Better Late Than Never

(by slimv2001@yahoo.com, 16 December 2002)


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Better Late Than Never
by slimv2001@yahoo.com

Renee toyed with the pink packet of Sweet & Low, pretending not to notice or
care that her friend Donna was lighting her third cigarette.  But she did
notice and she did care, but for reasons that surprised her.

The two had met in college almost 20 years earlier.  Donna was a non-smoker
then.  She thought back to the first time she'd seen her friend with a
cigarette.  How odd she looked.  But if she were to be totally honest, she
would have said she was intrigued.

Donna changed after she started smoking but not for the worse.  It was silly
to attribute her change to cigarettes, but now that she thought about it,
nothing else in Donna's life had changed.

The woman sitting in front of her now was the same confident, attractive and
caring person she'd come to know and love.  But she wasn't always that way.
Renee remembered a more somber friend- a young woman who looked uncomfortable
in her own skin.

She looked up to see the waitress with their lunch.

Donna exhaled a lungful of smoke and crushed her half smoked cigarette in the
ashtray.

"They always come after you light a cigarette," she said.

Renee laughed at her friend's comment as if she knew the feeling.

"How much do you smoke?" asked Renee as she casually bumped her fork against a
steaming vegetable medley of squash and peas.  The question surprised her as
much as it did her friend.

"What's this," asked Donna?  "I thought you were my friend.  Did you invite me
to visit just so you could hold some tobacco intervention?  Since when did you
become an anti?  I always thought of you as a live and let live kind of
person."

Renee rolled her eyes as she lifted the tender vegetable from the fork with
her teeth.  "I'm not being an anti Donna.  Don't be so paranoid.  I'm just
curious.  What's wrong with that?"

A look of relief crossed Donna's face as she fought the urge to talk with her
mouth full.  "I'm sorry," she said.  "Its just that so many people try to make
my business their business.  So why do you want to know?"

Renee felt her cheeks warm.  For the life of her, she didn't know why she had
asked the question.  "I don't know.  I guess it's because I don't have many
friends that smoke.  I just look at you and now and wonder why you do it.  You
can tell me.  I'm not being mean.  I really am curious.  Does it taste good?
Does it make you high?"

Donna covered her mouth to keep from laughing with her mouth full.  She
swallowed and steadied her composure.  "Don't tell me you want to try smoking
at your age.  Is that what this is about?"

Renee waved off Donna's suggestion, but perhaps her friend was right.  Why
else would she have asked such an odd question?  She thought of her husband,
Mark.  She thought of her two semi-grown children.  No one in her family
smoked- thank God.  What would they say if she came home with a new habit?

Donna was right.  She was 42 years old.  Not that she was old, but for cry out
loud!  Who starts smoking when they're 42?

"Wintergreen candy," said Donna.  "I smoke menthol and it kind of tastes like
wintergreen.  Jim says it makes me taste minty."

"Really?" asked Renee.  "You mean Jim doesn't give you a hard time about
smoking?  You think he actually likes it?"

Donna laughed the way a person does when they've just been asked an incredibly
silly question.  "Of course he does.  He's a man isn't he?"

Renee's jaw dropped.  She looked at her friend as if she'd said something
profound.  "Really?  You think guys like it when girls smoke?"

"Where have you been?  Wake up Renee.  Look at me.  I smoke two packs of
cigarettes a day.  I love them, but do you think I ever would have started if
I thought guys thought it was ugly?  I mean I may be a little odd, but I'm not
a masochist.  You know what?  This conversation isn't going anywhere.  You're
not going to believe me until you try it your self," she said as she took two
cigarettes from her pack of Virginia Slims.  "Here.  Take this cigarette and
light it."

Renee reached out by instinct and took the cigarette.  She couldn't explain
why she took it.  She just did, the way a person takes any thing when they're
handed something.  But she wasn't about to put it in her mouth and light it.

"You're crazy," she said as she rolled the thin white cigarette between her
fingers.  "I'm not going to smoke this.  What if someone sees me?"

"That's the point Honey.  You need someone to see you."  She put the cigarette
between her lips and ignited the lighter with her thumb.

