Coming Out, Part 1

(by SSTORYMAN, 18 March 1999)


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This fictional account contains adult language and themes.  If such
language and themes offend you, please do not read farther.  Copyright
1999 by SSTORYMAN.  All rights reserved.  Permission is granted to
reproduce this story in any form and for any purpose as long as this
notice is reproduced and no financial remuneration is received,
directly or indirectly, by the person reproducing it.

COMING OUT

1.   Life in the Closet.

   Bethany Bennett sat in her usual booth at the Interstate Diner.  Wearing
an expensive, navy sweat suit, she'd finished her grocery list.  She put her
pen on the table, sighed, and reached for her Newport 100's again.  In front
of her, the ashtray was full, clear and convincing evidence that she'd
already smoked too many cigarettes.  But there's always time for one more,
she told herself.  Placing a cork-tipped Newport between her lips, she smiled
wryly and lit up again.

   She looked much younger than 38.  She was attractive, slender and at five
foot eight, relatively tall for a woman.  Her body showed alluring but subtle
curves in all the right places.  Her face, though angular, was nicely shaped.
Dark brown, perfectly arranged hair covered her shoulders.  She wore no
make-up, but her natural beauty made men look twice.  The cigarette protruded
from her lips at a ninety degree angle, and she sucked long and hard.  Her
cheeks hollowed.  The first drag was always the best!

   "More coffee, honey?"

   "Oh, yes, thanks, Alice."  She released a long stream of smoke as Alice
refilled the cup.  Alice never flinched.  Second-hand smoke was simply a fact
of life at this establishment.

   Bethany was a morning regular at the diner, and Alice was waiting on her
as usual.  Two mornings each week Bethany settled in here for a couple hours.
She always sat in the same booth.  She drank coffee, ate a sweet roll, and
smoked Newport 100's while working on projects like her grocery list.  But
mostly, she smoked.

   "Are you doin' okay today, Beth, honey?" Alice asked pleasantly.

   Bethany looked at the middle aged waitress.  She was probably in her late
fifties.  Bethany guessed Alice never finished high school.  But like others
here, she displayed a pleasant innocence.  There were never any questions,
never any problems when you came for coffee.  Alice's husband ran the diner,
and Bethany tipped her well.  She appreciated the sanctuary the diner
provided.  Diner?  Actually, it was a truck-stop, a low-class establishment.
But for Bethany this was the perfect hiding place.  She could sit and smoke
as much and as long as she wanted.

   "I'm fine today, Alice," she smiled.  Following another hit off her
cigarette, she pulled the mentholated smoke into the deepest recesses of her
lungs.  "How are you doing?"

   Alice sighed.  "I'm fine, too, except for my damn arthritis," she
grimaced.  "Don't you get old, honey.  It ain't worth it!"  She laid
Bethany's check on the table.  "Now, if you need anything else, other than
your coffee and those cigarettes, Beth, you just give me a holler."

   Bethany smiled and exhaled, using both her mouth and nostrils.  "I will,
Alice.  Thanks."

   At the diner, they knew her as Beth.  She didn't use that nickname
anywhere else.  It gave some added cover, an additional element of disguise.
Here no one knew her identity.  No one even knew her last name.  No one
connected "Beth" with Bethany Bennett, the wife of Bruce Bennett, well-known
lawyer and member of the state Democratic committee.

   Bethany thoughtfully manicured her long Newport in the ashtray.  It was
her sixth of the morning.  Ordinarily it would be her last of the day.  She
sighed and puffed again, longer and more forcefully, letting her chest expand
to receive the smoke.  Her breasts rose in response.  The thick smoke felt
fantastic as she pulled it deep inside.  She loved the sensation of inhaling
rich, mentholated cigarette smoke.  It always felt so damn good in her lungs.
For as long as she could remember, she'd loved to smoke.  It was ironic to be
in this position, smoking only in places no one knew who she was.  But a
defiant plan to change this was forming in her brain.

   Bruce Bennett, her husband, was a lawyer.  A member of the state
committee, he was a well-known "player" in Democratic politics.  Here, as in
many states, Democrats held the preeminent power in government, both state
and local.  Bruce was an influential Democrat, and had influential friends.
But he worried too much about his image.  To him, everything was image.  How
would it look, he often asked, if they didn't attend a particular function?
Or if they were connected with a specific cause?  Bethany'd heard this image
shit 'til the whole business made her sick.  She was sure it was why Bruce
didn't want anyone to know she smoked.

   It wasn't always that way.  Bruce and Bethany got married more than
sixteen years ago.  She smoked in those days, and he didn't mind.  She smoked
all the way through high school and college, and heavily, too.  Even after
she and Bruce married, she continued to smoke during her two years as a high
school art teacher.  Then the twins came, and things started going downhill.

