Boston Uncommon, Part 1

(by, 21 May 1996)

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Here's a new story about a young nurse and the old lady she works for who
introduces her to a whole new world.

There is a little sex in one part of the story so if you are offended by
such things please go no further.

As always, any feedback, comments or suggestions are most appreciated.



Boston Uncommon

Part 1

The nursing job market was tough these days. That's not what they told
Alison Kelly when she was trying to decide whether or not to go into nursing
when she graduated from high school. The recruiters had lots of brochures
showing lots of happy nurses in places like Miami Beach and the gulf coast
of Texas, and Alison thought that sounded pretty good. She had always been
interested in the health professions anyway, and the prospect of moving away
from Boston to a warm climate once she graduated was the clincher. 

Her grades had always been near the top of her class, so it wasn't a huge
surprise when her application to the Boston College School of Nursing was
accepted. What was an unexpected surprise, though, was that the form she had
filled in without really thinking about it asking for financial aid had
resulted in her being awarded a rather substantial scholarship. It was from
some sort of trust available only to members of the Roman Catholic religion
who wished to attend the Jesuit school, and it let Alison go through the
program virtually for free since it also included room and board at the
school's residence. 

Once she got into the program she knew she had made the right choice. The
school was top-notch and she enjoyed most of her classes, turning in grades
that were high enough to ensure her scholarship would be renewed. She had a
bit of adjusting to do with the extra-curricular activities, though. She had
only learned of the reputation of nurses when she mentioned her career
choice to some of her male friends, who greeted the news with smart comments
and a "nudge-nudge-wink-wink" kind of response. She didn't really think that
she would be partaking in that part of her education, though; she was an
active churchgoer still and her parents were strict, God-fearing Catholics.
Alison liked good times as much as anyone but there were certain things that
she just wouldn't do because of her upbringing, and she honestly didn't feel
like she was missing much. 

She enjoyed most of her classmates socially and the reputation of nurses was
vastly overrated, she was soon to discover. The one thing that she hadn't
counted on was that the School was an absolute magnet for guys, having such
a high concentration of young ladies in one place, and so all of the girls
had no trouble having their pick of any number of eligible young men. Alison
took advantage of the situation as much as anyone, and had a great time
sampling a number of potential boyfriends during her first year. Never would
she let any of them go too far, though, and the ones that tried were out the
door so fast they never knew what hit them. She saw a few of them
semi-regularly, but never found one that was the soulmate she was looking
for. Even though Alison was an extremely attractive girl, slim but nicely
shaped, with short dark brown hair, green eyes, a ready smile and an Irish
wit, she had never been able to find anyone to whom she was willing to make
a real commitment. She always told herself and her friends that her
standards were just too high.

There was a fair amount of college-style partying going on that she had to
get used to that first year. She never had felt any particular prejudice
against drinking, even though she hadn't really done that much of it
herself. But her father loved his beer, and her mom enjoyed a few cocktails
as well. Alison had tried drinking a little in high school and even on
occasion with her parents' blessing. But now it seemed that every weekend
was a nonstop party that was there for the taking, and she was no different
from the rest of the girls in having to learn how to handle her alcohol. She
liked the way it made her feel, helping her lose some of her inhibitions,
and she had lots of fun getting a little crazy with her pals. Once or twice
after having a few drinks she would even break down and have a cigarette
with her girlfriends who were smokers. Her best friend at college had proved
to be Becky Cox, who she had been paired with during lab sessions and found
she had much in common with. One thing that was definitely not shared,
though, was Becky's smoking habit, for Becky was always smoking, or so it
seemed. Alison was struck by the number of times Becky would dash outside
between classes to have a quick cigarette, puffing as quickly as she could
to get as much of her cigarette finished in the few minutes she had. Becky
told Alison that both of her parents were heavy smokers, and that she had
first experimented herself when she was in the sixth grade by sneaking one
away from her parents occasionally. 

