Hunting Vampires, Part 1

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 03 August 1997)


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Hunting Vampires - I

   Lisa sat across the table from Mark and watched him eat the tail end of his
sandwich the way a vulture watched a dying man.
   As soon as he mouthed that final bite, she would be free to light a
cigarette. She worried her coffee a bit and sighed contentedly as he crammed
two mouthfuls into his goateed maw. That was considerate. He knew she was
waiting politely, after all. She picked up her pack of Marlboro Lights 100s
from the table and lit one.
   There was no relief- just satisfaction as the smoke filled her lungs. She
turned her head and exhaled towards the wall.
   Mark smiled and signalled the waiter for the check.
   It gave Lisa a moment to reflect- this being the longest break in the
conversation all afternoon. When Mark was nervous, he turned into a chatter
box, and boy, was he nervous right now.
   It was a nice thing, owning your own business in the same small town that
you'd grown up in- at least when you were good at what you did. Your clients
were your friends and neighbours and they spread the good word about you. You
also had an opportunity to stay in touch with everyone.
   Lisa inhaled again, watching Mark to see if he was watching her. His eyes
were grey, steely, not really warm unless he wanted them to be. But he did
indeed light up as she pulled smoke into her lungs. Her nose exhale held his
attention as well. That was a start. After debating all week about the favour
he'd asked, she finally decided to help him. But not without a little grief.
   "You don't want to try and date Mindi," she said conversationally.
   He perked up a little more. This was what the meeting was really about,
after all. He had an hurt look on his face, though.
   "Why not ?"
   "Well, first of all there's all those Mark and Mindi jokes. Nanu, nanu and
all that. And you guys would have to move to Colorado."
   "Very funny," Mark said, fully sarcastic. "So, did you find out what she's
doing tonight ?"
   "Well, her date with Brad Pitt fell through, so she's-"
   Lisa found herself hesitating. She knew all about what Mindi liked from
their days at Vassar. In fact, Mindi ending up here in Moncford was the most
bizarre twist of fate Lisa had ever come into contact with. Considering that
she'd grown up in Buffalo, the chance of her best friend landing here was
almost nil.
   "Come on, Lisa. I'm not asking you to set us up. Just tell me where to go,
and I'll do the rest."
   "Okay. But you deserve to know why she's doing what she's doing- and why it
will probably mean you don't have any chance with her."
   "What does she do ? Haunt the graveyard ?"
   Lisa laughed. "That's my Friday night gig, Mark. Frankly though, the vampire
hunting this summer has been a bust. It's been so damn hot. They're lazy
bastards. And most of the older ones are transplanted Euros who spend the
summer vacationing in Spain or France."
   "Seriously, where will she be ?"
   "At MacCleary's-"
   Feigning shock, Mark said "A bar ? Next you'll tell me she drinks. Do her
parents know ?"
   All Lisa could do was laugh.
   "What's so funny ?"
   Her cigarette finished, she lit another. "I was thinking about the first
time they saw her drunk. It was a Friday right after mid-terms and they did
something only parents could be stupid enough to do."
   "The dreaded surprise visit ?"
   "Exactly. We'd gotten into some brandy and we were piss drunk. You how it is
when you close you eyes and the room spins more  than when they were open ?"
   "Unfortunately, yes. Never ask me if I'd like a vermouth. I still don't know
what the hell it is- except vomit fuel."
   "It must have been about two-thirty. They'd broken down on the Taconic and
lost about four hours. Mindi and I are laying on our beds, trying to decide
whether or not we're going to live to see our grades posted when they show up
at our door."
   "And of course this is the first time they've seen their daughter drunk,
right ?"
   "Exactly," Lisa said. She paused to smoke, knowing that she had Mark's full
attention. Again, she watched for his reaction as she inhaled. Of course,
watching her smoke was hardly a novelty for Mark, who had- as the dreaded
saying went- always been like a brother to her. He seemed to appreciate the
show only vaguely, but he'd always been an understated sort of guy.  
   Her nose exhale caused him to squirm in his chair slightly, and not from
discomfort. Well, that would make all this easier.
   "They were pretty burnt out from the drive and the problems with the car. To
be honest, they were very cool about it. They just sat down on our couch and
lit up- which would have been fine, because the only thing we weren't too
drunk to do was smoke. But her father lit up this awful cigar- it was like
two lincoln logs taped together, and that's about what it smelled like he was
burning. It was a good thing they only stayed a few minutes before heading
off to their hotel."
   "So," Mark said, sipping at his coffee as though he might be able to make it
last all afternoon. "she goes to a bar and drinks on Friday night. And based
on this, you think it would be a bad idea for me to-"
   "Stalk her- " Lisa said, feeling a bit defensive. She inhaled deeply on the
shrinking cigarette and exhaled angrily in his direction, sending a tight
stream of smoke at his smiling face. Her aim, as always, was accurate. He
didn't flinch, but he didn't exactly look happy either as the cloud broke
against him.
