Standing near the curb at the edge of a downtown sidewalk in front of their parked cars on a mid-September Wednesday afternoon, mid-teen friends Lauren Nelson, Haylee McPherson, and Carly Hansen enthusiastically traded stories of the new school year with one another as they puffed away on their half-smoked cigarettes.
“I’m so bad at math!” Lauren exclaimed before taking a quick but intense drag from her Marlboro Light 100 and then continued through a talking exhale, “I barely got through Algebra I and I’m already in way over my head only two weeks into Algebra II!”
“You’re lucky that you have Miss Thorstad. She’s actually good,” Carly responded in reference to a teacher from their mutual high school that she knew Lauren would be aware of. “I have Mr. Glynn and he can’t teach math worth shit.”
“Geometry for me,” replied the sophomore Haylee who attended a different high school than the two cousins who were both juniors, her Camel Pink No. 9 dangling lazily from her lips as it usually did. She puckered up for a dangling drag and then added, “I’m not bad at math but geometry still seems really hard so far.”
Carly took a drag from her cigarette and then looked Haylee’s direction to respond, “I wasn’t great at geometry but I can definitely try to help any time you’re stuck.”
Haylee nodded appreciatively taking another dangling drag and responding “I will probably take you up on that,” with a mess of smoke spraying out of her mouth, noticing that her cigarette was nearing its end.
Lauren looked at Carly with bewilderment as she took an intense double-pump final drag from her cigarette and then teased Carly by saying, “You never helped me a damn bit with geometry and I could have used it!”
The girls laughed at Lauren’s bluntness as Lauren flicked her spent cigarette butt to the curb and Haylee removed hers from her mouth and littered it on the sidewalk beneath her feet before both girls instinctively reached into their purses to grab another from their respective packs. Carly looked down to her cigarette to see there was still a third left, not surprised she was lagging behind the much harder-core smokers Lauren and Haylee, but approached her cigarette to her mouth for an intense closing drag in a desperate attempt to seem as though she was capable of keeping up with them.
As Lauren and Haylee both lit up their new cigarettes and began to put their respective packs back in their purses, Carly called out, “Mind if I bum one more?”
“Sure,” Lauren responded through a talking dangle of the fresh cigarette she had just lit, preparing to pluck out another cigarette for Carly.
“I was actually talking to Haylee,” Carly responded with a sarcastic flair, eliciting more giggles from the trio before she added, “I have to smoke your awful Marlboro Lights at school, but if I have literally any other option I’m going with that!”
Haylee beamed with a smile as she plucked out another Camel Pink No. 9 from her pack, smoke spewing from her face off of her latest endless dangle as she handed it to Carly.
“If my cigarettes are that bad, you don’t have to bum them from me at school anymore!” Lauren responded with her playful, teasing vocal flourish, smoke spewing from her mouth and nose after every syllable.
Carly aggressively nodded in the negative as she placed Haylee’s Camel Pink in her mouth and prepared her lighter, “Yours are still better than no nicotine at all!”
Carly flicked her lighter in attempt to fire up her cigarette, but repeated attempts all failed to ignite as the lighter was dysfunctionally low on butane. Lauren began to fish her lighter out of her purse and teasingly asked Carly, “My lighter is still good enough for you I hope?” extending her hand for Carly to take hold.
A light went off in Carly’s head as she looked at Haylee and Lauren, excitedly requesting, “No….let’s monkey fuck!”
“Oh good idea!” Lauren responded, placing her cigarette in her mouth and squeezing forward along with Haylee and Carly. Lauren couldn’t resist giggling as the three of them pressed the ends of their cigarettes together, with Lauren and Haylee’s lit cherries slowly bringing to life Carly’s unlit cigarette over the course of about 15 seconds. A geyser of smoke erupted in the center of this circle with all three girls’ cigarettes being consumed at a faster-than-normal clip during the light-up effort. The girls then broke apart, a chemical fog between them so thick they could barely see each other for a few seconds.
“That was fun!” Lauren exclaimed, removing the dangling cigarette from her mouth.
Haylee kept her cigarette parked between her lips as she resumed the conversation where it left off based on Carly’s comment that intrigued her. “So you give her cigarettes at school?” Haylee asked through a talking dangle.
