Sheryl (2004)

(by, 11 September 2004)

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Sheryl paused in front of the Quick-Check convenience store and pulled deeply
on her cigarette so that its tip lit the night. She tossed it to the ground and
stepped on it as she entered the store, exhaling a cloud into the
air-conditioned brightness within. She went straight to the counter, avoiding
even a glance at the Krispy Kreem display. She tried to nonchalantly open her
sport jacket enough to show her hidden badge, without being obvious about it,
as she asked the teen clerk for a pack of Marlboro Menthol Lights. The clerk
didn't even pause the conversation she was having on her cellphone, but merely
took the green and white pack from behind her, passed it under the barcode
reader, and waited to be paid the amount that the register told the customer to
fork over. Years ago, when she wore a uniform, Sheryl could count of a free
pack of cigarettes once in a while, or coffee most times. She didn't know if
it was the change in times or the change in wardrobe that made th e difference,
but it had been a long time since she was "comped" a pack of Marlboroughs.

Once back in the night air Sheryl took a moment to ponder the clear sky. The
stars were stunning and the universe was huge. How insignificant our planet.
How insignificant one life. Her quiet reverie was quickly doused by the arrival
of a carfull of teens giggling and yelling as they pulled into the parking lot,
doubtless here to load up on snacks and cigarettes. Ten years or so ago this
could have been me, she thought. Was I ever that annoying? No. But my friends
were. Sheryl swung the door to her car open, froze in place, and then quietly
said "shit" out loud. She needed cash and the Quick Check had an ATM for her

Back into the store, she rounded the corner past the cellphoning clerk and
walked up to the ATM. The teens had infested the store like so many ants. A
pair argued over ridges vs flat vs Pringles chips, a quiet boy was eyeing the
skin mags by the ATM and most of the girls were on line. While she waited
patiently for the ATM to "process her request" she heard the girls at the
counter making a fuss. Sheryl turned with her $60 in hand and was surprised to
see the clerk refusing her peers the purchase of cigarettes.

"Courtney, you bitch! You fucking smoke more than me!" the lead girl said to
the clerk

"Look. Read the sign. We card. Show me ID that you're over 18 and I'll gladly
sell you cigarettes. Otherwise I'm sorry." was Courtney's careful response.

The clerks manner was stilted--robotic even. A glance to the Courtney's eyes
revealed they were flicking from one side to the other. She was trying to
indicate something silently. Sheryl's SpideySense tingled. Was the girl being
held at gunpoint from behind the counter? Sheryl's hand went instinctively to
her Glock and she moved her thumb to unbuckle it as her knees unlocked and she
prepared to crouch. Then she caught the direction of the clerk's eye flit. It
was directly towards her. The teen had seen the badge after all. She was afraid
to sell cigarettes to her friends with a cop in the store. Sheryl relaxed her
hand from the butt of her handgun and smiled wide, almost chuckling, and let
her blazer return to its relaxed position, hiding her service weapon. As she
breezed past the logjam of teens at the cashier she winked and then left the

A small cadre of boys waited outside, smoking little cigars with plastic
ends'Tiperellos. This also brought back memories to Sheryl. She remembered
that her college boyfriend had been fond of them. He wore a silly little
mustache that he thought looked slick, but actually looked cheesy. The
Tiperello exacerbated the effect. But at the time she had fallen for it. When
you're 18 you don't know what looks hackneyed yet. She thought her boyfriend
looked dangerous with his dark Puerto Rican skin and his tattoo. She remembered
sitting in the back of his Honda smoking Tiperellos together and drinking
Amareto from the bottle. The thought of the taste of the plastic tip sprung
back vividly in her mind. She smiled even wider.

One of the young men said something to her. She turned, a little surprised and
asked "What?" A 19-year old kid in a basketball jersey (who is #20? Michael
Jordon? Shaquille O'Neal?) approached her conspiritally, then looked right into
her eyes quickly. His smile lit up and she could see that he was deliberately
trying to look charming. He had the confidence of someone who knows he is
attractive and that it gets him favors. But she could also tell he was a little

"Hey - Hi. Do you think you could help us out?" he asked

"What's the problem gentlemen?" Sheryl responded in her practiced cop-tone.

