Losing and winning, Part 1

(by SSTORYMAN, 13 January 1999)


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This fictional account contains adult language and themes.  If such language
and themes offend you, please do not read farther.  Copyright 1999 by
SSTORYMAN.  All rights reserved.  Permission is granted to reproduce this
story in any form and for any purpose as long as this notice is reproduced
and no financial remuneration is received, directly or indirectly, by the
person reproducing it.

LOSING AND WINNING

1.	Standing By Your Man.

Lynne Carlson glanced at the clock.  It felt like she'd been working for
hours.  It was still only ten.  She sighed.  The library was dead!  She'd
helped only two people all morning.

She liked working at the branch library's circulation desk.  She had time to
think.  But sometimes that wasn't good.  Today she'd been thinking too damn
hard!

She sighed.  She was losing him.  After sixteen years of marriage, she knew
Tom's idiosyncrasies, and she'd seen the signs.  He grew more distant by the
day.

Of course, he'd deny it.  He'd blame work.  He'd blame lack of time.  Of
course, Tom did work long hours.  His small accounting firm was growing.
He'd added two new employees this year.  Income was up.  Lynne never
complained about the money he brought home.  She liked driving her brand new
Lexus.  And at only 16, even their daughter Kate had a brand new car!

Lynne liked providing these amenities for Kate.  She'd have killed for a car
at that age!  No, Tom was very generous with them.  That wasn't the problem.
It was that his affections were elsewhere.

Last night wasn't unusual.  Lynne wanted sex, and gave Tom a seductive
come-on.  But he was "too tired."  It shouldn't be that way.  For God's sake,
she was only 36.  She looked good.  She worked out, watched her weight and
dressed well.  Even Kate was proud of how her mom dressed.  No, she looked
damn good, and she knew it.

Something was going on.  She feared it was Tom's 'special interest' in women
who smoke.  He always said his special interest was "no big deal."  But
something was wrong.  He'd never been this uninterested in sex.  Maybe he
_was_ seeing someone, someone who pandered to his fascination.  Maybe it was
a bigger deal than he admitted.

Lynne pondered this while patrons passed the circulation desk.  The thing
that scared her was that there was that new girl at Tom's office, Kim
Kettering, who ....

"Excuse me," said an older man, interrupting her thoughts.  "Can you help
me?"

"Certainly, sir," Lynne smiled politely, momentarily pulled back to reality.
"What can I do for you?"

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

Lynne and Stacie always took breaks together.  Stacie Warden was the
reference librarian.  Their personalities were completely different.  At 31,
Stacie was younger than Lynne at 36.  Lynne was quiet and reserved.  Stacie
was outgoing, almost hyper.  Stacie was perky, bright and fun, always in
motion.  Lynne was passionless and analytical.  Despite these differences,
their friendship was important.  They complemented each other.

At eleven o'clock Stacie stopped at the circulation desk on her way to the
break room.  Her blue eyes and long blond hair shone.  Stacie looked great,
as always.  Lynne knew she herself was attractive, but felt overshadowed by
her lovely blond friend.  In a word, Stacie was stunning.  As Tom said, she
was a "real babe."

"Hey, lady," Stacie beamed.  "Let's grab some coffee.  Or, in your case, diet
pop."

"Okay," Lynne smiled back.  "Let me call Edith.  I'll tell her I'm ready for
my break."

As a rule, Edith took Stacie's place at the desk for breaks.  Edith was a
quiet, pleasant-brunette in her early forties.  When she relieved Lynne, she
and Stacie retreated to the break room.  It was small, with a coffee pot, pop
machine, refrigerator, microwave, and table with four chairs.  The two women
spent many hours there.  They took breaks later than others, which meant
fifteen minutes alone in the room each morning and afternoon.

