Halloweeen

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 11 October 1997)


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Halloween
an4@anon.lelnet.com

   Ashley looked up at the clock and sighed heavily. It was still twenty
minutes until two- twenty long minutes until the final bell.
   "Am I boring you, Miss Chartier ?" Ms. Danielsson asked, her smile in no way
an indication that she was amused. For a twenty-five year old, she could be a
real hard ass sometimes.
   "No," Ashley said, forcing a fake brightness into her voice. "It's just that
this costume is hot, you know."
   "No, I don't know. But I'd rather you kept the remarks about your
fluctuating body temperature to yourself. Now, while I have your attention,
do you think we're to believe that the blood MacBeth couldn't wash off was
real or imaginary ?"
   "I don't think it matters. Three hundred fifty years ago, most of the
audience would have been able to believe something like that was real, where
today's readers would be more likely to see that as the diseased operations
of a guilty mind. But either way the effect is appropriate."
   When she looked at the clock again, there was only twelve minutes left, and
that still seemed like forever.

   "I can't believe you," Carrie, said, looking at Ashley in disbelief. "I
thought that Danielsson had you dead to rights when she asked you to answer
that question."
   Carrie was dressed up as a vampire, which suited her perfectly. Her long,
bushy blonde hair was pulled back into a tight pony tail which highlighted
her creamy grey eyes. She'd lightened her face beyond its usual paleness with
a base, and she'd doused her lips in dark red gloss which shined brightly in
the late afternoon sun. Her false incisors protruded between her lips in a
very realistic way. She opened her mouth just enough to push her cigarette
between them and them clamped down on the white filter, inhaling deeply.
   Her tight black shirt bulged at the breastline as her cape billowed out
behind her.
   The few boys who had somehow missed the way Carrie had developed over the
last year had certainly taken notice today.
   "Are we still going trick or treating ?" she asked, blowing smoke into the
heavy, cool autumn air.
   "Of course," Ashley replied, smiling. "Tradition, you know ? I just wonder
what Old Ms. Appleasp is going to give us this year ?"
   "It pays to be the only two who aren't afraid to go up there. How much was
that watch she gave you last year worth ?"
   "Six hundred, according to the jeweler. I'm afraid to wear it."
   "Well, you should wear it tonight. It'll make her happy- and she notice."
   Carrie tapped ash from her cigarette and inhaled again, carefully avoid
impaling her lower lip, which she curled inward.
   "I feel sorry for her. I mean, she sits up there in that lonely old mansion
and she can see the whole town. Everyone has candles in the driveway in white
paper bags- I heard a rumour she started that, you know. Everyone going door
to door, except to her house. It's kind of mean."
   "I suppose. But remember, our parents always used to tell us not to go up
there. We were twelve before we decided to risk it."
   Carrie's nose exhale was pushed down by the strengthening wind and became
caught in her cape, twisting and writhing until it finally escaped out the
bottom. Ashley, watching from the side, thought it was a perfect effect.
   "You're not thinking that we're too old to be trick or treating, are you ?"
Ashley asked.
   "No. But were the only ones our age who go alone- I don't know."
   "You're afraid everyone else thinks it weird or something ?"
   "Ah, I don't care. As long as we make it to the dance by nine-"
   "I'd think you'd be looking forward to an excuse to get out of the house
anyway," Ashley said.
   "You're right about that. It's been nine months and I still don't understand
it. I can smoke anywhere I want- as long as Mom can't see me doing it. I have
to either get out of the house or hole up in my room all night."
   "Maybe she feels guilty that you started smoking."
   "I suppose. We should get going if we're really going out before the dance."
   Carrie stubbed out her cigarette, considered her options briefly, and then
lit another from her half empty pack of Marlboro Lights 100s.
   "Want a ride home, or are you going to take bus ?"
   Ashley looked at Carrie with mock annoyance. Six months she'd had the car,
and she asked the same stupid question every school day. As if.

   Janice Chartier looked up at the old clock on the wall. When it was quiet in
the house you could hear its ancient motor whirring away. Eating time.
   It was almost two-thirty. Unless Ashley stopped by Carrie's after school,
she'd be home in a few minutes. Hopefully, the phone would ring, she'd say
she'd decided to help Carrie study, and-
   Janice had no choice but to allow herself to feel some guilt at the pleasure
that scenario brought her.
   Yes, she admitted it. She didn't want her daughter to come home- at least
not yet. No, working at home and having a covered back porch had spoiled
Janice. Ashley left the house at quarter to seven and for at least seven and
an half hours she was afforded the pleasure of smoking.
   It was strange, really. When she'd worked in an office with other smokers
she'd had little or no urge to start again. She'd watch them stroll outside
for their breaks- most of them taking two in the morning and two more in the
afternoon, and marvel how her college years had been much the same. Classes
spent watching the clock, calculating the minutes until that next cigarette.
The truth was, she'd felt sorry for them.
   And then came the pink slip. Suddenly they felt sorry for her- they'd tried
to take up a collection, as if. She'd politely asked them to keep their money
and decided that it was really time to switch to consulting. A year later,
she was making three times her old salary doing work which was twice as
enjoyable. No more answering to a staff of editors, no more fighting with
three other writers and two artists about every piece which, after all, had
your byline on it, not theirs.
   The truth was, she was getting so many calls and faxes that she was
considering hiring an agent just so that she'd have someone to reject
assignments for her
   As a writer, Janice knew well enough that she should be able to describe
exactly what it was which had lead her to start smoking again. But the truth
was that she really had no idea.
