“What is it, honey?” Jennie's husband asked absently from his seat on the couch where he perused his phone.
Jennie paused, knowing he wouldn't like her response. “I'm out of cigarettes,” she responded crankily.
He looked up and gave her what she considered the “stink-eye”. “Good,” he announced. “Maybe you can quit now.”
She frowned at him, annoyed because he sounded like a broken record when it came to her dirty little vice. She didn't smoke all the time, but when she felt like it, she did. She hated when he got so judgmental about it.
Jennie understood his mother died after having smoked for over forty-five years, but she didn't die from lung cancer or even heart disease or COPD. Her mother-in-law had a tsunami of bad health problems crash down on her all at the same time, robbing her of life before she reached her eightieth birthday. It hurt Jennie to have lost one of the few people in the world who she felt accepted her for who she was. It hurt even more to have people accuse her of not taking her mother-in-law's passing with the severity it deserved, just because she refused to heed their advice and never smoke again.
Her doctors knew Jennie smoked and the amount she smoked on average per day. She was honest about it. It had to do with her health, after all. Not only did she not qualify for a smoking cessation program, she didn't even really concern her health professionals. Some of them had said, “If you only smoke that much, why don't you just quit?” Some of them stated, “You should quit. Smoking is bad for your health.” And the rest just shrugged and said, “Well, think about quitting.”
Jennie saw a lot of different doctors for different ailments. Her husband liked to say she had each condition because of her smoking. Sometimes she wanted to smack him silly. Instead she ignored him and bought another pack. But when he was drunk and looking for a smoke, who did he come to?
“I'm going to the corner store,” she told him now. “I'll be back in a few minutes.”
“Don't smoke near my car,” he warned her. He adamantly protested the lingering scent of cigarette smoke when it became trapped in his car's interior. It usually faded with a good airing out on a windows down ride down the highway, but he had particular standards for his precious vehicle. Jennie would have taken her own car, but somehow, their nineteen-year-old son adopted it as his own. It brought a whole new level of frustration to the household whenever Jennie brought it up, so she just used the second car to avoid fighting.
“I'll stand an appropriate distance from your perfect baby,” she assured him. Of course, then she couldn't listen to music on the satellite radio which disappointed her. But it was easier to do as he asked and make him happy. Jennie grabbed her purse and her coat, then checked for money. She sighed heavily.
“Can I get ten dollars?” she asked her husband in a tone which sounded as if the words had to be dragged from her mouth. She hated what she knew would come next.
“Now you want money for me to pay for your disgusting habit? Why should I give it to you? It's just a waste of ten dollars.” He made her wait, as if she would answer something different today than she had any other day he prompted those very same questions.
“It's only eight dollars,” Jennie responded. “I was going to use the other two for a coffee.”
“Seriously?” he grouched, digging out his money clip. “That's your answer? You don't even care how many hundred of dollars a year you waste on cigarettes?”
“If I spend three hundred dollars a year on cigarettes, then I didn't spend it on losing lottery tickets,” she shot back, holding her hand out for the ten dollar bill he held just out of reach.
“That's where you wanna go with this,” he returned, waving the bill around. “I do not spend that much on tickets.”
“Two dollars a ticket,” she pointed out, holding out her fingers. “Three tickets a week. Fifty two weeks. You do the math.”
He sputtered. “I don't always get three a week.”
“And I don't always smoke,” she snapped. She snatched the money and slid into her jacket. “I'll be back in a little while. Do you want coffee?”
“Do you need more money?” he demanded archly.
“No, I have a couple of bucks from last week.”
“Then, yes,” he allowed grudgingly. “Thank you.”
She inclined her head in a gracious way and stepped out into the chilly night. The corner store sat only a block away from them, but in this weather, she would never walk. She hurried down the steps into the car and turned it on, warming up the heated seat. If she couldn't sit and smoke in the car, she would at least leave it running while she did smoke. She would enjoy a little warm on the drive home. Especially after standing outside in the cold.
It took less than five minutes to reach her destination. She killed the engine and hurried inside. No one waited in line. In fact, the store was empty except for the girl behind the cash register. Jennie recognized her right away as the very nice and helpful transgender girl who worked at the coffee shop drive-thru window across the street.
“Hey,” Jennie greeted, “It's Annabelle, right?”
The girl nodded, “Yeah, I know you from across the road.”
“Jennie,” she introduced. “Are you working two jobs now?”
“Oh, no,” Annabelle replied emphatically. “I left there a couple weeks ago. I work here and just here.”
“Huh,” Jennie commented. “Did something happen?”
“Let me tell you,” Annabelle began, “that place may hire equal opportunity and all that, but their customers don't know dick about it.”
Jennie laughed at the girl's frank language. “Sorry, that was just funny. Go ahead.”
“So, you know how you would always come through with your daughter?”
“Sure,” Jennie responded with a shrug.
“Well, some jerk complained that they didn't want me serving them in front of their kid,” Annabelle confided, heatedly.
“Why not?” asked Jennie with some confusion. “What does having a kid with them have to do with food service?”
“They said they didn't want their child being exposed to my lifestyle choices,” Annabelle stated smartly.
Jennie stood quietly for a second. Then she said, “I'm sorry, but what? That doesn't even make sense. What lifestyle choice were you exposing them to? Were you doing something other than serving their order?”
