The Hong Girls, Part 1

(by, 08 December 2001)

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by uciboy

"What time is Patty supposed to get here," Grace called out to her daughter.  

"Any minute now, Mom," Michelle replied.

Grace continued to change the sheets on her oldest daughter's bed.  Patty was
coming home for the Christmas holiday after her first semester at college and
she wanted to make sure everything was just right.  She picked up the Virginia
Slim 100 smoldering in the ashtray on her daughter's desk and took a deep
drag, slowly exhaling a stream of smoke.  She caught her reflection in the
mirror and smiled.  "You've come a long way, baby," she thought to herself.

Grace Hong had raised her daughters the best she could.  You don't find too
many single Asian American mothers.  Even for a third generation like herself,
raising two kids alone was an oddity.  She met her ex, a nice enough guy from
Korea, back in college at Cornell, and by her senior year was married and
pregnant.  Life was good through the first few years while she finished law
school, but her desire to work as an attorney rather than stay at home and
cook was the source of constant friction between them.  Before she knew it,
they were divorced when he found a nice subservient woman from Korea to take
care of him.  "The shithead stuck around just long enough to father two kids
and get his citizenship papers," she'd complain to friends.  "I was just too
strong for him."

But all in all, things worked out pretty well for the Hong household.  She had
been a lawyer at a small but respectable Maryland law firm for ten years now
and was making a good salary; enough, certainly, to buy a house in suburban
Baltimore where she herself grew up, and send Patty to college down at George
Washington U.  And she had a close relationship with her kids and was more
than glad that "shithead" took no interest in them.

Grace took another puff, exhaling through her nose.  "You know Patty hates it
when you smoke in her room."  Grace looked up to see Michelle standing at the
door with a smile.  She was only a freshman in high school but already she was
developing into quite a young woman.  She had her mother's high cheek bones,
svelte body, and height at 5'8.''  With her short black hair curved just at
the base of the neck, pearl smooth skin, and a chest that was starting to fill
out, she would be the heartbreak of many a man.  Serves them right, Grace
thought to herself.  At 14 Michelle already looked like her older sister at 18
when she went off to college.

But her daughter's smile perplexed Grace.  After years of her girls being
subjected to anti-smoking propaganda in school, Grace had always had to put up
with Michelle and Patty's bitching about second-hand smoke.  But since school
started in the Fall, the protests mysteriously came to an end; partly because
Patty was gone, but mostly because Michelle had stopped complaining.  She even
stopped leaving the room every time Grace lit up.  "Could she be smoking,"
Grace thought to herself with some concern.  "Well, Michelle may be silent,
but with Patty home I'm going to have put up with her anti-smoking crap now."
She feared that it was going to be a long vacation.

"You're right," Grace said to her daughter.  "I better put this out."  She
French inhaled her last puff - as was her style - and delicately crushed the
butt in the ashtray.  "Open the window there, will you honey?  We better air
out this room a bit," Grace said on her way out, ashtray in hand.  "We don't
want the first thing out of your sister's mouth to be a complaint about my
smoking in her room."

Michelle walked towards the window as her mother left but paused before
opening it.  The smoke from her mom's Virginia Slim floated thickly in the
air.  She took a deep breath.  Ahhh, smoke, she said to herself and pretended
to exhale a stream of it.


Grace was correct in seeing the change in her daughter's attitude about
smoking.  Michelle had been quite the smoking Nazi while in grade school,
chastising her mother every chance she got.  But by the time she reached
junior high, she was herself surprised that she started to see smoking in a
more positive light as she noticed the popular kids, particularly the "Cool
Asians," smoking off campus.  These smokers were always few in number, but by
high school, she was amazed at just how many fellow students had taken up the
habit, even some she had known since first grade.  

There were, she concluded, at least two groups during the lunch hour:  the
rocker/pot-heads who went across the street to "smoke out" in "Marlboro
Country;" and then the "cool" kids (mostly, but not all, Asian) who staked a
small corner just outside the lunch court in the parking lot where they could
blare their funk, rap, or electronic music (take your pick) from their Honda
Accords.  Smoking, of course, was forbidden on campus but the lunch guard on
duty would conveniently bend the rules for the parking lot crowd - even
joining them on occasion.  

