It's Been a While, Part 1

(by, 08 June 2001)

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It's Been a While
Part 1

I was sitting at Brad's desk. He was going over the totals for the car, the 
options I had selected, and the delivery and title charges and a whole 
bunch of other stuff I didn't give a shit about. My great grandmother, who 
I never quite got to know but still somehow miss dearly, had left me a sum 
of money one can only leave behind when she finds out that her husband had 
squirrel a way a few hundred thousand shares of stocks in companies like 
GE, AT & T, and IBM. They commuted to cash and some financial legerdemain 
was done and when it was divided up between six children, ten grandchildren 
and four great-grandchildren equally, it totaled- 

I'm not going to say what it equals but she left one stipulation in the 
will for each of us. 

Mine was that I replace my Honda CRX, which I occasionally think is somehow 
older than me, with a BMW convertible. 

I can't remember ever telling her I wanted such a thing, but I did. It was 
like a psychic event. 

Anyway, there I am. Brad still needs my signature. He's got a fifty k deal 
on the table and all he needs to get through his responsibilities in 
informing me of all the charges and I'll earn him a big fat commission when 
he grabs a pair of keys off his desk and stand up. Immediately he is moving 
towards the door to his walled and doored cubicle. 

Don't get me wrong. The sight of him wiggling his perfect ass was nice, but 
the sudden dismissal wasn't. It didn't take him long to realize his 
mistake, of course. 

"Come on and meet a fellow Z3 driver." 

We walked outside and there she was. About average height, 5'6" but she 
looked taller. She was wearing jean shorts that showed off perfect legs and 
her arms were just as well formed. The black t-shirt she was wearing was 
loose but her ample breasts were obvious. She tossed her red hair off her 
sunglasses and smiled at Brad. 

"We don't need to go inside for anything, do we ?" 

"No, you're ready to drive it away." 


She was holding a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in her left hand. She 
cracked back the flip-top on the box and looked at Brad, still smiling in a 
way I would define as sly. 

"Want one ?" 


She took two cigarettes from the pack and slid it into her pocket. She lit 
them both and handed him one. 

I watched this with- well, I must have had some sort of look on my face 
because she turned to me and said "Sorry, I should have asked if you wanted 

"That's all right. I don't smoke," I said, strangely embarrassed by my 
half-true admission. 

"Too bad." 

Brad drew on his cigarette and handed her the keys. She exhaled and she 
reached out for the keys and I saw him lean into the milky stream. 

"I did smoke for a while in high school," I added, trying to mitigate the 
embarrassment but remaining disingenuous. 

"Hey, it's okay. Everyone can't smoke. I'm Anna." She extended her hand and 
I took it. 

"I'm JC," I said, noting for reference that Brad had failed to do the 
pleasantries. "Short for Joyce Carol." 

"Parents fans of the author ?" 

"Yeah, and Joyce is kind of a frumpy name." 

"My parents named me Annabelle, so I know what you mean. For some reason 
when I was a kid my friends always called me 'The Princess', so when I got 
to high school I went with Anna." 

She turned to Brad. "If I have any problems I'll call you." She turned back 
to me. "It was a pleasure meeting you. Maybe I'll see you around." And with 
that she jumped into the car and drove off. I had no idea how quickly we 
would find ourselves together again. 

I was a little disappointed that paying cash wasn't going to speed up the 
purchase more. The CRX always seemed okay until about five seconds after I 
pulled the BMW out on the road for the test drive. Brad told me that it 
would be about a week before the car was delivered, inspected, the 
paperwork cleared, and all the rest. He offered me a loaner in the interim, 
which I've found out since isn't standard behaviour, but I passed. 

I wanted my car, but if I couldn't have it I could indulge my one serious 
habit- expensive coffee drinks. 

I parked the car on the street and walked into the shop without really 
looking at the people on the sidewalk- the smokers. They congregate outside 
the shop after they get their coffee and lattes and cappuccinos and laugh 
and enjoy themselves. But I'd always ignored them out of habit. 

That was about to change. 

Most of them were teenagers- in fact, it was hard to think of a teenager in 
my town who'd I'd never seen with a cigarette in hand. 