Stacie talked nonstop.  Lynne was usually content to listen.  She lacked
Stacie's self-confidence.  An unexpected pregnancy at age 19 interrupted
college for Lynne.  She dropped out and married Tom.  That was 17 years ago.
She never regretted her daughter's unplanned arrival, but she always wished
she'd gotten a degree.  At first, raising Kate was more important.  By the
time Kate reached middle school and Lynne could've gone back, she felt too
old.  So she settled for a desk job at the library.  They didn't need the
money.  Tom's job provided more than enough.  But she wanted to do something
more than sit home watch television.  She was smart.  She was attractive.
Her auburn hair matched her olive complexion.  There was no reason to sit
home.  As soon as Kate could fend for herself after school, Lynne took her
job at the library, to build self-confidence and be out in the world again.

Stacie, on the other hand, needed the money.  But she had two degrees and all
the confidence in the world.  She had a Masters in Library Science as well as
an undergraduate psychology degree.  Her long blond hair, quick wit and big
smile made her a favorite with library patrons.  Unlike Lynne, who was
analytical and critical, Stacie was emotional, trusting and forgiving.  In
some ways, the two were an odd match.  But because they balanced each other,
they'd become inseparable.

Today Stacie wore a cute blue blazer, a red turtleneck sweater and gray
slacks.  It looked great, but the outfit was too warm for May's weather.
Lynne said so.

"I know," Stacie smiled, her pretty blue eyes sparkling.  She shook her long
blond hair.  "But I'm always cold."  She took a sip of hot, black coffee.
"God, this tastes good," she smiled.  For Stacie, the glass was always half
full.  She launched a dissertation on office politics.  Lynne didn't pay
attention.

"What's wrong?" Stacie asked with a sly smile.  "Am I boring you?"

"No," Lynne lied.  "I've just got some stuff on my mind.  That's all."

"You think too much," Stacie grinned.  Always in motion, she tapped her foot
against the chair leg.  "Go ahead, tell me your troubles.  Let 'Dr. Warden'
help."  Of course, Stacie wasn't a doctor, but her psych degree made her an
armchair psychologist.  "What's up?"

"It's Tom," Lynne replied.  "He's so cold.  He never wants to have sex
anymore."

"Sometimes that's a blessing," Stacie said smugly.  "Just kidding," she
added, seeing Lynne's long face.  "Do you think there's another woman?"
Stacie loved scandal.

	"Yeah, I do..  I have to do something."  She looked at the floor.  "I
need help.  This is very personal.  You can't repeat a word of this to
anyone.  Swear?"

	"Cross my heart," Stacie smiled.  "If I know you, Lynne Carlson,
you've already analyzed the situation - to death!"

	"You're right," she replied, with a deep breath.  "Three months ago,
Tom hired a new girl at the office.  Her name is Kim Kettering.  She's a cute
blond, about twenty-five, and skinny as a Hollywood model."  She paused for
dramatic effect.  "I think they're having an affair."

Lynne awaited a response.  Stacie said nothing.  Lynne continued.  "I don't
have proof, but he's been working late nights."  She sipped her diet pop.
"In tax season, he always does.  But it's May, and he still works late.  The
other night I called the office and Kim answered.  The little bitch was with
him at ten o'clock at night!"

	"That's not good," Stacie agreed.  "But maybe they weren't alone.
Maybe Tom's partner was there.  Or someone else.  Hey, Kate's working
part-time there.  What does she say?"

	"That's a delicate issue," Lynne frowned.  "Yeah, Kate works for Tom
after school and on Saturdays.  But I can't ask my daughter if her dad is
screwing the other office help!"

	"Good point," Stacie nodded.  She played with her long blond hair,
twirling it between her fingers.  "But if something obvious is going on, Kate
would blow the whistle.  Wouldn't she?"

	Lynne smiled.  "I guess.  I don't know.  Kate and Tom are pretty
tight.  Sometimes I think she likes her dad more than she likes me.  He's
easier on her than I am.  But that's another story."

"Right," Stacie agreed.  "Anyway, you said you had a plan."

	Lynne hesitated.  "Yeah.  But it's complicated.  You see, Kim
smokes."

	"So?" Stacie shrugged.  "Despite tobacco's bad press these days, lots
of people smoke."

	Lynne shifted uncomfortably.  "Tom told me something strange about
himself after we got married.  He told me ...."  Her voice trailed off.