   She remembered the first time Bruce asked her to quit.  She was pregnant
with the twins.  It seemed impossible, but she quit, for him.  At least, she
mostly quit.  Unknown to Bruce, she sneaked some cigarettes from time to time
during the pregnancy.  It never hurt anything.  The twins were born healthy.
Afterward, she fully intended to start smoking again.  She'd missed it!  Once
the girls were born, she'd just assumed she'd return to her beloved habit.
Of course, she wanted to be careful smoking near the babies, when feeding or
holding them.  But in her mind there was never any doubt she'd resume
smoking.  Coming home from the hospital, she rewarded herself with a carton
of Newport 100's.  Bruce screamed.  He was adamant.  "It's not good for the
girls," he scolded.  He demanded she stay quit.  Rather than argue, she
complied, at least mostly.  From time to time she still sneaked cigarettes.
But to please him she substantially quit.

   A year and a half later, she was pregnant again.  When Barbi was born, he
sang the same song, but more forcefully this time.  "I know you've been
sneaking cigarettes.  But this time you gotta quit completely, for their
sake.  You can't smoke around kids."  She hated his disapproval.  A second
time she quit, but this time completely.  She stayed completely clean for six
years, until once again she gave into temptation.

   It happened when Bruce was out of town.  The little girls were at their
cousins' overnight.  Bethany was alone.  That night she bought gas at a
convenience mart and saw a cigarette display.  It showcased her old brand,
Newport 100's.  Impulsively, she bought a pack.  After all, no one would
know.  She bought just one pack, just to smoke a few cigarettes while Bruce
and the girls were gone.  Just for old times' sake.

   Bruce found the mostly empty pack when he got home.  He hit the ceiling!
He forbade her from ever smoking in the house again.  What about their image?
he'd asked.  It was the first time he gave the image speech.  Bruce's main
concern had changed.  He said he worried about the girls, but seemed more
worried about his influence in the party.  "No one smokes anymore," he said
that night.  "I can't have _my_ wife smoking.  It's that simple.  You cannot
do this to me."

   That night Bethany cried herself to sleep.  But she didn't argue.  He got
his way.  For five more, long years, she quit.  She still sneaked an
occasional cigarette.  She figured what he didn't know wouldn't hurt.  Not
that she cared about his fuckin' image.  She just didn't want to fight.

   But the underlying problem got worse.  Each time she sneaked a cigarette,
she wanted another.  As time went on, she sneaked more.  She'd been a
stay-at-home mom since the twins were born.  With three girls at home, in the
early days there were few opportunities to smoke.  But when Barbi reached
grade school, the opportunities increased.  Slowly but surely, Bethany took
advantage of more occasions to smoke.  By the time the twins were twelve, she
was smoking a pack a week.  Bruce suspected nothing.  But she knew something
had to change.  Things couldn't continue that way.  So she finally had her
"Armageddon" discussion with him.

   That night, three years ago, with the kids in bed, Bethany told Bruce she
was smoking again.  But this time she made it clear she'd keep smoking,
whether or not he liked it.  Bruce was furious.  He was crushed because of
her deceit.  He purported to be concerned for her well-being.  In the end, he
reluctantly agreed she could keep smoking, but with a few conditions.  It was
just like Bruce, the lawyer, to acquiesce that way.  The conditions were
straight-forward.  She had to keep her smoking a complete secret.  He had
reasons.  First, he feared his image as a rising star in the party could be
affected.  Smoking was considered "lower class" among party leaders.  He
didn't want his wife known as a smoker.  Second, he was still worried about
adverse effects on their daughters.  Teenagers and pre-teens are susceptible
to influence, he warned.  He worried the girls would think Bethany's smoking
was implicit endorsement of the filthy habit.  She didn't want their
daughters to wind up smokers, did she?  Bethany didn't known what to say.
She said she guessed not.  In the end, she agreed to Bruce's conditions.  She
could keep smoking, as long as she kept it under wraps.  And she did.

   But the longer the compromise arrangement lasted, the less she liked it.
In fact, now, three years later, she hated it.  She'd had enough of the
trade-offs.  She felt like a goddamn teenager, sneaking around, smoking only
in places where no one knew her, worrying about the telltale smell on her
clothes and in her hair.  She used perfume and breath mints.  She lied about
where she'd been and what she'd done.  She didn't like it.  It was like being
a fugitive.  She was determined to do something about it.

   That's why, this morning at the diner, in addition to preparing a grocery
list, she outlined a plan to come "out of the closet."  She was ready.  She
didn't care about Bruce's image!  Damn him and all the politicos he worried
about!  If they thought less of Bruce because his wife was a smoker, it was
their fuckin' problem!  It was no reason to lie.  After all, she _was_ a
smoker!  There was no denying it any longer.  In fact, she knew, she'd always
been a smoker!

As for negatively effecting the girls, Bethany wasn't sure how she felt.
Bruce said she shouldn't let them think smoking's okay.  If they saw her
smoke, she'd be saying it's really not bad.  But she started as a teen.  She
was no older than Brenda and Belinda when she had her first cigarette.
Thinking that way, the idea of her girls starting didn't seem so bad.  In
fact, it almost seemed cool.  She loved to smoke, and knew they would, too,
if they tried it.  She felt awful admitting to such feelings.  But there they
were.  If her daughters smoked, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
God, there are so many more important things in life.  In the end, each
daughter would ultimately make her own decision.  Having a mother who smokes
might make it easier to decide to take up the habit.  But maybe not.
Teenagers rebel against parents.  If she came out of the closet, it might
convince Brenda, Belinda and Barbi not to smoke.