Renee couldn't help but stare as her friend brought the flame to the tip of
her cigarette. A small thick ball of creamy white smoke appeared in her open
mouth only to be sucked down her windpipe and expelled momentarily in a
beautiful cone shaped cloud of smoke.  She couldn't help but notice the smile
spread across her friend's cheeks as the nicotine infiltrated her body.  It
was almost as if she enjoyed it.  Once again she saw her hand reach out from
under the table just to take something from her friend.

The lighter was a Bic.  It was pink and felt especially heavy.  But it was
heavy only in her mind. Her heart raced as she asked her self what the big
deal was.  After all, it was only a cigarette.  It wasn't as if her friend was
trying to make her smoke pot or some other drug.  "OK," she said.  "I'll do
it."

Donna squealed as her friend imitated her earlier rendition of the lighting
ritual.  It was as if they were doing something bad, like they were 16 and
sneaking cigarettes behind the school.  "Don't inhale," she warned as Renee
brought the cigarette to life between her lips.

Renee heard but she didn't listen.  Her mouth filled with smoke.  It was
pleasant, just as Donna had described.  As a matter of fact, it really did
taste minty.  And then she breathed in.  Rich mentholated smoke raced down her
airways to her waiting lungs.

Her eyes bulged.  Her lungs heard the warning that her ears had neglected.
The smoke felt harsh and foreign as she fought the urge to cough.  And then
she saw it.  Smoke filled the air between them and it was coming out of her.
It spewed from her mouth and from her nose.  Oh my God, she thought.  She was
smoking!  She was actually smoking.

It was Donna's turn to stare in disbelief.  Not only had her straight-laced
friend just smoked.  She had also inhaled.

Renee felt the back of her neck tingle.  It was noticeable but not unpleasant
in the least and made her want seconds.

The second puff was better than the first but not as good as the third.  "How
am I doing," she asked?  "I look stupid don't I?"

Donna stared in disbelief.  "Not at all.  You look beautiful.  I'm so proud of
you.

Renee blushed.

Several hours later they were back at Renee's home.  The house was empty.  The
children were away at school and Mark wouldn't be home for at least another
hour.

"Want another cigarette?" asked Donna.

"I better not," said Renee.  "Mark could come home any minute."

"I didn't ask when Mark was coming home.  I asked if you wanted another
cigarette.  Besides, you said he doesn't get home till almost seven.  That
gives us at least an hour.  And it's not like he doesn't know I smoke.  He'll
just think it's me."

Renee groaned as she took another cigarette from her friend.  But she wanted
it, didn't she?  If Donna hadn't offered, she probably would have asked her
for one.  The whole thing was kind of crazy.  She'd been curious.  That much
was true.  But curiosity hadn't made her take this cigarette.  Curiosity had
nothing to do with it.  This was all about desire.

Donna raised an eyebrow as her friend greedily inhaled the Virginia Slim.
She'd never seen a person, man or woman, take to smoking the way her friend
was now doing.  It was as if her friend was born to smoke.  She seemed to glow
with pleasure.

"I had no idea smoking could ever feel this wonderful," she said as she put
out her cigarette and took her friend's pack without asking.

"Help your self," said Donna sarcastically.

Fifteen minutes after finishing her cigarette, Mark pushed the door open and
stepped inside his smoke filled living room.  He kissed his wife and welcomed
Donna who hugged him with a lit cigarette in her hand.

Renee couldn't help but notice how accommodating her husband was.  Donna's
smoking didn't faze him in the least.

After dinner, the three of them retired to the living room for coffee.  Class
was in session as Renee watched her friend smoke while keeping an eye peeled
for any signs of noticeable objection from her husband.  Was he just being
polite or did he really not mind?  For that matter, if he didn't mind, did
that mean he approved or even possibly liked it?

Renee made mental notes of how her friend handled the cigarette between her
fingers.  She looked so feminine yet powerful.  It was an awesome combination
and she doubted her ability to carry it off with such style.

As much as she was learning she was also yearning.  She knew it was too soon
for her to be experiencing feelings of addiction but that didn't stop her from
craving one.  What would Mark say if she asked Donna for a cigarette.  He'd be
surprised to say the least, but would he be angry?

