We are both found of

 “Dad ?” Janice asked, so hesitantly that he knew she was about to ask a

question she fully expected to be answered with a no.

   “What is it, honey ?”

   “Is it all right if Marie has a cigarette ?”

   “Well,” he said, glancing up from the paper, “of course it is.”

   “Really ?” she said, looking surprised at his easy acquiescence.

   “Yes. She’s what ? Fifteen ? Legally, there’s no reason I can say no.”

   A knowing look came to Janice’s face. It reminded him enough of her mother

that Nelson felt a small tightening of his throat and some moistness in the

corner of his eye. Exactly the sort of thing Montreal was just starting to

make him forget. “I meant here, in the apartment.”

   But this wasn’t one of those times that Nelson was looking to tease his only

child about grammatical correctness. “Of course.” He stood up and took a step

towards the kitchen. “Let me get her an ashtray.”

   Nelson walked into the living room. The girls were watching the Canadiens

game on CBC. Marie looked up as he walked into the room and smiled. The way

her face lit up, the delicate cheek bones framed by long, curly black hair-

it made a very small part of him wish that she was much older than fifteen.

She opened the long, rectangular box of Export A’s and took one out.

   The anticipation on her face was unmistakable. Nelson remembered that

sensation all too well.

   She put the cigarette between her lips and lit it with the casual air of a

long time smoker. As soon as the tip was burning she inhaled deeply and

smiled again as she exhaled, letting her appreciation show. He put the

ashtray down on the coffee table and forced himself to walk back out into the

dining room to finish the paper.

   He heard the girls giggling as time went on and the apartment slowly took on

the sweet smell of Marie’s cigarettes. And except for one brief moment, he

never left his seat.

   It was almost an hour before Marie left, stopping in the dining room just

long enough to thank Nelson for allowing her to smoke. He saw a certain look

on Janice’s face and wasn’t at all surprised when his daughter wandered back

into the dining room once she’d seen her friend out.

   “Dad-“

   He could sense that she was a little bit afraid of what she was about to

say, which was silly. After all, she knew that both he and Janet had always

smoked. He was still trying to sort out why it was that he’d quit when she’d

died. Then again, he had quit, in large part because of Janice, and she’d

obviously gotten the message. Although-

   “Why isn’t there an age limit for buying cigarettes in Quebec ?”

   It was a good question and a good opening. Nice and cautious, neutral. It

was the way he constructed his novels, the way he’d worked so hard to get his

own daughter to think. Not that she needed any help. She was naturally

brilliant, just like Janet, with none of the hard work he’d had to put into

it.

   “I’m not sure, honey. It’s just- well, I think smoking here is just

universally and socially accepted. Does it bother you ?”

   Janice laughed nervously. “No. Not really. It’s just that all my friends

here smoke. Most of them have been smoking for a year or two at least. Their

parents don’t seem to mind, either. It’s just odd, watching Marie walk into a

store and buy cigarettes with the money her parents give her. It’s a lot

different than it was in Rochester.”

   “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to move here-” Nelson said.

   “Because all the little girls smoke ? Is there something you’re not telling

me, Dad ?”

   He laughed and pushed the paper aside. The truth was, he’d finished it half

an hour ago but he hadn’t wanted to interrupt his daughter and her friend.

Even after-

    “No. Just because it’s different. I needed that.”

   “We needed that, Dad. Both of us. I miss Mom, too. I know it’s not the same

as for you-“

   “It isn’t, but it’s just as important, honey. I’m glad you’ve adjusted well.

I always wanted to live here, but I wasn’t sure-“

   “Well, learning French has been a challenge, but I really like it here. I-

well, I’m glad we moved. And you’re writing again.”

   “Someone has to pay the bills. Speaking of which-” He pulled his wallet out

of his pants and threw a twenty down on the table.

   Instinctively, her hand flashed out towards the twenty and then stopped.

“What’s that for ?”  Janice asked.

   “You didn’t come in here to talk about being glad we moved here, did you ?”

