The Alphabet Sisters

(by anonymous, 28 August 2000)

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The Alphabet Sisters

I'm a good girl.  I've always been a good girl.  Kind and considerate.  A joy
to my parents, a friend to my friends, the teacher's pet, and all that.  I
still blush when someone says 'shit,' and run to confession when I let one
slip.  Oh, sorry, I'm Alison.  I'm 15, in my second year at Beechwood High,
an honor student with Ivy League dreams.  Last year I hung around with two
friends I met in middle school, girls pretty much like me.  Studious, quiet,
and of course really straight.  In a word, boring.  Our lives are about as
exciting as sand, but we like it.  Happy lives may make for dull stories, but
I also think sand is underrated.  

My best friend Christy has the distinction of never having gotten a B in her
life.  Even I can't lay claim to that.  My other best friend Barbara is a
reader.  Whether it's the classics or romance novels, I've never seen her
without a book.  I think she showers with the laminated edition.  She's
really pretty too behind those silly glasses, and I think the boys would
notice if she'd drop her book long enough for them to get a look at that
porcelain skin and golden hair.  Maybe later, and that's probably just as
well.  Every day it seems we talk about our dream romances, but it's just
talk.  We have more important goals for the near term, and we're determined
not to end up like Becki Scarvanough, who dropped out of school freshman year
to have a kid.  There's time for serious romance later, maybe when we were
thirty or thirty-five.  Or senior year.

We call ourselves the "alphabet sisters."  Ali, Barb, and Christy.  We were
inseparable our freshman year, our own little clique and in our own little
world.  I know these things can't go on forever, but apart from finding
someone just like us with a D name, like Darla or Debbie, it's hard to
imagine our little troika being altered by anything, like boyfriends,
activities, boyfriends, or change.  I mean reality only bites if you let it
off the leash.

I didn't see too much of Christy the first part of the summer.  I just
assumed she'd been on vacation or away at camp.  That's where I was for a
couple weeks.  I love summer camp.  I also love poison oak.  You get the
picture.  I got back on the July seventeenth, and immediately called C.  She
was all excited about a club of some kind, and of course she invited me.
Barbara was away on a family vacation, so I was especially anxious to see
Christy for the first time in weeks.

"Sure, I can meet you tonight," she said on the phone.  "But I'm involved in
this thing.  It's a little hard to explain.  Just come.  If you hate it, we
can leave."

"Okay," I answered, knowing Christy well enough to gather there was an
element of surprise involved here.  But I like surprises and I trusted my
good friend.  Besides, it was either that or watching some neuron screw up
becoming a millionaire.

Christy led me to the athletic fields behind the high school, and I assumed
we were meeting a couple of her other friends.  The trouble with "other
friends," of course, is that when my friends meet my other friends, both
groups invariably fail to enjoy being with the other as much as I do, and
instead insist on either monopolizing my time or standing around looking
dopey.  In fact, I've recently made it my policy that my friends are never to
meet my other friends, except, I guess, at my wedding, when I won't care
about any of them anyway.  But I digress, and anyway, Christy's secret is
probably that she's set us up with a couple of really nice guys.

"Are they cute?" I asked.  "Is my make-up alright?  I look like shit.  Oops,
sorry.  I wouldn't have worn this T-shirt--"

"Relax.  It's not --  You're boy crazy."

"I am not."

"You are too.  But sorry to disappoint you, A.  This is an all-girl thing."
I was afraid of that.

"Who are they?"  I asked.

"I met them a couple months ago through Stephanie Peterson."

"Stephanie Peterson?"  NOW I was freaking.  I had a laser sharp image of
Stephanie Peterson's reputation.  In middle school she'd been a lot like us,
but last year she'd fallen in with a bad crowd.  I mean BAD ...  Well, not
BAD BAD.  Sean Barraclough and Janie Monroe were BAD BAD.  Stephanie was ...
a little bad.  Just bad enough to be cool.  On the other hand, I could just
be overreacting as usual.  Maybe she was still alright.  Actually her rep
isn't that bad ...  Although she did go out with Paul Foster.  That's it.
She's slime ...  But she did have the sense to dump him ...

