Cross Cultural Experience, Part 1

(by SSTORYMAN, 06 November 2000)


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This fictional account contains adult language and themes.  If such language
and themes offend you, please do not read further.  Copyright 2000 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.  Thanks to AZ-MAN and STOGIE-MAN for their support,
ideas and encouragement.

CROSS CULTURAL EXPERIENCE 

   Prologue.

   The Mediterranean noon-day sun beat down on three teenage girls sitting by
the fountain at the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy.  One offered another a
freshly lit cigarette.  By her smile the first girl showed her friend she
wanted her to have a puff.  Giorgia Follone didn't disappoint.  She accepted
Francesca's cigarette and put it between her lips.  But after dragging,
rather than give it back, she smiled and said in Italian, "Voirre quello
sigarette."  Francesca nodded.  She understood.  Without comment she lit
another for herself, letting Giorgia keep the first one.

   Francesca was pleased.  She and Martina, the third girl, had been smoking
for quite awhile, but Giorgia never showed serious interest.  However,
Francesca knew that eventually Giorgia would come around.  It was inevitable
that Giorgia would smoke.  Now, by keeping the cigarette, Giorgia was at last
acknowledging that she wanted to be a smoker, too.  Francesca and Martina
would no longer have to cajole her to take random puffs from their
cigarettes.  At long last, Giorgia was entering their world - the realm of
those addicted to nicotine.

   Fourteen year old Giorgia confidently raised the cigarette to her red
lips.  She took another drag and inhaled easily.  The process wasn't
unfamiliar.  She'd done it many times as a borrower.  In the last few months
she learned to enjoy stealing puffs from Francesca and Martina.  It came
naturally.  Both Giorgia's parents smoked.  So did her brothers.  Almost
everyone she knew was a smoker.  For the young, dark-haired beauty it was
never a question of if, but rather a question of when, she'd start smoking.
And now, at last, she was ready.  It was time.  She'd keep this cigarette and
smoke the whole thing.  At last Giorgia Follone had decided she wanted to be
a real smoker, like her friends and the rest of her family.

   A stream of smoke surged from the lips of the attractive, olive-skinned
teenager.  It rapidly dissipated in the mid-day breeze.  Though Giorgia was
only fourteen, her parents wouldn't mind.  They wouldn't even be upset.
Sooner or later they expected her to smoke.  They started smoking as teens,
as had her brothers.  And someday soon, Gioriga knew, her little sister
Federica would start as well.  In Italy, smoking wasn't uncommon.  It was
almost expected.  Everyone smoked, all the time, everywhere, adults and young
teens.  Most of Giorgia's friends at school already smoked, like Francesca
and Martina, and more started every day.  She drew again on the cigarette;
yes, there was no doubt!  She liked smoking.  Francesca and Martina were
right.  It was wonderful.  Benissimo!

   It was time for the girls to go.  The three fourteen year olds wrapped
their arms around each other's waists and walked across the piazza, laughing
and talking as they smoked together.

1.	Four Years Later:  Welcome to the U. S. A.

   Lauren Martin fidgeted in the airport waiting area.  She was nervous about
hosting an Italian exchange student.  The dean's office wanted her to room
with this girl.  She had no reason to refuse, since her roommate from last
year had transferred to the state university.  So here she was, at the
airport, waiting for her new roommate.

   Lauren was a junior, but was apprehensive about meeting eighteen year old
Giorgia Follone from Italy.  "It's pronounced Georgia," she reminded herself.
"Like the state."  She sighed.  She'd never known someone from another
country.  She knew nothing about Italy.  But she'd be Giorgia's roommate for
a year.  She hoped the Italian girl would like college life in the United
States.  She also hoped she spoke good English.

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

   The journey was pure hell.  From her home in Siena, Giorgia's brother
drove her to Florence to board a plane for Frankfurt.  From Germany she
traversed the Atlantic via Lufthansa to Chicago O'Hare.  Everything was fine
till she boarded the jet in Frankfurt.  From there, the trip proved to be an
unexpected torture!

   Giorgia had been smoking for four years.  She regularly smoked over a pack
a day.  Her friends said the United States wasn't smoker-friendly.  But she
didn't know what that meant.  She never imagined that Lufthansa Airlines, a
German airline, for God's sake, was non-smoking on international flights.
The nine hours from Frankfurt to Chicago were grueling, especially since the
pretty eighteen year old didn't know she'd be unable to smoke on the plane.
When they finally landed in Chicago, she was both jet-lagged and suffering
serious nicotine deficiency!

   The moment Giorgia got off the plane she looked for someplace to smoke.
Surely she could light up in Chicago's airport.  It never occurred to her
there'd be no place to smoke inside O'Hare.  In vain she searched for a place
to smoke in the disembarkation area.  Nothing!  The entire airport was a
"zona non-fumatori!"  Desperate, she nervously waited for her luggage,
endured passport security, and suffered through U. S. customs.  Each minute
seemed like an eternity.  Her eighteen year old body was in agony.  She
_really_ needed a cigarette!

   After customs she ran toward the exit, frantically glancing to and fro for
a sign showing an area where smoking was permitted.  Nothing!  She boarded
the train to Terminal 1, the United terminal, to re-check her bags on her
last connecting flight.  The airport train boarded inside the international
terminal, so she still couldn't smoke.  She considered ducking into a
restroom to light up.  But she knew Americans were serious about smoking
restrictions.  It wouldn't be good to begin her U. S. visit by being arrested
for smoking at O'Hare Airport!

