New Year's Resolution

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 24 May 1997)


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   Bethany was trying to ignore the voice in her head. It was asking if this
was something that she really wanted to do.
   She hated that annoying voice, which sounded altogether too much like her
Mom.
   I'm going to keep my New Year's resolution, he thought stubbornly as she
realised that she was next in line. The girl with red CVS smock looked at her
quizzically. She was standing there with nothing in her hand, so it was now
or never. The girl, who according to her tag was named Stella, probably
already knew what she wanted. People must walk up to the counter all the time
like this.
   "A pack of Marlboro Lights 100s."
   "Box ?" the girl asked, smiling.
   Smiling. Not the stare of disapproval that she'd expected. Then she saw the
bulge in the pocket of the girl's smock.
   "Box, " she said, and as Stella turned towards the cigarette rack she saw
the top of a box of Virginia Slims sitting in the pocket.
   "Will that be all ?"
   "Yes," Bethany answered. There was a faint ringing in her ears and she
wondered if she was blushing. She knew she was worried about someone seeing
her,  but Elisa had said that eventually she would get over that. The girl
handed over the pack and took Bethany's money. Dispensed her change
efficiently.
   Bethany turned around and almost died of shock. There was Ms. Hooper, her
English Lit teacher from high school, still looking all of twenty.
   Ms. Hooper smiled. "How's it going Beth ?"
   Bethany didn't tell her what she was really thinking, which was that she
wanted to crawl into a deep hole and die of embarrassment. She'd been in
college for more than three years now, but there was still something
mortifying about-
   Then she saw that Ms. Hooper's hands were also empty.
   "Great-" she stammered.
   "Can I help you ?" Stella asked, and Ms. Hooper asked for a carton of the
same cigarettes.
   Relief flooded through Bethany.
   "How's that English major going ?" Ms. Hooper asked.
   
