Beth, who put her own

cigarette in her mouth before returning the gesture.

    “How’s that little psychology project you girls are working on going,

Leah ?”

    “I like it so far, Mrs. Helena.”

    “I was a psychology major as an undergrad,” Beth said, “so marketing was

a natural path in grad school. What’s your project on ?”

    “Uh- Teenage smoking.”

    “Really ?”

    “Yes. This is my first day of hands-on research.”

    “Well, it’s my first day back, so we have something in common, I guess.”

    “Can I ask what made you decide to start again ?” Leah asked, casting her

voice with what Bethany thought was perfect clinical pitch.

    “Peer pressure,” she said, catching Bree in an impromptu one-armed hug.

Bree surprised her with a quick kiss in response.

    “What’s for dinner, Mom ?”

    “I was thinking it was a perfect night for lobster bisque, stuffed sole,

ad a Caesar salad. How does sound ?”

    “Like I’m glad you’re cooking.”

    “Can you open a bottle of white wine. The Riesling, not that California

stuff, okay ?”

    “Do you want some help ?” Beth asked.

    “Well, it sounds like everyone wants me to get started- Leah, are you

hungry ?”

    “I’ve been too busy smoking to eat,” Leah said, giggling.

    “Well, Beth, why don’t you get to know the girls. I’ve got the basic

preparations down- the bisque is in the freezer. I’ll ask you to help with

the salad, okay ?”

    Beth nodded, and followed Leah into the living room.

    “So you and Mrs. Helena work together ?”

    “Yes, for the last two years.”

    “How long have you had a- a-“

    “You have quite a future in psychology, you know that ?”

    “I’m sorry,” Leah, said, tapping her ash into the ashtray, keeping it

short and rounded the way Tiffany had shown her. “I don’t mean to be forward.

It’s just so interesting.”

    “Well, it’s been a long time, but I just found out that Bree was

reciprocal.”

    “That’s so cool.”

    “Now you tell me something. Is this really your first day smoking ?”

    “Yeah,” Leah answered honestly. “It is.” She drew on her cigarette and

lifted her head before exhaling.

    “Then how long have you been fantasising about smoking ?”

    “What ?”

    Leah inhaled, exhaled. It was the act of a smoker.

    “No one picks up smoking this easy. My bet is that you have been

fantasing about smoking for some time now.”

    “About a month. Don’t tell Tiffany, please.”

    Beth would have followed up with ‘your secret is safe with me,’ but just

then Tiffany arrived with the wine.

    It was the beginning of interesting things.

    As soon as the girls had finished their after-dinner cigarettes, they

stood up from the table.

    “Mom, Leah and I have to get back to work on the project. We’re going to

head over to her house for a few hours.”

    Beth just caught the wink that Tiffany sent her mom.

    The girls left the house and walked down the street to Leah’s house.

    They walked inside and Leah was nervous, because of what she was about to

do.

    “So, how was dinner ?” Mrs. Thomas asked,

    “It was great, Mom.”

    “I envy you. Brianna is the best cook.”

    “Mom, you’re a great cook too.”

    “I’m no Brianna. But thanks.”

    Tiffany watched her friend closely. She knew what she was planning to do

and could not for the life of her imagine why the girl was so damned nervous.

This was going to be one of the easiest things she’d ever done- although

Tiffany had the bonus of inside information to work with that she had not

shared with Leah because it would have tainted their fact gathering.

    “Where’s Dad ?”

    “Upstairs,” Janice said, her look betraying some small annoyance.

    “Well, there’s something I want to tell the two of you.”

    “You’ll have to settle for me. He’s locked away upstairs in the study

with his annual box of cigars.”

    “Already ? It’s January.”

    “You know your father.”

    “I don’t understand,” Tiffany said. “I didn’t know your father smoked

cigars.”

    “Once a year, every year.”

    Janice smiled. “He’s working on our taxes. He gets a little obsessive

about it. One audit- and that year we got more back after the audit- but he’s

never been the same. Look, it sounds like you have something serious you want

to talk about that, so let’s not stand here all night in the hallway. Go sit

down in the living room. What do you girls want to drink ? Milk, apple juice

?”