   At the ticketing level in the United terminal she pulled her bags out the
front door.  She saw more signs proclaiming it was another non-smoking area.
Oh, no!  Smoking was only allowed outside the baggage claim level, one floor
down.  By now Giorgia's cravings were at fever pitch.  She hurled an epithet
in Italian and went back inside.  After dragging her bags down the escalator
she got to the baggage claim level and burst through the exit door.  A
handful of smokers were gathered outside the entrance.  Thank God!  She could
smoke!  Her anticipation was intense.  She _had_ to have one!  After over
nine hours, she couldn't wait another second!

   In no time she had a Marlboro Light 100 in her mouth, and a lighter in her
hand.  Before leaving Italy she'd switched to an American brand.  Though they
were expensive in Italy, she'd wanted to get used to American cigarettes
before coming to the U. S.

   After touching the flame to the tobacco end, she sucked greedily.  Thick,
rich, smoke filled her mouth.  She hungrily sucked the creamy substance deep
into her famished lungs.  A sublime sense of relief flowed through her entire
body.  Mother of God!  It was so good!  She followed her first inhale with a
second colossal drag.  Smoke escaped from her nostrils as she eagerly drew
again.  She sighed contentedly.  Oh, God!  Oh yes!  This was what she wanted!
No, it was more than that.  This was what she needed!  Her young body had to
have nicotine, and she eagerly obeyed its uncompromising mandate as fast as
she could.

   Following a third consecutive drag, she sucked more smoke inside and
knocked an ash from her rapidly shrinking cigarette.  She held the luscious
deposit deep inside her eager lungs as long as she could, enjoying the
wonderful feeling.  Nicotine was mercifully pumping through her famished
frame now, and it felt so good!  She loved to smoke, and hated not being able
to have a cigarette when she wanted one.  Americans are stupid, she muttered,
exhaling a long stream of smoke into the humid, late summer air.  Why must
Americans make life so miserable for smokers in their country?

   A rough voice abruptly interrupted the pretty Italian girl's musings.
"Hey, young lady!"  She whirled to see a large, middle-aged man wearing an
expensive business suit.  He looked mad.  A large garment bag was slung over
his shoulder; an oversized briefcase was under his arm.  He was waiting for
curbside pickup.  "Do you mind putting that damn thing out?"

   It was a statement, not a question.  Giorgia smiled courteously.  "I'm
sorry if my smoking offends you, sir," she said politely in halting English.
"But I have been unable to smoke for quite some time.  I believe this is a
designated smoking area."

   The big man was unbending.  "Look, I'm waiting for a ride," he complained
bitterly.  "And I don't give a damn if this is a smoking area.  I don't
intend to breathe your shitty second-hand smoke while I wait.  Put that thing
out, right this minute!"

   The ominous demand scared Giorgia.  She glanced at the other smokers near
the door.  All of them were smoking as fast as possible.  They visibly shrank
back from this large, irate man in the business suit, and tried to look
inconspicuous.  Giorgia was closest to him; the other smokers clearly didn't
want to be part of her developing quarrel.

   She cleared her throat and spoke cordially but firmly.  "I am sorry if my
smoking offends you, sir," she repeated, motioning to her burning cigarette.
"But I believe I have the right to stand here and smoke if I want to do so.
However, I'll try to blow my smoke away from you."

   "Look here, little lady," the man continued in a condescending, hostile
tone.  "I don't give a damn if the sign says you can smoke.  Get rid of that
thing!  If you don't, I'll shove it up your ass."  He glared menacingly.
"Girlie, you're obviously a damn foreigner.  Let me acquaint you with life in
the United States.  We don't put up with smokers' shit.  Get used to it.
Comprende?"

   Giorgia's hands shook.  She tried to sound calm and collected.  "I am
complying with your country's legal requirements by limiting my smoking to an
area outside the airport terminal," she patiently declared.  "I do not want
trouble.  But if you touch me I will ask a law enforcement official to take
appropriate action against you."  She gulped and instinctively returned the
cigarette to her lips for another drag.  As she did, the big man took a
menacing step in her direction.  Giorgia braced for the worst.

   Suddenly a large black limousine pulled up to the curb.  The man
hesitated.  "It's my ride," he said insolently.  "You're damn lucky, honey.
Next time, be more careful.  I don't take kindly to people blowing smoke, so
keep your filthy habit to yourself."  He opened the back door of the limo and
jumped in.  Moments later the vehicle pulled away from the curb.

   Giorgia double-pumped.  Along with nicotine, now adrenaline was coursing
through her veins after the near-miss confrontation.  Slowly but surely her
rapid intake of smoke calmed her frayed nerves.  She glanced at the other
smokers.  They averted their eyes.  They were still scared.  She sighed and
shook her head.

   Why did people in the United States act like this?  That big man was
nothing but a bully.  He knew he could intimidate smokers with no fear of
retribution.  No one would stand up to his bullying.  Something was wrong
with that.  It was wrong that smokers had to smoke outside in the first
place.  It was wrong that people like the big man could harass smokers with
no fear of reprisal.  The whole American system was crazy!  Giorgia sucked
more smoke into her lungs, basking in the welcome relief of ingesting
nicotine while she brooded.

