Battle Lines

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 30 October 1997)


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Battle Lines
an4@anon.lelnet.com

      Ariel looked out across the fresh snow and smiled. There were times
when the world was still beautiful, and this morning was one of those times.
The crisp morning air was perfect, biting but still.
   She took her cigarettes from her pocket and pulled a single Marlboro Lights
100 from the pack.
   It didn't matter that her hands were cold and would get colder. The perfect
feel of that cigarette in her hand was the only thing which mattered right
now. She put the cigarette between her pale lips and bent her head so that
she would be able to catch a light. The wind was strong but Ariel had plenty
of experience and soon the cigarette was burning between her lips as she
inhaled. The combination of smoke and cold air was delicious.
   The lightheadedness it brought was welcome, and Ariel found herself enjoying
the utter solitude of the moment.
   Naturally, it didn't last. Her younger sister's voice broke the enjoyment of
listening to loose crystals of snow blowing across the icy crust beneath.
   "Still haven't quit, huh ?" Monica asked. Ariel could her the smile in her
voice. Of course, Monica was still young and didn't really understand why her
sister choose to smoke. Not that fifteen was that  young. Ariel had started
when she was Monica's age, which meant there was always hope.
   "Mom said you were out here," Monica said, drawing up close to her sister,
who let a deep exhale loose. The smoke drifted straight upwards, a billowing
cloud which was fun to watch as it roiled skyward.
   "I know she doesn't like me smoking in the house when you're around, so I
thought I'd spend some quiet time- alone."
   "If that's the way you feel-" The hurt sound in her voice was unmistakable.
   "Come on, Mon. I'm glad you came out. What's up ?"
   "Did you hear that I was elected president of the school senate yesterday ?"
   "What ?" Ariel asked. She had been senate president for two years and was a
little disappointed when Monica had called her in September and told her that
she'd lost the election to Sarah Glass. There was a little bit of a family
feud between the Glass's and the Poe's, dating back to Ariel's early school
days.
   "Sarah resigned two weeks ago. They caught her smoking on school ground
after school and suspended her for a week. It was this major scandal. They
held elections Wednesday and announced the results during homeroom. So I am
following in your footsteps after all."
   "Cool, I guess-"
   Ariel inhaled deeply, wondering what had changed so much at Crowley Public
High School over the last two years.
   "You guess ?"
   "Well, I may not like the Glasses, but I can remember getting suspended for
a week for smoking outside during lunch when I was a junior, and they didn't
kick me off the senate."
   "She's still on the senate. But there's the old rule in the senate
constitution- the thing was written in 1916- which says that no one who has
been suspended from school can be senate president."
   "Then why didn't they get rid of me ?"
   Monica watched her sister's voluminous nose exhale with curiosity.
   "Things have changed a lot in the last year. There was a complete turnover
of the school board in the spring election. Mrs. Peabody is the new head of
the school board and she's-"
   "I remember First Selectwoman Peabody. That explains a lot."
   "You think I should feel guilty, getting the job that way ?"
   Ariel thought about that for a moment, then shook her head. She paused,
taking a deep draw on her cigarette, and smiled. 
   "Of course not. But I think what they did to Sarah is pretty bogus. Sounds
like they were looking for a scapegoat. Mrs. Peabody, well, she's the sort
who would piss on your head to get what she wants and think nothing of it.
How is the old battleaxe ?"
   "Well, they had me into the main conference room yesterday afternoon to meet
the school board. You've been there, I think."
   "Yeah, but at least Mrs. Peabody wasn't. What did they have to say ?"
   "They didn't have anything to say. I swear that she was the only one who
said a word the whole time. She confirmed a rumour I'd heard back channel,
and you're not going to like it."
   "Not the smoking lounge in the basement-" Ariel said, shocked.
   "Yes, the smoking lounge in the basement. They're going to try and close
it."
   "I spent three years working on that. All the money we raised- the furniture
we had donated, painting the place-"
   Monica smiled. "Imagine if she found out the thirty thousand dollars for the
ventilation system came from Phillip Morris-"
   "Do you think she can actually do that ?" Ariel dropped her spent cigarette
into the snow and lit another.
   "Well, the scuttlebutt is that the teachers are behind her. They think if
the lounge is closed to the students-"
   "They can have it instead of their dumpy old lounge, right ?"
   "Exactly. But that's not going to happen. Mrs. Peabody says they're going to
knock out one of the walls and expand the boiler room. Something about more
hot water-"
   "The showers always were a little cold, but-"
   "The students don't know. I mean, I think Sarah knew- they told her about
the plan before they realised that she was a smoker. And from what I've
heard, they've told Sarah that if she breathes a word about what they're
planning to do, they'll expel her. And Yale is very interested in her, so she
doesn't have much choice."