    “Mom, it’s Friday night.”

    She smiled, knowing very well what the girls wanted.

    “Two beers coming right up.”

    “Why are you so calm ?” an anguished Leah asked her friend as they made

their way to the living room.

    “First of all, I already have permission to smoke in your house.” Tiffany

sat down and lit up. “Second, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

    “Easy for you to say. I’m ready to shit my pants, I’m so nervous.”

    “Adult diaper, anyone ?”

    Janice walked in, carrying two glasses each half full and a bottle for

herself. She handed over the glasses with a smile on her face.

    “So what’s this big news, Leah ? Lose your virginity.”

    Leah choked on the sip of beer she’d taken and her face flushed.

    “Mom !”

    “Okay, I guess that’s still safe. Now what’s on your mind ?”

    “Mom, Tiffany and I are working on our psychology project and-“

    Tiffany shook her head as her friend paused, then drew on her cigarette,

sat back, and exhaled quietly.

    “Well, we changed the topic to teenage smoking. And Tiffany made a very

good point that I couldn’t very well write about something I had no

experience with-“

    “That is a good point, Tiffany,” Janice said, teasingly. She bent

forward, picked up a pack of Salem Lights 100s and lit one. “A very good

point. So how are you going to deal with this obvious problem, Leah ?”

    “Well, if it’s all right with you and Dad, I am going to smoke for the

next five or six days, just until we finish the paper.”

    Janice looked at Tiffany and smiled. “She doesn’t get it, does she ?”

    “Not at all, Mrs. Thomas.”

    “Now, Tiffany, it’s Janice.”

    “What do you two mean, I don’t get it ?”

    “Honey, no one just smokes for five or six days. That’s just silly.”

    “Are you saying I can’t ?”

    “No, not at all. I wouldn’t very well have a case for allowing Tiffany to

smoke in our house and deny the same pleasure to my own daughter.”

    “And dad ?”

    “We’ve already talked about this. We have no problem with it. When did

you start ?”

    “Today.”

    “Well, let me see you smoke, then.”

    “I don’t know, mom-“

    “You just asked for permission and got it. Now use it, honey.”

    Leah liked being called honey but this wasn’t one of those times.

    “Come on, just like I showed you,” Tiffany said, a shit-eating grin on

her pleasant face.”

    Somewhat reluctantly, Leah took her cigarettes from her pants pocket and

lit one, then sat back, shoulder to shoulder with Tiffany. They showed off

twin inhales and exhales and then both tapped ash from their cigarettes.

    “So, Miss Teenage Smoker, do you like it ?”

    “Honestly ?”

    “Yes.”

    “Yeah,” Leah said, inhaling again and speaking through the exhale. “I

like it a lot, mom.”

    “Good. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it ?”

    “I really am just going to smoke until our project is done.”

    Tiffany and Janice exchanged knowing looks.

    “Not if we have anything to say about it,” Janice said.

    The phone rang once, and Beth stopped what she was doing.

    “It’s midnight.”

    Bree took Beth’s hand and returned it to where it had been.

    “That’s just Tiffany’s way of letting me know she’s on her way home.”

    Beth started to pull away but Bree stopped her.

    “Our door is closed. Relax.”

    “We don’t have to-“

    “She was just making sure we weren’t, say naked in front of the

fireplace, that’s all. A little courtesy between friends.”

    Beth continued with what she was doing, kissed Bree, who responded. Their

mouth mingled, smoky and complete.

    “Can I ask you something, Bree ?”

    “You can ask me anything.”

    “Well, I don’t want this to come out the wrong way but- well, you don’t

seem like it’s been what- eighteen or nineteen years since you’ve been with

another woman-“

    Bree kissed her again, brought her lips close to Beth’s ear. “Can you

hold that thought until-“

    Her breathing was ragged and uneven.

    Beth did as she was asked, and soon her orgasm was gently shaking the bed.

    When it was over, Bree sat up, lit two cigarettes, and handed one to

Beth, who took it with a pleasure that was only slightly guilty.

