Firsts

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 29 September 1997)


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Firsts
an4@anon.lelnet.com

   Kelli looked at Lor and tried not to be angry.
   He wasn't listening to her. This was nothing new. It was part of the
friendship she had come to expect. She would talk, and he would listen,
usually, that was. But some of the time, when they were out in public, his
mind seemed to wander.
   Not that she didn't know why. She did.
   He was girl watching. She did the same thing- with guys- but somehow it
didn't make her deaf the way he became.
   His head was in the way of the woman he was watching now. 
   "And then when my hair caught on fire, the smoke detector went off," she
said, matter-of-factly.
   Lor turned and looked at Kelli, his mouth twisted sourly. "You always think
I'm not listening to you."
   "What did I say before my hair caught on fire ?"
   He sighed. He had no idea except that he'd been snagged.  Not that Kelli was
likely to get angry. Annoyed, yes.
   Angry- no.
   "It's okay, Lor-"
   "What's okay ?"
   "You're girl watching."
   "No-"
   "Yes, you are. At least don't lie about it-"
   Finally the separation between the two cars increased and Kelli got a fair
look at the other woman. She was a pleasant faced blonde wearing dark
sunglasses, holding a cigarette out the window in her left hand, which was
smoldering nicely in the cool fall air.
   Definitely not Lor's type.
   But it did remind her of the one- or two- important things that her friend
need to know about her younger sister's visit.
   "I have to warn you about something, Lor."
   "What's that ? That there's going to be a test on what you were talking
about earlier ?"
   "No, it's about my sister."
   "Let me guess," Lor said, smiling. "She has three heads and drinks human
blood, right ?"
   "That's disgusting, Lor."
   But she laughed. Lor always knew how to make Kelli laugh.
   "No, nothing so Buffy. But she does smoke- in fact-"
   Lor looked at Kelli askance., "Your younger sister, Melissa ?"
   "You sound shocked, Lor."
   "Well, she's only sixteen, right ?"
   Kelli smiled. "Yeah, so ?"
   "That's a little young, isn't it ?"
   Kelli thought about that for a moment. It had never occurred to her that
anyone might think Melissa was too young to smoke. The thought had crossed
her mind when she'd actually started, being that she was only fourteen, but-
   "I was younger than that when I started," Kelli finally said.
   Lor stopped scanning cars for open windows and the delights they offered to
look at his friend of over a year. "You used to smoke ?"
   He made the question as neutral as possible, in part because he didn't want
her to-
   The question came off passably well.
   "Yes. I started when I was fourteen, and I smoked for eight years. Right up
until I packed the car to come here to Grayland for graduate school. When I
was in college, I probably smoked a pack a day. Does that surprise you ?
Gross you out ?"
   "No," Lor said, still angling for disinterested neutrality. "Smoking doesn't
bother me at all, one way or another. Your parents both smoke. I guess it's
only natural."
   "Well, that's exactly what I told myself when I started. I'll never forget
the day I went home from school and decided to tell my mom that I wanted
permission to smoke in the house. She knew I'd been smoking at school, but I
was still worried that she would say no."
   "Did she ?" Lor asked, trying very hard to keep the anxiousness out of his
voice. He'd never imagined that Kelli smoked, but the idea of her holding a
long white cigarette in her hand, casually blowing smoke around the car-
   "Of course not. She told me that all I had to do was ask.  She said that
giving in was easier than fighting something that was only natural.  Which
was exactly why I decided to let Melissa smoke. She came to visit me one time
at State. I was a senior and- I still can't believe that Mom and Dad let her
come and spend a whole week with me- she waited until about five minutes
after they'd dropped her off to ask me if I'd teach her how to smoke."
   "You need to be taught ?" Lor asked, surprised. He'd never considered that
smoking was something which could be taught, that it was really any more
complicated than lighting a cigarette and puffing away. Of course, hearing
Kelli talk about it that way, it made perfect sense. He'd grown accustomed to
the fact that he enjoyed watching women smoke, but it had never really
occurred to him that they'd had to go through something to get to a point
where their smoking looked so effortless and enjoyable.
   "Well, let's put it this way. If I'd based my decision to smoke on my first
cigarette, it wouldn't have taken me eight years to decide to quit."
   Neither of them spoke for a long moment. Lor tried to return his attention
to the endlessly changing parade of cars around them but his mind kept going
back to that image of Kelli, cigarette in hand, driving the car, looking
carefree and-
   It was best not to follow that thought too far.
   "You're disappointed in me, aren't you ?"
   It was an odd question. But then again, they had an odd relationship.
