Pending, Part 1

(by, 07 June 1998)

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Pending - Part 1 of 2

   Jenna sat down on the tired wood of the old bridge and looked out across the
water. The lake came to a tight point just east of the bridge, pushing itself
into the stream bed below. There had been a time when farmers had relied on
this stream and the land around the old bridge was still undeveloped. The
farms were long gone, nothing more than stories grandpa used to tell.
   She came here often as a child, to think, to wonder. Now she was here because
she was simply depressed.
   The bridge no longer lead anywhere. The old dirt path on either side had
grown up and over. 
   What Jenna wasn't expecting was the teenage girl to come strolling onto the
bridge. Sitting behind a support, she remained unseen at first.
   The girl was very attractive, a young blonde with a cut figure and sparkling
green eyes. She was lifting a cigarette to her lips when she spotted Jenna.
There was a brief embarrassment and then she completed the gesture, drawing
smoke deep into her youthful lungs. She continued walking forward but there
was a certain hesitancy to her stride.
   "Hello," Jenna said, smiling at the girl's obvious awkwardness. "What brings
you here ?"
   Micha batted her eyes, tried to think of something clever to say, but all she
could come up with in the end was "I came here to smoke."
   "I take it you do a lot of that alone ?"
   Micha drew on the cigarette again, forced a smile, and then nodded. "My
parents won't let me. Well, I haven't ask, but-"
   "How old are you ?"
   "Old enough," Micha said defensively.
   "I didn't say you weren't. My name is Jenna."
   "Micha. Like Michael. I think I was supposed to be a boy."
   "That would have been a waste," Jenna said with a smile. There was no
   "There usually isn't anyone here," Micha said, as though her decision to
smoke required some defending.
   "I'm not judging you," Jenna said honestly. "I came here to be alone as well.
Sorry to have interrupted your solitude." Jenna didn't add that she was sorry
her own solitude had been interrupted because that would have been true- but
probably unfair. The girl looked as though she could use someone to talk to.
   "I want to be alone, but that doesn't mean that I should be, you know."
   "Boy troubles ?"
   Micha drew on her cigarette, held, exhaled, and then sat down next to Jenna.
The smell of smoke was thick on the girl, as though she had been walking and
smoking for some time now.
   Jenna thought about that smell, and it made her wonder. "Don't your parents
know that you smoke ? Don't take this the wrong way, but you smell very
   "Oh, they both smoke and they would never notice, I'm sure. They haven't, and
I've been smoking every day for the last six months. My clothes have always
been kind of smoky. Unless they were really thinking about it, I don't think
it would even occur to them."
   "Do you enjoy it or are you one of those kids they show on TV who's hooked
and can't quit ?"
   Micha smiled. "I love smoking. Why would I want to quit ?"
   "I don't know. I've never smoked."
   "Really ?"
   "Really." She watched Micha, who'd thoughtfully sat downwind, pull again on
her cigarette, drawing smoke into her youthful lungs with unquestioned vigor.
There was such simplistic joy in the gesture. It was actually fun to watch her
smoke, and she was now glad the girl had interrupted her solemn musings.
   "So tell me about your ex."
   "He was a jerk. Is a jerk. It's not like he died or anything. He dumped me."
   "Why would anyone dump you ?" Jenna asked, wondering at the same time why
anyone in their right mind would fire her, although she knew the answer to
that question well enough. Some people were jerks, as Micha said, or fools, or
both. But she tried to imagine what would go on in the head of a person who
would dump her and came away empty.
   "He decided he wanted to go out with Carla Jones instead of me."
   "And what does Carla have that you don't ?"
   She was expecting a typically silly answer like bigger breasts or longer
legs, but Micha had a surprise for her.
   "She smokes Virginia Slims 120s. He says she's cooler than I am because I
only smoke Marlboro Lights 100s."
   "Is there any truth to that ?" Jenna asked, teasingly.
   "No. I mean, yeah, she looks cool smoking those long cigarettes, but there's
more than what cigarette you smoke. She's like, a total freaking bitch."
   "Guys like that. You can't be nice to them because they'll walk all over you.
It's just human nature."
   "Human nature sucks."
   "Well, it always has the potential to suck. But trust me, it does not
automatically suck by default, despite what experience tends to teach you."
   Another deep inhale from Micha, who was relaxed enough now to enjoy her habit
   "Did you considering, I don't know, switching brands for him ?"
   That brought a laugh from Micha. "No way. He's not worth it. I mean, it was
fun dating him, but I'm not that desperate. Still, it would have been nice if
he'd liked me for me and not just because I smoke."
   "Do you really think that's what it was about ?"
   "I'm sure of it. I know a lot of guys who are really turned on by women who
smoke, and Bart is one of them. He'll probably dump Carla for Marci Oleander
sometime soon. He's been hanging out with Marci, and she smokes cigars."
   "That seems kind of gross-"
   "Tell me about it. But any sort of smoking must seem gross to you, doesn't it
   "Not really. I mean, you're obviously enjoying it. In fact, I'll bet even
though it's why you lost your boyfriend, it's making you feel better, right ?"
   "Yeah, actually. In fact, I hate to think about it, but I better get going.
If I start walking now I can wash up before dinner. Wouldn't want to smell too
smoky. It was a pleasure meeting you, Jenna." Micha stubbed out her cigarette
and lit another, then stood up and started walking back the way she'd come,
trailing smoke as she went.
   Jenna stared at the spent butt for a while and then headed home herself.