   "I don't want to stalk her. Jeesh, by now you should know me, for Christ's
sake. I don't have the balls to stalk anyone. Look, what's the big mystery
here ? She's attractive, she's single, and you told me she's not dating
anyone. So what's the catch ?"
   "The catch is that she's not just going to the bar to toss back a beer.
She's going to do a very specific sort of people watching."
   "Oh, I see, and I don't fall into whatever narrow parametre you're going to
tell me she's looking for."
   Lisa smiled and exhaled slowly, letting the smoke surround them. She waved
to a mother and her two teenager daughters who'd just come in and sat down at
the other end of the smoking section. She'd met them a few weeks ago right
here and since then she'd seen them just about everywhere. They smiled and
lit cigarettes and the mother gave Lisa an 'Is he yours ?' look. She shook
her head fractionally and answered Mark's question, hoping it would put an
end to all this.
   "Exactly. You see, she's looking for men who smoke, and since you don't, you
don't have any chance with her."
   "How do you know ?" he pressed.
   "Well, I've known you for fifteen years. You don't smoke-"
   "No. I mean-"
   "I lived with her for four years in college. I know exactly what she does
and doesn't like, Mark. Trust me on this."
   He thought about for a moment, and Lisa could see that this was not likely
to get easy any time soon. He had that determined look in his eyes, mixed
with some sort of outrageous scheming. Before he even spoke she knew exactly
what it was he was going to ask her, and she wondered what was that was wrong
with men. They just didn't get it sometimes.
   "Teach me to smoke, then," he said, not seeming to care if that seemed like
an extreme length to go to just to pick up somebody.
   "Mark- be sensible."
   He shook his head angrily, as though he already was. "You taught Amanda to
smoke."
   "That was different."
   He frowned, tried to turn it into a smile as the waiter passed him the
check, and then angrily slapped his wallet down. "Don't tell me this is some
sort of a woman thing, Lisa."
   She tapped the ash from her cigarette and looked at it. It was hard to
believe that something which had brought her so much pleasure over the years
was now causing a problem.
   "I've known her since we were little. We'd talked about smoking so many
times that I knew she wanted to smoke long before she did. You're not like
that. You're just doing what guys always do- which is anything they think
they have to-"
   "Is there anything wrong with that ?" Mark asked, interrupting her
brusquely.
   "I suppose not. But you're just not someone who strikes me as a smoker,
that's all. Especially when that's not going to guarantee you anything."
   He picked up her pack of cigarettes as if he was planning to take one and
light it. She reached out and took it back, letting her hand rest on his for
a moment.
   "What, you can't share ? Let's go to the store and get some, then."
   It was obvious that he wasn't going to take no for an answer.
   "It's just not that simple. Walking into the Gas 'n Go and buying a pack of
cigarettes doesn't make you a smoker. And I'm not interested in teaching you
how just so can get into-"
   "How about we make a deal, then ? Even if Mindi shoots me down in the first
ten seconds, I'll promise you to smoke for at least a month."
   Lisa decided now was as good a time as any to give into her friend. "Fine.
But that means you and I are going to spending a lot of time together. I
intend to see that you start smoking for real."
   "Fine. So tell me, how'd you start ? Didn't you just walk into the store and
buy a pack ?"
   "I was fourteen, Mark. I stole them from my Mom until she caught me and
decided that it was easier to buy them for me. Now I know your mom smokes,
but I don't think you want to start stealing from her now."
   "She's in Boston at a conference. I'd never make it back to MacCleary's in
time."
   Lisa finally allowed herself to relax. At least she was going to get
something out of this, no matter what happened.

   They did not go to the Gas 'n Go to buy cigarettes. After deciding they both
had free afternoons, which was at best half-true, Lisa admitted to herself
that she was going to need some help with this, that deciding what to do and
how to do it were one thing, but-
   What she really couldn't decide was what brand Mark should smoke. It seemed
like a silly thing to get hung up on, but it was an issue. She knew that
Mindi liked variety and she preferred men who didn't smoke the same brand as
she did. Which meant Lisa's own Marlboro 100s Lights were out, which
complicated things.
   There was also the question of what brand he would like.
   She had no way to know that- even to know if he would like it at all. But
she knew someone who might just be able to help in that department. 
   It was a long drive to the mall, the better part of an hour each way- if
there was one thing about Moncford which could be annoying it was that
everything seemed to be almost an hour away. But the drive would give them a
chance to talk, which was for the best. Lisa wanted to make absolutely sure
that Mark was really going to be able to follow through on this.
   "Why can't I just have one of your cigarettes ?" he asked as she lit her
first of the drive. As soon as she'd gotten in the car, she'd lowered the
window and opened the sunroof in anticipation of the unbridled joy of smoking
in her own car- one of the great pleasures of life. But she'd waited until
they were on the road to light up because Moncford's tight winding roads
weren't well suited to driving with one and an half hands.
