All That Could Have been, Part 1

(by, 18 February 2002)

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All That Could Have Been
Part 1 of 2    

    'Jenna is only fifteen !' Wanda objected.
    'Well, please try to understand that I didn't write this will. I'm just 
here to administer the conditions. There is three million dollars put into 
the firm's trust, pending the outcome of the one-year period. Whether or not 
you choose to fulfill the conditions is entirely your choice, Mrs. Thompson. 
I neither want nor do not want your family to meet the conditions. It is not 
my place to care about how you view those conditions.'
    'But the conditions are illegal.'
    'Strictly speaking, I suppose that they are. But I'm neither encouraging 
nor discouraging any illegal activities.' He pointed to the carton of 
cigarettes and the lighter on the table. 'I am giving those cigarettes to 
you, Mrs. Thompson. If you choose to give them to Jenna, well, honestly, I 
don't think that you need to worry about anyone enforcing the law against 
giving cigarettes to minors. Your mother was not a public figure and this 
office has strict policy against discussing probate matters in the press. 
There are no other relatives to challenge the will, so this is really just 
between this office and yourselves.'
    'Can you review the conditions again ?' Robert Thompson asked. He was 
doing a good job of holding his emotions in check- the truth was these 
'˜conditions' on the inheritance were infuriating. He wasn't sure he'd done 
anything to earn a million dollar payout from his mother-in-law, but- well, 
he'd always liked her until now. It was as though she had reached out from 
beyond the grave to piss him off. The only thing he hadn't liked about her 
was that she smoked, and she knew that.
    'Well,' Jackson said, consulting the paperwork- needlessly- 'for the 
first month, starting today, Jenna is to smoke five cigarettes a day. After 
that, ten cigarettes a day. If she can maintain that level of smoking for the 
year, then the entire sums are to be paid immediately- one million dollars to 
each of you. If not, the money will be donated to charity.'
    'But this is ridiculous. Who writes a will that requires a fifteen year 
old girl to smoke cigarettes in order to earn the proceeds from a will ?'
    'Your mother-in-law.'
    'Is there anything in the will that suggests why ?'
    'No, there isn't,' Jackson said.
    Wanda knew exactly why, but it wasn't a discussion for here in this 
office, and she thought that it was typically self-centered of Robert to 
conveniently forget why they would be under this stricture.
    'There is some leeway in the way this is written. For instance, if she 
smokes four cigarettes today and six tomorrow, that's acceptable.'
    'And how are you going to determine whether or not Jenna is meeting the 
requirement ?'
    'I have secured the services of a private investigator. He or she will be 
watching-occasionally- your house and your daughter. You should know that so 
you do not become disturbed by this person's presence. I know all this is a 
significant amount of information to process at one time, but, there is a 
large sum- or three large sums- of money involved.'
    'I don't like this.' 
    Jackson nodded. 'Well, I wasn't expecting that you would, Robert. But 
that's not the point. Wills often contain what the benefactors consider to be 
antagonistic conditions, which is one of the reasons probate law is a robust 
area of practice.'
    'If at any time you decide you are no longer interested in pursuing the 
award in the will, please let me know, as it will save the firm on the cost 
of the PI as well as the administrative costs of holding the monies in trust. 
This meeting is concluded.'

    Jenna had yet to say anything, but as they walked to the car, she finally 
    'Why ?'
    Her mother tapped the carton of cigarettes against her thigh slowly. A 
carton of cigarettes has a certain feel to it- tight, slightly lighter than 
it looked. Wanda felt an emotion holding the carton, but it was better hidden 
than Bob's palpable seething. And easier to understand, at least from her 
point of view.
    'I have my own ideas on that subject,' Wanda said, wondering if Bobby 
would even discuss it with her in private.
    'Well, is anyone going to ask me how I feel about this ?'
    'I just assumed that you weren't going to want to smoke, honey-' Robert 
said, unlocking the six year old Saab. As they piled into the car, Jenna 
laughed, and it disturbed him how easy her laugh was.
    'I don't. But I have three million reasons to at least consider it. You 
and Mom could retire, buy a nice house- and I could go to any university in 
the country. I think we have to consider the possibility that I should at 
least try it and discover for myself whether I like it or not. How can I know 
if I don't at least try it ?'
