More Than A Feeling

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 23 June 1998)


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More Than A Feeling
an4@anon.lelnet.com

   Summer had finally come. With it, of course, came both good and bad. Marianne
had packed up her notebooks and all the other assorted crap from her locker
and brought it all home. No more school bus rides, no more forty-five minutes
of Biology class- the ultimate punishment for being in the accelerated group,
no more cafeteria surprise days. 
   Of course, it also meant no more sneaking out into the woods behind school to
smoke during study hall, no more hanging out, no more gossipathons in the
bathroom on rainy days.
   The ironic part, Marianne thought to herself, watching her mom pounding away
at the Powerbook's obviously not so fragile keyboard, was that Mom still had a
ton of schoolwork to do.
   Her mother paused, sat back, and lit a cigarette. She'd been working hard on
some sort of research project, toiling long into the night each of the last
four days. She'd said she'd probably be working on it for most of the summer,
if not longer. But she hadn't said what it was about. Marianne was wishing
that she was the one doing the teenage smoking study- there had been flyers up
in the school the last two weeks of the marking period- someone at the
university was running a psychological screening of female teenaged smokers-
why they had started, what they liked and disliked about it, how advertising
affected their decision to smoke and what brands they chose.
   But the extension listed wasn't Mom's.
   She blew a long trail of smoke out into the living room, watching it billow
and expand, like a corporeal entity. There was no question that Mom enjoyed
her smoking a great deal.
   "Have I mentioned lately how proud I am of you going back to school, Mom ?"
   Amanda looked up, meeting her daughter's emerald eyes with her own sharp grey
ones. "Do I sense the butter knife, honey ?"
   "No," Marianne scoffed. "I mean it. You've been working like a dog day and
night and it's really cool. I mean, not that many people have PhDs, you know
?"
   "You'd be surprised what you can get off the back of a matchbook, honey."
   "Mom, the University is not a matchbook factory-"
   Amanda nodded. It wasn't. And she had been working hard- sitting back and
lighting her first cigarette in almost two hours was proof of that. She saved
her work and shut down her Powerbook. She knew she was being selfish. Here it
was, the last day of her daughter's first year of high school- so much for
Marianne to digest and compile, all the uncertainty that came with the change.
Amanda remembered the utterly incomparable feeling that came with the last day
of school. Relief- dread that you would somehow lose you friends, the
certainty that there was no such thing as merely stepping back into those
friendships in three months. And here, especially, in the same house she'd
known those feelings, two miles up a dirt road in an already rural school
district- there were people she went the whole summer without seeing.
   Stop thinking. Start talking.
   "How was the last day of school ?"
   Lame, but it was a start of sorts.
   Marianne sat down, smiled, then her face turned serious. "You mean, how am I
coping with the mix of feelings ? The relief of getting away from the
schoolwork tinged with the fear of loneliness and solitude living up here on
the mountain brings, right ?"
   Inhaling deeply, Amanda allowed herself a moment of pride. She'd raised quite
the perceptive daughter.
   "I'm supposed to be the psych major. But yeah, that's what I meant, I guess.
It's not too difficult, having grown up in this same house, to remember what
it was like. God, I hated the last day of school with a virulent passion.
Until my junior year, when I finally got a car. Then I only disliked it with a
major passion. I just want you to know you can talk to me about it."
   "Don't worry. You'll hear all about how lonely I am the first time I need a
ride to the mall. Now what are you working on ?"
   Amanda drew again on the cigarette. That was also her daughter. Just like her
mother. Acknowledge the difficulty, but not discuss it. Yes, family traits ran
deep.
   It was the goddamned house- but the goddamned house- no mortgage,
scandalously low assessment for tax purposes, built like a castle to withstand
not invaders including expenses- was what was allowing her to afford school
right now. So they would be staying here for at least a little while longer.
   "Did you see that article in the paper yesterday ?"
   "Uh- I saw about twenty. Vague much ?"
   Amanda laughed at the Buffy-speak.
   "The one about how the gender gap for girls is narrowing ? Higher math
scores, more sports- more smoking ?"
   "Yeah," Marianne said, suddenly curious more than before. "I saw it. Don't
tell me you're the one who's running that smoking study ? The one asking for
female teenagers ?"
   Amanda looked at her daughter suspiciously. "What made you notice that, if
you don't mind me asking ?"
   "You put flyers up on every bulletin board in the school, mom. But that's not
your extension. And why pick a rural school like Pembroke Falls ?"
   Trimming, Amanda drew one final time on the cigarette and the stubbed it out.
   "That extension is a phone trap, basically. I can screen the callers more
efficiently in a shorter period of time. And I chose a rural school because
the highest rate of increase in smoking are in suburban and rural school
districts in the Northeast . Pembroke Falls is really a suburban district,
after all. Only ten percent of the students live in what statisticians class
as `rural' areas. We just happen to be in that ten percent."
   "So do you have a slant on the whole thing ?"
   "A slant ?" Amanda asked.
   "Yeah. Everyone is crying about how bad teenage smoking is. Are you doing a
study that will give answers as to how to stop the increase ?"
   Rolling her eyes, Amanda lit another cigarette. "What do you think ? Does
that sound like me ?"
   "I don't know, you and I have never really talked about smoking much."
   "Well, there hasn't been much need, has there ? I mean, I smoke and you
don't, so I don't really talk about it. But I'll be honest. I think all this
crap about teenage smoking is ridiculous. We have so many problems in our
schools- like kids shooting other kids- and the big ticket item right now is a
little teenage smoking."
   Marianne felt a surge of optimism. If that was how her mother really felt
about smoking, there was an opportunity here to use that to her own advantage-
in a big way.
   "How old were you ?"
   "How old was I when what ?"
   "When you started smoking ?"
   Drawing deeply on her cigarette, Amanda pretended to have to think about it.
As though she could forget February 5th, 1975, the first day of the best of
her life. The day Eunice Grace had taken her into a bathroom in the Pembroke
Falls High School, and handed her a lit cigarette- just to try. It took a week
for her mom to figure it out, another week to convince her that letting her
smoke was the best thing for everyone involved. One more week to bring Dad
around.
   "I was fourteen, I think, a little younger than you are now."
   "You're not fooling me, Mom. You may act like you can hardly remember, but
you look like you know the day, the hour, practically the minute."
   Amanda exhaled and smiled. "You know me pretty well. It was between second
and third periods on February fifth, 1975. My friend Eunice gave me my first
cigarette and I was a smoker by the end of the day. I miss those days."
   Strangely, Marianne turned suddenly pale, excusing herself to go to the
bathroom. But rather than use the downstairs bathroom she thudded up the
stairs and Amanda found herself worrying about her daughter. It was as though
she'd upset her in some strange way.
   