“During lunch,” Lauren corrected. “We go out to my car and smoke together during lunch. When you get your license, you’ll get to do that too.”
Haylee smirked through her cigarette and quipped, “Who says I have to wait till I get my license to smoke during lunch?”
Carly’s eyes got big as she pressed, “You smoke on school grounds?”
Haylee responded with a smug affirmative nod, smoke billowing from her face as she exhaled with pride and then responded, “I got a secret place in the ventilation ducts where I sneak some cigarettes during lunch,” pausing to belch out a residual exhale and adding, “Never got caught last year and still pulling it off this year.”
Lauren laughed. “Oh that’s right….you told me about that last spring. You’re really lucky to have a spot like that. I’m usually dying for a cigarette all morning and afternoon. Got used to smoking all the time over the summer and it’s not a fun adjustment!” She placed her half-smoked cigarette in her lips and dangled as she lifted the arm of her T-shirt to show the tan line from where a nicotine patch was fastened to her upper arm for much of the daytime hours of school days, then following up through a talking dangle, “I use a patch during school. It helps some but not the same as a cig.”
Carly dragged from her cigarette while listening, struck once again that it was her who corrupted Lauren into trying smoking two years earlier, but Lauren’s habit had now become a full-blown addiction that totally eclipsed Carly’s.
The jangle of a bell in the direction of the nearby tack and western storefront drew Lauren’s attention as its front door opened, particularly since she’d be going in there as soon as she finished her cigarette. Two late teen or early 20s guys stepped outside, duded up in cowboy attire with hats, shirts, and tight Wranglers that looked like they came straight off of the ranch…or at least the line dance floor. Lauren could feel her female hormones instinctively rage as she looked at the two guys walking in her direction. Even with the risk of being busted, she gave two abrupt nudges in the direction of her friends, nudging Carly first with her left elbow and then Haylee with her right elbow, alerting them to look up for the emerging matinee of rugged masculinity coming their way and flashing a smile to the guys on her friends’ behalf.
Haylee and Carly both made a flash of eye contact with the young cowboys as they approached, the guys struck by the unusual vision of three mid-teen girls publicly smoking cigarettes. The cowboys’ eyes darted from one girl to the next admiringly, taking in the group’s apparent alpha female Lauren decked out in her white T-shirt and pale blue denim miniskirt, then drifting to the younger-looking Haylee wearing a pink blouse and pale blue jeans with the out-of-place cigarette dangling from her lips, and finally moving to Carly, dressed in her more utilitarian sweatshirt and dark jeans.
Lauren could feel her heartbeat accelerate as the cowboys approached, their eyes mostly focused on her since she was the only one looking at them. She flashed a friendly smile, but didn’t want to give them the wrong idea since she was taken, quickly realizing the guys were losing interest based on the apathetic responses of Lauren’s friends.
“Hey girls,” the two guys said, one of them tipping his hat with a friendly but harmless greeting as they proceeded on past.
“Hi guys,” Lauren replied sweetly, still hoping Carly and Haylee would follow her lead and start flirting.
Instead, the shy Carly looked to the ground, unwilling to make additional eye contact and feeling inferior next to her much prettier friends who she knew the cowboys would have gravitated to instead of her if they did stop for conversation. And Haylee removed the cigarette from her mouth and cut loose a fierce smoker’s cough, following it up with a loud lugie she hocked up from deep in her lungs and then spit out onto the sidewalk oblivious to the response from the cowboys as they passed. Lauren put her hand over her face in embarrassment of Haylee’s crude and tone-deaf gesture.
Once the cowboys were out of hearing range, an apoplectic Lauren looked at her friend and cousin and emphatically inquired, “Are you two out of your minds??!?! They were sooo into us!” followed by an ironic smoker’s cough of her own.
Haylee and Carly looked up to Lauren, both searching for a response but not immediately finding one, instead tending to their cigarettes for respective drags while considering their alibis.
“You know flirting with guys is not my thing,” Carly finally retorted.
With the stub of her Camel Pink puckered between her lips for a final dangling drag, Haylee responded, “I probably did them a favor. They’re both probably over 18 so my parents would have had them thrown in jail if they smiled at me!”
