Circumstantial, Part 1

(by, 21 November 2001)

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Mary looked at Teresa and smiled that smile of hers.
    'It's almost midnight, Mary. Come on.'
    Mary took a pack of VS 120s from her purse along with her lighter. 
'Exactly. Your parents- your smoking parents- are fast asleep.'
    'Arial's up studying,' Teresa pleaded. 'Can't you wait until tomorrow ?'
    'Arial's in her room right now, probably smoking as well. Just relax- 
and next time you want me to come over to study instead of the other way 
around, just remember that I can smoke at home without your nervous Nellie 
act. Crack open the window so I don't fill your room with smoke and piss you 
    Teresa did as she was told. Mary lit the cigarette casually, not acting 
like she was as desperate for a cigarette as she was. She inhaled deeply, 
exhaled, and then, while smoke was still trailing out of her mouth, realized 
that her pony tail was coming out of her hair band.
    'Can you hold this while I fix my hair ?'
    'No,' Teresa said.
    'If you'd put an ashtray in your room, this wouldn't happen. Just hold 
it for a minute.' She held the hand with the cigarette out and just then, 
Teresa's bedroom door swung open. It was Arial, who quickly closed the door 
behind her.
    'So we finally got to you at last, Teresa ?'
    Teresa looked scandalized. 'It's hers, not mine.' She held the cigarette 
out to Mary, who continued to play with her hair.
    Helpless, Teresa groaned as her sister picked up her digital camera. 
    'Smile !'
    Arial snapped the photo and was gone.

    The next morning the girls came downstairs and the first thing they were 
greeted to in the kitchen was Teresa's mother Wanda sitting at the table, 
holding on of the dozen or so pictures of Teresa smoking that had been spread 
around the house. On the bathroom mirror, taped over the television, on her 
bedroom door. And in Wanda's hand.
    'Young lady, you and I have something to discuss.'
    'Mom, it wasn't even my cigarette.'
    'Oh, don't give me that shit. You're an healthy seventeen year old girl 
surrounded by people who smoke. You're going to smoke. It's only fitting. 
You are the spitting image of Madchen Amick, after all. But I will not having 
you tell people that they can't smoke in this house or that someone is going 
to get in trouble for it. We've had this discussion before.'
    Wanda ignored her daughter's objections and looked at Mary.
    'You are welcome to smoke here any time you want, Mary. Ignore Teresa. 
She's being silly.'
    'Would right now be a good time ?'
    'Of course.'
    Mary wasted no time lighting up.
    'Now tell me,' she said, as Mary sat down and Teresa poured two cups of 
coffee, 'is this really your cigarette that my daughter is smoking or has she 
finally gotten a light of her own ?'
    'I'd love to say it was hers. I have been trying to get to smoke for a 
year now, Mrs. Brown.'
    'But it was yours, wasn't it ?'
    Teresa saw the look of disappointment on her mother's face and groaned on 
the inside.

    It was lunch, and having finished their meal, the two girls were outside 
behind the south entrance, where there was a 'don't ask, don't tell' 
smoking area that was raided only occasionally by an overzealous or coerced 
    'The test is on Thurdsay, dammit.'
    'No, it's not,' Mary said. 'Here,' she said, holding out her hand, 
'hold this and I'll check my notes.'
    Teresa took the cigarette from her hand and held it out at arms length 
like it might bite her. Just then, one of the teachers, Ms. Dinsmore, came 
strolling around the corner. Teresa tried to hide the cigarette behind her 
back but it was too late. Dinsmore looked at herand shook her finger, then 
started writing on a pad that she was carrying.
    'I hate to do this, Teresa, really I do. I'd much rather be standing 
here sharing a smoke with you, but the rules are the rules and today I have 
be enjoined to enforce the rules.'
    'This isn't even mine. It's Mary's.'
    'Well you see, that would be a problem. If that is Mary's, I have to 
write her up and she's had three warnings. That means a suspension. You are 
on your first warning, if I'm not mistaken.'
    Teresa didn't even notice that she mechanically trimmed the ash from the 
    Dinsmore tore the warning off the pad and handed it to Teresa. 'Take this 
home, have your mother sign it and return it to me- first thing tomorrow 
morning. Do that and nothing else happens. If you don't return it I have to 
call your mother and you're suspended for one day. It's your choice.'
    She walked away without further comment and Teresa handed the cigarette 
back to her best friend.
    'I hate you,' Terersa said, but she didn't mean it.