In fact, a teenager walked in right behind me and we cued up behind an 
older woman who was ordering for what seemed to be Wellington's forces on 
17 June. Trays were brought out with coffees and brownies and biscotti. The 
girl was in an hurry, I could see that. But she was polite about it- 
chomping at the bit but quiet. She's a cute girl. Blonde hair- clearly 
coloured- down to her shoulders, straight, unassuming. A pretty face, 
intelligent eyes. 

Finally, the older woman was done. I stepped up and saw that my next door 
neighbour's teenage girl was at the counter. 

I had a split second of indecision and the girl behind me took advantage. 

"I was going to buy you a pack of cigarettes but I didn't have enough 
money. Sorry." 

"That's okay. I'm on until eight and with it this busy, I don't see any 
breaks coming anyway." 

She looked at me, not the least bit embarrassed about the smoking thing. 

"What can I get you ?" 

I ordered a Dolce Vita with caramel, thought about a brownie, waffled, 
ordered it. 

I paid, went and put some sugar in my coffee, and then walked out, right 
behind the girl with the blonde hair. We came out of the shoppe and there 
was Anna, sitting at a table. She looked at the girl and said hello, saw 
me, said hello to me as well. 

The girl stopped and put her coffee down on the table and then reached into 
her black synthetic poly purse. I was going to keep going but Anna reached 
up and touched me on the arm, so I waited, although she began talking to 
the girl and the whole thing was awkward. 

"I reviewed what you did with the power point presentation. It's awesome." 

The girl had- of course- pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Virginia Slims 
120s, surprising for a younger girl. She lit the long cigarette and all I 
could think was how terribly elegant it looked in her hand. She took a long 
draw, smiled embarrassedly. 

"Thanks. I was just trying to replicate what you taught us." 

"JC, this is Ursula, the best teenage electronic media specialists in the 

I extended my free hand. Ursula was taking another draw on that long 
cigarette and I watched intensely. She drew the smoke in and it was- 

I didn't know what I was seeing. Twenty-four hours later, it would come to 

"It's a pleasure to meet you. Sorry I butted in on your order." 

"Oh that's fine I said." And then I added "I smoked when I was a teenager, 
so I know how it is." I'm still not sure why I was still be dishonest about 
it- although it was mild dishonesty. 

"Yeah. Kirsten has to play by the don't ask, don't smell rule." 

I looked at Ursula, confused. "Don't ask don't smell ?" 

"Yeah. Her parents know that she smokes but they pretend like they don't 
know. They don't talk about it, and they don't ask her for a hug first 
thing when she walks in the door. It's all very dysfunctional." 

"Your parents know that you smoke ?" I asked, not quite believing that I 
was having a discussion about smoking with a 16 year old girl. Anna lit up 
while Ursula drew on the cigarette and answered me. 

"It was my mom who suggested I try it. I was always asking her what it was 
like, when she started, why she smoked. Finally she just told me to stop 
with the silly questions and try it." 

"And you like it ?" 

"I LOVE it. I feel so- focused- when I'm smoking. Like it's the best thing, 
you know. But of course you do." 

"It's been a while." 

"Do you want one ?" she asked, holding out the pack and the lighter, her 
enthusiasm for smoking infectious. 

"I can't remember the last time I had a cigarette," I said. 

I should stop here. I did know. I remember when I quit- more or less. Nine 
years ago, the day after I turned 18. I got up that morning, smoked the 
first cigarette from a new pack my mother had given me the day before, 
realized I shouldn't have been smoking because I had a cold. That cold 
turned into the flu, I was sick for two weeks, and when I got well, I 
hadn't had a cigarette in fourteen days. 

I was never sure why I quit, but I did. I went back to it, but it was never 
a regular thing. More on that later. I was stuck in a moment I couldn't 
really explain. 

So, did I want this long, elegant cigarette ? 

Yes, I did. 

Ursula was just so- cute. Adorable. And each inhale had been such obvious 
enjoyment for her. She would have made a perfect VS girl (except for being 

I meant to say no. Honestly I did. But I said yes. I don't know what I was 
thinking or even if I was thinking, but I said yes. 

She picked up the pack with the hand she was using to hold the cigarette. I 
preferred that to her dangling the cigarette in her mouth. I don't like 
that dangle look- it's cheap somehow. She easily extracted a single long 
white prefect cigarette and handed it to me. I took between first and 
second fingers of my left hand, brought it to my mouth. She lit it for me. 

My mouth and my lungs remembered just what to do. I drew the smoke in and 
oh god, it was delicious. 