    “Well, there’s three things at work there. First, I am still a woman.

Second, I remember a lot of what I learned in that year. Third, it’s been a

while since I had sex with anybody but myself.”

    Bree giggled.

    “I really do like you.”

    “Well, that’s good, because I like you too. Well, it’s the first night

but-“

    “Too early for that other l word, right ?”

    “Definitely. But I have a good feeling we can get there. I’ll be honest

with you. I’ve been with people since the divorce, but when people get to my

age- there’s a lot of desperate sex or sex for sex’s sake.”

    “This isn’t like that ?”

    “No, it’s not. It’s different. I really like the sex- but there’s an

emotion behind it as well.”

    “Well, that makes two of us. Now let’s get a little more in before we get

too tired to go on.”

    Bree was all for that.

    Leah walked outside with Tiffany.

    “Tell me something,” she said. “Had you and mom talked about the

possibility of me smoking before today ?”

    “Yes.”

    “And-“

    “And what ?”

    “Tell me about it.”

    “Earlier this week- the day you stayed after for the honour society

meeting-“

    “The one that you missed.”

    “Yeah- the one that I missed- well, I was walking down the street-“

    “Smoking, of course.”

    “Yes, I was. Do you want me to tell the story or not ?”

    “If you can get to the point, yes.”

    “Well, your mom must have seen me, because she swung open the front door

and asked me if I’d come in for a minute.”

    “She was pretty blunt. She asked me if you had started smoking yet and I

said no. She asked if you had shown any interest in it and I said I kind of

thought you had and she told me that maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough to get

you to try it.”

    “She said that ?”

    “Yeah. And that’s all I needed to know.”

    “Why would Mom want me to smoke ?”

     Tiffany laughed. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say she definitely wanted

you to smoke, but I do think that she was hoping you would at least give it a

try.”

    “And now I have and you two figure it’s a done deal that I’ll just keep

right on smoking, right ?”

    “Exactly.”

Smoking Project

Part 4 of 4

Brianna was putting in her usual three hours of work on Sunday morning when

the phone rang.

    “Bree, it’s Janice.”

    “Hey, thanks for having Tiffany over the other night.”

    “Well, you’ve done the same for Doug and I more times than I can

remember.”

    “Yeah, but this was a little different.”

    “The girls could not stop talking about you and Bethany.”

    “Well, they think being a lesbian is like having a cool wardrobe or

listening to the right music. I was a little worried as to how you might feel

about it.”

    “Why on earth would that worry you ?”

    Bree settled back in her chair and lit a cigarette.

    “I- well, you’re not a sixteen year old girl.”

    “Let me tell you something. Doug is pretty- well, he’s damn good in bed,

when he has the energy and motivation- but if I had a dollar for every time I

wished he could feel it the way a woman does so that he would understand

certain things- I envy you.”

    “Man, Gary absolutely thought sex began and ended with his sticking his

dick inside me. He simply wouldn’t go down on me unless I went down on him

first and even then he usually wanted to after he was done. At least with

Bethany I get the best of both worlds.”

    She could almost hear Janice’s confusion.

    “That woman is magic with a dildo. And at least she let’s me smoke while

we’re having sex.”

    “Gary didn’t ?”

    “No. I could dress up in black leather nasties, handcuff him to the bed,

smoke until I was dizzy, but as soon as his dick left the launch pad, I had

to put it out.”

    “That’s so funny. Doug is almost done with the taxes. When he finishes,

we lock ourselves in the bedroom with what’s left of his cigars and we have a

blast. I keep trying to get him to extend it beyond tax time, but he’s got

his-“

    “Pecularities ?”

    “Yes.”

    “But you didn’t call to talk about our sex lives, did you ?”

    “No. I wanted to talk about Leah.”

    “I hope you’re not pissed off at Tiffany.”

    “Just the opposite. I’ve been waiting for this to happen.”

    “Really ?”

    “I don’t know how you feel about Tiffany smoking, but- well, Doug and I

have always felt a little bit guilty, smoking around Leah. And she hasn’t

always made it easy. This is a big step forward for the three of us, as far

as I’m concerned.”

