Smoking Project, Part 1

(by, 27 January 2001)

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Smoking Project
Part 1 of 4

The snow was still falling. Tiffany looked out the window and turned up the 
radio, listening to the school delays.
    The phone rang.
    She picked it up and said "Hi, Mom."
    "How'd you know that it was me ?"
    "It was either you or a telemarketer. It's seven-thirty."
    "Is school delayed again ?"
    "Hour and an half- but I'm still holding out on a cancellation. I have a 
lot of work to do."
    "Well, try and behave yourself, okay ?"
    "What does that mean ?"
    There was a long pause, as if mom was unwilling to say what was on her 
mind, which meant that Tiffany knew what was coming next.
    "I'd rather you didn't take this opportunity to sit around smoking all 
morning, honey."
    Then she heard her mom draw on her cigarette. 
    "Mom, I've told you that I don't smoke- well, not as much as you think. 
I really do have a lot of work to do."
    "Well, all right."
    That was how the conversation ended, awkwardly as it did any time the 
subject of smoking came up. It was always aggravating, and Tiffany responded 
to that by reaching into her purse, pulling out the pack she'd bought on the 
way home from school yesterday. She'd only smoked two cigarettes on the walk 
home and hadn't had one since, but she lit one now and almost immediately, 
there was a knock on the door. She pulled her still wet hair into a ponytail 
while holding the cigarette in her mouth, exhaled, and went to see who was 
there, as if she had any doubt.
    It was Lee, smiling as always.
    "Hey, smoker. What's up ?"
    Tiffany opened the door, looking at her friend sourly. "Why do you always 
have to call me that ? I have a name, you know."
    "Does it embarrass you ?"
    "When you do it in front of our teachers- or my mother- a little."
    "She giving you an hard time again ?"
    Tiffany blew smoke at her friend. "Not since ten seconds before you got 
    "You don't help. You could be more circumspect."
    "That would be less fun."
    "Well, are you here to help with our psychology project, or are you just 
going to bug me about my smoking ?"
    "Bugging you about your smoking is a lot more fun. Plus I get to watch 
you smoke more."
    "You like watching me smoke ?"
    "I keep thinking if I watch you enough, I'll understand it."
    Tiffany inhaled, smiled while she held the smoke, and exhaled playfully.
    "You can't understand smoking by watching it, silly."
    "I think I can."
    "But you've lived your entire life with two people who smoke."
    "I understand you better than them. And I think that I am learning a lot 
by watching you."
    Tiffany drew on the cigarette, exhaled sharply. "And just what have you 
learned ?"
    'Well, Mom and Dad smoke habitually- literally out habit. They can smoke 
any time they want- except when they are working, I suppose, but I don't see 
them then. I'm not saying that they don't enjoy it, but it's different with 
    "How so ?"
    "Well, every time you light a cigarette, it's because you really want to 
    "Of course. But I would smoke more often if I could."
     "That's something I'm curious about. It won't be long before we go off 
to college and when you do, you'll be able to smoke whenever you want. What 
do you think is going to happen ?"
    "I think someone has decided on changing our paper topic."
    "Well, how much do we know about underage drinking ?"
    "A little bit-" Tiffany blew more smoke and then stubbed out the 
    "Not as much as we know about underage smoking.  I was thinking that we 
call it Underage Smoking: A Case Study."
    "You want to do a case study on your best friend ? Like I'm a lab rat ?"
    "You are a smoker, Tiff."
    "No, Lee."
    "Yes, Tiff."
    "I mean that no, we don't do it that way. First of all, we won't call it 
underage smoking. That stigmatises perfectly normal behaviour. Secondly, we 
don't know a lot about smoking. I know a lot about smoking. That isn't the 
same thing."
    "I'm the objective observer."
    "You can't write a paper about smoking without first hand experience. 
That's like an archaeologist writing about brown dwarf phenomena in solar 
system dynamics. If you don't smoke, we don't write this paper."
