I arrived at the local coffee shop right on time. Jane was already here as she is notoriously early. I could see her sitting sipping a cappuccino on a couch seat by the fireplace. She had cut her gorgeous blond hair into a spiky pixie cut that accentuated her elfin features. Jane was petite, standing just over five feet and had gorgeous yellow-gold eyes. We hugged each other, I fetched myself a coffee and sat down on the couch next to her. It was like no time had passed since summer.

Jane and I visited for about three hours in the coffee shop before I started feeling a little restless. The baristas were eyeing us a bit suspiciously as we had both drained our last drinks almost an hour and half ago.

It was like nothing was different between us. I was honestly worried, but it was like old times. We chatted about university, relationships and just about everything in between. Jane was one of my oldest friends. We had met at the beginning of grade 7 and have been inseparable ever since. Both of us were very driven academically, which means we spent a lot of time sleeping over at each other’s houses mostly studying or completing projects. When I told Jane I wanted to go to a different university than her, she was kind of hurt, but she understood. We had done a fairly good job of keeping in touch over the past few months, but I definitely didn’t mention the fact that I had taken up smoking. It didn’t seem important. Besides, until recently, I was probably thinking I wasn’t going to smoke this weekend so that I wouldn’t have to deal with telling the parents.

“Why don’t we walk to my house and you can come over for dinner?,” Jane asked.

Dinner sounded good to me. As long as I could have a smoke first, but I figure can muster up the courage to breach that subject on the walk to her house. I mean nothing can be as bad as telling my mom. “Sounds great, Jane. Let me tell my mom not to expect me home for dinner.” I made a quick call to my mother and things were set for the evening. We exited the coffee shop and I paused just outside the doorway to retrieve my cigarettes from my purse.

As I took them out, I flashed the pack toward Jane and half asked,” I hope you don’t mind.”

She glanced at me with sort of a sadness, looked down and shook her head,  and quietly said, “I don’t mind.”

By the way that she spoke and her body language she did mind, but I was going to take the words she said vs what she actually might be feeling. I extracted a cigarette from the pack and placed it between my lips. Suddenly, I felt nervous, as if Jane was watching and judging my every move, but the part of me that wanted the cigarette didn’t care. I placed the pack back in my purse and fished around for my lighter. Of course, feeling already a bit anxious I was having trouble finding my lighter. After what seemed like an eternity searching I found it. But of course, it had to be windy and I was having trouble getting it lit. Jane, seeing this, helped block the wind so I could get it lit. All this drama to get the cigarette made me want it that much more, making the first puff of smoke I drew through  that much sweeter. I blew out this puff and promptly placed the cigarette back into my mouth, took a three second drag, inhaled deeply and held it here for three seconds before releasing the smoke my lungs had not absorbed into the breeze, carrying it away from Jane.

“Thanks, ” I sighed, smiling at Jane. “I know you aren’t a fan of smoking. I was really worried about how you would react given what you used to say in high school and…”

“Mel, stop!” Jane interrupted me. “I know, I had some pretty extreme anti-smoking views in high school. I’ve been thinking about this since I saw you outside the mall. I guess since studying philosophy this year, my views align with people largely controlling their own lives. I still don’t like seeing you smoke, but the part of me that wants you to live your life the way you want to live it is okay with it. I won’t be joining you anytime soon, but you don’t have to feel awkward or hide it from me.”

I took a drag in response, inhaled and exhaled. ” When I’m done smoking, I’m going to give you a huge hug.”

“I appreciate you thinking to wait. But I am curious, why did you start? I was really surprised when I saw you.” She asked.

“It is a long story, but in short, I have always been curious and decided to give it a try. I guess it didn’t hurt that the guy I am dating smokes. He didn’t encourage me, but he also didn’t exactly discourage me. Anyhow, I really liked it, almost immediately and the rest is history. I’d say I’m mildly addicted. I can go about three to four hours without and then I start feeling antsy.” I said flicking the ash from the tip of my cigarette as we started to walk.

“I see. It still seems super gross to me.” Jane remarked, squinting her nose as she smiled at me.

“Well, it would. I mean you don’t smoke. Honestly, you can’t really judge it until you try it. Not that I am saying that you should try it, but that would be the only way to know for sure.”

“I don’t know,” she looked at me skeptically, “It seems pretty gross. I mean what do you even get out of it anyways, other than relieving withdrawal that is.”