   Just as she was walking back into the house, the phone started to ring. It
was a lonely sound. Jenna tried to think of who she might actually want to
talk to right now, drew a blank. It would probably be one of her friends from
work- check that, from where her work used to be- asking how it was that she
was doing now.
   "Yes," Jenna said, snatching the phone off the hook.
   "Jenna ?"
   "Who else would be answering my phone, Cass ?"
   "Still not taking it well, huh ?" Cass asked. She had that habit, not out of
meanness but rather just observation without forethought, of driving the blade
in a little deeper.
   "I assume that everything is going swimmingly without me ?"
   "Not really. We lost two accounts this week alone. Mark sent Mulva into a
meeting with Barkston and Lemwurst with nothing but her own designs- they went
with the Waterston group the same day, and Martha Grenwald was so upset with
him for firing you that she pulled a three ad campaign that was already on
   Jenna almost smiled. That was the sort of news that she wanted to hear.
People who said that they didn't want their ex-employers to suffer were almost
always liars. And there was a long line of people just waiting to stab Mark in
the back the first chance that they got. Not that he usually exposed that part
of his anatomy.
   "Can I ask you a personal question, Cass ?"
   "Did you ever smoke ?"
   There was a pause on the electrical ether. "What makes you ask ? Thinking of
taking up smoking and drinking and letting yourself go ?"
   "No. Not exactly, anyway. But I met this girl out on the bridge today, and it
got me thinking ?"
   "You still walking out to the bridge to mope ? I`ve always wanted to see that
bridge. You've talked so much about it I feel like it's the old friend I never
   "It is, in a way. We all need a place that we can go to- that's been mine
since I was six, I think. I love it there. But you still haven't answered my
question, which tells me the answer is probably yes."
   "Yeah. I smoked for three years in high school and one year in college. Then
my mom found out- I think I hold the record of being the oldest child caught
smoking by a parent. She threatened to pull me out of college- can you imagine
? Over smoking."
   "Sounds crazy. So when was the last time you had a cigarette ?"
   "About fifteen minutes ago."
   It wasn't the answer Jenna was expecting.
   "I thought you said you quit. And I can't believe that you smoke."
   "I do hide it well, don't I ?"
   "I had no idea."
   "That's because I am an expert at compartmentalisation. I have two sets of
friends, two sets of clothes, two sets of hang-outs. It's like having an
alter-ego or something."
   "I don't think there are any super heroes whose gig is that they smoke,
Cass, although I could be wrong."
   There was a pause, as though Cass was trying to make an hard decision.
Finally, she spoke again.
   "Look, I was planning on going out with that other set of friends tonight.
Why don't you come with us ?"
   "But I thought you keep your friends segmentalised ?"
   "I do. But with you no longer at the company, I can expand a little bit and
relax at the same time. Both of us can relax. I think you could use that more
than me. Or am I wrong ?"
   "No. You're not wrong, but are you sure that you want me hanging out with
your smoking friends ?"
   "Well, you have to promise not to tell my parents that I smoke, but that's
   Jenna thought about this. She couldn't resist. "Why's that ?"
   "Well, my Dad has about 2000 shares of GE stock, and a condition for my
inheriting them is that I don't smoke."
   "You can't be serious."
   "Of course I'm serious. How could I not be serious about something like that
   "Your parents are going to cut you out of the will if they catch you smoking
? That's crazy."
   "Well, so's caring one way or another, but I'm sure you can do the math.
Look, I still have to shower. Meet me at the Riven at seven, okay ?"
   Jenna agreed, wondering what she was getting herself into.