   Why didn't American smokers stand up to protest ridiculous laws that
forbade smoking in public buildings?  Bullies wouldn't try such tactics
without stupid laws discriminating against smokers in the first place.  Were
the smokers in America so few, and was their influence so weak, that their
opinions meant nothing?  She didn't understand.  None of this could happen in
Italy, she assured herself.  Their government didn't meddle with smokers.
And if it did, people ignored it.  In Italy she could light up even in most
non-smoking areas, and no one cared.

   By the time she finished her cigarette, she felt better.  But she chained
into a second one, just in case.  She didn't know when she'd be able to smoke
again.  As she started her second Marlboro, she pondered further.  This
country was crazy.  She wouldn't let them get away with it.  She resolved
never to apologize for smoking in the United States.  A fiendish smirk
enveloped her pretty face.  She would work to convert as many Americans as
possible into becoming smokers, like herself, and encourage them to be
combative.  With more militant smokers, she reasoned, perhaps something could
be done about the ludicrous anti-smoking laws and the stupid people who
belittled smokers in this country!

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

   Lauren smiled at the young Italian girl disembarking from the connecting
flight.  "Hi.  You must be Giorgia Follone.  I'm Lauren Martin.  Welcome to
college life in the United States!"

   "Ah, grazie," Giorgia smiled back.  Immediately she blushed.  "I'm sorry.
I mean, thank you.  I must remember to speak English."

   "Gosh, you speak well," Lauren gushed with enthusiasm.  Though the short,
lovely black-haired woman had a strong but charming Italian accent, she was
easy to understand.  Lauren knew right away this lovely woman with the
enchanting accent would mesmerize American males.  "You speak like a native,"
she added graciously.

   Giorgia beamed.  "I have studied English many years," she said timidly.
"I try hard."

   The American girl evaluated Giorgia Follone.  She was gorgeous, a
Mediterranean beauty, slender, short, with an olive complexion and jet black
short curly hair.  Her black eyes sparkled when she spoke.  She had an
infectious smile.  Lauren liked her new roommate.

   "Let's get your bags and head to campus," she offered.  "Orientation
starts tomorrow.  I'm an R. A., so I'll be around the next few days, too.
Classes begin next week.  Today I'll show you around the college grounds,
show you our room, and introduce you to some people."

   "Grazie," Giorgia repeated.  "I'd like that very much."

   After getting the bags, the two women left the terminal.  While walking to
the parking garage they talked easily; there was an instant bond between
them.  Giorgia appreciated the friendliness of her pretty American friend.
But Giorgia hoped Lauren smoked.  It'd make things easier for both of them if
she did.  Well, she smiled, I'll find out soon enough.

   Lauren put Giorgia's bags in the trunk of her car.  She got behind the
wheel as Giorgia slid into the passenger seat.

   Giorgia carefully smelled the automobile's interior.  It didn't smell
like a smoker's car.  That was not a good sign! Then she checked out her new
friend.  Lauren was very cute, taller than she expected, with long blond hair
and a pretty face.  She had an easy-going manner.  Giorgia liked Lauren, too.
But it was time to find out if her new friend was a smoker.

   The Italian girl flashed a beguiling smile.  "Lauren, do you mind if I
have a cigarette?"  Her polite tone was more persuasive due to the charming
Italian accent.  "You see, I was unable to smoke on my airplane flight," she
went on, batting her eyes.  "I would very much like to smoke now, if you
don't mind."

   Lauren startled.  It never occurred to her this girl smoked.  Damn the
dean's office!  Of course, they probably didn't know.  All the same, she was
pissed.  She didn't smoke, and she wasn't crazy about someone smoking in her
car.  But she didn't know how to say 'no' to her new Italian friend.  She
didn't want to seem impolite.  So she took a deep breath and spoke.

   "Uh, I guess it's okay this time," she said hesitantly.  "If you really
need to, then I suppose I don't mind."  She hoped Giorgia would sense her
reluctance and withdraw the request.

   Giorgia knew Lauren was merely being polite.  But she'd decided never to
give in to American anti-smoking prejudices.  "Ah, grazie," she smiled
broadly.  She opened her leather purse and withdrew a pack of Marlboro Lights
100's as she cracked her window.  "You are very kind to let me smoke in your
car, Lauren.  I take it that you yourself do not smoke?"

   "Uh, no," Lauren replied, disappointed that Giorgia was going to smoke
despite her unenthusiastic acquiescence.  The pretty Italian lit up, took a
drag and inhaled.  "But that's okay," Lauren continued aloud without
conviction.  "Go right ahead if you want."

   "Grazie, I will," Giorgia smiled, exhaling a plume of smoke toward the
open window.  "You see, in my country, in Italy, it is very common for young
people to smoke.  So I am surprised you do not, Lauren.  Am I to understand
that it is not so common in your country?"

   Lauren laughed.  "Oh, well, sure, lots of kids smoke, especially in
college.  It's just that, well, smoking is considered politically incorrect
in our country these days."

   "Politically incorrect?" Giorgia frowned.  "Scusi.  I am afraid I do not
understand the meaning of this English expression."

   Lauren nodded.  She had to be careful using American slang.  "It means
people disapprove of you around here if you smoke.  Because it's bad for your
health, you know."

   "Ah," Giorgia smiled.  "I understand.  Americans are obsessed with good
health.  Isn't that right?  You have health clubs and low calorie foods and
many other things like these.  So you do not approve of cigarettes for that
reason?"

   "Yeah, I guess," Lauren admitted.  "I wouldn't call it an obsession, but
you're right.  People in our country frown on anything that's bad for their
health."