Lauren didn’t immediately know how to respond to that, taking a final drag from her Marlboro Light 100 and flicking the butt to the curb, before shaking her head in frustration and finally saying, “You two soooo need to get yourself some boyfriends,” knowing that for their own distinct reasons, neither was probably ready for one any time soon.
After another couple of moments of awkward silence, Lauren pressed ahead, “There will probably be all kinds of cowboys like them at the rodeo on Saturday. You two should come with. It’ll be so much fun!” referencing her weekend plans to go to a rodeo in southern Minnesota in Wade Rosenquist’s hometown, with Wade, Courtney, and Trevor all going for the drive to see his cousin Shane compete in the regional rodeo.
“Don’t look at me. I gotta babysit,” Haylee responded, taking advantage of the convenient excuse to remain socially checked out and in her comfort zone, distanced from any pressure to mingle with boys who weren’t named Jacob Roth.
Carly took a drag from her nearly expired cigarette and said, “Sorry Lauren. Just doesn’t sound like my thing. I think I’ll just have a quiet weekend at home.”
Lauren seemed disappointed at her friends’ lack of interest as she watched Carly take a final drag from the cigarette and then drop it to the curb.
“But I want you to have fun!” Carly added in hopes of redirecting the conversation back to Lauren. “Should we go inside and pick out your outfit?” she asked pointing in the direction of the tack and western wear store that the cowboys exited only moments earlier.
Lauren’s frown quickly morphed back into a smile as she took Carly’s advice and led the way to the store entrance with Carly and Haylee following her inside. The girls took in the pleasing smell of the leather and oils that filled the western store, as everybody inside the store took in the smell of fresh tobacco clinging to the unlikely teenage girls who just walked in.
A half hour passed with Haylee and Carly standing outside the dressing room awaiting Lauren’s repeated exits trying on the multiple country girl outfits that caught her eye, and the girls were starting to lose interest. But it was worth the wait for all when Lauren emerged from the dressing room decked out in the outfit they all knew was right. Lauren beamed as she posed and twirled around for her friends decked out in a low-cut, button-down plaid blouse tucked into a pair of tight medium-blue jeans with a button fly, both of which fit Lauren’s shapely body to perfection.
“Oh Lauren, it looks so good on you!” Haylee complimented.
“Thanks!” Lauren responded, pleased that her best friend concurred that this was the best outfit she’d tried on.
“Trevor’s gonna love seeing you in that!” Carly added.
“That’s what I’m hoping!” Lauren said with a sweet flourish, before drifting toward the cowboy hats, curious if she should try to add to her ensemble. She lifted a hat off the display and placed it on top of her head, turning to Carly and Haylee and asking “Think I can pull this off?”
Haylee and Carly both looked skeptical as they looked Lauren over, the hat not fully winning them over as being compatible with Lauren’s milieu. Carly shook her head and gave her a so-so hand gesture accompanied by a verbal “Meh!”
Lauren hung her head and began to try on other hats, hoping she’d find one that her friends would think looked right for her, but Haylee’s attention was soon directed at another display featuring hair products. Haylee smiled as she walked over to the display and took one down, announcing to Lauren, “I’ve got a better idea.”
Lauren walked over to see what Haylee was holding as Haylee read the logo aloud. “Drybar Texas Tea Volumizing Hair Spray,” Haylee announced, fluttering her eyebrows and continuing to read the logo before adding, “Fuck the cowgirl hat. This will give you that big Texas hair look! It would be perfect for a Saturday at the rodeo!”
Lauren once again beamed as she looked it over and was quickly won over. “You’re right! I’m picking this up!”
The girls were giddy as Lauren went back to the dressing room to change into her regular clothes before coming back out to buy the plaid blouse, tight jeans, and hair spray. Lauren took out her credit card and had some brief friendly banter with the middle-aged male clerk as he bagged her purchase. He thought he smelled cigarette smoke on the girls when they walked in and was surprised by it, and was surprised again as Lauren and Haylee reached into their purses and plucked out their respective cigarette packs as they drifted toward the exit. Lauren placed an unlit cigarette between her lips as she began to open the door while Haylee fished out a cigarette for herself and one for Carly. They stepped outside and seconds later flicked their lighters to satisfy the mid-level cravings that had built during their half hour in this store.