   Lor's friend Jon had described it as dating without the sex. While Lor
abhorred this descriptive, it was all but true. A better one would be that
they were like brother and sister, except for a vague two-way sexual
attraction neither of them were willing to admit to. In that vein, it was
only natural that Kelli would be seeking Lor's approval.
   It was just as natural that he would withhold it.
   "No. I told you, I don't have any opinions about it, one way or the other."
   Kelli looked at him so earnestly that he was instantly worried, as this was
threatening to become one of those moments were they crossed some magical
line into a realm they would both later regret journeying to. If there was a
Buffy, they were Willow and Zander.
   "Do you mean that ?"
   "Yeah. Are you going whig about this or something ? I don't care if your
sister smokes cigars and runs around in her underwear singing show tunes,
okay ? Just not Oklahoma. My parents made me go see that in New York with
them once and I swore someday I'd have my revenge."
   "No. It's just that Melissa is very persuasive, and, well-"
   "Well what ?"
   "I'll probably smoke, too. The whole time she's here. If you can't deal with
that-"
   "I can deal, Kelli. What makes you think I care, one way or the other ?"
   The look of hurt on her face was enough to make Lor stop and think about how
he'd worded that.
   "I mean, I don't care whether you smoke or not. I just never imagined- why'd
you quit ?"
   Kelli laughed again, then locked at the dashboard clock and swore.
   "Shit. We're going to be late to the airport. I'm always late picking people
up."
   "As if I wasn't totally aware-" Lor said with some sarcasm.
   "Should I apologise again for that incident at the train station ?"
   "Not if it's only as sincere as those other apologies. So tell me why you
quit-"
   "I- oh hell, when I was in college I thought it very grown up to drink and
smoke, you know. But when I got the letter of acceptance from Grayland and
there was my name, Kelli Andersen-Skull, in sharp black laser print, I
started to think about whether or not I wanted to go through the rest of my
life as a smoker."
   "That hyphenated name is so cool," Lor said. "Although Kelli Skull is a
pretty cool name, too."
   "You listen to too much Nine Inch Nails, Lor. I wish Grandpa hadn't changed
the family name. I don't know what made him think Skull was any more American
that Scullversen."
   "You were saying ?" Lor asked as he grabbed for the dashboard. Their
lateness was making Kelli drive more erratically than usual.
   "Well, I thought about meeting a whole new set of friends and having them
define me a smoker. You know, if you smoke, that is the one variable that
comes to peoples' mind first. Not that you're funny, or gorgeous, or
brilliant-"
   "You're funny ?' Lor asked with mock sarcasm, picking the safest
descriptive.
   "You know what I mean, shithead. It's like, if you don't smoke, people can
think anything about you. But if you smoke, you're a smoker."
   "So ?"
   "I decided that I didn't want that."
   Kelli roared down exit 51, blew through a right turn redlight, and before
they could go any further with the discussion, they were sitting in the
loading/unload zone of the airport.
   Lor knew which attractive young smoker was Kelli's sister immediately. She
was standing outside the US Air doors, her long blonde hair billowing in the
stiff autumn breeze. Her smile as she saw her sister was infectious. She
waved, a long white cigarette- Marlboro Lights 100, Lor knew immediately-
between first and second finger of her left hand. She paused to take a long,
mutually enjoyable pull on the cigarette, bent down to grab her bag, and then
let lose a long, tight mouth exhale which expanded in the cool air until it
was a cloud which hung around her.
   There were other smokers waiting outside which Lor would have normally taken
the time to notice, but not now. He was thoroughly taken by Melissa. She was
a younger- and slightly more buxom version of her sister, dressed in a tight
black mini-skirt and a loose white t-shirt. The skirt was out of season but
Lor doubted she'd received any complaints.
   Kelli popped the trunk and her sister tossed her bag inside, hanging on only
to her purse.
   She piled in the back, still holding the cigarette. Kelli rolled down the
power windows just as Melissa exhaled, and the smoke went trailing out her
window.
   "How was the flight, Mel ?"
   "Two hours without a smoke. I thought I'd go crazy."
   "And yet you lived. How bizarre. Say hi to Lor, Mel. He's the best friend I
have, so try to be nice."
   Melissa extended an hand over the seat which Lor shook gently.
   "We've heard a lot about you, Lor.  All good."
   Lor nodded but didn't turn to look at Melissa. He didn't want to look at her
because he was thoroughly afraid he would stare.
   "Kelli says you're going into college next fall.  Any schools on your A list
?"
   "Grayland, for one. Despite what Kelli thinks, I didn't just come here to
drink beer and flirt with college boys."
   Lor laughed. "Then you came to the wrong place. I know I was planning to
skip classes this week and practise my keg skills."
