Once a Year Club, Part 1

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 18 June 1998)


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Once A Year Club
Part 1/2
an4@anon.lelnet.com

   "Has it really been a year ?" Buffy asked, as though she'd
stumbled into this out of the way club on a hunch or a whim. 
   As if.
   Veronica stared Buffy down. Three years and this was always the first thing
she said, as though at some point the answer might be no, it hasn't.	
   Buffy lit a Marlboro Lights 100 and then handed the pack to Veronica, who
took it and lit one of her own. It was amasing how a year could go by and
nothing changed about the taste of that first cigarette. It was nothing short
of wonderful, a taste explosion in her mouth. The inhale was even better, as
the smoke filled her lungs and made her head swim.
   "How soon before Betty and June get here ?" Veronica asked, exhaling sweet
smoke as she spoke.
   "Half an hour. June is picking Betty up at her house, and that's twenty
minutes from here. What'd you tell your boyfriend ?"
   "That I was meeting the girls for a night out and that he should stay over at
his own place for a change."
   Buffy inhaled sharply, looking at as though it hadn't exactly been a year
since her last cigarette. All four swore that they didn't smoke excepting this
one day of the year, but if one of them was lying, it was Buffy. She might
only be twenty four but she lied like she was a grizzled old politician.
Still, Veronica knew that wasn't fair. She only lied to her boyfriends.
   And they were, of course, necessary lies.
   "Do you really think your boyfriend would be pissed off if he found out you
were smoking ?" Buffy asked, as though such a concept was absurd.
   "Kyle would lose it and never get it back. I guarantee it."
   "Then why are you going out with him ?" Buffy asked, drawing deeply on her
cigarette.
   "Because I don't smoke."
   "Like hell you don't. You smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for over four
years. That means that you've smoked probably a cigarette for every day you'll
be alive- and according to all the studies, you're a smoker if you smoke one
cigarette a day on average."
   "It's nice to know that you have such a rosy view of my life expectancy,"
Veronica said somberly.
   "Well, you carry on like you're a non-smoker or something," Buffy said,
waving her hands as she spoke, looking as always at ease with the cigarette in
hand.
   "We formed the club, if you remember, because we were all quit smoking
together, or don't you remember ?"
   "I remember that we all got drunk the night before graduation and decided to
do this, yes. And here we are, three years later, all still living within a
few miles of the university, all single, all spending 364 days out of the year
denying what we really are."
   "You could start again," Veronica said, not because she wanted Buffy out of
the club- well, not exactly- but rather because it seemed like the right thing
for her.
   "I could. Someday I will. When I turn thirty, maybe."
   "Well then, you'd better enjoy this while you can. Want a beer ?"
   Buffy didn't need to be asked twice.
   