The pot-heads Michelle could do without, but she would strategically find a
lunch spot where she could view the "cool" kids smoke.  They were always
laughing and shouting.  They made smoking look fun.  And she watched in
amazement how all the cute guys paid so much attention to the girls who
smoked.  Wasn't smoking supposed to turn guys off?  And the really elegant
ones smoking 120s had those guys in the palm of their hand.  How do they do
that?  But what she really couldn't understand were the feelings she was
getting about suddenly wanting to smoke.  She developed a curiosity in
September when school started but had become nearly obsessed by December.  One
afternoon she saw a guy take a deep puff and open his mouth, revealing a huge
ball of smoke.  When he began blowing smoke rings, Michelle grew hot and could
feel butterflies forming in her stomach.  Why, she wondered, did she feel a
wetness between her legs when she saw certain guys smoke.  She was absolutely
mesmerized by the sight.  She started to have a recurring dream that she was
smoking a thin white cigarette with friends at lunch as the guys would fawn
all over her. 

She knew some of the girls in that group but was not really close to them, and
her good friends remained anti-smokers to the core, some of them even involved
in the health campaign in school.  So she was not about to broach the subject
with them and decided to look for a way to smoke on her own.  This was easier
said than done, of course.  Michelle knew her mother was very careful about
her smoking, never leaving cigarettes around the house; not because Grace
thought her anti-smoking kids would swipe them, but because she feared her
daughters would throw them away as they had done before on several occasions.
And Michelle was not about to ask her mom if she could smoke.  She was,
afterall, only 14!   The best she could do for now was enjoy the second-hand
smoke from her mother's habit.  And this she did with relish.


After another deep inhale of the lingering smoke in the room, Michelle sat
down on the bed with a sigh.  "It's not fair," she murmured.  "I want to
smoke.  But now with Patty coming back home until January, I'll never get the
chance to try it."

Michelle got up to open the window and saw her sister's car turn the corner
onto their street.  "Patty's home!" she yelled to her mom.  But as she turned
to walk out, she noticed something in her sister's right hand at the steering
wheel and what looked like a white cloud emanating from the driver's side of
the car.  What was that?  No, she couldn't be....  Michelle stayed glued to
the window, waiting to see if what she saw was real or an illusion.  The car
parked out of Michelle's view and after a moment she could hear the car door
slam.  Suddenly Michelle was excited about her sister's return.  Is Patty
smoking now?  She could barely contain her enthusiasm.

"Hellooo, I'm home."  There is no better way to physically describe Patty
except by saying that she was nearly identical to her sister.  Though Patty
preferred her hair long (down past the shoulders) and had dyed it a light
brown while away at college, they shared the same height, the same facial
features, the small nose, the perfect teeth.  They were close friends as well
as sisters, but where Michelle was still a girl at heart, Patty had grown up
fast, helping her single mother run the household.  This 18 year old carried
the demeanor of a 28 year old in how she dressed, walked, and talked.
"Anybody here?"

When Michelle ran to the front door to hug her sister, she could smell the
smoke on her sister's clothes.  Yessssss!!!!  My sister smokes!!  I can't wait
to get her alone.

"Hey sis," Patty said to Michelle hanging onto her neck.  She put down her
bags and hugged her sister with both arms.  "Wow, I never thought you'd be so
happy to see me."

"The conquering hero returns," Grace said with a smile as she stood near the
couch that separated the living room and kitchen.   "How was the drive?"

"Awful!  Traffic from D.C. was a nightmare."

"Come on into the kitchen and have some coffee.  I want to hear all about

As Grace walked towards the stove to pour the hot water, Patty and Michelle
sat at the kitchen table.  Grace and Patty began to chit chat about college
life.  "Man, things are sure different when you're living away from home,"
Patty said.  "It's like getting used to a completely new way of life."
Michelle, pretending to listen, was actually lost in her own thoughts.  I
wonder how long she's been smoking, she asked herself.  I wonder what she
smokes?  I can't wait to...

Michelle's eyes were suddenly transfixed on Patty who reached into her purse
and nonchalantly took out a pack of Saratoga Menthols and a lighter as she
explained how stressful it is to major in Political Science.  Patty pulled out
one of the long 120s, put it in her mouth, and expertly flicked the lighter.
The tip glowed orange as wisps of smoke began to seep from her nose.  She took
a deep puff, opened her mouth slightly, inhaled a cloud of smoke the size of a
golf ball and held it in.  Patty put the pack on the table for all to see - a
declaration, of sorts - took another deep puff, and slowly blew a heavy stream
of smoke across the table.  

"So how's school goin', Michelle?"  Patty took another puff.  "You got a
boyfriend yet?"  Michelle was speechless.  She could not believe her sister
was smoking in front of her mother.  What would Mom say?

