Package Deal, Part 1

(by, 31 January 2002)

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Package Deal
Part 1 of 2

    'I'm not sure which I believe less, that they are letting us smoke in 
here or that the punch is spiked and no one is doing anything about it,' 
Melissa said.
    'Are you complaining about either one ?' Teresa asked. She lit her 
cigarette and exhaled, smiling. They'd divided the two floors of the 
cafeteria into a number of sections, and the smaller upstairs area was the 
designated smoking section.
    Melissa took a long draw on her own cigarette and tapped ash into the 
ashtray on the table.
    'No, this is perfect. I don't even mind being shunted up here. Having 
all the smokers in one place makes it easier to spot the cute ones.'
    'Have your eye on anyone ?' Teresa said, downing a sizeable portion of a 
vodka laced punch.
    'I'm not sure I can keep my eyes straight with what this punch is doing 
to me, but I was actually thinking about the Johnson twins.'
    'Twins ? One guy not enough ?'
    'I meant for both of us,' Melissa said.
    'They are hot. But look at the way Gina Smithers is hanging onto Paul.'
    Melissa exhaled. 'Gina is no match for the two of us. Come on, let's go 
rescue them- I'm sure Gina is telling them about how her dad owns half the 
auto-dealerships in the county.'
    Teresa laughed. Gina was more than a little stuck on her dad's wealth, 
and that could only work in their favour. Paul and Pete were nice guys and 
Paul looked more than a little uncomfortable about the way Gina kept touching 
him on the arm. There was no mistaking the signal she was sending, or the 
fact that it wasn't being so well received.
    They walked over to the twins and Pete smiled with relief.
    'Gina,' he said, cutting her off in mid-sentence, 'you know Melissa and 
Teresa, right ? They're in our Shakespeare class.'
    Gina looked at them the way one would study an interesting species of 
insect. 'Yes. Melissa, your father owns that cute little cigar shop downtown, 
right ?'
    'Yes, he does,' Melissa said, resisting the urge to tell her he was also 
the second largest cigar distributor in the state. No sense allowing herself 
to be condescended to.
    'My dad doesn't own anything,' Teresa added cheerfully.
    Looking down at her glass, Gina tipped it to assure herself that she was 
out of punch.
    'Oh dear, Pete. I'm out of punch.'
    He smiled, sensing an opening. 'I do believe they have more punch over at 
the bar. If you're headed that way, you could bring me one back.'
    Gina didn't need to be told what he meant and she stormed off in huff.
    'Thank God. I thought she would never leave. Thanks for coming to our 
rescue. I'm not sure if she was trying to get laid or sell us a car,' Pete 
    They laughed.
    'I'm sorry. That was a little crude. But she really can be a bore.'
    'Oh, someone will take her home tonight. She is pretty hot in that 
low-slung dress.'
    'There's two women standing right in front of us who are more attractive 
than she is,' Paul said, 'and they have much nicer personalities. Hey, I 
want to thank you guys.'
    'For what ?' Teresa said.
    'Starting the Smoker's club. Mom and Dad flew in last week and they said 
the website was a big help finding the right place to stay. And we had the 
best dinner since we got here at Michaelson's.'
    'Not a big fan of café food ?' Teresa asked.
    'Well three by seven gets a little tired, you know. I mean, it's okay, 
but I can cook food that's just as good myself-'
    'You cook ?' Melissa said.
    'We both do,' Pete said, not wanting to be left out.
    'Oh,' Melissa said lightheartedly. 'Keepers !'
    They all laughed.