   "Because if you can't handle it, you'll yak all over my plush leather
interior, and this car is worth more than both of us put together."
   He frowned again. "At least roll up the windows so I can get used to the
smoke."
   "It doesn't work that way. And even I prefer to have the windows down. One
of the things you'll learn is that smoking outside is even more enjoyable
than smoking inside. Wait 'til wintertime. Some cold day will come and you'll
get a chance to light up outside and you'll wish it would never be summer
again."
   "You know, I've been thinking and I just realised that this isn't the first
time I've had a crush on a teacher who smoked."
   Interested, Lisa asked who that might of been. Each word was carried on a
thick cloud of smoke, deepening her voice in a way she'd come to love.
   "Ms. Christenson."
   Lisa burst into uproarious laughter, which came to an abrupt halt when she
very nearly let the car drift off the road.
   "What the hell is so funny ?" Mark demanded.
   "Two things," Lisa said, recovering her composure. "First, I always wondered
what your deal with her was. You had that crush on her junior year, right ?"
   "Yeah. So ?"
   "I'd be going out to the smoking lounge to have my first cigarette and
there'd be the two of you, walking across the street to the deli. That
started about two weeks after I had my run in with her. But you never said
anything about it, and you used to talk to me about girls all the time."
   "She wasn't a girl," Mark said defensively. "What's the second thing that's
so fucking funny you have to almost kill us ?"
   "I was the one who got her to start smoking again."
   "What ?"
   "She quit when she got the job at Moncford High. She was afraid that she was
going to be denied tenure if she smoked because she'd be setting a bad
example- at least until I told her that Principal Thorton smoked. But I'm
getting way ahead of myself."
   "The principal smoked ? She was like, such an hard ass."
   "I guess you should know. You used to get sent to the office once a week for
fighting- I never understood that either, even when you explained. You seemed
like a magnet for assholes."
   "Everyone was jealous," Mark quipped, "of my good looks."
   "Right. But didn't you ever wonder why you never actually sent into
Thorton's office. I remember coming out of there once and she came out behind
me at sat down on the couch across from you and started chewing you out."
   "That was the time you got suspended for a week for smoking in a classroom,
right ?"
   "It was raining outside and I was having a long talk with Julie Weatherburg
about some boy she had a crush on. I never imagined that janitor was going to
come into the room to empty the trash. I was so mad."
   "Well, so you got called into her private digs- why'd I get my lecture in
the main office ?"
   "The only people who actually got called into the office were the ones who
got caught smoking. She figured it didn't matter if they knew she smoked. I
guess when you're the principal, you can do whatever you want- even smoke in
your office- to a point."
   "So," Mark said, "what's this about you getting Ms. Christenson to smoke ?"
   "Well, we have some time to kill, so..."
   
   Lisa walked out the front doors of the school and smiled. Fittingly for
January, it was almost bitterly cold. It had snowed most of the day and
couldn't have been more than about -10 C.
   In other words, it was a perfect day to walk home.
   She paused long enough to light the first cigarette of the rest of the day
and it was a sweet as she had hoped. It was almost a shame that summer was
coming. The smoke seemed more voluminous, more expansive as it entered her
lungs. The coolness of the smoke in her mouth was undeniable.
   Ms. Christenson walked out the doors and walked over to where Lisa was
standing. She didn't say anything. She just watched Lisa smoke, a knowing
smile on her face.
   At first, Lisa smiled back, but as the pause lengthened, she began to be
wigged out a little by the woman's silence. Finally, trying to break the ice,
she said "Great class today, Ms C.."
   "Is that all you have to say for yourself, Lisa ?"
   "It's kind of cold today, isn't it ?" she added, fishing with her B
material.
   "I'm afraid it's about to get even colder. You'll be serving a day of
in-school suspension tomorrow, and I hear the heat isn't working down in the
Mouth."
   Lisa let the shock show on her face. Oh, technically, the rules were pretty
straight-forward. The only place students could smoke at any time on school
grounds was the smoking lounge- Lisa had the detentions and suspensions on
her record to prove it. But she'd never gotten into it for smoking outside
the school, especially this time of year. A day in the Mouth for this was
unheard of.
   "Ms C.-" Lisa pleaded, sure this was a misunderstand.
   Amy leaned closer to Lisa just as she exhaled, getting herself caught in the
sweet smell of the smoke. Lisa noticed immediately that the young teacher
didn't seem to mind in the least.
   "Look, I don't want to give you a day in the Mouth for this, but basically
what I was told in mid-year review was that unless I showed more of a stomach
for discipline, I was going to have an hard time getting tenure."
    This was more than Lisa wanted to know, and to be honest, she had no idea
why Ms. C. had shared this information. 
   "What ? They gave you a detention quota ?"
