Back and Forth, Part 1

(by SSTORYMAN, 29 December 2001)

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This fictional account contains adult language and graphic sexual themes and
descriptions.  If such language, themes and descriptions offend you, please do
not read further.  The persons and events described in this work are purely
fictional.  Any similarity to actual persons or events is strictly
coincidental.  Copyright 2002 by SSTORYMAN.  All rights reserved.  Permission
is hereby granted to reproduce this story in any form and for any purpose as
long as this notice is reproduced and no financial remuneration is received,
directly or indirectly, by the person reproducing or using it.


1.	The Hiding Place and the Brave New World.

   Kylee Bergen groaned.  Damn, her mom was on her case again!

   "Kylee, honey, I sure hope you aren't smoking.  You aren't, are you?"

   "No, Mom," the seventeen year old fervently replied.  That was a lie.
But lying had become her stock in trade the last few months in dealing with
her mom.  "I've told you.  The smell comes from hanging around my friends.
Some of 'em smoke, like Karyn, but I don't."

   Vicki Bergen sighed.  "Kylee, you're pretty and you're smart; much too
smart to smoke.  There's no reason to get caught up in that terrible web of
nicotine addiction like those stupid friends of yours.  Smoking's a dead end
and you know it.  Right?"

   Kylee just looked at her mom.  Vicki was a attractive petite blond in her
late thirties.  Dressed in a navy blue suit she'd just come home from her
job at the county government building.  Vicki's election as a county
commissioner several years earlier had been a real coup.  She was the
youngest woman ever elected county commissioner in the county.  It was the
result of endless political schmoozing, something her mom had done for as
long as Kylee remembered.  Vicki later rose in prominence in the state
Democratic machine.  She was considered one of the state party's rising
young stars.  Kylee was the spitting image of her attractive mom, but twenty
years younger.  However instead of a blue business suit Kylee had on faded
denim jeans and a Tori Amos tee shirt.

   Vicki turned on her political charm.  "Honey, last year the Governor
appointed me to his Commission on Smoking and Health.  It's important to me.
The statewide exposure I get gives me a shot at statewide elected office
someday.  But if my daughter smokes, it looks so bad.  It'd be a real
embarrassment for me.  Don't screw me by playing the rebel, honey.  Please?"

   Kylee sighed.  She shook her short blond hair from side to side.  She was
petite, like Vicki, and like her she could put on a totally innocent veneer
when needed.  "Look, Mom, I told you.  Yeah, I've experimented with
smoking.  Everyone does.  I bet even you did when you were my age."

   "But when I was your age the evidence hadn't turned so totally against
smoking -."

   The teenager groaned.  "Oh, come on, Mom!  Give me a break.  Since the
sixties people have known smoking's not good for you.  Don't give me that
excuse.  The point is, sure, I've tried it.  Everybody does.  But I tell you
I'm _not_ smoking.  So don't worry about it.  Okay?"

   Vicki shook her head.  Her hair was longer but like Kylee's it was a
shimmering gold color.  "I _want_ to believe you, honey.  But I don't know.
You smell like smoke all the time.  And yesterday I thought I smelled smoke
on Allyson.  God, she's only fourteen.  It'd be a real shame if you girls
both started smoking -."

   "Yeah, it'd be real hard for your political fortunes," Kylee shot back.
"The Governor, the Democratic party and the press wouldn't think you were
so hot if your kids smoked at the same time you're on that stupid statewide
anti-smoking commission.  God, Mom!  You're more concerned about your career
than you are about us!"

   Vicki glared.  "That's not true.  It's simply a situation where my
personal interests and what's best for you girls line up perfectly.
Smoking's a no-no.  Your father and I don't want you to hang around with
kids who smoke.  Period.  It's not just my political situation.  It's your
life.  And after all, your dad is the principal of your high school.  He
can't have you girls smoking, ever, not at all.  Neither can I.  Do you

   "Yeah," the teenager sighed.  It was an argument they'd had many times.
"I hear you."