"Hi Stef," Christy said.  "You know Alison.  Ali, this is Valerie, our
fearless leader, and Eve, Amie, Amber, and Paula."  Hmmm.  A group already
heavily laden with the letter A, except perhaps on their report cards.  Paula
did drugs, I knew that.  Valerie was starting her senior year, which was
equally scary.  Pretty, smart, and popular, all in the extreme.  Puts your
place in the lower third of the food chain into perspective.  Amber smoked.
I'd often seen her smoking in the girls' room or outside after school.  I had
no clue who Eve was, except she was now lighting a Salem.  Amie was
apparently Amber's guest.  And I was Christy's.

"Where do you wanna go?" Eve asked.

"Let's just hang around for a while," Valerie replied.  This immediately
prompted all the girls to reach into their handbags.  It didn't surprise me
that Valerie proceeded to light up, or that the others soon followed.  What
dropped my jawbone onto my Nikes was when a cloud of smoke drifted past me
from my immediate left.

"Christy.  I didn't know you ..."  The girls all laughed.

"It's a summer thing.  I'm trying it out.  Something different."

"Face it.  You're hooked," Eve said. 

"No way," Christy replied.  "Wanna try one?" she asked me.

"You know I don't do that, C.  I think it's kinda gross."

"That's what they all say," Valerie replied.  "It's okay.  You'll make your
own decision."  There didn't seem to be much of a decision to make.

Except regarding how to kill Christy.  I ranted all the way home.  Besides
getting A's, ranting is one of the few things I do well.  "So now I suppose
you're gonna hang with these losers," I said, to capsulize a lengthy rant.

"They're not losers."

"Paula's a druggie."

"I know.  But Stephanie doesn't do that shit.  And Amber's smoked a little
pot, but most of them are really straight.  And we're working on Paula."

"Good luck."

"We're '50's cool.  Like cigarettes and beer."

"Like Elvis, James Dean, and Marilyn.  Dead ahead of schedule."

"It's a group you need to think about, A.  Valerie and Eve are cheerleaders.
And seniors.  They can get you on the cheerleading team.  I mean, it's what
you've wanted, right?  It's something we can do together.  I need a

"See?  You NEED a cigarette.  You ARE hooked."  

Christy ignored me and proceeded to light her Marlboro Ultra Light.  She
inhaled and blew a long thin stream of smoke.  "I kind of enjoy smoking, but
it's no big deal."

I didn't talk to her for two days.  It was no big deal.  Then I got to
thinking.  I'd always secretly dreamed of being with the cool kids.  Being
with the cool kids made you, uh, cool.  After an intense internal debate,
with no small amount of mental chair throwing, I finally decided I'd go with
Christy again, that is if she ever invited me following my anti tobacco
tirade.  I'd go, but I wouldn't smoke.

Fortunately, Christy hadn't written me off.  I went with them to the
carnival.  Six smokers and one non-smoker.  For the next two weeks I hung
with them, and no one ever said anything.  Life was good.  

Then came the night they initiated Amber into official membership.  To
celebrate, everyone (including Christy) smoked cigars.  I derived a most
healthy dose of satisfaction when Christy turned green, but my little joy
balloon popped on our way home.  And I got my period.  

"What's this 'membership' thing?" I asked.

"Amber, Eve, Steffie, and of course Val are members.  The inner circle,"
Christy ambiguously replied.


"So they won't let you keep coming if you're not a member," she added.

"Are you a member?" I asked.

"I'm working on it.  I mean, I like this group.  We do really interesting
things."  So noted.  Beach trips, parties, sleepovers.  My kind of fun.
Nothing too outrageous.  Sandra Dee would have fit right in.  