	"Come on," Stacie said gently.  "It can't be that bad.  What?"

"Women who smoke attract him," she whispered.  Stacie didn't flinch.  Lynne
went on.  "I'd never heard of such a thing.  He was apologetic.  He said it
was an issue for him, but he was fighting it.  He just didn't want me upset
if I noticed him watch women smoke.  It didn't mean anything, he said.  He
just can't help staring at a pretty woman who smokes."

"God!  How did that make you feel?"

"Scared," Lynne replied.  "Smoking frightens me.  It always has.  You know
what I mean?  Like, bad guys in movies are always the ones who smoke.  I told
Tom it scared me.  I suggested he get help, see a counselor or something.  He
didn't want to.  He just wanted me to understand and not take it personally."
She sipped more diet pop.  "I didn't know what to say."  She took a deep
breath and continued.  "I asked if he wanted me to smoke.  He said no.  He
just wanted me to understand.  That was it."  She paused.  "We never
discussed it again.  I've asked him over the years how he's doing with his
'special interest.'  He always says, just fine.  But I'm not sure."  She
paused.  "I think that's what's going on at his office.  I think Tom likes
Kim 'cause she smokes.  I'm afraid he's drawn to her like a moth to the
flame."

	Stacie nodded.  "Men are complicated sexual animals.  They're
visually stimulated when it comes to sex, much more than women.  Technically,
Tom's attraction is a fetish, an association between an inanimate object and
sexual impulse.  He may be attracted to her because she smokes.  But it's not
unusual for men Tom's age to be tempted by other women.  After all, didn't he
just turn 40?"

Lynne gave her a look, but Stacie laughed and shrugged if off.  "Look, it's
normal.  Tom's in mid-life.  All men ogle.  Some fool around.  I've even seen
Bill ogle other women.  God knows, _he_ has no reason to be tempted!"  She
laughed, picking at her long blond hair.

"That's different.  You and Bill aren't married."

Stacie smiled ruefully.  "No, we're not.  But even in a committed
relationship, men are tempted by infidelity.  You have to deal with that.
But you're damn attractive, Lynne.  You're a good looking brunette.  You've
got a great body.  You can compete with this Kim person."

	She shook her head.  "Not if she smokes.  Last month, I stopped by
the office.  After saying hi to Kelly, his receptionist, I walked to Tom's
office.  I smelled smoke, although they made the entire office non-smoking
years ago.  Well, Tom was standing by Kim Kettering's desk, shooting the
breeze.  She was smoking, and I swear to you Tom was having an erection.  I
don't think Kim saw.  But I did.  Tom's hands were in his pockets, hiding the
fact that ....."

	"That his dick was saluting?" Stacie smiled.

	"Yeah," Lynne whispered.  "I mean, shit!  Pardon my language, but I
couldn't believe it!  That night I asked Tom about their no-smoking policy.
He said they'd recently rescinded it because of Kim.  She asked to smoke at
her desk, says she's more productive when she smokes.  But I think Tom likes
what her smoking produces in his pants."

	"Did you ask him about his cock?" Stacie asked.

	"No," she admitted.  "I should've, but I was embarrassed.  I'm sure
that's what's happening.  He works late every night.  I smell smoke on his
clothes.  It's even on his breath. Either he's kissing Kim, or he's smoking,
too.  I'm not sure which is worse.  He's with that smoking blond bimbo every
night!"

	"Hey, be careful with the blond bimbo remarks," Stacie teased,
fluffing her blond hair.  "What are you going to do?  Give him an ultimatum?
Confront him?"

	"No," Lynne said slowly.  "I have to fight fire with fire.  I'll
learn to smoke.  I won't lose him to some stupid blond just because she
smokes and I don't!"

	Stacie looked alarmed.  She shook her head.  "Don't do it, Lynne.
Don't start smoking.  It's incredibly tough to quit once you start.  Believe
me, I know."

	"How would you know?" Lynne asked.  "Did you ever smoke?"