   Ariel's exhale was exaggerated by the cold air into a thing of etherial
beauty.
   "What do  you think about all this, Ms. Non-Smoker ?"
   'Frankly, it doesn't much bother me, one way or the other. As an individual,
that is-"
   "But ?"
   The cold had made Monica's face flush. She had the Poe cheekbones, wide and
cheerful, and with loose rings of strawberry-blonde hair framing her face,
she was as beautiful as Mom still was, if not more.
   She would have made such a pretty smoker, Ariel thought with a pang of
disappointment.
   "Well, I wasn't elected president to promote my personal feelings-"
   "You ever think of a career in politics ? That was brilliant."
   "I'm serious, Ariel. I have a responsibility to the student body, you know.
And that's why I came out here this morning."
   "Looking for advice ?" Ariel asked with wry amusement. She blew another
monster cloud of smoke and then made a cross with the first two fingers of
each hand. Monica found herself thinking about how natural that cigarette
looked between the fingers of her sister's left hand.
   "Watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer for pointers. Get a sharp stick, cut classes
on next Friday morning, and find Mrs. Peabody's coffin. That should solve
everyone's problems. You have to make sure you get her with the first stake-
she won't give you two chances."
   "That's terrible, Ariel-"
   "I know."
   "That's not the sort of advice I was looking for. But I am glad college is
finally affording you the leisure time to watch television that you always
lacked."
   "I see the dormant family sarcasm is finally burgeoning in your bosom. What
sort of advice do you want ?"	
   "I want you to teach me about smoking-"
   "Teach you ?"
   "You are an education major, right ?"
   Ariel laughed. "Yes. English lit, not the popular culture of legalised
pharmacological stimulants."
   "So ? You can't innovate ? What I want is pretty simple. I want some first
hand experience smoking."
   "You  want to smoke ?"
   "Yes."
   "You know," Ariel said, pulling deeply on her cigarette, "you just don't
wake up one morning and decide that you want to start smoking."
   "Well, that's what I did. Now, are you going to help me, or you going to let
me borrow your car so I can go buy my own ? It's your choice."
   Rather than argue, Ariel handed her cigarette to Monica, who took it deftly
between the first two fingers of her left hand. She stared at it for half a
minute, watching it burn slowly. The smoke which twisted from the end had a
pleasant smell to it. Of course, she was no stranger to second hand smoke,
not with a mother and sister who smoked cigarettes and a father who smoked a
pipe.
   She brought it to her lips, accepting the filter. Then she inhaled.
   Ariel knew she could have spared her sister the coughing fit which followed,
but it was better she learn this way. Her young face paled and she made an
unpleasant face as smoked leaked from her mouth.
   "Ohmigod," she said, coughing again. "How do you do this ?"
   She handed the cigarette back to her sister, who inhaled more easily. She
held the smoke deep in her lungs, a luxurious feeling, and then made the cold
air around her face dance. "It takes practise."
   "I want to try again-"
   "Why ? You almost just killed yourself."
   "No." Monica thought about the experience. It was true that the smoke had
burned her throat and half choked her, but there was an indescribable feeling
afterwards. "I mean, there was something. A feeling. It was great."
   "Yeah, it is. That's why people smoke. Not to gag themselves the way you
did."
   She held the cigarette out to her sister again, who was more careful this
time. She brought the cigarette to her lips and pulled smoke into her mouth,
but didn't inhale. Instead, she experienced the taste of the smoke and found
that she liked it. Oh, it was a little disgusting, perhaps, but that was just
because it was unfamiliar. She exhaled, then inhaled completely. A smaller
quantity of smoke. This time the sensation was only mildly irritating, not
searing.
   The high was just as intense.
   "I thought you said this was hard," she started to say, and then she began
coughing again, after which she gratefully surrendered the cigarette to her
sister.
   "It takes time. You have to be patient. And you have to want to smoke for a
better reason than because you want to understand how the other half lives."
   "Maybe I want to smoke. Is that hard to believe ?"
   Ariel considered this. She'd been smoking for four years, since her sister
was twelve, and Monica had never shown any interest in the family habit. But
hadn't she just been thinking that it would be nice if she did, if Mom would
then lift her own ban against smoking around her.
   So she took the pack from her coat pocket along with her lighter, and handed
them to her.
   She saw Dad walking across the snow. Monica had her back to the house and
didn't see him. Smiling, Ariel told her to go ahead and light up, which she
did.