Okay, so I was wrong.  I'll print a retraction.  These weren't the bunch of
drugged out losers I'd first labeled them to be.  They were fairly straight,
normal kids.  Even Paula had stopped the Ecstasy crap after she watched some
thing on Dateline or 60 Minutes, and realized it wasn't as safe as everyone
said.  "People can quit smoking.  They do it all the time," Christy stated.
"You do crack and maybe you're dead, then it's a bit late to chart your
options.  A little beer, a few cigarettes with your friends ..."

"I've noticed you've moved up to Marlboro Lights."

"Steffie turned me on to these.  She showed me how to blow smoke rings.
Wanna see?"

"That's okay.  So if I don't start smoking, they'll cut me out," I posed.

"Eventually.  They dissed one girl in cyber-time.  Just fake your way through
it, like you do with everything else.  I mean you don't have to when they're
not around.  I don't."

"Which explains the thing in your hand," I replied with just the appropriate
note of sarcasm, as Christy executed a perfect smoke ring. 

"Well, once in a while, maybe a little."  She blew another smoke ring.
"Impressive," I said.  How many hours did you practice that?"

"It's easy, but some people can't do it."

"At least you have something for the talent contest.  By the way, B comes
back from vacation tomorrow."

"I know," she said.  "Don't worry, I won't forget you guys."  At that moment,
I felt I was about to lose the third letter of my alphabet forever.

On Friday night, the group had plans for a little party at Amie's for the
purpose of recognizing every girl's hero, her mother, for being away for the
weekend.  Up to now, I'd been Casu-ali around my new friends, and they
dressed more-or-less the same way.  I'd usually worn a T-shirt and jeans,
with little or no make-up, and it was perfect, given that it was summer,
there were no guys to impress, and my clothes came back stinking of tobacco
smoke.  But this night, for who knows what reason -- maybe because it was a
full moon or because my period was in serious remission -- I decided to go
crazy.  I was determined to show them a different side of Ali, albeit one
which didn't as yet exist.  I wore my black jeans, my sister's skin tight
little red halter top, and my brother's black leather motorcycle jacket.  I
must have spent two hours on my makeup, creating large mysterious eyes,
frizzy teased hair, and ruby red lips.  One final glance in the mirror
convinced me that I had the look ...  of a cheap hooker.  Yuck!  The makeup
had to come off.  Just then the doorbell rang.  It was Christy.

At first C was aghast (and could I blame her?), but after a moment of
reflection -- okay, five moments -- she said it was cool, and convinced me to
go with it.  "It'll show them you're okay, willing to laugh at yourself, be

"Are you sure that's good?" I asked.

"Oh yeah.  Trust me."

We decided to arrive "fashionably late" to attain the max effect.  On the way
over, following another massive internal summit, I decided to add to my
portrait the one final brush stroke it sorely needed.  As usual, I chose the
perfect painting tool for the intricate alteration, an industrial compressed
air powered spray gun.   

The door swung open and as I stepped inside, as if on cue, all jawbones
struck their respective Nikes.  Some laughter and a blur of one and two
syllable comments followed, but I sauntered past them into Amie's like I
owned the place.  It's all about attitude, I'd told myself and Christy on the
way over.  If I maintain it and have fun with it, they will too.  Maybe it'll
change their minds when it comes dissing time.  Maybe now they'll reject me
with a molecule of regret.  Boot me out on my ass in style.

After stepping past an incredulous Stephanie toward the coffee table, I
immediately grabbed the first pack of cigarettes I saw (they happened to be
Valerie's Marlboro 100's), hung a cigarette on the corner of my lip, and
asked, "Anyone got a light?"  I had yet to say hello.

Eve pressed a flame in my direction.  To this point I'd been cool.  Now I
realized I probably should have practiced my next move beforehand.  But it's
all about attitude, I reminded myself.

As the flame touched the end of my cigarette, I drew in just enough smoke so
I knew my cigarette would stay lit, then turned toward Valerie, and let the
smoke escape around the cigarette still dangling from my lips.  Since the
smoke was fortuitously wafting away from my eyes, thanks to the AC, I decided
I'd leave it there a while.  I took another brief puff.  The cigarette
remained between my lips as I directed the smoke out the opposite corner of
my mouth.  Damn, I was cool.