“Right?” Annabelle demanded. “Like me as a person, I'm offensive to this guy's sensibilities. Like I'm gonna turn his kid trans.”
“I suppose if you have the powers of God,” Jennie mulled tongue-in-cheek. “I mean, what the hell was he even saying?”
“So, what does my manager do?”
“Tell him that his behavior is inappropriate and if he can't treat the employees with equal respect, he can go elsewhere?” Jennie suggested.
“Yeah, right,” Annabelle sneered. “She served him herself. Told him just to ask for a manager at the speaker next time. And coincidentally, the managers are both straight women. So nothing offensive there.”
“Oh my god,” Jennie breathed, shocked. “I can't believe she actually said that. That is not treating people with equality in a place of employment. I'm surprised you didn't file a complaint.”
“Whatever,” Annabelle shrugged it off. “For as many people like them, there are normal people like you.”
Now Jennie laughed in earnest. “I'm so telling my husband that one. He thinks I'm nuttier than a fruitcake.”
“Nah, you're cool,” Annabelle said. “I'm sorry. I didn't even get you what you came in for. Did you need gas at one of the pumps?”
“Cigarettes,” Jennie announced, still grinning. “My vice. Menthol light 100's.”
“Got it,” Annabelle said and grabbed the pack from the shelf for her. “Seven-fifty.”
“Ooh, fifty cents off,” Jennie cooed with humor. “I could get used to that.” She paid with the ten and received her change.
“I'm really sorry that you had to go through all that weirdness,” Jennie told Annabelle as she went to leave. “People can be really ignorant and a-holes because of it.”
“Thanks,” Annabelle replied with sincerity. “I'm glad to have met you.” She held out her hand and Jennie shook it.
“Likewise,” Jennie assured. “I'll see you around soon.”
As Jennie drove across the street to get coffee for herself and her husband, she considered what the company had done to Annabelle. Instead of stopping, she continued on through the parking lot and out the exit. She drove down the street to a competing coffee place which was a bit more expensive and bought their drinks there. She used the extra fifty cents she saved plus the random change in the bottom of her purse. She barely had enough to cover the order.
It was completely worth it.
When she got home, she brought her husband his coffee and explained what had taken her so long.
“I just assumed you were smoking,” he responded with a shrug.
“I totally forgot,” Jennie said with some surprise. “I guess I was caught up in the drama.”
“Yep, sounds like you,” he answered. “So is it a girl becoming a guy or a guy becoming a girl?”
“Why does it matter?” Jennie wondered, giving him a weird look.
“I'm just curious. I never noticed anyone and I've been to that coffee place dozens of times in the last few months.”
“She's a woman. And she is finishing her transition into a woman,” Jennie stated firmly. “By the way, it's not a good idea to refer to any person as an 'it'. Haven't you learned anything from watching the democratic nominees?”
“You know what I meant,” her husband said drolly. “And I didn't say it to a general audience, I said it in the privacy of my own home. To you, Judgy McJudgerson.”
“I was just saying...” Jennie trailed off.
“At any rate, I didn't notice any women who looked like anything but women,” he decided.
“She is a woman,” Jennie reiterated. “That's the whole point.”
“But you recognized she was trans,” he quickly pointed out.
“A lot of the time, I also recognize when people are gay or lesbian,” she put in with a shrug. “I just notice how people relate to other people. Everyone has tells. Annabelle has large hands and she's not completely comfortable using them in a feminine way. So, I noticed other little signs about her. But knowing and caring are two different things. If she's a decent person, I don't care if she's a martian.”
“Did our daughter notice?” he asked curiously.
“No, but she was always paying more attention to her phone than the drive-thru window. Why would it phase her anyway? She's been taught since birth to accept everyone for who they are. I don't want her raised like I was.”
“God forbid,” her husband replied with a shudder which wasn't entirely feigned. “I'm proud of our girl.”
At that moment, Cecile, their daughter came around the corner into the living room. “You're proud of me for what?” she asked, reaching for chocolate from the community bowl on the coffee table.
“For you being accepting of the LGTBQ community,” her dad declared.
“Yeah, why wouldn't I be? I pretty much think I'm pansexual anyway, so I guess I'm actually part of the 'A' you forgot to tack onto that.”
“'LGTBQA?'” Jennie's husband queried a bit baffled. Jennie laughed. He had completely skimmed over his child's admission she liked a person for their personality and not for their sexuality. Therefore it didn't matter if she fell in love with a boy or a girl, whoever made her happy. When he let himself think about it, he would freak out a little bit. In his narrow view, that was just a definition of bi-sexuality. He still had a lot to learn.
“Come here,” Jennie invited Cecile, She obeyed. Jennie hugged their thirteen-year-old and said, “I love you, whoever you are. And I support you.”
“Thanks, Mom,” she said uncomfortably, but obviously touched. She went to her father and gave him a hug as well. When she stood, she was back to being a nonchalant, bored teenager. “Is dinner almost ready yet?”
Jennie laughed. Just another normal Tuesday night discussing social conflicts and mealtime. Fleetingly, she wondered if her daughter would ever face the judgment Annabelle had to go though from ignorant people who couldn't treat others with respectful equality.
Jennie went outside to have a cigarette.