Cathy's Club, Part 1

(by, 11 December 1996)

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Cathy's Club
Part 1

Cathy Quinn was incredibly nervous. It was her first day at her new job and
she was feeling all of the uncertainty that goes with walking into a new
environment for the first time. It wasn't like she hadn't worked before, she
tried telling herself. She had worked for 3 years after graduating from
junior college with a bookkeeping diploma, and only stopped after she had
presented her husband Brett with their first child, a daughter named
Christina whom they both adored. She was able to stay at home with Tina for
the first year after his birth, but it soon became clear that the only way
they would be able to afford to keep their newly-purchased home would be if
she was to go back to work. So she set off on a job search, and was
surprised at how quickly she was able to land a spot at Atlas Travel. It was
a mid-sized travel agency situated in a large office complex downtown, and
handled much of the business for the other companies in the building. They
had done well over the past few years, and the owner told Cathy during the
interview that she was looking to expand the accounting department after
doubling the number of agents she had added during that time. Apparently her
previous experience at her former job with the accounting software they used
won the day, and she was able to land the position.

Cathy checked her appearance in the reflective door of the elevator on the
way up to the 11th floor where Atlas was located. She still retained the
pert, sweet college-girl appearance that had first attracted Brett 6 years
ago with the only difference these days the oval-lensed glasses with the
Armani frames that she had needed for the last couple of years, but they
complemented her attractive features and short dark hair. She frowned as she
noticed a bead of perspiration on her lip and brushed it away. It was the
only outward sign of the butterflies that were floating around inside her.
She took a deep breath as she got off the elevator and walked into the Atlas
office. She saw the receptionist was already there and presented herself.
"Hi, I'm Cathy Quinn. I'm starting work here today. Is Ellie Williams here?
I'm supposed to report to her."

The receptionist smiled and said efficiently, "Yes, she is. Take a seat and
I'll buzz her for you." After a moment Ellie, the owner of the agency,
showed up to greet Cathy and brought her into the office. After a few
minutes of talk about the office routine, the building facilities, and the
general nature of her job, Cathy was taken into the main office and
introduced to Jan Malone, the accounting manager and her new supervisor. 

Cathy recognized Jan immediately. When Ellie was late for the interview
appointment two weeks previously, Jan kept Cathy occupied while she waited.
Jan was a spritely redhead who had a bit of a southern twang in her voice
and a bubbly personality. "Hi, Cathy, I'm sure glad to see you. We're up to
our neck in paperwork here and you didn't come a moment too soon. Let me get
you set up here at your desk and then I'll spend the rest of the morning
with you to make sure you don't go too crazy right away, OK?", she said with
a laugh. 

They worked together going over Cathy's immediate duties and handling some
introductions for nearly 2 hours. Nothing was too out of the ordinary, and
Cathy enjoyed Jan from the start, deciding that she might like working for
her. Around 10:30, Jan said, "Well, that's enough for now. Time for a break.
We go in shifts here to make sure that someone is around at all times. Julie
and her crew just came back, so we can go now. Come with me and we'll
collect the others I usually go with. I'll introduce you as we go." Jan led
Cathy through the office and introduced her to Cynthia, an agent who Cathy
guessed was in her mid-30s; Carolyn, an older lady who also worked as an
agent; and Susie, the receptionist Cathy had encountered when she arrived
earlier. The five of them made their way down to the lobby and the
cafeteria-style restaurant that was situated there and served as the coffee
break area for most of the people in the building, it seemed. They all
bought something to drink and Cathy and Jan both decided to have a muffin as
well. They made their way into the seating area and Cathy noticed they were
heading into the smoking section. She wouldn't normally have sat there but
it wasn't a huge issue for her even though she didn't smoke herself. 

It seemed as though they weren't even seated before Carolyn had a Marlboro
100 between her lips and lit. She inhaled her first drag and let the
cigarette dangle from her lips while she tended to her coffee, then began
another long drag as smoke from the first exited her nostrils. Cathy's
immediate thought was that it didn't look very becoming, and that Carolyn
smoked more like a man than most women she had seen. It didn't take long
before Cynthia extracted a Benson & Hedges Menthol Light from a pack she had
in her purse and lit up in a more conventional way, and Susie, the cute
blonde receptionist, placed a pack of Virginia Slims 120s on the table and
pulled one out. Cathy was struck by the length of it, and watched as Susie
delicately lit it and inhaled lightly, leaning back her head and blowing a
thin stream towards the ceiling. 

