Stella Stilettos, Part 2

(by puffery@prodigy.com (now quin_chris@hotmail.com), 05 November 2012)


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Stella Stilettos
Part Two

The past year has been surreal - beginning first with dad's plunge into an
emotional abyss followed by an entirely strange renewal - fueled more often
than not by dad mistaking me for mom, his deceased spouse.  While the most
obvious hallmark of these ensuing six months has been dad's recovery and
return to life, there are other noteworthy markers.  

Topping this list is the "lifestyle adjustments" I've made to assist dad's
return, some nights my wine consumption borders on lush and there remains no
doubt left that I've become a confirmed smoker.  The former is still a "take
it or leave it" proposition for me but not so the latter.  

A couple of days without wine is no real issue; a couple of hours without a
cigarette is.  I've learned to "bite the bullet" between my morning cigarette
with coffee and my afternoon dash home from school to light up, but you
couldn't call it comfortable.  My grades in sixth period health class have
dropped precipitously, too.  It's very difficult to memorize all the evils of
tobacco when your attention has already turned to that first awaiting after
school cigarette.

If you'd told me a year ago that I'd become a daily smoker before my
thirteenth birthday, I would have called you insane and if you had then said
that I'd be totally hooked - smoking a half a pack or more a day - as well as
unabashedly unapologetic, I'd have had you committed.  

Weirdly, though, that does pretty much sum up the situation.  While I began
smoking for dad, I continued for me - and in opposition to everything I
believed only months ago, I was now a committed smoker who felt defiantly
proud, who would fiercely defend my new habit if ever pushed to do so.   

The Friday evening the week before my graduation from elementary school, dad
arrived home early - well before I'd begun dinner preparation.  He downed a
couple of whiskeys and then suggested we go out for dinner.  This was not our
norm and the smoking limitations also made it less than appealing to me.  I
was good with fixing dinner but he was insistent.  With little say in the
matter, I pretty much overdosed on nicotine before leaving to just hold me
over.

As we drove I could tell that dad was a little blitzed and hoped that a cop
wouldn't pull us over.  Things became even more interesting when he requested
nonchalantly, "Kate, how about lighting up a couple of cigarettes for us?"
Having not referred to me in this way in a couple of months, clearly the
night was off to an interesting start.  So figuring no one would likely
notice me smoking at 65 mph on the freeway, I did so, welcoming one more,
good hit before the dinnertime abstinence.

How was I to know that the fun was anything but over at this point?  We
requested his normal booth in the smoking section where he promptly ordered a
bottle of pinot grigio as well as a double CC.   He slammed down the CC and
then ordered a second while steering the glass of pinot grigio in my general
direction.  So was I Kate or was I Stella?  I guessed that time would tell.    

We were pretty well out of any other patrons' line of sight so I took a quick
couple of sips and was about to take a third as he shook a Marlboro Gold 100
my way.  Of course I wanted to accept it but the setting was uncomfortable
and unfamiliar - and clearly against the rules he'd made himself.  What if I
were spotted by someone we knew or dad was turned in for contributing to the
delinquency of a minor?  Warnings aside, I took it and accepted his light.  

Yes, the couple at the next booth did seem to stare a bit and the really
cute, really young guy - the server's apprentice - did take notice but I
sensed more intrigue than disapproval on his part.  That was confirmed later
when he beat dad to the punch with his lighter, a big flame throwing Zippo
that startled me a little.  I flinched just a little and then steadied his
hand with mine for ignition.  I was smoking in public and openly flirting
with a guy for maybe the first time and in doing so I felt a new kind of
tingle fueled neither by alcohol nor nicotine.  This was a blast.      

So here's where my story began.  The cat was now out of the bag as, at not
yet quite thirteen, I was smoking and drinking with my dad at a popular local
restaurant.  For the next year that was the only establishment where that
occurred but we did go there with some regularity.  

The same lady usually served us but the cute apprentice always managed to
cover our table and he was uniformly quick with his lighter.  With no other
male smoking friends, he was the only person other than dad to have ever
offered me a light - and I quickly developed a crush on him.  I was always
anxious for our dinners at Angelo's.