   Bethany walked into the coffee shop, still nervous. She'd all day to-
   Practise wasn't exactly the right word, but it was close. It wasn't as
though she'd never smoked before, but getting ready to do it in public was
different. Half the pack was already gone. This was the real test. She'd been
bumming cigarettes from Elisa for the better part of the last semester, but
it was always in the privacy of her friend's room or her car, never like
this, where other people could see. Which was half of why she was here. 
   She took the pack from her purse, liking the way the box felt in her hand.
There was a rush of nervous excitement as she opened the flip top, thinking
about how the cigarette would taste and feel.
   Just as she went to light it, the waiter showed up at her elbow. It took all
her courage to light the tip before she ordered. She did exactly what Elisa
had told her. Patience. She inhaled deeply, held it, and exhaled before
sending the waiter away with her order. Just then Elisa walked in,  puffing on
 her own cigarette, and Bethany felt relief.
   "It looks like that resolution is going pretty well, " her friend said,
smiling.
   "Oh god, " Bethany replied as Elisa sat down. "I was in CVS today and just
as I finished buying this pack, I turned around and there was Ms. Hooper."
   "Kristen ?" Elisa asked. "Were you embarrassed ?" she asked, knowing the
answer by the look on her friend's face.
   "Of course. Until she asked for a carton of her own, that is."
   "Why didn't you buy a carton ? It's cheaper."
   "One step at a time."
   The waiter came back, took Elisa's order, and Bethany marvelled at how
calmly she sat there, smoking her cigarette with measured ease. No, not just
ease. It was pure contentment.
   "Is he here yet ?" Elisa asked, and Bethany resisted the urge to play the
he-who game.
   "No. It's still early, you know."
   Bethany took one last drag on the cigarette, snubbing it out with quick,
nervous jabs.
   Before she could relax- and there was something vaguely comforting about
having gotten away with smoking an entire cigarette in public with no one
seeming to notice- Elisa pushed the pack towards Bethany. "Come on, Beth."
   "I can't believe I'm doing this, " she said. 
   "Believe it. Get used to it. This is the first day of your freedom. No more
sneaking around in my car, no more sitting in bars with that look on your
face."
   "What look ?"
   "That look you treat me to when I'm smoking and you're not. Like a dog
looking at steak on a plate that's out of reach."
   Bethany lit the cigarette slowly, calmly, and realised that Elisa was right.
It did feel liberating to take that first drag on the cigarette, to inhale
and feel the smoke travelling down her throat. The faint rush of pleasure
that accompanied it.
   She'd taken on the resolution because of him, but now she was starting to
understand this was for herself as well.
   Just then he walked in. She didn't really know anything about him, except
that his name was Josh. That and that he came here every day, about this
time- quarter to four. He'd take one of the booths, sit down, open up his
laptop and port into the modem on the wall. Then he would sit back and light
the first of many cigarettes, smoking with the same calm ease that Elisa had
mastered.
   He would stay about an hour.
   She had no idea who he was or what he did, but she did know one thing. She
loved to watch him smoke.
   It was almost-
   Elisa said it was a fetish, but she also said that it was perfectly natural,
and instead of being embarrassed about it, she should give into.
   Part of that was learning to smoke herself.
   It had taken almost six months for her to work up the courage to ask one of
the waitresses what his name was.
   Another six months to get to this point.
   As she took a long drag on the cigarette, marvelling once again at how sweet
the taste of the smoke was, she realised it didn't matter if she ever got to
know Josh. He'd given her this.
   Elisa lit another cigarette, the smile that crept over her face pure bliss.
   "You ought to go over and talk to him, or at least stop staring at him."
   "I couldn't do that-" she stammered, tearing her eyes away as he exhaled a
thick cloud of smoke.
   "I'll be honest with you. I didn't think you'd ever get to the point where
you would buy yourself a pack of cigarettes or sit her in the coffee shop
smoking with me. If you can do that-"
   "It was a New Year's resolution," Bethany answered,  half joking. "Which
means I'll have to wait 'til next year to make one about him."
   She snuck another look. He was tapping away at the keyboard with one hand
and smoking with the other. It was so natural, the way he did it. His head
came up from the screen and Bethany turned away before their eyes could meet.
She felt herself starting to blush. Elisa nudged her with her foot under the
table.
   "Eye contact is the first step."
   "I wish this was a bar and not a coffee shop. At least if I could get
drunk-"
   "You're never going to get anywhere being shy, you know."
   "I thought guys liked that, " Bethany said.
   "They used to. But these days, they don't think they have to do anything but
sit around looking cool."
   There was a shadow over the table. Bethany turned to who she supposed was
the waiter, only to be shocked.
   "Hi, I'm Josh. You're-" He paused for a moment, "-Elisa and Bethany, right?
You guys are regulars. Can I interrupt for a minute ?"
   Elisa's grin was so wide that Bethany wanted to strangle her.
   "Of course," Elisa said, as though it was inevitable.
   He turned his attention to Bethany. "I couldn't help but notice that you're
smoking. I've never seen you do that before."
   The mortification was back, stronger than it had been in the CVS. But
Bethany remembered how that ended and forced herself to be calm.
   "Yes-" she said, sounding meek.
   "She's been smoking for months now
 but this was the first time I could get her out of the closet," Elisa added,
her smile cooling to a vicious smirk.
   "That's great, " he said cheerily.
   Bethany got the sudden sensation of being with friends. "It was a New Year's
resolution."
   "Perfect." He turned to Elisa. "Can I borrow her for a few moments ?" he aske
d
 strangely formal.
   Part of Bethany wanted desperately for Elisa to say no, but as she reached
into her backpack for text book, she knew it wasn't going to happen. "I have
some studying to do. Please
 feel free."
   As Bethany took a long, satisfying pull on her cigarette, she thought to
herself that suddenly she  felt free, freer than she'd ever felt.
   Elisa pushed Bethany's cigarettes towards her as she stood up and Bethany
picked up the box and her lighter, amazed at how quickly things had worked
out.
   