Becky explained how she had started smoking on a regular basis when Alison
asked her one day why she couldn't go two classes in a row without needing
to run outside for a cigarette. "One day when I was about 13, Mom caught me
in the basement, smoking when I thought she was out. By that time I had
smoked a little and I knew how to inhale and all, but I had never really
smoked all that much. I expected to get yelled at or grounded, or worse, and
I was really scared. But instead, she took me upstairs, sat me down in the
living room and asked me if I was ready now to be a smoker too, like her. I
couldn't believe my ears!  Mom told me that if I chose to smoke, that would
be fine with her since she smoked too. But then she told me that if I did
start to smoke, that I should know that I probably wouldn't ever be able to
stop if I kept it up. That was something I had sort of always known, but it
was the first time I had ever heard it said and I realized that mom was
telling me that she couldn't stop herself. I know this must sound strange,
but something inside me found that part so exciting that I decided right
there that I wanted to smoke too, just so I could see what that was like. So
I told mom that I wanted to keep on smoking, and she said it was OK. She set
me up with my first pack and lighter and made me have one with her right
there. I guess you could say that I really started smoking that day. God
knows she was right, too... I can't stop now either."

Alison was surprised by Becky's admission of her addiction. "Really? How do
you know?," she asked her friend.

Becky took another drag and inhaled deeply before answering. "I tried once.
Lasted maybe a day and I was going nuts, so I swore I'd never do that to
myself again. It's funny, but even though mom said it was OK, the first year
or so I didn't smoke all that much. I still felt nervous about smoking in
front of other people, even mom. Despite what she had told me, I figured
that I might want to stop sometime, and if I did, I just would. During that
first year I was only smoking 5 or 6 times a day and I thought it would be
easy to give it up. Sometime before I turned 15, I started smoking more. I
don't know why exactly. I guess maybe I was just getting more comfortable
with the whole idea of it all, and mom certainly didn't try to discourage
me. I mean, she was always smoking herself, so her example was always right
there for me to see. So I gradually began to have a cigarette on my own more
often, and while I was hanging around the house during summer vacation that
year, all of a sudden I found that I was smoking almost as much as her. And
I realized that I was smoking now because I felt like I always wanted to. I
guess that's when I realized that I was getting hooked, if I wasn't already.
At the time it scared me a little and I thought about stopping, but I
didn't. I just liked it too much. By the end of that year I was up to more
than a pack a day, and I just kept on smoking. By the time I was 17 I tried
to quit and couldn't. After that I knew I was too addicted to ever stop, so
I just decided to accept it. It's about the only vice I have, so I don't
beat myself up for it too much. Now I can't imagine ever not smoking."

Alison asked her friend, "But aren't you worried about what it might do to
you? Especially after some of the things they've showed us here?"

Becky took a long drag on her Marlboro before answering in a husky voice,
one seasoned by nearly 2 packs a day for several years now. "I know this
must sound strange, but no. I really love it, even though I know it's bad
for me. I guess maybe you'd have to be a smoker too to really understand
what it's like, and why I feel that way. I just don't care what people say
about it, because I know how much I like to smoke. I don't mind that I have
to smoke so much now, because it's just so good. I just hope that when I
graduate I don't get a job on a pulmonary unit!" 

One time when Alison and Becky were out with the girls and had a few drinks,
Alison watched Becky virtually chain-smoke for a couple of hours before the
drinks made her break down and ask Becky for a cigarette too. Becky grinned
and handed Ali one of her Marlboro Light 100s, and then offered her a light.
She had never tried smoking before and she thought afterwards that she now
knew why. Her parents were very much against smoking in general and did not
permit the habit in their home, so neither Alison nor her younger sister Amy
ever had much of a chance to try it. Now that she had, she hated it and
couldn't understand why people did it. She never got to the point where she
even inhaled, because the taste was quite enough to discourage her from
going any further. Still, she was struck by the number of her friends who
smoked and seemed quite devoted to it, so she tried it again on a few
similar occasions but with the same result. She was amazed at the large
percentage of the faculty and, once she began doing shifts in clinical
settings at area hospitals, the number of practicing nurses who smoked. Most
of those who smoked were exceedingly heavy smokers, a fact that she found
hard to understand given their work in a field that was absolutely, totally
opposed to tobacco. When she asked about it she was told that nursing was a
high-stress profession and many of her future colleagues found cigarettes
helped them handle the stress to a degree. Alison found this extraordinary
and hoped that she would never have to resort to the same tactics. For the
remainder of her college years she never tried another cigarette.