   Micha smiled graciously at her mother, but inside she was still seething.
Three days of melancholy mixed with terrible anger. It didn't help that she
was sitting here at the table with her parents. They were all drinking after
dinner coffee and of course Mom and Dad were enjoying their cigarettes, but
she was not allowed.
   Not that Micha had ever been brave enough to actually broach the subject with
anyone else in the house. No, it was one of those awful adult to child
   Of course, she wasn't really mad at her parents. They'd come around to her
smoking eventually, but was Jenna right ? Had that moping woman on the bridge
had a strange point ? 
   Did Bart have a right to like Carla better than her just because she smoked
longer, more attractive- to him, anyway- cigarettes ?
   The answer was that it was just high school and Bart had the option of liking
whomever the hell he felt like, regardless of her feelings. That was just how
it was. But she didn't have to like it anymore than she had to enjoy watching
her parents smoke without her.
   "I looked at your grades on line today, honey," Mom said with a wry smile.
   Micha would have groaned and rolled her eyes, but then again, what was there
to be upset about ? Those grades were good ones, and Mom wasn't really the
sort of person who tossed around idle praise. Nevertheless, praise was what
she was about to pay out to her daughter. Micha knew that tone well enough.
   "I'm impressed. I thought that with you dating Bart, your grades would
   "What makes you say that, Mom ?"
   "Well, the two of you sneaking around smoking and making out like you were, I
don't know how you got any schoolwork done."
   `What ?" Micha asked, shocked.
   "Oh, like we didn't know you were smoking, honey. Give us a little credit as
parents, huh ?"
   "Well, what are you going to do about it ?" Micha asked, feeling the deep
hand of fear clutch at her bowels. Was she about to suffer some sort of dire
punishment ?
   "Well, personally," her father said, leaning back in his chair and drawing on
a Marlboro 100, "we're a little hurt that you didn't think you could just tell
us that you'd decided to start smoking. What did you think we'd do ?"
   Micha fiddled with her coffee cup nervously. She knew the day would come, but
she hadn't expected it to be handled this offhandedly by her parents, who were
generally direct without being sneaky. The bridge from grades to smoking had
been so seamless-
   "I don't know. Ground me. Yell at me. Get angry."
   "What's the point ?" her mother asked. "It's not like we found out you're
doing drugs. It's just smoking, honey."
   "Does this mean that you're cool with it ?"
   "Well, cool with it would be an exaggeration, honey," her father said,
pulling again on his own cigarette, "but we'd be the world's biggest
hypocrites if we said we didn't understand. What I can't figure out is how you
can sit here at dinner with us every night and watch us smoke and not say
anything about wanting to join us."
   "Can I ?"
   He smiled.
   "Of course you can."
   Micha was out of her chair and up the stairs to her room so quickly that her
coffee didn't have time to cool before she was back at the table, lighting up.
Her parents watched the ease with which she lit the first of many cigarettes
she would smoke with them and understood there'd be no going back from this
particular decision.

