How Could She Say No?, Part 1

(by SSTORYMAN, 06 December 1996)


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    This story contains adult language and themes. If such language and themes
offend you, please do not read further. Copyright 1996 by SSTORYMAN. All
rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this story in any
form and for any purpose as long as this notice is reproduced and no financial
remuneration is received by the person reproducing.

    HOW COULD SHE SAY NO?

    1. Mirror Images - Almost.

    Patti looked around. The party was animated and in full swing. A soft
breeze blew across the Stevens' patio. She smiled.

    She and Mark had lived on Winterset Street for eight months. But this
party was their first real opportunity to meet the neighbors. Patti'd been
delighted to receive the invitation from Jan Stevens, her next-door neighbor.
Sunday afternoon, Memorial Day Weekend. A "beginning of the summer" party.
What a great idea!

    Mark agreed to come, but only reluctantly. However, Patti was delighted to
see him enthusiastically participating. He and a new friend were standing by
the gas grill at the back of the patio, obviously talking about football.
Mark's new friend was actually wearing a Seattle Seahawks tee-shirt. A rare
sight here on the east coast!

    From the cooler Patti procured another beer and wandered inside the house
to the kitchen. She rarely drank, but the beer tasted good to her. Maybe
because of the warmth of the early summer weather. Jan Stevens, the hostess,
was holding court at her kitchen table with several other women from the
neighborhood. Patti'd talked with most of them, but none seemed very
interesting. Nothing had clicked for her with anyone. Not yet. Not the way it
obviously had for Mark. She was jealous.

    Patti wanted to meet another couple in their neighborhood with whom she
and Mark could become friends. At the very least she wanted to find a new
friend for herself. She left her old friends behind when they moved from the
east side. Winterset was a lovely street. It was in a wonderful neighborhood.
But she had no friends here in the north end of town.

    All of a sudden Patti realized she was standing alone. I've got to find
someone to talk to, she reminded herself. As she looked into the next room,
Patti saw another woman standing alone. Tall and thin, brunette, very
attractive and dressed in a red tank top and black shorts, the woman stood
silently looking out the family room window.

    Time to be friendly, Patti decided. "Hi," she announced as she walked into
the Stevens' family room and greeted the tall brunette. "I'm Patti Rogers."

    The woman turned from the window and grinned. Her smile was both genuine
and infectious. Switching her can of beer to her left hand, the woman extended
her right one to Patti. "Hi," she replied. "I'm Trish Jordan."

    Trish is short for Patricia, Patti thought. "So, your name is Patricia,
too?" she grinned back.

    "That's right," Trish nodded, her smile remaining as infectious as before.
"Patricia it is. But I've always been known as Trish."

    Patti noticed a wedding ring on Trish's finger. Obviously she's married to
someone at the party, Patti decided. "So tell me, which husband out there is
yours, Trish?"

    Trish smiled again. Each time she grinned her smile extended from ear to
ear. "Oh, Steve's my husband. He's out there on the patio. See? The big oaf
wearing the Seahawks tee-shirt," Trish giggled, pointing out the window. "With
that group of guys talking about sports."

    "No kidding?" Patti replied. "That's your husband? Well, my husband Mark
is standing right next to him. Mark grew up in Seattle. He's a fanatical
Seahawks fan. I know he's happy to see someone else rooting for his team this
far from home. Even if it's not football season yet."

    Trish nodded as if she understood only too well. "Yeah, Steve lives and
dies with the Seahawks, too," she admitted. "In the fall I accuse him of being
married to football instead of to me." Trish sighed. "But I knew what I was
getting when we got married last year. A football widow. That's me." 

    Trish grinned again. "Have you guys lived here long?" she asked. "Steve
and I moved onto the street in February," she went on without waiting for an
answer. "Our house is two houses north on Winterset Street. It's the one with
the satellite dish. And as soon as we moved in, Steve insisted he needed one
so he could get the Seahawks on TV this fall."

    Patti nodded politely. She immediately liked Trish. She was genuinely
upbeat and friendly. Now this was someone with whom there was an unmistakable
"click," Patti thought to herself. A sense of immediate camaraderie which made
talking easy.

    "Gosh, I'm sure Mark would love to visit your house on game days this
fall," she smiled. "Do you have kids, Trish?" Patti asked, finally opening her
can of beer.

