Seven

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 25 November 1997)


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Seven
an4@anon.lelnet.com

   Long, wild, curly raven hair. A young face. Eighteen, maybe nineteen.
Cheerful look, a full, charming face.
   In the left hand, the one holding the steering wheel, was a freshly lit,
all-white cigarette.
   Brad tried not to stare, but it was hard. She would be lifting that
cigarette to her mouth any time now. Inhaling. Blowing smoke from her pert
mouth into the cold late fall air. It would balloon forward, bouncing off the
windshield and carrying out the open window.
   Brad loved open car windows because of the potential they held for him. The
drive to work, where female smokers were trying to get in one last cigarette
before the start of the daily grind. A display only bettered by the end of
the day drive home, when the smoking was less hurried, more measured.
   There was this one blonde who drove a black Thunderbird and got on the
expressway at exit 41-
   The raven haired girl drew the cigarette to her mouth as Brad clutched,
slowing the car. The inhale was full-bodied, indulgent, sensuous.
   The exhale was marvelous.
   Eyes met and then Brad glanced away, but not until he'd caught a wonderful
image of smoke trailing out the open window from her perfect lips.
   It would have carried him for the rest of the day, but just as he turned his
head the light went red.
   Instinctively his right foot found the brake, but it was too late.
   He gently tapped the bumper of the white Integra in front of him.
   There was no sound of metal scrunching. It was a low speed impact between
two mostly plastic bumpers.
   But it was an accident and Brad's heart sank. Oh, he always knew it would
come to this, that a sighting was going to lead to an accident, and at least
no one had been hurt. But the suddenly undeniable thought of insurance claims
and endless phone calls and paperwork was hardly something to look forward
to.
   "Damn it."
   Somehow Brad understood the gestures of the woman driving in front of him.
That they should switch lanes and exchange particulars after pulling into the
garage on the far side of the lights.
   The raven haired woman smiled at Brad and then drove forward as the light
changed to green.

   "I'm so sorry," Brad said, and that was at least partially true. The truth
was the stunning blonde whose car he'd struck was hardly someone he was sorry
to meet, but considering the unfortunate circumstances, in which he'd
demonstrated the potential deficiencies of his driving skills, he was hardly
in a position to-
   I have to get a fucking life.
   "Please," Missy said, smiling at the attractive buffoon who'd hit her. "My
mother's boyfriend runs an auto body shop, and judging from the damage our
cars have suffered, we'd be better calling in a favour than reporting this."
   "But I-"
   "You own me. How about dinner tonight ?"
   "Dinner. I-" Brad was at a loss for words. The reward for hitting another
car was not- most definitely not- supposed to be a dinner with an attractive
early twenty-something with beautiful pearly whites and a smile which would
stop traffic under even less strenuous conditions.
   "You do eat ?" she said in response to his vacant stare.
   "Actually, I'm a mild vegetarian."
   "Fish and eggs, but no red meat, pork or poultry ?"
   "Yeah, how did you know ?"
   "You think you were the only one ?"
   "Jesus. I'm sorry. I'm such a buffoon. I was- I was thinking about work-"
   Missy smiled. "Tell me all about it tonight. I have to be in the office by
eighty-thirty or the manager throws a cow- which she is more than capable of
doing. Call me-"
   She provided a business card, which Brad sank into the pocket of his trench
coat without examination.
   The woman then got in her car and drove away.

   It was hard to think about anything but the blonde- or would have been, if
not for the raven haired girl. If Brad was going to pay the price for a
sighting, he was also going to enjoy it. Which he did all day.
   What made that easy was the fact that Brad was a graphics arts maven, and he
seamlessly worked the raven-haired girl into a mini-epic he was working on
for Sightgen, an on-line interactive web comic which was currently all the
rage in the male 14-17 age group. These kids, armed with Mommy and Daddy's
credit cards, were making the Sightgen site one of the top ten of its' kind
on the web.
   Tamara.
   The raven hair smoker. He named her Tamara and placed her in the demo area.
In four hours she'd drawn over one thousand hits- and that was in the demo
mode, where all she did was utter a few sultry sentences and stalk around a
quite midwestern street shortly after dark. Brad, who'd taken it for granted
for years that the fetish was his and his alone, knew better by watching the
hits being tracked to Tamara's little private room.
   Shortly after lunch Brad's artist director told him that was to 'bust his
ass' getting Tamara on line into the main story. The demo rooms, after all,
were free. And no one in the company was fond of giving away the popular
stuff.
   "Is this Tamara anyone you know ?" Helene asked, a knowing twinkle in her
eye.
   "Just someone I saw this morning," Brad answered cagily.
   "Well, keep up the good work. Just one question-"
   Brad tried not to cringe. Helene's questions had a way of turning into extra
work for Brad. Hours of work.
   "Why did you make her a smoker ?"
   "Is that a problem ?"
   "No. Not at all," Helene said. "In fact, watching her reminded me that I'm
overdue for a break." She pulled a pack of Marlboro 100s from her purse along
with a lighter, and with the sort of killer smile which made her a constant
topic of conversation by the vending machines said that she was off for
lunch- most of which would be spent down outside the building with three or
four friends who preferred smoking to eating. "See you later. Close the door
on your way out."
   