   Jenna stood behind the elderly woman with the carton of milk and package of
bologna slices impatiently. She wanted to get this over with as quickly as
possible. Her thoughts drifted back to the bridge and she made a decision.
   Looking in her wallet she saw two crisp twenties. She was always taking sets
of twenties from the cash machine. It was an habit she was going to have to
rethink. With no job putting money into the account, drawing on the meagre two
thousand left was to be taken as a luxury, not a given. Which made the twenty
plus dollars she was about spend almost insane, but she had to do this.
   Finally, the woman, clearly someone's grandmother, fished the correct cash
from  the dread depths of her purse, collected her change- carefully counted,
and departed.
   " A carton of Virginia Slims 120's, please," Jenna asked. The balding man
behind the counter reached down and pulled out a carton and and Jenna added a
   "Twenty-four thirty nine," he said blandly, as though people came in and
bought cartons of cigarettes all the time.
   Of course, Jenna realised, that was exactly what they did. She handed over
twenty-five and started to walk away, when he cleared his throat. Two steps
towards the door, she froze, wondering what she'd done wrong.
   "Want your change, miss ?" he asked, as though it mattered not one whit.
   "Sure," Jenna said, smiling at him nervously. She took the quarters and
pennies without comment and rushed out of the store.
   Back in her car, she looked at the carton sitting in the passenger's seat and
wondered what she was doing. She held the thought through the short drive to
the Riven. It was only about six forty-five when she hit the parking lot,
which was already three-quarters full. She found a spot around back, settled
into it, and then started staring at the carton again.
   Two hundred Class A cigarettes. That was two hundred more cigarettes than
she'd smoked in her entire life, two hundred cigarettes of which she knew she
might only smoke one before regretting having spent money she might later need
for food.
   "There's always unemployment," she reminded herself morosely, and then opened
the end of the carton with nervous hands.
   She pulled one pack out, marveling at how taunt the pack felt, how slick the
cellophane was. So this was a pack of cigarettes. Something thirty percent of
adults in America took for granted. Something that would be no big deal for
Cass, who would be smoking now even as she drove here. But Jenna knew that she
was not Cass.
   No, that was for sure.
   But she undid the cellophane anyway, and quickly lit the cigarette she drew
from the pack without stopping to think about what she was doing.
   It was not what she expected. She took the first deep pull on the cigarette
and was surprised at how mild the smoke was. But she had forgotten to roll
down the windows and the car was quickly filled with smoke. She awkwardly
shifted the cigarette to her left hand and was about to turn the ignition key
so that she could crank the electric windows when there was a knock on her
   She started. The last time someone had knocked on her window like that it had
been a state trooper pulling her over for doing seventy-three in a fifty-five.
Of course, she'd been able to afford the ticket.
   But it was only Cass, who was wearing a look of comical shock on her face.
   Jenna got out the car quickly.
   "What the hell are you doing ?" Cass asked with some amount of good humour.
   "Well, I don't ask idle questions. You should have known that when I was
asking about smoking, I had a good reason."
   "I guess so," Cass said, drawing on a Bensons and Hedges. "But I had no idea
you were this intent on accelerating the process. What gives ?"
   "I wanted to know more about smoking," Jenna said, pausing to draw on the
cigarette. "So I bought myself a carton and lit up. You don't have a problem
with that, do you ?"
   Jenna had the strangest thought. She had never actually seen Cass smoke
before, so even though she knew it was coming she should have been surprised.
But watching Cass draw on that cigarette all she could think was that it
looked very natural. Almost as though it was something she'd watched many
times before. 
   Not, of course, that she'd ever seen her smoke.
   But she knew she might just as well have. There was something peaceful about
the way she worked the cigarette. There was no hurry to it, no feeling that it
was anything but a natural reaction. But to what ? The woman had no stress in
her life- she was as natural at dating and work as she was at smoking, and it
was hard to envision that she was anything but entirely content. Was that a
result of her habit ?
   "You look so comfortable smoking," Jenna said, nervously tapping ash into the
   "I am, girlfriend. I've been smoking- well, it only seems like forever, but
it has been a very long time. I enjoy it. And you can to, once you get over
the initial discomfort."	
   "What discomfort ?" Jenna asked, drawing again on the slim cigarette.
   Her exhale was small but not forced or hurried, both of which impressed Cass,
who had expected her friend- well, she hadn't expected her to be smoking at
all, much less smoking without difficulty.
   "The dry mouth, the harshness in your throat, the strange dizziness. Don't
think that a few puffs are going to teach you everything you need to know."
   "Isn't it ?" Jenna asked, somewhat mockingly.
   "No, it's not. I was still learning about smoking a year after I started. Now
let's get inside before all the tables are taken.
   Jenna started walking away from her car when Cass tugged at her arm. 
   "I'm not buying all night," she said good naturedly .
   As Jenna reached inside the car to grab her purse, she also saw the
cigarettes and lighter.
   "Can't forget these. Now tell me, who am I meeting tonight ?"

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