   It might have been the vague fear that work wouldn't start coming in again
before the severance pay ran out. Or it might have been the initial boredom-
Janice had spent the first two weeks waiting for the phone to ring and
sketching out the basic tenets of a novel she was sure she would never bring
herself to write.
   That novel, which was a storyboard and thirty pages of tolerable prose, had
probably been the catalyst. Janice hadn't done any serious creative writing
since before Ashley'd been born. In fact, she'd quit smoking and writing
about the same time, a few months after she'd married Dick and before she'd
gotten pregnant.
   Dick hadn't liked either vice. He much preferred her working a stable job
with real hours, a job which would get her out of the house for a set period
every day.
   Little had she'd known why.
   It had been a real surprise when he'd arranged to get two months leave from
his position as Red Musuem's high school principal and an even bigger
surprise when he insisted that she go right back to a job which she had, at
the time, loved. Of course, it was a bigger surprise when she'd come home
early one afternoon and found her Dick in bed with the babysitter. She liked
to joked that he'd said he was merely tipping her.
   The school board had very quietly and quickly bought out his contract, as
the baby sitter was only a freshman at the time.
   Prior to his indiscretion, Janice had started smoking again, if mildly. The
truth was, she'd been looking forward to going back to work because she could
take up the habit again. But for whatever reason, it just hadn't been the
same. She thought about that little wonder at home- with a different
babysitter, an actual day care specialist as opposed to a little sl-
   Janice decided not to go there again. 
   She also decided to stop trying to analyse why the hell she'd started
smoking again. The fact was, she was glad that she did, except for all the
sneaking around. That part of it wasn't really quite so pleasant as-
   Relief flooded through her body as the phone rang. Ever optimistic, she
grabbed her pack of Benson and Hedges Lights and her lighter and made for the
porch.
   Sure enough, it was Ashley. She listened as her daughter apologised. She was
going trick or treating straight from Carrie's and wouldn't be home until
around eight.
   Janice cupped her hand over the speaker and lit a cigarette. Just then
Ashley asked if there'd been any trick or treaters yet. She said no around
her cigarette.
   "What are you eating, Mom ?"
   "Just a pretzel, Ash. Look, you two-"
   "Mom, please don't ask me to be careful. I'm getting a little old for that,
aren't I ?"
   "You're never too old to be careful, honey."
   "Love you, Mom. Bye."
   Janice pressed the off button on the portable and sighed. She felt slightly
flushed. When Ashley had asked her what she was eating, a small part of her
had to wonder if her daughter suspected what it was that she'd really been
doing. Were the showers and the frantic tooth brushing, the bubble gum and
the hair spray really enough to cover the smells of tobacco smoke ?
   She inhaled deeply on the cigarette and enjoyed a thick nose exhale. Of
course they were. And if they weren't ? Why would it matter. Ashley's best
friend Carrie smoked all the time, in fact, her mother had given her
permission to smoke whenever she wanted, so what would be the big deal if
Ashley did catch her.
   Maybe it was time-
   No. Janice took another inhale and thought about that. There were moments
when she was standing out here on the back porch indulging her secret joy
when she thought she was capable of telling her daughter the truth. It was
easy to be brave when there was no real chance of it ever happening.
   Once again, she played out the scenario in her mind's eye. Her daughter
walked through the front door and she'd be sitting on the living room couch,
cigarettes and ashtray in front of her as she lit one.	Ashley would be
shocked, of course, but Janice would quietly explain what she was doing, that
she had smoked for years and that it was no big deal.
   Ashley would protest at first, but then-
   Then she would tell her mom the truth, that Carrie had gotten her to start
as well and she'd gotten tired of hiding it. Her daughter would pull a pack
of Marlboro Lights 100s from her purse and join her as they smoked together.
It would be a watershed moment in their relationship.
   Of course, it would never happen. Carrie's habit had nine long months to
wear off on her daughter and it hadn't. That told Janice all she needed to
know. Her fantasy was just that.
   She knew because-
   As shameful as the guilt of not wanting her daughter around was, there was
something even darker that she did on a regular basis. What had started as an
occasional transgression had grown into a daily habit. Ashley would go into
the shower and as soon as the water started to run Janice knew she had a ten,
sometimes twelve minute window. She would sneak into Ashley's room and open
her purse, always hoping against hope to find a pack of cigarettes, a
lighter, or at the very least, a partially used pack of matches.
   There was never anything of the sort. Just lip gloss, loose change, tissues,
and emergency mini-pads. And once a bottle of caffeine pills. Janice hadn't
much liked that, but she remembered trying them in college, and what could
she say ?
   'I was rifling through your purse and-'
   Suddenly Janice felt strangely like crying.
   There was only one thing to do. She adjusted her Gap jeans, which were
stylishly baggy but too often uncomfortable, lit another cigarette, and then
speed dialed a certain long distance number.
   "Hi mom-" she said, forcing some cheerfulness into her voice.
   It didn't work. It never did, not with Mom.
   "What's wrong, sweetie ?"
   "Nothing. I was just calling to say happy Hallow'een."
   There was a sigh at the other end, followed by the sound of a match being
rubbed across the striking surface of sandpaper. That was Mom. She'd been
smoking for forty-three years without ever migrating to butane lighters.
She'd be lighting a Saratoga, one of those super-long, ultra elegant
cigarettes, and then she would settle back into her easy chair and find a
solution for her daughter's woes.