   But whatever happened, she couldn't make decisions based on guesses and
assumptions.  She was a smoker.  She was addicted to nicotine.  Her daughters
deserved to know.  What they did with that information was their business.
They were good girls.  Except for Belinda, who was in a rebellious phase,
they were responsible teenagers.  Knowing the truth wouldn't hurt them.
Their mother is a smoker, she repeated.  Damn the consequences.  Bethany
wasn't going to hide it any longer.

   "Are you still here?"  It was Alice, bringing the coffee pot around one
more time.  "Do you want another refill?"

   Bethany smiled.  "Yes, Alice, I'm still here," she sighed.  "I've been
thinking about things.  That's all.  And yes, please, do freshen my cup one
more time."  She reached for her cigarettes and put another Newport between
her lips.  "I'm still not done."

   "No hurry.  Take your time," Alice assured her, filling the cup with more
caffeine-rich liquid.  She watched Bethany light another cigarette, take a
long drag and suck more sweet, mentholated smoke into her lungs.

"You sure do like to smoke, don't you, Beth?"

With the cigarette dangling, Bethany froze.  Terror flashed over her pretty
face.

"Look, I'm just making conversation.  I'm not being critical or nothin',
honey," Alice added.  "Hell, I smoke just as much as, or more than, you do!
I'd be the last person to criticize someone for smoking too much.  But I
can't help notice how much you smoke whenever you come in.  I can see you
like to smoke.  That's all.  Don't get defensive."

"Okay.  Thanks, Alice," Bethany sighed.  She relaxed.  Thick streams of smoke
flowed from her nostrils.  "You're very observant.  I do love to smoke.
That's why I come here.  I can drink coffee and smoke all day if I want to.
And you're right.  I'm not going to be defensive about it.  Not anymore."

------------------------------------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------

   Allyson was Bethany's only friend who knew.  Before acting on her
decision, she decided to run the idea past the only other person who knew the
whole story about her smoking.

   Bethany first met Allyson Allen several years ago at a dinner party hosted
by the chairman of the Democratic state committee.  Allyson's husband, John
Allen, was a distinguished state court judge, and a member of the state
committee.  Judge Allen had served five consecutive terms.  In the last
election, no Republican even ran against him.  He was white-haired, handsome,
and in his early sixties.  Bruce considered him a mentor.  Before election to
the bench, Judge Allen was in Bruce's firm.  He originally sponsored Bruce
for membership on the state committee.

   Allyson was much younger than the Judge.  It was the second marriage for
both of them.  In her younger days, she worked as a model, and she still had
the exquisite facial features and shapely figure that brought her favor
modeling in her twenties.  She and the Judge married several years ago.  Now
in her early forties, she still looked great.  Bethany kidded her about being
a trophy wife, but that's what she was, and she knew it.  She had beauty,
charm and charisma, all of which John Allen needed and wanted in a younger
wife.  Allyson played the role perfectly.  She liked the power and influence
she wielded.  She liked being married to a prominent political figure.  She
was unrepentantly outspoken.  But her husband listened to her advice and
consulted her on important matters.  Behind her back, Allyson's enemies
called her a bitch.  It didn't trouble her.  She could be hated; she could be
respected; but she couldn't be ignored.  To Bethany, who cowered before her
own husband, Allyson was a heroine, someone to emulate.  Best of all, from
Bethany's point of view, Allyson smoked.  And everyone knew it.

   Three years earlier, Bethany cited Allyson's example to Bruce in support
of her argument that it shouldn't matter if she smoked, too.  No one objects
that Judge Allen's wife smokes.  And no one had more power than he in the
state party.  Bruce's answer was that when he reached Judge Allen's level of
power and influence, then and only then could Bethany get away with such
behavior.  In other words, Judge Allen and his wife were the exception that
only proved the rule.

   Over the last three years Bethany'd made it a point to befriend Allyson
Allen.  They were close in age, and she enjoyed Allyson's frank, candid
manner.  This pleased Bruce, who figured his influence in the party was aided
by an alliance between his wife and the wife of a prominent party member.
The two couples socialized together, and Bethany often visited Allyson at
home.

   Bethany's other reason for befriending Allyson was unknown to Bruce.  From
the start, she'd told Allyson she was a closet smoker.  Allyson kept the
secret, thinking it hysterically funny.  "No one else smokes anymore," she
lamented.  "But I'm delighted you do.  It's great to have the company."  They
met for coffee and cigarettes at Allyson's, where Bethany could smoke without
fear.  The friendship had deepened over time.  She could share anything with
Allyson.  They talked many times about her frustration with Bruce,
particularly about smoking.

   Today Bethany showed up at eleven thirty.  Allyson had fixed coffee and
rolls on the back porch.  Her home was breathtaking.  As Bethany walked
through the living room to the outdoor porch, she was reminded how successful
John Allen was.  But the best thing, from her perspective, was that Allyson
had large glass ashtrays strategically placed in every room.  Obviously the
Judge didn't have the same negative opinion of smoking that Bruce did.