   Sitting in the upstairs bathroom, Marianne was thumbing through her diary.
She found February and began reading.

   One February, 1998.  Carol Grace told me that she'd starting smoking after
first period gym today. It's so strange. Her mom and mine were best friends in
high school. You can go to the gym when the bleachers are out for a basketball
game and if you sit on the top bench of the risers, in the far corner by the
home team basket, find the initials EG and AM carved into the side of the
bleachers. I know those are their initials- see Mom's yearbook for details.
   Carol and I are getting the same way. We both have lots of other friends, but
you know how things change.
   
   Two February, 1998.   I was kind of shocked yesterday when Carol told me that
she'd started smoking.
   I don't really know why. Lots of kids our age smoke- it's no big deal.
   I asked her if her mother knew. She said no, but in kind of a funny way. I
forget that most of us have fathers, too- it's been so long that you start
thinking everyone just has a mother, you know.
   Well, she said `Mom doesn't know, but Dad sure does.'
   Mrs. Grace went on a week long business retreat last week. One night Carol's
dad came home and as soon as he walked in the door he asked if if she'd tried
smoking yet. She says it was like he planned to do it- Mr. Grace is so
deliberate. She said no- I don't really know if that's the truth or not- Carol
isn't always entirely honest.
   Anyway, he asked her if she didn't think it was time to give it a try and she
jumped at the chance. He gave her one of her mom's pack and lit her first
cigarette for her. She liked it enough to ask if he was going to let her smoke
and he said `Of course.' 
   I think that's pretty cool.

   Three February, 1998.  Carol asked me to try smoking today. I said I needed
to think about it. 
   Boy, do I.

   Four February, 1998.  Carol told me- you must be starting to think that this
is Carol's diary, not mine- that Bernie Kestral asked her out this morning. I
guess she was out behind the school smoking during study hall- I had a history
club meeting- we're going to New York the week before Easter- cool- and he was
out there, too.
   Carol was ecstatic. I mean, Bernie ! Who wouldn't be. Bernie never looked
twice at either one of us before. I guess he thought she was one of the cool
kids all the sudden, what with her smoking and all.
   That could have been me.
   Oh, that's silly, isn't it ?
   
