I woke up around 9 am the next day after a fairly good sleep. As I awoke, the smell of cinnamon, butter, sausages and eggs wafted upstairs. Mom was cooking French Toast and sausages, my favorite. I put on my house coat and made my way downstairs for breakfast.

Hearing my footsteps, my mom turned from the stove and said, “Good morning, honey! Did you sleep well? Breakfast is almost ready and if you want some there is some coffee in the pot. Help yourself.”

“Thanks mom, I did sleep well,”I said as I grabbed some coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. Anna was still sleeping, as often she often did on weekends. That girl was a night owl. It was quite likely she stayed up past when I did.

Dad was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper and drinking a coffee. He looked up at me, smiled and said, “Good morning, Mel,” before returning to his reading. He seemed to be in an unusually good mood. I sat silently sipping my coffee waiting for my mom to bring me my breakfast. Luckily, it didn’t take long. Within 5 minutes of sitting down, a plate of French toast and sausages appeared in front of me.

I dug in, eager to start my day. “Mmmmm mom, you really out did yourself. This french toast is amazing.” It was covered in cinnamon sugar and pecans.

“Thanks, dear. The trick is soaking it overnight. ” She replied, bringing herself a plate and sitting down to eat herself.

“The sausages are amazing too, “I said between bites.

“Any plans for the day before dinner?” my Dad asked me.

“I have to ask her first, but I was thinking Anna and I could go to the mall for a bit and then pick up the stuff for the sangria that I am making for tonight. What time should we be home by?” I replied.

“As long as you are back by 3 pm that should be fine. If you can get Anna up to go with you. Haha… that girl loves to sleep. Sometimes I wonder how she even gets herself to school on time. Your dad and I have to leave before she gets up. But she hasn’t had any lates this year and her marks are excellent now so…” Mom’s voice trailed off. Anna was always the more rebellious and difficult child of the two of us.

“Anna’s a good kid, Mom.” I defended my little sister as was usual.

“I know, she just…” was all my mom could get out before I interrupted her.

“Just is a different person from me. You need to stop comparing us. Let her be her own person.”

Just as I finished, Anna looking as though she just woke up groggily shuffled in. She wasn’t wearing any makeup yet which made her look her age 16 going on 17 in November. She was only ever a year behind me in school which probably made the comparisons even easier for my parents to make. My mom brought Anna a cup of coffee, a requirement before talking to her in the morning. Anna took a sip of coffee, sighed and said, “Good morning.”

“So… you up to do a little shopping with me this morning?” I asked, “I want to leave by 10 or 10:30 am.”

“Sure sis, I would love to come with. I just need to have a shower first.” she replied, taking another sip of coffee.

“Cool, I’ll hop in the shower right now, by the time I’m done you should be done breakfast and you can go shower.”

“Sounds great.” She smiled at me. She knew why we were shopping, getting out of the house. I needed to smoke. This was less noticeable when I first woke up, but since finishing breakfast the urge was slowly growing. Shopping was a good excuse to be out of the house for awhile. Hopefully the sneaking would be done for me by tonight.

By the time Anna was done her hair and makeup, it was close to 11:00 am. By this point, I was craving a cigarette like nothing else. I distracted myself by watching TV with my dad, half hoping he would sneak out for a smoke at some point where I could follow. Alas, no. Clearly I was the most addicted smoker in the house. I breathed a huge sigh  of relief when I saw Anna appear from upstairs. Makeup on, she was dressed fairly casually in jeans and a plaid shirt. A throwback to her nineties grunge days, except instead of baggy jeans and skater shoes, the jeans were skinny and she had a paired them with an adorable pair of bright ruby red mary-janes with heels. I needed my sister to help me shop.

“I’m ready…” She called in kind of a sing-song voice. Part of me wondered if she took her time just to torture me.

I hopped up and practically ran out to the car. Anna couldn’t help but laugh. I mean she knew why I was desperate to leave the house.

” Addicted much?” Anna laughed as we got into the car. “I’ve never been able to smoke enough to truly be addicted. I get cravings but if I can’t smoke or don’t have any, I’m ok.”

“I don’t smoke much more than 5 or 6 most days but apparently my body has its schedule and I’m behind schedule.” I explained hastily. “I think we will stop at the Mac’s first. I want to pick up some light menthols for mom. That is what Dad says she likes. I was going to buy you a pack of whatever you like, but I’m not sure now since you took so long.”

“Oh if I had known, I could have been ready faster,” she pouted. “Can you pretty please still do that for me? Please don’t take your nicotine deprivation irritability out on me, your poor ever so grateful sister.”

“I don’t know. We’ll see when I get to the till.” I said pulling into the Mac’s parking lot. “I think you should stay in the car. I don’t want the clerk to think I’m buying them for you. What do you like?”

“Oh thank you, Mel. Export ‘A’ Gold, King Size. Please and Thank you! I love you forever.” Anna said excitedly.

I went straight to the till, presented my ID and asked, “A pack of Benson and Hedges Gold 100’s, A pack of Export ‘A’Gold King Size and a pack of Benson and Hedges Superslims Menthol, please.”

The clerk efficiently grabbed what I asked for.

“Anything else?” they asked.

“Just a lighter  and a bag please.” I asked before presenting my debit card to pay for it all. I walked back to the car with my purchases.

I tossed the bag at Anna and she grabbed her cigarettes from the bag and exclaimed, “Oooh thank you, Mel! I can’t wait to have one!”

” Me neither, but I’m thinking smoking in the car is out so when we get to the mall?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’ve never seen Dad smoke in here and I’m super careful about not smoking in enclosed spaces. ”

“To the mall…” I said, feeling slightly better that I would be satisfying my urge to smoke soon.  The mall was only a quick, 5 minute drive from the Mac’s. It was fairly busy, as it normally was on long weekends. I parked as far as I could from the door and didn’t hesitate to pull out my cigarettes, place one between my lips and light it up as we walked toward the door. Anna did the same although with slightly less urgency. I double pumped my first drag, the first time I’d ever done that but it felt good going in. We walked slowly to the entrance, stopping at the appropriate distance from the entrance to finish our cigarettes. By this point I was smoking more leisurely.

Anna nudged me and said, “Isn’t that your friend, Jane?”

I exhaled my most recent drag, squinted my eye and confirmed, yes it was Jane. I had kept in touch with her and knew she was also going to be home from university at this time. After a brief moment of worry about Jane finding out, I decided to say Fuck it, Jane was going to find out sooner or later, might as well be sooner.

I kept smoking as she approached and when she got close enough I called to her, ” Hey Jane!”

“Oh hey Mel. I didn’t even recognize you.” She seemed to scrunch her nose a bit at the smoke.

“I guess I’ve lost a little weight and well…” I trailed off and took a final drag off my cigarette before putting it out in the ashtray we were near and exhaling away from Jane. “What is new with you?”

“Not much, loving my program as you know already. Say, are you around tomorrow? I’d love to see you before you head back to school.” She asked, not mentioning the elephant in the room.

“I think I have a bit of time. I’ll text you later to set something up. We are just doing a bit of shopping right now, you are welcome to tag along if you like.” I asked.

“No thanks, just here for a quick trip. Got to get back to visit with my family.” She said hastily.

“No worries. Talk to you later.”

We parted ways. It was awkward but Jane didn’t seem to make a big deal about the smoking. Anna and I shopped until about 2:30 pm when we decided it was time to go and pick up the stuff for the sangria.

One more cigarette outside the liquor store before heading home. It was game time.

Chapter Twenty-one