She dropped the pack and the lighter in her purse. 

"I have to run, Ms. Farrell. Send me some email on what you think I should 

"It's perfect," Anna said, but Ursula frowned. 

"You told us no presentation is ever perfect, right ?" 

"I did say that." 

Ursula bounded away, trailing smoke. 

I took a long and satisfied drag on the cigarette and just then a guy I had 
dated twice walked by. His name is Steve Stark. He looked at me, saw the 
cigarette in my mouth. I expected him to look away. But instead, he smiled 
at me like we were old friends, and then walked past. I looked at Anna, 
strangely unsettled, and missed him glancing back over his shoulder at me. 

Anna stood up, grabbed me by the hand and said "Let's go for drive, 

"Huh ?" 

"Did you catch the way he looked at you ?" 

I admitted I didn't. 

"Come on. I'll teach you a lesson." 

I'm not the type that takes rides- or cigarettes or candy or anything else- 
from strangers. But suddenly I was breaking all the rules. I let her lead 
me to me to her car- her new convertible. 

What the hell was I doing ? I don't know. 

Anna started up the BMW- it purred like a cat. But we didn't start off 

"You really don't know, do you ?" 

"Know what ?" 

"You didn't see the way that guy looked at you ?": 

I was out of depth here. The cigarette was making me loopy. 

"I dated him twice." 

"Women and smoking ? Are you a nun or something ?" 

"No. I'm not, but- oh, you mean- I never- well, that's silly" 

Anna lit a cigarette. "Let's find out. You watch the guys watch us as we 

We were out on the highway in sixty seconds and before I knew it, our 
cigarettes were finished. 

We were talking, sharing what we did for a living- she's some sort of 
computer geek, I'm a auditor. I noticed one or two guys glance our way 
because Anna was driving slow, sixty in the inside lane. But I didn't think 
it was because of the smoking. I thought they were just checking out the 
two girls in the convertible. 

She looked over at me. 

"This only works if you keep smoking." 

She lit a cigarette of her own, using the car's lighter. Still hot, she 
passed it to me and I somewhat reluctantly lit a second cigarette, this one 
a Marlboro Lights 100. 

Was I enjoying this ? Yeah, I was. 

And then it happened. 

Steve Stark's order must have gotten taken care of pretty quickly because 
suddenly there he was in his Infiniti. He drove up next to us and slowed 
down to our speed. He looked right at me just as I drew on my cigarette 
again and I was really embarrassed now. Obviously, he had never seen me 
smoking. Just about nobody I knew now had ever seen me smoke. 

He didn't turn away. He waved. He matched our speed. He smiled. Then an SUV 
came up behind him, running hard, and he had to accelerate. Soon he was 

"See, girl, what did I tell you ?" 

This was just ten seconds of time and if it seems brief and implausible to 
you, well, that's how it seemed to me. But more on that later. 

"I did notice Brad seemed to be jonesing for you at the dealership today, " 
I said, not really wanting to follow this line of discussion because- 

I did not want to start smoking- really smoking- again. 

"Too bad he's wasting his time," Anna said. 

"Are you involved ?" I asked. 

"No, but there's no chance that he'd get anywhere with me, either. I don't- 
well, I like the way he watches me smoke- that's a real turn on in a way, 
but I like women." 

I was in the middle of an inhale, and I choked on it, the first time- and 
just about the last up to now, that a cigarette made me cough. 

"That's not why I brought you here. I know you might find that hard to 
believe- and I do enjoy watching you smoke, but- well, I'm good with 
people. Knowing what they want. And if you want Brad to notice you, you're 
going to have to keep smoking- although it doesn't seem like that will be 
so hard for you. You seem to be enjoying yourself." 

My mind was whirling. This was a lot to take on at once. Too much. We kept 
talking and about half an hour and two cigarettes later, I asked her to 
take me home. 

Don't get me wrong. I like Anna. She's beautiful, she's funny and- well, it 
was just too much at once. I mean, all the sudden, that one cigarette 
Ursula gave me changed everything. I wanted to step back and think about 

Which is what I did. 