    "Sort of. That's Heather, the girl with the long brown hair and the purple
vest." Trish pointed to a group of teenagers on the lawn. "Heather is thirteen
going on twenty-one," Trish smirked and rolled her eyes. She flashed her smile
at Patti. "How about you? Kids?"

    Patti nodded her head. "God, I don't believe it! Your daughter's thirteen?
God, so is Megan. She's right there, wearing a 'No Fear' tee-shirt and jeans.
See her? Talking with your Heather and the other kids." The group of teenagers
in the backyard to which Patti pointed was engaged in animated conversation.

    Trish grinned again. "God, Patti, you aren't old enough to have a thirteen
year old daughter. You can't be a day over 25."

    A big smile appeared on Patti's face. "Actually, Megan is my
step-daughter," Patti admitted. "She's Mark's from his first marriage. And
thanks for the complement, Trish. But actually I'm 28." Patti knew she looked
much younger than her age. Her students often reminded her how young she
looked. 

    "Well, I'm 33," Trish responded with a wink. "But we have a lot in common,
Patti. Because my Steve was married before, too. Like you, Heather is my
step-daughter."

    "Boy, we do have a lot in common," Patti agreed, stopping to take a sip
from her beer can. Both recently married to men with teenage daughters. Both
named Patricia. Quite a coincidence. 

    Patti liked Trish. Her long brown hair, good looks and big smile reminded
Patti of a much younger Carly Simon. Trish seemed genuine. So much at ease.
And she probably had the same problems Patti was dealing with, parenting a new
teenager.

    The two of them sat down to continue talking. Trish quickly gave Patti her
life story. She was an account executive for a local advertising firm. They
moved to Winterset Street in February. Steve was divorced two years ago. Steve
and Trish started dating right before his divorce was final and got married
last summer. Only a few months ago Steve got custody of his daughter.
According to Trish, Heather's mother had little interest in her daughter.
Trish shared openly her concern in raising a teenage step-daughter. She felt
real responsibility for Heather.

    "God, all that is so similar to my situation," Patti replied. Both were
new on Winterset Street and neither couple had any real friends in the
neighborhood. Patti explained she met Mark three years ago. They married a
year later after Mark's divorce was final. Megan lived with her father when
Patti started dating Mark. Megan visited her mother every other weekend; her
mother was a theater person, Patti explained, more interested in her career
than in parenting. Partly because of that, Patti admitted, Megan was sometimes
very rebellious.

    "I understand teenage rebellion," Trish nodded. "Sometimes I think I'm
going to pull my hair out dealing with Heather's crazy ideas." As if to
demonstrate, Trish set her can of beer on the table and fluffed her long,
brown hair. She laughed, picked up her beer, and took another long sip. "You
know what I'm talking about."

    Patti nodded. Their lives were amazingly similar. Patti was a school
teacher instead of working in the business world downtown. Trish was brunette
and Patti was blond. But otherwise they were practically twins. Of course,
Steve and Trish are older than I am, Patti thought, but not much. At 33
they're Mark's age. Megan and Heather are both 13, and Mark and Steve both
love the same football team. God, thought Patti, this could work out great!
For all three of us. She glanced out the window. Yeah, Megan seemed to be
getting along well with Heather, too.

    At this point their conversation reached a natural stopping place.
Suddenly Trish stood up. "God, Patti, I'd love to keep talking," she
announced. "But I really need a cigarette. Would you mind if we went out on
the patio so I can smoke? I don't think Jan wants anyone smoking in her
house." Trish made a face. "Look! Not an ashtray in sight!"

    Patti paused. She wanted to be polite but feared her hesitation gave away
her disapproval. "Oh, sure," she said without conviction. "No problem."

    "Thanks," Trish replied. "I really appreciate it." She smiled that big
grin. "Nicotine fit, you know," she said with a wink.

    Patti felt a keen sense of disappointment as they walked through the
kitchen. God, she sighed, too bad Trish is a smoker. As a teacher Patti was
heavily involved in the school's D.A.R.E. program. Her special emphasis was
teaching against smoking. Patti's strong convictions about smoking had caused
several bitter arguments with Mark since their wedding. Mark was a former
smoker, more or less. But he still enjoyed an occasional cigar and, from time
to time, despite Patti's disapproval, even smoked cigarettes when with other
cigarette smokers. In the beginning Patti criticized Mark's intermittent
tobacco habit. But she quickly learned it irritated him whenever she got
self-righteous about it. In the same way, Patti knew she should bite her
tongue or she'd risk alienating Trish, too.