   Kylee retreated to her room.  God, she hated fighting with her parents
about smoking!  Truth was, she _did_ smoke.  She'd been smoking for months.
Her best friend Karyn got her started and, despite her mom's unhappiness,
she had to admit she really liked it.  She averaged over half a pack a day,
smoking both before and after school with her friends every day, supplemented
by her new routine of also smoking in her secret hiding place at home.
Having a place in the house where she could smoke made it even easier to step
up her growing habit.  Her little sister Allyson, at fourteen, also recently
began to smoke.  She shamelessly introduced Allyson to the habit.  She
didn't give a shit if it made her mom mad or if it jeopardized her political
aspirations.  She and Allyson shared almost everything; now that included
cigarettes!  Allyson was only fourteen but Kylee loved having her little
sister as a smoking buddy.

   She sighed and went into her bathroom.  She felt a desperate need to
retreat into her hidden "secret place" to have a cigarette or two in peace.
She lifted her foot up and stepped onto what appeared to be nothing but air.
But her foot found a resting place.  She lifted herself up onto an invisible
platform and disappeared from sight!

   When she first stumbled across this bizarre place a couple months back it
spooked her.  But though surrealistic it proved to be real, and a place where
no one could see inside.  It was like something straight out of some cheesy
science fiction film.  But it was true.  After her inadvertent discovery the
invisible hiding place proved to be astonishingly genuine and very helpful to
feed her growing smoking habit.  She originally found it when she
accidentally felt her hand bump up against something invisible in her
bathroom.  She couldn't see a thing.  Nonetheless her hand touched
something.  Feeling her way around it, she soon determined it was a sort of
invisible platform.  More amazing, when she stepped onto it, she found she
could disappear from sight and enter a peculiar nether world.  She could see
out, but no one else could see in.  It was the kind of secret hiding place
every child dreamed about, especially one who wanted to do something she
wasn't supposed to, like smoke.

   Was it an exotic entranceway into another world or some such shit?  Kylee
didn't know and frankly didn't care.  When she did step into it, though,
she entered a completely different place where no one could see her.  Once
she tried to show it to Allyson.  But when her sister was with her, it
disappeared.  Neither of them could feel it.  Allyson thought Kylee was
messing with her and attributed it to a bizarre joke.  It turned out that
only when Kylee was all alone could she feel it or step inside it.

   Soon she began using it as a place to smoke.  Happily, the odor of her
cigarettes always stayed completely inside the invisible envelope.  It was
great to have a place to safely smoke at a moment's notice with no fear of
discovery by her mom or dad.  And so smoke Kylee did.  Each time she stepped
back into her bathroom from the surreal bubble that seemed to be in another
world the only smell that traveled back with her was what stuck to her
clothes and hair.  And that was manageable because she always blamed that
smell on her friends smoking.

   Inside, Kylee could see the bathroom.  But it was like looking out through
a cloudy crystal.  She soon realized its usefulness and stopped worrying
about what it was.  She simply took advantage of it, using the escape to feed
her growing nicotine addiction whenever she felt stressed.  So now, sitting
cross-legged on the invisible surface of her bubble, which seemed to float
several feet off the bathroom floor, she took a gold pack of Benson & Hedges
100s from her jeans and greedily lit up.  There was no problem bringing
things in and out of her supernatural sanctuary.  So she left an ashtray in
her invisible hiding place for convenience.

   Completely hidden from anyone passing through her bathroom, Kylee hit hard
on her one hundred millimeter cigarette.  Thick, rich smoke from the B&H felt
damn good inside her lungs.  She pumped a second time hungrily retaining it
inside.  God, she loved having smoke in there!  She wished her stupid mother
understood how great smoking was!  Maybe it was bad for her; she didn't
fuckin' care.  Nothing else was like nicotine and the thick, rich smoke that
delivered it into her body; nothing in the world!  She released a reluctant
exhale through her nostrils and let a satisfied smile spread across her
pretty face.

   Then she heard it.  It was a noise.  It wasn't from the bathroom.  No
sound passed in or out of her invisible supernatural hiding place.  She
turned and looked but saw nothing.  Then she heard it again.  It sounded
almost like feet ascending a stairs.