I spent all day at work thinking about it. But not just smoking. I wanted 
something specific. That VS 120 was all I could think about. I found myself 
doing some really weird things. Like looking at old Virginia Slims print 
ads on the net. I found this one picture of a Swedish model named Emma 
Sjoberg on a site called Ghostship. She has the same blonde hair and blue 
eyes that I do and- she was just so damn pretty. I imagine that she still 

This is kind of silly but I had just finished resizing the picture and 
cropping it so that it would fit on the wide screen of my G4 powerbook when 
my phone rang. 

I picked it up, groaning inside. It was four-thirty, quitting time at the 
University, and a phone call was the only thing that could keep me from 
rushing off. I had a plan. I was going to stop at the convenience store on 
the way home and buy myself a pack of VS120s. I wanted those cigarettes so 

"Hello," I said, oddly afraid that somehow my very thoughts were going out 
over the phone line, like some weird X-file. 

"JC ? This is Steve. Steve Stark." 

"Hello, Steve." I was really at a loss. 

"I'm sorry. I know it's been a while since we talked." 

"That could be," I said, in my usual way with ex-boyfriends, "Because you 
never called me after our second date." 

"I'm sorry about that. I- should I plead the sick relative defence or the 
jerk defence ?" 

"The jerk defence will score you more points, Steve." 

"Well, seeing you yesterday- this is going to seem sudden, but-" 

"Are you asking me out on a date, Steve ?" 

"What are you doing tonight at seven ?" 

My radar went off here. I mean saying yes might make me seem desperate. On 
the other hand, I had not had a date in almost a month and Steve's- not 
calling me back excepted- a nice guy. Guys make mistakes, after all, that's 
what they do. 

"What did you have in mind ?" 

"Dinner, drinks, maybe a kiss on the cheek if I'm really nice. I owe you a 
little something after all. I really am sorry about not calling you back." 

I had been sorry about it too. I liked him as much as you can like a guy 
after two dates and I assumed that there was to be a third. 

"Where would you be taking me ?" I asked, figuring I would at least get a 
good dinner out of it if I played my cards right." 

"I was thinking Tre' Armond. If that's okay ?" 

Tre' Armond ? Where a decent bottle of wine was eighty dollars ? Was that 
okay ? Hell, yes. 

"Sure," I said, being cool about it. 

"Okay, I can get us a reservation. I went to school with the sous chef. 
Just one question- will you be smoking ?" 

"What ?" I said, my brain not able to process the question quickly enough 
to allow me to say something witty. 

"Should I get a smoking or non-smoking table ?" 

"Smoking is fine. I'll see you at seven ?" 

"Still at the same place ?" 

"You going to pick me up ?" 

"Unless that white BMW was yours, yeah." 

We chatted for a minute or two and- 

I had myself a date. 

I got into my Honda CRX. Same old dumpy car. Just a few more days, but 
right now I didn't care. I had two packs of VS 120s. I had only intended to 
buy one pack and a lighter. But the girl behind the counter told me they 
only had two left- that it was an usually popular brand around here. So I 
took them both. 

I opened one pack, struggled to pull one out- it had been a while since I 
had tried to fish the first cigarette from a pack, after all. The 
cigarettes I'd smoked since I'd quit had always been someone else's. As 
soon as I had picked one free, I lit it. I wanted to see just how right 
Anna was about the things that she had told me. Not that it was much of a 
drive home, but still- 

Pulling up to the exit from the parking lot, I watched cars going by. It 
was a while before I could pull out because I wanted to turn left across 
the road. I had enough time to take three pulls on the cigarette. I didn't 
keep track of how many cars went by, but I did draw the obvious attention 
of three men- and two women. I was holding the cigarette up where it 
couldn't be missed just to make sure and there was no question. People were 
watching me smoke. 

It was such a short ride home that I had barely taken four or five good 
pulls on the cigarette. As I got of the car, I realized what a dork I am. I 
don't- or rather I didn't- have a single ashtray in the house. So I got out 
of the car and sat down on the front steps to smoke my cigarette. Just 
then, Kirsten came out of her house. She saw me sitting on the front porch 
and waved. 

I took a long draw on the cigarette and smiled at her. 

She walked across her yard and mine. 

"I didn't know you smoked, JC." 

"I just started yesterday," I said proudly, drawing again. 

"Aren't those great cigarettes ?" she asked. 

"Are these the brand you smoke ?" 

"Yeah. My friend Ursula and her mom turned me on to them." 

"Are your parents home ?" I asked. 