    Once outside Trish quickly moved to an unoccupied corner of the patio.
Brushing her long brown hair away from her face, she opened her purse and
removed a navy blue cigarette case. After opening it Trish placed a long,
white cigarette between her lips and brought out an expensive-looking,
engraved, gold cigarette lighter. Patti watched with displeasure as the flame
brought Trish's cigarette to life. 

    Hmm ..... Based on those fancy smoking accessories, Patti decided, Trish
is probably (and unfortunately) a confirmed nicotine addict. Too bad.

    Trish puffed and exhaled a bit a smoke from the corner of her mouth. "Ah,
that's better," she exclaimed as she put the lighter back into her cigarette
case. Trish took a long, second drag. She inhaled the smoke this time, deep
into her lungs. 

    "Yes, much better," Trish sighed, as smoke began to escape from her mouth.
Her wide grin returned as she exhaled. "So, I take it you don't smoke,
Patti?"

    "Uh, no," Patti replied flatly. "I don't."

    "Too bad," Trish grinned wickedly. "Did you ever, Patti?" Trish asked,
exhaling another mouthful of smoke into the air. "Smoke, I mean?"

    "No, I never really tried it," Patti admitted. "Why do you ask?" Patti
longed to change the subject. She did not want to get into an argument. But
her anti-smoking feelings were hard to check.

    "Oh, I don't know," smiled Trish with a casual shrug of her shoulders. "I
guess I asked because most of my non-smoking friends are former smokers.
That's all. Most of them are former smokers who are damn sorry they quit."

    "Really?" Patti replied raising her eyebrows. "Well, smoking is not good
for you, Trish," she added in spite of her determination not to start her
rhetoric. "And that's why they quit smoking, you know. They got smart." Patti
bit her lip. Damn, she thought. I didn't mean to be so blunt.

    Trish continued to smile but her face assumed a look of fierce
determination. "Oh, you think so? Well, I disagree. That's not why they quit.
Not really." She returned the cigarette to her lips for another hit, pulling
hard as if awaiting a reply. Her cheeks hollowed as she took another long drag
on her cigarette.

    "Oh?" Patti said finally. "Then why do you think your friends quit
smoking?"

    "Peer pressure. From family and friends," Trish replied simply. "They were
pushed into quitting. But they didn't want to. They just got tired of fighting
the pressure. No, the problem wasn't smoking. They loved to smoke. And they
still miss it." Trish paused as she exhaled again. "All of them." Trish winked
mischievously at Patti. "They don't admit it to non-smokers like you, Patti,"
she went on. "But they confess it to people like me." She paused to take
another drag. "They secretly envy smokers like Steve and me. Because we refuse
to give up something we enjoy."

    Oh, great, grimaced Patti. Her husband Steve smokes, too. Not a good
influence for Mark, she worried. 

    Patti's instincts told her to change the subject. But stubbornness got the
better of her. "So, Trish, you think most former smokers would have kept
smoking if they hadn't gotten pressure to quit from family and friends? I
don't think that's a bad thing. Don't you think they ultimately quit because
of the health risks?"

    "Absolutely not," Trish replied, exhaling again. "You see, Patti, most
smokers tell other people, including the media which is dominated by
anti-smokers, that they wish they could quit smoking. Most former smokers say
the same thing, that they're glad they quit. But that's only because it's the
politically correct thing to say. Gets 'em sympathy. Ex-smokers say they're so
glad they quit. Bingo, instant sympathy and approval from people like you.
Really, almost all of 'em would start smoking again if they could get away
with it. They'll admit that to me because I still smoke. No, most of them
don't care about your bullshit health risks. Not really. The truth is, they're
just cowards, afraid of the opinions of others. I pity them."

    Trish tapped some ashes onto the ground and took another long drag on her
cigarette. Looking Patti straight in the eyes she went on. "I love to smoke,
Patti. I'm not afraid to admit it. And I'm going to keep smoking, too. See, I
do it as a treat for myself. I smoke for me. Because I like it. People don't
have to agree with me. They don't even have to like me. But I make damn sure
they respect my informed decision to retain this habit I enjoy so much."

    Patti decided it was time to back down. Unlike other smokers with whom
Patti had argued in the past, Trish did not concede a thing. "Hey, let's not
fight, Trish. Let's call a truce. I respect you. I'm just concerned about the
health risks, that's all. That's why I don't smoke. And I wish you wouldn't,
either, for your own sake. But you're a grown up. Smoke as much as you want
for all I care."