As graduation approached, Alison began to check out job prospects and found
them very poor. There suddenly seemed to be an oversupply of nurses
throughout the country, and the sun-belt jobs had evaporated. Nor was there
much luck in getting a position at the Boston-area institutions. After
months of searching, Alison accepted a position with a private-duty agency
that placed nurses in home-care positions with individuals needing personal
care. It was far from what she had imagined when she enrolled at B.C., but
at least it paid the bills and let her maintain a small apartment, which was
important to her. It was nice that her folks offered to let her stay at
home, and it remained a safety net for her should her employment prospects
become even more dismal, but she wanted to make it on her own if she
possibly could. At 22 she knew it was time for her to start living
independently and make her own way in the world.

About a year after she started working for the agency, she was given an
assignment to be a day nurse for an elderly lady named Edith O'Neill who
lived in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. The agency manager told Alison
that Edith was a wealthy 80-year old widow who lived in a large home by
herself, and that her family had never been able to convince her to move.
Instead, they were paying for round-the-clock care for her just to be sure
she would be safe. The duty wasn't difficult, and a housekeeper came by each
day to take care of meals and cleaning, but Edith had a number of minor
medical problems that required medication and that was where problems tended
to arise. She had gotten into trouble in the past by not taking her pills or
by getting them mixed up, and so the main responsibility would be to monitor
her drugs and generally keep an eye on her for she had become somewhat
fragile the past few years. The duty was as much that of being a companion
as a nurse, and many of the other girls who had been employed there had
enjoyed the assignment. The only caution they offered was that the old girl
was stubborn as a mule, and it was best to try and humor her eccentricities
to get her to cooperate in taking direction.

When Alison arrived for her first day's shift, she was greeted by a
seemingly spry, alert old lady with a quick wit and a wonderfully eloquent
way of speaking. Alison marvelled at the house which was filled with
antiques that had been in the family for generations, and had room for a
large family and all their servants. Now they were all gone and Edith was
here all by herself, her husband having passed away years ago and her two
children and their families having been well-established for decades. She
enjoyed visits from her grandchildren and their families, but Ali felt that
the nursing care was more for company than anything else to keep Edith from
being lonely. Still, she found Edith entertaining and not too much of a
bother, once she got used to her daily routine. They spent most of the first
morning going over her medication and making a plan for her care, and by the
time she had gotten a tour of the house and heard story after story about
its history, lunch was ready. Teresa the housekeeper was an excellent cook,
and as Alison ate with Edith she felt that this would be an assignment she
could handle for a long time.

Once the plates were cleared, Teresa returned with a tray containing a
teapot and cups, and to Alison's surprise a crystal ashtray, a large table
lighter, and a package of More menthols. Alison had always associated that
brand of cigarettes with hookers and the like, and had never expected
someone like Edith to smoke at all, let alone that kind. Edith withdrew one
of the long brown cigarettes and offered one to Alison. "No thanks," she
told Edith, "I don't smoke, and you shouldn't either," she responded with a

Edith frowned. "Young lady," she said sternly, "if we're going to get along,
you should know that I enjoy a few cigarettes each day. I have for over 60
years. So we need not have any further advice on that score, shall we? And
if you have any manners at all, you will accept a cigarette and gladly smoke
it along with me. Now, I shall offer you one again. Would you care for a
cigarette, miss?"

Alison pondered for a second. She didn't want to spoil this opportunity,
especially not on the first day. "I guess that's what they meant when they
said I'd have to humor her," she thought, and so she decided to go along.
"Certainly, Mrs. O'Neill," she answered, as she took the offered cigarette.
Edith offered her a light, and Alison brought the thin, long cigarette to
her lips. As it ignited, she again tasted the tobacco smoke as it flowed
over her tongue, this time accented by a cool menthol sensation. She quickly
blew out a puff of smoke as Edith lit up her own. 