   Although he'd promised himself he wouldn't start watching Melissa smoke, Lor
did take a look at her through the passenger side mirror. Kelli was busy
paying the parking attendant and Melissa was looking back at the terminal, so
neither of them saw him sneak a glance.
   Melissa was holding the cigarette between her lips, her hand still on it,
inhaling gracefully.
   She nearly met his eyes during the exhale- which would have been quite
enjoyable to watch- so he quickly turned away. 
   Kelli's sister reached forward to flick ash out the window of the two-door
and settled back into her seat with the sort of bouncy effervescence one
would expect from a 16 year old.
   "How was the flight, Mel ?"
   "It sucked," she said without preamble. "No food, they wouldn't let me order
a real drink, and the movie was The English Patient. I was bored to tears."
   "But somehow," Kelli said sarcastically, "you survived." She looked at Lor.
"Amasing, the depths of suffering the human condition can sink to, yet
survive."
   "You used to bitch the same way. I remember you complaining about what a
nightmare a three hour flight was."
   "That was when I smoked," she said, somewhat testily.
   "As though you've quit. Did Kelli tell you she smokes, Lor ?"
   "Well, yes. About five minutes before we picked you up. But I've never
actually seen it."
   What am I saying, Lor wondered.
   "Well, then," Melissa said.
   There was the tell-tale sound of a lighter.
   "Kel- I haven't decided if I want to smoke in front of Lor."
   "You don't mind, do you, Lor ?" Melissa asked, her voice muffled by the fact
that she was holding the second lit cigarette in it.
   He risked a peek and saw the long cigarette dangling from her pale lips. 
   Lor was almost sorry he looked, because of the excitement he felt.
   "Of course not. I'm actually curious. I would never have guessed that your
sister is a smoker."
   "I'm not," Kelli said. "I used to smoke, that's all."
   Still, she reached back with her right hand and Melissa slid the cigarette
between her sister's delicate, black-nailed fingers.
   Kelli brought the cigarette to her mouth without any hesitation and took the
sort of long deep inhale which made Lor forget about looking anywhere else.
   He'd never been attracted to Kelli- her brown hair was nicely curled and her
face was pleasing in a simple sort of way- not to mention that she was
well-built, but there had just never been any spark- until now. Seeing her
with her lips tightly wrapped around that cigarette made Lor re-evaluate her
attractiveness, and suddenly everything clicked. He'd always liked her- as a
person- but what he was feeling now was not so platonic as it had been.
   She removed the cigarette from her mouth hesitantly with her left hand and
then turned her head to exhale a long, thick stream of smoke out the open
window.
   Kelli then looked at Lor sheepishly. "Kind of gross, huh ?"
   "No. What makes you say that ?"
   "Come on. Me sitting her, sucking on a piece of burning weed. That can't be
pleasant."
   He saw the contented look in her eyes. "It looks like you enjoy it."
   She brought the cigarette slowly to her mouth and this inhale was longer,
deeper. Her breasts heaved faintly.
   This time she didn't bother turning her head but rather spoke through her
exhale. "Yeah, I do."
   "That's the Kelli I remember," Melissa said, her own voice muffled once
again by the cigarette in her mouth. "So tell me about this bar you're taking
me to for my birthday."
   "Bar ?" Lor asked, hoping she didn't mean the Wooden Spoon.
   "I guess there's one other thing I forgot to mention," Kelli stammered.

   Lor would have never believed that Melissa could look twenty-one, but then
again, he also had no idea that Kelli's first name was actually Ashley- she'd
taken to using Kelli as an undergrad because she thought Ashley was too
prep-school. But it made the old use your sister's license dodge more
effective.
   Melissa most certainly did look twenty-one, at least. She wasn't really
tall, but in her sister's best business suit, her hair tied up on her head,
make-up perfect, wearing tight-rimmed black framed glasses, she almost could
pull off looking twenty-four, which was what the license said.
   They'd explained the plan on the drive home, and Lor now understood why he'd
been enlisted. Not that Kelli wouldn't have wanted him along, but she
actually- they actually- need him.
   "We're supposed to be boyfriend and girlfriend, Lor. Let's hold hands."
   Lor looked at Melissa- she was wearing long heels which put her very close
to his height and the striking way a change of outfit had aged her was-
   He took her free hand hesitantly even as she used the other one to lift her
just lit cigarette to her lips.
   "It's too bad Kelli quit smoking. If she hadn't, the two of you might have
connected sooner."
   Lor suddenly regretted the fact that they'd decided to walk rather than
drive.
   "What does that mean ?"
   "I saw the way you looked at her when she took that cigarette from me. You
almost wet your pants. It's the first time you ever looked at her and had
those kind of thoughts."
