Baby I’m smokin’ a cigarette
“Baby I’m smokin’ a cigarette.”
The text glows on the screen of your phone, lighting up the dark bedroom. It’s midnight—well past your bedtime before morning practice. She told you after the third Last Cigarette that this was it. She told you that she was finally ready on her own, finally ready to start good habits and be an adult.
The thing about Lennon is that she makes a lot of promises. Most promises are well-meaning and hopeful, but empty. Other promises come with a catch: after next week I’ll do it, or only if things go this way. Last week she told you that she’d take you to dinner and a movie on Wednesday and you researched every movie on Rotten Tomatoes and picked a cute spot to grab sandwiches before it started. On Wednesday she told you that she had to meet with a professor. It doesn’t bother you that she’s busy or that she is bad at remembering her schedule. It bothers you that recently you can’t rely on anything she says.
You imagine her standing on a street corner with her bummed cigarette, her lips pursed into a pout and her hand on her hip. She takes a drag, her slender fingers holding it tenderly and casually. When she inhales the smoke, the lines around her full eyebrows relax, eyes roll back into their lids, lips turn to a smirk. Slowly, Lennon breathes the smoke into the air in front of her. She smokes like she fucks: deliberately, skillfully, oozing confidence. You hate that it’s attractive. You think about the people around her who double-take as they pass her in the street. The pretty girl wearing all black down to her Docs. Of course there’s a cig in her mouth.
You turn over to face the wall, eyes open. The text followed a stream of others sent by her drunken fingers and received by your sober eyes. Lennon is upset and worried. She’s drunk and probably high too. But she lied. Again. Eyes closing, you fall asleep with frustration burning slowly in your stomach.
A month ago you read the first poem she ever wrote about you. Black pen on white paper—Lennon never uses blue. Scrawled words in short lines. Stanzas creating the story you forgot. It was early on, when you were still nervous to kiss her in public. Lennon was lingering before her walk back home, her eyes pinned on you and her fingers playing with the edge of your sweater. She pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. You pulled back and inhaled. Mind spinning. She smokes? She smokes. She makes you weak, she makes you laugh, she makes you think, but she makes you scared out of your mind.
As you walk away your fingers touched the ticket inside your pocket for a train to Philly next week. Poppy is dying—he’s close to his 90th birthday and you’re going to his party. Your heart doesn’t know yet that he’ll pass on Monday, You’ll never get to tell him about your classes, you never sent him that email that you meant to send. You never told him about Lennon. He died thinking you’re straight.
The poem is beautiful and you hate that you love it. She’s addicted and she needs it—but it’s not the nicotine she wants. When she tells you she chain smokes and listens to Odis Redding as she writes about you, you ask yourself if dating you makes her want to smoke.
Lennon calls you the next morning, her breath slow and steady through the phone as she lays in her bed hungover. Does she even remember the cigarette? You can’t feel your anger, but your sadness seeps into your lungs. You breathe deeply. You hold the tears in. You won’t ask her why. You know she doesn’t get it.
When you’re lying next to her in bed, Lennon’s fingers trace the curve from your ribs to your hips, tiptoeing across your skin. Fingers become a hand, ribs rise as the hand moves across your stomach. When she touches you your skin comes alive, goosebumps standing in attention to every stroke of her fingers. Skin on soft skin, bodies turn into one breath—inhale, exhale, blood filling veins that scream for the drug of choice.
You lay with your eyes searching the ceiling, your heart pounds as you try to slow the pace of the air leaving your lips. Lennon swings her leg over yours, her head rising with your chest. When she exhales it tickles your neck. When she looks at you it’s hard to look back.
One long second. One more inhale—it catches in your throat.
“I can’t ask you to quit smoking. But I can’t be with you if you do.”
Your mouth opens and the words run out. You tell her about your grandpa who died because he couldn’t breathe. After 50 years the cigarettes burned down and the emphysema stayed. You tell her about alcohol. You tell her as you’ve told her before that your dad is an addict. This time, you tell her about your mom. How she has lived with the pain of addiction every day, how she stood by your dad until it just about broke her. You tell her about the genetics. The addiction in your blood and the compulsion in your brain. You tell her you’re scared.
She listens. She breathes. She looks at your eyes—they are filling with the first tears they’ve shed since Poppy passed. Fingers grasp yours and her body inches closer and she’s holding you.
The next night, Lennon changes into your t-shirt before climbing into bed. When she lifts her blouse up, her starfish tattoo is covered by a tiny tan patch. When she slides in next to you she grins. Her lips meet yours in a lingering kiss. When they part, you taste her chapstick. When her head is under yours, her hair smells like clean shampoo. When her hand meets yours you hold out your pinky. Eyes wide she promises with hers, the kiss of the thumb sealing it.
When you put your head back on the pillow, you pull air into your lungs as deep it’ll go. Inhale. Exhale. You breathe as one.
Anonymous, a senior, doesn’t even write short stories. This is her first.