Lauren looked at her phone to see it was 4:35 as she pulled hard off of her freshly lit cigarette, and then announced to her friends, “I gotta get going and meet Wade by 5,” looking to Carly and asking, “Can you take Haylee home in your car?”
Confused looks emerged on Haylee and Carly’s faces as Carly nodded affirmatively in response to Lauren’s request, with Haylee then asking through a talking dangle off of her own freshly lit cigarette the obvious question on both of their minds. “Why do you have to meet Wade?”
A mischievous smirk emerged on Lauren’s face as she took another deep drag from the cigarette and eventually answered, “He’s got something to teach me for Saturday.”
Trevor McPherson sat on the front steps of his parents’ house Saturday morning awaiting the arrival of Lauren as well as Wade and Courtney to make the one and a half hour drive southeast to Wade’s hometown for the rodeo, looking at his phone to see it was 8:03 a.m. and knowing they’d be arriving any time now. Trevor wasn’t particularly thrilled about the idea of spending his Saturday at this rodeo, but Lauren wanted to go when Wade and Courtney asked and Trevor knew they’d make the most of whatever time they spent together. He looked up to see Wade’s long-in-the-tooth extended-cab truck driving down the block toward his house and waved as Wade pulled into the driveway.
Trevor’s older sister Courtney was sitting in the passenger side and opened the door to briefly step outside. Courtney had a shit-eating smirk on her face that raised Trevor’s suspicion until he was distracted checking out her outfit, a cowgirl hat atop her head along with a white button-down blouse paired with a pair of black leather pants with fringes that managed to be consistent with her preferred wardrobe mainstays yet suitable for an early fall day at the rodeo.
“We better get going,” Courtney called out to Trevor, motioning him toward the truck with that suspicious grin still smeared all over her face. “The rodeo starts at 11 and we want a good seat.”
A confused look formed on Trevor’s face as he responded, “Well I have to wait for Lauren. We’re all riding together, right?”
Wade then chimed in from behind the wheel of the driver’s seat, a shit-eating smirk of his own as he stuck his hand out the rolled-down window to motion Trevor their direction. “C’mon, Trevor. You can squeeze on in to my tight little backseat here and wait for Lauren to get here. Then we gotta split.”
Wade and Courtney’s tones were incredibly odd and their request didn’t make sense, but Trevor nonetheless started walking toward the truck, realizing he was about to get pranked and trying to figure out what it was all about as he slowly progressed forward. A burst of cigarette smoke going airborne from the truck bed tipped Trevor off seconds before the moment of revelation as his girlfriend began standing up from her crouched position where she’d been hiding out of sight for the last couple of blocks.
Lauren flashed a mischievous smirk as she emerged in full view of Trevor decked out like he’d never seen her before in sexy cowgirl duds. The top button of her plaid blouse was left unbuttoned, showing off an appetizer of cleavage, while her tight Wrangler jeans hugged her hourglass figure like an extra layer of skin, the button fly snugly showing off the curvature of her lower waist and crotch. And most strikingly, her dark blond hair was puffed up like a vintage Dallas debutante. Her masterpiece was official and complete as she placed her cigarette to her lips and let it dangle, then surprising Trevor yet again when she unveiled her hand that she’d been holding behind her back since she stood up and revealed a lasso rope.
Lauren couldn’t refrain from giggling through the extended dangle of her cigarette as she began twirling around the lasso rope just as Wade had showed her a few nights earlier. Trevor smiled as he figured out the prank, listening to Wade and Courtney laugh in the background but unwilling to take his eyes off of his impossibly sexy girlfriend for even a second as she concentrated on the lasso rope while twirling it and then released it Trevor’s direction. Wade and Courtney cheered as the airborne lasso landed perfectly over Trevor’s shoulders. He held his breath anticipating discomfort as Lauren yanked the rope at just the right moment to corral Trevor’s upper body. She pulled it tight and Trevor played along, moving forward with his arms and chest fully contained within the rope until he was pulled to the edge of the truck bed.