    While Tiffany and Lee were arguing about that, Tiffany's mom was walking 
around the empty office. Well, not quite empty. There was only one other 
person here, Bethany. She was on the phone, nodding in that quiet, polite 
way. She finished the call and hung up the phone.   
    "Well, that was the last of them- Caryn herself. She's not coming in 
either. She said we can either stay and work or try to get back home."
    "I'm going to stay. Now that I'm here, I figure I might as well wait 
until the storm lets up and they have a chance to plow."
    "She thought you'd say that. She says she'll make it up to us- and if 
we're going to stay, we might as well work on the layout for the Soho 
    "Well, since no one else is coming in- would you mind if I smoke in my 
office. I'll keep the door closed and the window open."
    "You don't need to do that. Caryn smokes in her office when she comes in 
on the weekend."
    "I'm not Caryn."
    "Does that bother you ?"
    "What do you mean ?"
    "Well, I don't want to put this the wrong way, but-"
    "She's twenty-six and she owns the company and I'm forty and have been 
here ten years and I have to work for someone who's closer to being my 
daughter's age ?"
    "Something like that. I mean, I'm twenty-eight, so it doesn't bother me, 
    Brianna smiled. "No. She earned it. I mean, she started up an internet 
company in grad school, sold it for several million dollars, and came in and 
turned this place around. The company is worth four times what it was when 
she walked through the door. We were in trouble. Mr. Wilson had alienated 
half the advertising base, morale was low- no one wanted to tell you when you 
started, but half of us were ready to find other jobs. I mean, you were only 
here maybe two weeks before she came in."
    "Well, I've heard some of the stories. But sometimes I worry that having 
turned the company around, Caryn will sell it the same way she sold her first 
company. Her degree is in corporate restructuring."
    "Hold that thought, and I'll tell you something she told me one day in a 
few minutes. I really would like a smoke."
    Beth waved her hand. "Please. Smoking doesn't bother me. Come on, we'll 
go into your office, you can tell me what Caryn said, and then we can start 
working on that layout."
    "I have to finish the article first. The deadline for that was ten, so I 
was planning on starting it at-"
    "Nine-thirty ?" Beth teased.
    "No ! Nine fifteen."
    They laughed.
    Bree settled in behind her desk, took her cigarettes and lighter from her 
purse, and then pulled an ashtray from the top drawer of her desk.
    "You're sure that you don't mind ?"
    Beth considered something. "Let me tell you a little secret. I haven't 
told anyone in the office this- I mean, there's what, thirty-five people in 
this office and twenty-five of them smoke. I used to smoke, too."
    Lighting her cigarette, Bree looked at Beth with new interest. "Really ? 
I would never have known. You always seem kind of- well, just barely tolerant 
of the fact that most of us smoke."
    "What do you mean ?"
    "When we go out after work, you get that look on your face when we start 
lighting up."
    "Reflex, I guess. Maybe a little jealousy."
    "Tell me more," Bree said, exhaling a voluminous cloud of smoke.
    "Well, I started when I was sixteen, and I went through so much shit. My 
parents found out and grounded me for a month. I kept right on smoking, 
though. This is going to sound prissy, but I was one of the popular kids, and 
all the popular kids smoked, and we were 'good kids' otherwise, good grades, 
active in school functions, so the teachers just kind of looked the other 
way. Finally, my parents realised I wasn't going to stop, so by the time I 
was seventeen they just gave up and let me. I smoked all through college, 
    "Did you like it ?"
    "Yeah- I loved it."
    "Then why ?"
    "Same old reason." Beth watched Bree's deep pull on her cigarette and 
felt that old familiar longing to join in, mixed with what had become a 
familiar if unsettling sexual attraction which she knew was trouble, what 
with them being all alone.