    The girls headed up to the checkout empty handed. 
    Tammy Brooks was at the counter and there was no one in line behind them, 
just as Mary had planned it.
    'Two packs of VS 120s, please.'
    'I can't,' Tammy said, looking disappointed.
    'What do you mean ?' Mary asked as Ms. Dinsmore walked up behind them, 
carrying a bag of garlic chips and a bottle of Diet Coke.
    'I mean that Greer threatened to fire me if I sold cigarettes to any of 
my underage friends again. Look, he leaves at three every day. Come back 
later and I'll sell you a whole carton.'
    'I have to go home. I can't wait an hour.'
    'Then go to Happy's. Julie is working the counter.'
    'That's a five mile walk.'
    'I really wish I could help you-'
    Ms. Dinsmore leaned close to Teresa and said, sotto voce, 'Wait outside. 
I'll handle this.'
    The girls went outside and a moment later their English teacher came out 
and handed each of them a pack of VS 120s. She put down her bag, stripped off 
the cellophane and pulled one of the long cigarettes from the pack and lit 
it. Mary wasted no time doing the same. Teresa looked at the pack in her 
hand, thought about arguing and instead just shoved the pack into her purse. 
She could always give them to Mary or her sister later.
    'My way of saying I'm sorry I had to bust your stones earlier.'
    'But I really don't smoke,' Teresa said.
    'Sure you don't.' Karen exhaled a long cloud of smoke and smiled that 
same knowing smile.
    'I think smoking is gross and disgusting.'
    'Really. Let's ask our hallowed institution's finest specimen of manhood 
that question.'
    Kenneth Billings was just getting out of his Volvo, met Karen's eyes and 
smiled at her with that warm open smile that made her knees get all woozy. 
She responded by drawing deeply on her cigarette and treating him to a nose 
exhale. He walked over to the three women casually as though he had nothing 
better in the world to do.
    'Hello, Ms. Dinsmore. Corrupting the nation's youth again ?'
    'A girl has to try. I have a question for you. Do you think smoking is 
gross and disgusting ?'
    Mary inhaled deeply, arched her head, and blew out a long plume of smoke.
    'Well, I'm certainly not seeing anything that would make me feel that 
way right now. Why do you ask ?'
    'Well, despite the fact that I caught Teresa here with a lit cigarette in 
her hand earlier today, she claims to believe just that.'
    Kenneth turned his full attention to his student and smiled. She blushed.
    'It depends. Let me ask you something, Teresa. Do you think eating is 
gross and disgusting ?'
    'It depends,' she mimicked.
    'On what ?'
    'Is this an essay question ?' Teresa joked weakly.
    'Well, yes and no. The question you have to ask is who is doing it ?'
    'Example ?'
    'I saw Ralph Higgins cramming an entire hot dog into his mouth at lunch 
today. That was gross.'
    'Oh, I saw that,' Mary said, laughing. 'That WAS gross. I mean, it just 
disappeared into his mouth and I think there was still room for a bowling 
    'Exactly,' Kenneth said. 'Take Mrs. Stimple. She smokes and I would pay 
good money to never have to see her within one hundred feet of a lit 
cigarette again. On the other hand, Teresa, your sister is a very attractive 
smoker. I was watching her at the football game Saturday. She embodies 
everything that is pleasant about smoking- she treats it as an art. She holds 
her cigarette like a lady, smokes like she enjoys it, and she does the most 
important thing- she keeps her ash trims. Watching her smoke is a treat for 
anyone who likes to see an attractive woman do something well.'
    'I can give you her number. But I have to warn you. Mom might answer the 
    'That won't be necessary,' he smiled, and Karen added 'you'd better 
    'I am going to tell her that you like the way she smokes.'
    'I was merely making a point,' Kenneth said, seeming to be slightly 
embarrased. 'But please, feel free to tell her. Judging by the easy way that 
she smokes I imagine that she already knows that she is an attractive smoker. 
Don't you agree that her smoking is an excellent example of what I was 
saying. You don't really think that she- or Karen or Mary- are gross and 
disgusting, do you ?'
    'I suppose not.'
    'And you certainly don't think there's any chance that you would be 
disgusting and gross as a smoker, do you ?'
    'I don't smoke.'
    'You just keep telling everyone that,' Karen said with a smile.