    'I don't want you to smoke. It's not worth you becoming hooked on 
    'And what if later on I decide that I want to be a smoker anyway and we 
lose out on three million dollars because I didn't want to smoke now ?'
    'You wouldn't, though. You think smoking is disgusting.'
    'No, you think smoking is disgusting, Daddy. I don't really have much of 
an opinion on smoking yet. It might turn out that my friends will want to 
smoke and this will make it easier to fit in. I might enjoy it for myself. 
The idea of trying it is kind of exciting.'
    'You're not the sort of person who would smoke and neither are your 
    'Daddy, smoking cuts across all demographics- race, income, sex. Anna 
Kornikova is an athlete and she smokes.'
    'I don't want you smoking.'
    'You've never even tried it, have you ?'
    'Smoking ? No, I can thankfully say that I haven't and I'd rather it was 
that way with you as well.'
    'What about you, Mom ?'
    She caught a look shared between her parents. Her mother was smiling but 
Daddy had a dark look on his face and she knew what it meant. He expected her 
to tell what he called a '˜pretty lie', the sort of lie he said only adults 
could have a reason to tell. She knew that the answer was yes and now it was 
just a question of how honest Mom would be.
    Wanda opened her mouth to speak and his look darkened more. Storm clouds 
formed over his brow like grey thunderclouds, but her mother had made up her 
    'Yes honey. I started smoking when I was your age. I smoked for seven 
years and then I met your father. We'd been dating about two months when he 
asked me two things- to marry him, and to stop smoking. Obviously I did 
both.' A brave smile crossed her face when she thought back on those years of 
smoking opening and in public, instead of the occasional- 
    Jenna reached forward and patted her mother's shoulder. 'Well, I've made 
up my mind. For a million dollars each, I am willing to give it a try. I kind 
of like the idea. Or at least I like the rewards that are available to me. 
I'm willing to smoke for a million dollars.'
    'It's not your decision,' Robert said sourly.
    'It is her decision, Bobby.'
    And that was it. He knew that he was beaten. He just had to hope that 
this wouldn't extend beyond Jenna to his wife. Still, he had to try.
    'It's our decision. I really don't want you smoking, Jenna.'
    'But Daddy, why not at least let me try it ? There are plenty of girls my 
age at school who are smoking, and no one is offering them all that money to 
do it.'
    'Is it just the money that has you thinking you want to try it ?' Wanda 
asked. She didn't really want Jenna to take up smoking just because of her 
mother's will, either, but if that wasn't the only reason-
    'Be honest, honey. What are you feeling right now ?'
    'Butterflies in my stomach. I'm nervous and excited. I'm going to try 
smoking. Smoking is- well, some people think it's really cool and I'm 
wondering if I will, too. How many girls my age have a compelling reason to 
smoke and can do it without a lot of static from their parents ?'
    'Well, you are getting some static.' Wanda said.
    Jenna leaned over and put her hands on Robert's shoulders.
    'Yeah, but Daddy wants that money as much as you and I do. Be honest, 
Daddy. You want the money, don't you ?'
    'Of course I want the money. But I don't think you should have to smoke 
to get it.'
    'Then think about it this way. I want to smoke. I've made up my mind. I 
can't wait try it. I don't care about the money. My focus is on the act of 
    'I hate to hear you talk that way. It will really bother me to see you 
    'It doesn't bother you that Tricia smokes,' Wanda said, looking at her 
husband, her eyes narrowing, her face taking on a jealous cast that Robert 
could hardly miss.
    'I don't have to live with Tricia,' he said defensively.
    'You let her smoke when you go to lunch with her, don't you ? That is 
why you come home smelling of smoke some days, right ?' Wanda pressed.
    'Tricia is twenty-seven. I don't let her do anything. She's my 
co-worker. If I could keep her from smoking I would, but I can't.' The words 
had strange ring to them- Jenna thought that they sounded like a lie.
    'I'm sure you've tried,' Wanda said sarcastically.
    'Tricia is super-cool, Daddy, and she smokes. Does it really change your 
opinion of her ?'
    Robert shook his head and sidestepped the question.
    'Tricia is not my daughter. You are.'
    'Well, I'm your smoking daughter now.'