   "Damn it!  Someone's smoking," a voice sounded.  Kylee blinked and
looked.  Still she saw nothing.  And then she came into view.

   It was a woman, or girl, or something.  Shrouded in the milky cloud
constituting the invisible bubble Kylee couldn't make out who, or what, it
exactly was.  "Shit, I hate that awful smell," the voice went on.

   Fear gripped Kylee.  She always felt some trepidation about the
supernatural nature of her hideaway that she didn't fully understand.  It
was a latent fear that always lurked right below the surface.  Now it emerged
full force.  "Who are you?" Kylee mumbled breathlessly.  "What do you

   "I want to know why you're smoking in here, asshole," the voice
answered.  And then a face came into view.

   Kylee gasped.  The voice came from a girl, one who looked to be about her
same height and weight.  The girl had short golden blond hair like hers.  She
gasped again.  The girl looked just like her!

   "What the fuck -?" Kylee gasped.  "Who are you?"

   The other girl looked similarly stricken.  "Holy shit!  Who are you?"

   "I'm, uh, Kylee Bergen," Kylee stuttered, completely shell-shocked.

   "Don't be ridiculous," replied the other girl.  "I'm Kylee Bergen!"

   Kylee dragged hard on her cigarette.  The nicotine in the smoke somewhat
calmed her suddenly frayed nerves.  The other girl held her nose and sat down
beside her.

   "Look, this must be some kind of joke," the other girl began.  "I
don't know who you are or how you managed to look exactly like me, but why
don't you let me in on the secret?"

   Kylee exhaled and stared.  Her compatriot inside the invisible hiding
place was dressed just like her, in a Tori Amos tee shirt.  It was slightly
different from hers, but identical to one of the many Tori tee shirts in her
closet.  She looked the girl over.  She had the same features, the same
build, the same hair, and the same wardrobe, for God's sake.  It was like
looking in the mirror.  "Fuck," Kylee muttered.  "I don't know what's
going on, believe me."

   "This is too weird," the other girl replied.  "If you think you're
Kylee Bergen, what's your birthday?"

   "March 16th."

   The other girl nodded.  "Okay, who was your kindergarten teacher?"

   "Mrs. Thompson," Kylee replied hesitantly.  "At Lakewood Elementary

   The other girl looked visibly shaken.  "Before that.  What was the first
class you went to when you were a kid, even before kindergarten?"

   "That's easy," Kylee answered.  "It was a playtime class called Small
Smiles run by the YWCA.  My teacher was Mrs. Hopkins."  She paused.
"What's your sister's name?"

   "Allyson," the other girl answered.  "Holy shit!  This is too spooky.
You and I are twins."

   Kylee crushed her cigarette in the ashtray.  "How did you know about this

   "I found it a couple months ago.  I bumped into it in my bathroom.  It
scared the shit out of me!  I tried to show it to Allyson but any time she
was with me, if anyone else was around, I couldn't find it."  She shivered.
"I started using it as a hiding place, but till today I never saw anyone
else in here."  She shivered again.  "What's this mean?"

   "I dunno," Kylee admitted.  "God, it's like you and I live in parallel
universes or some shit like that.  Damn, I just don't know," she repeated
slowly.  She glanced at her pack of Benson & Hedges on the invisible floor
they were sitting upon.  "Do you smoke?"

   The other Kylee turned up her nose.  "Ugh, no," she exclaimed.
"That's one thing I always liked about this place.  In here I can escape
from all the hassling about smoking that goes on at home."  She smiled.  "I
come in here when I'm mad at my parents.  I can get away and no one can find
me in here.  Until today, that is," she added helplessly.

   "And I bet your parents are Bob and Vicki Bergen, right?"  The other
Kylee nodded.  "And you live at 534 Meadowlark Drive, right?"  Again, she
nodded.  "Oh, shit!  We _are_ the same.  It's too fuckin' weird!"