   They sat down in the booth, across from one another, and Josh paused to
light a Parliament. Beth enjoyed watching him do it, then realised that her
own cigarette had burned down to the nub. She stubbed it out and lit another,
trying to keep her excitement at watching him smoke to a minimum.
   "I'm writing my thesis on under-reporting of smoking and you're exactly the
sort of person I need to talk to."
   "Why's that ?" Beth asked
 her throat suddenly dry and swollen. The waiter, without missing a beat, had
brought both their coffees to Josh's table, as though this sort of thing was
commonplace, and she took a mouthful immediately even though it was a little
too hot.
   "Elisa said that you've been smoking for months but you're just coming out
of the closet. That's exactly what I'm writing about."
   "How'd you know our names ?" Bethany asked boldly.
   For the first time, Josh looked slightly uncomfortable. It was odd after his
abruptness earlier. But he didn't hesitate. "A few months ago, I asked one of
the waiters."
   Suddenly feeling a little bit of control shifting her way, Bethany asked
"Why ?"
   Now the embarrassment was all his. "I- well, first let me say that I really
do want to talk to you about my research. It's not just a line."
   "A line ?"
   "In case you didn't notice, you're pretty damn attractive."
   That  was most certainly a line. "But you've known my name for months and
today is the first time you've -"
   "I- oh, this is embarrassing."
   "How so ?" Bethany pushed, not wanting to let him get comfortable when
things were this perfect.
   "Why don't we talk about my thesis first ?"
   "You first," Bethany said, wondering if he was really-
   "I've seen you and Elisa around campus and at bars. She's always smoking-
but you-"
   Bethany felt herself smiling.
   "Do I have to do this ?" Bethany exhaled a long cloud of smoke directly at
him and she saw him lean into it, his eyes almost closed.
   "Yes."
   "I was always hoping to see you- just once- light a cigarette too. But it
was obvious you didn't smoke- although sometimes when you look at her-"
   He did  understand.
   "When I saw you today, sitting there, smoking-"
   "You felt exactly the way I have for months," she finished, finally letting
him off the hook. "I love watching you smoke, Josh."
   The look of shock on his face was humorous, but she understood it at once.
He'd thought he was the only one. 
   Just like she had.
   "I thought-" he started, then stopped, taking an enormous gulp of his
coffee. Bethany brought the long white cigarette to her lips and took a deep
sensuous drag, watching his eyes light up. He did the same and she let him
see her excitement as well.
   "I'm- relieved. I thought for sure you didn't smoke-"
   "Tell me about your research."
   He told her that he was working on a masters in statistics, about how the
numbers didn't add up. That cigarette consumption was well in excess of what
it should have been if the reported numbers about smoking were accurate. That
with it getting harder to pick up decent health or life insurance if you
smoked people were lying, even on anonymous questionnaires.
   "You go into a bar and half the people there are smoking. They all have
their own cigarettes, their own lighters. These aren't occasional smokers. I
think with the way that smoking has been stigmatised, people are embarrassed
to admit the truth."
   "But why lie on a questionnaire that's anonymous ?"
   "If you studied the questionnaire business the way I have, you'd know that
people lie all the time- especially about smoking."
   "Well, I'm not planning on lying to you- especially about smoking."
   Bethany glanced over at Elisa who was doing a pretty fair job of pretending
not to watch them. She had so much to thank her for especially for getting
her out today here where people could see that she was indeed a smoker. She
had never felt this kind of freedom before.
   "Why don't we get started then" he said.
   "On one condition Josh. I did something stupid today."
   "What's that ?" he asked, taking another long pull on the Parliament that
made Bethany want to go somewhere more private. She returned the favour
enjoying the look that came over his face almost as much as the taste of the
smoke.
   "I only bought one pack of cigarettes. I was- I was nervous. My first time.
Will you take a walk with me ? I think it's time I bought a carton."
   He smiled and it was the start of something wonderful.....


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