   They sat across from each other at a table.  Allyson wore a burgundy,
tight turtleneck sweater.  It was showed off her big tits, and the show was
spectacular.  Her blond hair was perfectly coiffed, with big curls falling
over her shoulders.  Her makeup was flawless.  She was a beautiful, mature
woman.  Reaching for her Marlboro Lights 100's and lighter, she lit up and
deeply inhaled a chest full of smoke.  "What's up?"

   Bethany got her own cigarettes, put a Newport in her mouth, and joined
her.  "I want to talk about something I'm going to do," she said solemnly,
releasing an initial cloud of smoke into the air.  "It has to do with
smoking."

   "Why am I not surprised?" Allyson said mischievously.  "Everything you
think about relates to smoking."  She propped her cigarette between her
fingers, directly beside her pretty face, and exhaled twin streams of smoke
from her nostrils.  Allyson smoked with the air of a mature smoker, someone
who'd partaken for years and knew exactly how smoking was done.  She indulged
in her seasoned habit with style and grace.

   "I decided to do it," Bethany announced.  "Tonight I'm coming out of the
closet.  I'm telling Bruce that I'm sick of hiding it.  I love smoking too
much to sneak around anymore.  I won't, and I can't, keep it a secret any
longer.  I'm telling him that I'm going to start smoking in public.  That
includes at home, in front of the kids - everywhere."

   "Good for you," Allyson grinned.  She took a drag.  "It's about time!
Don't be afraid of your husband.  To hell with him!"  She paused to release a
monstrous exhale through her red lips.  "God knows, I never let the Judge
push me around the way you let Bruce intimidate you."

   "I know," Bethany agreed.  "I've lived in fear of Bruce's opinions for too
long.  You know the shit he gives me about his image?  Well, I don't care
anymore.  This is the night.  I just need some support, some encouragement."

   "You got it, honey," Allyson smiled.  Her face was wreathed in cigarette
smoke.  "Can I make a suggestion?"

   "Sure," Bethany said eagerly.  "What is it?"

   "If you want it to stick, don't tell Bruce unless your girls are in the
room, too."

   "Are you sure?"

   "Absolutely."  She leaned forward, took a drag on her all-white cigarette,
and inhaled.  "If you tell him privately, he'll argue you out of it.  Given
your track record, you might give in."  She paused to exhale.  "To keep that
from happening, tell him somewhere where the cat's out of the bag right away.
Eventually you'll tell the girls anyway.  So make them part of the show."

   "That'll really piss Bruce off," Bethany said nervously.  She took a puff
of her own.

   "Of course," Allyson agreed.  "But who the hell cares?  Do it with them in
the room.  That way there's no turning back.  He can piss and moan all he
wants.  But you've told your story to those who count - your daughters.  Once
they know, the secret's not a secret.  Right?"

   "You're right, of course," Bethany sighed.  "I'm just afraid .?"

   "You're afraid what they'll think," she interrupted.  "You're think you
need time to prepare them, to share the facts in a kinder, gentler way.
Bullshit!  Your girls are almost grown, for Christ's sake!  They can take it.
Don't beat around the bush, honey.  Tell them together.  Tell 'em that Bruce
has known about it for three fuckin' years, but he didn't want them to know.
I don't know if that makes him a good guy or a bad guy.  But let the girls
decide.  It's the truth!"

   Bethany took a long, slow drag.  She thought about it.  It was good
counsel.  If she said anything to Bruce, she might get talked out of telling
her daughters.  There was only one way to protect against that happening.

   "I agree," she said finally, with smoke escaping her mouth.  "I'll do it."

   "Good girl," Allyson said gleefully.  "I'm glad you're coming out.  God
knows you're a confirmed smoker, girl.  Look at the way you smoke.  I know
addiction when I see it.  And shit, you smoke those super-strong Newports.
You pull the smoke deep in your lungs, over and over.  Like, it's not really
a question, is it?  You're hopelessly addicted to nicotine.  You crave it all
the fuckin' time."  Bethany shook her head, signifying her agreement with
Allyson's assessment.

"That's what I think," Allyson went on.  "If you agree, it's high time for
the rest of the world to know you smoke.  Believe me, it'll make your life a
hell of a lot easier when you can smoke whenever you want!  Wouldn't that be
great?  Wouldn't that make it worth while?"

   Bethany nodded.  "I want that," she gasped.  "I want to be able to smoke
whenever I get the urge.  On weekends, when I'm home with Bruce and the
girls, I go nuts.  I want a cigarette so bad I'd kill for one.  I get mad at
the kids over nothing.  I'm not a good mother in this situation, that's for
sure.  Honestly, I think they'll like me better when I can smoke all the
time."

   "I know," Allyson smiled mindfully.  "I get testy with John if we go
somewhere I can't smoke.  I fuckin' hate those stupid fund raising dinners we
attend.  I duck out and have a cigarette anyway.  Who cares what people
think?"

   "It's easier for you," Bethany interrupted.  "After all, the Judge is at
the top.  No one can cross him.  Bruce is still on an uphill climb; at least,
that's way he tells it."