   When finally heard the sounds of boots breaking through crusty snow, Monica
nearly dropped her cigarette.
   "Well, I see we have something to tell your mother, young lady."
   There was a smile in his voice. He walked right up to Monica and tousled her
hair, then pulled on the pipe clenched between his teeth.
   "I guess this means we can smoke in the house, Ariel. Damn overdue, if you
ask me."

   "No. Mon, I'm not disappointed. But I want to actually see you smoke a
cigarette."
   "Why, Mom ?" Monica asked, surprised. Dad and Ariel had left her alone to
break the news, and she'd expected the same sort of disappointment which had
greeted Ariel's announcement that she'd started smoking.
   "Because otherwise, I'll think this is just something Ariel and your Dad put
you up to because they've realised I was never going to give and let them
smoke in the house if you weren't."
   "I don't even have any cigarettes, Mom."
   Grabbing her purse and keys, Kelli said "Let's go," and thirty seconds later
they were on their way to the convenience store.
   "So," Kelli asked, "did you just start smoking this morning ?"
   After she asked, she came to a stop light and took the opportunity to roll
down the window and light a Virginia Slims 120.
   "Yeah, actually."
   "Mind if I ask why ?"
   "Sarah Glass."
   "I thought you couldn't stand Sarah."
   "I can't. Or I couldn't. But what happened to her wasn't right, and now the
school board is looking to undo everything Ariel accomplished."	
   "You mean with the smoking lounge ? How'd you find out about that ?"
   "That little meeting we had yesterday was, uh, interesting. And it made me
realise that I needed to understand what smoking was all about."
   "So you decided to start smoking ?" Kelli exhaled a small plume of smoke
which drifted out the window. "That's kind of hard to believe, honey."
   "Why ?"
   "I don't think I've ever heard of anyone starting to smoke because they
wanted to understand their constituents. I hope you understand that smoking-
and being a smoking advocate- is complicated. A big responsibility."
   "Maybe I was just looking for a good excuse. You've been the one who's kept
me from wanting to try it."
   "I'm hurt."
   "Well-"
   They pulled into the parking lot and Monica told her Mom to wait until she
was finished with her cigarette.
   "Same brand as your sister ?"
   "Marlboro Lights 100s. I liked the one I had, so I think I'll stick with
that, if that's okay."
   "Of course, honey."
   She finished her cigarette and started to get out of the car, but Monica
grabbed her arm. "Should I go in or wait out here ?"
   "Wait out here ? In the cold ? I'm buying you a pack of cigarettes, not a
gun. Come on."
   "Should I act like I don't know you ?"
   "God, I hope our relationship hasn't gotten that bad. Stop being a silly and
come into the store with me. Do you want a pack or a carton ?"
   "Let's start with a pack, Mom."
   They walked into the store together and Monica understood immediately that
there was going to be absolutely no padding of the purchase. Her Mom went
straight for the check out and asked for a carton of Virginia Slims 120s and
a pack of Marlboro Lights 100s. The college-aged girl behind the counter
looked at her- and Monica, thought for a moment, and finally spoke.
   "You wouldn't be buying cigarettes for your daughter, would you ?"
   "Why ?" Kelli asked, her voice turning hostile.
   "Well, if you say they're for you, I don't have to ask your daughter for ID.
I mean, don't take this the wrong way, but you're obviously 18."
   "Well, they're all for me, as far as you know."
   Satisfied, the girl reached under the counter for the carton and then over
the counter for the single pack. Kelli produced a twenty and a ten and got
back just enough money for coffee. She did wait until they were outside again
to hand her daughter the pack, despite her obvious desire to rush the
exchange.
   Monica had decided that she liked the feel of the pack in her hand,
especially unopened.
   It was cool.
   But they did have to be opened. And there would be more when and if she
decided she wanted them.
   The cellophane went into a trash can by the store and soon they were back in
the car. Immediately, both of them lit up and soon the car was filled with
smoke, the same smoke that Monica had always disliked. But as they laughed
and talked, Monica decided that she actually loved the smell and that it was
probably going to be hard to get enough of it.

   The mall was crowded, if the parking lot was any indication. Ariel let
Monica drive her black Camry all the way from home, a forty-five minute ride,
just so that she could teach her the ins and outs of smoking and driving.
   "Trust me, the guys who like to watch women smoke- they might be real shy in
public, but you put them behind the wheel of a car and they become first
class peeping toms."
   "I don't want people staring at me," Monica had said, but as she sped down
the highway, she came to understand her sister's point of view, how it could
fun to put on a show and share your smoking with someone who you didn't know.
   "What the hell is going on ?" Ariel asked, staring across a quarter-mile of
parked cars at the just visible mall entrance.