"Well, we left the house and forgot our ID and, uh, do you think you could get
us a six pack?" was the pitch from the huckster.

Sheryl felt for these kids. All of them. The teen girls who couldn't get
cigarettes, the boys who couldn't get beer. She had lived though it and
suffered too. But now it was their turn. She wasn't about to get in trouble
for buying beer for a minor just because he had a smile that melted her entire
insides. Did he know that she wanted to say "yes" Could he tell that he was
promising her the fantasy of being "with" a handsome young vital male and she
wanted it badly. Beer was a cheap price to pay for the company of a young man
that might last all night. But derailing her career was not a cheap price.

Sheryl smiled widely and looked him in the eye. He returned the smile as he
lifted his eyebrow and took a deep drag from his Tiperello. Even through he
blew the stream of his exhale out to the side, the wind blew the smoke right
into Sheryl's face. She breathed it in deeply, letting the familiar aroma
bathe her. He did not fail to notice this. For a moment she wanted to live the
fantasy that she would say "yes" and he would say "yes" and they would fuck
like two teens in the back of his little car. The young man smiled again,
thrilled at the signals he was getting. Was this kid into older women? Was he,
so gorgeous, so muscular, out of her league, even if she were age-appropriate?
Would he have gone for the whole deal, the whole package? A fair exchange of 20
year old essence for some beer? Hell, she'd even pay him cash for his
services. Sheryl wobbled back and forth on her heel, then, reluctantly, put her
hands on her hips while she smiled wide enough that her teeth showe d, and
tilted her head, letting her hair fall to the side. The young man's friend saw
the badge on her hip first and his smile burst. His face went a little pale.
Her charmer took a little longer to notice. He let his eyes drop down and his
glance tarried at her blouse flirtatiously. But the glint of the parking lot's
mercury lamps on Sheryl's badge caught his eye eventually.

She saw him startle, and then his mind begin to work on something to say. He
probably had a script worked out for a variety of responses, but not one for
what to say if you have just asked a cop to buy you beer. He opened his mouth
and she put her fingertip to his lips.

"Shh. There's nothing to say gentlemen. Go home and get your ID, then come
back and buy your beer on your own. Someone else might think you're just
trying to bullshit them."

The young Casanova smiled and lowered his glance to the ground and offered an
amazed nod. It was a complex communication that meant that everyone understood
everything that had happened. And they appreciated the favor. The bittersweet
moment fading, Sheryl spun and minded her posture and she walked deliberately
back to her car. She fished her keys out and inserted them into the lock slowly
and deliberately. Then she swung the door open, sat, adjusted her jacket, skirt
and hair, and closed the door.

Finally in the privacy of her own driver's seat, Sheryl started the car and
pressed in the lighter as she fished out the last cigarette from the pack, put
it to her lips, then changed the track on the CD player to skip over the next
song. A moment later the lighter snapped back out. She brought it to her
dangling Marlborough and lit the tip from the glowing metal filament. Sheryl
inhaled deeply and slowly, savoring it. As she opened the window and ashed a
little she caught the eye of the two boys on the curb looking for beer. They
were watching her every move. She knew that and had attempted to look as
sensuous as possible for that reason. The final turn of their mating dance was
interrupted by the re-emergence of the young girls. Surprised to see that the
cop had not yet left the lot, they attempted to hide their fresh packs of

If only they knew all that would transpire in the next ten years of their life.
If only they could appreciate how exciting and precious their age is. She
looked at their young figures, their trendy clothing and their fun little hair
accessories. Sheryl took another deep inhale on the cigarette, then exhaled a
crossed stream of smoke from her nose and mouth out the window, waving at the
children with the hand that held her cigarette. We are too soon old, and too
late wise.

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