It was the first time he drew the smoke into his lungs. For the month or two before, he merely held little puffs in his mouth, cheeks comically inflated. No one ever said anything to Chris about improper technique. If it wasn’t for an ill-timed yawn, he may never have felt so wonderfully lightheaded and faintly nauseated.
His best friend Rich leaned back on the hood of the car and he did the same. The sunlight and an hour’s worth of driving warmed the metal and the backs of Chris’ arms. The last month of summer was a good time.
“Lemme see your lighter,” said Chris. Rich reached out to hand it over then pulled it back at the last moment. He did it several times before finally giving the lighter up. Chris played along. The only way to get anything from his friend was to act surprised each time the thing was denied.
The lighter was a Zippo, gold in color with the Lucky Strike logo on its side. It looked like it could have been from any decade since the forties- like it could have seen action in one of the wars in that time frame. While Chris and his other friends were equipped with ever changing, colorful disposables, Rich was never without his Zippo, stolen from his dad, a tobacco sales rep and a good-natured drinker.
Chris flipped the lighter open with a snap and produced a flame with another. He closed the lid and did it again. On the third try he fumbled and nearly dropped it. He lit another cigarette and gave the lighter back, before Rich could point out the waste of fluid and flint. They smoked and watched the cars drive by. In a week they would begin their final year of high school.
By the fourth cigarette, the taste in Chris’ mouth was horrible. After a few years spent refining the habit, a person might hold off from lighting up until the craving returned. Chris didn’t consider that an option. He looked at the half-full pack and would only feel finished once it was empty. He spat into the gravel and asked Rich if he was going to sign up for anything that year.
“Naw. I thought about football, but everybody on the team has been playing since junior high. I’d end up on the sidelines,” he said, “What about you?”
“Baseball in the spring, definitely. I’m thinking about cross country, but that starts in a few days.”
“You’re crazy, man. I’d cough up a lung if I ran even one mile.”
“Yeah, I probably won’t do it,” Chris said, “It’s not like I’m gonna earn a scholarship, anyway.” They rarely talked about college. There was still time.
“Can I see the Zippo again? I want to try to light it with my left hand.”
Rich held out the lighter, waiting for Chris to make his move.
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