   Five February, 1998.  Carol wants to be a corporate executive when she grows
up. That's a weird goal to set, but she's off to a good start.
   Manipulating people, that is.
   She told me this morning to meet her after social studies in the bathroom-
that I was either going to start smoking today or never.
   I almost didn't show up.
   I don't know. Mom smokes- she enjoys it, too. But we never talk about and I
get the impression sometimes that she's a little ashamed about smoking in
front of me. I'm sure that she wouldn't react the way Carol's mom did when she
found out last night that her daughter was smoking. Carol says it was like a
party. I have a feeling Mom wouldn't be so fucking pleased.
   But I went anyway.
   It was cool. Carol lit two cigarettes- says her dad showed her how to do
that. She handed me one and I tried it. It was great.
   I think I'm hooked.
   I think I'm a smoker.
   Now that's really cool.

   Marianne closed the diary. It was too creepy. The same day, the same
families. Too much coincidence.
   There was a knock on the door. Marianne buried her diary underneath the sunk,
way in the back.
   "You okay in there ?"
   "Yeah, Mom. I just had a little diary- I mean, diarrhea."
   
   Amanda was sitting on the steps outside Latimer Hall, enjoying the warm
summer sun. It was really summer now- by the calendar as well as because the
kids were out of school. She'd left Marianne at home to do Marianne things-
mowing the lawn being the primary chore- and was waiting for her next
appointment.
   She didn't ask names over the phone. That would only put some of the girls
off. Of course, she knew the better half of them when they came in- Pembroke
Falls was a typical suburban town, after all, but they were paid twenty-five
dollars and reciprocal promises were made not to reveal their names or hers.
She set her Powerbook down on the concrete, opened her small black leather
purse, and took out her cigarettes. Weather permitting, she did the interviews
outside so that both she and her interviewees could smoke and get comfortable.
   There was only a mild sort of surprise when saw that the girl walking up the
path towards her was Carol Grace. She was pretty sure that Carol smoked- she'd
heard occasional rumours to that effect and once, at the mall, had thought
she'd seen Carol and Eunice in their car, both of them smoking as they drove
away.
   "Hi, Carol."
   Amanda drew deeply on her cigarette, hoping the fact that she to was a smoker
would put Carol at ease.
   "Ms. Marchant ?"
   "Surprised to see me, Carol ?"
   "Well, yeah. I didn't recognise your voice on the phone." 
   "I didn't recognise yours, either. This doesn't make you uncomfortable, does
it ?"
   Carol seemed to weigh the question with more seriousness than Amanda would
have preferred. She wanted her daughter's friend to feel comfortable, but of
course it didn't always work that way. Sometimes being a parent meant there
were certain people you just couldn't really be friends with, and it was
entirely possible, especially in this circumstance, that this was one of those
times.
   "No, not really. it's just kind of strange. I was all ready to be very
defensive about smoking, about how much I enjoy and it and how I don't see it
as an addiction and- but I have a feeling that you aren't running this study
to put down teenage smoking, are you ?"
   "No. To be honest, I'd be a hypocrite to criticise something so close to me,
wouldn't I ?"
   Carol thought about Marianne and understood exactly what Amanda was saying.
Which was cool.
   "So you aren't going to mind if I smoke, will you ?"
   "Of course not. That's why we're out here."
   Carol lit a Virginia Slims 120. Amanda watched her do it without so much as a
glimmer of unease and thought about how Marianne would look doing the same.
The image brought a small smile to her face.
   "So tell about how you started-" Amanda trimmed her ash and then inhaled
deeply, switching the cigarette to her right hand so that she could hunt and
peck the girl's answers.
   "Well, it's funny. My dad came home one day after work while Mom was out of
town. He asked me how my day was and then, without any real warning, just
asked me if I'd tried smoking yet. I said no. I should have said not really,
because I'd tried it once or twice and thought it was okay, but not really
worth taking on. I mean, when you don't have your parents' permission to
smoke, it can be an hassle."
   "How old were you ?"
   "Fourteen. This was back in January. I thought he was leading into one of
those `Well, smoking is bad for you' type parent things. Instead he went into
the bedroom, brought out one of mom's packs, and told me it was about time I
gave it a try. The funny thing is that I probably would have just been really
thinking about starting now- hey, for twenty five bucks-"
   They had a good laugh about that.