"I do enjoy these so," Edith stated. She took a gentle puff and slowly
breathed in the smoke before exhaling as she spoke. "It's so hard to find a
cigarette these days that has any flavor to it. Why, when I first started to
smoke, well, those cigarettes had character. Today, this is the only kind
that have even a little bit of strength to them. And they are rather
elegant, don't you agree?," she asked.

Alison smiled. "Well, yes, I suppose so. I really haven't given it much
thought, to be honest," she answered. "I'm not much of a smoker."

"Why, I always thought that every young lady should be taught to handle a
cigarette," Edith said. "It is just so useful in social situations,  I'm
surprised that you haven't learned. Well, then, I shall just have to teach
you, shan't I? Especially since, as I hope you were told, I will expect you
to smoke with me each day at this time, and in the afternoon with tea." 

Alison blanched slightly. This was something she hadn't counted on, and the
prospect of one cigarette was bad enough. Doing it several times a day,
every day, was something else entirely. "Is it really necessary for me to
smoke, Mrs. O'Neill? I don't like to smoke at all, and I really don't think
I can."

Edith frowned. "All of my companions smoke with me. It is one of the
requirements if you wish to be employed here. The agency has instruction
that all of the girls they send here must be prepared to do so, and I can't
understand why you're here if that's the case. Well, dear, I suppose I'll
just have to let you go. I'm sure there are others who can perform the job
as I require it to be done."

Alison had never been let go from an assignment before, and the prospect of
it happening here was not something she wanted to entertain. She quickly
decided that if it was a choice between tolerating a couple of these things
a day or taking another assignment in god-knows-where, she would choose the
cigarettes. Quickly, she responded, "No, Mrs. O'Neill, that won't be
necessary. I guess that didn't come out quite right. What I meant to say was
that I just haven't had much experience with it, that's all. I'm sure I can
get used to it if I have a chance." 

"I'm sure you can too, dear. Try a puff, won't you, and let me see how you
smoke," Edith answered with a smile. Alison awkwardly placed the cigarette
between her lips and drew smoke into her mouth. Opening it, smoke escaped in
a large cloud that surrounded her head and she waved it away with her hand.
The smell was intense and unpleasant.

"Oh, no dear, that won't do! You must learn to act like a lady when you
smoke. Come, let me show you. Hold it in the ends of your fingers, like so,"
Edith said, demonstrating. "Treat it like a very fragile piece of crystal,
as my mother used to say. Never smoke like a man. Be proud you're a lady,
and when you smoke, be sure to do it in a ladylike manner. Just be very
delicate and graceful as you handle it, and when you blow it out, pretend
you're kissing someone, as my girlfriends and I always said when we were
your age. Ladylike, that's what you need to always remember. Now, let's try
it again, shall we?"

Alison couldn't help but smile as Edith told her story. It seemed so strange
to hear someone speaking about smoking as if from another time and place, in
a manner as if it was something to be proud of. Everything Alison had ever
learned about smoking was negative, something to be hidden and almost
shameful. This was from a totally different perspective and it sounded so
bizarre that it was laughable. Yet she didn't dare laugh at Edith's words if
she wanted to stick around, and she thought she had better try and make the
best of it. Accordingly she followed Edith's direction and as delicately as
she could manage, took another puff. She tried to think of kissing someone
as she pursed her lips and blew out a cloud, trying hard not to laugh but
instead just breaking into a smile. 

"Much, much better, dear!," Edith exclaimed.  "Just slow it all down a
little and you'll be doing fine. Enjoy it, don't be in so much of a hurry.
Graceful, remember? Never rush," she said, taking another slow puff and
inhaling almost imperceptibly. She kept her mouth closed as she breathed two
streams of smoke slowly from her nose for three or four breaths. For the
remainder of the cigarette, Alison did the best she could to follow Edith's
lessons, and by the time she had finished the More it didn't taste so
horrible after all. When she had another with Edith around 3:30 it was quite
manageable and she felt confident that she would be able to put up with
having to do it each day.