"I hope you don't mind our smoke," Cynthia said. "We'll try to keep it away
from you." Cathy smiled and nodded thanks as she ate a piece of her muffin.
It didn't seem to her that Carolyn was trying very hard to accommodate her,
as she smoked almost robotically while she read the newspaper and her smoke
filled the area around the table. The first Marlboro Gold was crushed out
and another immediately replaced it. Meanwhile, Jan had wolfed down her
mid-morning snack and reached into her purse for a pack of Marlboro Light
100s. She too lit up and, while exhaling smoke, explained, "I'm sorry,
Cathy, I should have warned you... we're the smoking club in the office. At
least, part of it. That's why we all take breaks together. If it bothers
you, I suppose we can work something out. But since Julie goes before I do,
and we need to have someone there at all times, it looks like you'll have to
be with us until you're self-sufficient around the office. It should only be
a few days," she said, daintily manicuring the burning end of her cigarette
in the ashtray before slowly raising it to her lips and taking a long, deep

"Yeah, we're the incorrigible ones," Carolyn said with a raspy chuckle
interspersed with bursts of spent smoke. "Don't get in our way when it's our
time to come down here for break or we might run you over. Ever since the
damn office went non-smoking..."

"No, really, it's fine," Cathy said, although she really was just trying not
to offend anyone on her first day. She examined her new co-workers as they
smoked and chatted. Susie was a knockout, a real glamor girl, young, pretty,
just the kind of person you would expect to have meeting the public. Carolyn
might have been double her age and was showing the effects on a closer
inspection, but she had obviously been a good-looking lady in her younger
days and as she talked, she demonstrated a wry sense of humor and a zesty
personality that made Cathy warm to her quickly. Cynthia, meanwhile, was
more reserved, but Cathy concluded that she was the aristocratic one of the
group, well-spoken and elegantly attired. Jan was the girl-next-door type,
and Cathy thought she looked like the last person in the world she would
expect to see smoking. "Never can tell, I guess," she mused. Nevertheless,
she found she enjoyed their company, and when the opportunity finally came a
week or so later to change her break assignment, she decided not to bother.
She liked the members of the smoker's club.  

Over those weeks she was able to define her new friends a little better. Her
initial feelings about Jan were absolutely correct, it turned out.
Originally from South Carolina, Jan had moved north with her husband some
years ago and had worked at the agency ever since. She still looked like a
teenager sometimes, and Cathy noticed that her freckles hadn't disappeared
over the years either. Jan was friendly and down-to-earth, and Cathy was
happy to have her as her supervisor. She had two children, a boy of 6 and a
girl of 9, and Cathy enjoyed talking to her about parenthood now that
Christina was developing a personality of her own.    

Carolyn surprised her and proved not at all like her first impression. She
was a woman who had always enjoyed life, and in her younger years she was
quite the party girl, Cathy had learned. Apparently she had liked to flirt
back then and had a lively love life until she finally got married about 20
years ago. She had two teenage daughters now and had settled into a more
family-oriented lifestyle, but still exhibited traces of the younger Carolyn
from time to time, and always had a quick line or joke in response to
people's conversation. Carolyn was approaching 50 and the lines on her face
and the added weight she was carrying these days were a giveaway that her
flirty days were past and that she had settled into a comfortable
middle-class existence. 

Cynthia was indeed what Cathy would describe as "classy", except that word
was one Cynthia herself would never use and really didn't do her justice
anyway. Cynthia was from England originally and lived there until she met a
client of the agency she worked for over there who was on assignment to the
UK from America. When he was eventually reassigned to a V-P's job back home,
he proposed to her and she relocated with him. It turned out that she really
didn't need to work, but she liked to have a job and enjoyed the work for
its own sake, so she kept up her career after her marriage. Everything about
her epitomized elegance, from the way she moved to the way she spoke, and
her presentation, from her clothes to her makeup to her auburn hair, was
never anything but perfect. Absolutely ladylike, Cathy concluded, and she
liked her very much, finding her not at all intimidating as she had first

Susie was the free spirit of the group, sort of a younger version of
Carolyn, Cathy supposed. She was still single, and being the knockout that
she was there was never any shortage of men whom she had to select from. It
was common for stories to make their way around the office about the latest
client or sales rep who walked in, was hit right between the eyes by the
sight of her, and immediately turned into either a pick-up artist - never
with any success - or a tongue-tied little boy, merely at the sight of her.
The modest ones sometimes did better with her, but at this point in her life
Susie was more interested in trying to make a modelling and acting career
take off than in relationships. Even though they were about the same age,
Cathy was struck by the contrast between them - her already in a regular
routine and with family responsibilities, Susie still acting like a college
student. She felt a little envious of her sometimes.