	"Yeah," Stacie replied gravely.  "I smoked throughout college.  My
freshman roommate smoked.  I thought it would be cool to try smoking
cigarettes.  Oh, it was cool, all right.  It was so damn cool that, before I
knew it, I was addicted!  I went through hell trying to quit.  Don't go down
that road, Lynn.  Believe me.  Smoking isn't something you just try.  You've
heard that tobacco is addicting?  Well, trust me on this one.  It sure is!"

	"Gosh, I never knew you smoked," Lynne said a strange smile.  "When
did you stop?"

	"I quit when I started library school.  No one I knew in the M.L.S.
program smoked.  I felt so fucking stupid - pardon my French - sneaking
outside to smoke all the time.  It was the hardest thing I've ever done!"
She smiled solemnly.  "I haven't had a cigarette in six years."

	"Wow," Lynne exclaimed.  "I had no idea.  But this is great.  You can
help me."

	Stacie frowned.  "What do you mean?  What kind of help do you want?"

	"None of my friends smoke.  I've never tried it.  My parents smoked
when I was a kid, but they quit when I was five.  I barely remember it.  I'm
not used to being around smokers.  I can't imagine Tom smoking.  Blech!  It
doesn't appeal to me.  It scares me that Tom finds it attractive.  But unless
I do it, I'll lose him.  So I need someone to coach me, to show me how to
smoke."

	"Oh, no," Stacie interrupted.  "I know what you're going to suggest.
I can't.  I won't.  No fuckin' way."

	"Sure you can, Stacie.  I just need help getting started.  That's
all.  A quick primer, a lesson to get going.  I'm afraid to try it alone."
She batted her long eyelashes.  "Please?"

	"Lynne, you don't understand."  Stacie's face became paler by the
second.  "If I lit up just one cigarette, I might ....  God, I might not be
able to stop.  I can't afford to, even once."

	"Relax," Lynne smiled.  "I'm not asking that," she explained
patiently.  "Just coach me.  For example, you could suggest what brand I
should try.  That sort of thing."

	Stacie shook her head.  "Lynne, this is a mistake.  You're upset.
But smoking isn't the answer.  Don't mortgage your health.  Don't compete
with Kim on this.  You're not even sure what his attraction to her is based
on.  Hell, you don't even know there is an attraction!  It may just be a
harmless little fetish."

	"Oh, he's attracted to her all right," Lynne replied calmly.  "It
isn't a harmless fetish.  Tom won't have sex with me, but he gets an erection
watching her smoke.  Shit!  I have to do something.  Confronting him won't
work.  He'll deny it.  I must take the offensive.  If Tom sees me smoke,
he'll ask why.  I'll say I did it to please him.  See?  It's better than
accusing him of being unfaithful.  I want to steal him back, not drive him
away."

	Stacie thought.  "You're right about that," she admitted.  "Men don't
like preaching.  You catch more flies with honey than vinegar."  She smiled
and nodded.  "Okay.  I'll be a coach.  But I'm not demonstrating, and I'm not
endorsing.  I think it's a mistake.  If you get hooked and die of lung
cancer, don't blame me."

	Lynne smiled.  "I won't blame you.  I just want your help.  You never
need to even touch a cigarette.  Don't worry.  I'm not scared of the health
thing.  I'll only smoke recreationally to arouse Tom's interest.  I'm not
planning on getting hooked or anything, for God's sake."

	"That's what they all say," Stacie sighed, twirling her blond hair
between her fingers at a rapid rate.  "Okay.  When do you want to do this?"

	"How about tonight, after work?" Lynne answered.  She was excited
now.  "Let's meet at Robinson's Bistro at six fifteen.  Tell Bill you're
meeting me for a drink.  I don't expect Tom home for dinner.  And Kate can
fend for herself."

	Stacie sighed.  "I hope you know what you're doing."  She glanced at
her watch.  "Oh, Christ, we should get back to work!"  She grabbed her
friend's hand.  "I'll see you at Robinson's at six fifteen.  Here's what you
do.  Stop at the store on your way and buy a pack of Salem Lights 100's and a
disposable lighter.  Got that?  Do you want to write it down?"

	"No, I'll remember," Lynne smiled serenely.

	"Okay, six fifteen.  Be there.  I'll show you what to do.  But that's
all."