A couple of times when dad took bio breaks Tony snuck back over to the table
and chatted me up - where did I go to school? (I lied - Webster Elementary
was way too revealing), how old was I? (I lied again), what was my name and
what music was I into? (I didn't have to lie about either).  Though he now
knew my name, he continued to call me "miss" when serving us and I liked that
a lot.      

I'm getting a little ahead of myself again here though.  They'll be more
(much more) on Tony later.  A week after our initial visit to Angelo's the
school year ended and my summer vacation officially arrived.  While that was
always welcome it had always meant time with mom.  Now I was about to have an
immense amount of time on my hands and no one to share it with.     

This raises a topic which I haven't addressed at all here which is the issue
of friends - or lack thereof.  I'd always been particularly close to my
parents and hadn't developed a lot of good friends.  That void had certainly
helped a lot when dad needed me as he had in recent months.  

That said, there were several girls in class who would occasionally invite me
over after school until they tired of my refusals.  I'd always have
"something else I had to do".  There's was no way that I could confess at
this point to them why that was so - that my two most critical after school
friends were a quick pair of cigarettes.  

With summer's arrival many things changed.  Every day was a weekend day which
meant every day was way north of "half a pack".  That first week I smoked
routinely from dawn to dark - but only at home - and being mostly alone I
smoked mostly alone, with dad as my only companion.  

As much as I enjoyed smoking I had to admit that this habit had turned me
into an anti-social hermit, devoid now of even the normal interaction of the
school year.  Within a week I recognized how unhealthy this was - no problem
with smoking, it was being alone I declared unhealthy.  I knew that I had to
do something about it but was a little clueless as to what.

One evening I brought the topic up with dad and while he empathized, he did
reiterate that smoking anywhere but at home would simply be inappropriate.
Of course this made me wonder if he'd already blanked on Angelo's but knew
that was a question for another day. 

He was no more prepared to deal with social ostracization than I was.  What
he did suggest, however, was that maybe I hang out at least occasionally at
the pool about a mile away.  If I felt like I really needed a cigarette -
which we both recognized as pretty much a given - the bike ride home would be
easy.  I figured it was worth a try.

So a new weekday routine evolved.  Post morning coffee (now "almost black ")
and several cigarettes, I'd freshen up (my breath in particular) and go down
for an hour or a bit more - until the need for a cigarette overwhelmed.  A
couple of girls from school were friendly as were some of the junior high
kids.  Often I'd reprise the pool visit between two and four, leaving time to
get dinner started - and of course again smoke.  I was no longer ever without
a lit cigarette while working in the kitchen.

A couple of weeks in I was beginning to actually make friends and found
several of the older girls pretty interesting.  I also noted something else
intriguing - Laurie and Angie disappeared together with some regularity and
always returned with the unmistakable fragrance of tobacco.  Sure - they were
a couple years older than me - but clearly it looked like we had something
important in common.

The idea of having peers to smoke with was exciting but the question would be
how to make that happen.  I didn't want to defy dad and smoke away from the
house but then how could I get them over there?  The second Monday of July I
invited them to follow me home for lunch the next day.  With their mothers'
approval they followed me home on their bikes.

Following me into the house they both kind of gawked as I immediately lit up
a cigarette and triple pumped since it had been a couple of hours.  Releasing
a torrent, I kidded, "I'm guessing you don't mind" as I tossed the pack their
way.  They wasted little time in joining me while peppering me with one
question after another.  "Do your parents know?  Is it okay with them?  How
did you guess we smoked?  Is it really okay for us to be smoking in your
house?"

I took them one at a time, first explaining that I only had a dad and that he
didn't mind at all.  He'd been my smoking mentor even though he hadn't really
realized it at the time.  I recapped my story for them much as I just have
for you and they were pretty amazed.  I must admit it's a long way from the
norm.  It also didn't take long before they suggested we have lunch here
every day.  What could be better? I thought.

I had prepared a fruit salad the night before and had makings for sandwiches.
I almost thought about opening a bottle of wine but that could be big trouble
so I passed.  Cokes served us well.  They complimented me on my meal and
helped me clean up.  Clearly another cigarette or two was in order before
returning to the pool.  