    "I started dating this woman I went to school with the summer after I 
graduated. She hated smoking- and she was- is- so freaking gorgeous- and the 
    Bree thought she might just be blushing, so she hid herself behind a 
cloud of exhaled smoke.
    "Anyway, we'd been dating about a month and I made a deal with her- I'd 
quit as soon as I got over the stress of finding a job by actually finding 
one. The last day of my life as a smoker was the day before I started working 
    "You poor thing. You mean-"
    "Exactly. I would never wish that on anyone. I was so petrified, starting 
my first real job and quitting smoking at the same time."
    "How did you '""
    "The sex. Every morning, every night- all night. But eventually, 
something had to give. I got so irritable and- well, it's funny. Right about 
the time I regained my emotional balance, she bailed on me. But since I'd 
already quit, I just decided not to go back."
    Bree trimmed, drew, exhaled, and Beth thought about what a long day it 
was going to be.
    "Do you ever slip ?"
    "Yeah. A couple of times a month I get together with my college buddies 
and we go out. Once I get a couple beers in me, I start bumming off my 
friends. But that's maybe eight or nine cigarettes a month."
    "There's half a case of Newcastle in the fridge from the Christmas party. 
I could get you a little greased."
    Beth tried her best to smile and then laugh the suggestion off. "It's 
eight-thirty in the morning."
    "Hey, we need to be sober when we drive home, so if we're going to get 
started, we might as well do it now."
    "You are joking, right ?"
    What was the right answer to that question ? Bree knew something Beth 
didn't- or at least something Beth didn't know she was aware of, and this 
was the perfect time to test that.
    "Come on, just one beer. Let's make this fun." She stubbed out her 
cigarette, walked out of the office, and while she was alone, Beth tried to 
straighten out her wild hair and checked her pits for sweat stains. This 
couldn't really be happening.
    Bree came back, handed her associate an opened bottle, and settled in 
behind her desk, immediately lighting up.
    "So what did Caryn tell you ?" Beth asked, retreating to safer ground.
    "Well, a lot of people here have been worried ever since that staff 
meeting when she announced the company's net aggregate value had jumped 400 
percent. I mean, with an MBA in corporate restructuring, and a gem like this 
on her resume, well, it makes sense people would be worried she's going to 
jump ship. But she told me that she sold the internet company because it 
didn't feel real. It was all just databases and transactions on servers, just 
ones and zeros. Now, four times a month, she gets a new magazine on her desk 
and she can pick it up and look through it and the quality is good, the 
advertising base is phenomenal. She took four mags that were on their way out 
and breathed new life into them, got them on the internet, the subscriber 
base is up, the mail from the readers is positive. She said she can see 
getting married and having a kid so that she has someone to pass it onto when 
she's ready to retire at 50."
    "Caryn? Married with child ? Can you see that ?" Beth joked.
    "No. But then again, if she put her mind to it- hell, she could get 
married tomorrow. They'd line up outside her office door with flowers and 
champagne. She's a blue chip."
    Bree inhaled, held it, and nose exhaled, watching for Beth's reaction, 
which was slight but noticeable.
    "You're right. But she's not my type."
    They laughed at that. Beth wasn't shy about her sexuality.
    "Too bossy ?"
    "No. Too straight."
    Beth took a long pull on the beer, found the bottle half-full.
    "Feeling like a cigarette yet ?"
    "We really should get to work."
    "Well, pull your chair around and we can write the article together and 
lay it out as I go."
    Beth slid the chair around the desk, parking it at the corner. 
    "Come on. The screen on this iMac isn't that big. Get closer."
    Beth did as she was told and found her chair right up against Bree's. 
She could smell her- a mix of herbal shampoo and cigarette smoke. Bree 
exhaled and they were both in the smoke. She took another pull on the beer 
and started to get that happy feeling.
    "Maybe I will have just one," she said, and picked up the pack. It felt 
good in her hands. She took out a single cigarette, placed it between her 
lips and Bree was there immediately to light it for her.

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