	"Thanks, Stacie.  You'll help save my marriage."

	"I hope so," Stacie sighed.  "I hope so."

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

	By twenty after six, Lynne was nervous.  There were no empty tables
in the bar.  She made an executive decision and secured a table in the dining
room's smoking section.  The hostess, a young girl no older than Kate, didn't
seem to care if they ordered dinner or just had drinks.  The table had a
clear line of sight to the front entrance, so she could see Stacie come in.

Robinson's Bistro was a popular bar and eatery five minutes from the library.
Lynne and Stacie occasionally ate lunch there.  Lynne had never been in the
smoking section.  It was smaller than the non-smoking area.  Otherwise, the
two rooms were identical, except for the rectangular, gold glass ashtray on
each table in the smoking section.  Lynne was strangely excited as she looked
at it.  This would be an adventure, she decided, sipping her Diet Coke.

She bought the cigarettes.  Salem Lights 100's, like Stacie said.  She got
them from her purse and gazed at the green and white package.  The girl at
the convenience store hardly looked old enough to sell them.  Lynne asked for
Salem Lights 100's, and the girl asked, "Box or soft pack?"  Lynne didn't
know.  She said "Soft pack."  Without hesitation, the girl handed her these.
She was relieved.  She'd done it.

Buying a disposable lighter was more difficult.  The checkout counter was
surrounded by an assortment of plastic lighters in different colors.  One was
more expensive than the others.  The package said "turbo."  She didn't know
what it meant.  But paying too much was better than paying too little.  She
was never one to skimp.  So she bought a navy blue "turbo" lighter.

Just before six thirty, Stacie burst through the door.  Her eyes surveyed the
bar.  She noticed Lynne in the smoking section.  Waving, Stacie bounced
across the room.

"Sorry I'm late," she gasped.  "At the last minute a patron wanted books
about the civil war."  She saw the Salems.  "Oh my God," she shook her head.
"You did it, didn't you?"

Lynne grinned.  "Yes, I did.  I told you.  I'm serious about this."

Before Stacie sat, the waitress arrived to take drink orders.  Stacie asked
for a glass of Chablis, while Lynne got a second Diet Coke.  Lynne rarely
drank.  Alcohol affected her a lot.  Her mother had warned about her family's
history of alcohol problems.  "Addictive personalities" was the term her
mother used.  As she thought about it, Lynne remembered her mother also once
gave the same warning about smoking.  Her mother confessed that smoking
affected her in the same way.  Lynne's analytical mind considered what this
meant for the experiment at hand.  She decided to disregard it.  She had to
do it, despite the risks.

The women talked about nothing while awaiting their drinks.  Stacie nervously
twirled strands of her long hair.  She was ready to begin her lesson.

"Okay.  If you're going to smoke, take it real easy," she said nervously.
"Don't inhale."

"Explain what you mean," Lynne interrupted, finishing her Diet Coke.

"I mean, puff gently on the cigarette, but don't breath in.  You get sick if
you inhale too much or too soon.  Most smokers eventually inhale.  Avoid it
as long as you can.  Inhaling leads to addiction.  Suck lightly on it; let
the smoke fill your mouth without breathing it in your lungs."

"Okay," Lynne nodded.  "I can do that."

The waitress arrived with the drinks.  Stacie took a sip of her Chablis.  She
was nervous.  It showed.

"Can I smoke now?" Lynne asked eagerly.  "I'm nervous."

Stacie raised the wine glass to her lips a second time.  "Me, too," she
giggled, after a long sip.  "Okay.  Go ahead.  Light up a cigarette!"

To Stacie, the words sounded strange.  She spoke those words frequently six
years earlier; they were words she hadn't thought about for a long time.

Lynne tried to unwrap the pack.  After fumbling for several seconds, Stacie
interrupted.  Taking the pack, she pulled away the silver paper and exposed
the all-white cigarettes.  She tapped the pack on her wrist.  Seeing Lynne's
quizzical look, Stacie smiled sheepishly.