    Instead of bristling, Trish seemed pleased with this response. "Good," she
smiled. "Then it's settled. We can be friends. I can smoke and I'll respect
your right to be a non-smoker." She dropped her cigarette onto the ground and
crushed it under her foot. "Even though I think you're a fool not to smoke,"
she grinned. "Because smoking is the best." Trish's smile melted Patti's
defensiveness. "I'm done," she announced, dropping her cigarette onto the
ground and crushing it beneath her sandals. "What do you say we get another
beer?"

    "Sure," Patti replied, relieved to have finished the discussion.

    The two women retrieved another beer and joined the group gathered around
Steve. What an odd point of view, Patti thought to herself. Most smokers are
defensive, almost apologetic. But not Trish. She seems almost proud to be a
smoker. And does she really believe I'm a fool because I oppose smoking? Or is
she saying I'm a fool not to be a smoker? God, if she honestly believes that,
she's really crazy. How bizarre! Oh well, no big deal, Patti decided. The
conversation turned to other things as Trish and Patti mingled with the other
guests.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    "What did you think of Trish Jordan?" Mark asked. "You spent lots of time
talking with her this afternoon."

    Patti pulled her blond hair into a ponytail as they sat in the bedroom. "I
like her," she admitted honestly. "She's really easy to talk to. We've got a
lot in common, you know."

    "Yeah, I know," Mark agreed. "I chatted with Steve Jordan. Both of us are
in new marriages, second marriages. Both of you acquired teenage daughters in
the process. None of us have any other friends on the street." He paused. "And
Steve loves the Seahawks. Did you know ....?"

    "Yeah, I heard all about his satellite dish," Patti sighed.

    "And did Trish tell you it's a big screen TV, too?" Mark teased.

    "No, she didn't," Patti said. "But that doesn't surprise me. I suppose I
know where you'll be every Sunday afternoon this fall."

    Mark smiled. "You've got that right," he admitted. "But Steve also gets
baseball games from all over the country on his satellite dish. I'm going over
there tomorrow night to watch the Mariners play Milwaukee. If that's okay with
you?"

    "No, that's fine," Patti replied. "I want you to make more friends, Mark.
We agreed we both should meet more people. Only ...."

    "Only you're upset because they smoke, aren't you?" Mark asked. "Admit it,
Patti, I can read you like a book. You're upset because you think I'll smoke
when I'm over there, don't you?"

    Patti squirmed. She did her best not to be a controlling wife. She knew it
got her nowhere. "Mark, I admit I'm not happy about that. I tell my kids at
school that smoking is a poor decision. But you're a big boy. You can make
your own decisions. As long as you don't smoke in our house or our cars, I
don't care what you do." Not exactly true, Patti knew, but it was the position
she had to take.

    Mark kissed her. "I love you, baby doll," he said, squeezing her in a bear
hug. "You know, you could come with me tomorrow night and visit Trish while we
watch the ball game on TV. I think you do like her, in spite of her smoking."

    "You're right, I do. I like Trish a lot. She's really fun to talk to. She
smiles all the time and doesn't seem to be dependent on other people's
opinions. What you see is what you get. I respect that. I may not approve of
that independent attitude when it comes to her defense of smoking, but
otherwise it's a really good quality. I won't hold her smoking against her,"
Patti promised. "I'd like to become her friend." She smiled. "Actually, I
think we could become pretty close. I'm not crazy about being in her house
while she's smoking. But I can be an adult about it. Yeah, I'd love to come."

    "You're the best, Patricia," Mark said, hugging her again. 

    Mark rarely called her Patricia. Whenever he did, it meant he wanted
something. And Patti knew exactly what it was. Squirming out of his embrace,
she walked to the bedroom door and locked it. "Megan is still at the party,"
Patti whispered with a hint of mischief in her voice. She threw her arms
around Mark's neck. "Do you want something, big boy?" she smiled.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Patti awoke suddenly to the sound of a knock on the door. Moonlight shone
through the window onto the wall. She rolled over in bed and looked at the
clock on her nightstand. It was only 10:30 p.m. Patti yawned. She'd been
asleep for less than half an hour. "What is it, Megan?" she muttered.

    "Can I come in?" asked a voice outside the bedroom door.

    Mark was now awake, too. "Sure, pumpkin," he replied groggily. "C'mon
in."