   Amy laughed. "You'd be surprised. Why do you think I've been patrolling the
bathrooms all week. They looked at my record and found out I haven't given
out a single detention all year. A day of in-school suspension will really
help me out. Look, I'll make it up to you. I'll give you a ride home."
   "Actually, I like to walk home. So I can smoke."
   "In this cold ?" she asked.
   "It's perfect smoking weather," Lisa answered. 
   "I-" Lisa would have sworn she'd started to say "I know", but instead she
finished the thought with "-let's get going. You live off Fairlawn Lane,
right ?"
   Lisa nodded and moved to put out her cigarette in the sand bucket, which was
now a snow bucket.
   "Don't bother. You got snagged, you might as well enjoy it."
   The girl inhaled sharply on the cigarette, savouring the clean taste of
smoke and winter air as they walked towards Amy's well-travelled Volvo. Lisa
hesitated outside the car as Amy started it up, then the teacher rolled down
the window and said "Get in. It's going to start snowing any minute now. I
don't car if you smoke in the car."
   As soon as Lisa got into the Volvo, she noticed the smell of old smoke. This
was a smoker's car. She knew the scent well from her own family's cars.
   She kept the window down and politely blew her smoke out the window. But she
thought back to the way Amy had watched her as she smoked, tested the smell
of the car one more time and decided to take a chance.
   "You used to smoke, didn't you ?" she asked, turning to look at her teacher
as she prepared to pull out of the parking lot onto Route 138.
   "What makes you say that ?" she asked, her tone hostile and defensive. But
she didn't deny it.
   "The smell of your car. Both my parents smoke and this is exactly how their
cars smell. It's exactly how my car is going to smell, once I can convince
Dad to buy me one."
   Amy turned right onto the road. Just then it began snowing. Or rather
blizzarding. Within seconds it was like a white out. Amy never took her eye
off the road but she didn't panic either. She just flipped on her lights and
slowed to a comforting twenty miles an hour.
   "Yes. I used to smoke."
   "Why did you quit ?" Lisa asked. She'd discovered as soon as she'd started
smoking that she very interested in way other people did or didn't smoke- in
fact, it always came as a complete surprise when someone told her they'd
never even thought of trying it. A chance to find out why this pretty young
teacher had quit wasn't something to be passed up.
   "Simple. I want to get tenure. Smoking is one of those things which the
administration might use against me- a bad influence and all that."
   "But Mrs. Thorton smokes- right in her office."
   "So I've heard. But Mrs. Thorton is the principal. She can strip naked and
sing Elton John songs all day if she wants as long as she's behind that
door."
   "She doesn't do that, does she ?" Lisa asked jokingly.
   "I don't know. I've never been in her office. Damn, it's snowing hard."
   "Do you miss it ?"
   "Snow ? Not at the moment."
   "I mean smoking. Do you miss smoking ?"
   For the first time, Amy took her eyes off the road. Just for a second. But
Lisa could tell from her look that she missed smoking quite a bit.
   "Of course. I started when I was twelve- oh, I know, that must sound awful-"
   Lisa shook her head, took a long drag on her cigarette, and exhaled
gracefully- this time not bothering to guide the smoke out the open window.
"It sounds perfectly normal. I mean, i was fourteen, but I wish I had started
when I was twelve."
   "Well, it wasn't like I smoked much. My older sister Diana used to let me
sneak one every day. It was like a game, when would we have a chance for me
to smoke without anyone noticing. But after about six months, I got to a
point where one cigarette a day wasn't enough. God, I can't believe I'm
talking about this with a student. If anyone found out-"
   "Your secret dies with me," Lisa said, her nose exhale now aimed ever so
slightly in Amy's direction.
   "Okay. That's a comfort. So anyway, two became four, and well, by my
fourteenth birthday I'd been smoking about thirteen months and was getting
tired of relying on my sister. She'd gone to summer camp for a week and I was
crawling the walls by the third day. There's mom, smoking all day and me
without a single cigarette. I don't know why, but the thought of just
pinching one never came into my head."
   She was silent for moment as she negotiated the slippery road. Lisa finished
her cigarette and hesitated to light another until Amy told her it was all
right.
   "So, my sister comes back the day after my birthday. I was miserable. I
begged her to buy me my own pack. She got all weird about it and walked out
of my room. I just sat there, moping, reading Jane Eyre and wondering what
she was going to do."
   Lisa lit her cigarette and inhaled sharply. She carefully exhaled in a way
which spread the smoke throughout the car. Amy seemed to almost smile as the
smoke engulfed her.
   "All of the sudden my mother walks into my room and sits down. She's
carrying her cigarettes and an ashtray. That told me something bad was up.
She only smoked in my room when she was planning on having a long
conversation and the last time had been when she told me that dad was taking
a job in Europe for two years- without us. So I get all nervous."