"It's to pack down the cigarettes," she explained.  "It makes them smoke
better."  She shrugged.  "Force of habit.  A very old habit," she smiled.

Lynne took the pack and pulled out a cigarette.  "I assume this was your old
brand?"

"Yes," Stacie admitted, looking surprised.  "Salems.  How did you know?"

"Lucky guess."  She placed the cigarette in her mouth and reached for the
lighter.  Stacie watched with amusement.  Lynne couldn't work the child-proof
lock.

"May I?" she asked.  Stacie took the lighter from Lynne's fingers and clicked
the button.  A flame shot into the air.  "This is a nice one," she commented
as she held the flame.  "It's more expensive than your basic Bic."

Stacie leaned forward as the flame burned.  "Suck gently when it touches the
cigarette," she said clinically.  "It draws the flame into the tobacco,
giving you a good, even light."

Lynne did.  Her mouth filled with smoke.  It tasted neither good nor bad.  It
was just ... there.  She blew it out.  "Wow," she gulped.  "I did it!"

"You sure did," Stacie agreed.  There was a strange interest in her voice.
"How is it?"

"Okay," Lynne answered slowly, looking at the burning cigarette in her hand.
Smoke slowly wafted up to the ceiling.  A slight breeze in the room moved the
smoke toward Stacie.

"It isn't as bad as I thought," Lynne decided.

"That's good, I guess," Stacie smiled hesitantly.  She seemed unsure.  "Go
ahead.  Try sucking on it again."

Lynne put the cigarette in her mouth and gently puffed.  "This is easy," she
thought happily.  She blew smoke from her mouth.  The air current again
carried the ambient smoke in Stacie's direction.

"You're doing fine.  You don't need help," Stacie smiled.  "Frankly, I hoped
you wouldn't like it.  I hoped you'd get disgusted and give up the whole
foolish idea."

"I can't," Lynne frowned.  "But it's not bad," she said hopefully.  "I'm
encouraged."

Lynne remembered the warning about inhaling.  But she wanted to try it.
Spurred on by how easy it was, she decided to inhale on her next puff.  "I
won't tell Stacie," she mused.  "I'll just do it.  If I ask, she won't let
me.  She's afraid I'll get hooked.  But how bad can it be?"

She found out.  She took a more protracted drag.  Without any warning, she
quickly pulled the smoke down directly into her lungs.  Undiluted by air, the
wave of thick smoke hit her virgin lungs like a ton of bricks.  Surprised by
the strong, unexpected sensation, she gasped.  The gasp made her choke, and
choking altered the rhythm of her diaphragm.  She began to cough.  The
coughing became uncontrollable.  Within moments she was literally gasping for
air.

Stacie realized what had happened.  Lynne was gasping, alternating choking
sounds and violent coughing.  Her eyes were full of tears and her nose was
running.  Instinctively, she raised her hands.  When she did, the lit
cigarette fell from her fingers onto the table.

"Oh, my God!  Oh, shit!" Stacie exclaimed.  "Are you okay?"

Lynne nodded half-heartedly.  She tried to talk, but then coughed, much
harder.  She was turning pale from lack of oxygen.  Stacie slid into the
chair next to her.  She saw the burning cigarette on the table.
Instinctively, she picked it up and put it between her fingers so it wouldn't
burn the tablecloth.

"You poor kid," Stacie sighed compassionately, sizing up the situation.
"Lean forward.  Put your hands over your head."  Leaning forward, Stacie
reasoned, will let her catch her breath.  To help Lynne lean, Stacie had to
use her hands - but her right hand held the cigarette.

Later, Stacie wondered why she hadn't put the cigarette in the ashtray.  But
it never occurred to her in that critical moment.  Instead, almost without
thinking, she placed it firmly between her lips.  That freed her hands to
steady Lynne's still convulsing body.

"There, there.  Relax, honey," Stacie urged, with the cigarette dangling from
her mouth.  "You'll be okay.  Try to breathe, honey, slow and deep.  That's
it."   Holding Lynne with both hands, she breathed rhythmically along with
her, taking slow, deliberate, deep breaths.  Slowly, Lynne began to recover.
The two women breathed in sync for several moments.