   "Even if that was true-"
   "You wouldn't admit it to me. I know. What's even weirder is that you've
never even tried it, have you ?"
   It was definitely not to Lor's advantage that he was letting this girl
direct the conversation.
   "What does that have to do with anything." he asked.
   She squeezed his hand tightly and then shook it back and forth playfully,
forcing him to remind himself that this was just a girl.
   Pausing, she inhaled again and filled the cool night air around them with
thick smoke.
   "I've never had a drink. Probably hard to believe. I've been smoking since I
was fourteen but I've never had a drink. I'm a virgin imbiber. Maybe we both
could shed some inhibitions."
   Lor reminded himself that he actually had come to like Melissa in the short
time they'd known one another.
   But he still felt she was trouble, of one sort or another. For him, at
least.
   Still, it was something to be walking down the street with her like this,
hand in hand, her face so bright and mischievous as she inhaled yet again on
the long cigarette.
   They walked up to the doorway and Lor could see that either Melissa wasn't
nervous or she simply wasn't showing it.
   He expected that they would see through the ruse. It would be a loud scene
and they somehow discover Melissa's real age. The cops would be called and by
the time the sun came up tomorrow he would be getting a terse call from some
agency warning him that next time he tried a stunt like this they'd charge
him with corrupting a minor.
   These and other horrific endings shot through Lor's mind as the bouncer
studied the license and then the girl standing in front of him. As he
examined her face she lifted the cigarette to her mouth and treated him to a
deep inhale which made Lor regret that he was standing behind her, waiting.
The man smiled as she lifted her head to exhale and handed the plastic card
back without incidence.
   As they walked towards the usual table, Lor now in the lead, Melissa grabbed
his hand again and squeezed. "You can stop sweating now, Lor."
   "Was I sweating ?" he asked casually, as though he might not be mortally
embarrassed to lift his arm to get the attention of one of the waitresses.
   As they went to sit opposite one another, Melissa lifted Lor's hand over the
table rather than releasing it.
   "You know, Kelli's not going to be here for half an hour. This can either be
the longest half hour of your life or you can relax. I won't bite."	
   Just then Jeanne walked over. She had a pen behind her right ear and a pad
in her left hand. In her right hand was a freshly-lit Camel Lights 100, on
which she inhaled deeply (Lor wondered if some connoisseurs might not call it
a drag).
   "Can we get an ashtray, please ?" Melissa asked.
   Jeanne smiled, leaned close to Lor, and said "Very nice- but a little
young."
   "You two know each other ?" Melissa asked casually as she watched Jeanne
walk away, her tight, upturned behind dancing merrily.
   "We dated briefly, back when I thought I had time for graduate school and a
social life."
   "I don't see how you could have a social life. From the way Kelli talks, you
guys spend just about every free moment together. When she comes home, it's
Lor this and Lor that. I feel like I know more about you than your parents
do."
   Lor cracked a wise smile.
   "Everyone knows more about me than my parents do. It's family policy."
   "Well, once I tell her how you feel about smoking, she'll probably start
again."
   "Are we going to talk about anything besides smoking ?" Lor asked, not so
much because he was more interested in other aspects of Melissa's life as
because he felt the subject was simply too dangerous. He'd dated a smoker for
two months and never talked about it this much.
   "I hope not," Melissa answered sharply, pulling one last time on the
cigarette just as Jeanne returned, ashtray in hand. Melissa put the spent one
out and immediately lit another.
   "What can I get you guys ?" she asked, her voice as bright and wonderful as
ever.
   "Pitcher of Bass, a dozen wings-"
   "And a small salad," Melissa finished. 
   "Sure thing," Jeanne said, turning to Lor and winking. Lor knew her well
enough to understand that she totally misunderstood what was going on here.
Then again, Melissa had let loose of his hand only long enough to light her
cigarette. She seemed to enjoy the idea that she was making him squirm.
   "Tell me what it's going to be like-"
   "What ?" Lor asked. 
   "My first beer. You tell what that's going to be like and I'll tell you what
your first cigarette is going to be like."
   "I'm not planning on smoking. What ever gave the idea that I was ?"
   "I'm sure Kelli told you how persuasive I am. Trust me, before we go back
home tonight, you will try one."
   "You're very strange," Lor said, pulling his hand- gently- from hers. What
was he doing ? This girl was only sixteen, and anyway, his mind had been on
Kelli-
   Ever since this afternoon in the car.
   "Well, you hold up your end anyway. Quick, before your old betty gets back,
tell me."