    'And we'll buy your cigarettes- a carton every two weeks, and that will 
come out of your allowance,' Donna said to Kali. 'If you're really smoking 
half a pack a day that should be no problem for you.'
    Kali smiled. Her allowance was already the source of her cigarette money, 
and the math worked out to fourteen cigarettes a day, which was closer to 
what she was really smoking.
    'Sure, Mom. I can live with that.'
    'Now say thank you to Phil and Jessica. If it weren't for them, you'd be 
in deep shit right now.'
    Kali took a long draw on her cigarette.
    'Thank you Aunt Jess- and Uncle Phil. You know, I'm going to have to 
start calling you Uncle Phil, right ?'
    'Yes, I know. And as for thanking us, you can show your appreciation by 
coming over next weekend and helping us stuff, seal, and stamp invitations.'
    'It's a date, Uncle Phil,' she said, slipping her arm inside his as she 
drew on her cigarette. She looked up into his eyes and treated him to the 
sort of nose exhale that made some part of him deep inside which he was 
seventeen again. Then he looked at Jessica, who mimicked the gesture and the 
thought went away again.
    He looked out across the mass of people and saw something else that made 
him glad. Karen was standing up against a wall, her blue eyes sparkling. She 
was holding her cigarette- just lit- up near her face and laughing at 
something Vance Andersen was saying. She seemed to be taking to him quite 
nicely, and that was good for both of them.
    'I haven't quit my day job yet,' Vance was saying. 'I should say that 
my day job hasn't quit me yet, I suppose. With the way things have been 
going, if someone is actually willing to pay you to write content for 
websites, you have something you'd better not let go of until you're sure 
you don't need it.'
    'But it must be a distraction-' Karen said. She was genuinely interested 
in hearing about his writing career, but what she was really thinking about 
was the pleasant lines of his face and the way it ran down into a strong, 
well-shaped neck. The view from the front was as enticing as the view from 
    'That's what my agent says- but she doesn't get 10% of my day job- and 
she's not interested in paying the mortgage, so I have to keep at it. 
Besides, it allows me to flex the old writing muscles. Still, teaching seems 
like a much more rewarding way to spend your time.'
    Karen brought the cigarette the short distance to her mouth, inhaled, 
trimmed into an ashtray on the table next to her, and smiled. Her nose exhale 
was long and patient.
    'It is. It's funny. The pay isn't that great, and it only looks like g
reat hours on paper. I should be home working on lesson plans right now. 
But there are days when you see the lights go on in someone's eyes and just 
think that you've actually accomplished something. Now, there are other days 
when it's all paperwork and '˜go out behind the school and catch the kids who 
are smoking-'˜'
    He laughed. 'I take it that you don't enjoy doing that-'
    'No. I mean, it's particularly hypocritical in my case anyway. See that 
girl over there with Phil and Jessica-' she said, inclining her head in 
Kali's direction.
    'The gorgeous young thing with her lips wrapped around that cigarette ?' 
he asked, a smile on his face.
    'Careful, Vance, she's sixteen.'
    He blushed. 'I just meant that-'
    'She is an attractive young smoker, isn't she ?'
    'Well, yes she is. To be honest, though, I'd rather watch you smoke.'
    'You like watching me smoke ?' Karen asked, putting on a demonstrative 
inhale for him.
    'Of course.'
    'Well, if I catch her smoking- at school- I have to write her up, and 
that's just silly. She's a great kid, a good student, but during working 
hours I have to view her smoking as deviant behaviour. Meanwhile, her parents 
are standing right there. They obviously don't mind. I find that ridiculous.'
    'That's very interesting. Tell me more.'
    Karen studied him, wondering if he was showing some sign of deviant 
    'Let me explain. I'm writing a novel and I just had an idea. This young 
teenage girl's grandmother dies, and in her will, she leaves her a large sum 
of money, but there's a strange condition attached.'
    'Are you doing research here ?' Karen teased.
    'In a sense, yes. So what happens if you '˜write her up ?''
    'Well, the first time she has to take a note home and have it signed by 
her parents and she gets detention. After that, she gets suspended. I think 
that's just silly. You stigmatise her behaviour, question the parenting that 
she's receiving, put a black mark on her record and what have you really 
accomplished ?'
    'You re-enforce a questionable rule set. That's how rules work.'
    'You approve ?' Karen asked.
    'No, not at all. I understand. But approve ?'
    He looked at Kali laughing and the way her smile infected the adults 
around her.
    'No, not at all. But I do understand it.'
    'That's a good way to look at it, I guess.'
    'So what's your novel about ?'
    'Light horror, you could say. More things that go bump in the night than 
things that disembowel you. Suspense and dread. It's not a great market for a 
new writer to try and break into, though. Too many Kings on the top of the 
mountain, so to speak.'
    'I'd love to see what you've put together,' Karen said, genuinely 
    'I'd love a dance,' Vance said in reply.
    'It's a trade.' She offered her hand and he led her out onto the dance f
loor. His hand was warm and a little sweaty and the idea that she was making 
him nervous thrilled her just a little bit.
    Brenda looked at Kenneth and smiled.
    He was a charming guy. It was hard to believe that-
    She checked that thought and forgot it quickly.
    'So how long have you known Karen ?' he asked, reaching out and lighting 
her cigarette.
    'We met about two years ago. Strictly by accident. Literally. We had a 
little fender-bender one Saturday morning in the parking lot of a little 
diner. We were both on our way to grab a lonely sinful breakfast of pancakes 
and muffins. The place was packed, so we decided to take a table together and 
started talking and next thing we knew, we were friends.'
    'That's an odd way to make friends.'
    'Must sound pretty desperate, huh ?'
    'Not at all. Many are the lonely breakfasts all of us have endured.'
    Teresa reached out and stroked his hand.
    'Well, maybe tomorrow we can share breakfast.'
    'I'd like that,' Kenneth said, which brought a frown to Brenda's pretty 
face. He was trying to work that out when she explained.
    'Sorry. I just remembered that I'm staying at Karen's place. I 
shouldn't be inviting people over.'
    'Well, it wouldn't be the first time I'd been to Karen's.'
    Brenda looked at him, her eyebrows arched as she drew on her cigarette.
    'For a visit, I mean. It would be the first time I stayed overnight. We 
are talking about-'
    'Oh yes, definitely,' Brenda said, finishing the sentence for him.
    'We could always go to my place-' he offered. 'But why don't we see 
what happens. It looks to me like Karen is working on bringing someone home 
    Brenda followed the sweep of his hand. There was Karen, dancing with- and 
kissing- someone Brenda didn't know.
    'Looks like romance is in the air tonight, doesn't it ?'
    'Yes it does,' he said, and pulled Brenda close to him. He was mildly 
intoxicated, and so was she, but he didn't think that was what was leading 
him in direction of kissing her right now. It seemed like an impetuous thing 
to do, but he was all for a little impetuosity right now.
    He was starting to lean into her when she stood on tiptoes and locked her 
lips onto his. The kiss was a sensuous one, and when it ended, he felt 
seventeen again.
    He acted on the feeling.
    'Want to go out to my car for a while ?'
    'I thought you'd never ask,' Brenda said, and then she let him lead her 
out of the bar.