   "The last time you had that sound in your voice you were calling to tell me
you'd been laid off. What gives ? Have a bad date, I hope ?"
   The unspoken component of that being that she'd had a date, something
unlikely.
   "No. Mom. I- I need some advice. I've started smoking again, and-"
   "Good for you, sweetie. Your mood improve ?"
   The unspoken component there being that she'd never really been happy since
she'd quit, which wasn't quite true.
   "Well, I haven't- no. See-"
   "You haven't told my granddaughter, and she hasn't started smoking yet,
despite your best hopes, right ? You're afraid to tell her, as if a
thirty-seven year old woman can't smoke if she chooses to without her
daughter's permission. I can't imagine what goes through your head sometimes.
If it wasn't for me, you'd never have started smoking-"
   "Times were different, Mom. When you asked me if I wanted to try smoking, I
thought you were so cool."
   "I was. But you're right, times change. And I've always respected your
wishes, I never told my grand-daughter that you used to smoke. But I think
it's time one of us told her the truth. I can see you right now, standing on
your back porch, smoking a cigarette. You're enjoying it, aren't you ?"
   Janice had just taken a liberal inhale on her shrinking cigarette. She held
the smoke for a moment before exhaling and then laughed.	
   "How is it you know me so well ?"
   "I'm a good mother. Listen, do you still have that picture album from
college ? The one you've hidden from Ashley all these years ?"
   "Yeah. It's in the bottom of my underwear drawer."
   "Remember Hallow'een, junior year ? You talked me into letting you borrow my
wedding dress ?"
   "Of course. That was the best Hallow'een ever."
   "I hope so, considering you ruined my dress. You still have the pictures in
the album, right ?"
   "Yeah-" Janice said, not sure where this was leading. That was just about
eighteen months before she had Ashley. Things had been so simple-
   "I don't think there's a single picture in there in which you don't have a
cigarette in your hand. And it was your favourite Hallow'een. Why don't you
use the holiday as an excuse to show her those pictures ?"
   "For what ?"
   "She'll act surprised. Ask you if you used to smoke. Then you ask her how
she feels about smoking. It's a natural progression."
   "I don't know, Mom-"
   "Did you call to get a solution to your problem or just to complain ?
Because you know how I feel about complaining-"
   There were times when Mom's lack of sympathy was upsetting. But she might
just be right.

   If Mrs. Appleasp wasn't a witch, she'd picked the wrong house to live in.
The old mansion had been lifted from an episode of the Addams Family. The
dark, winding driveway- it was really more of a road- was brightly lit with
candles in white paper bags, but the trudge up the hill still struck the
girls as somber. This was the last stop on what had already been an
impressive Hallow'een haul. Not that either girl was likely to ever finish
all the candy they'd garnered.
   Had gargoyles been seen circling the turrets of the mansion neither girl
would have batted an eye.
   Carrie had stopped at the bottom of the hill to light a cigarette. It was
half gone by the time they reached the thick oaken double doors.
   There was a paper skeleton, life size, hanging from one door, an equally
large vampire from the other.
   Ashley looked from cardboard to flesh and decided Carrie was the more
attractive article.
   "What're you looking it ?" Carrie said, her words billowing outward on a
cloud of smoke which Ashley thought was especially sweet-smelling.
   "You're- I'm just a little jealous, okay ?"
   "Like every guy in school wasn't eyeballing you in that football uniform. I
wish I had your legs."
   "Likewise-"
   The left door swung open just then, startling both girls.
   "Are you two going to stand and argue about who has better legs or are you
going to threaten me with a trick if I don't treat you. You two have a dance
to go to, after all." 
   Mrs. Appleasp liked them thinking she was just a little psychic. It made
other things easier.
   "Trick or treat !" the girls said in melodic unison.
   "Come on in-"
   Carrie was about to dispense of her cigarette when the old woman told her
not to bother. "I do have ashtrays, after all."
   The girls walked inside. Ashley noticed how the house didn't smell musty as
one would expect, although if one listened closely, strange creaks and groans
could be heard, odd background noises without explanation.
   They sat down on the couch as tradition dictated, while the old woman sat
opposite them in an high back straight chair, an old maple great chair with
no cushion. 
   "I see you've started smoking, Carrie. But I understand that your mother has
an odd sort of problem with that. So I'd like to help you with that. By the
way, nice watch."
   Carrie made a mental note that as always, Ashley was right.
   Mrs. Appleasp was wearing a long black dress of the most matronly sort. It
had an high white collar and deep folds. She reached into one and pulled out
a double-sided picture frame. "This is pure platinum," she said, standing up
again. The two sides were folded in upon one another, and she handed it to
Carrie as the girl stubbed out her cigarette.
   "Platinum ?" Carrie asked. "It must be worth-"
   "Hardly a fortune, youngster. And I have no use for it anymore. I used to
have a picture of Harry in one side and myself in the other, but to be
honest, I tire of looking at my dead husband."
   Carrie opened the frame and-
   On the left was a picture of her, outside of the school. It was tight shot,
just her face and shoulders. The sun was gleaming in her blonde hair and she
was holding a long, freshly lit cigarette by her left ear. A thick cloud of
smoke was streaming out of her mouth through lips pursed in a tight 'O'.
   The picture in the right was an identical pose of her mother, taken indoors.
They looked more like sisters than twins.
   "Give that to your mother, Carrie. It will make her think about how she's
been feeling about you and your smoking."
   "How do you know ?"
   "I just do. Maybe everyone is right and I am  a witch. I don't tell, one way
or the other. It's for you to decide."