   Lor surprised himself by answering the question. "It's- It'll be different
than you expect. I ordered something smooth- something which actually
quenches your thirst. You can always taste the alcohol, and there's a part of
you which will think you're feeling the effect right away. Bass- it's a
pleasant taste- you've never had beer so describing it in terms of anything
you'd know is difficult. But I'll warn you- you have to take it slow and be
patient. The true effect of the alcohol never kicks in right away and when it
catches up to you-"
   "In other words, sip, don't gulp."
   "Exactly. It's like eating a big meal. You have to pace yourself."
   Jeanne showed up right about then at Lor's elbow with a pitcher of amber
quality and two glasses. She stopped to pour, a perk most customers weren't
treated to.
   She made sure to pass another smile off on Lor before leaving the table.
   "She still likes you, you know."
   "Psychic much ?" Lor asked sarcastically. "She broke up with me."
   "Everyone makes mistakes. How could you not know that my sister smokes ?"
   Lor thought about it. Maybe he would have noticed if-
   They'd gotten to know each other fairly well, spent much of the last
eighteen months in daily contact and yet-
   And yet he was always staring out car windows or sitting her, at this table,
scanning the room for-
   He felt guilty all of the sudden.
   "I mean, you obviously have a thing for women who smoke-"
   "How can you be sure of that ?" he asked testily. This had really gone on
long enough. This child was leading him around by the nose and he was simply
letting her, just because part of him enjoyed it.
   Her answer was easy enough to anticipate.
   She was holding the cigarette in her left hand, wrist bent at a forty-five
degree angle, between her first two fingers. The other fingers were curled
into the palm. She moved the hand slowly- painfully slowly- to her mouth and
wrapped her lips around the filter tightly. Her cheeks were flared, giving
them a terribly pleasant round look.
   The inhale was so slow and deep that the word child no longer need be
applied to her. Lor understood it as an adult gesture- a terribly compelling
one at that.
   Melissa made a show of holding the smoke deep inside, smiling through
tightly closed lips as she moved the cigarette back to a waiting station, her
elbow down on the table, the cigarette held just above the ashtray. She
tapped it with her index finger, once, twice, and then finally exhaled,
making an 'o' of her lips and pushing the thick smoke straight at Lor. It
broke in the air about six inches from his face, forming a globe of
 sweet-smelling sharedness.
   "Now, let me explain something," Melissa said, her voice husky. "You think
that I'm a kid because I'm sixteen, that my age makes me incapable of being
perceptive, and most of all that I'm playing some sort of a game because I'm
mischievous."
   "I didn't say any of those things," Lor answered defensively. He retreated
into his beer, draining half the glass with casual ease.
   "You haven't thought about what I get out of all this have you ? Let's put
aside you admitting that you enjoy watching women smoke- you don't need to
say it."
   "It is true," Lor said, amasing himself.
   "Well, I love everything about smoking. I love doing it, I love talking
about it, I love being with people who smoke, and most of all, I love getting
other people to smoke. I really can't think of anything I enjoy more-"
   "I'll bet the day Kelli came home and told you she'd quit, you saw that as a
challenge-"
   "Exactly."
   "And you think I'm the key to getting her to start again, for real."
   "Of course."
   "Well, maybe you should find another way. First, why don't you try that beer
there and tell me what you think."
   Melissa inhaled again, treated Lor to a nice nose exhale, and lifted the
glass to her mouth.
   She took the conservative sort of sip which Lor had recommended, swished in
around in her mouth, and swallowed.
   "I like it. Now what do I do for the next five years ?"
   "Get used to dressing up and using your sister's ID," Lor said, smiling.
   "Do you remember your first beer ?"
   Lor was about to answer when Jeanne showed up with the food. She hadn't
bothered to ask how he wanted his wings- hot was always the answer. He dug
right in while Melissa mixed mouthfuls of greens with inhales on her
cigarette and pulls of her beer.
   "I was- jeesh, do I really have to tell you this ?"
   "I'll tell you about my first cigarette," Melissa said, open teasing in her
voice as she nose exhaled.
   "I was in college- well, almost in college. It was in July, my freshman
orientation at UB. My orientation RA had a keg in her room- I don't know how
she pulled it off, but she did. It was really skanky beer- Genny-"
   "Genny ?"
   "Genesee. Made with the clear waters of Niagara Falls. Piss water. It was
nasty- but I didn't know that at the time, and I certainly wouldn't have said
anything if I had. I mean, no one else looked or acted like they'd never had
a beer before, you know."
   "Warm, flat beer out of wax cup, right ? I bet you got hammered."
   "What makes you say that ?"
   "Well, Kelli did the same thing. She was a junior at prep school and she
snuck into a frat party at WPI. She was so wasted when she came home that she
woke the whole house up. Mom and Dad were laughing at her  for a month."