When Grace heard the click of the lighter, she turned her head to see her
oldest daughter holding a long cigarette between her fingers as she conversed
with her sister.  At first she was shocked.  A dozen thoughts suddenly ran
through her mind.  Should she scold her?  A good mother would give her a
lecture on the dangers of smoking.  "Fuck that shit.  I'm not about to be a
hypocrite."  Besides, she really wasn't upset that her daughter was smoking.
She was actually relieved.  Face it, she admitted, you're glad she's smoking.
Grace smiled a wide grin.  Maybe it wont be such a bad Christmas afterall.

"Well," Grace said holding the coffee pot as she walked towards the table,
"looks like the hair color is not the only thing that's changed about you
since you left home.  College more stressful than you thought it would be?"
Grace reached for her own cigarettes and lit a Virginia Slim.

"Oh this?"  Patty said with a smile as she held up her cigarette.  "I know.  I
guess I just take after my Mom."

"Don't put it off on me," Grace teased.  "I never said you should smoke.  And
Saratogas?  My, how sophisticated.  At least you inherited a sense of class
from me."

"Well, hey - if you're gonna smoke, you might as well do it in style."  Patty
inhaled a quick puff and blew it upwards proudly.

Michelle could not believe what she was witnessing.  Her older sister had just
admitted that she was a smoker and now she and her mom were kidding about it.
The whole world seemed upside down - and right where she wanted it.

Grace and Patty could sense Michelle's stare as they sat there smoking.
"Honey," Grace asked Michelle, "could you run into my bedroom and get those
pictures from Thanksgiving?  I think Patty would like to see what she missed.

When Michelle left the room, Grace looked at Patty and said, "Well honey, I
can't believe you're smoking - but I can't say I'm upset either.  So forgive
me if I don't give the required parental 'smoking is bad' spiel.  In a selfish
sort of way, I always hoped you would start; and not just because I wanted you
to stop complaining about my own smoking, but because I always thought it
might bring us closer together.'"

Patty placed her hand on her mother's.  "We are close, Mom."  

"I know dear."

The conversation paused and Grace looked down at the table as Patty
conveniently took a moment to survey the room.  As "all-American" a family as
they might have been, it was still difficult to overcome that Asian cultural
heritage which told them emotions are best left unexpressed.  

Patty put her cigarette up to her lips and took a drag.  "So," she said
exhaling a cloud of smoke, "has Michelle started smoking yet?"

Grace was surprised that Patty would ask the question she's been asking
herself.  "I don't think so," she said with a tap of her cigarette.  "But her
attitude has definitely changed.  She hasn't complained about my smoking for
quite a while.  And she didn't say a thing when you lit up."

Patty took one last puff and French inhaled it - making her mother proud - and
blew out the smoke with an audible hiss.  "It's just a matter of time," she
said crushing the cigarette in the ashtray.  "I can see it in her eyes.  She's
got the fetish - whether she's smoking now or not.  Better prepare for it."

"Fourteen is so young, Patty.  I started at 16, and even that was pretty

"Oh come on, Mom.  Starting when you're young is the best part about smoking!"
Patty pulled out another cigarette and lit it.  "It's so cool.  She's a
freshman in high school.  She's meeting new friends who smoke, and of course
seeing friends that she's known her whole life start to smoke.  Shit, if I
knew then what I know now...."  Grace frowned at her daughter.  "And even if
Michelle doesn't smoke here then she's gonna eventually smoke with friends, if
she doesn't already."

"Is it from experience that you're telling me all this?" Grace asked with that
look only a mother can convey.

Patty held her cigarette perpendicular to her cheek, the smoke slowly rising
around and over her brown dyed hair.  "Let's just say I know how these things
work.  Michelle has always been so quiet and shy - even more than I was at
that age.  Smoking would help to bring her out of her shell."

"There are other ways we can bring Michelle out of her shell," Grace replied
as she crushed her own cigarette in the ashtray.  "In any case, I think we
should try and hold your sister off from smoking for as long as possible; at
least until she's sixteen when kids are expected to rebel.  Until then I have
no desire to win the PTA's 'Irresponsible Parent' award."

Michelle walked into the room with the pictures, oblivious to the conversation
that had just ensued.

"Okay?" Grace said with a nudge to Patty.

"Yeah, yeah," she replied.  But Patty had other plans for Michelle as their
eyes met.  She slowly inhaled a puff from her Saratoga and let the smoke float
from between her lips.  Don't worry little sister.  You'll get your chance.


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