Smoke Rings

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As I entered the coffee shop and saw the long line, I squeezed my eyes shut and let out a sigh of frustration. I didn’t need this. All I wanted to do was get in, get my coffee, and get out. I had a ton of work to catch up on thanks to losing time before Steff went home to Spain to see her family. She insisted we spend the entire week together before she took off, leaving me behind in my work and stressed while she was on holiday. I got in line behind at least a dozen people and pulled out my copy of Water for Elephants from my handbag and tried to read.

After reading the same paragraph over and over three or four times, I looked up to see the line had barely moved. Damn it, Kara, chill out a bit, everything will be okay. I was supposed to write a few brochures that week. I knew once I got started, everything would flow, I’d be in the zone and writing like crazy. I always got like this before a busy project, especially for a new client. I figured whatever I wrote would look like utter crapola to them and then the gig’s up. Exposed for the fraud that I am.

I hated when I got like this, thinking too negatively about myself and my work. I looked around the tables to see if I saw anyone I recognized. Maybe instead of taking my coffee home, I could sit for a while and read a bit and settle my thoughts. Or maybe I could sit and have a chat with someone. Stressed writing is never good for me. I saw a few faces I recognized, but I only knew them to look at and occasionally smile at. I looked at the people ahead of me in line and didn’t see anyone I knew.

A couple of people ahead of me in line was a tall redhead with a nice figure. She looked young from what I could tell, maybe early twenties. Even without seeing her face, I knew hadn’t seen her before. I’d remember. Everyone who knows me knows I have a weakness for redheads. It can get embarrassing at times. Some carrot head walks into a room and no one looks at her, they just look at me. It’s not every redhead! It’s not like they just have to dye their hair and I’ll fall for them. It’s just that if they happen to be attractive and they also have red hair, I get a bit … well, not like a fan girl or anything, but off my game a tiny amount. My voice changes a little and I say more than I should.

Sometimes I see a perfect thick wavy mop that looks like it belongs on a hair dye box at the pharmacy and that, I admit, is something I might swoon for – internally anyway. A girl could have a pretty plain face and a so-so body, but a long lush thick set of locks will sometimes overrule that, and I had to admit, this girl had that, but I still hadn’t seen her face. I waited in hope that she’d turn around with no success so far. Not that it mattered as my single days are over, but I’d never stop looking or making up stories in my head about what was going to happen next. I’m a writer, after all. It’s my job to imagine.

No, stop, I told myself! The line was moving, and I needed to focus. Just get my coffee, get back home, and get started on the brochures. I was now third in line. I craned my neck a little. The tall, young redhead was getting her coffee now and leaning over the counter counting her coins, giving me a view of her tiny ass, the kind you start to lose at my age. Oh, she was wearing a red thong! I could see the waistband at the top of her low-rider denim jeans. She started to fish in her pockets as the lady returned with her coffee. I had no idea how deep her pockets were, but she kept digging back in like she was missing some treasure. Even though she had a nice butt, I was getting a bit irked, to be honest. Have your damn money ready, how hard can it be? The coffee lady asked her did she have plastic and the redhead shook her head, which was kinda cute because her hair had that wavy, curly shimmy effect, but come on, pay the woman and move on. She dug into her pockets again and I was at the end of my rope.

I walked around the person between us and asked a little abruptly, “How short are you?” She turned to look at me with big blue eyes and looked lost, like she was wondering was I asking her height. “Money,” I said, again sharply – I had to get to work. “How much do you need?” She just smiled, and the coffee lady said she needed another quarter. I pulled a dollar bill out of my purse and handed it to the coffee lady. “Keep the change.”

“Thank you,” said the redhead.

I forced a smile and went back to my spot in the line. She slinked off to a table at the back of the coffee shop and sat down with her coffee, looking around at everyone as if to see who was staring at her. Nobody really was. Nobody cares these days; they’re wrapped up in their own lives. I felt bad. Everyone is always in a rush. She slowed me up by a minute at the most and so I snapped at her like a clichéd cranky old lady, which I’m not. Neither old nor cranky.