   Betty was standing out on the steps, smoking. She'd been smoking all day.
Each of the last three years she'd taken this particular day to herself, and
spent it smoking, from the time she got up until just before she took a shower
and went to bed. After all, this was the only day of the year she had
available to do it, and she intended as always to make the most of it.
   June pulled up in her new Saab, rolled down the window, and stuck out an hand
holding a VS 120, her brand from school. It was half gone and certainly not
her first of the day, either.  As usual, she looked good holding the
cigarette. She always had. Of the four of them, it was her smoking that had
always drawn the most attention, been the most enticing.
   The truth was that Betty had a crush on June for over a year, something which
finally faded when she met Rindi. There had never been any question about June
reciprocating her feelings, but the crush had still been fun in a strange sort
of way.
   "Let's go. We don't want to miss the party."
   Betty smiled, forcing herself not to mention to her friend that she was- as
usual- about twenty minutes late, and that being on time had already ceased to
be an option. Time had never been June's strong point- she had, at best, the
accuracy of a calendar, and that was on one of her good days- although this
was a day she was less likely to forget than most.
   Betty piled into the car, smiling.
   "You've been smoking all day, haven't you ?" she asked good naturedly.
   "Of course. And you ?"
   "Naturally. What else would I do ?"
   "Well, you don't smoke the other 364 days of the year, you know."
   "I make up for it as best I can. Hard to believe that it's been three years,
isn't it ?"
   June smiled, inhaled, exhaled, then pulled out of the driveway. "There are
days I wish we'd never made this stupid pact. John broke up with me last week
and I was dying for a cigarette. Instead, I ate a pint of Ben and Jerry's."
   Betty laughed.
   "And they say smoking is bad for your health. What happened ?"
   "John got mad at his boss, quit his job, and assumed I'd just take care of
him until he found something else. He was all ready to give up his apartment,
move his stuff in, and let me worry about where the money was coming from. I
told him that if he wanted a free ride he should go back home and live with
his mother- which, from what I understand, is exactly what he did."
   "Sounds rough. I know you liked him."
   "I did- right up until he said `Can I have my own key ?'" June drew deeply on
her cigarette and thumbed down the window as the smoke from their cigarettes
had begun to fill the car.
   "Why didn't you just give in and have a few, then ?"
   "We made a pact, remember ?"
   "I know. I only regret it about half the time. I've started playing
racquetball again, running, but there are sure easier ways to lose the twenty
pounds I put on since I quit."
   "I was lucky- I actually lost weight when I stopped."
   "Nothing to keep those sensitive nerves of yours at bay, huh ?"
   June smiled. Betty was the only one who could say that and get away with it,
because she actually meant it as a joke. June had always been the high strung
one of the bunch, and that had just been accepted.
   "I know we go through this every year," June said, drawing again on her
cigarette, "but whose idea was the pact, anyone ? No one has ever been willing
to take responsibility."
   "Well, it wasn't me." Betty said, inhaling sharply on the last cigarette from
her first pack of the day. "I was so drunk I can't even say it wasn't you, but
I know that it wasn't me and that's all I'm really sure of."
   "That's what you say. I really want to know though. It's just that with each
year that passes, the likelihood of us ever finding out who it was drops a
little farther off the scope."
   "I think we made the decision together," Betty said, finishing her cigarette.
Without pause, she went right on, opening a new pack and lighting another one.
   "Sure. But it had to start with one person's idea, didn't it ?"
   "Maybe. And then again, maybe it was some sort of psychic convergence betwixt
the four of us ?"
   "Betwixt ?" June asked.
   They both laughed, understanding the perils of being an English major well
enough.

   By the time the four women were together, it was already past six and the bar
was loud, noisy, hot, and under any other circumstance than this one,
perfectly unpleasant. But for them, this was the perfect place. It had been a
college hangout from the time they'd gotten their first fake ids right through
graduation- it was also someplace neither they nor anyone they knew went to
anymore. They had all changed bars and addresses and grocery stores since then
and there were days when they could actually kid themselves into believing
that they weren't still in the same place they'd come to seven years earlier.
   Buffy was talking about something that had happened to her the other day,
some weird thing which June couldn't quite follow. She was only half-listening
because somehow it had become very important to know one thing- whose idea
this had been on that drunken night. The details were so sketchy now, and the
harder she tried to focus on them the fuzzier, the more indistinct they
became. So she worked on the relaxation technique the therapist she'd been
seeing had taught her.
   Maybe I should try hypnotic regression therapy, she thought jokingly as she
pulled on her cigarette.
   That was a bit too X-Files. All she needed to do, she was sure, was relax,
concentrate, and let the closeness of her friends bring her back to that time
when-
   Everything had gone wrong ?

   June was the first one to get to Veronica's large single. She'd gotten the
third draw in the lottery for the whole senior class- a piece of luck June,
who'd drawn 78th, had never fully forgiven her for. Veronica answered the door
wearing nothing but a towel and smile. She was holding a lit cigarette in one
hand and a tall shot glass of what looked like Bailey's.
   "Are you drinking already ?" June teased. They'd all been drinking all day,
and even though graduation was in the morning, they fully planned to drink all
night. All four of them had done the family dinner thing and the one last tour
of campus thing last night so they could have this one final night together.
There'd been a lot of bitching and moaning, but in the end the older set had
relented because they had few options.
   "Come on in."
   As soon as the door was closed, Veronica let the towel fall to the floor. "I
needed that shower just to wake me up again, you know ?"
   "What's on the agenda besides drinking ourselves sideways ?"
   Veronica, who was standing there stark naked and totally unselfconscious,
smiled her devious little smile. 
   "I was thinking that we should find some sort of trouble to get into tonight.
You know, something that borders on the- I don't know-" She took a hefty swig
of her Bailey's and then a viscous pull on her cigarette, obviously enjoying
both.
   "You're not thinking of doing something criminal, are you ? Like something
that would get us thrown in jail ?" June didn't ask because she thought
Veronica was beyond that- she wasn't, if it was in the name of fun- but rather
because the idea of risking tomorrow- well, June had reason to worry. That
sort of thing made her sick to her stomach just to contemplate. Veronica- she
might might well be feeling nothing but excitement.
   "Criminal ? What do you think I am ?"
   