   "Yeah, I got toasted. I thought I was so cool.  At least I didn't barf. My
RA was so pissed. Somebody yakked in her bed. I mean, gross."
   Melissa looked up, shocked. Half the wings were gone already and Lor's face
was smeared with burning hot greasy spices. He didn't seem to care, and she
decided it was almost cute, even though there were small flecks of meat in
his trim goatee.
   She was about to tell him about her first cigarette when Kelli burst in.
Jeanne, not missing a beat, brought a third glass to the table. But Melissa
noticed the cold glare she fixed on her sister.
   "Sorry I'm late, guys." She poured herself a beer, finished off three wings
with the same lighting precision as Lor, and then reached for her sister's
cigarettes. Melissa snatched them away just as quickly.
   "I gave you your own."
   Kelli nodded, reached into her purse, and pulled out an unopened pack of
Marlboro Lights 100s. She stripped the cellophane off the pack and lit on
without ceremony.
   "God, that feels good," she said, smoke trailing from her mouth with each
breath.
   "I can't stay. Sorry. There was an accident in the lab."
   "Accident ?" Lor asked. "In your lab ? Somebody slip on a banana peel ?"
   "No," Kelli said, agitated. She took a deep inhale, blew smoke across the
table, and snitched a piece of lettuce from Melissa's bowl. "You know those
cells I spent all summer culturing and plating ?"
   "Yeah-" Lor said, hesitating.
   "Well, Professor Thompson warned me that damned math fpc error in the new
Pentium II chips would come back to haunt me. The primary workstation
controlling the cryogenic chamber failed. I don't understand how it works,
but the chamber is kept at a precise -315 fahrenheit by some bizarre complex
math formula. Well, the workstation crapped out and the chamber went off
line." She paused to drain her beer glass.
   "Did you lose the cells ?" Lor asked.
   "God, no. I'd be drinking out of the pitcher if that had happened. The reserv
e controller came on line, but it can't control the temperatures accurately
for more than a few hours. I have to load the software on another primary and
hope it kicks in before I lose the cells. It'll probably take all night.
Here, Mel, take my keys."
   Before either of them could say another word Kelli was gone, trailing smoke
as she rushed out of the bar.
   "Was she like that as a kid ?" Lor asked off-handedly.
   "I take it this sort of thing has happened before ?"
   "Let's just say that her work is very important to her. I admire that- and
those cells are really her work for the next year. Losing them would set
 back her research months."
   "She's always been like that. Which brings me back to my first cigarette.
She was a senior and she had me up for a visit. I'd sent her a long e-mail,
telling her how I wanted to start smoking. I think she thought she could
break me of the idea by letting me try it."
   "I'll bet you loved it, right from your first one," Lor said around his last
wing.
   "No. That's why I want you to hear this. You're right. I fully intend to see
that you start smoking by the time I leave. But if I'm not honest about what
happened when I started, you'll smoke a grand total of one cigarette and call
it a life."
   "What makes you think you can get me to start ?"
   Melissa ran her foot up Lor's leg shamelessly. "I have my ways. And I have a
secret to tell you that will put you over the edge, trust me. But first,
here's what happened to me."
   Lor denied the fact that Melissa's game of footsie was in any way enticing.
   "Do tell."
   "It was after dinnertime. I'd gotten in on a late bus and Kelli picked me
up. The whole way back to campus all I could talk about was how excited I was
that she was going to teach me to smoke. I thought- and I still think, by the
way- that she was so cool. She was driving and smoking and I really did want
to be just like her, you know."
   "I can think of worse people to be like than your sister."
   "She'd be flattered. Anyway- this is going to sound so queer, but I promised
my parents- well, I was skipping a week of school, so I promised them that
before we started having any 'fun', I'd see to it that I'd done all my class
assignments- it's amasing how different prep school is. They expect students
to take weeks off at a time. I had more books than clothing with me. Kelli
had some big early mid-terms coming up, so we agreed to hunker down in her
room, order a pizza, and study all night. I'll bet you think that's the
lamest thing you ever heard."
   Lor signalled Jeanne that another basket of wings were in order. "You want
another salad ?"
   "No. So do I win your geek of the year award for 1995 ?"
   "Not at all. I wish I had been that responsible in high school. I missed
getting into my first choice school by about three one-hundredths of a grade
point."
   "Well, I still don't know where I'm going, although Greyland is at the top
of my list. Kelli and I could share the house- she can't stand her current
housemate."
   "I know. I hear about it every day. So tell me, what happened ?"
   Melissa finished her cigarette and then drained her beer in a fairly
lady-like fashion. Lor poured her another half an glass.
   "Cutting me off already ?"