   "They're having a haunted house all through the mall. I think every drooling
pre-schooler from Jackson Hole to Lake Quagamastock is inside there today,
stealing candy from innocent store owners."
   "Why did you want to come here, then ?" Ariel asked.
   "I think Sarah will be here, that's why."
   "Psychic much ?"
   "No, I called her house and her sister said that she was hanging out at the
mall."
   "Well, it's a long walk. Feel like having a cigarette ?"
   Monica heartily replied yes and the two sisters lit their cigarettes,
huddling against one another to cut the wind.
   Soon they were walking quietly, trailing smoke behind them in a way which
attracted the attention of nearly every male they passed by.
   "I can't believe you. This morning you were coughing like a Desert Storm
veteran and now you look like you've been smoking for years. I wish it had
been that easy for me. It was a month before I could smoke the way you do."
   Monica squeezed her sister's hand tightly.
   "I had a great teacher. Speaking of which, do you really think that we can
get the teachers behind us ?"
   "Ms. Kennedy is still the head of the teacher's union. And she smokes. In
fact, we used to smoke together after school. She'd give me rides home after
softball practise or if I stayed late to do homework. She's been smoking
since she was twelve. If you can get her to see the big picture, she'll get
the rest of teachers behind you."
   "I hope so-"
   "So do I. I put a lot of effort into that smoking lounge and I hate  Mrs.
Peabody."
   "It's hard to believe," Monica said, each word buoyed by a puff of smoke,
"that's she's an even bigger pain in the ass then when she was First
Selectwoman."
   They were finally reaching the entrance to the mall, and Monica was glad to
see that her plan to have Sarah paged wouldn't be necessary. She was standing
outside the doors by herself, taking a deep draw on her Marlboro Medium 100.
   She looked up and Ashley had to admit one thing. The Glass girls were
gorgeous. Sarah had the same tightly curled brown hair as the rest of the
family. It was waist length in the back and long on the sides, an endless
cascade of rings which surrounded her like a living cloak.
   Her emerald eyes were diamond-sharp and she looked at Monica with a sort of
half-realised, bored loathing.
   "Come to gloa- what the hell are you doing ?"
   Monica lifted the cigarette to her lips and inhaled deeply.
   She blew the smoke right at Sarah, who drank it in at the same time that she
inhaled. Ariel was surprised to see that the cork filter actually looked good
in Sarah's petite mouth.
   "I'm smoking. And I have you to thank. And trust me, I owe you."
   "Me ? I would never talk to you, much less offer you a cigarette." She
turned to look at Ariel. 
   "I don't know what she's been telling you, but-"
   "Look, " Ariel said around her own inhale, "I want to thank you, too. If you
hadn't of gotten suspended from school Monica would never had been interested
in smoking. Not enough to ask me for a cigarette. Now we can all smoke in the
house."
   "Your mom doesn't let you smoke in the house ? You're in college !"
   "Well, until baby sister asked for a light, there was no smoking in the
house when she was there."
   "That's a shame. Your dad smokes that pipe. Pipes are really cool. My dad
hardly ever smokes his."
   "Does he still let you take puffs from it ?" Ariel asked. 
   "Yeah, but not very often. He mostly smokes cigars these days and I can't
get into that."
   There was an awkward pause which Monica finally broke.
   "I came to talk to you, Sarah."
   "Me ? We're supposed to hate each other, remember ?"
   Ariel smiled. "That's my fault. But I can't hate someone who got suspended
from school for smoking."
   "It's going to happen more and more. Did Mrs. Peabody tell you about her
grand plans to eliminate the smoking lounge in yesterday's meeting ?"
   "Of course. That's what made me want to know what was so cool about smoking
that-"
   "I'd get suspended, risk loosing a scholarship to Yale and the senate
presidency ? Do you understand now ?"
   Monica answered with a deep inhale. "You bet. But I have a plan- one that
will save the smoking lounge and get you your presidency back."
   "If you can save the lounge, you should  be president. Tell me more."
   Monica talked and talked  and by the time they were done both of the younger
girls had to ask Ariel to buy them more cigarettes.
   Which she did. Gladly.
   
   "Do not go out there, Gladys."
   Principal Vreeland looked at Mrs. Peabody with her most intimidating stare.
It had no effect.
   "I am the President of the school board. I will go out there if I want."
   Dana reached into her purse and pulled out the box of Marlboro 100s. She'd
been thinking for the past few months that Gladys was right, that she'd let
the fact that she herself was a pack a day smoker cloud her judgment about
student smoking. But now she realised the truth. 	
