The coughing started almost immediately, uncontrollably. I covered my mouth with both hands. Lochlan put his hand on my back and waited patiently. Then he handed me his bottle of pop and told me to drink it. I drank some and started coughing again. He thumped my back twice, gently and then rubbed it hard. I twisted away from him.
So the second I look away you decide to try cigarettes for the first time?
No, I was...choking. Ate a peanut. I look down. Such a bad liar.
My hair is burning. It gives me away. He uses his hands to put it out. It smokes. Just the one lock that was still sitting in the ashtray that I dropped the cigarette on when I began to cough.
Nice, Bridget. Light yourself on fire trying to sneak a drag. I love the smell of burning hair. He makes a funny face at me. His features are goofy, elastic.
Sorry. (Said between fits of coughing and laughing)
Nine is too young to smoke, okay?
When did you start?
This year. He laughs. But I only have one a week. Sometimes. He leans back and hooks his hands into his pockets, assuming a casual stance. He instantly becomes the coolest teenager I know. He was anyway. I cough again.
Drink some more and don't ever do that again. I will show you how to do it right in five years.
Yes. When you're as old as I am now. Fifteen.
The day I turned fifteen, I walked to Lochlan's. I had stolen a cigarette from Cole's pack the night before and hidden it in the case with my sunglasses. I knocked on the door and Lochlan opened it and said Happy Birthday, peanut! He reached out and pulled me into his arms. He remains by far the most affectionate of all the boys even though we've been broken up for almost a year and I go out with Cole now. But Cole is too busy being insane. Lochlan grounds me. He always has time for me even though if you ask him he will point out all of my flaws and no one can argue with that. It doesn't bother me much since I know he's lying. It will bother me in a few years but not right now. Little has changed for us, honestly.
He kisses my forehead hard and tells me he just woke up.
Perfect timing. I want to learn to smoke, Locket. I pull out the case and hold up the cigarette.
What? No, Bridget.
You promised. I drop between us like a divide. It rests up against the other promises that will take the rest of our lives to play out.
I did, didn't I? But you've been smoking here and there, what am I supposed to teach you exactly?
How to like it.
If you don't like it don't do it.
But I want to look cool!
You do. He stands there and smiles and breaks my cigarette in two. I frown at his expression. I don't understand what they see. Maybe it's the vantage point. I stopped growing at twelve and can't see the world from up where they can. Lochlan kept growing and is way taller now at eighteen. The view up there must be better somehow.
He is standing outside on the patio, one hand jammed into his pocket for warmth, shoulders hunched, shivering slightly. It hasn't been a warm March here. He takes a drag as I hand him his coffee and says thanks.
How is quitting going?
He holds it out, offering me a drag. I decline. Cigarettes give me massive headaches. That and I am no longer determined to look cool. I don't think I ever managed it a day in my life so I'll settle for just looking unusual and hopefully still pretty.
As well as ever. One a week or so. He frowns comically which makes me laugh out loud. He is forty-six and a half. He will never change.
Still want to learn to look cool? He asks as he exhales away from me, out the side of his smile.
Yes! Maybe I do still want to learn to pull it off after all.
Okay stand there...relax your shoulders, Bridget. Geez, you stand so tightly. Don't ever try and juggle.
I loosen up and wait.
I smile and wait some more.
There you go. You got it. He winks at me, puts out his cigarette and turns to go inside. I watch him until he disappears and then I see this girl standing in the reflection of the glass doors. She does look cool. Must be the smiling. I hardly ever do it, unless ordered to, or tricked.