   "No shit," the other Kylee agreed.  "I must be dreaming.  That's the
only explanation for this shit.  God!  I must be dreaming so maybe I'll wake
up if I leave this stupid place."

   "Well, if you're dreaming then I'm not real," Kylee countered in a
most sarcastic tone.  "And I assure you that I'm the real one here."  She
herself shivered.  Her shiver looked exactly like her counterpart's quiver a
few moments earlier.  It gave her the creeps.  "I tell you what, fake Kylee,
you go back to your world and I'll go back to mine.  Okay?"

   "Yeah, fine with me," the other Kylee answered.  She stood up and turned
to walk away.  Then she stopped.  "But take your damn cigarettes and ashtray
with you," she spat.  "I definitely don't want to see them in here the
next time I come."

   "Fuck you," Kylee smiled cynically.  "Have a nice day, asshole."  But
as she thought about it the whole experience made her feel she never wanted
to come back.

   By now the other Kylee was partially hidden in the mist.  "Stupid
bitch," she muttered out loud.  "Smoking is such a waste."

   Kylee couldn't resist the temptation to get in the last word to this
apparition.  "You're such a waste," she countered.  And then the other
Kylee disappeared.

   She left her ashtray on the invisible floor and began to step out.  First
her feet reappeared in the real world, then the rest of her body.  Back in
her bathroom she shivered again.  "Damn," she muttered.  "That was _too_
fuckin' weird!  I must have been dreaming!"


   Still shaken, Kylee wandered dazed through her bedroom and into the
hallway.  She smelled something.  It smelled like fresh cigarette smoke.
Cautiously she sniffed her tee shirt.  She was concerned that some of the
aroma of her aborted cigarette escaped.  But no, the odor came from elsewhere
in the house.  It was in the air all around her and quite pronounced.

   "Someone must be visiting downstairs," she muttered.  "It's odd for
Mom to let anyone smoke in our house, though."  Curious, she descended the
stairs.  She walked in the living room and then into the kitchen.  The sight
that greeted her eyes there literally took her breath away!

   Her mother Vicki sat at the kitchen table reading a magazine dressed in
the same navy blue business suit she had on before.  But now between her
fingers she held a freshly lit long cork-tipped cigarette.  Its ambient smoke
sparkled in the late afternoon sun that flooded the room.

   "Holy shit," Kylee gasped involuntarily, momentarily ignoring the fact
that she didn't ordinarily use such language in her mother's presence.
"What the hell is going on?"

   "Hi, honey," her mom smiled sweetly, looking up from her magazine.  She
casually tapped an ash from her long cigarette into an ashtray on the table.
"Hey, look, I'm sorry about getting on your case about smoking.  Sometimes
I get a little carried away, I guess."

   Kylee was almost speechless.  "Mom, what are you doing?"

   "This?"  Vicki smiled again.  "Oh, these are Saratoga 120's, honey.  I
bought a pack of these today.  It's just an experiment.  One of the other
ladies at my commission meeting was smoking these.  I thought they looked so
awfully stylish."  She amazed Kylee by raising the long cork-tipped
cigarette to her lips for a lengthy sumptuous drag.  "They're longer than
my Benson & Hedges and a little stronger," she went on after inhaling.  "I
like `em.  Who knows?  I may have to change brands."  She pursed her lips
to exhale a stream of smoke.

   Kylee tried to think.  Her mother couldn't be smoking!  She hated
smoking.  So what the hell was going on?  She involuntarily put her hands on
her head and blinked.

   "Kylee, honey, you look upset.  Look, I said I'm sorry for yelling at
you about smoking a little while ago."  Vicki paused.  "God, honey, you
look terrible.  Are you okay?"

   "I - I don't know," Kylee admitted.  She felt completely confused.
The blood drained from her face.  Suddenly her knees felt wobbly.  She stared
again at the smoke lazily curling from the cigarette in her mother's hand.
She gasped.  "Mom, why are you smoking?"