    Given that queue, Wanda reached down and thumbed the window switch on 
Jenna's side. She opened the carton, pulled out a pack, and undid the 
cellophane. These had been her brand, Marlboro Lights 100s. The pack felt 
good in her hands.
    'You're going to let her smoke in the car ?'
    'That's the idea,' Wanda said, somewhat crossly.
    Knowing that he was losing ground rapidly, he decided to retrench. 
'There's to be no smoking in the house. If you want to fill your lungs with 
disgusting smoke, you do out in the backyard on the porch where no one can 
see you.' He slapped the steering wheel with his hand. 'I cannot believe 
    Wanda handed her daughter a cigarette.
    'Hold it between the first two fingers of your hand and put the cigarette 
between your lips.'
    'Mom, I have seen people smoke. I thing I know what to do.'
    'Well, take it easy. Just pull small amounts of smoke into your mouth. 
Don't try to take any of the smoke into your lungs. That will just make you 
sick, and if you think your father is upset about you smoking in the car, 
just wait until you puke.'
    Robert cast her one last dirty look and went back to driving.
    Wanda flicked the lighter and brought the first of the required 
thirty-five hundred cigarettes to life.
    Jenna did as she was told. She drew only a small amount of smoke into her 
mouth and then quickly blew it back out through the open window just as they 
pulled up to a red light. In the lane next to them and attractive looking 
twenty-something in a white convertible looked at her and smiled a gorgeous 
    She trimmed out the window as the light turned green and noticed that he 
was matching their speed and stealing glances at her.
    She smiled back at him, inhaled again, letting a tiny bit of the smoke tra
vel down into her lungs.
    It felt wonderful.
    Jenna was out on the back porch with her mother when Belinda walked out 
onto the deck. She had come over to study trigonometry. She was not expecting 
to find her best friend out on the back porch with her mother- smoking a 
    'What the hell are you doing ?' she asked.
    'Well, hello to you too, Belinda,' Wanda said, smiling.
     'What the hell is going on ?' Belinda re-iterated.
    Cutting to the point, Jenna said 'Grandma left us a lot of money, but 
there's a condition attached. I have to smoke. I hope you're not upset.'
    Belinda's face went into the strangest look.
    'You're upset. I guess you're thinking about your sister, huh ?'
    Belinda's older sister Heather was a senior in high school. She had 
started smoking over the summer while working at Hendel's. All the waitresses 
smoked and she'd picked up the habit. Her parents had always- as far back as 
she could remember, at least- smoked and they seemed to encourage Heather as 
well. Belinda had complained about it for the whole summer and the first 
month or so of school, and then given up- deciding, Jenna had thought- that 
her best friend was sick of hearing about it.
    'Can I tell you a secret, Jenna ?'
    Belinda started to speak, paused, started again. 'Wait a minute. You're 
smoking because your grandmother left you money but you have to smoke to get 
it ? That's the craziest thing I ever heard.'
    Wanda laughed. 'Not if you had known my mother.' A sad look passed 
across her face but she reminded herself that she was doing pretty well 
dealing with her mother's recent death and forced it to pass.
    'I started smoking when I was Jenna's age. Now, my mom had always 
smoked, and after the divorce, well, it was just the two of us. When I 
started smoking, well, this is going to seem a little silly, but we really 
became like best friends. She loved to smoke and she loved sharing it with 
me. I can't tell you how many nights we stayed up late, watching movies, 
smoking, talking. It was like a bridge between the parent-daughter 
relationship and friendship, a common bond. But when I started dating Robert- 
that was hard on her. I lived home while I was in college and then all of the 
sudden, everything changed. She felt kind of like she had been replaced. And 
then, he insisted I quit smoking. She felt betrayed- but she never took it 
out on me, or him. She'd always been perfectly sweet. Now though, she's 
reaching back and using the money she made when she sold her real-estate 
company to enact her revenge- all three million of it.'
    'Three MILLION dollars ?'
    'Sounds crazy, doesn't it ?' Jenna asked.
    'Well, so will this then,' Belinda said, and she took a pack of Marlboro 
Lights 100s from her purse.
    'I've been smoking for almost two months now.'
    'What ?' Jenna said, shocked.
    'I bet you thought that I quit complaining because you'd got sick of it, 
right ?'