    “Well, I’m not going too far with that. If you’re happy, I’m happy.”

    “I am definitely happy about this and so is Doug. And I’m even more happy

that you’re having some good sex again.”

    “I’m not all that bad with the dildo either.”

    They laughed.

    Kelli Morgan put her big grab bag of salt and vinegar chips and her diet

Coke down on the counter.

    “Will that be all, Miss Morgan ?”

    “A box of Marlboro 100s, please,” Kelli said, slightly nervous. “How’s

college going ?”

    “It would be better if Dad didn’t tie paying my tuition to working my

open times here. I should be studying for Sensation and Perception. We have a

quiz this afternoon.”

    “I’m sure you’ll do fine. You drink textbooks.”

    Monica handed over the cigarettes and asked for five dollars even.

    “Here you go. If you want me to put in a word with your dad-“

    “I may take you up on that, Miss Morgan.”

    The teacher walked out into the dingy Monday. It was going to snow again.

    She wanted to light a cigarette, but the kids were hanging out in what

was the school’s undesignated smoking area. Monica’s father, who obviously

didn’t think much of the laws about selling cigarettes to minors, had gone as

far as to build an overhang off the side of the store so the kids could hang

out when the weather was bad.

    She looked to her right and there was Tiffany, smoking as usual. But she

was surprised to see Leah. Well, not surprised to see her, but surprised to

see her smoking.

    Kelli had an idea. Stowing her lunch in her backpack, Kelli took out her

cigarettes and lit one. She did it with an odd mix of enjoyment and

trepidation. She hated smoking around the kids, but not as much as she

enjoyed smoking. Still-

    “Hello, ladies.”

    Tiffany and Leah turned to their psychology teacher and showed her twin

smiles.

    “Hi, Miss Morgan.”

    “I didn’t know that you smoked, Leah.”

    “Well, I just started Friday, Miss Morgan.”

    “I thought that you might be working on your paper right now, girls.”

    “But we are,” Leah said. “We decided to do our paper on teenage smoking.

And I decided that I needed to do some first hand research.”

    Kelli blanched. So what she had heard the girls talking about before

first period was true. The careless snatch of conversation that she had

caught in the hallway as she passed by, and here it was, out on the table and

what was Kelli feeling ? Nothing more than cold fear, nothing but the

possible that the rent might become more difficult to pay sometime soon.

    “Teenage smoking ?”

    “Yes, the psychological implication and behavioural modelling of the

teenage smoker,” Tiffany said.

    Drawing on her cigarette, Kelli tossed her her short red hair and tried

her best to stay calm.

    “Sounds ambitious.”

    “It is. We wouldn’t set out to do anything less than A work, Miss Morgan.”

    Leah trimmed, inhaled, cast a serious look.

    “You look a little tense, Miss Morgan.”

    “You try teaching study hall in the Cave every third period, Leah,” was

the best Kelli could come back with.

    “That would make a great paper if we didn’t already have one that we

really like, you know,” Tiffany said.

    Kelli could only wish.

    Two hours later, Kelli was faced with what was usually a very enjoyable

thing- lunch.

    But today was different. She knew that the right thing to do was to make

the call. Of course, the girls would probably hate her for it, but this

wasn’t about them. She could lie to herself and say it was about doing the

right thing for Leah, but it wasn’t that. It was about tenure, about how she

wanted it.

   After all, she wasn’t sure what the right thing for Leah was- that was what

her parents were for.

   She was sitting in her car with the window rolled all the way down, smoking

the first of her lunchtime cigarettes. She took the cell phone from her purse

and dialed the number, half-hoping that Tiffany’s mother would be out at

lunch as well, but somehow instinct told her that wouldn’t be the case.

The phone rang once, twice, and then was answer by a pleasant sounding woman

who merely said her name.

    “Brianna.”

    There was a pause.

    “Hello ?”

    “This is Kelli Morgan, your daughter’s-“

    “Psychology teacher. It’s a pleasure. But it’s going to have to be a

brief one. I have a meeting in 30 seconds.”