Anyway, it was my turn and I ordered my coffee, and the lady asked did I want it to go and I said yes. I gave her a few dollars tip to make myself feel better and headed to the door. I slowed bursa eskort a bit to glance at the redhead one more time and she smiled at me. She’d taken off her jacket now and she really was quite something. She was all the way down at the back, but I could make out that she was wearing a little white top that left her belly uncovered. Even without the red hair, she’d get looks. There was something in the way she smiled that you couldn’t just look away from. She shook her hair like before and I sighed. I felt even worse about how I’d spoken to her. She looked like a complete angel, someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

I walked down to her table. I’d apologize and feel better the rest of the day. She maintained the smile and I noticed her big blue eyes growing bigger. She wore no makeup but wow, if she applied some eye liner she’d be dangerously beautiful. Her eyes were the kind of blue that made you stare at them in an attempt to name the particular shade. She stood up as I approached, and I almost stopped to gawk at her long torso. The white top she wore clung to her breasts like it was hand-tailored for them and revealed her long flat tummy. Five little white buttons held it together. She wasn’t large-breasted by any means, maybe a B+. But they were just the right size for her slim body type and sat there flawlessly perky. Stop staring and say something, I told myself!

“I’m so sorry,” she said, and her lips settled into a mini pout. “I changed my jeans just before I left my house and my wallet is in the other jeans.”

I instinctively looked at her low-rider jeans, which, like her top, were designed by someone specifically to show off her insanely flat tummy. Look her in the eyes, I told myself, and I managed to say, “No, don’t be sorry. I was in a bit of a rush and I was rude, quite frankly.”

“You were real, and you seem stressed. The last thing you need is some twerp holding you up,” she said, and her smile was irresistible. “But let me pay you back.”

I stared at her for a few seconds. “You don’t have any money.”

“I know, but sit down. Tell me your name. I’m Jamie.”

I took a deep breath. Why not? I could spare a few minutes. I plonked my bag and coffee on the table and sat in the chair across from her. “I’m Kara,” I said as I took my jacket off and settled down.

“You are stressed, right, Kara?”

“A little,” I said.

“I know your type. You do everything to make things nice for others even when it makes your own life hectic.”

“Well, no, I just have high stand—”

“Kara, close your eyes.”

I didn’t close them, but narrowed them to near slits as I examined her expression. She looked very serious now. “How old are you?” I asked.

“I’m twenty,” she said, “Now, close your eyes.”

Oh boy! I was a few months away from thirty and dreading my birthday and this just made me feel old. “Why aren’t you at school or something?”

She just maintained the smile. “Study day. Close your eyes.”

I closed them and waited.

“Now, just breathe.”

So, I breathed.

“Take in the sounds,” she told me. “Take in the aromas.”

I felt like I was watching the start of a movie where the screen was black, forcing you to figure what was happening just from the sounds. Every few seconds, she’d prompt me to listen to the cars or to listen to the clinking of spoons or the voices around me. It was surprisingly relaxing. When she finally told me to open my eyes, I looked into hers. She seemed to wear an expression like she knew something about me and was amused by it. It was disconcerting but cute at the same time.

“How do you feel?”

“Oh!” I said. I really felt like my stress was gone. “You’re amazing! Can you teach me how to do that on my own?”

She brought her hand to her mouth and laughed, and it made me laugh. “I just did. You can do that anywhere and you’ll instantly feel like you have more time in your life. Not feeling in such a rush now, are you?”

It was true. And I liked this feeling. I took a sip of my coffee and actually tasted it instead of just drinking it. She intrigued me. “What is it you’re studying?” I asked.

“Nothing to do with this. Modern English Lit, second year. You like reading, I can tell.”

How? How did she know that?

“The book in your bag!”

I laughed. “I thought for a second you were a witch.”

“Do I look like a witch?” she asked with a mock frown.

“No,” I said. She looked more like an angel sent down to look into my thoughts and torture me.

“Everyone reads Kindles today. I like the feel of running my fingers over the cover of a well-worn book.” She gestured to my bag and paused to look to me for permission.

I shrugged and said, “Go for it.”

She picked it up to look at it and flipped through the pages, giving me the chance to get a good look at, well, her entire torso really. I loved her top. I had a thing for buttons. They were like holders of secrets, delicate little things that could be ripped apart or slowly bursa bayan escort eased open. They were seduction’s little toys. As far as I could tell, she wasn’t wearing a bra and didn’t need to. They just decided to stay up on their own. And her tummy – she was either an athlete or worked out a lot. You just wanted to—

“Do you like it?”