   "You're being a real cunt, Gladys."
   The word hung in the air.
   It was the worst word a woman could use to refer to another woman, but as
Dana looked out the window at the students, teachers, and parents clustered
in groups on the snow crusted pavement. The media was out there, cameras from
the two local networks, and, if word could be believed, CNN was on the way.
   All of them had been used. The same way she herself had been used. But she
was willing to call a cunt a cunt, something that Monica Poe, brave as she
might be, was not likely to do. 
   "What the hell did you just call me ?"
   "A cunt, Gladys. A gaping wet open sore of an human being."
    "Do you have any idea who it is that you're talking to ?"
   Dana considered this. "Yeah. The woman who's responsible for all of my
students and teachers walking out. If they aren't back in the school by
nine-thirty I'll have to cancel classes and make this day up out of our snow
days. I have the media crawling all over our school grounds. I have a phone
that's ringing off the hook. All because you got your panties in a fucking
uproar over student smoking."
   "If I were you," Gladys said, "I would get to work on my resume, Dana. If I
were you."
   "You don't have the power to fire me, Gladys," Dana said, lighting one of
the cigarettes. She had an ashtray in the office and she often allowed
visitors to smoke- she'd even allowed Sarah Glass to smoke while she
explained her suspension to her- but she'd never smoked herself in this place
and there were doubtless many people unaware that she smoked at all.
   That was about to change.
   For the better.
   She lit the cigarette casually, but she also realised that she was crossing
a line here, one which she would not be coming back from.
Not any time soon. What she really wanted to do right now was add her voice
to the rest of them out there, but that was not an option. All she could do
was stand here and wait.
   "I wouldn't say anything to school board about my outburst, Gladys. I mean,
I still stand by it, but let's face, they won't believe you. So keep that
resume talk to yourself and try to remember which one of us a paid
professional and which one is a troublemaker."
   Gladys walked out. She was going to go and let Monica know just how she'd
been used, how she was thrilled that the media had showed up. Which was the
truth. Mix in a few irate parents and she'd have exactly what she wanted. An
air of hysteria and a general belief that something needed to be done. Her
talks with other members of the school board this morning suggested they were
finally  ready to move.
   Dana exhaled. It was nice, smoking in the office. The thought of no longer
going hours between cigarettes was especially pleasant.
   Still, she felt sorry for Monica. 

   "Try to remember they aren't eighteen yet, Mike."
   Mike pulled the camera down off his shoulder.
   "I only have eyes for you, Darla."
   "Yeah. Like I don't know exactly why you volunteered for this assignment."
   "Well, then," Mike said with a grin, "give me a more adult subject to
study."
   Darla reached into Mike's camera bag and rooted around until she found her
pack of Camel Lights 100s. She lit one and immediately Mike was filming,
catching every inhale and exhale on tape.
   "You'd better-"
   "Don't worry," he said, his voice muffled by the camera, "I'll make sure we
have a copy to watch after we get home tonight. Could you step to the left ?
The light's better."
   Darla looked up at the slate grey sky and shook her head. How the light
could be any better two feet in one direction on a day like this was beyond
her, but she knew better than to question her cameraman, who could film her
so perfectly that she got hot watching herself smoke.
   He then panned over the crowd, stopping here and there to fix on some of the
prettiest girls- and boy, were there some pretty ones. He'd never seen so
many attractive young woman smokers. And some of the mothers were pretty damn
hot as well.
   Then there were the teachers, like Irene Kennedy, the head of the teachers
union.
   Heaven.
   Mike had to smile. He was going to make the most of this- surely he'd come
home early one night and find Darla masturbating to this tape.
   That alone was enough to make him redouble his efforts.

   Phoebe 'Wade' Green looked at the onrushing Mrs. Gladys Peabody with a
mixture of internalised contempt and outward false sympathy.
   Wade had never liked Peabody, and had in fact be elated when the bullying
selectwoman had decided to turn her political skills to winning not only a
seat on the school board but the head job. Gladys was the sort who would
settle for nothing less, and she'd done a remarkable job of getting what she
wanted.
   It had been a very large gorilla off Crowley's sixteenth sheriff's back.
   Like the fifteen sheriffs before her, Wade was a smoker. According to the
office history, it was Hank Jones, sheriff from 1826-1846, who was the first
to switch from pipes to cigars. Every sheriff since had been a cigar smoker.
It was an odd tradition to be sure, but when Wade had taken office three
years ago, she'd decided that rather than fight it, she would put up her
cigarettes and continue life as a cigar smoker. Her friends and family had
been shocked at first, but they'd gotten used to it, and now, with cigar
smoking en vogue, she was a popular guest at everyone's cigar parties.