    Teresa walked into the house, dreading the encounter she was about to 
have with her mother. There was no way this would end well, she knew.
    Mom came out of the living room and waited for an hug, which Teresa 
supplied easily. The truth was, she loved her mother dearly, but she still 
felt sure she was going to give her daughter an hard time. 
    'Mom, I need you to sign a discipline slip for me.'
    Wanda looked at her daughter seriously.
    'Did you cut Chemistry again ?'
    "No mom. I- read the slip."
    She took the carefully folded piece of paper from the inside pocket of 
her black leather jacket and handed it to her mother without comment.
    "Smoking ?"
    Teresa received a tight hug from Wanda.
    "Don't get your hopes up, Mom. I was just holding Mary's cigarette for 
her while she checked her day planner and Karen- Ms. Dinsmore saw me. She was 
on patrol."
    "Then why isn't Mary giving this to her parents ?"
    "Because it was my first warning. If Mary got written up she'd have been 
suspended and we all thought it was just better this way."
    "Give me your purse."
    Teresa groaned. Why hadn't she just given Mary the cigarettes ?
    There was nothing to do but hand over the small black purse. She could 
see the bulge of the pack of cigarettes on the side.
    Wanda opened the purse and pulled out the cigarettes.
    "And these are ?"
    "A pack of Virginia Slims 120."
    "Are they yours ? Be honest."
    "Technically. Ms. Dinsmore gave them to me."
    Wanda shook her head. "You expect me to believe that first your teacher 
wrote you up for smoking and then gave you a pack of cigarettes ?"
    "We went across the street after school to buy cigarettes-" Teresa 
groaned. This was going even worse than expected. "We were- that is, Mary was 
trying to buy cigarettes, but she couldn't because she doesn't have a fake 
ID. Karen saw us, and decided to help out because she felt bad about busting 
me. So she bought us each a pack of cigarettes. I couldn't convince her I 
don't smoke."
    "And you expect me to believe that you don't ?" Wanda asked.
    "Mom, they aren't even opened. Look in my purse- I don't even have a 
lighter. I just took the cigarettes because it was easier than arguing the 
point. I thought I could always give them to Mary later."
    "But you didn't -"
    "Mom, are you going to sign the slip or not ?"
    "Come in to the kitchen with me."
    Teresa folowed her mother obiediently.
    Wanda pulled an ashtray from the cupboard and a found a lighter in a 
drawer. She put the cigarettes and lighter in the ashtray and handed them 
back to her daughter. "You're to go up to your room and stay there until you 
can come back down with a butt in the ashtray and the smell of smoke on your 
breath. Do that and I'll sign this slip."
    "And if I don't ?"
    "Well then, we'll miss you at dinner."
    "Mom !"
    "Do it."
    Teresa slumped out of the kitchen in low spirits.   

