By Rachel Small
Victoria was a non-smoker. “I’ll never forgive you if you start now, at your age,” Ellie had said. Ellie had been trying to quit for years. She had the right to say that. Victoria couldn’t blame her.
But there was something about Europe. “When in Rome,” she thought, lighting up with glee. Cigarettes transported her to a new world, a world that wasn’t exactly secret, but mysterious all the same. The Smokers’ Club.
Perhaps it was shameful, gaining entrance to the club in her thirties. “I really should know better,” she’d think, each time she slipped outside for some fresh air. But she couldn’t resist the pull. Something new to break up the monotony. The solitude. Isolation. Other club members welcomed her on the pavement.
Ian. She’d heard passersby greet him. Ian had been a member for quite some time. Even before she joined the club, she’d see him from her window, lighting up while she sipped her morning coffee. And her afternoon tea. He lived just across the street. It wasn’t as if she were spying. He was out in plain sight, after all.
That morning, cigarette in hand, she finally found the nerve.
“So, you come here often?” she called out. Laughed. She’d meant it as a joke but cringed internally. No matter the tone, it was cheesy.
But he grinned and crossed the cobblestones between them. For a moment, she lost her breath. “Beautiful…”
The word lingered between them. Shit. Did I just say that out loud?
He laughed. Smirked. “You’re not so bad yourself. I should ask you the same thing, but I already know the answer to that. I see you out here every day.”
Long, slow drag, his eyes wandering down, back up.
Way to play it cool, Vic. “I was referring to your teeth. How do you keep them so white as a smoker?” Ugh. There was no way he was buying it.
He let the smoke drift out of his mouth slowly, still smiling. “‘As a smoker?’” He cocked an eyebrow. “Again, I might ask you the same thing.
She chuckled, ashed her cigarette casually. She hoped. “Well, I actually started fairly recently. Thought it might be a good way to meet people.” She winked.
Did I just wink? I’m such a fucking dork.
“Lucky me.” Those white teeth again. “Are you a natural blonde?”
This time, she laughed. What a weird question. But he was talking to her. That’s all that mattered.
“No, also something new I’m trying. Well, not that new I guess. Started dying it a couple years ago. Needed a fresh start.” Stop babbling, Vic. Sultry smile. She hoped.
“Hmm. It’s nice, though I’m more of a brunette guy myself.” He shook his head. “Too bad. Don’t tell me,” he said mockingly. “You dyed it after a bad break-up? Needed to prove to some jerk what he was missing?”
She ran her fingers through the ends self-consciously. “Yeah. He preferred blondes. I thought, ‘This will show ’im!’” Awkward laugh.
He pursed his lips. Faraway gaze up and down once more. Slow exhale of smoke. “Well, dude’s an idiot. His loss.” Turning his full attention on her, he said, “I’m Ian. And you are…?”
“Victoria.” She shifted her cigarette to her left hand, extending her right.
He took it but didn’t shake. Instead, he held onto it, leaned in close, and said into her ear, “A pleasure to meet you, Victoria. Maybe next time you’ll join me for a cigarette on my side of the street?”
She flushed, felt it all the way down. Cleared her throat. “I’d like that.” How long had it been? No, she couldn’t think like that. This time, she would wait. This time, it would be something real.
As she got ready for bed that night, she couldn’t shake Ian’s words from her mind. I’m more of a brunette guy. Staring hard at her reflection, running her brush through her long blonde hair, she knew what she had to do. She would do it first thing tomorrow.
She was waiting for him that afternoon, outside his place, cigarette in hand. As his expression of shock melted into one of approval, she grinned. A flat victory.
“I don’t really need a cigarette that bad,” he said. “Why don’t you come inside? For coffee. Or something.”
She looked at him. Yes, she needed…something. So bad.
And so, she finally found the nerve. “It was nice to meet you, Ian.”
Victoria threw the rest of her cigarettes in the trash as she walked away. The cost of membership was just too much. But she stayed with the new-old brown hair. She actually preferred herself as a brunette.