The Star Student, Part 1

(by Somers, 03 May 2000)


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THE STAR STUDENT
Part 1 of 2
by Somers




She rearranged the dolls for the third time. Feeling tired, she sat on the 
bed and stared at the Christmas toy chest, remembering the tea parties that 
her daughter used to stage there so many years ago.

"Have some tea, Mom ? Kathy wants you to have some tea."

She had stopped the vacuum cleaner then, totally engaged by the big, brown 
puppy eyes that pleaded with her to join in the play. Catherine loved her 
only daughter so much that she felt compelled to spend all of her time 
assuring that this young life was the best that it could be. Despite the 
housework, now it was time for a tea party. Despite all there was to do, she 
could not resist those beautiful brown puppy eyes. She sat down next to the 
toy chest and accepted a tiny cup, pretending to sip at it and enjoy it 
sincerely.

"Kathy likes it when you have tea," her daughter continued, indicating her 
doll and speaking on the toy's behalf, "Kathy says you are the prettiest 
woman in the whole world."

Catherine was so happy at that remark that she snuggled up to the little 
doll and kissed her. Her daughter's enormous and gorgeous eyes looked at her 
with love.

But now, Catherine could only see the dust collecting on the toy chest, and 
the little doll, Kathy, had to be moved in order to rub the rag over the top 
and make it clean and shiny again.

She moved over to the vanity and looked into the mirror, which also needed 
cleaning. Catherine looked down at the bottles of foundation and mascara, 
tubes of lipstick, brushes, perfume, tissues, and all the other makeup 
accessories, and she sighed. Memories of the times she had helped prepare 
her daughter's face and hair for dance recitals, concerts, school socials 
and the senior prom swept through her mind. But, no more would it be.

Catherine looked at herself in the mirror, seeing her short hair 
out-of-place, eyebrows overgrown and a few grey strands creeping into the 
picture. She realized that she looked tired. And, why not ? she asked 
herself. It had been so many years that she had worked to make a life for 
the two of them, and now it was over. Time to rest, time to stop, yet she 
could not. With her daughter in college now, Catherine's career as a Mom had 
suddenly come to a halt. What little excitement there had been in her life 
was now gone forever, it seemed.

After wiping the mirror and straightening the bottles, she turned to the 
nighttable and picked up the wineglass, exposing the ashtray behind that 
needed emptying. Yes, the daughter had grown up so much in such an 
apparently short time. Catherine felt proud that she had produced a woman 
who was able to lead her own life in her own way, proud of her daughter's 
independence and free will. Yet, she had missed something, something very 
important and precious.

Although Catherine did not know it while she emptied and wiped the ashtray, 
the missing element was not a part of her daughter's life, but it was a part 
of her own. Catherine had encouraged her to go out and get involved with 
social life. She told her to meet guys, and let her hair down and have a 
good time. Smoking and drinking were a part of that scene, and Catherine 
allowed her daughter to do those things, knowing that she was a good girl 
and very responsible. She wanted her little girl to experience all of the 
things about adult life that she herself had missed. Having given birth at a 
young age and then losing her husband, Catherine had been rapidly propelled 
into the role of provider and mother and had been deprived of much of her 
young adulthood. She had all of the knowledge, but little of the experience. 
Her only avenue to fulfill this need had been her relationship with her 
daughter, and now it was over.

Catherine, by the way, is the mother of Sharon.

***

Samantha waited patiently in the dormitory hallway while her friend 
completed her phone call. She watched Sharon listening to the receiver and 
slowly pulling on a cigarette, inhaling deeply, then letting the smoke roll 
from her nostrils. Every minute or so, Sharon would say: "um, hmm," nod her 
head, and then take another drag.

"I love you, too, Mom," Sharon finally said, her voice sounding thick as she 
talked through the smoke. She hung up the phone, and the two girls started 
off for the pub.

"You know, that's the third call from my Mom this week," Sharon mused as 
they exited the building.

"She seems so lonely and sad. It's not like I've never been away from home 
before, and I'm back on the weekends, so I am not sure what's bothering 
her."

"Do you spend much time with her when you're home ?" Samantha asked, digging 
in her purse for a cigarette.

"Well, no, I guess I stay out most of the night with Hugh at the club," 
Sharon said, checking the traffic at the streetcorner, then venturing across 
while taking a thoughtful pull on her nearly-spent cigarette.

"Um, got a light, Sharon ? " Samantha asked, having been unsuccessfully 
rummaging in her purse for several minutes with an unlit cigarette in her 
fingers. The girls stopped on the sidewalk while Sharon put her short, 
burning cigarette into her lips and held it there in order to free both 
hands for a search of her own bag. Not finding a lighter there, she snapped 
the bag shut.

"MMMMmmph," Sharon made a noise, attempting to talk while taking a strong 
drag to create a long, burning ash that grew nearly to the filter. She 
removed the short smoke from her lips and held it out to Samantha, inhaling 
to receive the final puff of smoke.

"Here, take this, Sam. We'd better stop on the way and pick up a lighter," 
she spoke while holding smoke in her lungs, then she released it, tossing 
her hair back behind her shoulder before they started walking again.