   She was puffing on one right now, and she could see the distaste that
brought Gladys.
   It served her right. After all, she was the one who had tried to force Wade
to ban smoking in the town cruisers.
   As if.
   "Are you just going to stand here and watch this, Wade ?"
   "Watch what, Gladys ?" Wade asked with a slow drawl which she found
especially useful when she chose to irritate Gladys.
   "All this smoking. Look at that-"
   She pointed at Bonnie Mufon, who was accepting a cigarette from her mother
Kendra, who still looked twenty at forty-three. They looked liked twins.
After taking the cigarette, Bonnie accepted a light from her mother, who was
smiling appreciatively at her daughter as she inhaled.
   "That's against the law, Wade, isn't it ?"
   "Yes it is, Gladys, and I'll tell you the same thing I told Monica two days
ago when she called to tell me about this little gathering. My deputies and I
are here just to direct traffic and make sure that some damn fool idiot
doesn't get everyone pissed off. As far as I'm concerned, if a parent wants
their child to smoke, then that's fine with me."
   "Law or no law ?"
   "Yes. And don't go threatening me that you'll have Gloria expelled, either.
Not unless you want to pile up three or four hundred dollars in parking
tickets."
   "I wasn't about to threat-"
   Wade cleared her throat and spoke, each word ballooning out on a plume of
grayish smoke. "Yes you were, Gladys. You couldn't bully Dana into doing
anything and you won't be able to get any farther with me."
   "This town is going to hell. Dana will have to suspend every student who's
out here. It's a joke."
   Thinking about it for a moment, and hearing the half-hearted nature of the
conviction in her voice, Wade thought she understood. This was exactly what
Gladys had wanted. She might make a lot of noise otherwise, but no, this was
perfect. Seventy percent of the kids were out here and dozens of parents, all
of them breaking the law by providing cigarettes to kids who probably didn't
even smoke- usually- but it was other thirty percent of the students and all
the parents who weren't here which had been Gladys' target all along.
   They would see this and be shocked. They'd realise what a 'problem' smoking
was at Crowley High and get behind Peabody one hundred percent.
   "When you announced you were going to run for the school board and step down
as first selectman, I was happy. You were a real pain in my ass, you know.
But I would never have wished you on these kids."
   "You know, Wade," Gladys said, stepping as close as she dared to the smoky,
petite sheriff, "I am not above taking this conversation back to the town
council. YOur lack of respect for authority figures has always been a little
ironic, and I don't think you're tough just because you smoke cigars."
   "I'm town sheriff. It's my duty to smoke cigars." She blew another cloud of
smoke up towards Gladys' face and the other woman recoiled. "You're no better
than a man who pushes his wife down the stairs like that govenour down along
the seaboard who gave his ex a ride on the steps. You get an idea in your
head and you just lash out. It's all spite with you."
   Wade was hoping to get Gladys angry, hoping she would do something stupid,
but that wasn't Gladys' way. Instead she retreated to some icy cold place and
responded with the sort of cold, calculating reason which had made her a damn
good, for the most part, selectwoman.
   "Teen smoking is a national problem. Even those pot-smoking liberals in DC
think something needs to be done."
   "No they don't. They just think people want them to do something."
   She looked out across the crowd and saw Gloria, who was talking to Monica.
Both were taking deep  inhales from identical, just lit cigarettes.
   "I see Gloria out there and I'm not revolted. I don't think I've failed as a
parent. I see my daughter standing up for something which should be perfectly
legal- something she believes in. Look at Monica. She's as good a kid as
anyone could want. The sort of girl who you bring up when you're punishing
your own child. She's the one you hold up and say 'Couldn't you be like her
?' about."
   "You're twisted, Wade. Ariel was troublemaker and now her sister is a
troublemaker. You and I both know that there should not be a smoking lounge
in a school."
   "Try telling the teachers that."
   "The teachers are adults. They're allowed to be idiots, within reason."
   "What's your excuse ?"
   Gladys walked away without further comment.

   "Hello, Mrs. Peabody," Monica said, looking up at the older woman as she
stepped out from a tangle of students and reporters.
   "I suppose you think you're proving something here today, huh ?"
   "Well, we've been keeping count. Seventy percent of the students are out
here and every one of them have signed a petition to keep the smoking lounge.
Ninety percent of the teachers signed it as well. I'd say that doesn't leave
you much support."
   Peabody laughed and then turned her head as the smoke from Monica's exhale
carried towards her face.