   "Well, it looks like I'm going to be spending the rest of the night watching
over you and I'd rather not get toss on my shoes, if you know what I mean."
   "Kelli told me that as soon as we ordered the pizza, she'd let me try a
cigarette. Now you know how Kelli is- when she sets a timetable, there's no
breaking it.  I guess she'd been to dinner, because it wasn't until ten that
she got around to calling Domino's. By then I couldn't think straight, much
less study. She got off the phone, handed me her cigarettes, and told me to
go ahead. My head was spinning. I was actually going to smoke."
   "Sounds like a dream come true," Lor said just as Jeanne wandered over with
the wings. He muttered thanks and dug in like a man four days past his last
meal. Jeanne gave Melissa a knowing smile and walked away.
   "I thought it was. I flicked the lighter and the flame caught the tip of the
cigarette. Kelli had told me and told me not to start inhaling right away, to
just get used to the taste."
   "But you didn't listen, did you ?"
   Melissa smiled, drank, and lit a cigarette. Lor found himself thinking
unpleasantly pleasant thoughts about what it would be like to sneak into here
with Melissa on a regular basis starting next fall.
   "Of course not. That's what makes me think Kelli's real intention was to
queer me on the whole idea of smoking. I took a deep inhale and the smoke
burned my throat, my eyes, and my lungs. I managed not to cough, but it made
me dizzy and when I exhaled, there was this awful taste in my mouth. I'd
wanted to smoke for about four years, maybe even ever since Kelli had
started, but it just took one puff to convince me that smokers were insane."
   "So you took another inhale as soon as you could, right ?"
   "Exactly. I thought I must have done something wrong, you know. I smoked the
whole cigarette that way, one torturous inhale after another and Kelli smiled
the whole time, smoking herself, making it look easy. But what it was queasy.
I was wobbly, you know ?"
   "And yet now ?" Lor asked, fascinated. He'd never considered that there was
some pain threshold curve smokers had to overcome, that something that looked
so satisfying- so sexual- could be difficult.
   "She let me rest about five minutes after the first one and then insisted I
have another. And of course, I did the same thing. By the time the pizza came
I was sick to my stomach, I stank of smoke, I was dizzy, and the taste in my
mouth- ick. I thought about kissing someone with that in their mouths. I
choked down two slices of pizza- I'd been starving, and as soon as I was
done, Kelli urged me to have a third cigarette."
   "Why didn't you say no ?"
   "Well, she wasn't acting the same way anymore. I could tell she knew when I
took that second cigarette that I wasn't going to give up- and later she told
me it had been the same way for her- except that it was her friend Helene who
taught her to smoke. She lit the cigarette for me and really talked to me
about how to actually smoke it- mostly she convinced me that it's okay to
just sit there with a lit cigarette in your hand and take a puff when you
want one as opposed to trying to smoke the whole thing in three or four
minutes like you're on some kind of mission. I didn't enjoy it, but the third
one didn't make me sick either. I knew I was close, but I wasn't really a
smoker yet."
   She inhaled deeply and treated Lor to yet another wonderful nose exhale
which made him wish Kelli had never quit. He knew now that he would become an
advocate for her smoking.
   "When did that happen ?"
   "The next morning." She finished her beer, chased it with a monster inhale,
and tipped her glass towards Lor. Her deep green eyes pleaded with him for
more and her foot danced across his chin. He sighed and poured her a full
glass. The foot strayed north, perilously close to his hard-on. He fought to
ignore both.
   "I got up, started my sister's coffee maker, and watched her sleep. I'd
turned in about two, but she probably was up 'til four, pounding the papyrus.
I waited until the coffee was done to admit to myself that I craved another
cigarette. I mean, it was all I could think about. So I lit one, drinking
coffee while I smoked it the way Kelli had taught me. Nice and slow- inhaling
when I wanted to instead of constantly. And suddenly it all fell into place.
The taste of the smoke was sweet, not bitter. The head rush was cool instead
of disorienting. That was it. I smoked the whole rest of the week, working my
way up to half a pack a day by Friday. I loved it, and I still do."
   Lor finished his last wing and poured the bottom out of the pitcher.
   "How about the beer ? You're on your third glass-"
   Melissa held it up, smiling. "Oh, I took to this right away. BUt I was
hoping you'd let me get drunk-"
   "Don't worry," Lor said, smiling. "You will be-"

   They were in the park. They'd left the bar half an hour ago, stopped for
coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, and by the time they'd walked south to the eerie
fall quiet of Elmwood Park, Melissa was showing the effects of the beer. She
was hanging on Lor like a long-lost boyfriend, giggling at her jokes and his
while she tried desperately to convince him to try just one cigarette.
