Dancing, Part 1

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 23 December 2000)

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Dancing with the Devil
Part 1 of 2

    Cheryl watched her mother pull away from the house and sighed. For the 
next day and an half she would be alone, until her sister showed up on 
Saturday with one of her roommates. She walked over to her desk in the in the 
far corner of the house, the little ground floor room where she had her G4, 
her private phone, and all of her school books- a hefty collection for a 
high school junior.
    She opened the bottom drawer of her desk, took out the box for the Lara 
Croft Chronicles, and pulled Janette's pack of cigarettes from inside, where 
they had been hidden for the last hour. She then picked up the phone and 
called Janette.
    "Mom's on her way over to get your mom. I suppose you can head on over as 
soon as they left."
    "Gee, try not to sound so excited, Cheryl. We're going to have a ball."
    "You're just looking forward to being able to smoke for the weekend 
without worrying about getting caught."
    "So, what do you think the first thing they're going do is?" She lowered 
her voice. "Stop at a convenience store and stock up on cigarettes."
    "How do you know ?"
    "Well, first of all, we know they smoke all the time- at work, when we're 
not home, when they go out together. Second, I heard Mom reserve the room 
about two weeks ago. She insisted on a smoking room- which is harder to get 
these days."
    "Well, as long as you're happy, I'm happy. It's not like it really 
bothers me that you - or anyone- smoke."
    Janette laughed. "It's got to be the only thing that both of us can feel 
superior over one another about."
    "What do you mean ?"
    "I mean you think I'm silly for smoking and I think you're silly for not 
trying it, especially when most of our friends smoke. Including Kevin."
    "Yeah, I know. Look, I'll see you in half an hour or so." What she 
didn't say was how she was wondering if her own lies would tell out in the 
next two days.
    Brea pulled the car into the convenience store parking lot.
    "I feel like a teenager going on a road trip. Here we are, stopping to 
buy beer and cigarettes like college kids."
    "That's the whole point, Brea," Carrie said, smiling broadly. "Tell me
that part of the joy of going on a shopping trip like this isn't that we can
smoke and drink like kids. No jobs, no teenagers, no bills to pay. Just
sinful fun."
    "Well, the sin factor will all depend on who we meet."
    They got out of the car together and Carrie looked at her oldest and 
dearest friend. "Tell me you're not looking forward to the simple of joy of 
being able to light up whenever you want, no worries."
    "You're the hypocrite who grounded your daughter last week when you 
caught her smoking in the basement when you weren't supposed to be home."
    "I have to at least pretend to be a good parent, Brea. Janette doesn't 
get it. If she would just come to me and say 'Mom, I'm a smoker and I like it
and there's nothing you can do about it,' that would put an end to the
subject. I just want a little honesty in our relationship, you know."
    Walking into the store, Brea went for the beer and Carrie waited up front.
    As soon as she saw her friend coming up the aisle, she walked to the 
counter and asked for a carton of Marlboro Lights 100s.
    "Can I see some ID, please ?" the girl behind the register asked.
    Both women smiled and produced their credentials without hesitation or 
    She looked at the licenses in that bored sort of way only the young could 
manage to pull off without it being annoying and took the two twenties and 
two fives the women handed over.
    "Please drink responsibly, ladies" she said, and they walked back out of 
the store. Brea did feel like a college kid, not doing anything illegal, but 
doing something which was not quite right, either. Maybe that was because she 
and Carrie had never had the chance  to go to a lot of frat parties or live 
in dorms or any of those other things real college students did.
    "You look like you're thinking, again, Brea. We aren't supposed to think 
for the next four days. We are supposed to enjoy ourselves."
    "Well, light me a cigarette and I'll give it a try."
    They piled back into the car and Carrie immediately obliged.