   "I find that curious," Giorgia objected.  She drew thoughtfully on her
cigarette.  She pulled more smoke in her lungs, deeper this time.  "A better
focus would be - how do you say? - the right focus is for the enjoyment."
She exhaled from her nostrils.  "Do you understand?"

   Lauren shook her head.  She didn't understand.  She involuntarily waved
her hand in front of her face to re-direct some of the ambient smoke.

   Giorgia smiled.  She was eager to present her views.  "This is what I
mean.  I enjoy smoking.  It is very pleasant for me.  But I do not worry what
will happen in fifty years.  We Italians - we Europeans - focus on enjoying
life today.  We do not much worry about other things the way you do in
America.  If smoking is pleasant for us, then why shouldn't we?  We enjoy it.
Besides, we never know what tomorrow will bring.  We pay attention to
enjoying today."  She grinned.  "In my country, all people my age smoke
cigarettes.  It is commonly accepted."

   "That's weird," Lauren frowned.  "Don't get me wrong.  Lots of kids our
age smoke here.  It's just that our society doesn't approve of it.  We try to
discourage it."

   "You discourage people from doing things which bring them pleasure?" The
disbelief was evident in her voice.  "You have a very strange country,
Lauren."  She took a last hit from her cigarette and threw it out the car
window.  "Very strange.  I confess I do not understand."

   Lauren smiled.  "We just have different priorities here.  I'm not saying
ours are better or worse than yours in Italy.  They're just different.  But
you'll get used to them."

   "I'm not sure I will," Giorgia sighed.  "But I will try to adjust."

   The campus was forty minutes from the airport.  At the dorm they put
Giorgia's things in their room, and Lauren walked her to the dean's office to
meet with people on details of her one year visit.  Then it was back to the
dorm.

   "This is a very nice room," Giorgia admired, slowly walking around its
perimeter.  "In my country university dormitories are much older and not as
nice as this."

   "Well, it isn't plush," Lauren admitted.  "But I guess it's okay."

   Giorgia frowned.  "What does this mean, plush?"

   "I'm sorry.  I mean, it's not fancy.  But I'm an R. A. - a resident
advisor in the dorm - and our room's bigger than most.  I'm sort of
responsible for looking out for the students on our floor, especially
freshman."

   "I am a freshman," Giorgia remarked happily.  "Does that mean you will be
responsible for looking out for me, too?"

   "I guess so," she laughed.  She liked the quick wit of this cheerful
Italian girl.

   "Wonderful," Giorgia said with a wry smile.  "And will I be permitted to
smoke my cigarettes here in our dormitory room?"

   Lauren froze.  She'd momentarily forgotten about the smoking thing.  Once
again, she had a decision to make.  What should she say?

   "Well, there's no rule against smoking in this dorm," she said slowly.
"So I guess it's up to me.  Do you smoke much?"

   Giorgia hastily told a half-truth as she smiled reassuringly.  "I smoke
only a little.  But I would very much enjoy being able to smoke in our room
when I am in the mood, Lauren.  I will try to make it not bother you."

   "Thanks," she smiled.  "I'd appreciate that."

   Giorgia brightened.  "So, it is okay, then?"  Without waiting for Lauren's
answer, she opened her purse and reached for a cigarette.  "Because I would
like one right now."

   "Uh, there's no ashtray," Lauren lamely objected.

   "Ah, don't worry," Giorgia said, lighting up.  "I have one in my
suitcase," she added, with her cigarette dangling from her pert little mouth.
"I am prepared."  Streams of smoke escaped from her lips as she opened her
bag.  "Here," she said proudly, putting a large glass ashtray on the table.
"Lauren, I want you to understand.  Smoking makes me happy.  Even though I
smoke, I promise I will be a good roommate for you.  It will be multo buono,
as we say in Italian."

   "Yeah, I'm sure we'll get along," Lauren reluctantly agreed.  She was
uncertain if she was reassuring Giorgia or herself.  She sighed.  She wasn't
happy, but guessed she'd eventually get used to having a roommate who smoked.

   And she did.  Despite the Italian girl's habit, the girls became fast
friends.  Orientation was over soon, classes started, and Giorgia's American
college experience began.  The first weeks went well.  She liked her classes
and quickly fit in with girls in her dorm.  But mostly she enjoyed Lauren.
They spent lots of time together.  Lauren got used to the smoking in the
room.  After a few days she hardly noticed it.  Despite her original
assurance, however, Giorgia smoked more than "just a little."  She purposely
took advantage of Lauren's failure to object.  In no time she was at her
usual pack a day allocation, smoking most of the cigarettes in their dorm
room.

   Giorgia was amazed by all the non-smoking areas on campus.  But with some
adjustment she was able to smoke as much as she needed  - indeed, as much as
she wanted  - with little trouble.  She missed being able to smoke during her
classes, which she could do back home in Italy.  But the campus dining halls
and most restaurants had smoking areas.  She adjusted to life as an American
smoker.

   Both roommates were Catholic.  Many young urban Italians have become
disassociated from the church.  But not Giorgia.  She found a local parish
church to attend mass and weekly confession.  Lauren was thrilled.  Her
family was Irish Catholic, and she too was devout.  She liked having a
roommate with the same faith.  Weekly confession was new to her, but she
followed Giorgia's lead.  Living with the devoted Italian girl encouraged
Lauren's own faith.

   Lauren was pre-med, while Giorgia's classes were all introductory level,
since technically she was a freshman.  The roommates had no classes in
common, but Lauren liked hanging out with the young Italian all the same.
Each day Giorgia was amazed by some new aspect of American college life.
Lauren loved sharing the joy of discovery with her perky new friend.