"No, they went up north to some fancy restaurant to have dinner with Mom's 
boss and her husband." 

"Want one ?" 

"Sure. Actually, I was just going to walk down to the convenience store and 
buy a pack." 

'Don't bother. I bought the last two packs a few minutes ago." 

Kirsten's face fell. 

"You shouldn't be buying your cigarettes at the convenience store," she 

"That's where you buy them, isn't it ?" 

"Well yeah, but that's only because I'm not 18 and most of the people who 
work there in the afternoons are friends of mine. But they're really 
expensive there." 

"You mean 4.50 a pack is a lot ?" 

"You really are new to this," she said, taking the pack from me. She pulled 
a lighter out of the pocket of her overalls. I noticed how easily she 
pulled a cigarette from the pack and lit it. I envied her. 

"Where would you buy your cigarettes if you were 18 ?" 

`"Wal-mart. They have the best carton prices and they carry everything. 
That's where mom and dad get theirs." 

I don't know what came over me. All of the sudden, I wanted to help her 
smoke too. I had an idea. 

"You mow your own lawn, right ?" 

"Yeah. Daddy said it was his proudest day the first time I cut the lawn all 
by myself." 

I must have given her a strange look because she smiled. 

"It's a little joke between us." 

"Can you use a riding mower ?" 

"Sure. I spent two weeks every summer with Aunt Jesse and she's got one- 
and two acres of lawn. But I'm looking forward to that. She said I can 
smoke when I came visit her. I have this fantasy about getting on the 
riding mower, lighting up, and smoking while I cut the grass. It's probably 
as close as I'm going to get to smoking and driving until I turn seventeen 
and get my own car." 

"Well, I'll make a deal with you. You cut my lawn and I'll give you a 
carton of cigarettes every second time." 

"Really ?" The way her eyes lit up I knew I was doing the right thing. 
"That's, well, it's a great deal for both of us, I think." 

"So, do you have a learner's permit yet ?" 

"Actually, I have a limited driver's license. But Mom and Dad didn't have 
cars until they were in college. Daddy said he'd let me have a car, but not 
until my senior year of high school." 

"Well then, how would like to drive me to Wal Mart ?" 

"Right now ?" 

"My date isn't until seven and I don't have any ashtrays, so I need to go 

"You really are new to this smoking thing." I didn't correct her. 

I handed her the keys, which she took in the hand she wasn't holding her 
cigarette with. By the time we settled into the car, we had finished our 
cigarettes and for the first time ever, cigarettes were stubbed out in the 
car's pristine ashtray. 

She struggled at first with the stick. I think that she was just nervous, 
and each time that she jerked the car she got a little more so. BY the time 
we were out by the convenience store she was practically shaking. I knew 
what she needed, so I did something decadent. I took two cigarettes from 
the pack. Now that three had been taken out it was easy to remove them. I 
lit them both and handed her one. 

"Indulge your fantasy." 

The light was still red. Sitting opposite us was a brand new Lexus driven 
by a teenaged young man. He looked at Kirsten just as she took a big draw 
on the cigarette. 

He smiled and waved. 

Then the light turned green. The Lexus went one way and we- with Kirsten 
upshifting much more calmly- went the other. But the boy followed us with 
his eyes for two full seconds. 

"Oh my god, do you know who that was ?" 

I plead ignorance. 

"That was Bobby Cutter- the most popular junior in school- and he WAVED at 
me. Oh my god." 

"Is this the first time he's ever seen you ?" 

"No. But it's the first time he's acknowledged me. Of course, it's the 
first time he's seen me driving around with an hot looking woman." 

I was just finishing taking a long pull on my cigarette. I look at her and 
exhaled, holding the cigarette in my hand up by my face. 

"I'm not hot." 

She focused on driving, but she was smiling. 

"You should see yourself with that long cigarette in your hand. You are 

I didn't argue. 

I found everything I needed quickly. Generally I dislike Wal Mart on any 
number of grounds. But on this particular day they had what I needed so I 
was quite happy. I stood in line with Kirsten- there are always lines in 
our Wal Mart and we were talking and laughing. Then we got to the register 
and this stern looking forty-something women looked at me with tired grey 
eyes and said "Are both those cartons for you ?" 

"What ?" 

"Are both cartons of cigarettes for you ? There's a law against providing 
tobacco to people who are underage." 