    Half an hour later, she sent her extra-credit paper to the printer and 
sat back. The ashtray was silently mocking her. She looked at the pack of 
cigarettes. She had gone as far as to remove the cellophane. But that was it. 
Oh, she knew that eventually, she would have to light the cigarette and mind 
it while it burned down to a butt. There was certain genius in her mother's 
plan. Teresa understood that as well. By sending her up to her room alone, by 
not insisting that she smoke in front of her-
    The fear that she might enjoy it, with no outside pressure, was what was 
holding her back. Behind all the blustering about smoking, Teresa had always 
know that there would come a time when she would try smoking, and she might 
just like it. That was what had held her back from all the pressure that Mary 
and Arial and her mother and other friends had put on her.
    She took a cigarette from the pack, picked up the lighter and walked over 
to the mirror over her dresser. She looked at herself, standing there with 
the long, unlit cigarette in her hand. Kenneth was right. She looked good, 
just like Arial. She knew just how to hold the cigarette after all. She 
brought it to her mouth- she knew she would have to draw on it when she lit 
it to get it to burn.
    The lighter was easy to work.
    She had the cigarette lit and she drew timidly on it. The smoke went into 
her mouth and she immediately blew it back out. A less than impressive plume 
of smoke came out of her mouth. It was not much of a start. In the background 
the printer continued churning out pages and she thought she would just sit 
back down, tap the ash off the cigarette and take the spent butt down to her 
mother. She walked over to her desk, looked at the ashtray, and picked it up. 
She didn't sit down. Instead she walked back to the dresser and placed the 
ashtray down. She tapped the ash from the cigarette into the ashtray and 
lifted the cigarette back to her mouth.
    Smoke was curling off the tip of the cigarette. She looked in the mirror 
and saw herself- a pretty young woman with a long cigarette in her slender 
hand, with a pleasant face, well-kept hair, and ample breasts.
    The word woman rolled around in her head. She was sure that she had never 
used that word in relation to herself.
    Was a cigarette what really made her feel that way ?
    While she mulled that over, she brought the cigarette back to her mouth 
and all the silly, stupid things she always credited other people with 
thinking about smoking- the things Mary thought- that smoking made her seem 
older and more mature- she now herself felt. About herself. As her lips 
wrapped themselves around the cigarette, she did feel different. That feeling 
extended itself as she inhaled. It flowed into and then through her. Some of 
the smoke had gone into her lungs this time and she could feel the 
difference. She became slightly lightheaded and a thrill rushed through her 
body. There was the taste of the smoke and yet-
    There was so much more.
    The cigarette was removed from between her lips and she pursed them. 
There was smoke in her lungs and it would have to be expelled. The exhale 
came and this time she could truly see the smoke billowing from her small, 
pouty lips. It was still not quite really smoking, not the way Mary or Arial 
did it. But it was something new nonetheless. Teresa thought about those 19 
other cigarettes and realised what she up against. She would have to give 
them to Mary in the morning for her own good. Her mother had played her card 
and Teresa thought she'd come through well enough.
    The she took only one more pull on the cigarette before it was spent, but 
she noticed two things as she watched herself in the mirror the entire time, 
holding. That last inhale was deeper. 
    And she enjoyed it. Yes, these were going to Mary first thing.

    Carrying the ashtray down the stairs, she was relieved to find that 
neither Arial nor Dad had come home yet. She walked into the kitchen and 
handed the ashtray to her mother, who looked at the cigarette butt and smiled.
    "Now open your mouth-"
    Arial did and her mother took an appreciative sniff.
    "Fine. One down, nineteen to go."
    "What ?"
    Her mother handed her the slip, which was signed.
    "Well, you get the slip. But unless you smoke the other nineteen 
cigarettes- and not the two or three inhales you must have had on that one- 
there'll be no Fall Fling for you next Saturday night."
    "Mom !"
    "Teresa !" her mother said, mocking her.
    "Mom, Fall Fling is the second biggest thing of year next to Prom."
    Her mother dumped the spent butt in the grabage pail, cleaned out the 
ashtray, and handed it back to her. "I should make you bring the cigarettes 
back to me, but that would probably just gross you out. Look, it's just 
Thursday, so you have eight days to smoke nineteen cigarettes. That's only 
about two a day."
    "I don't want to smoke," Teresa said, but she didn't sound entirely 
    "This isn't about what you say you want. This is about what you really 
want- what I want, what Arial and Mary and everyone else wants- which is that 
you yield to smoker inside you. Now, I'll let Mary and Arial know what's up- 
I'll send Mary an email- so that you won't get them to cheat for you. You 
bring me back that pack upstairs empty- come to me at least once a day with a 
little smoke on your breath, and that will conclude your punishment for 
getting caught smoking."
    "This is totally unfair."
    "Well, you should have thought of that before you got yourself caught 
smoking at school. Remember, Arial and Mary will be watching you. Now go 
ahead and get back to your studying."
    Teresa didn't bother to object to something so rediculous but instead 
went back upstairs. She couldn't studybecause she didn't know what she was so 
upset about. Neither she nor Mary had dates for Fall Fling- both of them had 
gotten offers, but nothing worth saying yes to. They'd agreed to go together 
as friends unless something changed radically in the next week. Still, this 
was a disappointing turn of events. Fall Fling was a requirement.

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