Angie accepted the Gold that I offered her but Laurie declined, digging into
her backpack.  It became clear that she was their supplier as she rapidly
produced a pack of Benson and Hedges Menthol Lights as well as a real lighter
- not a Bic like mine.  Now it was my turn to ask questions.

Laurie's folks had split a couple of years earlier.  Seems the very
attractive receptionist at her dad's company was receptive to most anything
and attracted to his money.  It wasn't like he left them high and dry - he
left them still wealthy - but the fact was that he had left them.  

Laurie's mom actually dealt quite well with the situation.  She had tired of
her husband's wandering eye and even more so over his wandering johnson.  Her
only regret was that their differences would impact the kids.  Laurie said
that she and her brother neither felt all that close to their dad. His
attention always seemed upon work or pussy (I thought interest in a cat
peculiar and needed this reference as well as this johnson guy explained to
me).

They were supposed to spend every other weekend with him but he canceled more
often than not.  Frankly most of those weekends were spent in front of the TV
since he always had something else going on.  The only good part, though, was
a couple of times of year guilt would set in and he'd haul them off to Hawaii
or the Caribbean for a week.  That was what she called the "divorce bonus
card".

Many other changes accompanied the divorce.  Laurie's mom had gone back to
work as insurance while the divorce proceedings continued and  her brother
spent most of his time with friends or doing odd jobs - running errands,
mowing lawns, and the like - for neighbors.  He had their dad's work ethic
and was always trying to make a buck or two.  That left Laurie to her own
resources.  

She and Angie would hang around the house watching television and playing an
occasional video game.  The bottom-line was that they were bored.  One day
Laurie suggested that perhaps they should try smoking.  She'd grown up in a
smoking home much as I had but Angie had not.  Angie's reluctance ended the
topic - but only for a matter of hours.

When Angie left that afternoon, Laurie confiscated an entire fresh pack of
her mom's Benson and Hedges Menthol Lights, an old Zippo left behind by her
dad, and the cleanest dirty ashtray in the sink.  Fully armed, she went out
in their huge backyard to a spot nearly out of sight of the house and began
her experiment.  

Unlike me who at least tried to go slowly, she was all about inhaling from
day one and apparently successful.  She schlepped out a small chair and table
to comfortably furnish her private grotto.  Within a week she became
"unavailable" when Angie would call because she was having more fun playing
the adult - reading a book and smoking a stream of cigarettes every
afternoon.  Boy, could I identify with that scenario.    

A couple of weeks in, a now suspicious Angie showed up rather than calling
and followed the smell from the house through the garden.  Laurie was caught
red handed and a bit embarrassed.  Angie's reaction, however, surprised her
even more.  She said "give me one".  A second lawn chair was acquired from
the garage and within a couple of weeks she too was an accomplished and
rather committed ingénue smoker. 

One Saturday morning, after this ritual had been going on for several weeks,
Laurie was sharing a milk enhanced coffee.  She was getting antsy for a
cigarette as her mom finished her third or fourth and looking for an escape
to the grotto where she kept an ample stash.  At that moment her mom looked
her in the eye and said, "you seem a little distracted this morning.  Maybe
this will help," and then shook a B&H in her direction.

A nanosecond of calculation ensued.  Denial and/or shock seemed the most
political reaction but the physical response was acceptance.  Hell, she did
offer.  And with that she took not only the cigarette but also her mom's
light.  A couple of deep drags met her needs and more than confirmed her
mom's suspicions.  Laurie was so tempted to ask how she knew but her mom
asked no questions.  

From that second forth she was an accepted smoker in their house.  She shared
her mom's cigarettes, hung out with her more, and established a completely
different kind of relationship with her.  It wasn't until months later when
it was certain there was no turning back that Laurie broached the topic of
"how mom knew".  

Her response was that while she wasn't a math major she was pretty sure that
a carton had ten packs - not seven like hers had recently.  When Laurie
followed up with: "then why didn't you catch me earlier?" she was surprised
to hear her mom say, "and do what?  I started in junior high too," her mom
continued, "and my folks knew enough to just let it be.  I figured you'd come
clean soon enough and I did exactly what I'd planned to do all along - allow
you to smoke in front of me rather than sneaking around behind my back.  I
won't be surprised if your dad reacts similarly when he finds out."  That
last comment did come as a shock because Laurie wasn't at all sure she was
ready to smoke around her dad.  That would be for a later day. 

