(Do Not) Stand in the Shadows

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 13 August 1998)


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(Do Not) Stand in the Shadows
an4@anon.lelnet.com

    Felicia sat down at her desk and started up her Powerbook. It was getting
late, but she wasn't really tired.
   Just bored. Very bored.
   Well, bored wasn't exactly the right word. Boredom was a component, but there
was more to it than that. There was some real loneliness as well, typical
teenage angst. Summertime was the best and worst of times, and if Dickens had
been a teenager in the later half of this century, he would most certainly
have understood that. But he was spared such indignity.
   She started up AOL and looked to see if her friend Maureen was on line. She
wasn't, according to her buddy list, but the `You've Got Mail' chime sounded.
She opened her mail and was surprised to see just one message.
   It was from Mo.  An email with an attachment.
   She hit download now and sat back and waited. It was a quick time movie.
   Finally, she was about to find out what Mo looked like. That was going to be
so cool. Having talked to her for a month, her curiosity had gotten
overwhelming. Mo had been promising to send her something, but the wait had
gotten unbearably.  Felicia had sent a digital photo about a week ago, and
she'd started to wonder-
   Well, Felicia hated to have an ego about these things, but she knew that she
was pretty attractive, and she wondered if Mo had been afraid to send a
picture back.
   A movie was even better. Now she would get not only to see her friend, but
really learn something about her. Maybe quite a bit. There was a little
nervousness involved with opening this file. What if Mo was even more
attractive than she was ? Would that create inevitable feelings of resentment.
She knew that it shouldn't, but even she was sometimes vulnerable to human
nature.
   She double clicked, opening the quick time movie player. There was more
disconcertedness here. What if Mo was just plain weird ? Wasn't that a
possibility ? That she was some sort of internet geek ?
   Felicia tried her best to quash that idea as well. After all, she was a
competent on-liner, and she was certainly no geek. She knew geek things, but
she was no geek. The difference was thin, sharp as a razor, but it was there.
And on those rare occasions when she was forced to defend herself, she was
more than ready.
   The movie player was open now, paused on the very first frame, which was
dark. All she need do was move the mouse over the arrow and press down and the
movie would begin. And things would change. There could be no question about
that. It wouldn't be a Frank Black confront your wife's kidnapper with an
hunting knife sort of change, but it would be change nonetheless.
   Felicia fought the other side of human nature and clicked.
   "Hi, Felicia. This is Mo." 
   She was attractive. Blonde hair, long and wild, the sort that looked awesome
as soon as you rolled out of bed.  A gentle face, sharp green eyes, enough
cheek on the bone to make her look human without suggesting any vestige of
baby fat. Not the sort of girl who needed the internet to make friends.
   Felicia washed away any thought of the geek tag.
   Mo smiled and then-
   Then she brought a cigarette to her lips and inhaled deeply. The camera
caught the sound of paper and tobacco burning.
   She wasn't any less attractive smoking, but still Felicia was mildly shocked.
Oh, smoking was no big deal, really. Her friend Ophelia smoked with her
parents tacit blessing. But it was still a strange thing to do at the
beginning of really introducing yourself to someone that you knew but didn't
know. Chat was cool, but it was hardly a substitute for the real thing, and Mo
had never mentioned that she was a smoker. Felicia was mildly disconcerted.
   "I guess you can tell now that I smoke. I hope that doesn't bother you,
Felicia. I wrestled with telling you a bunch of times, but I wasn't sure how
you'd respond. But I though you should know because, well, I love to smoke and
I feel like I've been hiding something important from you. I hope that- well,
this is going to sound stupid, but I hope that we can still be friends, you
know ?"
   She took another deep pull on her cigarette and smiled into the camera.
   Felicia watched her face as she inhaled. There was something about the way
she dit it, as though she was finding something for the first time. It was
actually fun to watch and that made Felicia worry a little bit. The feeling
she got watching her friend smoke was- mildly disturbing. Not threatening, but
not quite right either.	
   "Well, that's what I really wanted you to know about me. Thanks for watching
my little video clip and hopefully I'll hear from you again soon."	
   She looked at her buddy window again and saw that Mo was now on line. She
sent her an instant message and then sat back, waiting.
   hello, Felicia. did you get my movie ?
   yes. thanks.
   There was a long pause. Not unusual for chat. That was the one bad thing
about chat. It went in odd fits and starts. Sometimes there was such a pause
between responses that you had to wonder if the other person was still even on
line. 
   that's it ? yes. thanks. I hope-
   Another pause, and this time Felicia responded first.
   hey, it's no big deal that you smoke. my friend Ophelia smokes, too. you just
never mentioned it and it  never occurred to me to ask.
   some people get turned off. they don't think fifteen year old girls should
smoke or something.
   how'd you get started ?
   There was a bit of a delay as Mo put together her answer and Felicia found
herself enjoying this. Maybe it was just that they had an entirely new topic
of conversation. But she felt like she was talking about something a little
bit naughty, and it had been a long time since she'd felt even mildly naughty.
   my cousin amanda was also my babysitter. everyone in our family smokes. my
mother, her sister- amanda's my aunt's kid- dad. one night when i was thirteen
amanda gave me a choice. i was being stubborn about it. she had been trying to
get me to try it for about a year and she told me that i could either go to
bed at eight or smoke with her. i thought she was just being silly- my parents
were away for the whole weekend and the plan was stay up late, watch porn,
drink beer, and girl talk. i'd been looking forward to it all week, and all of
the sudden she was going to just cut me off. what i didn't know was that my
mother put her up to it- i guess mom and dad had gotten tired of eating in the
non-smoking section every time we went out-
   my parents were like that when they smoked, Felicia typed. i felt like they
almost resented having me around, you know.
   exactly. your parents smoked ?
   Felicia thought about how to answer that. The truth was, she was glad when
they'd quit about a year ago- her clothes were no longer smoky all the time
and-
   She didn't want to tell her smoker friend that, did she ?
   yeah. they smoked until about a year ago.
   why did they quit ?
   i'm not really sure, Felicia responded. tell me more about Amanda.
   amanda is gorgeous. she's a freshman at Brown now. long, wavy jet black hair,
a killer smile and the sort of breasts the LA crowd pays good money for. she
had a date every weekend she was in high school. i used to be so jealous-
   used to be :-) ?
   well, I grew up....right. ;-) anyway, here I am, my choices are staying up
all night getting drunk watching dirty movies or go to bed early- and if
Amanda demanded it, i would have had to. so i took a cigarette and she lit it
for me. i almost wet myself ! i mean, jesus christ, it was like what i thought
sex should feel like. only easier.
   how much do you smoke ?
   half a pack a day. sometimes more. it's tough during the school year because
they closed the smoking lounge. during the summer, i smoke almost a pack a
day. i just love it.
   and your parents are cool about it ?
   well, like i said, my mom was the one who told Amanda to find a way to get me
to start, so yeah, they're pretty cool about it.
   There was another long pause. Felicia enjoyed talking about smoking with
Maureen, but it was new ground. She felt like she was sharing something
forbidden, and she knew she really didn't understand it. Not at all.
   ever try it ?
   Felicia looked at the blinking cursor.
   The lie would be easier. She didn't want to tell her friend- she didn't want
to spoil this by-
   Felicia ???
   yes. i didn't like it.
   how old were you ?
   eleven.
   i'm impressed. but it's no surprise you didn't like it. what did you do ?
   i stole one of my dad's marlboros. he left them out and i don't know, i just
grabbed one. it was a 100 and it was so strong and harsh.
   i know. Amanda's mom smokes them. i can't stand them. you should try the
lights. that's what i smoke. btw- it's cool that you don't smoke. i mean, if
you don't want to.
   would it be cooler if i did smoke ?
   :-) what do you think ?
   i-i enjoyed watching you smoke, mo. 
   my mom says i'm the cutest smoker she knows. fortunately, the guys in my
school think better of me than that i'm cute.
   are you smoking right now ?
   of course, came back the response quickly.
   Felicia closed her eyes and sat back, imagining Mo sitting there, one hand
perched over the keyboard, the other holding one of those long white
cigarettes. It was a pleasant image. She brought the cigarette up to her
mouth, gently surrounded it with her full lips, making the filter pinch
microscopically. Without any seeming effort, she drew air through the
cigarette, pulling smoke into her waiting lungs. There was a rush, some
feeling that Felicia had read about but could barely imagine.
   are you there, Felicia ???
   Just then, the front door downstairs opened, and a sudden wave of guilt,
inexplicable but strong, took Felicia away.
   `rents are home. gotta run. look for me in an hour.
   Before Mo could respond, she signed off and shutdown, then went down the
stairs.