   Giorgia frequently teased Lauren about not smoking.  She yearned for a
friendship like the one she had with her girlfriends back home in Italy,
where they all smoked together.  She fondly recalled the way Francesca and
Martina got her to smoke by repeatedly urging her to take an occasional puff.
Giorgia lightheartedly tried to shame Lauren into doing the same.  If she'd
try it, there was a good chance she'd like it, and Giorgia would have someone
to smoke with.  But though Lauren tolerated her roommate's habit, she never
was willing to try it herself.  She always begged off, claiming she wasn't
interested.  Good-natured prodding did no good.

   Reluctantly Giorgia concluded she had little hope of persuading Lauren.
But she wanted an "amica fumatori," a smoking buddy.  If it couldn't be her
roommate, there were other girls in the dorm.  She befriended two freshmen,
Brigit and Libby, who smoked.  She began spending time in their room.  That
bothered Lauren.  Giorgia went to the dining hall with her new friends and
sat with them in the smoking section, without inviting Lauren.  Giorgia liked
to sit and smoke after meals with her new friends.  It wasn't that Lauren
wouldn't sit there, but she was clearly the one added only as an
afterthought.

   Lauren grew jealous of her roommate's new pals.  That surprised Giorgia,
because Lauren had many other friends of her own.  But she seemed to prefer
being with her.  The truth was, Giorgia liked being around Brigit and Libby
better; they smoked.  She liked being with smokers more than non-smokers, and
she enjoyed stimulating her new friends' budding habits.  Both Libby and
Brigit were relative neophytes, but hanging out with the heavier smoking
Giorgia increased their consumption.  That thrilled Giorgia.  She wanted to
replicate her smoking commitment in her new friends, and Brigit and Libby
proved to be willing subjects.  They soon turned into hard-core smokers.
Under Giorgia's tutelage, they began to light up more often, take longer
drags, and inhale deeper.  They developed a militancy about smokers' rights
that pleased Giorgia.  She hated the wimpy, apologetic attitude of most
American smokers.

   In all this, Lauren felt left out.  Giorgia wanted to talk about her
obvious unhappiness, but decided to let Lauren to speak first.  She did,
coming home from evening mass one Saturday.

   "You're spending lots more time with Libby and Brigit," she casually
observed as they walked the streets in the twilight.  "It's 'cause I don't
smoke, isn't it?"

   Giorgia nodded.  ""Sono spiacente," she mumbled in Italian.  "I'm so
sorry," she added in English.  "You're right, Lauren.  You and I are good
friends.  But in Italy I spend time with my girlfriends Francesca and Martina
because we can smoke together.  I can smoke with Brigit and Libby, but I
cannot with you.  There is something special in having friends who smoke.
Because you do not, Lauren, you cannot understand."  She smiled warmly.  "I
am sorry.  I do not mean to leave you out or insult you.  You are my very
special American friend."

   Lauren nodded.  "You're important to me.  At confession tonight, I
confessed my jealousy of Brigit and Libby.  It's crazy, but it bothers me.
My last roommate was my best friend on campus.  We did everything together.
I lost her when she transferred.  I don't want to lose you."

   Giorgia was touched.  "Lauren, I am honored by your sentiment.  But you
will lose me after this year anyway.  I am only in the United States for one
year.  I return to Italy in May next year."  She almost reminded Lauren she
could solve the problem by learning to smoke.  But the moment was too
sensitive.  "And anyway, you have many friends besides me."

   "I know," Lauren sighed.  "But a roommate's special.  I'm jealous.
Giorgia, please don't lock me out just because I don't smoke like you do."

   "I will never lock you out, as you say," Giorgia tenderly assured her.
"But there exists a special bond, a special communion, among smokers.  I have
that with Brigit and Libby.  I fear you will never understand, Lauren, until
you decide to smoke with us.  This is your own choice."

   "Yeah, I know.  Giorgia, do you ever think about quitting?  It's a dumb
habit, you know."

   The Italian bristled.  "Smoking is _not_ dumb!  It gives me pleasure.  You
do not smoke, so you cannot realize this.  I will help you learn to smoke if
you want, so you can find out."

   "Yeah, I'm sure you would," Lauren smiled sardonically.  "But I'm not
ready for that.  In the meantime, just invite me to dinner when you go with
Brigit and Libby.  Okay?"

   Giorgia gave her a spontaneous hug.  As quickly as it rose up, Giorgia's
anger was gone.  "I _will_ remember to invite you," she purred.  "I promise.
Never before have I had a good friend who didn't smoke.  You are definitely
my good friend."

   Giorgia kept her promise.  She began including Lauren when she ate with
Brigit and Libby.  In the coming days the four girls spent most mealtimes
together.  Giorgia wanted to increase the pressure on Lauren, so she
purposely smoked more often in their room to acclimate her to ambient smoke.
Being immersed in a smoke-filled room no longer troubled Lauren.  Giorgia
knew that was a good sign.  But then a second change in their relationship
occurred, one that bothered Lauren even more than the friendship with Brigit
and Libby.  It was a man!

   Guys on campus were noticing the beautiful Italian girl.  Her sultry
Mediterranean looks and charming accent drew them like flies.  One in
particular caught Giorgia's fancy, a tall, muscular junior named Steve
Warner.  One reason she liked Steve was because he smoked.  One evening after
dinner in the dining hall, Giorgia confided to the other girls she had no
interest in a man who wasn't a real smoker.