For the present, though, Laurie's mom, Liz, welcomed Angie to smoke in their
home.  This had kind of a mixed blessing, though, and Angie picked up the
story from here.  "It was great that I could smoke in their house but my
family would be appalled.  My dad is a surgeon and my mom a former nurse and
it would be tough to be any more anti-tobacco than they are.

"It was those forces that led me to reject Laurie's first suggestion that we
smoke but once she began, maintaining our friendship and the temptation to
experiment overwhelmed me and now the habit pretty much owns me.  The problem
remains, however, that I have to smoke on the down low.  Days that I can't
get over to Laurie's are pure hell, so much so that sometimes I regret that I
started at all." 

So that's how the three of us bonded.  Angie had a hurdle that neither Laurie
nor I could imagine.  It would be terrible to be a smoker who wasn't
permitted to smoke.  Sure, we had to be careful about being seen publicly -
friends, their parents, some authorities would be seriously disapproving -
but at least we were safe within our own (and each other's) home and a select
few dining establishments.  

We had one more "safe place" and that was Liz's Mercedes SUV.  After the
divorce settlement it was clear she needn't work and so she became "a stay at
home" mom of sorts.  During the summer that meant "stay at the pool" where
she sipped expensive chardonnay and smoked Benson and Hedges 100 Lights from
mid-morning until late afternoon.  Her car with darkly tinted windows
remained unlocked and it was there that Laurie and Angie has been escaping to
frequently and now I joined them.    

A new routine was thus born.  Some days Laurie's mom even piled into the SUV
and joined us.  This new behavior, though, was kind of in violation of dad's
rules because while I didn't actually take cigarettes to the pool, I'd spot
Angie an occasional pack which she'd bring with her.  This worked for both of
us because I didn't care too much for Laurie and her mom's menthols and
Angie's tastes were drifting towards my Golds.  

So this did sort of get me off the hook.  I wasn't actually "taking"
cigarettes to the pool myself - Angie was.  What I got out of the deal was
being technically compliant with dad's rules while still having the right to
bum the cigarettes back during our morning and afternoon breaks at the pool.

This scenario wasn't at all problematic for Angie since all aspects of
smoking were risky for her.  She stowed a pack - sometimes even two - in her
pool bag.  As a bonus it also meant that she had her own supply just in case
she had a chance to sneak one around home from time to time, which was of
course fine with "infinitely supplied me".    

As fall approached, one of the best things was that during the coming school
year we'd all be together - they in their final year of junior high and me in
my first.  For the first time ever I was developing good friends.  One
afternoon we rode our bikes down to the school so they could show me where
we'd be sneaking break-time cigarettes.  

Turns out a couple of guys they knew happened to be there and the next thing
we knew we were sharing their Marlboro Reds.  It was also apparent that one
of the guys, Jarred, was more than a little interested in me.  He lit my
cigarette and started asking all kinds of questions, including where I went
to school.  When I told him I'd be at Mason JH this fall, he asked where I
was moving from.  When I confessed that I was a local in-coming seventh
grader he responded, "but you sure don't look like one".  I liked that.  

Angie had seemed uncharacteristically quiet throughout this exchange and
suddenly she headed for her bike and left without a word.  I didn't take much
note at the time as Jarred continued to chat me up over a second and third
cigarette.  The Reds were a lot harsher but then again also sort of more
cool, if you know what I mean.  Eventually Laurie pointed to her watch and I
realized that dad might beat me home.  We excused ourselves quickly and rode
off together.  

It was then that she informed me that Angie considered Jarred her boyfriend
even if it might not be reciprocated.  She was not happy when she left,
apparently - and it was me she was not happy with.  I'd have some amends to
make the next day, or maybe on the phone after dinner.  Nevertheless, with
peer pressure like this it was becoming clear that dad's control over me
might be slip sliding away.