   “Well-“

   “Go ahead, take it. I’ll make a deal with you.”

   “I already did my homework,” Janice said archly. “Today’s and tomorrow’s.”

   “That’s not a bribe to get you to you to finish your calculus homework,

Janice. Go ahead and take a walk down to Maurice’s. But you have to get a

pack for each of us. If you’re going to start smoking, so am I.”

   “Dad-” Janice said, pretending to be shocked. It wouldn’t work. He had seen

her smoking, after all.

   “Honey. Legally, there’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop you from

smoking. But if you’re going to smoke, so am I. It’s time that we became real

Montrealers, don’t you think ?”

   She took the twenty and practically ran out of the apartment.

   Janice and Marie were giggling up a storm in the living room. That laughter

was annoying Nelson. It was past seven and he and Janice had a seven-thirty

reservation at Cafe del Sole.

   But that was only part of the annoyance. He’d heard the words Mom and Dad

several time, always accompanied by more fits of laughter. Marie’s mother

Stephanie was a divorcee and he was getting the strangest feeling that her

tardiness was not accidental- that in fact Marie had not been completely

honest about what was going on.

   The doorbell finally rang at ten-after. As if on cue, Janice yelled “Can you

get that, Dad ?”

   The sense of steel jaws closing around Nelson was palpable.

   But he did as he was asked. He walked down the long hallway, past the living

room where the two girls were smoking and pretending- without any real

conviction- to study, and swung open the heavy old wooden door.

   It was the first time he’d actually seen Stephanie. Somehow a month had gone

by without him ever meeting Ms. Quintal. She’d stopped by several times to

retrieve her daughter but he’d never gone to the door. Even before he saw

her, he had the strangest feeling that there was nothing coincidental about

this ‘accidental’ meeting.

   He was immediately glad that he’d decided to open the door.

   If Marie was pretty in an adolescent way, her mother-

   Her hair was red, a deep, lustrous strawberry that highlighted her round

cheekbones and sharp green eyes magnificently. She might easily have been

mistaken for a college student- a graduate student perhaps, but not a

thirty-four year old mother. She was wearing a striking peasant blouse and a

long brown skirt that complimented her hair and made her look even younger.

   She was taking a deep pull on an Export A as he swung the door inward. Her

exhale clouded the cool, moist night air, the smoke drifting lasily behind

her as the warmer air pushed its’ way out of the hallway. She smiled as he

extended his hand and took it gently. Her skin was warm, soft, and perfectly

smooth.

   “Mr. Thorton ?”

   “Please, call me Nelson. And you’re Stephanie, right ?”

   “That is correct. I don’t mean to be rude, but Marie and I have a 7:30

reservation at Cafe del Sole and-“

   “Of course you do-” Nelson said with a wry smile.

   Stephanie inhaled deeply on the cigarette, a quizzical frown flitting across

her mouth as she held the smoke. Her exhale was through tightly pursed lips

every bit as full as a model’s, a long narrow stream that was politely

directed away from Nelson by a turn of the head which exposed a slender, well

sculpted neck with no age lines.

   “I don’t understand-” Stephanie said finally.

   “My daughter and I also have 7:30 reservations at Cafe del Sole. I was

rather surprised when she suggested it. Not really her sort of place.”

   “I do understand. You and I- we have been set up.”

   “Of course. I suppose that we’ll have to humour them and dine together-

unless you have an objection, that is ?”

   “Well-” she said, hesitantly.

   Stephanie took a long and luxurious pull on her cigarette. She held the

smoke just inside her mouth and then inhaled deeply.

   “It won’t bother me in the least if you smoke during dinner,” Nelson said.

   They decided to walk. It was a perfect spring night, more like summer. The

heat of the day still lay over the city like an invisible fog, the cooler

ground air heavy but clear. The two girls were half a block ahead of them,

talking loudly and trailing smoke. They were trying with only moderate

success not to look back at the adults.