   They'd come to the park only because it had been clear Lor would never smoke
in public, but now Melissa was enjoying the crisp cold air and the company.
   She was holding her own in one hand and the coffee in the other. Her eyes
were glowing with reflected light from a distant arc-sodium streetlamp.	
   Sixteen or not, she was beautiful.
   Bringing the cigarette to her lips she trapped it there and let it dangle.
She then fished her cigarettes from her purse along with her lighter and
handed them to Lor, after which she inhaled deeply on the cigarette, only
then removing it from her lips.
   They were off the park's main road, down the hill. An occasional car passed
by, the drivers perhaps not seeing the couple below.
   "What's this big secret ?" Lor asked.
   "Secret ?" Melissa asked, giggling faintly. She was what Lor called pleasant
drunk- happy without being incapacitated.
   "Yeah. You said-"
   "Kelli," Melissa said, her voice almost not slurred. "Not smoking has been
driving her crazy, but she won't start again until-"
   "She's already started again," Lor said, trying to adjust to the weird feel
of the lighter and the box of cigarettes.
   "She'll quit again the minute I leave. Unless-"
   "Unless what ?"
   "You're the key. She thinks her smoking bothers you."
   "Why don't you tell her that I-"
   "Get off on it ?"
   "Melissa !"
   Her answer as always was a deep inhale. She stood up on her tiptoes, no mean
feet in heels, pressed tightly against him so that he could feel the way the
cold night air had made her nipples hard, and kissed him. Her tongue was a
living, dancing sprite and he kissed back even as she filled his mouth with
the smoke.
   He found it only mildly unpleasant.
   "Consider that family practise. I think Kelli's better at that than I am."
   "Do it again-" Lor said breathlessly, the moist night air heavy with her-
with their- smoke.
   Melissa obliged happily. He could taste the beer and the smoke on her
tongue. He could feel the faintest effects of the nicotine.
   "Try one. Come on-"
   Lor did as he was asked, lighting the cigarette with nervous, jittery hands.
   "Don't try to inhale too much. Take your time."
   Lor did as he was coached but it was still mildly unpleasant and he found
himself suddenly struck with awe that he found women who did this to
themselves attractive.
   Until Melissa kissed him again, harder, with more passion and less
instruction.
   He inhaled too deeply after the kiss, found himself coughing, and dropped
the cigarette to the ground, crushing it out.
   "I can't," he said. "I thought I could, but-"
   Melissa picked his coffee up off the ground and he drank gladly.
   "Wait a few minutes and try again."
   She smoked her cigarette down, and when she was done with it she immediately
lit two more. Lor found that despite his own recent experience he was turned
on by that, even more turned on when she demurely twisted her wrist and
handed him one.
   He took it and did as he was told, small inhales, patient exhales.
   Then it happened. Halfway through the cigarette, a car came to a dead stop
at the top of the hill. A search beam washed light down on the grass and he
was momentarily frozen in its' glare.
   He did his best to hide the cigarette behind his back, mortified.
   It took only a few seconds for the officer to clear her cruiser and start
down the hill.
   "Should we run ?" Melissa asked. Lor looked at her shoes, and while he could
admit to himself that that was the first thing which had crossed his mind, he
knew they had no chance.
   "Fuck no."
   He thought about dropping the cigarette. But the truth was he didn't want
to. 
   Melissa took the initiative, stepping forward even as she inhaled deeply on
her cigarette. "Can we help you, officer ?"
   Her words were carried on lovely clouds of pale smoke which danced in the
beam light.
   "You two don't look like the sort who usually bring their dates into the
park this late at night," the woman said, keeping the beam directly on them.
"So I'll let you in on a little secret. The park is closed to pedestrians at
9 and it's close to eleven now. So why don't you-"
   She stopped, concentrating the light on Lor. "What have you got in your
hand, son ?"
   He held up his empty left hand. "Nothing, officer."
   "The other one," she responded, clearly not amused.
   He held the cigarette where she could see it.
   "Christ. I thought you had a joint, the way you were acting. The park is
closed, folks. Go home."
   Without another word, she walked back up the hill. Lor and Melissa watched
her as she got into the cruiser and drove away, Melissa smoking and laughing
the whole time.
   Lor just smoked.
   As the wheels on gravel became a distant sound, Melissa moved close to Lor.
   "Why didn't you just drop the cigarette ?"
   "I was- enjoying it."
   "You're second one ? I'm impressed. Let's celebrate."
   Before he could object, she kissed him again, their free hands locking. When
they broke the embrace, Melissa smiled.	
   "I think you and I should have a talk with Melissa tomorrow. But let's not
tell her about the kissing."
   That settled, Lor kissed her again.


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