   "Oh God, I know," sighed Brigit.  "Now that I smoke, I can't stand going
out with a guy who doesn't.  I like having cigarettes when I'm out.  It's
part of the ambiance.  Don't you think?"

   Libby chimed in.  "I agree.  I went home last weekend to see my old
boyfriend.  He never started smoking like I did, and God, now we have nothing
in common!  The asshole flinched every time I lit up!"  She drew pensively on
her cigarette.  "I won't date any guy unless he doesn't care if I smoke.
Actually, I prefer one who likes to smoke as much as I do," she giggled.

   "Si," Giorgia nodded.  Her black eyes flashed.  "I agree one hundred
percent.  No offense, Lauren.  You are our friend, even though you do not
smoke.  But I would not date a man who does not smoke.  Ever!  It is
something I must share with someone I love."

   "But what if he just doesn't care?" Lauren interrupted.  "What if he
doesn't smoke, but it doesn't bother him that you do?"

   "That is not enough," Giorgia said with conviction, reaching for another
Marlboro.  She lit up, took it from her lips and used it to emphasize and
underline her words.  Her hands moved rapidly as she spoke.  "I do not know
how to be anything but a smoker.  I have been smoking since I was fourteen.
It is who I am.  If I love a man, we do not have to feel the same way about
everything.  But important things must be shared.  That is true amore'.
There can be no bond between us if a man does not enjoy smoking in the same
way that I do!"

   Brigit grinned enthusiastically.  "God, you know what?  I _like_ that
philosophy!  Like you, Giorgia, I'll _never_ quit.  I love smoking _way_ too
much to stop."  The pretty freshman girl smiled at Libby and took her hand.
"I'm glad we both filled out our roommate questionnaires and said we wanted
to live with a smoker," she sighed.  "It makes everything easier."  She
batted her eyelashes at Libby and grinned.  "It's more fun, too."

   Lauren grew prickly.  She changed the subject.  "Steve Warner's cute.
I've known him since freshman year.  You'll have a good time with him,
Giorgia.  He's a hunk."

   Giorgia hesitated.  "What does that mean?  Hunk?"

   "It means he's a nice piece of ass," Brigit slyly explained.  "It means
Steve's good looking and, I'd guess, great in bed, too.  A good fuck!" She
giggled.

   It was Giorgia's turn to laugh.  "I agree that Steve is very good looking.
He is a hunk, then.  I will go out with this hunk, and we will see what
happens."

   Steve and Giorgia went out Friday night.  And Saturday night.  Sunday they
studied together.  Steve was smitten by the beautiful young Italian's charm
and sophistication.  She in turn found him funny, interesting, considerate
and (not unimportant) good looking.  Her interest in him was greater because
he smoked.  But he was a mere social smoker, as Giorgia soon realized.  She
resolved to manipulate him into a higher level of commitment.  She turned on
the same charm she'd used successfully on Libby and Brigit.  She wanted a
boyfriend committed to the habit, one who was militant, and she guessed Steve
would be a willing pupil.  She was right.

   As frequently happens at the start of a relationship, they hung out
together all the time, including at meals.  Giorgia had four or five
cigarettes with her coffee after eating, but Steve smoked only occasionally.
She made fun of his sporadic smoking, teasing him and urging him to light up
more.  "I am a smoker," she pouted in her best Italian accent.  "But clearly,
my bambino, you are not.  You never smoke with me.  If you love me, please
have another cigarette."

   With stars in his eyes, Steve did.  Within a week he was smoking almost as
much as Giorgia.  His random habit hardened into the addiction of a confirmed
smoker.  Giorgia was delighted by this rapid transformation, and encouraged
him to smoke even more, which he did.

   Lauren saw what Giorgia was doing.  She was flabbergasted that Steve
offered no resistance.  He let nicotine addiction sink its hooks in him ever
deeper.  Lauren knew why he acquiesced.  It was intoxicating being with the
beautiful, charming Italian girl.  She was more important to him than
controlling (or not controlling) his budding habit.  Lauren watched Steve's
romantic attachment to Giorgia increase in tandem with his mounting
addiction.  Smoking represented a bond with her that she didn't share.  Just
as she resented Giorgia's camaraderie with Brigit and Libby, she resented
her new relationship with Steve.  She was losing Giorgia all over again.  She
didn't fully understand why, but she grew more and more jealous, and began
plotting ways to get more of Giorgia's undivided attention.

   Lauren didn't really understand her reaction.  It wasn't sexual desire; at
least, she didn't think so.  She'd never been with a woman, and didn't think
her interest in her roommate was overtly sexual.  She had to admit, though,
Giorgia was extraordinarily gorgeous.  The elegant Italian was the closest
thing to lesbian temptation she'd ever felt.  She was attractive, mysterious,
and enthralling.  But none of it explained her uncontrollable envy.  Brigit
and Libby smoked, and Giorgia preferred them.  Steve, too, shared Giorgia's
attraction to the filthy habit.  It was part of why Giorgia loved him.  It
was also why Lauren grew to hate him.