Trevor was turned on beyond words at the sight of his girlfriend reeling him in, a steady haze of cigarette smoke hovering around her beautiful face as she dangle-dragged the half-smoked cigarette, ultimately kneeling back down to the truck bed so that she was face to face with the ensnared Trevor. She finally removed the cigarette from her mouth and listened to the cheers from Courtney and Wade as she leaned in to plant a passionate kiss on Trevor’s lips, still pulling on the lasso rope with her free hand knowing that Trevor was getting off on being her captive as she forced her ashtray mouth upon him in this vulnerable position. The extreme aroma of the cigarette smoke on her breath blended nicely with the fresh aroma of the hair spray that added to the intoxicating presence she was imposing upon him.
After several seconds of intense kissing, Lauren pulled away and softly muttered, “Really got the power over you this morning,” winking at him to make sure he knew she had remembered and continued to internalize his confession to her on the Sky Glider at the Minnesota State Fair regarding the sexiness of her smoking and the power it had on him. She stared at him with intense affection as she placed the cigarette back to her lips for another deep drag, and Trevor kept his eyes locked on her for every nanosecond of it until she broke the silence by adding, “Now let’s get going to a real rodeo.”
Lauren climbed over the edge of the truck bed, revealing to Trevor the sexy black boots that had been the hidden portion of her ensemble up until this point, dangling her cigarette as she pushed off the edge of the truck bed and landed on her feet on Trevor’s driveway. In the moments after his lust for Lauren’s sexy outfit started to scale down a tick, he looked up to Courtney’s leather cowgirl outfit and Wade’s more traditional country boy look, complete with cowboy hat and boots, and became self-conscious about being insufficiently duded up himself. As he looked down to his conventional T-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes, he was about to request to go back into the house to see if he could find something else in his wardrobe that might be more appropriate for the occasion, until Wade verbally reminded the group about the timeline.
“Well….we better take off,” Wade announced, briefly pulling up the seat in his extended cab truck allowing access to the diminutive backseat. He looked into the relatively small space in the truck and then looked at Trevor and Lauren to reaffirm the stated plans. “It’s gonna be kinda tight back there. I’ll be happy to take you with if you want to ride with us but I can’t promise your legs won’t get cramped.”
“That’s okay!” Lauren answered for both of them perkily, smoke spraying from her mouth and nose as she gave a brief flirty side-eye to Trevor and then added, “We won’t mind being cozy together for a couple of hours.”
“Oooooh!” Courtney said, high-fiving Lauren for the aggressive gesture while expelling a long stream of mentholated smoke that drifted toward Trevor and Lauren’s faces.
Trevor still wanted to change clothes but didn’t want to hold up the show as Lauren waved him inside, saying “After you, sir!” and then adding, “I should take the window seat behind Courtney so I can ash out of it,” before looking to Wade to make sure he didn’t mind, “…if you don’t mind me smoking in your truck.”
Wade nodded reassuringly, adding “With the way this girl smokes, I better be okay with smoking in my truck,” in reference to Courtney.
Lauren giggled and then climbed into the cramped backseat of the extended cab truck next to Trevor, heeding Wade’s warning as he warned them to watch their knees as he pushed the seat back. Lauren smiled sweetly as Trevor and said, “Not too bad back here,” even though both of them slid their legs to the right to squeeze into the tight seat.
“Good to hear but we’ll see if you still feel that way an hour and a half down the road,” Wade mused, climbing into the driver’s seat as Courtney climbed into the passenger seat. Courtney took a final drag from her cigarette just as Lauren took a final drag from hers, dual streams of exhaled smoke flowing out the opened passenger side window as Courtney tossed her butt into her parents’ driveway a split second before Lauren flicked hers in the same general direction.
Lauren looked at Courtney’s reflection in the rearview mirror and began to socialize. “How do you like college, Courtney?”
Lauren picked up on Courtney’s mixed feelings from the look on her face in the rearview mirror before she started talking. “Ugh….” Courtney began with mild frustration, “…I’m trying not think about it until tomorrow night when I get back to my mountain of homework.”
“That bad?” Lauren probed.