"I see you've decided to join our little group," Amber finally said.  I
pulled the cigarette away from my lips and let out a shallow puff of smoke.

"I'm thinking about it," I said unemotionally, taking another little puff,
tapping off the ash, and returning it to my lips.  I think it was at that
point I heard my inner A pleading, "Accept me. PLEASE, PLEASE ACCEPT ME."  

"Congratulations, Christy.  Looks like you're in," Valerie announced.  Wait a
minute!  CHRISTY?  'IN'?  Did I just miss something?  "You understand, Ali,
that part of the initiation is to bring in a virgin, a certified non-smoker,
I mean, like you -- we call them "virgins" -- and get her to start," she

"I'd about given up on you," Christy added.

"Now you see the trouble I'm in," Amie complained to another girl I hadn't
seen before.  "Ali, this is my friend Debbie.  She's a non-smoker like you
...  were."

"Dammit.  Okay, one.  Just one, Amie, for you," Debbie said.

I took a deeper puff, still not inhaling, then handed my cigarette to Debbie.
By this time I was glad to get rid of it.  Little eighth grade Debbie
examined the smoldering Marlboro for about a minute while the ash grew
longer.  Everyone watched in anticipation.  Come on Debbie.  We're all on the
edge of our seats.  I must say, Debbie, you're taking this thing MUCH too
seriously.  Just put on a good little show.  Leave 'em laughing and wanting
more.  Now the stadium's getting restless.  Soon they'll turn on you.  Hear
them chant:  DEB-BIE, DEB-BIE, DEB-BIE!

After nervously tapping the ash into the ashtray, slowly and painfully the
thirteen year old brought the cigarette to her lips.  After ever-so-gradually
drawing on my Marlboro, a faint wisp of smoke emerged from Debbie's lips.
The room broke into applause.

At that precise moment, my grand entrance slipped into antediluvian history.
Okay, I was jealous.  So to push little Debbie and her smoke wisp from the
spotlight, I suddenly found myself blurting out, "I'm dying for another
cigarette."  Stephanie at once offered me a Marlboro Light.  "I prefer the
strong ones in the red box," I said.  Valerie extended her box of
full-strength 100's, and I stuck another cigarette in the corner of my mouth.
"By the way, if you haven't noticed, Alison couldn't make it tonight," I said
as I lit my second ever cigarette.  "I'm her evil twin sister Alexis.  Unlike
sweet Ali, I smoke, and drink straight whisky, and destroy my lovers after I
finish with them." Everyone laughed.  I think I got the idea from one of
Barb's romance novels.  It seemed like a cool thing to say at the time.  I
guess you had to be there.

"Well, Alex, now all you need is to find another Debbie if you want 'in,'"
Eve stated.  "Or else let us watch as you destroy your lover." Everyone
hooted and roared.  I'd set her up for a punch line.

"No woman has seen it and lived, bitch," I replied, blowing all the smoke I
could muster in her face to a thunderous audience response.  Eve and I traded
further shots, then everyone got into it until it all eventually broke down
and got silly.  No, I wasn't 'in' yet, but tonight there would be no dissing
my fanny on the ...  I'll straighten out my metaphors later.  I was 'in' now
with Eve, and to paraphrase Bogie, it was the start of a beautiful

Eve smoked a lot.  At least a pack a day, I figured.  Later I would discover
it was actually two packs.  Unlike Christy or even Stephanie, it seemed Eve
always had a cigarette in her hand.  Her short blonde hair framed the mature
face of a 23 or 24 year old, except Eve was somehow only 17.  If Eve smoked
in quantity, Valerie's smoking could best be described as quality.  The way
she drew, the way she exhaled in perfect tight streams, with the last of the
smoke gently drifting from her nose.  In a word, stylish.  Amber's thing was
brown cigarettes.  Paula did smoke pops and really deep inhales.  Stephanie
often held her cigarette between her middle and ring fingers.  It never would
have worked for me, but for Stephanie it had the sophisticated look of a
fashion model or European princess.  