   It was late, but not for Mom and Dad on. They'd been over at the Moore's
drinking and playing games like Pictionary. She bounded down the stairs,
following their voices into the kitchen.
   That was odd. They never headed straight for the kitchen.
   Something else was odd as well.
   There was a strong smell of smoke in their wake. Felicia wondered if they'd
brought the Martins home. Bob and Joanne Martin were Mom and Dad's oldest
friends, and they were both smokers. The only people who still smoked in their
house, actually, besides her friend Ophelia. But they usually didn't come over
at one in the morning.
   "Hi Mom, hi Dad," Felicia said from the doorway. She looked in and-
   There was Mom and Dad, standing by the counter.
   Sharing an ashtray.
   They were both smoking. A pack of Marlboro Lights 100s sat by the ashtray
between them.
   There was some embarrassment on their face, but they were both a little drunk
and they didn't exactly look as though they'd been caught doing something
wrong, which would have been their sober reaction.
   "Hi, sugar," Mom said, smiling. She drew deeply on her cigarette and Felicia
saw the appreciation in Dad's eyes. He followed suit.
   "You guys decide to take up smoking again ?" Felicia asked levelly.
   "We were playing Pictionary," Diane said. "I got smoking. I drew it so badly-
I mean, it looked like a stick figure Michael Jackson in a Pepsi commercial.
So I grabbed a cigarette right out of Joanne's hand and- well, don't worry,
honey. We'll smoke this one pack and-"
   "I don't mind, Mom. It's not like I asked the two of you to quit. You
volunteered. I couldn't care less whether or not you two smoked."
   Felicia realised immediately that hadn't come out right, that she should have
been more positive about it instead of sounding churlish. But there was no
taking it back now, was there ?
   She saw the look on Dad's face. It was as though she was the parent and he
was hurt by her lack of concern.
   "I mean, well, you're the parents. If you want to smoke, that's fine with me.
I never really minded."
   "Honest, Honey, it's just this one pack, and then we'll stop."
   Felicia smiled. "Haven't you always told me not to make promises I can't keep
?"
   "What does that mean ?" James asked as his wife drew deeply on her cigarette.
The combination of alcohol and Diane releasing a long plume of smoke from her
pale delicate lips was enough to make him faintly hard, and he fought that,
not wanting to pop one in front of his daughter.
   Not that it would be the first time. Ophelia had been over the other night
and he'd walked into the living room just as the girl was lighting up. He'd
gotten royally stiff watching her smoke, but fortunately he'd been able to
hide it pretty well as he sat down and pretended to watch CNN and read the
Times.
   "Watching the two of you smoke- it's like you never quit. If you enjoy
smoking, you enjoy smoking. It's not up to me to pressure you not to. You both
work hard, you put a roof over my head, food in my mouth, clothes on my back.
Do whatever you want."
   Felicia walked out of the kitchen with that, leaving them wondering.
   As she retreated to the safety of her bedroom, she shook her head. She had no
idea why, but-
   She almost wanted them to start smoking again. Yet, playing back the
conversation in her mind, she was quite sure she had given them exactly the
opposite impression. Why ? She usually wasn't clumsy with words, but somehow,
she'd come off sounding like the typical non-smoker. `Smoke if you want to
because I can't stop you' was what she'd been saying, and that wasn't what she
meant at all.
   The funniest part of it was-
   Twenty four hours ago, a promise that they weren't taking up smoking again
was exactly what she would have been looking for. Didn't she always give
Ophelia an hard time about smoking ? And had one little quick time movie
really changed the way that she looked at something she'd always thought was
kind of disgusting ?
   The question was whether that was wrong.
   Felicia wondered if the ability to change your mind about something was an
indication of maturity.