"Yes, they're both for me." She rang up the two cartons and four ashtrays, 
looking at me suspiciously the whole time. Maybe she knew, but I didn't 
care. There was nothing she could do about it, after all. I was feeling 
rebellious as all hell right about then, I guess. 

What could the woman do ? She was just doing her job and the truth was that 
as soon as we got back to the car I was going to break the law. But it was 
a bad law and I was glad to have the opportunity to break it. And this was 
after having been a 'smoker' for all of twenty-four hours. 

I paid cash and as we walked out of the store, Kirsten handed me the keys 
to the car. "If you don't mind, I'd just as soon have you drive so I can 
just sit back and smoke." 

"Actually, when we get back to the car I want you to look at something and 
give me a little advice." 

"It's about clothes, isn't it ?" 

"How'd you know ?" 

"Well, you said you had a date tonight." 

When we got back to the car I pulled my T4 out of the back of the car and 
opened it. Kirsten put it in her lap and then I handed her carton of 
cigarettes. She looked at them and the broadest smile came over her face. 

"My first carton of cigarettes. I feel like a real smoker now." 

She folded back the top flap from the carton very carefully and pulled out 
one of the packs. She opened it, carefully folding even the cellophane from 
the box, which she stuck in her purse. We lit up, Kirsten providing my 

The she looked at the desktop picture. 

"God, she's gorgeous." 

I double-clicked the icon for the original iamge which was full-length. 

"Where can I find an outfit for my date like this one ?" 

"That's really cool. I'd love an outfit like that myself. I hope you're not 
offended by where I suggest we look for them, though." 

"If I can find that outfit for tonight, I'll buy yours." 

"I couldn't let you do that," Kirsten said, but it was clear in her voice 
that she was receptive. 

"Call it a finder's fee." 

I started up the CRX. "Where are we headed ?" 

"The second hand store on Arnault. Becky's Vintage Shoppe." 

"That's a great idea. Beats trying to find stuff like that in Wal Mart." 

When we got there we parked on the street. Sitting outside the store was a 
teenage girl in a rocking chair, smoking a Marlboro Lights 100. She smiled 
at me as I got out of the car and then Kirsten said "Hello, Kim." 

Kim had just lit her cigarette and made no move to get up. "The dressing 
rooms are unlocked. If need anything I'll be inside in just a minute." 

It took us less than fifteen minutes to find nearly matching outfits, from 
the shirts with the cuffs to twin black chokers. I chose straight black 
leather boots and pants while Kirsten chose a colour that was somehow both 
black and brown, depending on the light. I was even able to find a matching 

Two leather jackets, two boots, two shirts, two purses and all the rest and 
it was all under an hundred dollars. 

It was already twenty after six. But I wasn't in an hurry. In fact, I 
couldn't remember the last time I had felt this relaxed. But I did try to 
drive back fast. I took a turn too quickly and the bag in the back seat 
shifted, the glass ashtrays clinking together. Kirsten checked to make sure 
that nothing was broken. 

Looking at the ashtrays must have triggered a thought. "Hey, do you know 
whether your lease allows you to smoke in the house ?' 

And that's when it hit me. Of course, when I had rented the house, I hadn't 
cared. But I could hear my landlord's voice. "No pets, no smoking, no 
sublets or sharing unless you clear it with me first." 

"No, it doesn't. I guess I'll just have to buy the place." 

"Did you recently inherent a ton of money ?" 

I laughed. 

"It might be a ton in pennies. But yeah. A lot. More than I know how to 

I had told her about the Z3 I was buying. 

"I don't know. BMW, house, clothes. You're off to a good start." 

I admitted I was. 

I was surprised when my landlord picked up the phone. I was intending to 
leave her a message. What I really wanted was to see if there was any way I 
could talk her into dropping the smoking clause from my lease. I mean, I 
could buy the house- I could by a whole row of houses if I had to. Still, I 
thought that maybe there was a simpler way. 

"Unfortunately, I can't relax the smoking rule. Trust me, I'd love to help 
you out. But once I let someone smoke in an house, there always that chance 
it will cost me a renter down the road. You can always smoke on the front 
porch or the back deck. That's okay. I didn't even know that you smoked." 

"I just started yesterday." 

"You're a little older than most people who start smoking." 

I didn't disagree. The truth was, I knew this whole thing was a little 
weird, a little unrealistic, but money does change your point of focus. Not 
having all these everyday worries. 