“I guess for me, it is a bit more complicated than simply relieving withdrawal. It feels good before you get addicted. At first it is the buzz, then it is the sense of stimulated relaxation that helped me focus on things. Now it feels good to relieve the withdrawal but I still feel the sense of stimulated relaxation and depending on how much I smoke, sometimes just relaxation. But it is more than that, I like that people don’t see me as a goody two-shoes any more, even though I still am. I love watching the smoke leave my body, how my lungs feel as the smoke seeps into them and the way that I look when I smoke. While I don’t love that I smell of smoke, I’ve accepted it as the price I have to pay, along with my health I guess in the long term, to get all the things I like about it.” I took another long pull of my cigarette, causing the end to burn brightly. I snapped the smoke into my lungs and held it in them, feeling the comfortably full and tight feeling I enjoyed. I lazily exhaled away from Jane. I couldn’t help but smile. It felt so good. By that point I had only smoked half the cigarette as I had been chatting. I began to concentrate a bit more on finishing it as we were getting closer to Jane’s house.

“I can’t say I get it, but it seems to make you really happy so who am I to hate on that.” She said.

“I’m glad you are okay with this.” I said, continuing to puff on my cigarette. We continued to walk and chat and as we turned into the alleyway of her house I finished my cigarette. I put it out on the ground, stepping on it to ensure it was out. I picked up and it struck me how much darker my filters were getting. After pondering this for a split second,  I placed the butt in the dumpster behind her house and we proceeded through the back gate of her yard and through her yard to her house.

I was welcomed warmly by Jane’s parents. In many ways they were like a second set of parents to me. We ate a wonderful vegetarian meal prepared by Jane’s mom and I visited with her family for the next four or so hours. Time flew by, before I knew it, it was 10 pm and I decided I probably should get home. By this point, I also felt like it was well past time for another cigarette.

“I can walk you to your car, if you like, ” Jane offered.

“If you like. I can give you a ride back to your house on my way home.” I counter offered.

“Deal,” She smiled as she put on her jacket. It was a brisk fall evening out. Even not smoking, it was the kind of night wear you could see your breath. We exited the house the same way that we came in, through the back door, through the yard and into the back alley. As soon as we were into the alley, walking toward the road, I fished into my purse found my lighter first and then located my pack. This time, the air was calm and I got my cigarette lit very quickly, perhaps before Jane noticed.

” Time for another smoke?” She asked, stating the obvious.

“Yeah, actually I haven’t smoked that much today compared to usual. I think this is number 4.”I exhaled, relieved. “I was having such a good time at your place, I almost didn’t notice that it had been so long, but as I started craving one as soon as I knew I’d be able to smoke one soon.”

“Interesting. Our conversation earlier, it got me thinking. I really can’t know for sure it is gross without trying.” She noted quietly.

“Well if you want to try it, lets stop somewhere and not doing this walking. We could sit on the bench in that park over there.” I said pointing across the street.

“I don’t know…”Jane seemed unsure.

“Honestly, it is up to you. I don’t care if you smoke or not. You’ll always be my best friend and I’m always here if you want to try it or if you don’t want to.”

“Lets do it. I figure I’ll be curious until the next time I see you if I don’t now.” Jane seemed excited now. It was actually weird because she was so anti-smoking in the past. Maybe that was just a cover for really wanting to know what it was like.

“Are you sure?” I asked again, really surprised that Jane was asking me.

“Yes!” She exclaimed, “Now lets go before I change my mind.”

We crossed the street and found the nearest park bench. By this point, I was probably about halfway through my cigarette. We sat down and I gave Jane some options.

“So you can just take a drag or two off mine or you can have your own. I don’t care if you don’t finish the cigarette, you probably won’t. If you drag off of mine, the disadvantage is the smoke is hotter and denser as the cigarette gets shorter. Also, these are full-strength cigarettes, so they are strong. Not actually what I would get you to try if I had to choose a cigarette for you, but here we are.”

“I have one of my own. I kind of want the whole experience here. You can just finish it if I don’t want to.”

I passed her a cigarette, “Place it between your lips and when I bring the flame to the tip, lightly draw on it, like sucking through a straw. Some smoke will come into your mouth when you do this, but for now just blow it out.”