   Vicki answered with an unconcerned smile.  "Honey, I know the smell
bothers you.  I know you don't like it.  It always has.  I'm sorry `bout
that.  But this is nothing new.  I always have two or three cigarettes here
in the kitchen when I get home from work before your dad comes home."  She
again drew on the Saratoga and inhaled a dense cloud of smoke.  "Look,
Kylee, maybe you should sit down.  You don't look so good.  Do you feel all

   Kylee shook her head no.  Suddenly the room began to spin.  She felt her
knees give way.  Then all was blackness -.

   Everything was cloudy.  She was somewhere in a smoky room.  She must be
smoking.  "This is a dream," she knew, though she didn't know exactly how.
These days she almost always smoked in her dreams.  She so enjoyed it.  God,
she loved it so much -.

   She heard a voice call her name.  "Kylee!  Kylee!  God, honey, wake up!"

   She blinked her eyes and turned her head.  She gradually realized that she
was lying flat on the ground.  Her mother was kneeling over her.  Vicki
looked really frightened.

   "Oh my God, honey, you scared me!  You passed out right in front of me!"

   Feeling slowly began to return to her still trembling body.  She felt the
cool kitchen linoleum underneath her.  "Oh my God, Mom," she mumbled.  Her
lips didn't seem to want to cooperate.  "Wow, I just had the weirdest dream
-."  She tried to sit up.

   As she did a cup of cold water appeared in front of her face.  "Here.
Drink this, honey," her mother instructed.  "Damn, you gave me quite a
scare, girl!"

   Kylee sipped the water.  The wetness helped.  She sipped again, almost
gulping it this time.  "That's better," she groaned.  "I think I can sit
up now."

   As she did she realized that, yes, she _was_ on the kitchen floor.  Her
mother, still dressed in the same navy blue suit, looked very worried.  She
smiled.  "Thanks, Mom.  God, I don't know what happened to me."

   "Well, I do," Vicki said.  She looked relieved as her daughter sat up
all the way.  "God, I was way too hard on you earlier today.  I shouldn't
pressure you so much to take up smoking.  I mean, I want you to smoke, but
you know that.  From now on I promise to back off, honey."

   Kylee blinked and looked around.  The kitchen was awash in ambient smoke.
A cigarette was burning in an ashtray on the kitchen table.  She realized it
was her mother's.  Once again the teenager was seized by inexplicable fear.
"Oh shit, it wasn't a dream," was all she could muster.

   Vicki hugged her, doing her best to reassure her daughter.  "Honey, I
don't know what you're talking about.  You keep referring to a dream.
You're awake, honey.  Everything's fine."

   As Vicki continued to hug her Kylee smelled the unmistakable fragrance of
stale tobacco smoke on her mom's hair and clothes.  She again looked around.
No, she sure didn't think she was dreaming.  Everything felt real.  Scarily
real.  But it made no sense; no sense at all!

   "Mom," she began to say.  "About this smoking thing -?"

   "Shh," Vicki shushed.  "First let me get you up into a chair."  She
lifted Kylee up and helped her onto one of the chairs surrounding the kitchen
table.  "We don't need to talk about smoking right now.  You know I want
you to, but that's not important.  The important thing is for you to get
your bearings again.  I'm still a little worried about you!"

   "You keep saying that," Kylee groaned.  Then Vicki did something that
astounded her.  Amazingly, her mom reached for the cigarette in the ashtray
and inserted it in her lips.  She dragged long and hard with the expertise of
a veteran smoker and did a quick perfect open-mouth inhale.  Vicki sucked the
smoke deep into the innermost recesses of her petite frame.  Kylee shook her
head.  "Mom, why are you smoking?  And you want me to?"

   Vicki laughed and smoke gushed from her mouth and nostrils as she
answered.  "Honey, we've been over this dozens of times the last few
months.  I know you don't like the smell of it, but that doesn't
necessarily mean you shouldn't give it a try.  After all, it's so good for

   "Help me out here, Mom," she pleaded earnestly.  "Explain again why you
smoke, and exactly why you think I should?  I thought you hated it because
smoking's bad for you."  Seeing a look of disbelief on her face, Kylee
weakly smiled.  "Humor me, Mom.  Just pretend I forgot."