   The snow was so heavy now that Lisa was beginning to worry. She had no idea
how good a driver Amy was or wasn't and home was still two miles of twisting
road away. Not to mention the final hill down to the house.
   "She lit a cigarette, blew smoke all over the room in that way of hers, and
said 'So, young lady, I hear you want to start smoking. Now don't get mad at
your sister. I'm disappointed as it is that you couldn't bring yourself to
tell me, not to mention that you've been sneaking around- although that's
Diana's fault. Sometimes she thinks you're the live action doll she never
had.'"
   "Well, at this point I think I'm in deep shit- pardon me. I couldn't speak.
Mom, she's never had that problem."
   "'I didn't let Diana start until she was sixteen, so what do you think that
means ?'"
   "I thought I knew. I can't smoke until I'm sixteen, I said."
   "Mom smiled. It was a real icebreaking smile. 'No, it means she waited two
years longer than you did to get around to wanting to smoke.' I couldn't
believe what she was saying. 'If you want to smoke, that's fine with me. But
there are some conditions. It seems no one really minds that we let Diana
start at sixteen, but I have a feeling that letting you start at fourteen
would turn into an issue. So no smoking in public, no bragging to your
friends or showing off. You can smoke at home as much as you'd like, but
that's it until you get a little older. How does that sound ?'"
   "It sounded great, and I said so. I couldn't believe she was going to let me
smoke."
   "'What brand do you like ?' she asked. She was so casual, so cool about it.
I developed another whole layer of respect for her. That probably sounds
terrible, too-"
   "My mother let me start when I was fourteen, so I think it sounds perfectly
normal," Lisa said.
   "I'd been smoking the same cigarettes you do. I told her that as she seemed
relieved. 'Good. It will look less suspicious if I don't have to buy two
different brands. Like I said, for everyone's sake, I'd like to keep this
quiet for while.' With that, she just walked out of the room- leaving the
cigarettes, her lighter, and the ashtray behind. I smoked from then until the
day I started teaching here."
   "Don't you sneak cigarettes at home or something ?" Lisa asked, finding it
hard to believe that Amy had given them up all together.
   "No. I could never quit for real if I did that."
   "Too bad. For you, anyway. Jesus, it's snowing hard."
   It was snowing hard, so hard that Amy could no longer afford to talk, except
to confirm directions once or twice. Little did she know that Lisa was
already hatching a plan which would have her smoking by the end of the night.
The girl used the silence to think, which was very dangerous for the young
teacher- depending on point of view.
   An inch of snow fell in the first ten minutes, another in the next five. By
the time they reached the entrance to the road Lisa lived on, the girl was
feeling just guilty enough about what she was about to do that she asked Amy
if she wouldn't really rather just let her off here.
   Amy looked at Lisa strangely, as though the last thing on her mind was
whether or not she'd be able to get the world's safest car back up her steep,
winding road. 	
   In fact, the teacher had a decidedly sheepish look on her face. "I was
hoping that- I hate to impose, but I live at the top of a very long and
twisting road. I'll never get home in this. Would you mind-"
   "If you could wait out the storm at our house ? Sure thing."
   Lisa's eager acquiescence might have worried another woman, but the truth
was-
   Amy left herself unacquainted with that truth.
   The trip down that unnamed road was more than nightmarish enough to convince
both of them that Amy was going nowhere else in the near future. The car
lurched and slid drunkenly, sluicing and cut through tight turns with a mind
only vaguely influenced by its driver. Finally, after twenty minutes of Amy
using every trick in the book to avoid trees, ditches, boulders, and other
obstacles, she twisted her way into the driveway, coming to a lurching 270
degree spinning halt.
   "Cool," Lisa crowed, but Amy wasn't of a mind to agree. She was sweating
heavily and panting, her nerves shot. But when Lisa hugged her
enthusiastically, careful to turn her cigarette away from Any's long blonde
hair, the teacher responded. She then started to cry, half from exhaustion
and half from relief.
   It lasted only a few seconds, and then both women slipped into their
assigned roles.
   They were both of a mind to get into the house as quickly as possible. The
snow was still getting worse and there was no question where Amy would be for
the night. Lisa lost her cigarette to the heavy snow and high wind as they
slogged for the door. She half-expected her mother to fling the door open as
they raced up the steps, but she wasn't waiting.
   Instead she was by the fireplace, trying to get a fire going, no easy task
with the wind from the storm driving down the chimney.
   "I thought you'd end up getting stuck at school, Lisa," her mother said,
turning her head for just a brief moment. "I see you brought company. Make
yourself at home, Ms. Christenson. I'll be through her in a few minutes."
   Amy nudged Lisa. "You didn't tell me that your mother was one of the school
board members."
   "You didn't ask," Lisa said, just as her mother got the fire roaring. She
then settled back on the hearth, took one of the long fireplace matches and
held it to the fire until it caught, and then used it to light her Virginia
Slims 100. Lisa walked over to her and gladly took a light from the same
match.