		-------------------------------------------------------------

Donna stayed with Renee and Mark for five more days.  Each morning after Mark
left for work, she would hand her friend a cigarette.  For the first time in
her life, Renee found her self-looking forward to seeing her husband leave for
work.

"You know you wouldn't have to wait to smoke until he left if you told him."

Renee greedily inhaled a mouthful of smoke while shaking her head in
agreement.  "I hear you, but it's not like I'm addicted or any thing.  Sure I
like it.  But I'm going through a phase.  I'll probably never smoke again
after you leave on Friday."

Donna laughed.

"What's so funny?"

"You," said Donna.  "I've just watched you chain smoke three cigarettes and
follow it up with a statement like that.  You're a liar if you don't tell me
you love it.  You smoked a whole pack by your self yesterday.  Who are you
kidding?  You're a smoker Renee!"

Renee looked at the freshly lit Virginia Slim smoldering between her long
fingers.  It felt familiar and comfortable as if she'd known the habit her
entire life.  It was as if she'd just been reunited with a long lost friend.

"You're thinking about Friday, aren't you," asked Donna.  "You're thinking
about what you're going to do after I'm gone.  You know the last time I
checked, they still sold cigarettes here.  You don't have to quit when I go
home.  You just have to be honest with your self and you have to be honest
with Mark and the kids."

			-------------------------------------------------

Renee pulled up to the airport curb with an hour to spare before Donna's
flight.  Both women got out of the car with lit cigarettes in hand.  Renee
opened the trunk and with a cigarette clenched between her teeth used two
hands to pull Donna's suitcase from the trunk.  Donna did the same as she
retrieved her overnight bag and handed it to the redcap who piled it on his
cart.

"I'm going to miss you," said Renee.  I had such a good time."

"Me too," said Donna, as she hugged her friend.  

As Donna pulled away, Renee felt something familiar hit the palm of her hand.
She didn't have to look down to know it was a pack of cigarettes, and she
immediately protested.

"Go ahead and take them.  We both know you want them.  Think of them as 20 for
the road."

Renee laughed at her friend's joke.  "OK," she said.  "But I'm paying you back
the next time I see you."

"In that case, be sure to pay me back for the one's I left in you're house."

"You're kidding, right?" asked Renee.  "Tell me you're kidding.  Mark is going
to beat me home and he'll find them before I do."

"What's the big deal?" asked Donna.  "So what, I left my cigarettes.  I'm
forgetful- so sue me."

"I'm not going to tell Mark.  I know you want me too, but I promise," she said
holding the pack for her friend to see, "This is my last hurrah.  I'm going to
smoke a couple on the way home and then I'm done with it."

Donna didn't argue.  She gave her friend a knowing look that said, I know more
than you do.  Then she hugged her and turned toward the building.  Renee
watched her friend disappear through the crowded airport doors.

			-------------------------------------------------------

As she suspected, Mark had beat her home.  She put the pack of Virginia Slims
in her purse and got out of the car.  She knew she smelled like smoke but she
also knew she could blame that on Donna.  But her breath was a different
story.  What if he tried to kiss her?  How would she explain that?

Mark was sitting on the couch watching TV and drinking a Pepsi.  "Did you get
to the airport in time?"

"No problem," said Renee as she tossed her keys on the table.  "Traffic was a
breeze.  We made it in plenty of time."

She started for the bathroom, hoping to brush her teeth before the
conversation became to deep to abandon.

"By the way, Donna forgot to pack her cigarettes," said Mark.  "She left a
whole carton in the bedroom.  I put them in the kitchen cause I didn't know
what you wanted to do with them.  I swear that girl would leave her head if it
weren't attached."

"That's Donna," laughed Renee nervously as she made her escape with purse in
tow.

			------------------------------------------------------


Several hours later they were ready to call it a day.  Mark was stripped and
waiting for her in bed while she took off her make-up in the bathroom.  She
looked at the purse sitting on the sink.  Donna's cigarettes were still inside
and they called to her.

