I got out of bed and left Maria’s bedroom to step onto the balcony. I lit a cigarette. It was dark out there. The night felt nice. Maria watched me through the window, still in bed, up on her elbow with her curly hair hanging over one eye.
“You’re not even a real smoker,” she said. “Why do you smoke?”
“Number one, Humphrey Bogart.”
“When I was real young, my younger brother got caught smoking one of my mom’s cigarettes. She made him smoke the whole pack. It seemed like torture. He never smoked again. So I never had any desire to smoke. But the first time I ever thought about it? I was in my senior year of high school and I watched Casablanca for the first time. You seen that movie?”
“So this guy is basically saving the world but all he really wants is to just run this bar. This broad…”
“Don’t say broad. You don’t talk like that.”
“What are you giving me a hard time for? I’m telling you a story. I can’t get into character?”
“Oh Christ,” I mimicked. “You asked me to tell a story. You want me to tell the story or not?”
“OK. Go. Jesus.”
“So it seems like every scene, he’s smoking a cigarette. He makes it look so cool. I’m sorry but he did. He just made it seem like every single one of them made a difference. This guy with his hair slicked back. Making the hard decisions. Picking the music. So that was the first thing that made me wanna smoke.”
“And the second thing?”
“I’d started smoking in college but I didn’t think I was very good. What I mean is, I didn’t really know yet what brand I liked, I rarely had a lighter on me, I was a pretender basically. And quite honestly, I don’t always enjoy it. It’s easier at night. Easier when I’m drinking.”
“You’re more of a social smoker.”
“Yeah, that makes sense to say. But here and there I’d try to smoke in the day. So one day, I’m walking through campus to meet some of the guys. We were gonna get a bite between classes. I see them across the courtyard and I’m walking towards them, and in the middle of the courtyard I stop, without thinking, I swear to God. And I pull out a smoke and I light it up. And then I continue on. No thought. And when I came up to them, Marshall says, “I know I shouldn’t tell you this. But when you lit up that cigarette, you looked really fucking cool.””
Maria put her chin in palm, sheet sliding down her bare back, waiting for the punchline.
“That’s it,” I said.
“That’s it? He told you you looked cool?”
“I mean, there’s literally a saying that says flattery will get you places, or something like that.”
“Wow,” she said rolling over.
I rubbed the cigarette out and flicked it over her balcony. I got back in bed under the covers and tried to get close to her.
“No! You smoke, you gotta go brush your teeth. Gross.”
I rolled my eyes, and hopped back out of bed. “You know I look good, baby.”
She rolled away into her pillow. But not before I saw her smile.