   Three years later, June could still see Veronica standing there naked, the
wheels in her head turning furiously over the kernel of a plan.
   "I can't believe this place," Betty was saying as she lit another cigarette.
"Nothing changes. It's like this place is preserved in amber or something. The
people even look the same- look like we did three years ago."
   "It's not like three years is forever," Buffy said, and then she pointed at a
girl walking past them in six inch platform shoes. "And we never wore those.
What's the deal with all the retro stuff ?"
   The history major chimed in. "Societies are always in either an original
state or an imitative state. And most societies think they are being original,
even when they are just imitating. It's human nature to think that you have
created something. It's one of the most basic desires."
   They all looked at June  with various degrees of `we're getting a little deep
over platform shoes, aren't we ?' in their eyes.
   June trimmed her ash, inhaled, and found that she could let the anti-
intellectualism of her friends pass. This was one night where too much
thinking would only cause problems.
   "So," she said, working to change the subject, "what's the plan this year,
Veronica ? Streaking across Bilmorth Quad ? Breaking into the steam tunnels ?
Maybe stealing a cadaver from the morgue ?"
   Again with the looks, although obviously this last was just the grossout
factor.
   Buffy started laughing, pausing long enough to swallow half a mouthful of
beer. She worked her cigarette briefly, but it was a full bodied inhale, one
that made all her friends wonder if this was really the only day of the year
she actually smoked. Still, she had their attention and they waited for her to
put her thoughts together.
   She didn't speak until her exhale had covered the entire table.
   "I still can't get last year out of my head. Who would have thought those boy
scouts would be there ?"
   They all laughed. That had been something.
   Veronica signaled the waitress for another pitcher, settled back in her
chair, wiped the chicken wing grease off her fingers, and let a slow grin
creep across her face. It was enough to make June's blood run cold, but at the
same time she felt the first tingle of excitement. Betty felt relief. Once
again, Veronica had a plan- and that was the way it was supposed to be.
   "I was thinking that we might be able to-"

   Veronica was showing no signs of wanting to dress, which was making June the
slightest bit uncomfortable.
   She drew on her cigarette, not one hint of self consciousness about her
nakedness showing.
   "I was thinking that we might be able to get into the president's office and
change his speech a little bit."
   "What ?" June said with a certain abject shock.
   "I thought that with her reading the speech directly from a telestrator it
wouldn't be hard to make a few changes."
   "Why ? June asked. Realising that Veronica wasn't planning to dress anytime
soon, June decided to settle in and make herself comfortable. She sat back in
her chair, lit a cigarette, and listen quietly as she explained how seamless
and not in the least dangerous her little plan was. Of course, that was how
they always sounded, especially if you were the first in the group- while she
was testing her sales pitch she made it sound benign, innocuous, uneventful.
   And it was, according to her, never her fault when it wasn't- which happened
to be almost always.
   Still, as June listened, smoking and wishing to hell that Veronica would at
least put on some underwear, she had to admit that the plan did have an
interesting sound to it. Where the university had gotten the idea that
Charleston Heston was an appropriate speaker was beyond them.
   Maybe a little fun was a good idea.

   June shook her head. Thinking back, there was no way that any of them should
have listened to this crazed idea, but they had.
   "- go up to Lookout Point and scare a few of the kids."
   "You mean," Buffy said, her inhale so sharp and deep that Veronica decided
her friend was not limiting her smoking to this one day a year no matter what
she said, "-just go up there and start knocking on windows ?"
   "Well," Veronica responded, smiling as she trimmed her cigarette, "not
exactly. I have a nice little surprise in the trunk of my car for the four of
us."
   Betty paused in the act of lighting one of her VS 120s. "What sort of
surprise, might I ask ?"
   "Well, I was thinking that we might be a little more convincing if we dressed
for the part."
   Buffy finished a two-stage inhale with a bright twinkle in her eyes. "These
costumes wouldn't be dark blue, would they ?"
   Dark Blue !
   Now something was coming back to June-
   