   Mrs. Appleasp turned her attention to Ashley.
   "In keeping with this year's themes I have two gifts for you, Ashley. Or
three. Two are for you. The third is for your mother."
   She reached into an equally deep fold on the other side of the dress and
pulled out three objects. A silver cigarette case, a silver lighter, and a
brand new pack of Marlboro Lights 100s.
   "The case is for your mother. The lighter and the cigarettes are for you,
Ashley."
   Ashley looked at Mrs. Appleasp and reddened slightly. "I don't smoke. And
neither does my mother."
   "Of course she does, Ashley."
   "I suppose," Ashley said, uncharacteristically annoyed, "that you saw that
in your crystal ball."
   Carrie punched her friend in the arm and then lit another cigarette.
   "I'm not trying to shock or hurt you, Ashley. The truth is that I was in
line behind your mother at the grocery store this morning. She had two packs
of Benson and Hedges Lights. I've seen her buy cigarettes at least half a
dozen times in the last few months. I think she started again after she
started working out of the house. I'm not surprised that she's managed to
hide it from you. She thinks you'd been upset."
   "But you know better. You are right. It wouldn't bother me. But I don't
smoke."
   "You will. By the end of tonight, you will."
   "I don't understand, Mrs. Appleasp. You don't smoke."
   The old woman walked over to the fireplace and lifted a long onyx cigarette
holder from its place on the mantle. She then walked back to the girls, took
a cigarette from Carrie's pack, placed it in the lighter and lit it. She
inhaled deeply and then moved the holder down by her waist, looking like an
aging B-movie queen as let a slow stream of smoke trail from her mouth.
   "I've just never smoked in front of the two of you. The truth is that I've
always been very attached to smoking and anything I can do to help you girls.
But you really should get going or you're going to be late for your dance."
   The girls said their thank yous and walked out, Ashley shaking her head and
Carrie smiling.
   As they started down the driveway, the doors closed behind them, Ashley
asked her friend what she was so happy about.
   "I'm thinking about what it's going to be like watching you smoke your first
cigarette tonight."
   "As if," Ashley said.

   Janice had made two decisions. First of all she was going to use her
mother's plan to ease Ashley into the idea that she smoked. Second, she was
going to encourage Carrie to smoke in her house, in order to show Ashley that
she was still pro-smoking. From there, it might be a much smaller step
towards getting the courage up to tell Ashley she too was a smoker.
   Still, she'd taken a shower twenty minutes ago.
   When Ashley came in the door, she was sitting on the couch, looking at her
college pictures. She had it open to the hallow'een pictures. She really had
been lovely in her wedding dress, and as her mom had said, every picture was
of her either holding or smoking a cigarette.	
   "What's up, Mom ?"
   "Didn't Carrie come in ?"
   "No. She has to run to the store. She's out of cigarettes- again. She'll be
back in ten minutes."
   "She doesn't have any problems buying cigarettes ?" Janice asked.
   "No more than you d- would," Ashley said, almost slipping. "Are you looking
at pictures ?"
   "Yeah. From college. Want to take a look ?"
   "Sure, but I only have a few minutes. I have to do something with my hair.
It was real windy tonight."
   "I see you brought home enough candy to feed the elementary school."
   "Yeah," she said, glad her mother had no suspicions about her going to Mrs.
Appleasp's.
   She sat down next to her mother, noticing that her hair was still wet.
   "Are you planning on going to the Singles' Party tonight, Mom ?" she asked,
open encouragement in her voice. 
   "Why ?"
   "Your hair is wet."
   "I guess I was," Janice said, thinking she was very close to being snagged
right now. "I might. I mean-"
   "You should go. Just to get out. I'm not saying that you need to-"
   "I know what you are and aren't saying, dear."
   Ashley looked at the pictures and experienced a mix of shock and deja vu.
There was her mother, wearing a wedding dress and smoking. In every last
picture she was either exhaling a cloud of smoke or holding a long white
cigarette. It was, she had to admit, a great look. They were obviously
college pictures, and she wondered why she'd never seen them before. She was
sure she hadn't. That Thompson College banner was a dead give away.
   "Is that grandma's wedding dress ?" Ashley asked, avoiding the smoking issue
for a moment.
   "Yes," Janice said, hiding her disappointment that nothing was said about
her smoking. "And yes, I ruined it. Got grass and dirt all over it. But you
don't have time for that story right now."
   "I didn't know that you used to smoke, mom."
   Inside, Janice smiled. Outside, her face remained neutral. She had to play
this cool. She thought if this did work she would tell Ashley that she was
thinking of starting again, not that she had already had. It would still be a
lie, but a smaller one than the one which she had been living.
   "In high school and college. For about eight years, actually."
   Ashley appeared entirely non-plussed by the news.
   "Tell me something then."
   "Anything-"
   "Why do people smoke, mom ? What did you see in it ?"
   Janice sat back and handed Ashley the album, so that she could get a really
good look at all those pictures of her smoking.
   "What makes you ask ?"
   "I don't know. I've always wondered what Carrie sees in it, why Grandma and
Grandpa smoke. Why you smoke- I mean smoked."
   "What does Carrie say when you ask her about it ?"
   Ashley laughed. "Carrie refuses to tell me anything. She says that if I want
to know what it's like to smoke I have to try it myself."
   "Have you considered doing that ?"