In fact, by now I'd noticed that each girl's smoking style had a distinctive
trademark.  Over the next few days, I decided mine would be dangling.  I had
to lay claim to it before someone else did, lest I get stuck with something
like pack-holding like Amie.  I was going to be the girl with the cigarette
hanging from her lips.  I needed to rebudget not only for cigarettes, but
also for clothes and makeup.  My first entrance was pure shock.  Now I needed
to tone down and refine "the look." Meanwhile, Christy continued to practice
her smoke rings.  Some of us, like Christy, could fall out of bed with "the
look."  The rest of us need a generous helping of attitude and makeup.

I didn't smoke when I wasn't with the group.  Even then, I usually didn't
inhale.  It was enough that I was the one with an often unlit cigarette
hanging from the corner of her mouth, though I'd always eventually light it
so they wouldn't suspect I was a fraud.

By early August, Christy was up to ten or twelve a day, and occasionally I'd
smoke with her, if for no other reason than it kept me from feeling like a
complete hypocrite.  By mid-August, I'd realized three things: first, I was
beginning to regularly inhale;  second, I sort of liked it; and third, I
hadn't seen Barbara since June, except for one brief trip together to the
mall.  Needless to say, the smoking thing never came up.

Christy and I called her on the fifteenth and invited her to the beach the
following Saturday.  Getting to the beach wasn't a big problem, despite the
fact that none of us could drive.  Whenever we wanted to go to the beach, we
simply stole a car.  Just kidding.  Actually, the beach was a boring
two-hour, two-bus connection, and we arrived just after eleven in the

"I'm dying for a cigarette," Christy said, as soon as we had disembarked.
Immediately my head spun toward Barb to catch her reaction, and I wasn't

"I didn't know you smoked," she said with her patent pending surprised tone.
I knew that's precisely what she'd say.  

"Yeah.  I like it," Christy replied, as her first plume of smoke was carried
away in the ocean breeze.  "Want one?"

"I'd sooner kiss a seagull," Barbara replied, as the breeze blew her blonde
hair across her eyes.  "A, what do YOU think?" she asked me.  I had been
anticipating the question.

"Me?  No way," I lied.  (It was for a good cause.)

"I keep offering them to Ali, but she turns me down," Christy added, playing
along with a script we'd rehearsed.

"I'm glad at least someone hasn't gone nuts this summer," Barbara replied.

"I mean I get curious sometimes," I hinted.

"Curiosity killed the Ali cat."

An hour later, Barb and Christy had me buried in a foot of sand, and I'd
forgotten all about B's latest bad pun.  Only my face was protruding.  "I
need some more sunblock on my face," I said.

"Okay," Christy answered.  "Barb, hold my cigarette."

"As if!  Put it out."

"I just lit it.  I guess Ali will have to hold it."  Christy then placed the
cigarette in my lips, and reached into her beach bag for the sunblock.

"I gotta get a picture of this," Barbara laughed.  "Let me get my camera.
Ali with a cigarette.  Mmmm, tastes good," she taunted.

"I don't know.  Let me see," I replied, and began furiously puffing on the
cigarette in my mouth.

"Is it as good as you imagined?" Barbara asked.

"Better.  Hurry up with the picture."

"Okay.  Here we go.  Say 'cancer.'"

"Barb, can you put the sunblock on her?"

"Okay, C ...  But first I have to brush the ash off your face.  Ali, please
tell me you hate it."

"Would I lie to you?" I replied.  "I mean I thought it would be sucky, but
it's ...  not so sucky." 

"If you start smoking on me, Alison Wonderland, I'll never speak to you
again."  Barb always called me Alison Wonderland when she was semi-mad at me.

"Can you put it out now?" I asked her.

"I'm not touching that thing.  Christy Brinkley, ass pronto, por favor!"
That's what she called the other member of our trio when she was in that
"semi-" state, though she occasionally referred to her as Christy Turlington.

"I think she looks cool," came Christy's response.