   "Fuck him," Allyson replied.  "If smoking's a liability, John assumed it
when he married me.  But he's never complained.  Not a peep!  Bruce knew you
smoked, too, when he married you!  I say, fuck him!"

   Bethany smiled.  "That's what I love about you, Allyson.  You're so
subtle."

   She grinned and took another drag.  "I speak my mind.  It's something you
need to learn, too, honey.  Otherwise, they lead you around like a dog on a
leash.  Life's too short for that."

   "I agree," Bethany sighed.  "Completely."

------------------------------------------------------------------------
----------------------------------------------

   Bethany took no chances.  She prepared Bruce's favorite meal, roast pork
with mashed potatoes.  She made sure all three girls would be home for
dinner.  No choir rehearsals, no basketball games, and no school activities.
Everyone would be there.  She set the table for dinner in the dining room
instead of the kitchen.

Even though she'd mentally prepared herself, she was nervous as hell fixing
dinner.  Silently she wished she could have a cigarette, just one, to soothe
her nerves.  But she was excited.  Once this was over, all the agony she'd
experienced not being able to smoke in difficult situations would be a thing
of the past.

   As usual, Bruce arrived late.  They didn't sit down until after seven.
But dinner itself went well.  Everyone seemed in a good mood.  Belinda,
Brenda and Barbi were usually talkative.  They chatted about school, kidded
one another, and generally seemed to enjoy themselves.

Belinda was dressed as she always was, in a semi-Goth getup.  Neither Bruce
nor Bethany liked the look; it too alternative.  Belinda was the "bad" twin,
who liked to provoke her parents.  Tonight's clothes were no exception.  As
was her custom these days, she wore all black, a leather neck choker, and
several earrings in each ear.  Her short, cropped, dark hair looked almost
boyish, except for her gorgeous feminine features and long, slender neck.

   Brenda's attractive, angular face, neck and body were a carbon copy of
Belinda's.  After all, they were identical twins.  But the similarities ended
there.  Brenda's hair and outfit had a completely different look.  She was
the yuppie, the perfect Abercrombie girl.  Her hair was shoulder length, and
she dressed her slender figure as if she'd stepped out of that store's
catalogue.  Brenda's goal was to work at the local mall's Abercrombie store
someday.  Brenda and Belinda were night and day in terms of image.  But each
was attractive.  They had exquisite figures for almost sixteen.  Bruce said
the twins took after Bethany.  She had to admit it was so.  Both twins were
dark-haired, tall, slender, beautiful girls.  In facials features and build,
they looked just like photographs of Bethany at their age.

   Barbi was different.  In facial features, she resembled Bruce.  Her face
was round and winsome, not angular like her mother's.  Barbi's curly, silky,
long hair was lighter, and she was a few inches shorter than the twins.  But
the amazing thing, given her age, was her figure.  She wasn't as thin as her
sisters and still lacked some physical maturity.  But her breasts were
enormous, much larger than any other girl in her eighth grade class.  In a
few years, her body was destined to be truly spectacular.  Even now, it was
damned impressive!  She easily passed for sixteen, and was the heart-throb of
every boy in her class, and not only because of her large chest.  She was
pretty as a picture.  Tonight she wore a rumpled sweat shirt and pants.  The
clothes were loose, but they couldn't hide her emerging breasts and
curvaceous hips.  Bruce and Bethany sometimes worried about older boys
preying on her.  Barbi had it all.  Youthful good looks, a great figure, and
a pleasant personality to match.

   The Bennetts were a good looking family.  Bruce was proud of his
attractive wife and daughters.  He often said that, if he ran for political
office, they'd look great in his campaign ads.

   As soon as dinner was over, Bethany stopped Belinda from leaving the
table.  "I have something I want us to talk about," she said nervously while
the girls cleared the dishes.

   Belinda rolled her eyes.  "Oh, God!  Let's not do one of those family
council things, Mom," she sighed.  "I've got homework to do."

   "Yeah, I've got lots of stuff to do, too," Brenda impatiently chimed in.

   Barbi piped up.  "Right.  Like meeting Ryan," she added facetiously.  Ryan
Roberts was Brenda's current boyfriend.  He was almost seventeen.  Over the
last few months Ryan's car had become Brenda's ticket to freedom several
nights a week.

   "You're not going anywhere," Bethany said forcefully.  "Not 'til after we
have a little talk.  Don't worry.  It won't take long."  She knew she looked
nervous.  She certainly felt jittery.

   "What's up, hon?" Bruce asked curiously.  Usually she tipped him off in
advance if they were to hold what they referred to as a family council
meeting.

   "I have something to say," she began.  Her voice was shaking.  Damn!  She
wanted this to come off as suave, debonair, in control.  Instead, she felt
like a schoolgirl.

   "Yeah?" Brenda said curiously.  "What's up?"

   Bethany nervously folded her napkin and laid it on the table.  "There's
something you should know," she began.  "It's about me.  This isn't easy to
say.  I've been hiding something for a long time.  But the time has come to
be honest.  It's not only for my own good, but also for yours.  I want all of
us to be completely honest with each other."