   Vicki laughed.  "Okay, silly girl, I'll tell you."  From the tone of
her response it was almost as if Kylee asked why the sky was blue.
"Everyone used to be against smoking, of course, including me.  It caused
cancer and other bad stuff.  But that was before they found the cure for

   Kylee frowned.  "And when did _that_ happen?"

   Vicki didn't seem to realize the reason behind Kylee's questions.
"Why, honey, it was back in 1995.  You remember; don't you?  Everyone
remembers that.  It was one of the most important days in medical history."
She narrowed her eyes.  "Are you sure you're okay, Kylee?  Maybe I should
take you to the emergency room.  You seem so disoriented."

   "No, I'm fine, Mom," the teenager urged.  "Humor me.  Just keep

   "Okay.  In 1995, doctors at Johns Hopkins discovered a treatment that
completely reversed the growth of cancer cells.  It's called the Sheridan
treatment, named after the main doctor.  They fast-tracked the research big
time.  Within a few years everyone was treated with it.  By 1999 the
government mandated that everyone be inoculated with the Sheridan treatment.
You remember, Kylee, don't you?  You got the vaccination.  There's that
little scar it left on your left arm.  Everybody has one, including you."

   Kylee felt her arm under her tee shirt.  There was nothing there!

   Vicki went on, clearly concerned about her daughter's mental state.  "A
year after the Sheridan cure was announced, chemists at R. J. Reynolds in
Richmond, Virginia discovered a way to chemically treat tobacco leaves to
make tobacco smoke toughen, instead of hurt, lung tissue.  At first there was
only skepticism from the press and the government.  But research soon proved
that, in fact, exposure to smoke from the treated tobacco actually
strengthened people's lungs and made them stronger.  Plus, it also dissolved
plaque deposits in arteries, lowering cholesterol and thereby reducing the
risk of heart disease."  She shook her head  "So last year President Gore
announced a change in our federal policy towards tobacco.  It signaled a new
appreciation, including by your father and me, for -."

   Kylee startled.  "Wait!  President Gore?  You mean President Bush?"

   Vicki rolled her eyes.  "Honey, are you sure you feel okay?  God, you
must have really hit your head when you fell!"

   "But Bush beat Gore in 2000.  Didn't he?"

   "Kylee, you're pulling my leg.  Right?  Of course he didn't.  It
wasn't close.  You must remember that.  Gore won big in 2000 after President
Clinton and Congress passed the National Health Care Act in 1999."  She
smiled sweetly as if Kylee lost her mind.  "With all the savings in health
care costs after cancer got cured, national health care finally became a
reality.  President Gore sailed to victory in 2000.  It really wasn't much
of a fight."  She paused.  "You _must_ remember that, honey.  We all
watched the election returns that night on CNN.  We were so excited.

   "Yeah," Kylee fibbed.  "Yeah, sure I do."

   She rubbed her head.  Either she was dreaming or she was crazy, or else
she was in another world somewhere.  Where that other world might be she
didn't know.  She thought back to her brief exchange with the other Kylee
inside her hiding place.  She made a casual remark about an alternative
universe.  God, if there was such a thing, then this must be it!

   "It's coming back to me, Mom," she lied again.  "I'm feeling better.
But help me.  Remind me.  Exactly when did you start smoking?"

   Vicki heaved a sigh of relief.  She tapped another ash from her cigarette.
Apparently reassured she treated herself to another lengthy hit on her

   "Last year," she sighed, turning her head to direct her exhale away from
her daughter.  "You and Allyson were pretty upset, though.  You never liked
the smell of smoke, and you sure did let your father and me know.  But  after
President Gore got Congress to repeal all those laws restricting tobacco
companies and eliminating all the excess taxes on tobacco, the whole
landscape changed.  To be a good Democrat smoking became pretty much the only
smart thing to do.  Don't you remember, sweetie?  Are you sure you're okay?
You still look a little peeked."

   Kylee waved off her concern.  "So, smoking's actually _good_ for you
now?  The government actually _wants_ people to smoke?"