   "Do you smoke ?" Kelli asked, knowing full well that Amy didn't.
   "No, but I don't mind if you do," Amy said, the encouragement in her voice
making it sound as though she very much wanted them to smoke.
   "Ms. C-"
   "Amy," the teacher corrected.
   "Amy used to smoke, until she came to Moncford, Mom," Lisa said, matching
her mother's inhale with a deep one of her own which brought back extremely
pleasant memories for Amy. Lisa noticed once again that her teacher was-
quite openly now- watching her smoke. This was going to be easy, she decided.
   "Really ?" the school board member asked archly. "And tell me, Amy, what
made you decide to quit ?"
   Amy thought about answering the question honestly, but her curiosity was
overwhelming her.
   "Your name is Hamilton, right ?"
   "Yes," Kelli said. She was used to this line of questioning from out of
towners, so she understood the woman's confusion. "And Lisa is a MacDonough.
When I married Richard, I kept my maiden name because of my father's
construction business. It's always been in the Hamilton family. Speaking of
which, it's girl's night in. Richard is stuck in Concord, submitting a bid on
the new National Bank building. I knew it would storm. Every time he goes
down there-"
   Lisa decided to help Amy out.
   "Ms. C- Amy- quit smoking because she was afraid that it would affect her
chances of getting tenure." She giggled as she finished saying this and Kelli
began laughing. In fact, she laughed so long and hard that Amy's feeling
began to bruise. Finally, the young teacher could take all the mirth no more
and demanded to know what was so funny, her voice carrying a perfectly stern
teacher's tone.
   Kelli left her cigarette in her mouth, not allowing it to dangle lazily, but
rather talking around it while holding it tightly in one place. She ticked
items off on her fingers.
   "Let's see. Superintendent Griswald smokes. The high school principal
smokes. Of the eight members on the school board, seven admit that they smoke
and the eighth one sneaks around as if the rest of us don't know. And you
were worried someone might not look kindly on the fact that you smoke ?" She
took a long pull on the cigarette and removed it from her mouth.
   "Well, in some school districts-"
   "Yes, in some," Kelli said, her nose exhale mixing pleasantly with the wood
smoke in a way which reminded Amy of a weekend she'd spent at a ski lodge
last winter. The snow had been wet and slow, but then again, no one had gone
there to ski-
   "Haven't you ever wondered why Moncford doesn't have any anti-smoking
campaign, why we have a smoking lounge at the high school ?"
   Lisa smiled. "Actually, the whole reason that I was lucky enough to get a
ride home from Amy was that she caught me smoking on the school grounds. She
was-" Lisa emphasised the word, "-going to give me a day of in-school-"
   "Damn state board of ed dictates. We have to enforce the smoking rules or we
get shit from the capital about it. You know, any of the other teachers could
have told you-"
   Just then, the power went out and the room was bathed in the yellow-orange
glow of the fire. It was a warm romantic sort of light, enhancing the
pleasant memories of a time when Amy had smoked without fear of censure- the
better half of her life, she admitted silently.
   "I haven't really made any friends on staff. All the women in my department
spend their free periods smoking and drinking coffee in the teacher's lounge."

   "Coffee and cigarettes are the prerogative of school teachers world over.
Don't you ever go out ?"
   "Everyone smokes, Kelli. I don't have the willpower to be around smokers all
the time." She thought about what she was doing- about how miserable the last
four months had been, and added "I want to smoke so badly."
   "Something like that," Lisa said smartly, "could have a terrible effect on
your teaching."
   "And here you thought my brooding freshman teacher act was natural, eh ?"
   "Beer or wine ?" Kelli asked Amy.
   "I don't know. I've read it harder to stay away from smoking if you drink. A
few beers and you offer me a cigarette, I might not be able to say no."
   "Exactly. So, which will it be ?"
   "Beer," Amy said, and Lisa chimed in that would be fine with her as well.
Kelli disappeared into the kitchen and Lisa slid closer to her teacher.
   "There's no reason for you to wait until you get tipsy to start smoking
again."
   She crushed her cigarette out in the ashtray and took two from her pack.
   "Don't you usually just have one at a time ?" Amy asked, teasing.
   Lisa talked around the two cigarettes in her mouth. "Well, I might need some
help with the second one ."
   "I might be able to do something about that," Amy decided aloud.
   Lisa lit the two cigarettes and inhaled just deeply enough to get both of
them started. She took one out of her mouth and held it out to Amy. Kelli
stood in the dining room and watched unseen as Amy tried to decide whether or
not to accept her student's offering.
   "You know, this isn't an easy decision," Amy said, looking at the burning
cigarette. "I mean, quitting was the hardest thing I ever did. It might also
have been the dumbest, but-"
   Lisa took the other cigarette from her mouth and sat there on the floor
crossed legged, a cigarette in each hand, smiling.