   A worried look crossed Bruce's face.  "Maybe we should talk about this
alone, Beth."

   Belinda interrupted with a wave of her hand.  "Quiet, Dad."  To a
self-proclaimed alternative female, this circumspect introduction sounded
promising.  "Go ahead, Mom.  Now we're curious.  What's on your mind?"

   Bethany took a deep breath.  "Your father knows about this," she began.
She glanced at Bruce.  From the expression on his face, he looked like he was
about to be hit by a truck.  "I think you should all know that ?."  She
paused.  "You should know that I smoke."

   There was nothing but stunned silence.  Finally, Belinda spoke.  "You,
Mom?  God, I don't believe it!  You're doing dope?"

   Bethany released a nervous laugh.  "No, not dope, stupid.  That's not it.
I mean, I smoke.  You know?  Cigarettes?"

   "No way," Brenda objected.  "Mom, that's not possible.  You're not a
smoker!"

   "Yes, I am."  The ice was broken.  Now the more she spoke, the easier it
became.  She began talking faster.  "I smoke half a pack of cigarettes every
day.  It's always been a secret.  But I don't think keeping secrets is a good
idea any longer.  That's why I felt you should all know."

   Again Belinda was the first to speak.  "Mom, I knew you smoked when you
were a kid.  We've seen pictures in the family album.  But I can't believe
it.  How long has it been going on?"

   Before answering, Bethany glanced at Bruce.  His look of horror had
changed to disgust.  "Almost as long as you've been alive," she sighed.
"Your dad insisted I quit smoking when I got pregnant with you and Brenda.  I
did, but not completely.  He made me quit again when you were born, Barbi.  I
did quit that time, for several years, while you were all pre-school age.
But then I started again.  At first it was just occasionally, but one thing
led to another and ?.  Well, I've been smoking cigarettes regularly for quite
awhile."  She glanced at her youngest.  "Ever since you started school,
Barbi."

   Bruce said nothing.  The girls looked at their father and noted his
displeasure.

   Belinda decided it was time to say something positive.  "Well, that's
interesting.  But it's hardly a crime, Mom.  I mean, I have lots of friends
who smoke," she added flippantly.

   "You do?" her father said, obviously surprised.

   "Oh, sure, Dad," Belinda replied casually.  "I mean, look at the crowd I
hang with, for God's sake.  I know lots of kids who smoke.  It's no big
deal."  She suppressed a sly grin.  "But I don't know any mothers who smoke.
That I have to admit."

   "Jesus Christ, Bethany," Bruce interjected.  "I said years ago I didn't
want this to happen.  This really pisses me off."

   Bethany stared at him.  "Bruce, I know how you feel about me smoking.  I
also know you've wanted me to keep it a secret from the girls.  I just don't
feel that's a good idea anymore.  I can't lie to our children about something
like this."

   "Wait a minute," Brenda interrupted.  In contrast to her twin sister's,
Brenda's tone was accusatory.  "You _knew_ about this, Dad?  Is that right?"

   Bethany answered for him.  "Yes.  Your father's known about my little
smoking habit.  He just didn't think it was appropriate for you to know."

   "So, Dad," Brenda went on.  "Why didn't you want Mom to tell us?  I'm
mean, I agree.  Smoking is gross. But what difference does it make if she
tells us?"

   Bruce sighed.  His irritation was evident.  "Your mother knows I don't
approve of her smoking.  It's not the right image ?."

   "For Pete's sake, Dad," Belinda interrupted, preempting her sister.
"Let's not hear about that image crap.  I'm sure I'm a great disappointment
to you, too."  She motioned toward her hair and clothes.  "I don't project
the image you approve of."

   "That's not true, Belinda," Bruce replied.  "It's not just image, though
that's important.  It's how your mother's decision to smoke could affect you.
Smoking is a filthy, disgusting habit.  It's also a major health risk.  Three
thousand teenagers start smoking every day in this country.  A high
percentage of those kids will die of smoking related diseases.  Why, the
President says ?."

   "Dad, you've been hanging with your political buddies too long," Belinda
said, cutting him off.  "Let's not hear about Ted Kennedy and the President
and their plan to save American teenagers from themselves.  Okay?"

   "You may not like the truth," Bruce countered.  "But those so-called
political buddies of mine are absolutely right.  Smoking is something we must
stamp out in the next generation."

   "Get real.  It's not happening, Dad," Belinda replied.  "You can't save
people who don't want to be saved.  You're like all the other political
liberals.  You tolerate most things, but whenever you get a rod up your ass
about some vice or other, you go ballistic!"

   "Watch your language, young lady," Bruce fumed.  "I'll not have you speak
to me that way."  He turned toward Bethany.  "See what you started?"

   "It looks like _you_ started it, dear," Bethany smiled smugly.  "You
trained your daughters well.  They immediately find the weak spot in any
argument."

   Bruce began losing control.  "Damn it!  This isn't about the President, or
Senator Kennedy, or my political agenda," he raged.  "It's about your
mother's irresponsible insistence on polluting her body, being a bad example
to her family, and contaminating the air we breath with second-hand smoke."
He shot Bethany a steely-eyed stare.  "I suppose you now want to smoke in the
house.  Is that it?  Is that what this is about?"