I know, nothing is that simple. I found myself thinking back to the two 
years of high school that I had smoked. I had enjoyed it, but it was never 
a big deal. I was just a social smoker, more or less. I had my own 
cigarettes, but I mostly smoked when I with people- friends and family. I 
smoked on and off in college too, if you consider taking the odd cigarette 
or three from your friends, usually when you're drunk, smoking. I also 
smoked a cigarette or two on Friday night if I went out with a friend of 
mine from work named Maureen. 

I realized that I looked forward to those Friday nights. I thought back to 
when Ursula offered me the cigarette yesterday and understood I had never 
stopped liking smoking. 

This was more complicated and less mysterious than I had thought, wasn't it 

"Yeah, I am. But we have to do something here. My lease is up at the end of 
the month and I do plan to keep smoking." 

"I'd hate to lose you as a tenant. You're one of my best." 

"Well, I don't really want to move, either." I had just received one of 
those letter in the mail about two houses on the block that had recently 
sold for around the same price. The whole block was basically one house 
design. Each one had a few superficial differences but the same developer 
had designed them all, so those differences were cosmetic. 

I named a price about ten thousand over what those houses had sold for. 

Martha laughed. It was a polite laugh, but it said that I was a little 

"Honestly, I don't think you could get financing at that price. Don't take 
this the wrong way, but even if you could get financing at that price, I'm 
not sure your salary would cover it." 

"Oh. But would you sell at that price ?" 

There was a long pause. I used it to light a cigarette, the first time I 
had ever smoked in the house. 

"Normally, no. Even after expenses and taxes, I clear a good income off 
that property. I got that house in foreclosure, so I've already paid it 
off. But it's on the other side of town from all of my other properties 
and, well, yes, I would." 

"Then it's a cash offer." 

I'm not sure she thought I could be serious. 

"Cash ?" 

"I just received," and here I tried to be coy- why I don't know as I had 
already made my offer, "a small but serviceable inheritance. My parents 
will be thrilled that I've made this sort of investment and it makes sense. 
Renting doesn't." 

"Still, I've never heard of such a thing ?" 

"What, paying cash ?" I asked, drawing deeply on my cigarette. 

'No, buying an house so you can smoke in it." 

I looked out the window and there was Kirsten, sitting on the mower in a 
tank top and jean short shorts. She was smoking a cigarette and smiling. 

"Oh, it's more than that. I like my neighbours, I like the neighbourhood 
and it's close to work. And who wants to pack up and move if they don't 
have to. How soon can you have the papers drawn up ?" 

"Well, you should have the place inspected and there's a few odds and ends 
to deal with. I already paid to have the septic tank pumped this month, and 
your water heater is off warranty- I'll split the cost of replacing it. We 
can save money by hiring one real estate lawyer to do the paperwork. I'll 
suggest someone and you can meet with him. If he's okay, we could have the 
papers drawn up next week." 

"I'll have a cashiers' check ready first thing Monday morning." 

"Great. I'll send you the lawyer's contact info by email and I'll see you 
next week." 

Kirsten got off the mower and walked over to me. I was wearing the outfit 
that I had bought and she whistled her approval. 

"You are fucking gorgeous." 

"I'll take that as a positive review of my outfit ?" 

"Steve is going to be all over you." I laughed at the thought of this, lit 
a cigarette, and sat down on the porch to wait. Kirsten went back to 

I know how a story like this should work out. Steve did pick me up, he did 
like the outfit and he certainly enjoyed watching me smoke. I enjoyed 
myself immensely. I did smoke before and after dinner but I did not- and do 
not- smoke while I ate. I also didn't invite him in, and we did not have 
hot steamy sex while I smoked an endless amount of cigarettes. 

Actually, I was home by ten and Kirsten wandered over because I sat down on 
the porch to smoke. 

She walked across her lawn trailing smoke, the orange glow of the cigarette 
tip flaring with each inhale. 

"Didn't work out ?" she asked. 

"What makes you say that ?" I asked. 

"You didn't invite him in." 

"I'm a nice girl," I said. 

I have to laugh about that. I was about to find out a lot of things about 
myself. And Anna, Kirsten, Ursula, Maureen, and a few other people I 
haven't mentioned yet. 

But that can wait until next time. 

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