    Janette was looking back through the sliding glass door longingly. 
    "It's pretty cold out here, Cheryl. Can't we go inside ?"
    "Come on. You always say that you like smoking outside when it's cold."
    "Yeah, but it's going to be cold all weekend. I don't want to be cold 
all night."
    "You'll get the house all smoky, and I'll get in trouble."
    Janette lit another cigarette. "Well, that's just silly.  Carrie Anne 
will be here on Saturday and she and Julia will be smoking- cigarettes and 
probably cigars, but all right, for now. But later, I'll get my way." 
Actually, she was thinking that she likely to be getting her way sooner, but 
on a different matter. She drew deeply on the cigarette, exhaled a milky 
cloud of smoke, and smiled.
    "Well, do you want to hear about what Kevin said ?"
    "Do I want to breath ?"
    "Well, he asked me if you were still seeing that guy from Central High 
    "Jesus. Two weeks first marking period and I'll never live it down."
    "That's exactly what I told him. And then I asked him why and-"
    Cheryl sensed the possibility that her friend, who had a certain flair 
for the mercenary, was up to something as soon as she stopped talking. She 
watched her smoke for a moment as the tension built, saying nothing. Just the 
pull of smoke in, the hiss of the cigarette in the cold air. Then nothing.
    "And ?"
    "Well, actually, he didn't say anything. He just lit up and smoked for a 
minute or two, like he was trying to decide what the right answer was-"
    "Is this the part where you tell me that you're not going to tell me 
anything except that I have to smoke a cigarette before I find anything more 
out ?"
    "No. You just said it for me."
    "How many times am I going to have to tell you I have no interest in 
becoming a smoker ?" she said evasively.
    "That's not the point here. I've finally figured out what the answer to 
that is. It's abot me, not you, and I'm interested in you smoking. Just 
once, I want to see you holding a cigarette in your pretty little hand-"
    "I've held your cigarettes for you before-"
    "No, I mean one that's been in your pretty little mouth, one that you've 
pulled smoke into those virgin lungs of yours from. I want you to smoke and 
you want to hear what Kevin said."
    "The two things have nothing to do with each other."
    Janette said nothing . She drew on her cigarette, exhaled through her 
nose- a move that Cheryl felt her friend performed as well as her own sister, 
definitely attractive- and  smiled like a jackal sensing carrion.
    "That's the funny thing, girlfriend. The two are connected."
    "How ?"
    "Light up and find out."
    Cheryl thought about it and suddenly she found the answer to this whole 
stupid smoking problem. It came to her as a flash insight.
    "Look, that's a lousy deal because you want to tell me what Kevin said. 
So I have better deal-"
    "Does it involve you finally giving in to your inner smoker ?"
    "Did I recently get you a fake ID ?" Cheryl challenged.
    "Yes, you did, my young friend. So what's this great deal ?"
    Janette pulled hard on her cigarette and Cheryl admitted to herself that 
Janette was simply a gorgeous smoker. It was hard to believe that it had 
taken her just three months of solid, everyday smoking which had led to this 
style. Her own sister had still been awkward after a year of smoking openly, 
since mom had caved as soon as she had admitted she was smoking.
    "I'll light up, and I will do my best to actually smoke the cigarette. 
You agree to leave me alone about smoking after this."
    "You promise to try and enjoy it ?"
    "I promise not to try and not enjoy, okay ?"
    Janette had just finished her own cigarette. She stubbed it out in the 
ashtray resting on the rail of the deck, took out the pack, lit one for 
herself and then handed the pack and the lighter to Cheryl. 
    "You know what to do ?"
    The truth was that Cheryl knew exactly what to do. The question was 
whether or not this cigarette would finally put her over the edge.        
    The real problem with her smoking a cigarette was that she was on the 
edge of starting to like it. Recently she had taken to sneaking a cigarette 
out of the pack her mother kept in her own desk and smoking one after school. 
Two or three times a week. In the three months since her friend had started 
smoking seriously, she'd become more and more bothered by her knee-jerk 
reaction to Janette's smoking.
    Bothered enough to try it.
    She could honestly say that she had yet to enjoy one of the dozen or so 
cigarettes that she had smoked. But after about the fourth one, she'd stopped 
not enjoying them.
    She lit the cigarette extremely casually. Too casually.
    "You've done that before," Janette said suspiciously.
    "No." It was a flat lie, of course.
    She drew on it tentatively, as though it was something new, and 
immediately exhaled.
    "Now, tell me about Kevin-"
    But it wasn't meant to be.
    Just then, a third person came into the girl's little drama.
    "Out on the porch again, Cheryl ?"
    It was her next door neighbour, Kelli Thackeray-Jones.
    "I knew it," Janette said, but so quietly that only Cheryl could hear her.
    Then suddenly, Cheryl saw something  on Kelli's face. Tear streaks. She 
wasn't crying now, but she certainly had been.
    "What's wrong, Kelli ?"
    She actually laughed, but it was the sort laugh an engineer would sneak 
into a NIN track between lyrics about pain and separation.
    "Well, it's more a question of what was wrong an hour ago. Look, I know 
how precious cigarettes are to women your age, but is there any chance-"
    "Come on up and join us smokers," Janette said, her grammar-defying voice 
all smiles.
    "I thought you quit because you were thinking about having a child."
    If only Cheryl know how wrong thing that was to say, but Kelli took it 
    "I have an exceptionally good reason to change my mind." She took the 
half-empty pack and lit one.
    "God, I haven't had one of these in two weeks."
    She blew smoke, inhaled again, drew, nose exhaled.
    "That's better."
    "What's wrong ?"
    "I got divorce papers served to me. I take a half-day to go to the 
dentist and there was a process server waiting for me when I came home."
    She tapped the ash from her cigarette, and with Janette staring gape 
jawed at the older woman, Cheryl snuck a deep draw on her own. And realised 
that this was the cigarette. One cigarette could change everything. She knew 
that, and here on her porch with a woman who she considered a friend talking 
about an emotional watershed, she was enjoying a cigarette for the first time.
    Janette looked at her just then and the look said 'I saw that, you liar.'
    "Well, at least it's some closure."
    "Look, it's cold outside. Let's go in the house, grab some beers, and 
    She pulled the slider open, led them inside, and they listened to Kelli's 