    The door opened and in walked Megan. Patti squinted as light from the
hallway flooded the bedroom. "Sorry to wake you up," Megan apologized. "But
I've got a problem."

    "What is it?" Mark said, sitting up. "What's wrong?" He rubbed his eyes.
As was his habit whenever he and Patti made love, Mark wore no pajamas.

    Patti smiled. Megan probably knows what we've been doing, she mused. And
why the bedroom door was closed. She's no fool.

    "It's my braces," replied Megan. "I was just sitting around eating and
talking with some of the neighborhood kids after the party. Over at the
Jordans." In the dim light Patti saw a smile appear on Megan's face. "Heather
Jordan is so neat. It's going to be a great summer having her down the
street."

    "So what's the problem, Megan?" Mark interrupted. He wanted to go back to
bed.

    "I was eating some nuts," she answered sheepishly. "They got stuck in my
teeth. Next thing I knew my wires came off."

    Mark said nothing. This was not the first time Megan's eating habits had
sprung the wires on her braces. Twice in the last six months her wires had
popped loose, each time requiring an emergency visit to the orthodontist.
Megan was finally scheduled to have her braces removed next month. But she
couldn't go that long with loose wires.

    "One of us will take you to Dr. Briggs' office in the morning," Patti
sighed, knowingly nudging Mark under the sheet. The orthodontist was good
about taking such emergencies first thing in the morning without an
appointment.

    "But honey I can't do it tomorrow," Mark objected as he turned to Patti.
"I've got an 8:00 a.m. meeting at the office. Couldn't you take her?"

    Patti thought. "Yeah, I guess so," she answered. "Megan, let's leave by
7:30. We'll be there before 8:00 and done by 8:15. If traffic is okay we'll be
at school before 8:45. We won't even be late." Megan attended middle school at
the same private school where Patti taught. The first class began at 9:00. The
teacher tuition discount allowed Mark to send Megan to school there for a
fraction of the cost. An advantage of marrying a teacher. Now that Memorial
Day had passed, the school year was almost over. Students had only three more
days; the last day was Thursday. Though the teachers, like Patti, weren't done
until early next week.

    "Patti, you're great," Megan bubbled. "I'm so glad you and Dad got
married." She paused. "Did you know that Heather Jordan's dad just got
remarried, too? Just last year? Trish is her step-mom."

    "Yes," Patti answered. She was glad to have an opportunity to do something
"motherly" for Megan. "I talked to Mrs. Jordan at the party. They seem really
nice."

    "They're neat people," said Megan with determination. "I can hang out with
Heather this summer. They joined the neighborhood pool, too. Heather and I can
swim and tan together all summer."

    "That's nice, dear," answered Mark. He leaned over and gave Megan a hug.
"But why don't you take your defective braces and go to bed? We need our
beauty rest, you know."

    Megan hugged him back. "Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Patti. See you in the
morning."

    Within minutes Mark was asleep. Patti laid awake for awhile. Mark and
Steve are obviously going to become great buddies. Megan and Heather hit it
off, too. Patti rolled over. And it looks like Trish and I will become friends
as well. In spite of the fact she smokes. 

    Patti turned over in bed. She'd never had a close friend who smoked. She'd
always avoided smokers. Except of course for her little sister Miriam. But
Miriam didn't start smoking until college. By then Patti was living on her
own.

    Patti fluffed her pillow. She'd never understood why Miriam started
smoking. Patti loved her sister but they hadn't been close the last couple of
years. They didn't spent time together. Patti suspected this was because
Miriam felt uncomfortable being around her. And Patti had to admit her
disapproval had been vocal and explicit. Instead of influencing Miriam to quit
smoking, it simply drove them apart. Patti resolved not to make the same
mistake with Trish Jordan. 

    By now Mark was snoring beside her. Patti nudged him. He rolled over onto
his stomach and the snoring promptly ceased. "I can't afford to drive Trish
Jordan away with my big mouth," Patti whispered to herself. "Trish is so easy
to talk with, so gregarious, ... so fun!" Patti sighed and rolled over again.
Megan is right, she thought. The Jordans are nice people. I'm going to try to
become friends with Trish, Patti decided. And who knows? Maybe eventually I
can convince Trish to quit smoking. Patti smiled. She was being overcome by
sleep now. If I can just not be so pushy, I can be a light on the hill,
showing Trish the way ....


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------


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