Cathy fitted in quickly at the agency and settled into a comfortable
routine. Arrive just before 9, break with the girls at 10:30, lunch with
whoever around 12:30, break at 3, home by 6 after she picked up Tina from
day care. That routine was only broken when there was some special event
that kept her from returning home on time. On a Friday a few months after
she started work, one of the airlines invited all of the agencies in town to
a major promo party at a hotel to celebrate their receiving approval to fly
several routes to Asian destinations. Cathy wondered why the admin staff was
invited since they had little to do with the travel supply side of the
business, but she was told that it was common practice and that it should be
a spare-no-expense event to boot. 

The reports were right. Lots of people, lots of food, entertainment and
booze, all free. Everyone set out to take advantage of the generosity and
Cathy was no exception, partaking of most everything that she was offered.
After a few hours, she settled down at a table with the girls from the
office. The conversation was hilarious, helped in no small part by the Pina
Coladas they were being served almost continuously, and Cathy felt herself
getting a little carried away. It had been ages since she had been out at a
party by herself and she had forgotten how much fun it could be when a bunch
of girlfriends got together over a few drinks. At one point she watched her
friends all light up cigarettes nearly simultaneously and jokingly waved her
hands to clear away the smoke, before being hit by a barrage of equally
good-natured criticism. She caved in almost immediately, laughing and saying
"All right, whoa, all right... geez, maybe I should smoke too if I'm gonna
be around you guys all night." As if on cue, four packs of cigarettes were
offered to her instantly as the girls picked up on her comment. Caught off
guard for a split-second, something then made her respond to the challenge,
and she defiantly selected one of Cynthia's B&Hs. 

Cathy had tried smoking in high school but but only as an experiment. It
seemed at odds with the image she had of herself and she hadn't smoked long
enough to develop a regular habit. Her mother had been a smoker while Cathy
was growing up - still was, in fact - and yet Cathy had never really been
all that enthused about trying it when she was younger. She knew how to
smoke, though, and when she found herself holding a lit cigarette a few
seconds later she had no problem in barely inhaling a few tiny puffs, really
almost sips rather than full drags. It felt a little strange after all this
time but she was able to do it without any real problem except for some
lightheadedness that she felt after a few minutes. "Probably a combination
of the drinking as well as the smoking," she thought to herself, but she
really didn't mind. It was almost unthinkable for her to imagine that she
was sitting here smoking a cigarette and feeling a buzz from the drinks she
had consumed, since the whole thing was so out of character for her but she
was having fun doing it. When she finished the cigarette Carolyn
congratulated her, and Cathy felt proud of herself. Over the remainder of
the evening Cathy sampled a cigarette from each of her friend's packs along
with a few more drinks. It was a good thing she had left the car at home and
gotten a ride in with one of the neighbors that morning, since she was in no
shape to drive home that night. She shared a cab to Jan's house and met her
husband Chuck, who offered to drive her the rest of the way home. She was
grateful that Brett had already gone to sleep by the time she arrived home. 

On Monday morning when break time rolled around, the conversation was
centered on Friday's event. Everyone was telling stories on everyone else
and no one was immune from some good-natured ribbing. Carolyn was reminded
of some out-of-character behavior she had witnessed, and she said to Cathy
half-seriously, "Here sweetie... going to have a cig with us?," offering her
pack. Cathy was slightly startled at first, but it no longer seemed so
bizarre to consider the possibility. In fact, something inside her said that
she might actually like to have one. Not just in response to Carolyn's
challenge, either. A strange, almost empty feeling in her stomach and chest
made itself known to her as she briefly considered the possibility, and she
thought it might not be so bad if she were to have an occasional cigarette
with the girls. Impulsively she decided that yes, she would smoke with her
friends this morning. But not one of Carolyn's... she had found them very
strong. Cynthia's, though, were another story - and that's exactly what she