    “Well, I wanted to spend some time talking about your daughter’s unusual

research project-“

    “Oh. Well, Tiffany has my permission to smoke and Leah’s parents are cool

about her smoking as well. I hope that’s-“

    “Unfortunately, that’s not what it’s really about. I would like to meet.”

    “Well, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of work after this meeting of mine that

I can take home. If you don’t mind meeting at our house instead of at the

school-“

    “I’d prefer it, actually. A private setting would be better in this case.

The only problem is that I don’t know where you live.”

    “Then grab Tiffany at the end of the day and she’ll tell you where to go.”

    “I have no doubts of that, Ms. Helena.”

    Tiffany was more than a little nervous as she stood outside the north

door to the school waiting for Miss Morgan. This couldn’t be good.

    It was funny. She had always thought Miss Morgan was cool, maybe just

because she was younger than most of the teachers, and of course, because she

herself was a smoker.

    But if she was upset about the project, that was bad. And it didn’t make

sense. Other groups, most of them larger, were doing reports on teenage sex,

underage drinking, teenagers and the rave scene. Teenage smoking seemed tame

in comparison.

    “Hello, Tiffany.”

     “Miss Morgan.”

    “Please, call me Kelli, and relax a little Tiffany.”

    They started walking towards the car.

    “Relax ? You’re-“

    “I have a concern about your project, but it’s not what you think. I

would prefer to wait until I can talk to you with your mother about this. I’m

asking you to trust me.”

    “Well, I can tell you the best way to gain my trust-“

    “Wait until we get out of site of the school. I’ll do the same.”

    They settled into the car and Kelli drove out of the school parking lot.

As soon as the school was behind the hill, Kelli cracked the windows of her

Altima and the two women lit up.

    “I can’t believe I’m sitting in a car with one of my teachers smoking a

cigarette.”

    “I remember the first time I smoked with one of my teachers. A much

different situation.”

    “Tell me more,” Tiffany said, drawing on her cigarette. She looked at

Kelli, who was taking a deep drag on her Marlboro 100. Tiffany had tried them

once and found them too strong. She also thought the cork filter looked wrong

in her hand. But it was perfect for Kelli, who executed a sweet exhale.

    “All I’ll say is that I was on the other end of something I would never

do as a teacher, and if I had understood how wrong it was, I would have

passed on it then as well.”

    “You went out with one of your teachers ? Was he, like married ?”

    “Yes and I feel very guilty about that. But at least I learned the easy

way. Tell me, how long have you been smoking ?”

    “Close to six months. But Mom only knows that I’ve been smoking for about

three. It was easy to hide at first because by smoking I mean I was sneaking

two or three a day.”

    “And then it was five, and that gets a little harder to hide, and then it

was half a pack a day and sooner or later that gets back to your parent or

parents, right ?”

    “How do you know that ?”

    Kelli drew on her cigarette. “Well, I followed the same path. I started

when I was fifteen, but it wasn’t until after my sixteenth birthday that I

realised I just didn’t care anymore if my parents did find out, and of

course, once you make that decision, they do find out.”

    The way she smoked, it was easy to believe that she had been smoking for

ten years or more.

    “So you really don’t have any problem with Leah and I smoking, do you ?”

    “No, not at all. And if you ask me any more than that, I’ll just say you

have to wait again.”

    “So when your parents found out ?”

    “They acted like they didn’t care. My mom was an occasional smoker- she

always had a pack in her purse, but if she smoked half a pack in a day, that

was a lot. My dad smokes a pipe, but he thinks that is different somehow.

They obviously thought if they acted like it was no big deal, I would lose

interest. So I started smoking more, and pretty soon that rubbed off on Mom.

Instead of getting me to smoke less, she ended up smoking more.”

    “My mom was pretty ripped at first, but things change, I guess. I’ll let

her tell that story if she wants.”

    “Fair enough.”

    “Come on in, Miss Morgan,” Brianna said, meeting them at the door.

    “It’s Kelli, Brianna. Even most of my students call me that.”