   Lauren knew she could solve the problem by smoking herself.  But she'd
always turned down that answer.  It was a stupid habit.  Her mother had
preached against it since she was a child.  Why was it _so_ damn important to
Giorgia?  She said she'd never understand till she tried it.  She wanted her
to smoke; Lauren knew it.  She was irritatingly unapologetic about it.
Giorgia wanted her to experience nicotine's power over committed smokers.
Lauren had refused, because she afraid.  She feared Giorgia was right, that
smoking would be as alluring as she promised.  If she tried it, she feared
she'd get hooked, just as everyone else had surrendered to it, totally and
without reservation.  That didn't fit Lauren's plan to go to medical school.

   One night when Giorgia was out with Steve, Lauren knew she had to decide.
Unless she tried it and surrendered, like Giorgia, Libby, Brigit and Steve,
there'd forever be an indissoluble barrier between her and her roommate.  Put
that way, the decision was easy.  She had to teach herself to smoke, at least
a little.  She didn't have to _be_ a smoker, she consoled herself.  She just
had to learn how to join in the activity with Giorgia and the others.

   Giorgia always left open packs of cigarettes in their room.  A half-empty
pack of Marlboro Lights 100's lay on her desk that night.  She'd never miss
one, Lauren knew.  It was a perfect chance to smoke.  Nervous though she was,
she was more afraid of losing Giorgia's friendship.  With trembling fingers
she withdrew a cigarette from her roommate's pack.

   She looked at it.  It was long and white.  She sniffed it.  It didn't
smell bad.  She'd seen the almost fanatical dedication these things instilled
in their devotees.  She'd seen how smokers couldn't wait to light up and suck
hard on a cigarette, pulling smoke deep into their famished lungs.  She'd
seen their rapturous and idyllic satisfaction each time they had one.  She
didn't get it.  But that devotion and its associated satisfaction were oddly
alluring, tempting.  It must be wonderful to love something that much, she
mused.  It must be fabulous to want to smoke so bad that you endure
criticism, even hardship, for the sublime pleasure of having another
cigarette.  Giorgia and the others loved it.  She had to know why.

   She raised the unlit cigarette to her lips and pretended to puff.  It felt
light as air in her fingers, and lighter still between her lips.  It was easy
to draw on.  The taste wasn't bad.  Of course, it wasn't burning!  She felt
uneasy, but reminded herself Giorgia loved smoking.  Learning to smoke will
make us closer, she repeated aloud.  With that motivation, she took a
disposable lighter from Giorgia's desk and began her bold experiment.

   Giorgia had invited her to smoke many times, but she had no idea how to do
it.  Somehow she successfully lit the cigarette.  She'd seen Giorgia light up
hundreds of times, so she simply did what Giorgia did.  After it was lit, she
bravely took a long, hard, almost violent drag, and inhaled the smoke deep
into her virgin lungs.

   That was a mistake.  Her response shouldn't have surprised, but it did.
She'd been around ambient smoke, but inhaling it was different.  She coughed
lightly, then violently.  That reflex increased the stinging in her windpipe,
sinuses and lungs, making the inhaled smoke go deeper inside.  Her coughing
intensified and her eyes watered.  For a moment she thought she'd throw up.
She put the burning cigarette down in a nearby ashtray and rubbed her eyes
while she choked.  Something was wrong.  This wasn't supposed to happen.  She
continued to gag as the last bits of inhaled smoke escaped her beleaguered
lungs.  This was not fun!

   Slowly she composed herself.  Her hands were shaking.  She knew smoking
was something you had to get used to, but she didn't expect this.  The
cigarette still burned in the ashtray.  Reluctantly she picked it up and
tapped the lengthening ash from the burning end.  Despite the unpleasantness,
she was determined to try again.  She wanted to be closer to Giorgia.
Raising it to her lips with wobbling fingers, she took another puff.  It
wasn't as long, but she again made the mistake of inhaling.  A second time
her lungs reacted dreadfully.  Coughing began anew as bursts of smoke
squirted from her mouth and nostrils.  In addition to the hacking, her head
was buzzing and she felt queasy.  It wasn't working!

   Suddenly she heard a knock at the door.  "Who is it?" Lauren gasped.  She
crushed the mostly unsmoked cigarette in the ashtray.  "Who is it?" she
repeated.

   "It's Brigit," came a voice through the door.  "Are you okay in there?"

   "Uh, yeah," she wheezed.  She didn't want anyone to see her, least of all
Brigit.

   "Let me in," came the reply.  "You sound like you're dyin' in there."

   Lauren knew Brigit wouldn't give up.  She waved her hand in the air,
vainly trying to dissipate the ambient smoke floating in the room.  "Just a
second," she pleaded.

   She opened the door.  Brigit stood there, her face reflecting concern.
"Oh my God," she gasped.  "You're white as a sheet, Lauren.  Are you okay?"

   Lauren stumbled to her bed to sit down.  "Yeah, I'm fine," she whispered
with as much assurance as she could muster.  "It's allergies," she lied.
"Sometimes I start coughing and sneezing and can't stop."

   Brigit was a tall, slender girl with long brown hair.  She didn't believe
the bogus story.  She plopped down on Giorgia's bed and stared into Lauren's
eyes.  "You look like shit," she said simply.  "You should take medicine if
it's an allergy problem."

   Lauren had no allergy medicine, because she had no allergies.  "I'm fine,"
she said stubbornly.  "Don't worry about me."  Despite her bravado, she
coughed a couple more times.

   "Let's get a drink of water," Brigit recommended.  "Come with me to the
bathroom."  Then she smiled.  "I won't take no for an answer," she warned.
"Let's go."