   "Mom !" Ashley protested, adjusting her shoulder pads, which were again
riding up off her breasts into her neck, where they came close to choking
her. It was kind of fun wearing this unusual costume, but having it on almost
non-stop since six-thirty this morning was beginning to take a toll.
   "Well, it's perfectly normal. I mean, you are a teenage girl. Not that I'm
suggesting that you should-"
   "You don't sound like you're saying that I shouldn't, either. I don't know.
I just saw these pictures of you smoking and it made me think you might be
able to explain it to me in a way that I could understand, you know ?"
   "It's something that you have to get used to, I suppose. The first time I
tried a cigarette, well, I thought I would be happy just to live to tell
about it. Grandma was very good about it, though-"
   "You mean Grandma was there ?" 
   "Grandma gave me the cigarette. But that was almost twenty-five years ago.
Things have changed."
   Ashley glanced at her watch. "Oh sh-shoot. I have to go fix my hair.
Carrie's going to be mad if I'm not ready."
   "Do you need help ?" Janice asked.
   "No. If she comes back tell her I'll be right down, okay ?"
   Janice nodded and Ashley sprinted for the stairs, almost looking like a
football player as she made the first step. Janice saw with some
disappointment that her daughter was carrying her purse like a small black
football. Given the questions she'd asked tonight-
   A moment later, the doorbell rang. Ashley, running the blow dryer upstairs,
didn't hear it, which was perfect. Janice got up, walked over to the door,
and invited Carrie in. The girl smiled graciously and walked inside, heading
straight for the couch. Janice grabbed the ashtray she'd left on the hallway
phone table and brought it into the living room, sitting it down on the
coffee table as plopped down next to Carrie, who was eyeing the picture
album.
   But her eyes quickly went to the ashtray.
   Janice smiled. "Ashley said that you went to get cigarettes and I just
wanted you to know that you're perfectly welcome to smoke here in our house."
   Carrie eyed Janice suspiciously. "Are you sure ?" Then her eye settled on
the pictures again and all at once she thought maybe she understood. 
   A lot of things.
   Without further hesitation she took the new pack from her purse, removed the
wrapper, and soon after she was filling the living room with the sweet smell
of tobacco smoke. Janice sat back and explained the story behind the pictures
Carrie was looking at until Ashley came back down the stairs.
   She showed some surprise that Carrie was smoking in the house, but then she
thought about what Mrs. Appleasp had said, about all the things she'd said,
and thought maybe it wasn't so odd after all.
   "You ready to go ?" she asked Carrie, who stood up and nodded. Janice stood
up as well and Ashley paused to kiss her as she brushed by. Just like that
the girls were gone, and once again Janice felt that old guilt accompany the
rush of excitement that followed close on hearing Carrie's car pull out of
the driveway. But this time it was different-
   The living room already smelled of smoke, so Janice was going to do
something she had never done in this living room, not once.
   She went into the kitchen, reached under the blender cover into the blender
bowl, and found her box of Benson and Hedges Lights and her lighter. She
didn't even wait to get back to the living room. She just lit the cigarette
in the kitchen and then strolled casually through the house until she found
herself back on the couch, smoking happily inside  her house. For the first
time- ever.
   It wasn't until she lit the third cigarette that wondered if she might be
overdoing it.

   The dance was even better than the girls had expected. The local radio
station DJ they'd hired to run the music was keeping her trademark snide
comments to a minimum and showing a real skill for picking the right songs.
   Ashley knew Carrie was having a good time because they'd been there a whole
hour before her friend succumbed to the need for a smoke break.
   Carrie found Ashley over by the punch bowl, alone, the normal wistful look
on her face. But she was sure that for once she had an answer to her friend's
normally morose party demeanour.
   When Ashley looked up, she was mildly surprised to see a boy on each of her
friends arms. They looked vaguely like vampiric victims who'd had their blood
willing sucked by the voluptuous vampire. One was Gene Jenkins, who seemed to
like Carrie as more than a friend, at least some days of the week. His
costume- he was dressed up as Weird Al Yankovich- did little to hide his true
identity, since he was practically a dead ringing for the prince of parody to
begin with.
   But the other boy was harder to identify.
   In fact, it was actually just an assumption that he was male at all, and
that was based on the way he moved, semi-glommed onto Carrie. Whomever it
was, they were in a long victorian era dress with a tight waist, and
presumably, falsies which were understated rather than grotesque. The long
raven curls were obviously fake and the face had been tightly shaven, the
cheek bones softened with base cream-
   "Joel ? Is that you ?" Ashley asked, shocked.
   He curtsied in an appropriately lady-like way and flashed a smile which gave
him away.
   "You going to join us ?" he asked, smiling still. "We're going outside to
smoke. You do smoke, don't you ?"
   "Actually," Carrie interrupted before Ashley could answer. "She's decided to
start tonight."
   "No I haven't," she said.
   "Then what's that pack of cigarettes doing in your purse ?"
   "Come on," Gene said. "Just come out with us. No pressure."
   "Okay," Ashley said. It was a short walk through the school to the smoking
area, which was constantly patrolled by one of the faculty chaperons to
ensure that no alcohol, was brought back into the school. As they made the
doors Ashley saw that Ms. Danielsson was standing guard. She smiled at the
four as they walked out and then drew deeply on a Virginia Slims.
   "How'd you get stuck with this tour ?" Ashley asked.
   "Stuck ?" Diane said. "Are you kidding ? This is the most popular
assignment. We drew straws before the dance started. I won- again."
   Ashley nodded, having a feeling that she understood.