Barb plucked the nearly finished cigarette out of my mouth and instantly
jammed it into the sand, then applied the sunblock I'd requested.  

Behind the refreshment stand about an hour later, as Christy was lighting her
seventh cigarette, I said, "Mind if I try one?"  

"I knew this was going to happen," Barbara moaned.

"Okay, Barbie-doll."  That was our name for her, and I must say it fit,
though none of us ever let the teasing go too far.  After all, we were still
alphabet sisters.

"This is so-o-oh good," I exclaimed after blowing a sailful of smoke into the
breeze.  I can see myself chain-smoking into an early grave.  Give me another
one.  I need two."  It was three quarters acting, but by then I was feeling
something of a nicotine craving for the first time.  

Barbara watched in amazement as I lit a second cigarette from the first, and
began smoking two at the same time.  I began deeply inhaling and exhaling,
and for my effort was beginning to feel something of a buzz. 

"Addicted yet?"  Barbara asked.

"Give me a minute.  I want to try three."  Intrigued, Christy gave me a third
cigarette.  I was having fun.

"It's Ally McBeal on drugs," was Barb's reaction.  

"Ali McButt-Head," Christy offered.  "Obviously out of control."

"Come on, Christy Yamaguchi," I called out.  "You going AA on me?"

"I wanna try two.  You're corrupting me, A-girl," Christy replied, proceeding
to light a second, as passers-by were starting to take notice. I mean,
wouldn't you?  There was this girl smoking two cigarettes at the same time in
public, and her friend, even cooler, smoking three.  Good thing we had our
sunglasses on.

"This is, like, SO embarrassing," Barb declared, walking off in one of her

After finishing my three cigarettes, and after my head stopped spinning, I
knew it was time to find and apologize to Barb.  We found her at our beach
blanket.  "We were just having fun with you.  The truth is, I don't smoke.  I
mean not regularly.  C does, and we can both kill her if she doesn't quit by
the end of the summer.  But it's a cool thing, I mean to do once in a while.
It's a prop, really.  I started when I joined this group."

"You're not 'in' yet," Christy reminded me.

"I know.  To get in, we have this little initiation thing," I explained.  "I
have to get a non-smoker to start.  They don't have to keep smoking of
course.  Just start.  Be willing to try it."

"So if I'd smoked, you'd have gotten in?" Barb asked.

"Yeah.  Then C could tell them I did it, and bing, I'm in."

"But they wouldn't believe ANYTHING SHE had to say."

"I dunno," Christy replied, fumbling for a cigarette.  "Maybe."

"I think B just took a rip at your rep," I teased.

"No, I mean because the three of us are, like, suspiciously connected," Barb

"Intermarriage," Christy noted, pausing to exhale, "Causes morons with green
teeth.  It's a scientific fact."

"Anyway, I think it's a stupid initiation.  What IS this group?"

"It doesn't have a name.  It's just some cool kids.  Cheerleaders and--"


"No.  They're straight.  They drink a little, but no drugs.  Like you and me.
But they do have this one slightly naughty--"

"Smoking their little brains out.  I got news for you.  Nicotine is a drug

"Now there's a flash.  You can come with us and check it out if you want,"
Christy offered.

"What the hell."

Two nights later, we were in Eve's basement den.  Eve's parents smoked and
had let her smoke openly since she was nine.  Eve was the smoker I was
determined never to be.  I'd even told Christy that if I ever got like Eve,
she had express permission to kill me.  Of course, she'd have to get in line
behind my parents.  

Stephanie knew Barb was really anti-, and had prepared the others for my
guest.  I'd later learn that bets had been placed on whether I could get some
smoke to come out of her mouth.  The line on that was 2 to 1.  Barb choosing
to start smoking that night paid 4 to 1.  Stef bet Amber ten bucks the whole
night would flush.  I had a plan.

Amie had gotten off too easily, in my humble opinion.  After barely puffing
on one cigarette that one night, Debbie had vanished, never to be seen again.
Despite Debbie's lame effort, the group voted Amie in, because they liked
her, I guess.  Given that Paula had no use for my shining face, and I wasn't
altogether sure about Amber or Amie, I wanted a bit more solid of an
endorsement.  Thus the plan.

