Ashley Hudson

(by jimmyksdarwin@gmail.com, 16 December 2007)


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Ashley Hudson
by jimmyksdarwin@gmail.com

It was a cool September morning, and Ashley knocked twice on the door of her
next door neighbour and best friend Cassandra.   

"Hurry up Cassy, we're going to be late!" she shouted.  She had every reason
to be anxious, as it was the first day of school, and they were both starting
Grade 9 at Victor Fairburn Secondary School.  Ashley was desperately hoping
to make a good first impression, as she was very studious and was lauded by
her elementary school teachers for having great potential.  Neither her nor
Cassy were really that popular, but it didn't really matter to either of
them. 

After a minute or two Cassy came through the door, and they both began the
walk to school.  Nerves seemed to have the best of them, as they spoke very
little on the way in.  During first period, the Grade 9 students were called
to a lecture room for a beginning of year orientation.  Ashley and Cassy sat
next to each other.  Ashley was hanging on every word, but Cassy seemed to
find it quite boring. 

Near the end of the presentation, the Vice Principal spoke.  She said in a
stern voice, "There is no smoking on school property, or on the sidewalks in
front of the school.  Smoking is only allowed off school property, so off the
paved area out back, and into the forest.  I strongly suggest that you quit
though, as smoking is bad for you."  And with that, the lunch bell rang, and
Ashley and Cassy both headed to the cafeteria. 

They sat and ate their lunches, Ashley the one her mom had packed for her,
and Cassy the pizza she had bought from the cafeteria.  They finished eating
rather quickly, but they had a whole hour for lunch.  Cassy leaned over and
with a conspiratorial look in her eye, whispered to Ashley, "Hey, I've got a
surprise for you.  Come with me."  With that, Cassy got up, and Ashley,
wondering what the surprise was, followed. 

"Where are we going?" Ashley asked as they went to the far end of the school.

"You'll see." Cassy replied as she pushed the handle on the door to go
outside. 

They headed back into the forest behind the school, and found a secluded area
behind a large rock outcrop.

"Have a seat," Cassy said, gesturing at the rock, and then sitting down
herself.  She opened up her purse, and said, "Look what I stole from my
parents," as she withdrew a cigarette and a lighter. 

"What did you do that for?" Ashley asked, her voice betraying her shock.

"Come on, weren't you ever curious?" Cassy shot back.  "I mean, there's no
harm in trying, right?  It's just one cigarette."

"Yeah, but what if you want to smoke more?  Smoking is bad for you.  You know
that."  Ashley retorted.   But even as she said these words, she was thinking
that she really would like to try smoking, at least once.  Luckily, Cassy had
an argument prepared.

"Look," she said, "you don't have to try if you don't want to.  But I know
you, Ashley.  If you say no and walk away you're going to wonder what it's
like, and it'll drive you crazy." That was enough of an argument for Ashley. 

"Alright," she said, "I'll do it.  But just this once." 

"OK," Cassy said, now looking quite pleased.  "I've watched my mom and dad
these past few days, and I think I've figured out how it's done.  You suck
some smoke into your mouth, then take out the cigarette and inhale."  And
with that, Cassy put the cigarette in her mouth, and after fumbling with the
lighter, managed to light the cigarette.  "Here goes nothing," she said.  She
took a large drag on the cigarette like she'd seen her mother take, and then
she inhaled.  Immediately she started coughing, which expelled the smoke from
her lungs quite effectively.  Her eyes watering, she passed the cigarette to
Ashley. 

"After that performance I'm not sure I want to try anymore," Ashley said,
suddenly having second thoughts.

"I guess it was just too much smoke," Cassy said, trying to catch her breath,
and realizing her mistake.  "I need to get used to it before I can smoke like
my mom.  Try taking a little bit." 

Ashley put the cigarette to her lips, and drew in a little bit of smoke.  She
then inhaled.  The smoke felt strange, and she felt the urge to cough, so she
exhaled quickly, and coughed a little as she passed the cigarette back to
Cassy.  Cassy tried again, taking in less smoke this time.  With her lungs
already shocked by her previous inhale, this smaller drag went down a lot
easier, as did Ashley's second.  They continued smoking like this until the
cigarette was gone.  Ashley felt her head spinning, a feeling she quite
enjoyed. 

"So what do you think?"  Cassy asked her.