She tried to turn a deaf ear as she undressed and pulled a short silky gown
over her head.  She smoothed it out in the mirror as she admired the shape and
curves of her body against the red silk.  It contrasted positively against her
tan Hispanic skin and long black hair.

She didn't need the cigarettes, she thought as she pulled the spiny brush
across her scalp.  Regardless of her intentions and convictions, the
cigarettes inside the purse would not keep quiet.  If only she could smoke
just one.

It wouldn't be that hard she thought.  Their bathroom had a window and the
door was closed.  All she had to do was blow her smoke through the open window
and brush her teeth.  The smell of her hair could be explained.  After all,
she hadn't taken a shower and she had shared a car with Donna.  It was
absolutely normal for her to smell like smoke tonight.

The window struggled but eventually gave into her demands as did her lungs.
Cool mentholated smoke filled her mouth and tickled her throat as it lent
instant but fleeting relief to her nicotine starved body.

Each puff she took seemed to fill her mind with reason and rationality.  What
was she doing sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom while her husband was on
the other side of the wall?  This was insanity.

Smoking wasn't insanity.  Smoking was wonderful.  The insanity was in not
telling her husband.  Donna was right.  She was a smoker.  She mouthed the
words with pride as if saying them would bring the courage she needed to face
her husband. 

She looked at the glass coaster sitting on the sink.  Until Donna had come to
visit, a coaster had always been a coaster.  But her resourceful friend had
used them for ashtrays and so could she.

			-------------------------------------------

He was about to ask what took her so long as the door to their bathroom opened
but the words didn't come.  All he could do was stare at the steaming piece of
smoky sex standing before him.

With a makeshift ashtray and a pack of Virginia Slims in one hand and a
freshly lit cigarette framing her cheek in the other, Renee struck a pose that
ignited his passion.

"You're smoking!" he said, in a voice that reflected shock without anger.

Encouraged by the sound of his voice and the look in his eye, Renee lifted the
cigarette to her lips and pulled gently on the filter.  A piece of unspoken
understanding had just passed between them as she exhaled toward the ceiling.

"I didn't know how to tell you," she said as she placed the ashtray on the
nightstand beside her cigarettes and climbed into bed beside him.  "Are you
mad," she asked.

"Of course not," said Mark as he pawed her silky breasts.  "I just never
imagined I'd ever see you smoke.  I like it.  I mean do you like it?"

Renee laughed as she trimmed her ash and filled her lungs with smoke.  "Of
course I do.  Why else would I be doing it?"

The sight of his gorgeous wife smoking stirred him and he was overcome with
passion.  He pushed his lips against hers and found her tongue with his.

The taste of burnt tobacco was foreign to his senses, but entirely welcome.
He'd never kissed a smoker before but had often wondered what it would be
like.

Renee pulled away from their kiss, her face reeked with concern and
self-doubt.  "I must taste awful to you," she said.  "I'm so sorry."

"Sorry for what?" asked Mark.  "You taste incredible.  You look incredible.  I
can't tell you how sexy you are right now."  

Instead of trying to tell her how he felt he opted to show her by taking her
in his arms and finishing the kiss he started.  Renee put her cigarette out
and allowed him to take her.  He made love to her with a rekindled passion
that brought her to heights she'd previously only imagined.

Was it a fluke or was it for real?

Mark climbed over his wife and retrieved her cigarettes and lighter from the
nightstand.  He took a cigarette from the pack and placed it lovingly between
her full lips.  His hand shook with inexperience as he fumbled with the
lighter.

Renee accepted her husband's gesture and allowed the smoke to dance inside her
body.  She'd seen movies where people smoked after making love and always
thought of the scenes as visual clichés.  Things like that didn't happen in
real life and if they did, the people doing it didn't feel romantic and
fulfilled.  But as the smoke and nicotine embraced her endorphins, she quickly
realized the truth.  A cigarette after sex is like a fine glass of cognac
after the finest dinner.

Mark snuggled against his wife's breasts as her chest expanded and contracted
with every puff of smoke she took.  

Renee looked down at husband's head and kissed him.  "How do you feel about
being married to a smoker?"

Mark turned his head and kissed her on the lips.  "I married you for better or
worse.  Who am I to complain about things being better?" 


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