   The phone call had gone surprisingly well.
   Brad had been working under the assumption that at some point Missy would
start to think about all this and decide that dinner was not the way to solve
a car accident. Not that he was hoping something like that would happen. It
just seemed liked the most logical course of events.
   It didn't happen. When he called her, her voice was bright and cheery. As
hard as it was to believe that a woman like Missy would need a guy to hit her
to get a date, she held a faintly lonely sound in her voice and it was clear
she was looking forward to their date. Not that it was a date, per se, but
nevertheless, it seemed to hold that potential.
   She'd warned him that she might yet be home when he got to her house and he
didn't see her car.
   House was not the right term anyway.
   26 Pileggi Court was at the end of a long, winding country road, a mile of
soul expanding driving along what was hardly more than a dirt path through
the woods. The domicile was huge, almost worthy of the term palatial mansion.
   It could easily have been his dream home. Three stories, more than twenty
rooms, the sort of place where they handed out maps to visitors.
   He pulled his car into the end of the driveway. There were four other cars
spread out on the grass to the right of the unpaved driveway and he wondered
how many people she lived with. He would have thought this was a rental
situation, but the name on the mailbox had been Pileggi, and that was the
name on the business card.
   "What-" he wondered aloud, "-am I getting myself into ?"
   It took half a minute to walk to the front door. There was no doorbell, just
a grandiose brass knocker.
   He banged once, twice, and waited uncertainly. It was the sort of place were
a feeble knock like that could become easily lost and forgotten, leaving him
to stand and wonder if he would ever be acknowledged.
   But the knock was answered quickly by a spritely girl who was either fifteen
or sixteen. She opened the door just wide enough to expose a beautifully
round face and the same smile Missy owned, the teeth straight and perfectly
white, the mouth electric and mischievous.
   "Can I help you ?"
   After she asked the question, she lifted a just lit Virginia Slims to her
mouth and took a deep, fulfilling drag which made Brad's knees go week.
   God, I hope she's Missy's sister.
   "I'm here to meet Missy. We're having dinner."
   "You and-" she paused, not wanting to mar a perfect exhale with speech. The
way the smoke trailed from her mouth, strong and straight, was almost enough
to make Brad forget why he was here. Or care.
   "-Missy have a date ? That's great. Come on inside."
   She swung the door open wide, and Brad had a moment of vertigo. Standing
directly behind this first vision was a second identical girl, holding a
seemingly identical cigarette. Both girls lifted those long white brands to
their mouths and inhaled again. The one in the back spoke while somehow
holding the smoke in her lungs.
   "Forgive my sister. She doesn't get to see many gorgeous men standing on our
front steps. I'm Audra and that's Amber."
   "Brad. Brad Snow."
   "Hi, Brad Brad. So you and Missy-"
   She finally exhaled, a volume of smoke which it seemed impossible to have
been drawn from such a slim cigarette.
   "Are you twins ?"
   "One of three," Amber said, smiling.
   "Excuse me ? One of three-"
   "Three sets of twins," Audra said, smiling.
   "Three-"
   Just then a slightly older girl came down the stairs. She was smoking a
Marlboro Lights 100. Tossing her blonde hair, she flashed the same smile.
"Hi, I'm Janice. I'm sure Linda will be down in a minute to say hi. So you're
Missy's date tonight. How'd you meet ?"
   "We bumped into one another this morning," Brad said, barely able to
concentrate on the question while watching Janice draw deeply on the thicker
cigarette, which looked just wonderful protruding from her pert mouth. As he
studied the exhale, another girl who would have been Janice if not for the
henna-dyed colour of her hair walked up behind her. She was smoking an
identical Marlboro Lights 100, which was dangling from her mouth as she
pulled her hair back into a quaint and alluring pony tail.
   "I can't believe you girls are so rude," said a voice from down the hallway.
   The woman the voice belonged to looked to be in her late twenties, and if
not for a twinkle in her eyes and a few gentle lines around them, she might
have been Missy's twin. Which would hardly be surprising. But she was clearly
the mother of the group.
   "I'm sorry- Brad, isn't it ? Missy called to let me know that you were
coming. She should have warned me you were so attractive. I should have known
my girls would-"
   "Mom," Amber said. "We were just going to ask Brad to come into the living
room."
   Before that plan could be executed the door opened again. This girl was the
youngest yet, fourteen maybe.
   She looked older, the sort of girl who might easily pass for sixteen, but
she was clearly not-
   Despite the Parliament Light 100 in her hand. Brad was hardly surprised when
a second girl drawing on an identical cigarette followed the first one
through the door.
   Brad felt immediately relief. That was all three sets of twins, which meant
that at least Missy was a singular item. Less pressure there.
   "Brad, meet Kelli and Belinda. Now that you've seen the whole family, why
don't you come into the living room and relax. Belinda, get Brad a beer."
   He followed the entourage into the living room. There was more than enough
furniture even for this large crowd. Brad drew a deep breath of the smoky
environs and studied the giant room. It was as large as the small house he
was renting with an option to buy. A greedier man might have thought that
this was the beginning of a wonderful situation in more ways than one, but
Brad was still living with the unreality of Missy actually wanting a date
with him.
   It was a date. The feeling in this room and the way Mrs. Pileggi was looking
at him told him that.
   Belinda handed him a beer between inhale and exhale.
   Maybe it would fine to be a little greedy.
   Just then the door opened again and Missy rushed into the living room,
rescuing Brad from unsure conversation and the all-to-real possibility of
pitching a tent in his Docker's khakis.
   As they were standing on the front porch, Missy apologised for her family-
hardly necessary- and then said "I think you'll understand that I'd prefer to
drive." Her smile- the Pileggi smile- was so sweet and uncritical that Brad
had no reason to argue.
   She was teasing him.
   Flirting with him.
   "Sure thing."