   Vicki nodded earnestly.  "Well, there are still a handful of nay-sayers,
people who for years were anti-smoking and couldn't adjust to the change.
Some are still left in the medical community.  But for health reasons most
everyone has completely changed their tune and gotten on board.  The
recognized benefits of smoking far outweigh any lingering negatives."  She
reached out and touched Kylee's hand.  "That's why I've been nagging you
about it so much, honey.  I know you don't want to smoke.  You've said it
at least a hundred times.  But it'd be so good for you if you would."  She
took a last hit on her Saratoga and crushed it in the ashtray.  "It'd also
be good for my political career," she added, releasing a combined nose-mouth

   Still stunned, Kylee cocked her head.  "And why's that?"

   "Because of my seat on the commission," Vicki sighed, shaking her head
in disbelief again.  "You know?  The Governor's Commission on Smoking and
Health?  Till last year it was an anti-smoking institution, of course.  But
after President Gore's speech and Congress' repeal of the anti-smoking laws
the Governor had to do something to get behind the President's pro-smoking
initiative.  So he asked all the members on the old commission who didn't
support the new agenda to resign.  A few did, but I stayed on.  Now the
commission promotes smoking in the state, particularly to teenagers like you
and Allyson."  She smiled.  "That's why it'd really help me if you and
your sister would start to smoke.  I hope to run for statewide office
someday, you know.  But it looks bad if my daughters rebel and don't support
me by smoking."

   "So, it's not illegal anymore for kids like me to smoke?"

   Vicki laughed out loud.  "Oh God, no, honey!  Damn, you did hit your head
hard, didn't you?  No, of course it's not.  The state legislature dropped
the legal age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 16 last year.  There's a bill
pending to lower it further, down to 14.  Some people in the statehouse want
to abolish the restrictions completely so anyone, any age, can buy tobacco
products.  That's tough, though.  Some medical people think more research
ought to be done on treated tobacco's effects on younger children.  But all
that's why I want you and Allyson to smoke, honey.  It'd be good for you;
everybody's doing it.  Plus, it'd be a huge help to me."

   Kylee stood up and stretched.  She hadn't hit her head that hard, but her
fainting provided a ready excuse to obtain information about what was
apparently going on.  Still, she could hardly believe it.  And if she
inadvertently entered her counterpart's universe, she couldn't imagine why
her namesake hadn't started smoking day one.

   She was about to say she'd be happy to comply but was interrupted by a
sound from the garage.  "Oh, it's your father," Vicki nodded.  "Are you
sure you're okay, honey?"

   "I'm fine, Mom," she smiled.  For the first time since the shock of
seeing her mother smoking, her statement was sincere.  "No problem at all."

   "Good," Vicki grinned.  "I assume your dad picked up a couple pizzas on
his way home.  He stayed late at the high school to wait for your sister to
finish marching band practice."  Vicki moved to the refrigerator and poured
glasses of milk for the two girls and iced tea for herself and her husband.
"It's not a fancy dinner but whenever I have a commission meeting and your
dad stays late at school you know it's tough for me to fix supper."

   Kylee nodded.  It was the same routine she was accustomed to at her home.

   Her father, Bob, came in with Allyson.  Kylee eyed her little sister.  She
looked the same; so did her dad.  She smiled at them both.

   "Bob, Kylee fell and hit her head on the floor," Vicki called out.  "I
think she's okay.  I sort of tried to get her to let me take to the ER, but
she swears she's fine now.  For awhile she had me really scared, though.  At
first she had some trouble remembering things."

   Bob set down two pizza boxes and put his arm around Kylee's shoulder.  He
gave her a gentle hug.  "Sorry to hear that, Pumpkin.  Are you okay now?"

   "Yeah, I'm fine, Dad," she sighed.  "Really, feeling better all the

   Allyson passed by her without a word.  She headed upstairs to her room.
But Bob sneaked up behind Vicki.  He put his arms around her waist and kissed
the back of her neck.  It was the same move she'd seen her father make every
night for as long as she could remember.