Samantha put her unlit cigarette into her lips, and touched the burning one 
to the end. She puffed ambitiously, raising several big clouds of smoke into 
the air, then tossed the spent cigarette away while drawing on her own.

"You know, my Mom is the exact opposite, but I think it's because Dad is 
around," Samantha said, completing the sentence by exhaling a stream of 
white smoke into the evening air.

"What do you mean ?" Sharon asked.

"Well, she's been giggling and humming a lot lately, and it seems like she's 
always hugging and kissing my Dad when I see them. Oh! Here's the store. 
Want to pop in while I wait here ?" Samantha indicated her cigarette, 
forbidden in the store, and waited while Sharon ran inside. She stood next 
to the entrance, crossing one arm in front of her stomach to support the 
other, smoking arm.

In a few minutes, Sharon came out, carrying two packs of Player's and a pair 
of lighters.

"I thought I'd pick some of these up; they're really good," Sharon said, 
handing her friend one of the packs along with a lighter. It was now 
Samantha's turn to dangle as she loaded her purse with the new smoking 
equipment.

"You know, maybe it's the age," Sharon wondered out loud. She caught 
Samantha in mid-puff, and her friend looked at her quizzically.

"I mean, the sex drive suddenly gets stronger at a certain age, doesn't it 
?"

Samantha laughed, expelling clouds of trapped smoke, then coughed a bit as 
she removed the cigarette to speak.

"I guess that means that you and I may never sleep when we get that old!"

They both enjoyed the joke, and the subject of Sharon' Mom did not come up 
again that evening.

The following night, the girls were planning to go to the library together, 
and Samantha again waited for the phone call to be completed.

"No, you won't be embarrassing me, Mom. Not at all!" Sharon paused, 
listening, then raised her cigarette toward her lips in an automatic 
fashion.

"Now stop that kind of talk. You are NOT too old!" She stopped short of 
taking a puff and held the burning cigarette just beyond reach of her mouth, 
fingers poised to insert it.

"Come on, you will have a good time," she pleaded, bringing the filter to 
her lips.

"I think the sewing can wait, don't you ?" Once again, the smoking was 
interrupted in favor of the words, and her fingers recoiled slightly.

"OK, it's all settled then. Hugh will pick us up at 7 on Saturday."

Sharon hung up the receiver and then took a wicked drag from her cigarette, 
closing her eyes, opening her fingers and letting her cheeks collapse from 
the strain. She then removed it from her lips, opened her mouth and let a 
creamy ball hang just under her nose. In an instant it was gone, snapped 
down deeply into her lungs with a giant breath. She opened her eyes and 
smiled at Samantha, then let the smoke trickle lightly from her nostrils 
while curling her lips upward in a naughty, but pleasant grin.

"You go, girl!" Samantha exclaimed, "Make sure she's made up all sexy, too!"

Sharon and Samantha giggled in delight.

***

Sharon was in the process of putting the Saturday dishes away when Catherine 
entered.

"OOO! You look beautiful, Mom!" Sharon declared, smiling broadly at her 
Mom's outfit and makeup. It had been a long time since she had seen her Mom 
dressed-up, and she was pleasantly surprised that Catherine had not really 
lost her youthful looks.

"I love the outfit ! I didn't know you had a white pants suit," Sharon said, 
walking around Catherine to view all sides. She then returned to the kitchen 
counter, picked up her pack of cigarettes and put a fresh one into her lips.

"Thanks honey, I'm glad you like it. I didn't really know what to wear. I 
haven't had this on for years," Catherine admitted, watching her daughter 
hold the flame of the lighter to the cigarette and seeing it bend inward as 
Sharon drew on the filter.

"Do you think it's right ? Not too out-of-place ?" She asked, waiting for 
the reply as Sharon inhaled deeply, and she smelled the tobacco odor that 
was common in the house on weekends.

"It is conservative, but very nice. You will look very dignified, like a 
career girl with a job," Sharon said while holding the smoke in her lungs.

"But, of course," Sharon paused to exhale, then continued: "Most of the 
college girls wear more revealing things; you'll see what I mean when we get 
there."

"Well, I'm not a college girl, of course," Catherine laughed as they sat 
down at the kitchen table to wait for Hugh.

Sharon took another drag, then inhaled while looking at the tip of the 
burning cigarette. She looked over to her Mom, then back at the cigarette.

"Want to try a puff?" Sharon asked, holding the cigarette in her fingers out 
toward Catherine.

"Oh no, I couldn't. You know I've never smoked," she said, looking a little 
embarrassed.

"Oh, go ahead, Mom. All the girls at the club smoke, you know. You will fit 
in perfectly," Sharon looked pleadingly at her with those same big, brown 
puppy eyes.

Catherine stared at the smoke curling from the end of the cigarette, then 
focused back on her daughter's giant, innocent eyes.

"Please, Mom? I think you'd look really sexy smoking."

Catherine giggled, reached out and took the cigarette from Sharon, then put 
it in her mouth and did a tiny puff. She then blew it all out without 
inhaling.

"Oh, I feel so silly," she said, trying to hand it back to Sharon.