   When they'd gotten into the car, the first thing that Brad had noticed was
the gently smoky smell of the car.
   The second thing he noticed was that the ashtray was open. There was only
one Marlboro Lights 100 butt in the ashtray, but that just might mean that
Missy was neat.
   Which was fine. Car smoking might be one of Brad's favourite things, but an
overflowing ashtray wasn't.
   They pulled up at the restaurant and both saw with some disappointment that
the parking lot was full. Missy stopped the car. "Why don't you go get us a
table. I'll try to find a parking spot."
   Brad walked into the restaurant and noticed that at least no one else was
waiting for a table. He walked up to the maitre' d and asked for a table for
two.
   "Smoking or non ?"
   "Smoking. Definitely."
   The maitre' d nodded and immediately led Brad to the last open table in the
section, a small (and romantic) corner table. There was a lit candle on the
table and an unopened bottle of burgundy.
   Missy didn't make her way to the table for almost two minutes. It gave time
for Brad to examine the seating. He was glad Missy was a smoker if only for
these two minutes. Regardless of how the date went, this interlude was a
cornucopia of every possible siting a man of Brad's tastes could have. Mother
daughter combos. Two women in their early twenties, clearly on a date.
   Long slim cigarettes and shorter stronger ones. American and Canadian.
Patient, measured smoking and quick stabs. Holds. Dangles.
   "Hi."
   "Glad you could make it," Brad quipped, smiling.
   "I didn't know you smoked," she said, sitting down.
   "Occasionally, but-"
   "You assumed I did, right ?"
   'Well-"
   "It's not that I don't. Occasionally, at least. But it's not an habit like
it is with the rest of the family, you know. I'll bet your disappointed, huh
?"
   "Dis-"
   "I saw your work on the web today. That Tamara that you made, it's the woman
you were staring at when you hit me."
   'I- no, I mean"
   Oh god, this was embarrassing.
    "Listen, Brad, I live with seven women who smoke twenty-four hours a day.
As a rule of thumb, no man who's not attracted to smokers or smoking comes
into our house. And I like to smoke, don't get me wrong, I just don't- you
know. Sitting here, watching all these other people smoke- it's always
situational with me and right now, I would love a cigarette. Care to join me
?"
   She opened her purse and then sighed disappointedly. "There's a cigarette
machine out front but I only have four quarters. Can you help me out ?"
   Brad smiled. His breakfast and lunch came from the vending machines in his
building and he was always armed with about half a roll of quarters. He
produced ten quarters with a speed which belied any protests as to how he
felt about the whole smoking issue.
   Missy snatched up the quarters and moved away quickly. The waiter wandered
over and Brad ordered a mid-range bottle of french white which seemed like
the right choice for an uncertain evening, dry and unobtrusive.
   She was back quickly, holding a pack of Marlboro Lights 100s which had
already been relieved of its cellophane wrapping.
   That eagerness was exciting.
   "Well, they're half yours, so I expect you to let me share them with you,
okay ?"
   "I don't even have a lighter," Brad said. The truth was that he very rarely
smoked, had in fact not have a cigarette in almost three months.
   Missy pointed to the candle. "That's the only lighter we need." She pulled
two cigarettes from the pack, forcing Greg's hand.
   "I don't-"
   The smile Missy gave him didn't quite travel to her eyes, which were too
busy being sultry,
   "Don't tell me you're one of those people who just watch. That would be very
disappointing, Brad, and I was hoping there'd be no disappointments tonight."
   Without further objection, he lifted the glass from the candle. Missy put
the two cigarettes in her mouth and bent down to the candle. The way she was
hanging over the table, her long hair draping over her shoulders-
   He was glad that he hadn't said no.
   The two cigarettes caught the light and she inhaled on both of them. He
replaced the glass and she handed him one just as the waiter showed to open
the wine. Brad waited until after he'd had the opportunity to taste the wine
to inhale. Missy matched his with one that was far more attractive.
   They smoked until it was time to order, drinking wine and exchanging small
talk about their jobs- it turned out they worked just a few blocks away from
one another. 
   The truth was that not only had Brad not enjoyed watching a woman smoke this
much in months, but he hadn't enjoyed smoking this much either. He had the
strangest feeling that not only was she smoking for him, but he for her.
   "You know," Missy said, waving the hand holding the cigarette with a pretty
flourish, "her name isn't Tamara. But you were damn close. It's Tammi. She's
a college intern who works in my office  How'd you-"
   "Her license plate was Tam 1. That's what-"
   "You take your smoking seriously, don't you ?"
   "I- you're embarrassing me."
   At some point, Missy must have slipped off her shoe, because she was running
her toes up and down his shin.
   "If you apologise one more time for finding smoking attractive," she said,
inhaling between her words in a way which made even her high-riding foot
secondary, "I'm going to take you home and smoke for you until you're crazy."
   "Is that a promise ?"
   Just then there was the distinctive chirp of a cell phone. Missy pulled hers
from her purse but it was dark. Brad followed suit.
   "Jobs."
   "Brad ?"
   "What's up, Jack. I'm a little busy right now."
   "You have a place to stay tonight ?"
   "Yeah. It's that big pile of wood and brick called an house. Right next to
yours."
   "No way, man. Gas leak. They evacuated the whole block. And it's starting to
sleet. The phone company nicked the gas main- get this, in two or three
places. With the weather, they think it might take two or three days to solve
the problem."
   "Fuck."
   'Call me at my mom's if you need a place to crash."
   Brad deactivated the phone.
   "Sounds like good news."
   "If you call me having nowhere to spend the night thhe day before
Thanksgiving good news. Especially when my parents live four hundred miles
away and aren't expecting me." 
   She began working his leg with her foot again and he decided that perhaps it
wasn't such a bad thing after all.	
   "I wouldn't say that you have nowhere to spend the night. But I will say
that I'm a little hesitant to bring you back home. I might have trouble
keeping your attention."