   "Hey, hon, must we eat right this second?  We can warm up the pizza in
the microwave in a few minutes.  I'd love to have a cigarette before we sit
down to eat.  What do you say?"

   Vicki turned and smiled.  She paused to kiss her husband on the lips.
That, too, was a signature move.  Kylee sighed.  They looked and acted like
her parents, except for the smoking.

   "Bob, that'd be just great," the petite blond sighed.  "I'd love for
you to have a cigarette before dinner.  It'd give me an excuse to join you
for another one."  She looked hopefully at Kylee.  "You wouldn't mind too
much, would you, honey?"

   The idea of her father and mother smoking together in their kitchen before
supper still seemed overwhelming.  But in truth, she kind of wanted to see it
happen.  She pinched herself.  She didn't think she was dreaming.  "No,
Mom, that'd be fine.  And I'll sit here with you guys, if that's okay."

   Bob grinned impishly as he sat down and took a gold pack of Benson &
Hedges from his coat pocket.  "Now _that's_ a switch," he laughed.  "I
don't know what that hit on the head did to you, Pumpkin.  Usually you head
for the hills when we smoke."

   She watched her dad light up.  For the first time he noticed the pack of
Saratoga 120's sitting on the table.  "Hey, Vicki, what's up here?"

   "Oh, I'm just trying something new," she playfully sniggered.
"Madeline Dahl at the commission was smoking these today.  I'd never seen
anyone smoke these longer cigarettes.  But I decided to buy a pack just for
fun.  They're pretty good."  She removed a 120 from the pack and waited for
Bob to light her up, which he did.

   "They look very nice," he grinned, watching his pretty wife exhale a
thick plume straight upwards.  "Very nice indeed!"

   Kylee sat down at the table, too.  Still somewhat astounded by the scene
unfolding before her eyes, she decided it was time to take full advantage of
the situation.

   "Mom, Dad, I've been giving this some thought," she began a bit
apprehensively.  "And I decided that if you really want me to, I'd be glad
to smoke, too."

   Vicki looked stunned; stunned but pleased.  "Kylee, honey, are you
sure?"  She giggled excitedly.  "Oh God, sweetie, that'd be wonderful.
But I don't want you to do it if you're not sure.  You bumped your head
just a few minutes ago.  Maybe you should wait -."

   "Nonsense, Vicki,  We've been after Kylee for months.  If you're
willing, Pumpkin, I think it'd be fabulous to see you try it out."

   "But Kylee, you were so upset about the whole subject when we talked
about it a little earlier, after I came home this afternoon.  What changed
your mind?"

   "I dunno," Kylee smiled innocently.  "Maybe I just came to my senses
when I hit my head.  I don't know.  So, can I have one?"

   She looked to accept a Benson & Hedges from her dad.  She felt a bit
intimidated by the 120 Vicki was smoking.  Even in a different universe, a
B&H would be what she was used to smoking back where she came from.

   She took the cigarette.  Before she lit up, however, she thought of
something.  "Hey, do you guys mind if I run upstairs to check something
first?"  Her parents shrugged, so she bolted up the steps to her room.

   She looked around.  Everything seemed in place.  Nothing unusual or out of
the ordinary.  It certainly _looked_ like her room.  There was one way to
know for sure.  She went to her closet and surveyed the shirts hanging there.
"Oh my God," she whistled.  "Shit!"  There on a hanger was the same Tori
Amos tee shirt she had on.  "I never had two of these.  Holy Christ!"  She
continued searching, this time for the other Tori Amos shirt, the one she saw
her counterpart wearing earlier inside her hiding place.

   "Nope, that shirt's not here.  Wow!  It's true.  I'm in the wrong
universe and that means so is she.  Unless I'm dreaming, that is.  But for
some cracked reason our worlds are almost the same, except in this one
everybody smokes, because here smoking's good for you!"  She giggled
uncontrollably.  "God, I think I'm gonna love it here!"  And so Kylee
Bergen turned to go back downstairs to enjoy a cigarette with her parents.
"This is great," she sighed happily.  "Fuckin' great!"


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