"No, you look terrific, Mom. Just hold it there in your fingers and let me 
look at you," Sharon leaned back and made her fingers form a frame around 
the image of Catherine.

"No, like this," Sharon added, propping her arm up on the table, tucking the 
pinky and ring fingers under her thumb and pointing the smoking fingers high 
in the air. Her Mom copied the act, holding the cigarette to the side of her 
face and smiling weakly.

"The guys will be all over you," Sharon declared, "They are always very 
interested in any new girls that come to the club."

At that moment, Hugh arrived and Catherine quickly put the cigarette in the 
ashtray, behaving in a strangely guilty way that Sharon found delightfully 
refreshing.

"Oh, my goodness!" Hugh declared, staring at Catherine after he entered. He 
walked across the kitchen, ignoring Sharon and reaching out for her mother's 
hand. He bent over and kissed her fingers, then told her that she looked 
absolutely stunning. This made Catherine's face turn red.

"See what I mean about the guys from the club?" Sharon looked sternly at 
Hugh while she retrieved her cigarette from the ashtray.

"And this one is the worst of the lot, you know!" She indicated Hugh and 
pretended to be indignant, turning away and dragging furiously on her smoke.

"But, despite your awesome beauty, dear Catherine, I am pledged to my lovely 
smoking princess," he added, taking Sharon in his arms as she was completing 
another characteristically large inhale.

Sharon put her arms over his shoulders and they kissed, bits of smoke 
drifting out of her nose slowly as the embrace became stronger. Catherine 
thought that she saw Hugh's chest expand slightly, and she stared at the 
cigarette burning in her daughter's fingers and sensed the love burning in 
their hearts.

***

There was a lot of noise from the music and loud talking tried to overshadow 
it. Laughing came from various corners of the club, and Catherine was awed 
by the level of activity and the colored lights playing about while people 
danced. Sharon was absolutely correct about the girls' outfits, she noted, 
viewing sleeveless things, spaghetti straps, strapless tops. Some were 
loose, some very tight. Reds, blue silks, black, silver, and fluffy white 
furs made up only a part of the palette. But one theme prevailed within the 
diversity of colors and styles: lots of exposed skin.

And lots of smoking, too. The blue clouds hung within the room, glowing from 
the dazzlingly bright spotlights that cut into the otherwise dark air. The 
smell of tobacco was everywhere, and there were multitudes of glowing tips 
in front of delicate lips.

Sharon was lighting another in an apparently endless stream of cigarettes 
when the song began to play.

"Mmmmmp.." she made that noise that signaled the desire to talk, yet was 
muffled by the need to finish the task of getting the tobacco burning.

"There it is, Hugh!" she proclaimed, once she had the first puff tucked 
neatly away inside of her chest.

"Yes, my dear, we must dance," Hugh stood and offered her his hand.

"Hold this for me, Mom?"

There it was again, just as it was in the kitchen earlier that evening. 
Sharon' fingers stretched out toward Catherine, and those same brown puppy 
eyes pleading with her.

"Um, sure, honey," Catherine answered, taking possession of the burning 
cigarette. She felt a responsibility now, to keep the cigarette safe while 
Sharon was dancing.

She held it a bit awkwardly at first, then, realizing that no one seemed to 
care and feeling more relaxed, she propped her arm up as she had been 
taught. An ash began to grow at the end, so she tapped it into the ashtray 
carefully. She watched the other girls in the club smoking and similarly 
holding their cigarettes, and it made her feel strangely young and naughty.

More ash formed, and she tapped it again. Tap, tap, tap. Just like everyone 
else.

She watched as the various scantily clad girls took their puffs and inhaled, 
then blew out long plumes of smoke. She saw them smiling and laughing and 
talking with their boyfriends under the spotlights. She delighted in the 
beaming smiles on the faces of the men.

Catherine then felt this wicked urge building up within her. She was being 
bewitched by this place, and drawn into it. She imagined herself as a much 
younger girl, out for a night of naughty and delicious fun. She hesitantly 
put the cigarette to her lips and drew a tiny puff. She inhaled this time, 
then quickly expelled the smoke from her lungs, watching for the telltale 
cloud to appear under the bright light.

There it was, thin, but white and swirly just like the other exhales at the 
other tables around her. She giggled at herself.

When Sharon returned, her cigarette was gone and her mother was smiling. The 
DJ announced over the sound system that it was time to play some oldies, and 
mentioned something about Petula Clark.

"Wait. Listen.." Catherine stared off into an imagined distance while Hugh 
and Sharon seated themselves at the table. The song began.

"My love is warmer than the warmest sunshine,
Softer than a sigh.
My love is deeper than the deepest ocean,
Wider than the sky..."

"I remember this song! I was just a little girl when it was popular."

"Feeling good, Mom?" Sharon asked, grinning serenely.

"Yes, honey. A little light-headed after trying that cigarette of yours,
but I'll be just fine here. I like this place."

Sharon noticed the warm glow and happy look on Catherine's face.

"Want another cigarette, Mom ?" She asked, opening those huge brown eyes and 
looking innocently at her lovely mother.




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