Say what you will about Barb, but she was certainly a good sport, for
agreeing to come, I mean.  Everyone tolerated her perky innocence, despite
the fact that she spent the evening periodically dispensing health bulletins.
Except maybe for Paula, they seemed to genuinely like B, at least until about
ten o'clock when her wit and everyone's wits were starting to wear thin.
Barb sat on the couch between Christy and I in a baby blue dress, her hair in
pony tails, waving everyone's smoke away from her face, as if the effort
accomplished anything besides annoying the hell out of Christy.

I lit one of my Marlboro 100's.  "Girls, I think it's time we teach this girl
a little something about the subject she's been lecturing on."  I quickly
glanced around the room, but no one seemed to grasp where I was going with
this.  "C, you grab her arms.  Eve, hold her head.  Stef, hold her down for
me."  A look of panic now overtook poor Barb. 

"What the hell are you doing?" Valerie asked.

"You'll see.  Barbie-doll, with your golden hair and Malibu dream house, it's
my opinion you need to lighten up."  I pressed my lit Marlboro into her lips.
At first she tried to twist away.

"Eve, you gotta hold her," I said.  "Ken ain't there to rescue you this time,
Princess.  One big puff is all we ask."  Realizing this, Barb relented, took
a rather impressive drag, then released a grand plume of mostly uninhaled
smoke.  The room broke into cheers, and we released our captive.

"Wow!  That was cool!" Barb exclaimed, at which Paula fell off her chair.
"Speaking of cool, anyone got a menthol?"  Eve was quick to oblige.  I smiled
as Barb nervously lit one of Eve's Salem 100's, and began releasing monster
clouds of uninhaled smoke.

"So Barbie smokes menthols," Stephanie quipped.

"How about Ken?" Amie asked.

"I dumped him," Barb replied.  "Too square.  Now I can party with Skipper and
that wild crowd."  Barb took another drag.

"It's time to pay up," Amber gleefully declared.

"Houston, we have smoke," Eve added, crushing her now empty pack.

"I can teach you how to inhale," I offered, providing a little visual aid.

"What?  You mean like you?" Paula replied.

"Ali inhales ...  sometimes ...  a little," Christy rallied in my defense.

"Yeah.  I thought I saw it once," Amie said.  "I may have been mistaken."

"Ali just likes to suck on them," Amber added.  "She's got kind of a
pacifier thing going."

"Pay no attention, Ali.  They're just blowing smoke," Stephanie said.

"Anyone heard from Debbie?" Valerie asked.

"Not since we killed her," Paula answered, lighting a cigarette for herself
and one for Stephanie.

It was time for me to confess.  "The truth is, Barb has never smoked a
cigarette in her life.  Stef and Christy can attest to that.  But the whole
forced thing, it was our little act."

"I thought so," Valerie said.

"Nice show," Amber said. 

"For a minute there, Ali, you were freaking me out," Paula admitted.

"Ali's Playhouse," Valerie quipped.

"I can't wait to see the next episode," Amie added.

"But now, Ali Baba, what will you do for an encore?" Christy laughed.

"Before or after beating the crap out of you?  But seriously, you can't treat
friends that way.  At least I don't.  I mean, even though I like hanging with
you guys, Barb and Christy are my best friends, whether they smoke or not.
Even if they do something really stupid, like go out with Jimmy Smuge."  I
looked over to Barb, as she took one final puff on her Salem before crushing
it out.  

Never at a loss for words, Barb had a few for Christy and me too.  "Christy
Brinkley, I assure you you'll never die of cancer, because I'll personally
kill you first.  As for you, Ali, I have the feeling from now on you'll be
doing your homework with one pathetically hooked smoker and one defiant
anti-, fanning the smoke back in her face where it belongs.  Now the real
question, Ali, is what about you?"

"Me?" I laughed.  "You all know me.  I like to keep 'em guessing."

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