   Marianne was sitting in the backyard in her bathing suit, soaking up the
summer sun and smoking. She was just lighting her fifth cigarette of the
morning, glad that Mom was at the university- she would be there all day.
Although it made her guilty to feel this way, she was hoping that Mom's
schoolwork would keep her at the university all summer.
   She was reading Moby Dick. It was dry- that was ironic, she thought to
herself- but it was one of three novels in the summer Lit session at Pembroke
Falls and she was thinking of taking the two week course because it was
mandatory as a prerequisite for AP English. She was going to read all three
novels- the other two were Carr's the Alienist and Drieser's American Tragedy
and then decide if she could deal with two weeks of four hours a day of Ms.
Kimble droning on about what great works of fiction they were.
   Maybe it was just all this `bunch of men at sea' thing, but Melville seemed
to have some issues about sexuality that weren't normally discussed in
literature circles. That whole sperm whale thing, for instance, the squeezing
of the sperm, and then that dance scene which was worse than something out of
Cats. Funny how that never came up.
   Then again, Ms. Kimble was still young, and from what Marianne had heard,
tended towards the risque when she wasn't boring everyone.
   She drew deeply on her Marlboro Lights 100 and then realised the most awful
thing.
   The cigarette she was smoking was the last from her pack and she hadn't
thought anything about it because she remembered having another pack upstairs
in the back corner of her closet.
   Only, this was that pack. She'd opened it the day before yesterday and then
forgotten it was the last one- and this wasn't the first time this had
happened. 
   "Fuck," she said, and then wondered if they'd sell her a pack at Gretchen's
Quick Mart.
   Well, she could find out what a two mile walk would net her after she
finished this cigarette, couldn't she ?

   "Thanks for taking the time to come in and talk to me, Carol. Do you need a
ride home ?"
   "No. Mom is at the library, doing some research for this month's Pembroke
Falls Historian. I just have to yank her head out of whatever dusty old book
she'd devouring and I'm all set. By the way, have you interviewed Marianne yet
?"
   Amanda was reviewing her notes just to make sure that she hadn't missed
anything. She looked up at Carol.
   "What ?"
   "Have you interviewed Marianne ? You said that you were-" Carol suddenly
realised she'd done something stupid, and she understood why.
   Amanda had been saying that she would be a hypocrite to criticise teenage
smoking, but not because she was the parent of a teenage smoker but rather
because she had been  a teenage smoker once upon a time. God, what a colossal
mistake, or misspeak, or whatever the hell this stupid fuck up was. 
   Shit.
   Amanda covered it well. She wasn't going to act as though she was unaware of
what her daughter's best friend knew- that her only daughter was indeed a
smoker.
   That maybe went part of the way towards her diarrhea attack.
   Except she'd initially said diary, not diarrhea, hadn't she ? Yes, she had.
   Sonofabitch.
   She'd pretend she'd been reading her notes.
   "Actually, Marianne is scheduled for this afternoon." That was a lie, the
schedule called for analyzing Carol's responses, but what the hell ?
   "Tell her to call me," Carol said, her relief intense.
   "Oh, I'm sure she will," Amanda said, still smiling. She wanted to resent
Carol, both for knowing this thing that she didn't and because who else would
have talked Marianne into starting ? But then she thought about the weird
causal link- Eunice getting her started all those years ago- and it made
perfect sense.
   "Tell your mom to call me, too," Amanda said as Carol started walking away.

   Just as Marianne was getting ready to walk to the store, the damned phone
rang.
   "Honey, I'm going to swing by the house and pick you up. If you're not busy,
I have something I could use some help with. Cataloging research. It's not
exciting, but-"
   Marianne was irritated. If she didn't get to the store she'd have to wait
until morning and she'd been looking forward to an afternoon of smoking. She'd
set a personal goal to smoke half a pack and now that wasn't going to happen,
was it ? But what could she do ? Mom was the last person who asked for help
when she didn't need it.
   Swing by the house. It was half an hour each way. That was good, though. It
would give her time to hop in the pool, get the smell of smoke off her, and-
   "Honey ?"
   "Yeah, sure, Mom. See you in half an hour or so."
   