   Dinner went better than Brad could possibly have imagined. There were just
enough in the way of awkward moments to make him think this date might
actually move forward.
   They were drinking coffee and, having passed on desert, smoking cigarettes.
Half the pack was gone now, four to Brad, and six to Missy. If she wasn't a
smoker out of habit, she hid this minor deficiency well. She'd pulled a
cigarette from the pack as soon as she'd swallowed her last mouthful of
braised salmon and lit it hungrily enough to fool him.
   "These will never last the night."
   "I feel bad, Missy. I mean, tomorrow's Thanksgiving and all."
   "I think that my sisters might be almost as happy to have you in the house
as you will to be there."
   "What's it like, living with all those twins ?"
   'Weird. They share everything. I was an only child until I was about six. My
own clothes, my own toys, my own parents. I had to adjust my thinking as they
got older. I think one of the reasons I finally stopped smoking regularly was
that I'd gotten tired of Janice and Linda taking them every time I wasn't
looking. They practically lived in my purse."
   "So you quit ?"
   "Well, not exactly quit. I just stopped buying my own and starting bumming
from them. I still smoke, oh, two or three cigarettes every day. I just don't
buy or carry anymore. But I'd say that there hasn't been a day in the last
oh, ten years, that I haven't had a cigarette. So you've pick the right woman
to date-"
   'You mean I hit the right woman."
   "Well, I wouldn't go putting it that way. People might get the wrong idea.
But I have really enjoyed this. I'm- I'm glad that you decided to sit in the
smoking section."
   "Well, I'm glad that you decided to smoke tonight."
   "Then you do enjoy it."
   'Why don't you take me home and we can find out."

