I am 16 years old and I am sitting on the hood of my car in the parking lot of a 7-11 next to the girlfriend of my best friend.
The car is a ’79 Chevy Citation, grey and dented. I bought it with money I borrowed from my grandfather, but I tell everyone at school that I used the profits from selling weed during the summer up in Allentown. Inevitably someone will ask to score a bag off me, “No,” I say, “Too close to home.” They always nod knowingly.
The girl beside me is Tony’s girl. Tony is my best friend. That’s what I tell everyone. Tony is one of the cool kids, so that makes me cool too. He is nearly 18 but still a sophomore, he’s been held back. I help him with his homework sometimes and I pick up his girl since he lost his license for underage drinking. Tony is late. Tony is always late.
I pull a pack of Marlboros from the inside pocket of my leather jacket. I love this jacket. It once belonged to my uncle. He wore it all through the 70s. The jacket is faded on the shoulders and the elbows and the pocket-tops. It smells like smoke and Old Spice. This jacket has traveled. It has seen things. When I wear it I pretend I was the one who traveled, who saw things.
The girl beside my motions to her mouth with two fingers, I give her a cigarette. She leans toward me with it hanging between pursed lips. I light it for her in cupped hands and light my own with the same match. I extinguish it with a long, exaggerated wave of my arm.
That was pretty smooth, I think. I picture myself as Humphrey Bogart and she is Lauren Bacall. We are waiting for our adventure to begin. Soon a mysterious man in a trench coat and a grey fedora will emerge from the shadows, “You’re just the couple I’ve been looking for,” he will say in a raspy voice, “Come with me.” And we will be swept away to intrigue and danger and we will fall in love along the way. I scan the alley and the street corners as if this will happen at any moment. But it never does. And I am not Humphrey Bogart. And she is not Lauren Bacall.
The girl’s name is Emily. Or Amanda. Or Nancy. I don’t know what her name is. She told me but I forget and now I’m too chickenshit to ask. She is a big girl. Not fat, full. Full is what my mother would call her. Her t-shirt and jeans seem slightly too small and she wears a denim jacket with Metallica and Slayer patches on the back. Her hair is long and straight and black with bangs cut straight across her face just above her eyes. She puts on red lipstick. It looks too bright on her pale skin in the florescent lights of the parking lot. Like blood on a ghost.
“Does this color make my look trampy?” she asks. I say no, it looks pretty. I lie to her because I want her to like me. I want her to think I am a gentleman, that I am sweet. I want her to want me like I want her. And I do want her, even though I have only just met her. I want her romantically, sexually, completely. So I am conscious to look at her face when I speak to her not at her chest to reinforce my gentlemanly qualities. I wonder if her hair is soft, if her skin is smooth. I wonder what it would feel like beneath my fingers. I wonder what she would look like with no clothes on, if she shaves down there. I am no gentleman.
The air is cold. I watch as she exhales trying to distinguish between her breath and the smoke. The smoke is slightly blue and her breath is grey. And I exhale my breath and my smoke in a long plume toward hers so that they mix together. Swirling and entwining, drifting higher together for just a moment before dissipating and disappearing in the night.
She is lipping her cigarette. She smokes by putting her lips around the filter and making it wet and soggy. That’s not the right way to do it. She must be new to smoking. I’ve been smoking for months now, ever since a swiped a pack of Benson & Hedges from my mother’s coat pocket. I’ve been practicing in front of the bathroom mirror. I know the right things to do. I can inhale deep without coughing and blow smoke rings, I know how to hold the butt between my thumb and forefinger and how to flick it with a snap when I am done. I am an expert now. And I look good. Especially now that I wear contacts instead of glasses and my hair is longer and my leather jacket hangs just right. I look just as cool as Tony does, and she should be able to see that.
I put an arm down casually on the hood and lean closer, but not too close, “Do you like old movies?” I say, “You know the black and white ones?”
She crinkles her nose. “What? No,” she says, “Those are stupid.”
I sit up straight again, “I know right? But the dollar theater on Waverly Ave. plays them all the time. It’s kinda fun to go with a group,” I think for a second, “you know, to make fun of them and shit.”
She shrugs and throws her cigarette away, “I guess that’d be fun. With a group.”
“A group, totally,” I say.
“I saw the Wizard of Oz there once,” she says, “A long time ago. When I was a kid. That was kinda cool.”
“Oh yeah,” I say, “They play that every year. It’s a tradition or something.”
“I’d do that again I guess,” she says and I lean closer as if trying to hear her better.
We are looking at each other face to face. And I notice that her eyes are dark brown and there are tiny specks of yellow near the center. And her voice is soft and lilting. And she is laughing. She is laughing because of something I have said, I told a joke but I don’t remember what it was. I’m just talking now, just sounds with no meaning but she is listening. And her face is so close to mine now. And I am watching her lips move.
“Hey!” At the sound of Tony’s voice we snap apart, “What’s going on Annie?”
Annie. Her name is Annie.
Annie jumps from the hood of the car and runs to Tony wrapping her arms around his waist. Tony looks over her shoulder at me; his face is tense and stern. “What’s up dude?”
“Nothing,” I say, “Just talking, waiting for you.”
“You sure?” His hands are clenched in fists.
Annie pulls Tony’s face close to her mouth and whispers in his ear, but loud enough for me to hear, “He’s a total spaz. I was just trying to be nice to him.” She kisses him.
“Later, bro,” he spits the words in my direction. Annie and Tony walk off into the night with their hands in each other’s back pockets. I watch them till they are out of sight thinking maybe she’ll turn around, look back for a second. She never does.
I light another cigarette. “We’ll always have Paris,” I say softly. I smoke in silence and search the alley and the street corners. When nothing happens I decide to go home.