She shook me from my thoughts. I realized I’d been staring and wondered did she notice.

She held up the book and smiled.

“Yes,” I finally said, “I’m enjoying it, but I can do that sometimes, really love a book, and then get to the end and something was just off with the story. So, I can’t say for sure yet if I’d recommend it.” Yeah, I was rambling a bit.

She put it back in my bag. “Have you ever read The Help?”

“Oh yes,” I said. “That’s a wonderful book. Have you?”

“Not yet. I’m supposed to read it next for school,” she said.

“You’ll love it. Such an easy read. Wonderful characters, a beautiful story.”

“Oh good,” she said, somehow perking up even more than I would have thought possible considering perk was oozing from every pore of her perky young body. “I’ll go to the bookstore and get a copy after I leave here.”

I chuckled. “How are you going to pay for it?”

“Oh!” she laughed. “Good point. I guess I’ll go home and change pants again.”

I laughed too. “You could just, you know, keep those ones on and take your wallet out of the other pair.”

“A better idea,” she said wagging her finger at me. “I like these jeans anyway.”

Don’t look, I told myself, but I could almost imagine her wearing them at night to a club with the top button casually undone. Me too, I wanted to say. “Where do you live?” When she told me, I did a mental mapping in my mind. “Did you drive?” I asked.

“No, I don’t have a car yet. It’s not that far anyway. And I like to walk. It keeps my legs looking good.”

The book store was in the other direction from her house. She’d have to go in the wrong direction and then back again and… I started to get a stupid idea that would complicate my life a little, but it would make me feel better about being a bitch earlier.

“I was just thinking, you could borrow my copy. You come here a lot?”

Her eyes lit up. “Like, not that much. You want to meet here some other morning?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.

She pulled out her phone and scrolled through her calendar for a minute or so, scrunching her nose. “You know what? Forget it. I don’t have a morning off for a couple of weeks and I need to get started on reading it. I’ll just go buy it later.” She put her phone back in the front pocket of her jeans and I pictured the pressure forcing that button on her jeans to pop open spontaneously.

Then I got another idea that would throw my schedule out a bit, but… “I’ll tell you what, Jamie, I’m only ten minutes from here. Let’s swing by my house and I can give it to you today. We can figure out later when to meet so you can return it.”

“Oh my God, Kara, you are so sweet!” She hopped up from her seat, ready to leave, but apologetically sat back down. “Sorry, you’re not finished.”

I laughed and picked up my coffee. “It’s to go,” I said, standing up and grabbing my bag. Jamie stepped in front of me and led the way outside. As she walked a couple of steps ahead of me, I watched the waistband of her deep red thong a couple of inches over her tight, low-rider jeans, which really could have been blue paint, they hugged her tight contours so well. Would it be so wrong to just give her a light smack? Ugh, behave yourself, Kara!

We made idle chitchat on the way to my house. She was an athlete, at least in high school. She played volleyball and did the high jump. She stopped playing organized sports when she went to college but played tennis non-competitively to keep in shape and to blow off some steam. Of course, I had to glance at her legs when she said that because, well, they were long and amazing and because you need legs to play tennis, right?

She came into the house with me. I went to my bedroom to look for the book and told her to make herself at home. I quickly made the bed, not to hotel conditions or anything, just being paranoid that she’d peek in and see. She called out to me, “Is this your sister?” She was seeing the dozen or so pictures of Steff and me that were dotted around the living room. Steff didn’t look anything like me. She was half Spanish and half Filipino. But Jamie obviously saw how intimate we were physically in the pictures. “No,” I said, and nothing more. I wasn’t sure why. I felt like a stupid teenage girl bringing a girl back to my dorm for some silly reason.

She called out again as I searched the bookshelves: “Can I grab a bottle of water or something? I want to get the coffee taste out of my mouth.”

“Sure, in the fridge,” I called back. When I made my way out there, she’d taken off her jacket and was sitting on the couch, her long legs stretched bursa ucuz escort out and crossed at the ankles. She’d really had made herself at home, her sneakers nowhere to be seen, and her feet bare. And my god, that tummy was driving me nuts. If I was single and a bit younger, I would have gone to the kitchen for some honey and dripped it all over her. Jesus, Kara, pull yourself together! I looked around at a few of the pictures of Steff and me for strength and reminded myself I was a taken woman. I sat beside her and handed her the book.