I slipped in minutes before dad and threw together a summer fruit salad as
the main course, which seemed to work for both of us.  Dad had some contracts
to review after dinner so I headed out to the backyard with my Golds, Bic, an
ashtray, and the phone to try to reach Angie.  Initially her voice could have
air conditioned the neighborhood but I talked her off the cliff, pledging not
only no interest in Jarred (a little lie) and my hope she could land him
(totally true).  We signed off an hour and a half and seven cigarettes (on my
part, sadly not hers) later, still as friends.  

A special sleepover sans Laurie was planned for the next night.  That of
course ran the risk of alienating Laurie, so another call was on the docket.
Laurie "got it", which isn't exactly the same as "liking it".  She did see my
point, however, and we then agreed that her inclusion would rest upon Angie
suggesting it.  Of course she did the next day and all wounds we're healed in
less than 24 hours.    
  
Most evenings and weekends still belonged to dad but at least now I had some
kind of life.  I started my day having coffee and a cigarette with him and
ended it with him again over a glass of wine and a cigarette - and I smoked a
lot of cigarettes in between.  While in daily violation of his "smoke only at
home" mandate my "I never take my cigarettes away from home" interpretation
of that edict was a pretty meager excuse.  I knew better but frankly I really
didn't care.  If you're a smoker, you're a smoker - and I was.

Summer had begun with me smoking alone, progressed to smoking in the SUV and
at Laurie's home, and then to the smokers oasis near school and had been
augmented by monthly visits to Angelo's, where dad no longer needed to
envision me as mom in order to allow me to smoke.  With school beginning in a
couple of days I decided to come clean.  

My thirteenth birthday celebration was just the two of us again at Angelo's.
He was very clear that it was Stella accompanying him and that the occasion
was my birthday.  I'd recently picked up my first pair of heels, but not
dangerously high, and was doing my best to walk upright and balanced.  It
wasn't easy but I had done a little practicing.  I also had on a pretty hot
outfit that would add a couple of years to my appearance.  Dad did take note
and complimented me highly.  

He wasn't the sole object of my couture.  We were seated in our usual section
and I began to scan, but Tony was nowhere to be seen.  Disappointed, I pulled
out my cigarettes, shook one out, and laid them on the table rather than
waiting for dad to offer.  This conspicuous move was part of my strategic
plan.   

My smoking had become such a routine part of our lives that about the only
time dad still took time to offer me a light was around a meal - and with
Tony nowhere to be seen he had no competition on this particular evening.
Enjoying a glass of pinot grigio and a couple of pre-dinner Golds, it was
time to clear the air.  

"Dad, it's been pushing a year now since I started smoking and I'm sure you
recognize I'm not about to turn back even if you wanted me to, which actually
I don't think you do.  I'm a smoker, practically as much as you are.  I love
coming here because this is the only place I know for certain that we won't
get hassled.  That said, I'm no longer so concerned about getting hassled.
If other folks don't like me smoking, I see that as their problem, not mine.

"I do have a confession to make, though.  You know that I smoke here and you
know that I smoke at Laurie's house - what I haven't told you is that I, we
all, smoke in Laurie's mom's car when we're at the pool and this week Laurie
and Angie took me to the smokers' field near the junior high - and we smoked
there too.  For the record, tonight is the first time I've carried my own
cigarettes away from home.  

"I think it's time for us to take the wrapper off this baby - I'm out of the
crib and I'm not going back.  I want your permission to smoke when and where
I want to and that even includes going to a different restaurant next time,"
an addendum that I might have forgone if Tony had been there.  

He looked at me and said simply, "okay".  I was about to offer my thanks in
return but then he continued.  "I only ask one thing," he said, "which is you
maintain some kind of decorum.  I don't want you hauled out of the girls room
or seen standing on street corners.  You're a carbon copy of your mom in many
ways and that includes how you smoke.  She did so as a lady and I expect no
less of you."

He then smiled and said that I'd done a nice segue into our next
conversation.  With that he handed me a small package which by the clumsy
corners I knew he'd clearly wrapped himself.  How sweet.  I still took care
not to rip the paper as I reached the box within - a Tiffany's box and inside
that a lady's 24 carat gold Calibri lighter.  