"The smoke was a little disgusting, but this head rush is amazing," she
replied.

"Tell me about it!" Cassy agreed.  They made their way back into the school.
The rest of the day passed rather uneventfully, and they walked home
together.  Even though Ashley knew that smoking was bad for her, she really
enjoyed the way it made her feel, so secretly she wanted to ask Cassy if she
could steal another cigarette for tomorrow, but she kept her mouth shut, and
sooner that they knew it they were home, and Ashley was saying goodbye to
Cassy until tomorrow. 

Ashley unlocked the door to the house, and went up to her room.  She changed
into her pajamas as usual, as she found them much more comfortable than
anything else she wore.  She wasn't worried about her parents smelling smoke
on her, as she had chewed some gum, and since she often spent a lot of time
at Cassy's house, her clothes would often smell like smoke thanks to Cassy's
parents.  She lay in bed reading for a good hour, and then went to prepare
dinner.  Her parents arrived home shortly after 5 p.m., and as she expected,
both were clueless to the fact that their only child had been smoking today.
Ashley finished up her homework and went to bed. 

During the night, Ashley began to dream.  The dream began innocently enough.
She was about 20 years older.  She had a young family, and it looked like an
older version of her Grade 6 crush, Danny Credger, was playing the role of
husband.  But the dream went downhill from there.  They were in a car on the
way to the doctor's office, and this grown up Ashley was smoking a cigarette
similar to the one she smoked today.  She went into the doctor's office with
her head spinning, where the doctor told her that she had lung cancer, and it
was terminal.  Ashley woke up in a cold sweat, and vowed to herself never to
smoke again. 

The next morning, after her parents had gone off to work, she went over to
Cassy's house so they could walk to school together.  This time, she knocked
and Cassy opened the door immediately, and waved goodbye to her mother.  When
they were about half way to school, Cassy opened up her purse and took out a
pack of Du Maurier Regulars, shook one loose, and lit it up. 

"What are you doing?" Ashley asked in shock.

"Calm down, Ashley," said Cassy while exhaling.  "My parents told me that
they'd expected me to start smoking for quite some time, and have been
keeping track of how many cigarettes are left in their packs.  When they
found one missing, they immediately knew I was smoking, and they told me it
was fine with them, and told me to help myself."  She took another drag on
her cigarette.

"So you're a smoker now?  What about lung cancer?" Ashley asked
incredulously.

"What about lung cancer?" Cassy repeated back at her.  "My grandfather smoked
since he was 12 and lived to a ripe old age of 84.   Even if it does shorten
my life, how does the saying go, there's no point in living if you can't feel
alive?  Can you honestly say that you don't want to smoke another cigarette?"

Ashley's mind was swimming with anxiety.  She was scared by her nightmare,
but at the same time, Cassy's argument made some sense to her.  Even though
she had many reservations, she knew she couldn't say she didn't want another
cigarette.

"No." Ashley said quietly.

"Then here," said Cassy, offering Ashley her pack.  Ashley took out a
cigarette and Cassy lit it for her - and they continued walking and smoking
until they got to school. 

Ashley went out for a smoke with Cassy at lunch, and again on the walk home.
That became their routine: a cigarette on the way to school, one during
lunch, and one on the way home.  This went on for the rest of the week, and
before they knew it, the first week of school was over. 

Ashley's Saturday began like any other.  Some chores, some reading, and some
homework during the day, and after dinner she headed over to Cassy's to watch
a movie.  Cassy answered the door with a cigarette in hand.

"Want one?" she asked.

"Sure," Ashley replied, closing the door behind her, taking a cigarette and
lighting up.  They went downstairs to the rec room to watch the movie, and
they positioned the ash tray between them on the couch.   Ashley was a little
shocked to see Cassy light up an hour into the movie, but she followed suit.
They smoked again at the end of the movie, and then Ashley went home.  She
spent most of Sunday finishing homework and reading, and didn't smoke at all. 

On Monday, the teachers started to load on homework.  Being an exceptional
student, Ashley didn't really see this as a big deal.  Cassy, on the other
hand, wanted help, and Ashley was happy to oblige.  This resulted in Ashley
spending most of her time at Cassy's house that week, only going home to eat
and sleep.  This also allowed Ashley to smoke in the evenings as well. 

The following Tuesday, Ashley was heading over to Cassy's to do homework. 