   Mom was strangely quiet. She pulled up to the house and Marianne tried her
best to look enthused about an afternoon of entering responses into
spreadsheets.
   "How was your morning interview ?"
   "Very informative."
   "Can I ask who it was with ?"
   Amanda smiled. "You know I can't say."
   "Anyone I know ?"
   Another smile. "You could say that." As she pulled the car out of the
driveway, she used the cigarette lighter to light another Marlboro Lights 100.
Once it was going, she rolled down the windows and popped the sun roof. She
then slapped her forehead with mock self-derision.
   "Damn, I may have left my ID back at school, and the parking people are such
assholes. Can you hand me my purse ?"
   This was Marianne's least favourite thing about riding in a car with mom, who
seemed to regard the steering wheel as something best operated with the top of
her knee. But she did as she was asked, dropping the purse in her lap.
   Amanda took the wheel with her knee, looked at the purse and then reached out
her right hand with the cigarette in it. 
   "Could you hold this for me ?"
   If Marianne hadn't any experience with holding cigarettes, she would have
reached across her body with her right hand to take the cigarette, or so
Amanda was sure. But instead her daughter angled the wrist of her left hand,
opened her first two fingers just wide enough to accept the cigarette, and
took it gracefully. While Amanda was pretending not to be studying all this,
she was really watching very closely.
   Reflexively, Marianne turned her wrist over, bent her elbow while furthering
angling her wrist, and started the cigarette towards her mouth, freezing in
mid-motion.
   Yes, she was a smoker all right.
   "Here it is," Amanda said, holding the ID up as though there was any
question.
   Marianne looked at the cigarette in her hand and realised that she was not
exactly holding it in the sort of clumsy way a non-smoker probably would have.
But there was nothing to do about that now. She passed it back to her mother
as naturally as she could- a burning object was not something you screwed
around with in a car, regardless of circumstances.
   "Thanks, honey."
   She resisted the urge to say that she didn't exactly look uncomfortable
holding the cigarette- what would the point have been. She didn't want to do
this, not here in the car.
   Did she want to do this at all ?
   Amanda was careful by nature. She'd planned it so that if she did chicken out
at the last moment, there was plenty of actual work for her daughter to do.
Marianne could easily head home today with no suspicions of what her mother
had been thinking.
   If-
   Amanda didn't want to chicken out.
   She thought about Jack Grace and how he'd had the courage to actually
encourage Carol to smoke. That was cool.
   She wished she was that cool.
   Then again, Marianne was already a smoker. No encouragement needed, not on
her end anyway. All she needed to do was let her smoke.
   That was where the encouragement was needed.
   They talked about mundane things on the way back- what to have for dinner,
whether or not to rent a movie, that sort of day to day living stuff. Amanda
hid her conflicting emotions and Marianne hid her annoyance and they got
along, as the british would have said, famously. But they could both feel the
underlying tension- they just thought it was entirely self-generated.
   Amanda smoked two cigarettes on the way over and if Marianne resented that
adult freedom (and she did) , there was no indication of the fact. They pulled
into the parking lot- the ID was entirely mandatory- and Amanda found that she
had still not decided whether to actually interview her daughter.
   The summer sun was high in the sky. Latimer Hall's venerable bricks, at least
the ones not covered with heat absorbing ivy, were baking.
   The large granite steps usually had two or three people perched on the wide
flat sides smoking, but the heat was driving smokers to cool locations such as
the loading dock, which was in shade this time of day. The only person sitting
out was Gillian Nora-Snow, a graduate student with a brilliant penchant for
undoing tenured fellows research with one simple question. These question
invariably started with the phrase `But haven't you considered-' and had
nearly led to her being expunged from the programme three times in one year.
   She was lighting a Salem Lights 100, the glow of the lighter's flame caught
in her ice blue reflective sunglasses. Her long blonde hair hung back over her
shoulders and down onto her firm, oversized breasts. There was no smile on her
face- she never, as a rule, smiled- but the corners of her mouth tucked up
ever so slightly as she drew the first smoke from the cigarette into her
anxious lungs.
   It had always bothered her that Gillian smoked.
   The girl was so organised, so well-disciplined. Amanda had always not just
tolerated, but demanded, a certain amount of disorder in her life. It made her
feel a little more normal to have notes lying around all over the place, to
occasionally lapse on remembering appointments, to write papers and research
with an edge of intuition.
   The truth was, intuition had always been her strong suit, and she held off a
certain natural tendency to organise precisely so that the intuition would not
be blunted or subsumed.
   Gillian had no disorganisation. She was the sort of person who always carried
a pen, but would never leave on in her pocket to go through the wash. She was