   "The teachers work for the school district, not the other way around, and
the students have no say in the matter. By tomorrow morning, I'll have a crew
in here knocking down the walls to your precious smoking lounge. The school
board is having an emergency meeting at noon. The funds have been allocated.
It's just a voice vote in a private meeting, and after today's petulant
little display, well, you did exactly what I had hoped you would. As if I
would trust the sister of the little tramp who got the smoking lounge built
in the first place."
   It was Monica's turn to smile. She turned her head and called over to a
stunningly beautiful adult who was braving the cold weather in a mid-length
skirt and leather bomber jacket. In her left hand she held a partially smoked
Virginia Slims and in her right was a piece of very legal looking paper.
   She tossed her luxurious straight blonde hair for the CNN cameraman named
Mark and visited her best smile on Mrs. Peabody.
   "Gladys Carolyn Peabody ?"
   "Yes-"
   She handed the paper to the woman, who took it as though it was a live rabid
rat and opened it up.
   "That's an order to open the private school board meeting to the public.
You'll also note that you'll have to hold the meeting off school grounds at a
neutral site agreeable to both parties."
   "Both part- what other party is there ?"
   "The students, teachers and parents of Crowley Central School District have
retained me to represent them in this silly little dispute about the smoking
lounge. In the meantime you are ordered not to divert any funds or school
labour to changing the appearance or functionality of said space."
   "I suppose you're working pro bono," Gladys said with contempt.
   "Actually, I've been promised a case of cigarettes."

   Mike was out rounding up their dinner, so Darla slipped the tape in the VCR
and lay back on the bed, watching his work with open amasement.
   Oh, it wasn't good. It was great. They'd only used about forty-five seconds
of footage, but the two of them had the full two hours and it was ninety-nine
percent perfect video of attractive young men and woman smoking- as well as
some nice close up shots of herself.
   There were dangles. Holds. French inhales. Smoke rings. Smoky kisses.
   The other one percent was her own brand of balanced reporting, how a bunch
of kids and teachers had forced a school board president into court and risk
failing to carry the anti-smoking torch into this little corner of Americana.
   As she'd said for the nation, it made one wonder what all the fuss about
teen smoking was really about.
   But she was really interested in watching the smoking.
   It didn't take very long. She tried her best to hold off so that Mike would
come back before she was finished, but after only about three minutes, this
all of Monica and her friends puffing away on Marlboro Lights and Mediums,
she let her free hand migrate to her crotch and began stroking herself,
gently at first but with more insistence and Mike moved the camera in on the
gorgeous blonde lawyer who would, if Darla read the situation right, prevail
over the bitter school board president.
   Mrs. Peabrain or something.
   Mike came in just before Darla climaxed, so she rewound the tape and waited
for him to settle in. Once he'd gotten his coat off and the food settled, she
let the tape play again and finished what she started, pausing only long
enough to light another cigarette as he stripped.
   Darla liked Mike. He knew what was coming next- knew that in fact, he was
coming next, but he waited until she was finished enjoying her orgasm to sit
down on the bed. His penis was rock hard, dancing an electric little dance as
she lit another Camel Lights 100. Once she had taken a few puffs, she began
stroking him, blowing smoke in his face with every few thrusts of her hand. 
   Then she began in earnest, trading inhales on the cigarette with inhales of
his throbbing organ.
   When he finally came, holding back until the cigarette was finished, she
swallowed for him.
   He then lit a cigar which they shared, spending half an hour petting and
smoking and letting their food get cold while they talked about who would be
on top when they finally finished the cigar. In the end, they just couldn't
wait that long.
   The video ended up keeping them up all night long.

   "Are you nervous ?" Kelli asked her daughter.
   They were sitting in the car outside the White Lion, the agreed upon meeting
place. The White Lion was a banquet hall which seated two hundred, but that
wasn't why it had been chosen as a 'neutral sight.' No, the best thing about
the White Lion was that it was almost two-hundred years old and the only
'public' building in town which had been grand-fathered regarding smoking
laws.
   "No. I mean, it seems like the whole town is behind us, you know. If
anything, I'm just hoping it will be over soon. The last week has been very
nerve-wracking."
   "You don't have to answer the phone all day-"
   They got out of the car and walked inside the Lion.  
   It didn't take long to understand what an event this was. The chairs and
half of the tables in the main hall had been removed and there was a standing
room only crowd of at least seven hundred lining every inch of open space on
the floor. The crowd separated to let Monica through and she walked up to the
podium and sat down to the right of the Principal.
   Dana didn't stand up until she had lit a Marlboro 100. As she stood she bent
down towards Monica and reminded her that it was all right to smoke- that
under the circumstances-
   Monica felt decidedly more relaxed after she lit a cigarette.