“Well…” Courtney began to qualify, “…it’s certainly an adjustment. I’m sure I’ll settle in as I get used to my classes and the campus culture more. But for now, I’m really glad I get to come home to my comfort zone at night,” she closed, darting her eyes briefly in Wade’s direction in acknowledgment of how much easier Wade was making this transition for her.
Wade began to pull out of the McPherson’s driveway as Courtney looked over her shoulder into the backseat, bantering with Lauren for a couple more minutes about the start of their respective school years. As the conversation began to wind down, Courtney noticed Lauren taking her Marlboro Lights 100s pack out of her purse and plucking one out, inserting it in her lips and handing her lighter to Trevor. Watching Lauren dangle the unlit cigarette from her lips while conversing with her and casually beckoning a light from a smitten Trevor, Courtney was mentally processing the dynamic and reaching some obvious conclusions. As the smoke blasted from Lauren’s mouth and nose after Trevor lit her up, Courtney’s mind flashed back to that first time Lauren came over to have dinner with the McPherson family almost a year earlier. She remembered being shocked that the unlikely girl-next-door Lauren was a smoker, and recalled the moment Becky insisted Trevor light up his girlfriend’s cigarette. Yet here they all were again embarking on a road trip to southern Minnesota and quite a few things that didn’t make sense to Courtney then did now….
It wasn’t until her sex therapy sessions and fledgling interest in psychology that Courtney began to connect the dots on the complicated connection of smoking in her father’s relationship with her mother, and in her response to her own inappropriate feelings toward her father. Looking at Trevor so dutifully attend to Lauren’s nicotine needs right here in front of her, it was painfully obvious to Courtney now that Steve wasn’t the only male member of the McPherson family who had a sexualized association with female smoking. In one respect, she found it cute that Lauren’s smoking was such an obvious primal cue for Trevor, but she was a little more unsettled as she reminded herself how complicated the smoking fetish had made her own situation with her family, and she couldn’t help but feel Trevor might find himself with complications of his own one day because of it as well.
As Lauren and Courtney’s conversation reached its natural end, Courtney looked to Wade as she plucked out another Marlboro Light Menthol 100 of her own. She tried to test his body language as she worked her eye contact suggestively while lighting the cigarette. Wade’s measured response to her mild theatrics reinforced what she already expected to be the case. Wade didn’t have any problem with her smoking, but he didn’t have the smoking fetish. She’d seen from her father and her brother what a male with a smoking fetish acted like in the presence of a female smoker, and Wade was in the clear. She grabbed hold of his hand, correctly reading a bit of confusion from him in regards to her calculatedly flirtatious behavior, but as she exhaled the first stream of smoke from her freshly lit cigarette, it also served as a sigh of relief that this relationship was unlikely to face the inevitable complication that would come if Wade had a smoking fetish.
As the brief moment between Wade and Courtney passed, Wade decided to engage with his passengers again, asking “Anybody up for some music?”
“Yeah, sure!” Lauren responded through a talking exhale.
“All I got is a radio in my old truck so what station would you like me to turn it to?” Wade asked.
Lauren looked at Trevor mischievously and answered, “Oh I think we gotta listen to country on the way to a rodeo!”
Trevor’s audible groan could be heard by everybody in the truck, eliciting a giggle from Lauren and more measured laughter from Wade and Courtney. Wade turned to Courtney and said, “Looks like you get to break the tie, Courtney.”
Courtney took a deep drag from her cigarette, cutting loose a modest smoker’s cough while deliberating for a moment before responding through a talking exhale, “Sorry Trevor, but I think I’m with the crowd on this one.”
“Yaayyyy!” Lauren exclaimed, mostly to needle Trevor who cringed once again about being overruled.
Wade turned on his radio, the twangy sounds of the oldies country station he’d left the radio dial turned to when last in his truck booming out of the speakers. While this kind of “country” was his preference, he figured when Lauren requested country music, she meant modern country-pop, so he turned the dial until he came upon a station broadcasting the familiar modern country beats. He quickly became a little annoyed with himself for suggesting music in the first place knowing he’d have to listen to this racket for the next hour and a half, and Courtney leaned over to gently tease him about it.
Lauren was swaying back and forth as much as possible in the limited backseat space she had to work with, exaggeratedly moving to the music with cigarette in hand to taunt Trevor. Looking up to see Courtney and Wade were distracted in their own conversation, Lauren bit her lower lip and then softly asked Trevor, “So how do you like being lassoed, baby?”