   James thrust harder and deeper. Underneath him, Diane was was writhing in
ecstasy. He pushed even deeper and she arched her head up and bit his shoulder
so deeply that she drew blood.
   He bent his own head back and stifled a joyous scream as she drew the blood
into her mouth and drank it.
   When was the last time she'd bitten him that way ?
   He felt her orgasm as she sated herself and then he thrust one last time,
coming for what felt like twenty seconds. In the aftermath, he kissed her
hard, tasting his own blood on her writhing tongue. They hadn't had sex like
this-
   Since they'd quit smoking.
   He rolled over and Diane sat up so that she could light them both cigarettes.
He watched her put two cigarettes in her mouth and she lit them so easily,
year of experience which could not be unlearned. She handed him one and he
took it gratefully. They smoked in silence for a while, allowing themselves
the naked pleasure of the post-coital cigarette.
   "What are we going to do about Felicia ?" James finally asked.
   At first, Diane's only answer was a deep and sensuous inhale. Finally, though
she looked at him, spreading her smoke over him in that way of hers. He loved
the smell of her smoke, loved the way it washed over him after being inside
her. He went hard again before she spoke and that brought a knowing smile to
her face.
   "Considering the way you're always rushing through the house to see Ophelia
when she's here, I'm not sure that what you'd like to see is such a good
idea," Diane said in a teasing voice.
   "What does that mean ?" James asked, defensive in spite of the fact that he
knew his wife was merely joking.
   "I mean, how many times have you offered to give Ophelia a ride when Felicia
said she wanted to go to the mall. You love watching Ophelia smoke- and hell,
I don't blame you. I enjoy watching her smoke. If I were a lesbian, I wouldn't
care how old she was or wasn't."
   "I still don't-"
   Debbie drew him in with another top-notch inhale. It always amased him how
deeply she smoked.
   "I mean," she answered, smoke pouring from her mouth as she spoke, "that your
question is really `How can get Felicia to at least try smoking ?' Am I right
?"
   "Well, I just think-"
   "So we aren't going to stop with this one pack, are we ?'
   He smiled. "No, of course not. Neither one of us ever really wanted to quit,
and after that sex we just had-"
   His free hand went to his shoulder and Debbie unconsciously licked her lips.
   "We don't have to bring Felicia into this to have what we want, honey-"
   "I don't know about that dear. Felicia is getting older and maybe we weren't
quite hearing what she was saying earlier. It could be that she really doesn't
care whether or not we smoke."
   "I don't buy that," James said, drawing on his cigarette. It was good, but
not as good as his own were. He was planning on changing that tomorrow, but
for tonight these would have to do.
   "Well, if it does come down to trying to get our little daughter to start
smoking, I have a few idea."
   James smiled. That was his wife.