I was thrilled and yet embarrassed.  The lighter was beautiful.  Mom had had
one very much like it, but it was so "old".  No kid would be caught dead with
anything other than Bic or a Zippo.  I then recalled that Laurie actually had
a somewhat similar lighter and heck, she was a kid.  Maybe this could be part
of my new identity.  I'd give it a try.

Dad lit my next cigarette with the Calibri and then I rested it on top of my
pack of Golds.  Dad wanted an after dinner drink so I sipped away at another
pinot grigio.  As I shook the final cigarette out of this pack that had been
nearly full that morning, a hand stretched in front of me, picked up the
Calibri, and produced a flame.  Knowing the hand well, I rested mine on his
and said, "thank you, Tony" as he responded "you're welcome, miss".            

  
----------------------------------------------------

Seventh grade came and went.  I was only caught smoking twice and disciplined
both times.  Dad expressed remorse to the school while playing the "she lost
her mother" card.  It worked pretty well.  Laurie actually got expelled for
three days but that was a fourth offense.  I hated that she and Angie
wouldn't be there for me this coming fall.

Fall was three months away and I intended to use and love every minute of the
summer.  Laurie's mom got bold and allowed us to all smoke right at the pool
without  universal approval.  There was no rule against it and with no board
meeting scheduled until September there wasn't a lot they could do to stop
us.  Unfortunately, Angie's folks got wind of what was going on and forbid
her from smoking.  Feeling like an outsider, by July she seldom frequented
the pool.  De facto, Laurie and I were now best friends.

Dad had been pretty stable for the past number of months and had even spent a
couple of nights out with friends.  One day I suggested to him I'd like to
have a sleepover with Laurie and he was fine with that.  When this really
cute teenager was dropped off at our house with an overnight bag crammed full
of cigarette packs, his interest skyrocketed. Soon the three of us were
sitting in the back yard and he was serving pinot grigio and lighting
cigarettes - and mesmerized by Laurie and her tales.

It didn't take long for him to suggest that perhaps the four of us - meaning
Laurie's mom as the fourth - meet for dinner the next night at Angelo's
(where clearly he knew underage smoking was condoned).

"That would be cool," Laurie responded.  "We love that place because my
brother works there and we get employee rates."  Laurie checked with Liz and
she was up for it as well.  

They came over to our place for a quick pre-dinner drink.  I'd prepared
canapés from one of mom's old recipes and they were well received. The minute
dad laid eyes on Liz I could tell he was interested.  I could tell less about
her reaction.  No one would suggest that Liz and Kate look at all alike, yet
the words used to describe them are the same - small, cute, perky, fun - and
clearly dad quickly did that audit.

Lighting cigarettes every which way and pouring a pair of CC's and a pair of
pinot grigio, he was the dad of two years ago almost instantly and I was
simultaneously delighted and distressed.  I knew that he needed a woman other
than me in his life but that didn't mean it would be easy.  On the other
hand, who could be better than Liz - and maybe Laurie as a step-sister?

Okay, I was way ahead of myself here but not nearly as far as you might
imagine.  We had a second drink, third and fourth cigarettes, and were now a
good thirty minutes late for our reservation.  Liz made a quick call and the
delay was easily handled.  Dad volunteered to drive and did a fine job given
his recent consumption.  This wouldn't be the night for a ticket.

It turns out that the section that Liz and Laurie like is the same one we do
and suddenly the puzzle pieces are falling together.  I just know that that
cute waiter I adore is going to be Laurie's brother.  Can things get any
stranger?  Turns out I'm right but they do get stranger.  It seems I've left
enough of an impression upon Tim that I've been many times described to his
mom and sister.  What a rush that is.

As we're departing, dad suggests to Tim that he drop by after work but he
declines due to a late night jam session for his band.  It's still getting
better - he's a rock dude.  Liz counters with an invitation for us to join
them for dinner at their place the following evening.  Dad is hot and Liz is
clearly warming.    
 
We're all a bit in our cups by the time we get back to the house.  We offer
further drinks which are declined as Liz and Laurie head home.  Dad hugs them
both which is about as out of character as I've ever seen him and then heads
for the CC once in the door.  I decide to accept one light, have another
cigarette or two, and then get some rest.  Tomorrow could be bigger than
today.


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