Before Trevor figured out the context of her double entendre, Lauren took an intense drag from her cigarette and then leaned forward toward him, forming a circle with her lips and blowing perfect smoke rings straight into his face that lassoed his nose and quickly broke apart upon touching his face. With the intoxicating aroma of Lauren’s smoke hovering near his nose and eyes coupled with the aroma of the high-end hair spray she had liberally applied, Trevor’s sexual energy was beginning to crescendo and he instinctively placed his hand on her thigh to feel for himself how the tight denim of those Wranglers fit her. Looking at the sweet but mischievous look on the face of his girlfriend with her big hair and cowgirl profile, residual cigarette smoke still trickling from her mouth and nose on subsequent breaths, he decided the musical backdrop to this moment coming out of Wade’s radio was kind of fitting after all.
An hour and a half later, Wade drove past the highway sign reading “Cannon City…Population 4,276” and progressed slowly into town, becoming unusually animated as he waved to familiar faces and pointed out local landmarks and businesses that held memories from his upbringing. Trevor and Lauren were listening fondly to Wade’s descriptions of everything from the meat market and bakery downtown to his old high school as they made their way through the town, finding Wade’s energy contagious and thinking this seemed like a pretty nice place to have grown up.
Courtney’s reaction was a bit more complicated, as she smiled through Wade’s running narration and took intermittent drags from her latest cigarette as he enthusiastically ad-libbed his background in Cannon City. But the prospect of someday living in this town was more real for Courtney than it was for Trevor and Lauren, and she found herself trying to picture herself here. She’d never seen Wade this animated in the city, which was her world. Would he be okay staying in the city if they decided to make a life together? Or would he insist on coming back to Cannon City? She figured there was a good chance it would become clear after spending the day here with him today, and she tried to keep from overthinking things and refocused on listening to Wade’s stories as they kept heading east through town. She took another intense drag from her cigarette and smiled as she exhaled a long stream of smoke in Wade’s general direction as he was pointing out his boyhood best friend’s home to his left on a residential street.
Wade drove east on the highway out of city limits, heading to the track where the rodeo was held a couple miles out of town. Courtney, Lauren, and Trevor were all struck at the packed parking lot when Wade got there as Wade had to parallel park his truck on the edge of the road a good quarter mile from the track. Courtney and Wade climbed out of the truck cab, pulling up the seat to allow Trevor and Lauren to climb out. Both were ready to get out of that compressed back seat, stretching out their legs and upper body in the moments after exiting. Lauren quickly reached for her purse to pull out another cigarette, handing Trevor her lighter to let him fire her up. This time, Wade took note of Trevor’s chivalrous gesture and decided to run with it seconds later as Courtney was fishing out a Marlboro Light Menthol 100 from her own pack and placing it between her lips.
Wade took hold of her lighter and said with a smile, “Don’t want your brother to make me look bad,” as he flicked the lighter and approached the flame to the end of Courtney’s cigarette.
Lauren giggled in the background and added through a talking exhale, “Keep that cowboy in line, Courtney! Make sure he lights you EVERY time!”
Courtney smiled as she pumped out the first eruptions of smoke off of the light-up, appreciating Wade’s gesture but still hoping Wade didn’t take Lauren’s words to heart permanently because of Courtney’s complicated past with the smoking fetish she had just recently mused about early in the drive.
The two young couples made the long walk to the gate surrounding the rodeo track with Lauren and Courtney intermittently dragging from their cigarettes as they held hands with their respective boyfriends. Trevor felt increasingly out of place as he scanned the dozens of other attendees in his line of vision, all of whom dressed for the occasion in some degree of western attire. He kicked himself for not anticipating this and could feel his anticipation build as he progressed closer to the gate. Wade paid the admission for the four of them and they proceeded into the crowd, with Wade keeping his eye open for his cousin Shane who was competing in today’s event.