   "Smoking one cigarette doesn't make you a smoker, Amy. You know that."
   "You've never seen me smoke. If I take that cigarette from your hand, I will
be a smoker again. That's the way that I want it to be. Once I take a single
puff on that cigarette, I will be a smoker again."
   "And the problem is-"
   "There isn't a problem." Amy reached out with her long, slim fingers and
took the cigarette from Lisa with only a vague sort of hesitation. She held
it between her fingers unmoving for some stretch of time, and then finally
brought it to her lips slowly, deliberately, as though the action was of
momentous proportion.
   Perhaps it was. She'd made one decision that she thought would help secure
her future, and now she was making another, one which would allow her to be
happy again.
   Lisa understood what Amy meant as soon as she inhaled. The look of peace was
undeniable. After months of war, she'd finally reached a settlement which
appeared to return sanity. She smiled and held the smoke deep in her lungs
long enough for Kelli to walk back into the room holding a tray.
   "I see you didn't need the beer after all."
   Amy exhaled, a long steady stream of milky white. As the smoke swirled in
the heat of the fire she inhaled again, deeper, and held it again for a slow,
measured nose exhale.
   "Thank you, Lisa."
   "It's what you wanted from the minute I got in the car, isn't it ?"
   Amy smiled sheepishly, understanding how transparent it must have been.
   "Try from the minute I saw you on the steps and you're on to something."

   "I guess I have a lot to thank you for," Mark said.
   "Oh," Lisa sighed, blowing smoke into the cabin of the car so that Mark
could enjoy it, "You're just saying that so that I'll feel better about what
I'm doing."
   "No. I'd forgotten all about it. While your story is a little fantastic-"
   "My yearbook is on the back seat. Go ahead and see what Amy wrote."
   "Why is your yearbook in the car ?"
   "Mindi wanted to see it. Go ahead and take a peek."
   Mark did as he was told, reaching into the back seat. He turned to the page
Amy was on with a speed that Lisa couldn't help but notice.
   'Lisa,
   Thanks for getting me to start smoking again. I can't tell you how much
happier I've been. It's been a great year and an half. Good luck at Vassar.
Stay in touch.
   Love,
   Amy.'
   "You should see what she wrote in my yearbook," Mark said with a sly grin.
   "What does that mean ? And were you really attracted to her because she
smoked ?"
   "I remember the first day I started talking to her," Mark replied, his smile
spreading. "It was dead winter time- the week after the storm. I walked out
into the freezing cold- out the side door there- and she was just standing
there, her back huddled against the wind. I couldn't figure out what she
doing, and to be honest, I didn't care. I'd never thought twice about her."
   "You could have fooled me," Lisa said.
   "Well, once I started, I couldn't stop. Anyway, I walked past her and I saw
that she had a long white cigarette in her mouth. It wouldn't light. The wind
was really ripping and she couldn't get a light. So I walked over to her,
cupped my hands, and she was able to catch a light."
   "Just like you used to do for me- except that I had to beg you for help."
   "I never had a crush on you," Mark teased, not saying it meanly and not
quite catching the look on Lisa's face. "But the moment I saw her inhaling
from that cigarette, I- it was like she was suddenly a different person."
   "She was," Lisa said, inhaling herself and once again filling the car with
smoke.
   "All of the sudden this question about for 'Whom the Bell Tolls' popped into
my head. I asked, and she answered by asking me if I was going to the deli. I
was so surprised she'd noticed that I was a deli luncher- but the hard part
was trying to come up with some dumb question every freaking day."
   "So what did she write in your yearbook ? Thanks for the ham ?"
   "The salami, maybe," Mark quipped.
   "What ?" Lisa demanded. It wasn't too hard to diagnose what that comment
meant.
   "You don't want to hear the explanation."
   Lisa finished the cigarette and found herself needing another one, given
where the conversation was leading. But the highway was under construction
and had narrowed down to two very tight lines hemmed in by concrete barriers.
The road was heavily sloped and it was a little bit like an amusement park
ride gone bad.
   "Can you light a cigarette for me, Mark ?"
   "Sure," he said. She rolled up the windows and although she wanted to watch
him do it, she found herself unable to take her eyes off the turning road.
She heard the snickt of the lighter and he quickly handed her the burning
cigarette. She transferred it to her left hand and rolled the windows back
down. After she got one good inhale in she asked him to tell her what she
didn't want to hear.
   "Remember I worked that summer in the National park as a junior ranger ?"
   "I really thought that was the queerest thing- 'junior rangers.'"
   "Well, I was pulling down 260 a week take home. How do you think I was able
to afford that first Mac of mine ?"
   "I thought you asked your parents like I did."
   "No. They wanted to buy me a car- so I let them. But that's not the point of
the story."