   "Do you guys have your own ?" Carrie asked. Both boys shook their heads no.
   "Well, I'll share with Gene. Ashley, why don't you share with Joel ?"
   Ashley tossed her friend a look- it was obvious what she was doing, and she
supposed there was no stopping her. She supposed that the moment she'd walked
into Mrs. Appleasp's earlier tonight she'd unwittingly committed to at least
trying smoking.
   Carrie and Gene were already smoking by the time that she'd gotten the slick
cellophane wrapper off her new pack. She handed the box and the lighter to
Joel, who obviously knew what to do with both. He pulled two cigarettes from
the pack and lit them expertly, then handed one to Ashley.
   No pressure indeed.
   He continued to hold out the cigarette until she took it, Carrie eyeing her
closely as she reached out and took the burning cigarette between her first
two fingers, holding it just the way that Carrie often did, down by her
waist, wrist cocked. She tried very hard to decide if she actually wanted to
take a puff of the cigarette and found that she was totally unsure.
   Carrie stopped watching her and began to talk to Gene in earnest, or at
least she did an excellent job of pretending. Carrie knew well enough that
Ashley was too stubborn to be goaded into doing something she wasn't sure
about. The pretense of careless unconcern would better serve everyone's
purposes.
   Ashley did watch Joel as he inhaled deeply on the cigarette, the look of
enjoyment in his eyes and on his face unmistakable.
   "Tell what it's like, Joel ?"
   "Smoking, or wearing my sister's dress ?"
   "If you're wearing her underwear, I don't want to know. Tell about smoking."
   He started in.

   If Janice had known that a very attractive- if oddly dressed- young man was
explaining the joys of smoking to her daughter, she would have been ecstatic.
As it was, she was merely confused.
   She was standing by a punch bowl very much like the one her daughter had
been at moments ago, watching people who were not very much different than
the teenagers at the dance doing most of the same things. The music was
different- right now they playing 'Knights in White Satin', nothing like the
Smashing Pumpkins but definitely a big hit for this largely over-thirty
crowd.
   All the sudden, a man was approaching.
   He's just going for the punch, she reminded herself.
   He was not just going for the punch.
   Janice had pulled her blonde hair back into a pony tail and was wearing her
most outrageous Gap outfit- a lime green tank with a white T underneath and
orange jean shorts. She had a cross around her neck and a sharp wooden garden
stake in her left hand. For shoes she'd chosen a ridiculously high set of
Ashley's pumps.
   She'd capped the outfit off with a loose leather jacket which had been the
only piece of clothing Dick had left behind- only because Janice had hidden
it from him when he moved out.
   The man- Steve Gardenville- was wearing a black collarless leisure shirt
open at the neck and similarly black pants. His generous head of hair was
lifted up off his forehead and waved. That forehead and the eyebrows
underneath were strangely disfigured, lumpy and slightly grotesque. He was
wearing special contacts which made his eyes yellow outside red and his
incisors had been fitted with fake fangs that were as convincing as Carrie's.
   "Buffy ?" he asked hesitantly.
   Janice couldn't help but smile.
   "Angel ?"
   Steve smiled, revealing his dangerous teeth. "We might be the only two
people here who recognise one another's costumes."
   "It was last minute on my part. But obviously not on yours."
   "How's it going, Janice ? Don't see you around much. I always think I'll see
you at one of these things, but-"
   "What would make you think that ?" Janice asked, trying not to become
annoyed.
   "Because as President of the Young Singles Club, I see to it that all the
invitations are sent out. I was beginning to wonder if taping one to a brick
and tossing it through your front window might smoke you out."
   "Speaking of smoke-" Janice said, reaching for her purse.
   "I was just going outside for a cigar. Want to join me ?"
   Janice nodded enthusiastically. She'd made two important decisions about
coming here. The first was, of course, to actually get in the car and make
the drive over. The second one was that on the off chance that she started
dating someone, it was going to be a smoker- one who knew she smoked as well.
No more hiding on the back porch of her own house.
   "The president of the club can't smoke a cigar at his own party ?"
   "Not when Mabel Keyes is your VP. The first thing Mabel did when she was
elected this January was ram a no smoking rule down the club's throat. She
was married to a cigar smoker before her divorce and everything about that
relationship scarred her for life. But I'll be honest- if her little rule
gets a beautiful woman to go outside with me, I'll take it. I didn't know you
smoked, though-"
   "Well," Janice said, smiling, "I decided that my Hallow'een treat to myself
was announcing to the world that I most definitely do smoke."
   "How does Ashley feel about that ?" he asked as they strolled towards the
door.
   "I'm still easing my way into telling her," Janice admitted.
   It was getting chilly outside and the Buffy costume wasn't exactly warm, but
Janice found she didn't care. She wasted no time lighting a cigarette, then
paused as Steve lit his cigar slowly. She noticed how he was careful not to
let the flame from his lighter actually touch the tip. Instead, he puffed
until it caught from the heat. Once it did, he blew a thick stream of bluish,
sweet smelling smoke into the night air and by mutual consent, they began
walking.
   This was a major improvement to the back porch, Janice immediately decided.
To be sharing a smoke with another person- with an attractive man, no less-
beat watching birds and cats plays in the tight-cut grass of her large back
yard.
   "I- I hope this doesn't come out wrong, but I think what Dick did to you was
terrible, Janice. Everyone does."
   "It doesn't piss me off half as much as Tom Johnson laying me off, to be
honest with you. Some wounds heal. But Tom and Dick both did me favours, I
suppose."