    “Well, have a seat and please, feel free to smoke. The girls mentioned

that you’re a smoker. Do you want something to drink ?”

    “Maybe just water.”

    “Come on. You’re not on school grounds. Have a beer, Kelli.”

    “All right.”

    Bree disappeared, came back with half a glass of beer for Tiffany and two

bottles. She handed one to Kelli and took a deep pull on her own.

    “You’re fairly permissive, aren’t you ?” Kelli said neutrally.

    “That doesn’t bother you, does it ?”

    “No. I actually think the european model is better suited to teenagers.

All things in moderation.”

    Kelli lit a cigarette and both Bree and Tiffany followed suit.

    “Obviously, smoking isn’t the issue here,” Bree said, wading right in.

“And Tiffany told me what some of the other projects are about. So what is

the problem ?”

    Kelli smiled. “You are direct, like your daughter. I like that. So I’ll

be honest. I don’t have tenure yet. And yes, some of the other projects are a

lot more- uh- racy than your daughter’s. But none of them have come to me and

said that in order to do their papers they needed to conduct first hand

research. Which is almost exactly what Leah said to me this morning.”

    “Well, I have it on good authority that Leah has been fantasising about

smoking for some time.”

    “Mom ?” Tiffany said. Her mother was silent for the space of time it took

Tiffany to draw and exhale and draw again.

    “Beth told me.”

    “Beth ?”

    “Mom’s girlfriend,” Tiffany said, matter of factly.

    “Your-“

    “I prefer companion. She is in her late twenties.” Bree shot Tiffany a

look and her daughter had trouble not laughing.

    “The point is,” Kelli said, pausing to smoke. “The point is, Leah said

what she said to me. If she says it to other people or it shows up in the

paper- and the students are presenting their research in front of the whole

class- well, I don’t have tenure. My review is at the end of the year, and if

a parent- just one- came to the board and said that one of my students

started smoking because of me, because of the work I gave them-“

    “Well then, we’ll just have to see that Leah doesn’t say that. I think

Tiffany can assist in that regard.”

    “But if she did-“

    “This isn’t going into the American Journal of Psychiatry, Kelli. If they

fudge, they fudge. And trust me, Leah will go right on smoking. I’ve seen her

smoke the last few days. No one in their right mind- or any sort of wrong

mind- would think you caused it.”

    “That all sounds so rational, but-“

    “Did I mention that Mrs. Jackson and I go out for drinks a couple times a

month because her company advertises in one of our magazines-“

    “Mrs. Jackson of the school board Jacksons ?” Kelli asked incredulously.

    “No, Mrs. Jackson, the actual school board Jackson. One and the same. I

think I can safely say that with her on your side, you will have zero

problems.”

    “Hell, if Mrs. Jackson is on my side, I could show up at school naked and

not worry.”

    “Exactly.”

    Kelli smiled and looked at Tiffany, who was trying unsuccessfully to make

a smoke ring.

    “Do your paper. But if it’s all the same-“

    “We won’t mention a thing.” And they didn’t.

    They present on Thursday, the last of all the groups. On Friday, Miss

Morgan handed out the grades and the girls notched an A.

    It was Saturday morning and Leah had wandered over for breakfast because

her parents were out of town. While Mrs. Helena cooked, Tiffany and Leah

settled down on the couch to listen to Limp Bizkit.

    Leah took her cigarettes out of her coat pocket and lit one.

    “I thought you were going to quit when the project was over,” Tiffany

said, holding out her hand. Leah passed her the cigarette and she drew deeply

on it before handing it back.

    “I decided that the gist of the research was that I like smoking, and I

like being a teenager. Therefore, it’s only logical to be a teenager smoker.”

    “Does this mean you are going to stop calling me smoker ?’

    Leah inhaled sharply, handed it to Tiffany again, and exhaled. “No. It

means you can start calling me smoker, too. Okay smoker ?”

    “Sure thing, smoker.”

    The two girls dissolved into giggles, and listening in the kitchen, that

sound made Bree think of Beth’s girlish giggle.

    It was funny how things worked out sometimes.

    Now if she could only understand that music they were listening to-

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