She did as I instructed but as the smoke entered her mouth a bit caught at the back of her throat, sending her into a coughing fit. She turned red, her eyes watered  she looked at me with both incredulity and anger.

“OMG, how the fuck do you do that repeatedly?” she said, still holding the cigarette, staring at it in awe.

“It gets easier once you get over your cough reflex. When you actually go to inhale, you inhale so quickly that it goes in and out before you have a chance to cough. I wanted you to get used to the idea of having smoke in your mouth before teaching you how to inhale. You can stop now if you like, with your current experience you have confirmed you suspicion it is gross, no?”

“No, I don’t think I’ve given it a proper chance. Teach me how to inhale.” Jane pleaded, eyes watering from her coughing fit.

“Okay, draw a really small amount of smoke into your mouth and open your mouth and inhale through your mouth. The smoke that is in your mouth will be carried down into your lungs. Exhale right away.”

Jane brought the cigarette to her mouth tentatively, drew for half a second and successfully inhaled it into her lungs. Unfortunately, the smoke caught in her throat on the way out and she had her second coughing fit. Once she regained her breath, she asked, “Did you have this much trouble?”

“No, I actually had very little trouble. Perhaps that is why I took to it so easily. ” I said, puffing on my cigarette for effect. “Do you want to try again or are you done?”

“Well, I don’t know what I was expecting but I don’t feel anything other than a scratchy throat and watery eyes. I thought you said these were strong?” She asked, with an expression that indicated that she was less than impressed with smoking.

” Are you done or do you want to try once more? ” I took a final drag off my cigarette and put it out on the ground. I tipped my head back and exhaled a huge plume of smoke into the night sky. God that felt good. Every. Single. Time.

“Third times a charm?” She said taking a one second drag, inhaling it and exhaling it no problem. ” I did it!” she exclaimed.

“Nice! How did it feel?” I inquired, curious.

“I hate how it tastes. My first two puffs were awful, but the last one was alright. I can feel my heart pounding a bit harder and I feel really happy if that makes sense. I want to try again.” She said, and with that she took another drag and inhaled and exhaled successfully. A smile came over her face.

“You seem pleased with yourself, be careful, if you smoke much more of that it starts getting less gross.” I joked.

“I figure this is my first and last time smoking so I might as well enjoy it.” She took another puff off the cigarette, but this time her face seemed to pale a little. “Woah, head rush. It feels nice and not nice at the same time. I’m done.” She passed the cigarette to me.

“That is probably for the best. I remember going to far trying to impress a boy. I got super sick.” I recalled.

“Thanks for showing me. I don’t think I’ll ever smoke again, but now I know.” She said.

“Shall we continue towards my car?” I asked, standing from the bench.

“Can we just sit for a bit, it is such a beautiful night tonight.” Jane sat back in the bench and gazed toward the stars.

“Sure, I’m in no rush to get home. Let me know when you are ready to go.” I sat back down. We sat in silence, Jane closed her eyes. I suspect she was spinning a bit. Too much too soon. It is so easy to do that when you first start. Not that she was going to start, but all the same it overdoing it is easy.  I continued leisurely to smoke the rest of the cigarette I had given to Jane. Having smoked so little today, it seemed a bit indulgent to smoke two back to back but I also didn’t want to let it go to waste. Slow

After about 10 minutes sitting in silence, Jane turns to me and says, “I’ve been trying to work up the courage to tell you something all night. This smoking thing, has been a welcome distraction and in some ways I think you’ll understand better even though this has nothing to do with smoking.”

I turn and look Jane directly in the eyes, putting my hand on her shoulder. “Jane, there is nothing you could tell me that would change things between us. I hope you know that.”

She took a deep breath in, sighed and looking downward, “I’m gay.” She seemed to be awaiting my response, but I really had nothing. I mean for some reason I kind of knew or figured for a long time, but I didn’t want to assume. Instead of responding in words, I hugged her.

“This changes nothing, Jane. I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to tell me.” I stated confidently.

“I’m not sure why I was so scared to tell you.” She said sheepishly.

“Sometimes when we’ve hit a part of ourselves away for a long time, it becomes difficult to reveal it, even when we know the reaction will be positive.”

“Thanks for making it easy though. I hope we stay friends for a very long time.”

“Me too, Jane.”

“Shall I finish walking you to your car?”

“Allons-y!”I exclaimed in French.