    'Well, yeah. So I guess that's not the case. You've been smoking for two 
months and you didn't tell me ?'
    'Yeah. I didn't- well, I only smoke at home.'
    'Then why do you have a pack in your purse ?'
    'I was going to smoke a cigarette on the walk home.'
    'You live like three minutes from here.'
    'It's not like I would have had to smoke the entire cigarette on the way 
home. Mrs. Thompson, do you mind if-'
    Wanda shook her head. 'If you smoke on my back porch ? Of course not. So 
tell us how you got started, Belinda.'
    Belinda pulled a cigarette from the pack, started to light it, and 
paused. 'Would you like one, Mrs. Thompson ?'
    'Very much,' Wanda said, 'but I'll pass for now. Robert is mad enough 
already about Jenna smoking. I think I would put him over the edge.'
    'But you are thinking about smoking again, aren't you ?' Jenna asked.
    'We'll see. It's been sixteen years since I've done anything more than 
sneak a stray cigarette here and there and I- well, let's see how your father 
comes around with you.'
    'You could always say that you were doing it for me, to make it easier to 
take up smoking.'
    'He would never buy that. I love your father, but he is very odd about 
the whole smoking thing and- just give it time.' A dark look came over her 
face, but she forced it to pass quickly because she didn't want to talk about 
that aspect of her relationship with her husband. There was one thing in her 
life that nagged at her at she didn't want to explore that with two teenaged 
girls, one of them her daughter. 'You were going to tell us how you started 
smoking, Belinda.'
Jenna had finished her cigarette and she looked at the pack. She needed to 
smoke two more today, and as Belinda lit her own cigarette, Jenna pulled 
another one from the pack. Belinda quickly moved to light it for her and then 
gave her friend an impromptu hug.
'This is so cool. Now that you're smoking, I think maybe I'm willing to 
smoke away from home- like at the bus stop tomorrow morning. That might 
surprise Jill a little.'
Jenna laughed at that.
'Tell your story,' she said, drawing smoke into her mouth and pushing it 
back out without inhaling.
'Well, it's pretty simple. Once Heather started smoking at home, it was kind 
of me against the family. I was the only non-smoker. Before Heather started, 
Mom and Dad were pretty considerate. We didn't sit in the smoking section of 
restaurants, they didn't smoke in the car- often- when we were with them. Dad 
always went into the den to smoke his cigars. Even Mom would go into the den 
with him to smoke. But with Heather lighting up all over the house, that 
changed. It seemed like someone was always smoking around me. Then Heather 
started in on me with '˜you should just try it, it's so cool.''
'You said that bugged the shit out of you,' Jenna said.
'Well, it did, at first. But then Mom got in on the act. She kept asking me 
if I wanted to try it, that it was all right if I wanted to. Finally, one 
night Heather took me to one of Steve Gendron's parents away parties.'
'She took you to one of Steve's parties ?' Jenna asked jealously.
'Exactly. I couldn't believe it. She'd always acted like I was some sort of 
leaper- I'd begged her half a dozen times to take me to one of the parties 
and it was always '˜you're too young.' Anyway, I got two beers in me and 
everyone was being really nice to me. It was all just a setup. As soon as I 
was a little tipsy, Heather just planted a cigarette between my lips and lit 
it. So I tried it, and everyone was telling me how cool I was to be smoking 
and next thing I knew a few days had gone by and I really was smoking- and I 
liked it.'
Her inhale and exhale after this long speech was eager.
'I can't decide if I like it or not,' Jenna said.
'I was the same way at first. Once I had smoked a few cigarettes, Mom and Dad 
and Heather just kept at me to keep doing it. I liked being encouraged to do 
something a little naughty, you know. But I don't think I was enjoying it. 
Then one morning I got up and went downstairs to get some coffee and I just- 
I wanted a cigarette. Not in a nicotine-fit sort of way. I just wanted one. 
So I lit up and that one cigarette changed everything for me. I enjoyed it so 
much- I realized I was a smoker- that I liked smoking.'
    'But not enough to tell me ?'
'Well, after all the bitching that I did, I didn't think that it was right.'
    'I guess the timing was better tonight.'
    'I think you're right,' Jenna said. 'But we should get to studying.'
    Belinda looked at the cigarette in her hand.
    'After we finish these.'