   Felicia was back on line, but there was no sign of her smoking friend. It was
almost two in the morning so she wasn't exactly surprised. However, she did
notice that Ophelia was on line, and that was cool. Although it was Maureen
who'd peaked her interest in smoking, it was Ophelia she was going to have to
go to if she wanted to learn anything firsthand. And her best friend would be
more than glad to volunteer her knowledge.
   hello, ophelia.
   There was a long pause. Although the two of them had been friends forever,
Ophelia was-
   Well, she was Ophelia. It was not unusual for her to ignore IMs from her best
friend for five minutes or more- she wasn't the on line chatting sort. No, she
did other things on the internet, and claimed not to have time to waste
talking to people- whether she knew them or not. But it was less than a minute
before she did respond.
   what up, bud ?
   where do you buy your cigarettes ?
   Felicia of course wondered if this question would take her friend off-guard.
That was fine. She wanted her to be off-guard and confused because that would
make this a little easier.
   Such was not to be the case.
   looking to get some for yourself ?
   what makes you ask ?
   well, you've never shown any interest in my smoking before except to tell me
what a bad idea it is, so-
   let's just say that i'm curious, opie.
   i hate it when you call me opie, felicity.
   so ?
   i get them from the vending machine at the pizzeria.
   but the sign says that you have to be eighteen and see the manager before-
   duh. first of all, the owner is like my aunt's best friend in the world-
that's how i got my job there. second, you know how i am when i don't smoke-
   Felicia certainly did.
   Last summer they'd gone for a week at summer camp together. The camp was all
ages and one day they'd taken an all day hike with the entire camp. The
counselors had asked the teenagers not to smoke because it would set a bad
example for the younger kids. By the time Ophelia had finally snuck away with
their counselor, Melody, Felicia had grown to almost hate her irritable
friend. A few cigarettes had turned her back into the Ophelia Felicia had
always loved.
   yeah, i know.
   so, now that i've sated your curiosity, do you want me to pick you up a pack
or are you afraid ?
   who said that I wanted to start smoking ?
   you did by asking me where i buy my cigarettes. i'm not stupid, you know. and
you do know.
   i'll let you know. gotta run.
   Felicia knew that was rude, but this was all going too fast. She turned out
her lights and went straight to bed.