    "The first few times he came home smelling like smoke, I was suspicious. 
I'll never know how long it was going on, because when I was smoking I 
assumed that he smelled smoky because of me."
    Kelli paused, lit her third cigarette.
    "Want another one ?" she asked Cheryl, who thought hard, and then took 
one. She lit it, passed the pack to Janette, who lit up as well, and saw that 
there were just three cigarettes left, which was a significant problem, 
especially while they were nurse-maiding someone.
    "He told me it was just his friends in the history department. I - well, 
you two know what a woman's instinct can be like and he was lying to me. It 
was just a matter of time before I did what I had to do."
    "You followed him, right ?" Janette asked after the sort of exhale that 
Cheryl knew she was capable of if she tried.
    "Yes, I followed him. And I really don't want to bore you with details. 
Let's just say that I caught him with her, he promised me he would break it 
off, and six weeks later, when I was just starting to get some small amount 
of faith back in him, he trades coming home from work for serving me with 
divorce papers. Talk about a kick in the teeth. Well, then again, the house 
is in my name, and I make more than he does. It could be worse. And that's 
the end of that subject."
    Cheryl reached out and touched Kelli's arm. "Kelli, I know that we're 
just teenagers, but you can talk to us."
    "Oh, I know that. But you know, Doug and I talked it to death. Who knows, 
maybe what finally did our marriage in was the fact that it became obvious 
that it was going to get in the way of his affair." She exhaled and smiled 
and it was genuine.
    "Look, we're almost out of cigarettes, your parents are on a road trip, 
and as much fun as it is sitting around smoking and drinking beers, I have 
just one question for you. Do you have fake IDs ?"
    The girls just smiled.

    "I wonder what the girls are doing right now," Carrie said, looking over 
a frosty beer mug at Brea. They were sitting in the Saratoga Springs Brewpub 
drinking Big Red Ales, plates that had held crab cakes pushed out to the 
    "Drinking beer. Janette will be smoking cigarettes and they'll be talking 
about boys."
    "Makes you wish you were sixteen again, doesn't ?"
    Brea smiled, reached out slowly, picked up her pack of cigarettes, 
enjoying the simple pleasure of smoking . She pulled a cigarette from the 
pack and lit it.
    "The sixteen they are, yes. The sixteen we were- I don't know. Tell me 
again why we both got married when we were eighteen ?"
    Carrie laughed. "Let me wait a minute before I answer that." She drained 
her mug, signalled the cute young waitress to bring them two more and another 
basket of fiery hot wings, and lit her own cigarette. "I'm always tempted to 
say stupidity, but then I think about it and it worked out great. Our 
families and our husbands paid for us to go to college part-time and get our 
degrees, we used those degrees to establish actual careers despite taking the 
time to raise some beautiful, smart young girls- you have a daughter that's 
going to be going to grad school on someone else's dime. We have the houses 
and the cars and we're financially solvent, and here we are, just 40 and 
single and we don't have all those pressures other women our age have."
    "You mean the getting married, staying married thing. Well, there is 
that. But dating's only fun when you're dating-"
    "Oh come on. You had five dates in the last month-"
    "With five different guys-" Brea said wistfully.
    Carrie exhaled. "Exactly. You know how many women our age have two or 
three year olds or are soccer moms ? I love Janette to death, but I am so 
glad she's sixteen now. I would never call her a burden, but I'm pretty far 
down the parenting road and I still have a life ahead of me. I can't tell you 
how wonderful that feels because you know."
    "I hate to think we just rushed to get it out of the way."
    "I don't mean it that way. I had ten or eleven really good years with 
Dirk, and just one bad one before the divorce, and you and Greg ?"
    "The same- well, maybe two bad years there at the end- I don't care what 
he says, he was fucking Hanna at least two years before the divorce."
    "Exactly. And all that crap is over now. We have lives to live. You just 
got promoted to funds manager, I'm going to be senior editor of newspaper 
come January. We're actually respected members of the business community. How 
many women who got married at eighteen have accomplished all the things we 
have and had families and all that ?"
    "Alimony helped."
    "It did. But no one's happier than Dirk that I don't need his money 
anymore except me."
    "Well, his parents-"
    "His parents are the only thing I really regret. That bitch pushed him 
right into Georgia's arms. She always wanted him to marry her, and now she 
has her wish and I hear she's still not happy. The old battle axe-"
    "That's going to change. I just heard yesterday that Georgia is
    "How'd you ?"
    "We have the same ob-gyn, and his understanding of patient-doctor 
confidentiality wouldn't exactly thrill the medical board. She was in just 
before me and I said I thought she was showing. He said 'It's not just 
winter weight you're looking at.'"
    "Thank God. That means Grandma won't be so obsessed with her little 
Janette. She drives me crazy sometimes."
    Brea raised her new mug of ale. "To being single."
    Just then, two men walked over to their table and shyly introduced 

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