   The four of them had penetrated the President's office with surprisingly
little difficulty. The admin building had been open and no one was on the
third floor where his office was. Wrapping her hand in a towel, Veronica had
broken the glass to his door and let them in. After that, it took just fifteen
minutes to find the speech and alter it.
   In the morning, she would look to the telestrator and see her speech and if
all went well, not know anything was wrong until she went to introduce the
commencement speaker and said `And now, a man whose politics make most of us
wish he'd stuck to portraying biblical characters.'
   They had a good drunken laugh about it all the way back to the door.
   That was what June was remembering now.
   They'd been sitting there, drinking beer and schnapps and whatever else they
could find when Veronica's RA had stuck her head in the door.
   "I know graduation is tomorrow, guys, but we still have some people studying
and it would be cool if you could keep it down."
   None of them were really sober enough to understand what was being said to
them at first. In fact, one might have said that none of them realised that
they were being talked to at all. But finally Veronica met Kelli's steely gaze
with her own blurry-eyed look.
   "It's our last night together, Kelli. Can't you relax just a little bit ?"
   Kelli, one of those earnest juniors who was devoutly proud of being made an
RA and was probably in some distant past a hall monitor itching for the power
to write detention slips, grimaced as though she'd been asked to stick her
hand in sewage.
   "Look, some of the kids have their parents over. People are moving out- we
really just don't need all this noise. At least turn down the stereo."
   June remembered how loud the U2 had seemed, and it probably had been even
louder than she could remember.
   June had been the one who'd gotten up and gone over to the stereo. There was
no clear memory of actually ever reaching the stereo. Just of the pounding in
her head receding and then a deep dark blue pair of eyes, looking
disapproving, winnowed down to fine razor points and cutting as words flowed
from somewhere south of the beady twin promontories.
   An angry voice.
   Like a parent speaking to a young child.
   A speech filled with why don't yous and you don't even live heres and other
things.
   There was no coherent memory after that. Even as they got up and left money
on the table, even as they walked out into the parking lot and towards
Veronica's shiny Lexus, June was trying to slide between layers of memories
written on dying brain cells. The lid of the trunk slid upwards and there they
were, four dark blue uniforms. Police officer uniforms. She stared at them,
and that dark blue and remembered why the colour reminded her of Kelli.
   It wasn't meant to an human colour, that blue. No, blue eyes were Caribbean
Blue, not nordic ice water blue- but not in Kelli's case.
   Kelli's were the colour you might find on some ancient heraldic device, a
dark European blue like water just before dark.
   She'd said something exceedingly snide.
   About their smoking.
   About-
   "I bet you an hundred dollars the four of you couldn't quit smoking for a
year !"

   "What did you say, June ?" Buffy asked as she reached into the trunk for her
uniform.
   "Oh my god, I know where the idea for this came from-"
   Veronica smirked. "Yeah, I was watching Real Cops, and-"
   "No," June said vehemently. "Why we're here, why we're here tonight. It was
your RA, Kelli. She challenged me. Bet me one hundred dollars we couldn't quit
smoking for a year. I was so drunk-"
   "We were all so drunk," Betty said with a grin. "But what made you think of
that- and how can you be sure ?"
   "I- I just remembered all of the sudden. The uniforms, that dark blue- her
eyes. Oh my god, we quit smoking because of that little anal bitch. I always
hated her-"
   "You didn't have to live on the same floor with her," Veronica said. "Jesus
Christ. Three years we've been doing this. That cunt."
   Everyone started at the use of the C word, but it was appropriate. That was
exactly what she was, they all could agree on that. But to suddenly know-
well, there was nothing satisfying about that.
   Buffy took a long draw on her cigarette. "Somehow I don't think I'll be
quitting for another year again."
   Betty frowned.
   "You look like you never quit period, Buff."
   The instantaneous way her face transformed into a mask of hurt made Betty
regret her harshness, but they had all been thinking it.
   "Everyone here who hasn't snuck a cigarette in the last three years raise
your hand."
   Veronica didn't bother pretending. Neither did Betty. The three of them
looked at June, who they all expected-
   She didn't.
   "I'm sorry guys, this is all my fault. Damn it."
   Buffy shook her head. "This is nobody's fault. But I'd give my eyeteeth to
get Kelli Hammersham in a dark room with no witnesses."
   Veronica managed a smile. "Hey, you sound like a cop."
   "She's right," Betty added. "I mean Christ, how could we have been so stupid
?"
   "We've been enjoying this once a year thing," Veronica said, looking worried.
   "Oh, I know. This is your thing, Ronnie. And we can still do it again next
year, but maybe without the not smoking the other 364 days a year."
   When they all looked at Buffy, she added "Well, I didn't smoke at least 200
hundred days last year. That has to count for something."
   "Look, this is kind of a shock, but in a way it's good. Any one of us happy
we quit ?"
   Three shakes of heads met her question.
   "So it's decided. We have the once a year club, but without the whole silly
not smoking thing."
   Three nods.
   "Good. Now let's go change and have some fun."




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