   "How's the writing going ?" Steve asked around his cigar.
   "Great. I never knew there was so much work out there. I really spent years
working for Tom wondering whether- worrying, really- whether some day there
wouldn't be enough for me to do. He always made me feel like every assignment
he tossed my way was just, I don't know, a concession to the idea that he was
carrying semi-dead weight."
   "He's that way with everyone, Janice. But you know better than I would."
   "How's the import/export business. I really should get down to the shop once
in a while-"
   "Ah, it's funny, the shop. When I started the business with my inheritance,
that shop kept food on my plate. These days, it's barely useful as a tax
shelter, you know ? But I appreciate the offer. Seeing you out anywhere would
be an improvement."
   "What does that mean ?" Janice asked, speaking through a sharp exhale.
   "I mean, it's like no one ever sees you anywhere, except maybe out at the
store once in a while. I hate to be rude, but-"
   "People are talking. I know. I've heard that before. But it's not like I
laid myself off."
   They stopped walking. Steve puffed thoughtfully on the cigar for a moment.
   "You know, it's not fair, but when you had a job, I think- well, this town
has a long memory. Even people who moved here in the last year probably know
what happened to you because they've heard it five times. And it may be total
bullshit, but I think the prevailing opinion was that even though you weren't
dating, when you had your job people assumed that you were 'handling'
everything. But now-"
   He swallowed hard. "I guess I'm pretty lousy at small talk, eh ?"
   Janice inhaled, letting the smoke fill her lungs, letting that feeling of
peace wash over her as tried to decide of there was any reason to be angry at
Steve. What he said was largely true- it was entirely unfair for people to
judge her that way.
   Then again, even she thought she was overdue for a date.
   "People don't really get that I still have a job, do they ?"
   "Here in Red Museum, Vermont ? Freelance and unemployment mean the same
thing. But you know that. You grew up here, just like me."
   "I suppose. Let's change the subject."
   That fostered an awkward silence broken only by the sounds of tobacco of
various forms being smoked.
   "What do you import these days ?" Janice finally asked, thinking she
understood what had kept her in the house this last year.
   He held up his cigar. "These are my best sellers. Imported cigars are very
popular. And you'd be amased at who my customers are."
   "Really ?"
   Janice finished her cigarette and quickly lit another, surprised at how
easily and happily she'd fallen back into the role of being a public smoker.
   She was even more surprised when Steve smiled and told her that he could
watch her do that all night.
   "I'll take that as a compliment."
   "You should. I'm not ashamed to admit that enjoy watching a beautiful woman
smoke."
   "You'd better be careful. Compliment my looks again and I'll think you're
flirting with me."
   Steve rolled his cigar across his mouth, pulled on it, and exhaled a long
thick stream of smoke which had the faintest hint of cinnamon.
   "If you don't already, I'm doing it wrong."
   "So tell me about the imported cigar business. I assume that many of your
customers are women these days."
   "Exactly. I probably sell to a third of the families in Red Museum, and some
of my best customers are women. You'd be amased at what the mark-up on a good
box of cigars is."
   "Sounds interesting," Janice said, and then settled back as Steve told her
all about it.
   If she was cold, she didn't notice.

   "So," Joel said, after he explained himself, "are you just going to hold
that cigarette or are you actually going to take a puff and find out for
yourself ?"
   Ashley looked down at her left hand, where the cigarette rested, burning
slowly. She'd been afraid that it would go out, but instead she'd simply
found it necessary to occasionally tap ash off the end. Carrie, Joel, and
Gene had all finished theirs and lit seconds while she considered the possibil
ities.
   "I guess it won't kill me to try one puff, will it ?"
   Joel shook his head and smiled.
   Ashley knew, however, that this wasn't anything so simple. First their was
her mother. She was convinced that everything she'd done tonight- letting
Carrie smoke in the house, showing her those old pictures of herself smoking-
that was all part of some campaign to get her ready to discover that she was
smoking again.
   Then there was Mrs. Appleasp. As much as she'd grown genuinely fond of the
old woman she had no desire to have her bahaviour dictated by her. Nor was
she thrilled about giving in to Carrie.
   Joel, on the other hand- dress or no, she was more than willing to give into
him.
   And yet.
   And yet, what ? She thought it was pretty clear mom would actually prefer
she did smoke. Taking this one puff would put her on that road.
   "You're afraid you'll like it, aren't you ?" Joel asked, sensing what she
thinking.
   "Actually, yes."
   Carrie and Gene had moved away, in fact, they were off by themselves holding
hands and looking generally more attached than Ashley would have thought
possible.
   "You know, just because other people want you to smoke doesn't mean you
shouldn't. Who besides Carrie-"
   "My mom. She's been smoking for a while now. She thinks I don't know, and to
be honest, I assume that she'd feel more comfortable with smoking in front of
me if-"
   "You smoked too. My dad was the same way. I still can't get into those
cigars that he smokes. He'll light one up and it takes him forty minutes to
finish it. It's amasing. If you don't mind me asking, why did buy yourself a
pack if you're so hesitant-'
   "They were a gift from someone who told me I'd be smoking before the night
was over. But I guess you're right. It doesn't really matter why. If I enjoy
it-"
   She lifted the cigarette to her lips and closed them around it. Then she
pulled some of the smoke into her mouth. Having watched Carrie do it
thousands of times was enough for her to know how.
   The taste surprised her, more than she was willing to admit. It was not as
unpleasant as she had expected. The fact was, it was almost sweet and
entirely enjoyable.
