I tapped my soft box of cigarettes against my hand, more for something to do with my hands than to pack the tobacco. As I shuffled to a wall behind us, I wondered what I was doing with my life. Leaning against it, my stomach twinged. I flicked my lighter and inhaled deeply. The comfort of tobacco and cloves flooded my nostrils.
The clove was more pungent than I remembered, but maybe my senses were more heightened than usual because the gold cellophane wrapped around the box seemed to shimmer in the dull light.
I tried not to think of what I was leaving behind but to the future. The great unknown I was throwing myself into. The smell of my cigarette reminded me of the first day I had smoked.
I had cut history class and walked to a cemetery near campus. The air was crisp, cutting through my jacket then, just as it did now. I had found a sprawling tree to sit under and watched a burial a few feet away.
Vee had seen me that day. I hadn’t known her yet. We barely spoke, but we shared that cigarette like it was the last one on Earth. She had snatched my phone from my back pocket and typed her contact information. That night, when I had called her, her smoky voice sounded as though she had expected my call.
I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to block out the past five years of memories with Vee. We began dating when I was seventeen. Still a teenager and moldable. I was a lump of clay and she was the sculpting chisels and hammers.
Almost unbidden, I remembered the hell that was high school. Slouching in a chair in the guidance counselor’s office. Mrs. Reed’s heels clacking against the linoleum as she paced back and forth. The way her watery gray eyes traveled from my mother to me. Thinking of all the time I spent with Vee instead of working on my homework. All the times we snuck out and smoked in the cemetery. Mrs. Reed telling my mom that I had been cutting class. That I was reckless.
“Maybe it’s just a phase,” Mrs. Reed had said, hope glittering in her eyes. Mrs. Reed who smelled like Christmas cookies had begged my mom not to let me ruin my life.
That was before the state psychiatrist and psychologist. Before the diagnoses. Before the hospital stays in psych wards.
My relationship with Vee had endured five tumultuous years, but numbers were just numbers. 1,825 days didn’t matter unless you gave them meaning. As I smoked, I didn’t see the guy from the bench approach me. After a minute or two lost in memories, I saw him.
I wondered how he saw me. Dyed auburn hair with black roots. Heavy eyeliner. I felt like a child actor, pretending to be an adult. He made me doubt me, and he had barely spoken two words to me.
My hands began to shake when my phone vibrated. I stubbed my cigarette against the wall and began to curse.
“Expecting a phone call?” he asked with a smirk as I stared at my cell phone, horrified. What would I tell her? What could I tell her? She probably had just finished her shift at Blackburn’s. Maybe she was already back at our apartment. I began to shake violently.
I took a drag of my cigarette and buried my phone deep in my bag. His eyes flashed. “You forget to tell someone where you’re going?” he asked, his voice a touch concerned.
“Doesn’t matter,” I muttered, “what about you? You tell your whole family and all your friends where you’re headed?”
“Hah.” He rolled his eyes. “Like Veronica cares.”
“Girlfriend?” I arched an eyebrow, watching his face.
“My mom,” he mumbled, “my friends won’t even notice. Too high to even care if I’m in the same room or not.” He waved the idea away. “Doesn’t matter. They won’t ever think to look where I’m going.”
“Where are you going?” I asked quietly.
“Montreal.” He grinned, his dimples deepening.
I didn’t speak but thought I had just found a partner-in-crime for the trip.