"Really? Certainly, then, if you'd like one. Be my guest," Cynthia smiled,
extending the pack of B&Hs. The others seemingly paid little attention to
the activity, and Cathy accepted a light from Carolyn with a nod of thanks.
Her senses no longer dulled by Friday's alcohol, she tasted the menthol as
the smoke flowed over her tongue and blew out a small cloud without
inhaling. It seemed strange to her to be holding a cigarette, and she looked
around self-consciously, but no one was paying any attention. She decided to
try a small sip and inhaled lightly, blowing it out almost immediately. She
felt the smoke in her throat and the menthol left a cool sensation after she
blew it out. To her surprise, it seemed almost pleasant. Her senses were
focused on the new sensations of smoking, and she took several more small
puffs, barely inhaling each. She realized she wasn't smoking the way the
others did but knew that she wasn't ready to do that just yet. She simply
enjoyed sampling the cigarette until it was finished, and realized that it
went well with her coffee.

The next day she reprised her performance after a little encouragement from
a few of the girls, even though she really hadn't planned on smoking that
morning. By Wednesday it was almost expected of her, and by the end of the
week Cathy had smoked a cigarette with them each morning. She felt a little
guilty about bumming them, and when she entered the cafeteria with them the
following Monday she decided to buy a pack of her own to let her compensate
Cynthia. She had actually sort of enjoyed it, she realized, and buying a
pack would let her have one at break time without bothering the others.
Since she was just repaying her debt to Cynthia, she felt no particular
anxiety about making the purchase - it was almost like when she was a kid
and her mom would send her to the corner store to get her a pack, she
recalled. She continued to smoke only the one cigarette each day for a few
weeks, and left the pack in her desk drawer rather than in her purse. She
bought a second pack after a while, and she started to take them with her
when she joined them for lunch. Now she was smoking 2 cigarettes a day, and
shortly thereafter she would also take them to afternoon break as well. It
wasn't really a conscious decision on her part, nor was there any overt
encouragement from the girls. They were always smoking themselves, of
course, and it just seemed to Cathy that she would like to join them. She
simply enjoyed smoking with her friends, she rationalized. 

Her consumption began to average 4 cigarettes a day once she found herself
having a pair at lunchtime, plus one each at both breaks. She scarcely
noticed that her manner of smoking had matured along with her increased
intake, but Cathy now took puffs more like the others did and her inhales
had become fuller and more practiced, her holds somewhat longer, and her
exhales more controlled as she gradually got accustomed to the effects that
her smoking had on her. Nor was she at all uncomfortable with handling or
being seen with a cigarette. It occurred to her that she had begun to look
forward to smoking with the girls, and she realized that she had started to
enjoy the smoking itself, not just the social aspect. Still, she did not
carry them with her away from the office and did not smoke on weekends.
Brett questioned her about smelling of smoke on one occasion after her
return home, forcing her to lie about being in a meeting where people were
smoking to cover her tracks. Now she made sure to use plenty of breath mints
and cologne before she left the office to conceal it. She figured he would
greatly disapprove if he were to ever find out, and her secret smoking
brought with it some feelings of guilt on her part.

One day Carolyn observed Cathy dousing herself with cologne after smoking in
the afternoon and questioned her about it. Upon hearing her explanation, she
laughed, saying, "You're just like my daughter Marti was... do you really
think you're fooling him? She thought she was pulling the wool over my eyes

"Your daughter did this? So, she smokes too?," Cathy asked.

"Yeah... both of them do now, actually. But Marti was the first, started
almost 2 years ago. She would come home smelling like a perfume factory. I
knew something was up since she had never been much for using the stuff
before. It didn't take me too long to figure out that it was smoking she was
trying to cover up. I actually saw her smoking one day outside the school
when I drove past. She was 14, and in the 9th grade."

"Omigod! What did you do?," Cathy asked. "Did you challenge her when you
found out?"