"Bye mom and dad, I'm off to Cassy's to do homework," she said cheerily. 

"Just a sec, hon," her mom said, "Why doesn't Cassy come here?  You've been
spending a lot of time over there, so it is probably your turn to host the
study session.  Plus, you won't have to inhale all that secondhand smoke." 

"I don't think Cassy's gonna like that, mom," Ashley said, getting more
nervous as she realized that there was no easy way out of this. 

"Why not?" her mother asked, "What's so special over there that she can't do
over here?" Ashley knew it would make things harder for her, but the only way
out was the truth, or at least part of it. 

"Mom, Cassy started smoking, and she can smoke indoors at her place," Ashley
said.  Her mother's expression immediately turned to one of anger. 

"You better not be smoking too, young lady," she snapped. 

"God no, mom," Ashley said, trying her best to sound righteously shocked,
"Smoking is disgusting." 

Her mother's anger flickered, as she took on a pensive look, as if wondering
whether to believe her daughter.  Ashley watched her intently, and was
relieved when the look of anger dissolved into relief. 

"That's my girl," she said.  "I'm proud of you that you were able to resist
the peer pressure that would come with your best friend starting to smoke."
With that comment, Ashley started to feel guilty.  "Still," her mother
continued, "Cassy can't be smoking all the time.  You should be trying to
make it inconvenient for her anyway, as an incentive to quit.  If she really
wants your help, she should have to live with going outside to smoke." 

Ashley couldn't think of any argument against this that didn't involve her
confessing that she smoked to.  "OK mom, I'll go give her a call," Ashley
said. 

Ashley called Cassy and told her that her mother wanted them to study at
their place.  Luckily, Cassy immediately caught on to what was going on, and
agreed, and headed over. 

They were an hour into their homework when Cassy excused herself for a
cigarette.  Ashley waited patiently indoors.  She wanted to join Cassy a
little bit, but she knew that was impossible.  After Cassy came back in,
things started getting more difficult.  Ashley became less and less focussed
on the homework, and thought more and more about a cigarette.  When Cassy
went out to smoke a second time, Ashley really wanted a cigarette.  The smell
of smoke on Cassy when she came back in made Ashley's craving even stronger.
 She couldn't concentrate at all at this point. 

"Hey Cassy, I really need a cigarette," she whispered in Cassy's ear, so her
mother wouldn't hear.  A smile crossed Cassy's face.

"Go over to my house.  There's an open pack and a lighter on my dresser.
Bring back another coil-bound notebook so it looks legit." 

Ashley went over to Cassy's place, and into her room.  She threw a coil-bound
notebook onto the bed, and grabbed a cigarette from Cassy's pack, and lit up.
She inhaled deeply, and felt the nicotine coursing through her, instantly
calming her down.  She finished off the cigarette quickly, popped in a piece
of gum, and headed home with the notebook. 

They finished up their homework quickly, and at Cassy's suggestion, headed
over to her place to watch some TV. 

The following night, Ashley's mother again demanded that Cassy come over if
she wanted to work with Ashley.  This time Ashley was prepared. 

"Cassy's my friend, mom," she said, with a touch of anger in her voice, "I'm
not going to treat her badly because she smokes.  I accept that she won't
quit, and you should too." 

Ashley's mom was taken aback by this small outburst, but she saw the reason
in Ashley's canned reply. 

"Very well," she said.  "Go ahead." 

With that little hurdle out of the way, Ashley proceeded to spend most of her
waking hours at Cassy's place if she wasn't at school.  By the end of the
month, they were both smoking half a pack a day on weekdays, and a pack a day
on weekends. 

One day a few months later, Ashley and Cassy were walking home from school,
smoking as usual.

"Ashley?"  A voice called, as they passed in front of a house on the way
home, Ashley having just taken a drag and exhaled. 

Ashley looked down the driveway, and dropped her cigarette in shock, as she
was looking right at her father, staring down the driveway at her.  Her
father walked towards her. 

"You can go ahead home, Cassandra," Ashley's father said, "Ashley's gonna
ride home with me, aren't you honey?" 

Her father looked toward her, and she cast her eyes towards the ground, and
mumbled, "Yes.  Go ahead Cassy." 

As Cassy walked off, Ashley's father motioned for Ashley to give him her
purse.  Ashley obliged, still not meeting his eyes, but was inwardly glad
that she didn't carry her own cigarettes.  Ashley's father handed Ashley her
purse back after searching it. 