the sort of woman who put on a pair of blue jeans and a t-shirt and managed to
make then look as though they had been carefully ironed as so not to crease
them. Her blonde hair should have been wild, but it never was- if it showed
the merest hint of free will, she locked it down into a pony tail and was done
with it.
   People like that were rarely smokers. No matter how careful you might be, ash
strayed. No matter how you justified it, smoking was an habit. If it was not
an addiction, it was at the very least a dependence, and Gillian was the sort
of person for whom a dependence was an abhorrence.
   And yet she was a smoker.
   Marianne heard sound track as Gillain brought the long white cigarette to her
lips. Something dance club, maybe Madonna's Ocean Floor. The cigarette was
accepted by pale white lips. Wrapped into the mouth and then the lips pulled
it back slightly, like a bullet being loaded into the chamber. Puffy cheeks
were drawn in slightly. The tip of the cigarette flared as smoke drifted from
it.
   You could not see her eyes, and Amanda knew her too well. There would be no
acknowledgement of enjoyment in those eyes, but it was there none the less.
   If she knew she was being watched she hid it as well as she hid everything
else from prying eyes.
   "Who's the babe ?" Marianne asked, as they were still just out of earshot.
   Amanda gave her daughter an `Is there something I should know ?' type of look
and Marianne just smiled. 
   "Come on, Mom. She's gorgeous."
   "That's Gillian. She's a graduate student. And you're right. She is pretty
hot, isn't she ?"
   "Yeah."
   The graduate student lazily brought the cigarette to her mouth again,
accepting it the same way. The pull was intense, measured, enjoyed. She held
the smoke for a long time before finally exhaling, and this time, perhaps sure
now that she was being observed, a tiny smile crept across her mouth like the
barest tremour before the earthquake.
   Amanda led them to other side of the steps and sat down, opening her
Powerbook up. She then pulled her cigarettes from her purse and lit one.
   "What are we doing ?" Marianne asked, not understanding how anything was
going to get done out here.
   "This is where I interview the teenage girls in my study. Go ahead and light
up and tell me all about how you started smoking and what you think of it."
   Marianne blanched. So that was what this was about ? She could hardly believe
it. How had she figured it out ?
   "I don't-"
   She was going to say `I don't smoke,' but what would the point be ? That they
were here-
   "-have any cigarettes. I smoked my last one just before you called."
   Without missing a beat, Amanda handed her daughter her own. She watched
Marianne take the pack with open longing in her eyes. There was no question
that she was about to light one of the cigarettes and begin smoking- right in
front of her.
   Gillian, oddly enough, was watching them. It was a covert sort of study, just
the sort of thing one would expect from her. She seemed to have an avowed
disinterest in the human condition in general- her love of psychology appeared
to have been born out of her general scorn for human behaviour. But there was
no scorn in the odd cast of her mouth, no deliberateness of clinicality.
   "So tell me when you started, Marianne ?"
   Daughter looked at mother and considered not the truth but what would be the
best answer under these odd circumstances.
   Wouldn't telling her that she'd been smoking for five months be a mistake ?
   As if divining her thoughts, Amanda reached out and grabbed her daughter's
free hand just as she was taking a deep inhale from her cigarette.
   "Honey, I didn't tell you that you could have a cigarette just so that this
interview would go well. That's my way of telling you what my decision about
your smoking is. Am I being clear enough ?"
   Her daughter's smile was so wide that it even spread to Gillian's pale face.
   "February fifth. Carol took me into the bathroom between second and third
periods and gave me my first cigarette and I think I was a smoker by the end
of the day."
   Her mother looked at her strangely. 	
   "February fifth ? Between second and third periods ?" Marianne, unsettled,
reached for her cigarettes and lit one with trembling hands.
   It was the damn house, binding them together once again.
   Marianne decided not to go there.
   "Odd coincidence," Amanda agreed. "So what's next ? I tell you how wonderful
smoking is and why I enjoy it so much ?"
   Marianne put the dark thoughts aside and smiled at her daughter's obvious
enthusiasm on the subject.
   "That works for me-"
   Amanda demonstrated not by saying anything but by taking a strong, measured
pull on her cigarette- well, her mother's cigarette, she thought to herself.
Neither of them noticed Gillian finishing her cigarette and walking back into
Latimer.

   Gillian found her cell phone in her purse, hit 66 on the speed dial, and
waited. On the ninth ring, a dark but pleasant female voice answered with a
simple hello.
   "Everything is proceeding according to plan. I think it's time for you-"
   "I know what I need to do. Just remember your part. And next time, use a land
line to call me."
   The call was terminated immediately, but Gillian still managed a smile. Just
seeing her again was going to make this all worthwhile.
   She took one last look at mother and daughter laughing and smoking together,
and allowed herself the barest pang of envy.
   
    




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