    Pete looked out over the dance floor. The party was starting to thin out- 
people were pleasantly drunk and leaving in pairs, headed back to dorm rooms 
to do what came naturally on nights like this.
    He turned back to the little group. His brother seemed to have taken to 
Teresa, which was fine because he was starting to like Melissa more than a 
little bit. They really hadn't been thinking about hooking up with anyone- it 
was hard to be twins sometimes when it came to girls- they had to find a pair 
that were together and then go through an awkward discovery stage that 
usually ended up with them liking the wrong girl or the wrong girl liking 
them or both of them liking or being liked by one girl.
    Of course, Pete could have settled on Gina easily enough, but that would 
hardly have solved anything. Besides, that wasn't how they did things. They 
worked together and generally they got laid that way, too, more or less. Same 
time, although they always managed to separate just before-
    He smiled, thinking back to the one time they'd hooked up with another 
set of twins, like one act on two nearby stages.
    'What evil thought are you having ?' Melissa asked, poking him playful 
on the arm.
    'I was just thinking how lucky we are that you decided to rescue us from 
Gina,' he said honestly.
    'That's what we do,' Melissa said, slipping her arm around Teresa. 
'Rescue the helpless and provide smoking support. We have business cards, you 
    'And secret identities and tight-fighting costumes ?' Pete asked.
    'You'd like to see me in something tight fitting, wouldn't you ?' 
Melissa asked, as though her dress wasn't nearly skin-tight.
    Pete laughed and looked directly at Melissa. 'I'd like to see you out of 
something tight-fitting.'
    'Oh, and what makes you think I'm that type of girl ?' Melissa asked 
slyly. She took a long pull on her cigarette and it made her head swim a 
little. The combination of punch and a light dinner was making her pleasantly 
    'A guy can hope, can't he ?'
    'You know what ?' Melissa said. 'This punch is going straight to my 
head. Would you guys mind if we went someone else- I could use a little food 
in my stomach to get my strength up.'
    'Get your strength up for what ?' Pete asked.
    'Well, I fuck better on a full stomach, to be perfectly honest.'
    They all looked at her with mock shock on their faces and then started 
laughing. She kept her face deadly serious and they laughed even harder. She 
finally cracked a wry smile.
    'Empty stomach, full stomach- either way as far as I'm concerned,' Pete 
    Teresa wrapped her arm around Paul's shoulder. 'I hope you guys are a 
package deal.'
    'That we are,' he replied, and then he kissed her, hard.
    Pete followed suit with Melissa.
    As they broke the kiss.
    'But we should warn you about something-'
    'What's that ?'
    'Our sister is your RA.'
    'And ?' Melissa said, mock indignation on her face. 'As long as she 
doesn't ask to join in, we're fine with that.'
    'Just thought you should know. You guys feel like diner food ? The 
Parthenon is just down the street and they have the best food.'
    'Fine with me," Melissa said, and with that they were on their way.

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