   "First, I want to warn you that I will call an end to this meeting at the
first sign that you cannot behave yourselves. That means you will not boo
either of the two speakers that we have and you will not disrupt the
proceeding in any other manner. That said, let me remind you that smoking in
the White Lion is strictly encouraged."
   There was a muted cheer followed by the deafening sound of nearly five
hundred lighters snickting to life in unison.
   "Now, let me explain what is going to happen. We have two speakers today-
for the school board, Gladys Peabody, the board president- and for-" Dana
looked to Monica's lawyer Teresa for confirmation "-the students and
teachers' union, Monica Poe. Currently, the school board- and I'll remind you
to behave yourself- is planning to begin demolition of the smoking lounge
Monday morning. Based on what happens here today, they will either continue
with that plan, open the decision up to a vote of the school district, or
scrap the plan entirely. There will be no vote today. The school board is
bound by law to listen to reasonable points of dissenting view, but they are
not bound to honour those opinions."
   Dana let them digest that for a moment, then said "Our first speaker will be
Gladys Peabody. Gladys, you have fifteen minutes."
   The crowd kept the boos muted.
   For fifteen minutes, Gladys spoke. She railed against teenage smoking, she
brought up three Crowley High students who spoke about how they would have
liked to quit smoking but couldn't, and then she appealed to everyone's
reason.
   Prohibited from booing, the crowd sat in stony silence and showed no
response to Peabody's speech.
   When she was done, Monica lit a cigarette and then stood up, now really
nervous. She didn't have fifteen minutes worth of material, in fact it might
not have been ten, but with all the cheering that followed every sentence, it
took her almost twenty to finish. She spoke about how students shouldn't have
to hide in bathrooms or sneak outside to smoke, how it was time to let
parents decide what their children could and couldn't do, how retracting
freedoms from one group would lead to retractions for all. She even paused to
light a second cigarette at one point, earning polite applause.
   Dana then opened the floor to discussion.
   It was clear at the end of the two hours of public opinion which way the
school board should decide.
   Not that common sense would make any difference to the school board.
   An hushed silence fell over the room as the eight members of the school
board discussed their decision. For fifteen minutes Gladys Peabody's
high-pitched voice could be heard on and off again. At the end of the
discussion she stormed off, leaving through a back exit. There was a brief
cabal among the remaining seven and then finally one of them, Josh Greeling,
walked up to the microphone.
   "First the bad news is that the smoking lounge will be closed-"
   Josh had to wait almost three minutes to speak again.
   "-for two weeks. One of Crowley's finest architects- Edgar Poe- has donated
a redesign of the lounge. After listening to all the input from today's
meeting it's clear that what the school needs is a larger smoking area for
the students. Construction will start Monday, and will be paid for from the
monies earmarked for the lounge's demolition."
   Dana stood up and added "And I think I can convince our teachers to look the
other way if our students sneak outside to smoke over the next two weeks."
   Everyone laughed, and then Josh looked out over the audience. The
twenty-five or thirty percent who'd come here to support Gladys were all gone
now, meaning that there were about to be a lot of very happy- or even
happier- people in the room.
   "Before I thank you all for taking the time to come out here-" he turned to
Monica, "-and let's have a nice hand for Monica Poe, who really put into
words a lot of what you all have been thinking-"
   It took a couple of minutes after that but finally Josh got quiet again and
went on.
   "I do have one announcement. Gladys Peabody resigned from the board today,
effective immediately. We'll be holding a special election to fill her
vacancy. If you're interested in running, see me after the meeting. That's
it."
   
   Monica sat down at her desk and looked out the window at the falling snow.
Everyone else was long since in bed and the house was silent except for the
hiss of forced air in the heating vents.
   In her right hand she held a freshly lit cigarette. Her left hand was
dancing over the keyboard of her Powerbook.
   "I should be elated. The meeting couldn't have gone better- the school board
loved Dad's plan and five guys asked me to Winterfest. But all I can really
feel is sorry for Mrs. Peabody. She gave up everything to get that smoking
lounge closed and now- she's lost it all. It's bad enough being bitter, but
to be bitter and defeated. It must be hard-"
   She hit control-s, control-q, and powered the computer down, sitting at her
desk until the cigarette was gone.
   She briefly considered going to bed, but in the end the urge to light
another cigarette proved stronger.

   "Yes, Mrs. Peabody," the voice at the other end of the line said. "The FBI
would be very interested in learning where it is that Monica Poe buys her
cigarettes. I can have an agent there first thing in the morning."
   Gladys hung up the phone, satisfied.
   Revenge was going to be sweet.


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