"Come on, let's go home," he said.  "How long have you been smoking?" 

"That was my first cigarette," Ashley lied. 

"Come off it," her father said, his tone getting angrier, "I saw you smoking.
There's no way that was your first cigarette." 

"OK, fine!" Ashley said, her voice rising in volume, "I've been smoking for a
few months now.  I'm addicted, I like it, and I don't want to quit.  So can
we please just skip the lecture." 

This set off her father's temper, and he pulled over the car. 

"How dare you... Ashley, I thought you're supposed to be smart.  Do you know
how many people smoking kills every year?  You're grounded until you come to
your senses."  He yelled. 

"Fine!" Ashley yelled back. 

The rest of the car ride home was in silence.  When they got home, Ashley's
father spoke again. 

"I have to go back to work," he said, in a falsely calm tone, "but your
mother and I will have a talk with you when we get home from work." 

Ashley got out of the car, and watched as her father backed out of the
driveway.  Her thoughts turned to the half finished cigarette she had dropped
when she was caught, and coupled with the stress of the argument she just
had, she really wanted a cigarette.  She went up to her room to dump her
backpack, and then went over to sit on the front step of Cassy's house to
wait for her to come home. 

A few minutes later, Cassy arrived home. 

"Hey," she said, a look of concerned sympathy on her face, "how'd it go with
your dad?"

"Your mother and I will have a talk with you when we get home from work,"
Ashley replied, in her best imitation of her father's voice.  "I'd really
like a cigarette," she then said in her normal voice. 

Cassy gave her the cigarette, and lit it for her.  Ashley inhaled deeply,
bringing the smoke deep into her lungs, satisfying her craving and feeling
the nicotine calm her nerves.  The two girls chatted until Ashley finished
her cigarette. 

"Well, I better get back home," Ashley said, standing up and crushing the
butt on the ground, "apparently I'm grounded."

"Good luck!" Cassy said, as Ashley went back home. 

Ashley changed into her pajamas, and began cooking dinner.  Her parents
arrived home at the usual time.  Her mother looked at her icily. 

"We'll talk after dinner," she said, forcing herself to speak calmly. 

They ate their dinner in silence, and when dinner was over, Ashley loaded the
dishwasher.  When she was done, her mother gestured for her to sit back down
at the table.  Her mother spoke. 

"Ashley, just listen.  There is no use arguing.  We're very disappointed in
you.  We could go on and on about the health effects of smoking, but you know
all of them, and you chose to take advantage of your health.  We can't make
you quit smoking.  But what we can do is make sure you realize just how hard
life is for a smoker, and maybe see some real consequences instead of hearing
another statistic." 

Her mother then pointedly looked at her father, who began speaking. 

"So, here is your punishment.  You are only allowed to spend as much time at
Cassy's house as she spends here.  Also, on Saturdays you will be
volunteering at the hospital, where you will no doubt run into your fair
share of people who decided to smoke like you, and are now paying with their
lives.  These punishments will be in effect until you quit smoking, or until
you move out." 

At this point her mother started speaking again, 

"As far as smoking is concerned, you are not allowed to smoke inside or in
the garage, and you should know that your father and I will not make any
accomodations for you to satisfy your addiction.  Do you understand?" 

"Yes, mom," Ashley said.  She was angry that her parents were being so
unfair, but at the same time she was resigned to the fact that there was
nothing she could do about it.  "Am I excused?" she asked. 

"Yes," her mother said, in a tone that betrayed her relief that the talk was
over. 

"May I invite Cassy over to work on homework?" Ashley asked. 

"Of course," her mother replied. 

Ashley phoned Cassy and gave her a quick run down of the lecture her parents
had given her. 

"Could you bring me a pack of cigarettes and a lighter please?" Ashley asked,
starting to feel that she needed a cigarette. 

"Sure," Cassy replied cheerily. 

Ashley was waiting outside the house when Cassy arrived.  Knowingly, Cassy
handed over the pack and lighter.  Her craving getting more unbearable with
each passing second, Ashley tore off the wrapping, opened the pack, and
withdrew a cigarette, lighting up as fast as she could.  She inhaled deeply,
and when the rush of the nicotine fix came over her, she knew that she would
not quit smoking any time soon.


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