   Stephanie asked Nelson to stop for a moment. She took her cigarettes from

her purse and pulled two of them out. She then passed the box to Nelson and

lit them together, handing one to him when she was finished.

   She made sure to let her hand linger on his as the exchange was made and

Nelson felt a spark of attraction leap from her smooth skin. She tossed her

hair and inhaled, the tip of the cigarette glowing a bright orange in the

fading light. Her exhale was slow, ponderous, intense.

   The attraction migrated south from his hand and he was suddenly very glad

that his daughter had decided to take up smoking.

   As if reading his thoughts, Stephanie said “I am surprised that you allow

Janice to smoke. The first time she lit a cigarette in my house I considered

asking her if she was really allowed.”

   “Why ?”

   “Well,” Stephanie answered with an embarrassed smile, “you are Americans,

after all.”

   “Would you have asked her to stop ?”

   When she laughed, Nelson felt a chill. It was a melodic little chuckle- very

reminiscent of Janet.

   “Of course not.”

   They continued walking. Nelson tapped ash from his Export A and took another

long look at Stephanie. She smoked with that unselfconcious air of a woman

comfortable in her vice. Again, it was very similar to the way Janet had

smoked. Which was what had attracted him to her in the first place. She’d

been standing outside the student union, laughing and smoking with two of her

friends when he’d come out from lunch to have a quick smoke before class. As

soon as he’d lit his cigarette she’d come over to where he was standing alone

and starting talking to him.

   Once the shock had worn off-

   He realised that it was eighteen years to the day and another chill made him

shudder.

   Stephanie noticed. She put an hand on his arm and this time the connection

was almost painfully vivid.

   “You were thinking about your wife, weren’t you ?”

   “No,” Nelson lied. “I was wondering why it took those two almost three

months to do this ?”

   “I don’t think that is quite the case, but I can answer that question. Marie

knows that I only date men who smoke. In fact, I shouldn’t tell you this

because I am afraid that you will get mad at Marie, but-“

   “Marie was the one who convinced Janice to start smoking. I know- Janice

told me the other night. But she didn’t mention that it was all part of a

plot to bring the two of us together.”

   Stephanie blushed slightly. “I am already starting to think that I am glad

she did.”

   Nelson found that he was still capable of blushing as well.

   It was almost midnight. Dinner had been-

   Nelson had thought it was somehow magical. Until now.

   The girls were in Janice’s bedroom- not asleep yet, judging from the noise

coming from down the hall.

   Stephanie’s head was resting on Nelson’s naked chest. She exhaled a thick

cloud of smoke which wrapped itself around them. Her silky hair was enough by

itself to make him hard again. Watching her cheeks hollow out as she inhaled

again was enough to make him want to do something about that hardness.

   She turned her head to smile at him, saw the look in her eyes, and let her

free hand wander down, stroking his belly button and then tracing a line

across the half-inch between it and the head of his penis. She playfully

stroked it until he was sure he would die of madness. He remembered back to

what seemed like ages ago when the doorbell had rung and he had the nerve to

be angry at this woman.

   She did not stop. He began to quiver and sweat. She inhaled again, and as

she blew smoke playfully across his chest he came again.

   “What are you doing this weekend ?” she asked breathlessly, turning her body

until her face was flush against his neck. She inhaled more deeply this time,

held it until she worked her way on top of him, and engaged him in a smoky

kiss. They exhaled smoke together, waves of it that crashed like rolling fog

between them.

   “I don’t have plans yet.”

   “Marie and I- well, I shouldn’t admit this, but we are both found of

American cigarettes. Marlboro Lights, the 100s. I don’t suppose-“

   “That’s what I used to smoke. You want to take a trip ?”

   She kissed him again. Her tongue had such a sweet, smoky taste.

   “Only if we can leave the girls here.”

   They laughed together.

   “We’ll bring some back for the girls. After all, we owe them. Especially

Marie.”

   “I’ll tell her you said thanks,” Stephanie said, and then passed his hand

down to the space between her legs. He was more than happy to obilge.

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