   "Now we just have to teach you to inhale," Joel said, smiling.
   He proceeded to do just that.

   Janice threw her daughter's clothes on the bed. The old Janice would have
rushed to get them in the wash so that she could eliminate the smell of smoke
in them.
   But she had no such intentions. If tomorrow morning turned out the way she
hoped, if her courage held- well, she wouldn't care what her clothes smelled
like to her daughter.
   Then again, maybe that wasn't such a big deal anymore.
   Steve had asked her out to dinner and she'd accepted. He'd suggested bring
the kids along, Ashley as well as Joel, his son. Joel, according to Steve,
smoked regularly and might just be the right influence on Ashley. He'd told
her that he expected her to have squared things away with her daughter by
then, that he expected his date to smoke whenever she pleased.
   To please him, Janice added.
   There was a time when she'd have felt that Steve was bossing her around, but
the truth was, he was giving just the sort of encouragement she needed.
They'd never really gone back into the party. Instead they'd walked up and
down Red Museum's streets, talking and smoking, and just before she got in
the car to drive home, they'd shared a kiss.
   A few kisses. 
   Ashley would be home soon. It was after midnight and the dance would be
over. Janice decided she would be in bed asleep when that happened. As much
as she loved her daughter, she wanted to savour this night until tomorrow
morning, without any distractions. She'd cleaned up downstairs, dumping the
ashtray in the garbage can out back.
   The living room had still smelled of smoke and she imagined that Ashley
would notice that. But it reminded her of Steve, which was why she'd walked
out of the room with the air freshener unused. Let Ashley figure it out. What
would she say ?
   Just then the phone rang.
   "Mom. I'm going to Pileggi's for a snack with some friends. I'll be home in
an hour. Okay ?"
   "Friends ? Carrie and what two boys ?"
   "Mom-"
   "All right. I'm going to bed. Just be quiet when you come in. I'll be
asleep."
   "Are you sick ?"
   "No. Why ?"
   "You're not going to stay up ? You always stay up."
   "I trust you, honey. Have fun."
   She hung the phone up and smiled. Maybe things were looking up for both of
them.

   They walked into Pileggi's and the waitress tending the door smiled. 
   "Four in the smoking section ?"
   Ashley drew deeply on her fourth cigarette, already comfortable inhaling,
and smiled, giving the woman a quick nod. As they walked through to the back
Ashley spread smoke far and wide, hoping everyone could see that she was
actually, really smoking.
   Carrie was walking next to her. She reached out and squeezed her friend's
hand impulsively.
   "You're so cute, girl."
   Ashley laughed.
   That was just what Joel had said.
   
   The shower went on at ten after seven and Janice immediately ducked into
Ashley's room.
   The purse was on her desk, looking more stuffed than usual. She'd dreamed
last night that her daughter was at the diner, smoking one cigarette after
another. It had been so real that she expected, rather than hoped, to find an
open pack of cigarettes in the bulging purse.
   But she was still amased when she was not disappointed.
   There it was. A pack of Marlboro Lights 100s with just four cigarettes in
it, and an expensive silver lighter that she had no idea where Ashley could
have gotten it from.
   Four out of twenty.
   It wasn't like a dream a come true.
   It was a dream come true.
   She practically skipped down the stairs.
   Ten minutes later Ashley strolled into the kitchen. She looked at her mom
and smiled, feeling the bulges in each robe pocket. In a strange way, she
felt like Mrs. Appleasp. But she knew the gift her mother would appreciate
most was not the expensive silver cigarette case, nor the news that her
daughter had a date tonight. 
   The real gift would be when she lit that first cigarette of the morning.
   She sat down just as mom put a cup of coffee and a plate of steaming scramble
d eggs in front of her.
   "Mom, can I ask you something ?"
   Janice's smile was ear-splitting as she said of course.
   "Is it- can I- do you mind if I smoke in the house ?"
   "What ?" Janice asked, not believing things were moving this quickly.
   "Well, actually, I was wondering if you would mind if we smoked in the
house. I assumed that after last night, you weren't going to be satisfied
standing on the back porch anymore."
   "How did you ?"
   "Mom-"
   Rather than belabour the obvious, Ashley laughed. "Why don't you look in the
blender where you hide your Benson and Hedges Lights."
   Janice glanced guiltily over at the counter and then walked slowly over. She
reached in under the cover and found only her lighter, which was odd,
considering she'd left an unopened pack in there last night.
   Ashley produced the gleaming cigarette case from the pocket.
   "Looking for these ?" she asked, springing open the case.
   "Where did you get that ?"
   "It was a gift from an old friend. Where's the ashtray ?"
   Janice went and found it immediately. By the time she came back in the
kitchen, Ashley was-
   She was beautiful, sitting there with a cigarette in her hand, smoke pouring
from her perfectly shaped mouth.
   "Are you going to stare at me, or join me ?"
   Janice sat down, took a cigarette from the spectacular case, and lit it with
a trembling hand.
   "I thought this was going to be hard. I thought-"
   Ashley reached out and patted her mother's hand. "I know. I just wish you
had told me sooner."
   "Any more surprises, young lady ?" Janice asked, still taken by the sight of
her daughter smoking.
   "Yeah. I have a date, mom."
   Janice laughed. "So do I."	
   "Maybe we could double," she joked. "Joel and I, and you and-"
   "Joel's father," Janice finished, knowing just which Joel she meant.
   It was a very long time before either of them could stop laughing.


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