The slow, deep, rhythmic breathing delivered to Stacie an unintended side
effect.  The burning cigarette was between her lips as she breathed.  The
slow, deep, rhythmic breaths pulled some of the smoke into her lungs.  She
wasn't consciously inhaling; she didn't mean to.  But her lungs nevertheless
responded.  She suddenly realized what she was doing.  There was a cigarette
in her mouth, just like the old days.  She was sucking smoke into her chest,
just like the old days.  And just like the old days, she was talking and
breathing while the cigarette dangled.

"Oh, my God," she giggled.  It was almost like smoking!  It made her feel
strangely relaxed, really, almost refreshed.  "Damn, it tastes good when I
breath that smoke in and out," she told herself with a smile.  She knew she
should remove it and crush it out in the ashtray.  Quickly.  But suddenly,
Stacie wanted something else.  She wanted to take a real drag!  Just one!

"No!" she admonished herself.  "I can't afford to."  The burning cigarette
still dangled from her lips.  The smoke tasted so fuckin' good!  Oh, what the
hell, she rationalized.  One little drag wouldn't hurt!  Convinced by her own
logic, she closed her lips around the cigarette and brought her fingers to
her mouth, making a "V" around it as she took a deep, long, slow drag.

The cherry end of the cigarette burned bright as she pulled.  The moment was
electric; the taste incredible!  She removed the cylinder from her lips and
deeply inhaled smoke into her hungry lungs.  Her body welcomed the smoke like
an old friend.  It was like a homecoming.  She smiled and held the smoke
inside.  God, she felt good!

Lynne's voice brought her back to reality.  "Hey, I thought you weren't going
to do that," she said, having recovered from her distress.  In reply, Stacie
slowly exhaled twin streams of smoke from her nostrils.  The smile on her
lips betrayed her true feelings.  She was ecstatic!

"Oh, I'm not smoking," she lied.  She started to put the cigarette in the
ashtray.  That's where she should've put it in the beginning.  Then she
paused.  With a guilty smile, she returned the cigarette to her greedy lips.
"I'll just have one more drag," she said meekly.

There was nothing meek about it.  Stacie's cheeks hollowed.  She sucked long
and hard on the Salem.  She pulled the smoke deep into her famished lungs.
She tipped her head and directed a stream of smoke toward the ceiling before
she handed the cigarette back to Lynne.

"This is yours," Stacie smiled with strange satisfaction.  She finished her
exhale.  "God, it has been so fuckin' long since I've had a cigarette!  Damn!
That was nice!"

Lynne frowned.  "I'm not sure I want this now," she said.  She awkwardly
tried crushing it in the ashtray.  "I feel sick.  I don't think I want to
smoke anymore."

Stacie watched Lynne crush it out.  Something deep inside urged her ... no,
screamed at her ... to rescue the cigarette.  But reason prevailed.  She did
nothing.

"I warned you not to inhale," she chided, mournfully watching the
extinguished cigarette smolder in the ashtray.  "I said you'd get sick."

"God, did I!" Lynne agreed.  She was white as a sheet.  She sipped her Diet
Coke, but it only increased her queasiness.  "Oh, I feel terrible," she
moaned.

"Let me get you water, honey," Stacie suggested, looking for the waitress.
"Don't drink more soda.  Just breathe.  You'll be okay in a minute.  I
promise.  Breathe deep!  Try to relax!"

Stacie got a glass of water from the waitress' station.  After a few sips,
Lynne felt better.  "God, take those things out of my sight," she urged,
pointing at the pack of Salems.  "If I never see another cigarette, it'll be
too soon!"

Stacie paused.  "I'll throw them out," she nodded, dropping them in her
purse.  "I warned you.  But you wouldn't believe me.  You learned your
lesson."  Lynne's face reflected disappointment in the failed experiment.
"Don't worry," Stacie added.  "You'll find a way to regain Tom's affection.
Smoking isn't a good idea for you; or for anyone."

"Maybe you're right," Lynne nodded.  "It was a stupid idea!"

Stacie answered with a strange smile.  "It sure was," she agreed.

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