Over the next week or so Alison and Edith got used to each other and began
to settle into a routine. Alison realized that she really enjoyed Edith's
company, and the nursing duties were so slight as to be almost nonexistent.
But she wasn't going to complain, because she couldn't think of a better
assignment ever. It was almost like she was getting paid to visit her
grandmother's house, except her grandmother's place was never like this. She
was able to dust off her piano skills and play on the large piano in the
gigantic living room, which Edith loved, and she was surprised to find that
she wasn't nearly as rusty as she had thought. The piano lessons her mom had
forced her to take for nearly 10 years were finally being put to use, and
Edith seemed to really enjoy hearing the impressive Baldwin make music once
more, saying that Alison's playing reminded her of the old days when they
used to fill the house with guests for parties several times a year. And
almost like her grandmother, Edith began to take an interest in what was
going on in Alison's life, asking her a whole range of questions over the
week about her family, her life and her aspirations, expressing amazement
when she learned Ali had no steady boyfriend and even more when she
expressed no particular sadness over that fact.

Once a week Ali got to take Edith downtown to shop, and like everything else
she had a regular routine. First to Filene's, then to Jordan Marsh, before
heading to either the Ritz-Carlton or the Park Plaza for lunch. The first
time she entered the Ritz, Alison became concerned and when she saw the menu
she began to panic, since it was the day before she got paid and she had
almost no money in her pocketbook. She whispered in Edith's ear, "Mrs.
O'Neill, I'm afraid I really can't afford this. What should I do?"  

"What you should do is order whatever you want and enjoy yourself, dear. I
never expect my companions to pay when I invite them to join me for lunch.
And certainly, if I can't afford to treat you to lunch out now and then, I
shouldn't even be here myself, now, should I?," she said with a smile.
"Please, be my guest. I think you'll enjoy it here."

Alison's first experience dining at the Ritz was a memorable one. She had
never seen such attentive service before and all of the staff knew Mrs.
O'Neill by name. It seemed as though they were mind readers, for every time
Ali thought about something they appeared as if by magic to produce it. The
food was delicious, of course, and afterwards as Edith produced her
cigarettes and offered one to Ali, she was shocked to see two waiters
appear, matches in hand, to light their cigarettes for them. She blushed
slightly as the handsome young man nodded to her as he struck the match and
waited for her to light up. As she smoked, she noticed several of the staff
and customers glance in their direction, and Edith noticed it also. "See
what I meant, dear?," she said, "Men love it when a lady -- especially one
as young and pretty as you -- smoke in a ladylike way. Elegance will never
go out of style. Never forget that."

After another week or so, Alison began to totally enjoy being a part of
Edith's daily routine, including the smoking. She began to feel a little
guilty about always taking Edith's More Menthols, so she finally bought a
pack of her own. Edith seemed happily surprised the day she saw Alison
produce her pack after lunch and light up on her own. "Ah, I see you've
decided to partake on your own, have you dear?," she asked. "I'm so happy
you've come to enjoy it. Now, all you need to learn is how to inhale. It
looks so much more elegant when you do. We shall have to work on that,"
Edith smiled.

That night when Alison returned to her apartment, she thought about Edith's
latest advice. She had to admit that the reaction of others that day in the
dining room at the Ritz had made an impression on her, and had begun to
think that perhaps Edith wasn't so far out in left field after all. A sudden
determination came upon her, and she retrieved the pack of Mores from her
purse. She got a pack of matches from a kitchen drawer along with the only
ashtray she owned, having bought it for Becky's visits. She sat in the
armchair in the corner, set the ashtray next to her, and struck a match. She
lit up the long brown cigarette confidently and blew out a small puff of
smoke, ladylike as always. The cool taste was by now almost pleasant, and
she realized that she had begun to enjoy the occasional cigarette.