   "You're not telling me that you and Ms. C-"
   "We used to meet in the park. There was an entire section that was mine to
patrol. Like anything ever happened. They gave me a few acres on the farthest
end of the park- it was practically inaccessible to anyone who didn't know it
was there. Amy and I became friends during the winter and spring and
eventually-"
   Lisa exhaled smoke into the cabin, glad to see it drift in Mark's direction.
He drank it in and that was a good sign. Whether he was making a conscious
effort or not, he seemed to be enjoying spending time both with her and her
smoke.
   "All this because you saw her smoking one day- and you never mentioned this
to the person you used to ride bitterly about her smoking ?" Lisa asked,
letting a little hurt into her voice.
   "Don't take this the wrong way, but you were always so full of yourself
about the fact that everyone accepted your smoking so naturally. Like the day
you were named May Queen and you talked them into having the coronation
outside in the smoking lounge. You stood there on the podium, the sun
gleaming in your hair- you really were so beautiful that day-"
   "And I'm not now ?"
   "You are, and you know it. But you stood there in the breeze, smoking a
cigarette and- you really didn't say much. You looked like someone who was
just using this outdoor love fest to show the whole world that you were a
smoker."
   "That was exactly what I was doing. Remember how there were three other
girls in the court. Gina, Margaret, and Pam. Well, Pam didn't smoke back
then. We'd be after her for weeks to start. The school was renting us a limo
and we'd been told that we couldn't smoke in it unless all four of us were
smokers. I know, that must sound silly now-"
   "You got your way. I remember that Pam smoked all night at the dance. That's
exactly why I used to tease you. You always got your way. It was so easy. I
was just-"
   "I know. Bringing me back down to earth." The construction zone ended and
Mark and Lisa's eyes met. She was in the midst of a picture perfect nose
exhale which reminded him exactly what conversation they'd been having.
   "I can't believe I had forgotten about all this. There was something so- I
don't know, when she smoked, something-"
   "Sexual ?"
   "Exactly. Well, we used to meet there. I mean, it started innocently enough.
You know, a walk over to the deli together. A walk back. In between we'd
pretend to do other things- at least I would. I think at first I was just
hanging on, but by the summer time she was interested too. I don't remember
exactly how it started. But she'd meet me on my little private parcel of
land. It was always early. I think she sleeps a few hours a night, tops.
Always in the same place. She'd be backlit by the sun, the mist would be
coming up off the water and the smoke from her cigarette would be drifting in
the moist hot morning air. The sun would catch it and there would seem to be
so much of it, as though she could have filled the world with it if she
chose. The taste of it in her mouth was so sweet-"
   "You were right," Lisa said, cutting him off. "I did not want to hear this.
What I want to know is how you keep this a secret. I mean, you didn't brag to
one of your guy friends-"
   Her exhales were now being almost entirely contained within the car, and
Mark seemed to hardly notice. She'd snuck the windows halfway up and not only
did he not mind, but he seemed to be breathing deeper and more slowly.
   "I promised her that I would never tell anyone. As you've discussed, her
tenure was at stake. That's why it didn't carry past the summer. And why
would I tell any of my guy friends when I didn't tell you ?"
   Lisa trimmed her cigarette out the window and inhaled deeply. She spoke
through the exhale, her voice throaty and dangerous. "Because-"
   "Because you're the closest guy friend I had."
   "Oh, I swear, if you don't take that back, I'm turning this fucking car
around and going home- and I'll leave you on the side of the road."
   Mark couldn't really understand what would make her so upset about-
   That wasn't true. He'd been 'like a brother' enough times to understand it
perfectly.
   "Sorry, Lisa. That was just a clumsy use of the english language. But you
know that we were always able to talk to one another because-"
   "We were never attracted to one another. But that doesn't mean I thought of
myself as one of the guys."
   "Look, it was a dumb thing to say."
   They didn't talk for a while. Lisa smoked quietly and concentrated on
weaving through the staggered traffic- there was no worse time to be out on
the roads than in the early afternoon when the silver set rolled out their
Lincoln Towncars and Buicks and cruised the roads as though they were driving
Model T's.
   Finally, sensing that Mark was almost too embarrassed to talk, she broke the
ice. "It's ironic in a way. I guess I have to believe that you were first
attracted to Ms. C because she smoked, and now, eight years later, you're
attracted to another young, new teacher who smokes. And they're good
friends."
   "Good friends ?" Mark asked sheepishly. It was the reaction Lisa had hoped
for. She was fine with him squirming a little.
   "Yes. When Mindi came here the first thing I did was introduce her to Amy-
we've gotten to be friends. I figured she could take Mindi under her wing and
it was a nice way for me to bring together two of my old friends. By the time
they were making their New Year's resolutions- Mindi gives up coffee every
January first- and it never lasts a week- they were pretty tight."
   "Well, Amy promised she would never-"
   "So did you, and you told me-"
   "Shit," Mark exclaimed. Suddenly, his nervousness was back, in full force.
And Lisa was loving it.
   "Tell me where we're going again-"


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