The way she took a drag from her cigarette was not unlike Lady Godiva dismounting from her mount. No matter how hard someone tried, they could not match her grace. It was as if the tobacco burned in anticipation of touching her lips. Her exhale clouded my view of her face but highlighted the moon beams, which were the only source of light. Taking another long drag, she extended the butt to me, which I reluctantly took. To buy myself another five minutes with her, I lied about my own smoking habits. I had long been tempted to start smoking, but to this point had resisted the temptation.
Inhaling, or rather attempting to look as if this wasn’t my maiden voyage, I sucked in the smoke and was immediately met with the disapproval of both my lungs and throat. Holding in my urge to cough only accentuated the heat festering in my chest, the pain finding release through mucus out of my nostrils.
I handed the cigarette back to her, trying to mask my grimace as an off-handed Robert DeNiro impression. She noticed my discomfort and commiserated my pain with a devilish laugh.
“So, tell me, what do you hope to do with your fancy college degree?” she asked as she disarmed the torch on the bottom of her shoe.
“Honestly, I don’t really know. Being a CPA was never high on my totem pole, but I know it’s a safe profession and my parents have no qualms with it”.
“That’s really sad, y’know that? You sound defeated. At our age you’re supposed to be still dreaming of what changes you can make in the world, not picturing yourself balding, paying into some bullshit Ruth IPA”.
“It’s a Roth IRA.”
“Whatever the hell it’s called, it makes no difference.”
She took her phone out of her purse, quickly glanced at the brightened screen and smirked.
“My ex-boyfriend, well, ok my current boyfriend but soon to be ex-boyfriend is begging for me to go over his apartment tonight.”
“Go if you want to.” I offered the choice for her to leave, but in my stomach, I wished I could muster the courage to reveal my ulterior motives for sharing her cigarette.
“Oh please, that’s not what either of us want to do.” She squinted her eyes as she replied, insinuating she had concocted a devious plan.
Perhaps the decision to smoke inspired my newfound audacity. She was my vessel to discovering what gumption I had.
Up until we disrobed in the back of my car, I longed for an opportunity to truly seize and live in a moment. Too often people allow society’s undertow to determine their path.
Sitting in the back seat, behind the driver’s side, with her head across my lap, I began to run my fingers through her hair. Her eyes were closed and breathing became increasingly shallow as her voice trailed off in between answers. While she talked about a memory of running around her yard during a thunderstorm as a child, I had an epiphany. My ears tuned out her words, but my eyes and heart listened to what her body was really saying.
She had put on a mask, a cloud of allusion she was removed from the claws of societal pressures and norms. But the truth was, she was not much different than the girl she described dancing in the rain. As lost as I had found myself, chipping away at a degree in a career I so desperately loathed, I could at least be attributed purpose in life. Sure, an accountant is not the sexiest profession, but the stability and reverence my parents have for it gave me a sense of superiority to the lost girl who was falling asleep in my lap.
I folded my jacket, using it as a replacement pillow as I slipped out of the car. I was immediately met with the cool salty air of the ocean. The breeze was welcomed and refreshing. Only then did I realize how hot it had become inside my Honda.
Walking down the beach, I found my way to a lifeguard stand, propping myself onto it. Waves slowly reaching for the shore before retreating back to the sea echoed in the silent chamber of my thoughts. Flashing lights emitted from a tanker anchored a few miles offshore, the only indication of life beyond the sand.
Summertime brings a sense of carefree inclinations and freedom from reality. I wasn’t sure if I was beginning to love her or merely love the idea of her. She made me irrational. She made me lust. She made me yearn. She made me walk a tightrope between self-respect and dark desire.
The scurrying of a fox beneath me broke my concentration. I unsheathed my phone from my pocket and was met with the reality of the time. Dismounting my post as nocturnal guard of the beach, I returned to the sleeping beauty.
I opened the door which had been moonlighting as an ottoman for her feet. She remained unstirred, prompting me to prod her ribs.
“Hey, you’ve got to wake up” I whispered, continuing to lightly shake her.
Still unmoving, I began trying a myriad of techniques to get her to wake up. Pinching her leg, to rubbing her sternum, none working any better than the other. I became increasingly worried, practically frantic when the glow of headlights illuminated the cabin of the car.
I quickly closed the door and took a few steps away from the car, holding my phone to my head in an attempt to feign an imaginary call. The foreign SUV pulled past and began a U-turn. They rolled down the passenger side window, asking something I could not quite make out. I took a few steps closer, not quite able to make out the features of the driver, but close enough to hear him over the humming of the engine.
“Hey! Where’s Kutter Rd? My phone’s got no service out here man”
“Oh, yeah, just take a left when you pull out of here and it should be the third or fourth road on your right”
He thanked me and quickly jetted out of the parking lot. I immediately returned to the back seat where she still laid unmoved. With no previous CPR training, I tried to emulate scenes from shows and movies. I pressed on her chest and began breathing into her mouth. Each gasp of air became increasingly desperate.
Her chest rose and sank, repeating the breathing process after about two minutes of my novice attempt to resuscitate her. I lifted her eye lids, and she pushed my hands away from her face.
She stretched a bit and smiled up at me, completely unaware of the horror I nearly experienced.
“Hey love, you trynna cop a feel while I’m sleeping?” she said as she smirked and sat up. She reached into her purse for a cigarette.
. I peered into the rearview mirror, watching our reflections coexist. The smokescreen of her cigarette could not hide my gaunt expression.
We sat in the backseat, in silence as the ocean breeze carried the secondhand smoke into my face.