   They walked out of the restaurant, talking and laughing the way people who
find it effortless to flirt with one another will.
   But as Missy saw the sleet coming down, the gentle way that the ice coated
the walkways and pavements and grass, a dark pall fell over her. It was such
an abrupt change in her mood that it could hardly be missed or mistaken.
   "What's wrong, Missy ?"
   When she looked at him, lifting her head, there were actually tears in her
eyes.
   "My- my Dad died on night like this."
   "I'm- I'm sorry-"
   They continued walking towards the car. "It's all right. The therapist said
there'd be moments like this. I was thirteen- it wasn't long before I started
smoking, actually. A night just like this. The roads were slicker than the
pond we all skate on in the winter. Simple one car accident."
   What did you say ? Brad thought about it. There was nothing to say. 
   He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently.
   She squeezed back and smiled. "I like that. Right now, that's just what I
need."
   By the time they got to the car, they were both damp and cold. Not exactly
the way Brad wanted his only set of clothes to be, but at least he had a
place to stay. Yet that wasn't exactly the reason why he felt uncomfortable.
   As they pulled out of the parking lot, she spared a glance in his direction.
"If it's okay with you, I'm going to take this real slow."
   "You're the one who's afraid to take me home," Brad said, and the mood was
broken.
   They'd been driving about two minutes when Missy asked Brad to light a
single cigarette.
   "We'll share it, if that's okay with you. I'd prefer to have both hands on
the wheel."
   Brad lit the cigarette, reached across the car, and placed it between her
lips. She inhaled without taking her eyes off the road, exhaled, and said
"Your turn."
   He brought the cigarette to his own lips, noticing the way that she'd
moistened the filter. He found that enticing rather than disgusting.
   "We'll have to stop and get more, you know. If you're going to be hanging
around for the next two or three days, maybe it's time I started carrying my
own again."
   "I can't object to that."
    
   It took over an hour to drive back to the house. When they finally reached
the safety of the driveway, Missy killed the engine. Brad reached for the
door, but Missy stopped him with a tap on the shoulder.
   "Not yet. I want you to myself for a while, and I know just how to make it
enjoyable."
   She lit a cigarette, inhaled slowly, deeply, and then put her free hand on
his face. She stroked it gently, then leaned forward and kissed him, the
taste of the smoke clear on her tongue. Brad responded and reached up,
finding that her nipples were every bit as erect as he had hoped.
   Her hand didn't stay in the environs of his face. She broke the kiss and
began smoking for him as he she began to stroke him gently.
   Missy made slow work of it, easily finishing the cigarette while keeping him
at a pitched frenzy, pausing only long enough to light a second cigarette.
With the windows closed, the car was filled with the sweet smell of her
smoke- her smoke that was also his.
   When he was about to come she was just finishing a perfect inhale, and
although it pained him to do so, he gently stilled her hand.
   "This is my last clean pair of pants, Missy."
   "Then we'll just have to find some place for it." She placed cigarette in
his mouth and bent over him, finishing with her mouth what she had started
with her hand. As he lifted his head, moaning softly, he saw a light on in
one of the upstairs bedrooms and the movement of a blind. Then he came, warm
and hot as Missy made quite sure that nothing escaped.
   When he was done hugging her with the frenetic energy of the post-coital, he
told her that someone had been watching.
   Missy took the cigarette back, inhaled again, blew the smoke directly in his
face, making him harden again.
   "That's nothing. In our house, Thanksgiving's a day of sharing- everything."
   
   Brad tried not to let the giggling he heard as they walked into the house
unsettle him. 


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