   Bethany smiled serenely.  The unexpected assistance she'd received from
Belinda increased her determination.  "Yes, actually, I do plan to smoke in
the house when I feel like it.  I'm not saying all the time or anything.  But
yes, that's right.  I'm sure I will smoke in the house some," she said
sweetly.  She decided to risk confrontation.  "Do you have a problem with
that?"

   "Yes, in fact, I do," Bruce replied sharply.  "I don't want my house
smelling like stale cigarette smoke.  Plus, as I said, it's not a good
influence on the girls."

   Belinda broke in.  "Hey, Dad, give us a break.  We're sitting right here.
You can talk to us.  Why don't you ask us if we care?"

   "It doesn't matter if you care," he answered abruptly.  "It's the
principle of the thing.  I don't intend to live with that damn smell all the
time in my house."

   Bethany grew hotter by the minute.  "Bruce, let me tell you a secret.
This is _my_ house, too.  You didn't mind my smoke when we got married
sixteen years ago.  You put up with it for years without complaining.  There
are some things about you I'd like to change, too.  But we all put with
inconveniences.  Don't you think?"

   Before Bruce answered, Belinda again took the offensive.  "Dad, Mom's
right.  Give her a break.  I don't know about Brenda and Barbi, but I don't
care if Mom smokes.  She's an adult.  She shouldn't have to sneak around all
the time and apologize just because she wants a cigarette.  I think you're
being unreasonable."

   Bruce stood up.  His hands trembled.  "I'm leaving.  I'm sorry, but I
don't need this right now.  I've got some important work to do.  I'm going to
the office.  I won't get anything done at home tonight."  He shot Bethany an
icy stare.  "I'm disappointed in you.  We resolved this several years ago.
By telling the girls about your smoking, despite my request to the contrary,
you reneged on our agreement.  I have to tell you, it really pisses me off.
Maybe no one else cares, but I do."  He took a deep breath.  "Go ahead and
smoke your damn cigarettes, if they're so fuckin' important to you.  Do it
all you want!  Kill yourself, for all I care.  Rot your lungs out!"  He
turned his attention to his daughters.  "I hope you're only siding with your
mother because you mistakenly believe it's the right thing to do.  But if I
ever find out that any of you are even thinking about following in your
mother's footsteps, let me promise you:  There'll be hell to pay!  I can't
stop her,, but I forbid you from taking up her filthy habit!" With that, he
stormed out.  Bethany and the girls heard his footsteps on the stairs, and
the bedroom door slamming shut.

   "Whoa," Belinda said, letting out a deep breath and flashing a reluctant
but relived smile.  "Is Dad pissed, or what?"

   "Watch your language, Belinda," Bethany retorted.  "But he's right about
one thing.  I did agree with him three years ago not to bring this up and
tell you guys I smoke.  But that was a long time ago.  My feelings have
changed.  I'm so sick of hiding it from everybody.  You can't imagine how
much tension it's caused me to constantly conceal what I'm doing.  I can't
stop smoking.  I admit it.  I'm not proud of that.  But it's the truth.
Everyone's better off knowing the truth, rather than living a lie.  There.
I've said my piece."

   "Mom, I don't like smoking," Brenda interjected.  "I agree with Dad.  I
don't want to smell smoke around here.  But I also agree it's your house,
too.  And it does seem unfair if he knew you smoked when he married you.  Of
course, maybe you let him believe you'd quit."

   "I probably did," Bethany admitted.  "I shouldn't have been so damn
compliant when he browbeat me.  But you know how I am.  I hate conflict.
It's a big thing for me to oppose your father on anything.  But I should've
stood up for what I believed long ago.  I can't change that now.  All I can
do is try to live as honestly as possible in the present."

   "Barbi, you haven't said much," Belinda noted.  "What's your take on this
mess?  What do you think?"

   Before Barbi answered, Bruce noisily stomped down the stairs.  He'd
changed into a sweater and casual slacks.  "I'll be at the office," he
snapped.  "Don't wait up.  We'll talk about this later," he added, with
menacing stare at Bethany.  He marched to the garage.  The women heard the
garage door open, his car engine turn over, and the door close as he roared
off.

   "That was weird," Belinda sighed.  "But he'll get over it.  He always
does.  Whenever something like this gets under his skin, he blows up, but
ultimately he settles down."  She turned to her younger sister.  "Now, Barbi,
you were about to say something?"

   Barbi blushed.  "Not really.  But I'm on Mom's side.  Mom, you did the
right thing to tell us."  She directed a sympathetic glance at her mother.
"It is your house, too.  Belinda's right.  Smoking isn't a crime.  If you
want to smoke, you should be allowed.  I think everyone should be allowed to
do whatever they want as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else." She smiled.
"As far as I'm concerned, Mom, you can smoke right now if you want."