    Jenna agreed that was the best idea.

    There had never been any question where the bus stop would be. Not only 
were the Temples the richest family on the block, but Jill's mother had been 
the School Board president for the last seven years. That was why the bus 
route paused at her front yard, but that wasn't why everyone liked Jill. She 
was pretty and smart and popular and all those things worked in her favour. 
She bore it all in an easy way, downplaying the fact that she had all things 
most high school kids wanted.
    She paused by the doorway and lit a cigarette. She drew deeply on it, 
exhaled, and then kissed her mother on the cheek.
    'Don't forget that I'm picking you up after school. If you have time, 
that is-'
    Jill nodded. She wasn't really all that excited about going to the 
gallery, but it was what Mom wanted to do and Dad was going to working late.
    'Sure, Mom. I'll see you at two-fifteen.'
    She shouldered her backpack and walked out the door.
    There were only two others at the bus stop. Jenna and Belinda. She caught 
them out of the corner of her eye, knowing their shapes well enough after all 
these years.
    But then she looked up, really looked at them, and she realised that they 
were both smoking.
    She walked down the driveway. They hadn't seen her yet. Hilda Morganson 
was walking up the street and she saw them standing there, cigarettes in 
hand, talking and laughing, and blurted out 'What the hell are you doing ?' 
Her voice was shrill and judgmental, full of negative overtones.
    Freshmen, Jill thought, as close to weary as she ever came.
Jill was at the end of the driveway now and they saw her.
    'It looks to me like they're smoking, Hilda.'
    'Well, it's disgusting.' She said, but without the same conviction as 
    Jill took a deep draw on her cigarette, exhaled. The wind carried the 
smoke in Hilda's direction and she sidestepped it.
    'I suppose it must seem that way to you. I suppose you think I'm 
disgusting too.'
    It was a little mean, the way she said it, because she knew the reaction 
that Hilda would have, torn between being judgmental and not wanting to 
offend a popular senior.
    'You're a senior. If you want to smoke- well-'
    Jill looked at Jenna and smiled.
    'I can remember babysitting you. And here you are, all grown up.'
    It had been three years since Jenna had required babysitting- Jill was 
two and an half years older and had sat her for about a year.
    'You don't think it's disgusting that we're smoking ?' Belinda asked.
    'No. I'm a little surprised, but it's cool. How long have you been 
smoking ?'
    'About two months,' Belinda said. 
    'And you ?'
    Jenna drew on her cigarette, her inhale small but enjoyable. 'About 
twenty hours.'
    'Really. That's so cool.'
    'Oh, you'd been smoking for a year by the time you were our age. I 
remember you sneaking out while you were babysitting me more than once.'
    'Well, that was before Mom and Dad knew. I had to sneak around whenever I 
could. I remember that you were really cool about it. So is that what you 
guys are doing, sneaking around ?'
    While they talked, Hilda was standing off to one side, by herself, 
seething. There was a steady stream of cars going in both directions, parents 
heading off to work.
    'This isn't a very good place to sneak, is it ?' Jenna asked.
    'Good point. So your parents know that you guys smoke ?'
    'My parents were thrilled when I started smoking,' Belinda said.
    'That's so cool. What about you, Jenna ?'
    Jenna thought about that. She had spent last night, in those last moments 
before sleep, thinking about what she was going to say to people who asked 
her about smoking. She'd decided not to tell people what was really 
happening. She was fairly sure already that she was going to continue smoking 
for the next year and she wanted people to accept that. Telling them the 
truth- well, aside from the fact that someone like Hilda might take the story 
back home to her parents and- well, adults could be funny about things and 
not in an ha ha sort of way- she wanted people to accept her for smoking. She 
had thought about Jill, how everyone knew that she smoked but they didn't 
seem to mind-
    'Yeah, my parents know. They're cool with it.'
    'But they don't smoke, do they ?' Jill said skeptically.
    'No, actually, although Mom used to, I guess.'
    'Now that's really cool. I don't know anyone our age who smokes that has 
parents who don't and don't mind.'
    Our age. Jenna suddenly sensed the cool factor Belinda had talked about 
last night.
    'I don't know. Now that I'm smoking, maybe Mom will start smoking again 
    Jenna didn't know how accurate her guess would soon prove to be.

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