"No," Carolyn answered coolly. "I figured that it was only a matter of time
anyway. I was a little disappointed in her for not just coming out and
asking me if it was OK, but I did the same thing so I guess it's
understandable. I just let it slide for a few months. That summer we all
went away on a trip and it finally got to her. She couldn't get away to
sneak a cigarette, and after a few days she got me aside and said she wanted
to talk to me. I guess it was her first realization that she needed to
smoke," Carolyn smiled at the memory. "She was really nervous about it.
Almost couldn't get the words out. I thought for a second she was trying to
tell me she was pregnant or something, but eventually she said something
about how she had started to smoke and did I mind? When I realized it was
the smoking thing she wanted to talk about, I tried to make it easy for her.
Told her that I didn't want her sneaking around any more and that if she
wanted to smoke, then go ahead. Actually I was more relieved than anything
that it wasn't anything worse. She did the usual thing about not smoking too
much and all. Of course, within a few months that all changed, and here we
are 2 years later and she's gotten herself up to over a pack a day now. No
surprise there," she concluded. 

"How old is she again?," Cathy inquired.

"Marti is 16. Laurie just turned 14. When Marti started smoking 2 years ago,
Laurie wanted to also. She always was the brash one. Told her no way. She
gave us all kinds of grief, and we finally made a deal that if she waited
until she was 14 we would let her have a few. That happened a few months ago."

"And so she smokes now too?," Cathy asked. She was intrigued by the story
Carolyn was relating.

"Well, yeah. I had forgotten about the deal, to tell the truth. But not her.
The day after her birthday I was in the kitchen doing something and there
was no one else around. She came in and kind of danced around the subject
for a minute or two, and finally she asked if I was going to let her smoke
now. I was a little surprised until I remembered the deal we had made. I
asked if that's what she really wanted and she said she did. So I sat her
down and had one with her. That was kind of funny," Carolyn chuckled
throatily. "She really did live up to her end of the bargain and had never
had a cigarette before that. The poor kid... she damn near choked to death.
So I ended up showing her how. I was hoping that she would hate it and not
take to it, honestly, but she must have wanted it more than I figured. I
thought she was going to lose it the first couple of times when I got her to
inhale, but she adjusted to it. After a couple of days where she had one
with me, she tried one of Marti's Marlboro Light 100s and liked them a whole
lot better. So she started smoking them herself and gradually picked it up
thanks to her sister mostly. Marti basically taught her all she needed to
know about how to smoke and in no time she was smoking with us after meals
and in the evening while watching TV and whatever. To tell the truth it was
really strange to see at first, but a deal was a deal so I really couldn't
say anything, especially since I smoke so much myself. We only let her smoke
when she's with us for now, so she maybe is having a half-pack a day, if
that. But she's been going thru nearly a pack a day on weekends now and
she's already bitching about not being able to smoke when she's out, so I
guess I'll have to give her permission to smoke full-time soon. She's gone
and gotten herself good and hooked, just like the rest of us. Seems
inevitable... she just really loves it. We all do... must come from growing
up around it."   

"Wow, that's amazing," Cathy said. she paused for a moment. "So, you think
I'm going to get caught by Brett?"

"If you keep on smoking, I can just about guarantee it," Carolyn said.
"Look, it's not the easiest thing in the world to cover up anyway, and if
you start to smoke more it's just going to be that much harder. And if you
don't stop soon, I can just about guarantee that you _will_ smoke more. It's
just the way it is - you get addicted to it, just like my girls did. And the
rest of us, for that matter. Did you know that Susie did the same thing as
you? She wasn't a smoker when she started work here, but she got to be one,
partly by hanging around with us. You probably will too if you let yourself.
Cathy, why don't you just tell him? Otherwise, you'll just be sneaking
around like a kid. It will only get worse, trust me."

That thought hit home with Cathy, because she realized after a month or two
that she would very much like to smoke on weekends too. She resisted the
temptation as best she could, but there were times that she was sorely
tempted to go out on her own during the weekend and buy a pack just so she
could smoke secretly. At such times the thought of smoking was almost
impossible to shake, and she found herself daydreaming about the taste, the
sensation in her throat and chest when she inhaled, the sight of her
exhale... it was almost overpowering. She had heard the girls talk about
nicotine fits, and while this wasn't exactly a "fit", it certainly was a
deep desire for a cigarette. She was missing it now, she realized. She was
getting hooked, just like Carolyn had said. She rationalized that she wasn't
smoking all that much, and that it couldn't be that bad for her as long as
she kept control over it. But while she still couldn't bring herself to come
right out and tell her husband, something was brewing that might make him
meet her halfway.

End of Part 1

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