   When she came down for breakfast in the morning at six, she could see that
her parents wanted to talk to her. They had that look on their faces- the
`let's have a brief serious discussion' one which she'd gotten used to. Oh
well, that was one of  the obligations of being a child, and if they told her
what she expected, it would be no big deal.
   Usually after a night like the last one, they would have looked hung over.
But then again, they were smoking, and Mom had mentioned once or twice that it
seemed to make it easier.
   "You guys didn't get much sleep, did you ?" she asked as jovially as she
could manage for being half-awake.
   James looked at Diane. As always when it came to the serious stuff, he
yielded to his better half.
   "Not really," Diane said as James passed his daughter a plate of perfectly
scrambled eggs.
   "Honey, Dad and I have something we want to tell you, and we hope it won't
upset you, but-"
   Felicia remembered back to last night, how she hadn't exactly handled this
right.
   "Mom, if you guys want to smoke that's cool with me. I don't have a problem
with it."
   "Well, we want you to know that we aren't going to smoke around you if you
don't want us to-"
   "Mom, my best friend is a smoker, in case you haven't noticed-"
   "We've noticed," Diane said, shooting her husband a knowing look. "But that
doesn't mean that you like it, or that you should. It's your choice as much as
ours. But we also want you to know-" She paused, and Felicia understood that
this was the really hard part for them, whatever was coming next. Not that
they'd decided to start smoking again, but whatever the chaser was.
   "-well, if you should decide that you want to, well, try smoking, we want you
to know that you have our blessing."
   Felicia picked at her eggs with her fork and smiled, but only on the inside.
She looked at her dad and noticed that there was a mark on his neck where it
met the shoulder. He hadn't buttoned up his shirt yet and the livid red area
was clear. If Mom had gone back to biting him, the sex must have been better
than usual.	
   Because they were smoking ? Felicia found herself curious as to just how that
worked.
   "Maybe I'll take you up on that sometime. You guys are finished eating. If
you want to smoke, go ahead."
   It was strange, giving her parents permission to smoke, but she saw that was
exactly what they'd been waiting for. Diane took the last two cigarettes from
the pack and lit them, then handed on to James. He took it gratefully,
inhaled, and then looked at Felicia.
   "Now ?" he asked, holding the cigarette out to her.
   She looked at it, thought about saying yes, then decided it was a little too
soon.
   "Maybe later. But I appreciate your permissiveness," she said, immediately
wondering how something so stiff could come out of her mouth. "But you guys
better get moving. I love summer. You guys have to rush not to be late to work
and I don't have to worry about the school bus. Talk about role reversal-"
   Her parents smiled, and then with a wordless admission that she was right,
left the kitchen to finish getting ready. She could see the relief on their
faces but she still wondered-
   
   Felicia was searching AOL for teenage smokers. She needed advice from someone
she didn't know and searching member profiles seemed to be the way to go. She
was scrolling through a list of screen names when one caught her attention. 
   Belindasmk.
   She pulled up the profile and read it.
   Under hobbies it said `Smoking for my girlfriend until she's horny.'
   Her age was 16.
   It wasn't exactly what she'd wanted, but Belindasmk was on line and that was
what she needed, so she IM'd her.
   hello. you don't know me, but i'd like to talk.
   what about ? came a quick response.
   smoking, if that's all right.
   all right ? more like great. are you a smoker ?
   not yet. but i've been considering it.
   why ?
   well, i just got a qt movie from a friend yesterday- an online friend- and i
found out that she smokes. my best friend smokes too. then- this is the
kicker- my parents came home last night and i found out they'd started smoking
again. this morning they told me that it was all right if i decided to try it
too-
   sounds like heaven.
   i don't know about that. you know, it's like almost too easy. i don't want to
smoke because everyone else does.
   There was little bit of a pause.
   sorry. i was lighting a cigarette. i know exactly what you mean. when i
started, it was, well, kind of complicated. my dad felt obligated, because it
was my mother's last wish, but there was more to it than that. my dad is a
real great guy- but he only dates women who smokes and i think he was more
comfortable with that if i was a smoker too. that may sound strange, but-
   my dad is the same way. i don't want to be gross, but he and mom-
   the sex is better when they smoke, right ?
   yeah- hope that's not gross-
   you read my profile, right ? i'll bet he enjoys watching your friend smoke,
too, if she smokes around your parents.
   she does and he does. isn't that strange ?
   not really. smoking is very sexy. don't let anyone tell you it's not. but
that's not a good reason to smoke.
   Felicia thought about that, thought about how she simply didn't understand
what was a good reason to smoke. And that was why she'd IM'd this girl, wasn't
it ?
   what is a good reason to smoke ?
   the feeling it gives you. don't get me wrong. the first thing i do when i get
up in the morning is light a cigarette and watch myself smoke in the mirror. i
love watching myself smoke. but if it didn't feel good... look, go buy
yourself a pack of cigarettes, try a few- not just one but a few, and then let
me know what you think. send me some email. I have to run, but I'll be
waiting.

   Felicia disconnected from the internet and called Ophelia. She asked her to
buy her a pack of Marlboro Lights 100s and arranged a meeting for around noon.
   She had no idea what she was getting herself into.	
   




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