Alison thought about exactly how to learn to inhale. She remembered one of
the times years ago when she had tried it with Becky back during their
college days and her advice at the time. "Just hold some smoke in your
mouth, and breathe in through your nose," Becky advised. "It's easy, and I
know you'll love it," she encouraged her, smiling. Ali had chickened out
before trying it back then, but now she decided to put it to the test.
Taking a moderately-sized puff, Alison held it in her mouth and instead of
pursing her lips and blowing out, she began to breathe in through her nose.
For a second or two all she could feel was the tingle of the smoke in her
mouth, but gradually she felt a trickle of smoke being drawn down her throat
and into her lungs. Finally she could inhale no further, and she began to
blow out in the kissing style Edith had taught her. The smoke escaped from
her mouth as it always had, but instead of suddenly stopping as it usually
did, another, thinner stream continued to escape as she emptied her lungs.
Unexpectedly, a cough reflex caused her to choke and she was unable to
repress it. A spasm of coughing expelled the last of her smoke, and her nose
and eyes watered. 

She felt frustrated by her reaction. If Edith and Becky could do this, why
couldn't she? Perhaps she had tried too much, she reasoned, and after a few
moments of recovery she tried it again. Once more, she eventually sensed a
little smoke beginning to flow into her lungs, and she cut off her inhale
before it became too much for her. Pursing her lips, she began to exhale and
was pleased to see a cloud escape smoothly from her lips. She felt slightly
light-headed, and paused for a moment. She giggled at her own reaction,
unable to stop smiling. "That's pretty good," she thought before blushing
slightly. She was enjoying this, she realized, and it ran counter to
everything she had always been taught. But Edith had made smoking appear so
proper, so right, that she quickly repressed her guilty thoughts and took
another gentle puff. Again, she only inhaled a small amount and enjoyed the
sensations it produced. She finished the cigarette in this manner and felt
slightly dizzy when she was done, but enjoyed the feeling.

The next day when Edith and she lit up after lunch, Alison began to inhale
her puffs. Because of the style she had chosen, only about a quarter of each
puff was actually being taken into her lungs, and she only inhaled shallowly
but it was enough to be noticeable. She was able to finish the cigarette in
this manner with no ill effects. Over the next couple of weeks she continued
to smoke like this, and would on a few occasions have one by herself in her
apartment. But Alison felt extremely guilty when she smoked on her own since
she had always thought it to be a sinful practice, and she struggled with
her dilemma. She never really thought much about smoking previously, but now
she began to notice other people smoking around her, and she began to pay
attention to the cigarette ads she saw in magazines. When she observed other
women smoking, she was struck by how comfortable most of them seemed with
it. Obviously they didn't feel it was something to be ashamed of, for she
noticed how many would smoke as they walked down the street, or while
driving, or when in restaurants. The fact that so many women didn't hesitate
to show the world that they smoked - in fact, made a bit of a show of it -
made her think a little more. To them, it seemed the most natural thing in
the world. Would she ever want to be like them, she thought?

She was struck once when reading a More ad by their tar and nicotine
numbers, for they seemed higher than almost any of the others she had seen.
She guessed that this was what Edith meant by "character", but she didn't
think that she liked the idea of smoking something that strong, even if it
was just one or two a day. Scanning several magazines, she concluded that
she would no longer buy the Mores but would instead switch to Carlton 100s.
They constantly advertised the fact that they were the "lowest", and she
figured that if she had to smoke she may as well have something that would
do her minimal harm. She settled on the 100s simply because that was the
length that Becky smoked, and she had told Alison once that she liked the
length because it looked better than a shorter cigarette. After Edith's
lecture about elegance, that was the least she could do.

Once she had finished the pack of Mores, she bought a pack of Carlton 100s
and produced them the next day at the O'Neill residence. When it was time
for Edith to light up, Alison joined her with one of her Carltons. Edith
noticed the switch in brands and asked her if she could taste them. Alison
offered Edith a puff and after she exhaled it, she commented, "Well, I
suppose for someone just starting to smoke, they may make sense. But there's
not much to them, is there, dear?" 

Alison just smiled at her. "Well, I like them fine. They're nice and mild,
and I don't want to get hooked, you know." Edith smiled back, chuckling and
shaking her head. Alison found herself wondering why Edith found that
statement so amusing.

End of Part 1

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