   Bethany was genuinely touched by her youngest daughter's sincere and
unexpected support.  "God, thanks, Barbi.  You guys are all great.  I don't
blame your father for being angry.  But you know, it's not like I planned
this.  I mean, I know smoking isn't good for me.  But I've been smoking now
for a long time.  I'm hooked, plain and simple.  I probably should quit, but
I'm just not ready.  At least, not right now.  That's what your father wants.
But to be honest, I don't want to.  Someday, when I'm good and ready, maybe I
will.  In the meantime, I don't want to sneak around.  It makes it worse,
like I'm ashamed of it or something.  Honestly, I'm not."

   Barbi spoke up again.  "We understand, Mom.  Like I said, if you want to
smoke now, here in the dining room, that's okay with us.  Isn't it, guys?"

   "Don't be such a brown nose," Brenda said spitefully.  "I don't know about
the rest of you, but I have better things to do than sit here and watch Mom
smoke.  I'm mad at both of you, Mom.  This is stupid.  It's stupid that you
smoke, it's stupid that Dad's so paranoid, and it's stupid to fight over.  I
wash my hands of the whole thing."  She stood and strode out of the dining
room.

   "God, that's Miss Abercrombie for you," Belinda sighed scornfully.  "Mom,
I'm with Barbi.  If you want to smoke here in the house, feel free.  Just
remember to cut us kids some slack someday when you're tempted to come down
on us for something we're doing that you don't like," she added with a
twinkle in her eye.  "Don't worry.  We'll get used to the smell."

   Bethany stood.  She had a cautious smile on her face.  "Thanks, guys.
Actually, I'd really like a cigarette right now," she admitted, almost
bashfully.  "I'm kinda stressed over this.  It'll irritate your dad, but if
you don't mind, I'd like to smoke a cigarette.  Are you sure it's okay?"

   "Mom, don't worry.  It's fine," Barbi smiled.  "Belinda just said it won't
bother either of us.  Brenda's leaving anyway.  So, if you want one, go
ahead."

   Bethany's cautious smile quickly changed to keen anticipation.  She
retrieved her cigarettes from her purse.  Putting an ashtray on the table,
she sat down again.  She was nervous, but excited, too.  She'd waited a long
time for this moment.

Belinda and Barbi didn't budge.  "Are you just going to sit here and watch?"
she asked apprehensively as she shook a cigarette from the pack.

   "Hey, it's more interesting than watching television," Belinda quipped.
"Why not?  Should we treat you like a pariah just because you smoke?"

   "No, I guess not," Bethany admitted, relieved but still excited.  In
truth, she was glad to have company.  It seemed important to have her
daughters actually witness her smoking.  That would make it a reality, not
just something hypothetical.  She flipped her hair away from her face and put
a Newport in her mouth.  She clicked her lighter.  As her girls watched, she
took a hard, initial drag on her cigarette and inhaled.  Relief rushed
through her veins as the nicotine-rich smoke hit her hungry lungs.

   "Oh, my God, that's so nice," she moaned involuntarily.  With eyes closed,
she sat in silence for several seconds.  Opening her eyes, she gazed at her
daughters through the spreading haze.  She expelled smoke from her nostrils
in identical streams.  "God, thanks, girls.  This is great.  Thanks for
understanding."

   "Mom, I've gotta admit.  It is weird seeing you smoke," Belinda laughed.
"I notice you smoke Newport 100's.  Mom, those things are strong!"

   "Well!  You seem to know a lot about cigarettes, young lady.  How would
you know?  Have you ever tried smoking?  Don't lie to me now!"

   Belinda didn't seem at all threatened.  "No," she laughed.  "I haven't.  I
never really wanted to.  But like I said, I have friends who smoke.  And
Newports are notorious for being super strong.  I do know that."

   "You're right.  They are strong," she confirmed with a smile, thrusting
her lower lip forward and sending a thick stream of smoke upwards in front of
her face.  "These are worse for you than some lighter brands.  But I'll tell
you.  They sure are good!"  To prove her point, she took another long drag
and sucked the smoke deep into her lungs.  "Seriously, girls, don't start
smoking.  You get dangerously addicted to these things so fast."  She exhaled
a cloud of smoke from the corner of her mouth.  "I'm not kidding.  You should
stay away from cigarettes."

   "I don't get it, Mom," Barbi said innocently.  "A minute ago, you said
cigarettes taste so good you can hardly stand it.  The next minute, you say
we shouldn't smoke.  That doesn't make sense.  Either you like 'em, or you
don't."

   "Barbi, I hope you never learn to understand the paradox.  Yes, I do like
to smoke.  These things are wonderful.  But they're also bad for you.  The
problem is, you can't stop once you start smoking.  That's why I can thank
you for letting me smoke, on the one hand, and encourage you never to start,
on the other hand."

   "I see," she nodded back.  "But you must admit, you really seem to be
enjoying yourself."

   "I don't deny it," Bethany sighed.  She took a long drag.  The burning
tobacco audibly crackled, and the cigarette's cherry end turned bright
orange.  She drew the thick, mentholated smoke deep into her lungs, turned,
and smiled.  "Being able to smoke openly, unashamed, in my house, in front of
my kids, is wonderful.  It's a dream come true." She released twin plumes of
smoke from her nostrils.  "I just hope your dad and Brenda aren't too upset."


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