   Resigned, Lauren walked to the door.  Brigit let Lauren leave and
followed.  As she did, she saw a cigarette inexpertly crushed in the ashtray.
The smell of fresh tobacco smoke was in the air.  She smiled wryly.  She
guessed what'd happened.  Lauren was smoking!  It explained the coughing, her
embarrassment and her pale face.  She considered confronting her, but decided
not to.  After all, she reasoned, it wasn't _her_ business if Lauren wanted
to try smoking.  Not long ago Brigit herself first experimented with
cigarettes.  A strange excitement and anticipation made her smile.  The
thought of her R. A. smoking was delicious!  She decided Lauren needed space,
perhaps a little reassurance, and an opportunity to save face.  She followed
her to the bathroom.

   Lauren gulped several glasses of water before returning to the dorm room.
The burning in her lungs was gone.  Her nose and eyes were no longer running.
She smiled as they got back to her room.  "I'm fine," she smiled weakly
standing at the door.  "Thanks."

   "I'll come in, if you don't mind," Brigit insisted.  Lauren shrugged and
let the pretty freshman walk in ahead of her.

   There was a smile on Brigit's face.  Without acknowledging what she
suspected, she wanted to give some encouragement.  "Actually, I stopped by
because I ran out of cigarettes," she lied.  "I was going to bum a couple
from Giorgia.  Do you know if she has an open pack?"

   Lauren hesitated.  "Uh, yeah.  There's one on her desk."

   Brigit casually sauntered over and picked it up.  "Ah, Marlboro Lights
100's.  I used to smoke these myself.  Now I smoke menthols.  Newports,
actually," she added, as if the older girl understood the significance of
what she was talking about.

   "I wouldn't know about that," Lauren countered quickly.

   Brigit nonchalantly shook a cigarette from Giorgia's pack.  Instead of
taking it with her, she put it in her mouth, picked up the lighter from the
desk, and lit up.  "Ah, that tastes _so_ fuckin' good," she sighed
contentedly, turning her head to give Lauren a perfect profile of a combined
nose and mouth exhale.  "Lauren, you simply can't imagine how wonderful it
is to light up a cigarette when you haven't smoked in awhile."  She took a
second drag.  "You're really missing out by not smoking," she added, pausing
to exhale another stream of smoke into the air.

   "Yeah, that's what Giorgia says."  The memory of her coughing fit was
fresh in her mind.

   Brigit sat on Giorgia's bed and brushed her bangs from her face.  "I
started last spring," she said pleasantly.  "One of my girlfriends wanted me
to try it.  She really kept after me.  At first, I was afraid.  I'd heard the
shit about how bad smoking is for you.  But the more I watched my girlfriend
smoke, the more I saw she really enjoyed her cigarettes."  She took a long,
luxurious drag on the all-white cigarette.  "I had to find out what I was
missing," she explained with apparent satisfaction, pausing to release
another perfect exhale in twin streams through her nostrils.  "I didn't like
it at first.  But after I tried it a few times, I knew it was something I had
to keep doing.  Now I'm so glad I started," she offered congenially.
"Really, you should try it, too."

   Lauren feared Brigit saw through her lame allergy story.  Why else the pep
talk?  Despite the unsolicited testimonial, the last thing Lauren wanted was
to smoke again.  Her throat and lungs ached.  "I told Giorgia I'd think about
it," she lied, though she'd done no such thing.  "What did your parents say
when you started smoking?"  She changed the subject to deflect attention from
her situation.

   Brigit frowned.  "That was a bummer," she admitted.  "My mom and dad went
ape-shit.  But I was eighteen, so there was nothing they could do.  I was old
enough to buy cigarettes if I wanted.  I didn't need their permission.  But
it's a bone of contention with my mother especially."

   "That's what I worry about," Lauren said, satisfied she'd turned the
tables.  "My mom would _not_ be happy if I started smoking.  She'd be upset.
She wouldn't approve."

   "Parents never understand," Brigit countered.  "Don't let them run your
life, Lauren.  Experiment.  Give it a try; see what you think."  She grinned.
"It'd be great to have another smoker on our floor.  Plus, when we go to
dinner in the dining hall, you could smoke with us instead of feeling left
out."

   Ouch!  That hurt.  But Lauren recovered.  "I'm not sure I'm cut out for
it," she said with a wry smile.  "Some people are smokers; others aren't.  I
think I'm in the 'aren't' category."

   Brigit considered arguing, but she'd already said more than she meant to.
To maintain credibility, she took another cigarette from Giorgia's pack,
slipped it in her pocket, and headed to the door.  "I'm glad you feel better,
Lauren.  You have real bad allergies," she added with a grin."  She paused.
"Look, I _am_ encouraging you to smoke.  But the choice is yours, of course."

   "Of course," she smiled.  She watched Brigit go down the hall trailing
smoke as she went.

   Later that night Brigit intercepted Giorgia.  She told her she though
Lauren was smoking.  Giorgia was delighted, but mistakenly assumed she should
do nothing.  She figured if nature took its course Lauren's experimenting
would turn her into a smoker.  It was a strategic mistake.  Lauren didn't
want to try it again.  But Giorgia didn't know that.  So she waited, not
realizing Lauren would make no more progress without some intervention.

   Meanwhile, Lauren was now sure she wasn't cut out to be a smoker.  She
gave up, not realizing she'd just tried to do too much too fast.  She
searched for a another way to compete for Giorgia's attention.  She still
wanted to be her best and closest friend.  If she couldn't make it happen by
smoking, what alternative was there?  She wasn't sure, but she'd think of
something.


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