She put it beside her on top of her jacket. “Thank you,” she said and took a sip of water, causing her unglossed lips to moisten up, which caused me an internal whimper. My God, was there anything about this young angel that wasn’t sexy? “You’ll love it,” I told her, and we sat there for a few moments, neither of us moving. She brushed her hand through her hair then brought her other hand up creating a temporary ponytail, then let it drop and shook it, giving it a just-got-out-of-bed look that was stunningly sexy.

“So,” I asked out of nowhere, “do you have a boyfriend?”

She nodded thoughtfully and then scrunched her nose and shook her head, then nodded again and laughed. “It’s complicated.”

“Yeah, I understand,” I said. I didn’t, but it seemed like the thing to say.

She took another long sip of water, licked her lips, and groaned, “God I love water!”

I reached for my coffee and it gave me a chance to look at her legs. God, I was behaving like an undersexed nymph. In my defense, I never got to look at cute girls much anymore, and her legs were long and gorgeous. She was a few inches taller than me, so probably 5’11”.

“You know what I need?” she said, turning away from me and fishing in her jacket pockets. I gave up on myself being Miss Perfect and shamelessly stared at her ass. The further forward she leaned, the better it looked with the waist of the jeans stretching open and showing me more of her thong. Jesus!

My tongue? I let that thought linger and then smiled. “Tell me,” I said.

“A cigarette!” she said, pulling out a pack. She stood up and took her jacket in one hand, the cigarettes and lighter in the other. She pointed toward the kitchen. “The backyard okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, reminding myself to get rid of the evidence later.

Jamie started to walk, then stopped and turned back to me holding the pack in my direction. “I’m so rude! You don’t smoke, right?”

“No, I quit,” I said and instinctively glanced at one of the pictures of Steff.

Jamie followed my eyes and had an aha look in her eyes, nodding. She sat back down. “You quit for her, didn’t you?”

I sighed. “Yeah, three years ago.”

“Am I being an awful little temptress?”

You have no idea, I thought. “It’s okay.”

“You don’t miss it?”

I started with the usual spiel about all the benefits of quitting, but she cut me off. “You miss it! It’s okay to admit it.” When I sighed, it was like she read every smoking thought I’d ever had in the past three years. “No slips?” she asked, and again she was reading my face, looking right through my protests until I gave in. I missed it like crazy at times, and yes, I slipped sometimes. It actually felt good to admit it to someone, like I was able to be honest about it for a moment at least.

She looked at the pictures. “What’s her name?”

“Steff,” I said, suddenly making her real and making it feel like I was closing the imaginary door to the imaginary room I fantasized about being in right about then. Just to be clear, I’m not the kind of girlfriend who cheats. I mean, like with smoking, I have had the odd slip, but it’s not like I ever planned them or thought it was okay. Sometimes you just let your guard down.

“So, when you slip, does Steff get mad?”

I shook my head. “I’m pretty good. The only times I do it is when I’m at a party. We usually spread out half the time to socialize, so I can get a sneaky one in now and then.”

Jamie grinned at me, biting her lip and making me feel like we were in this together, wicked sisters giggling behind Mom’s back. “Doesn’t she smell it off you?”

“Nah. At these parties, everyone smells a bit like smoke.”

“What about when she kisses you?”

I opened my bag and showed her my chocolate. “Chocolate and wine! The perfect mask. They cover everything.”

Jamie laughed and rolled onto her side. “You are one smoking ninja babe!”

Ninja! I liked that. It made me feel like I was doing something skillful instead of merely sneaking around behind my girlfriend’s back.

“Well, I won’t tell her,” she said, letting the implicit offer of one little cigarette hang in the air. “Sometimes you have to do something just for you.”

“Nah,” I replied. “I’ll be a good girl.”

Jamie stood up. “Okay, well I’ll be outside if you decide you want to share a cigarette,” she said, not moving. “And a secret.”

I sighed and looked at the pack in her hand. I had a feeling if I didn’t have one now, I’d go out later and buy a whole pack. The image of the curling smoke was in my head now. And then I’d end up smoking an entire pack on my own. “Okay, just one! Do you have enough?”

She loved that. I could see the glee in her face. “Yeah and I do owe you for the coffee.”

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