The group spent the next few moments weaving through the mass of humanity in the general proximity of the track until Wade finally spotted his cousin amongst a huddle of cowboys all chatting it up. Wade smiled upon seeing Shane’s face and began to approach the huddle, but the smile was quickly wiped from his face as he laid eyes upon another cowboy in the crowd. Wade froze for a moment and stared disdainfully at the cowboy in the group doing most of the talking, charming the crowd with his latest tale of woe.
Courtney immediately sensed Wade’s sudden reluctance and decided to broach the topic as she asked, “Who’s he?”
“Dusty Beaudry,” Wade responded, not even attempting to disguise his contempt. “I graduated high school with him. Not one of my favorite people in the world.”
But before Courtney could get Wade to elaborate, Shane looked up and spotted Wade, smiling as he approached with his hand extended out. “Hey cousin!” Shane greeted, shaking Wade’s hand affectionately before adding, “Glad you could make it.”
“I’d never miss a chance to see my older cousin win regionals,” Wade responded with a broad smile. A few brief exchanges ensued before a familiar voice decided to interject.
“Well what do you know,” Dusty Beaudry greeted with a sarcastic tone and a theatrically exaggerated cowboy accent that seemed entirely put-on for someone born and raised in Minnesota. “Look who decided to come down from the big city to hang out with us bumpkins for the day.”
Wade nodded through gritted teeth. “Dusty…always nice to see you. Running off at the mouth like always, I see.”
“Always, city boy….always!” Dusty responded with an aggravating smirk, gazing past Wade to see Courtney and Lauren sizing him up, taking the final drags from their respective cigarettes and crushing them to the dirt, immediately redirecting Dusty’s attention before adding, “But I gotta say, if they got more ladies like this up in the city, I might just come back with ya!”
Dusty tipped his hat to Lauren and Courtney and greeted “Howdy ladies. This your first rodeo….so to speak?”
Lauren giggled, fully taken by Dusty’s country charm as she thanked him and introduced herself to him and Shane. Wade grudgingly pointed to Courtney and flippantly said, “Dusty, this is my girlfriend Courtney,” before looking to Shane and giving him a more formal introduction. Wade and Shane continued to catch up, with unwelcome interjections from Dusty punctuating their exchange for the next few moments.
Dusty’s eyes drifted again to Courtney, sizing her up and finding it hard to avoid a lustful facial expression admiring her shapely form in that white blouse and leather pants. Dusty’s eyes drifted next to Lauren standing beside her, and he began undressing her with his eyes even more shamelessly, stunned by how sexy this teenage temptress looked in her drugstore cowgirl get-up. Lauren smiled awkwardly as she knew he was aggressively checking her out, appreciating the attention just as she did from the cowboys coming out of the western store earlier in the week, but also wanting him to know she was accounted for. She grabbed hold of Trevor’s hand and then fished in her purse for her pack of Marlboro Lights 100s, pulling one out and placing it in her mouth. She handed Trevor her lighter and smiled sweetly at him as he dutifully lit her up, making brief eye contact with Dusty once again to notice he seemed to be admiring her more than ever now.
But Lauren’s doting on her boyfriend finally led Dusty to look over Trevor, the smile vanishing from his face faster than Lauren’s cigarette smoke vanished into the early autumn sunshine. He did a brief visual scan of Trevor and made sure the sour expression on his face was perfectly obvious to both of them before he turned back to Wade and Shane to continue interjecting in their chat.
And while Dusty may not have liked what he saw in Trevor, the feeling was mutual by orders of magnitude as Trevor looked on at Dusty with maximal disgust, feeling his blood pressure rise as he eyeballed this obnoxious oaf. Trevor had picked up right away on Wade’s unsavory opinion of this showboating big-mouth, but if his first impression was any indication, Trevor was thinking he might already detest Dusty more than Wade. Trevor’s attention was finally redirected back to Lauren as she sneaked in a French inhale, exhaling it into his face as slyly as possible. A smile returned to Trevor’s face, but with Dusty’s voice in the background, he couldn’t quite devote his usual attention to Lauren as she smoked.
“This guy right here….” Dusty carried on to Wade in reference to Shane, “….he’s gonna be the real deal rodeo champ around these parts. He’s gonna be what you could have been if you hadn’t chased those big city lights. Think you might throw your hat in the ring one last time or have you gone too soft after just one year in the city?”
Wade’s annoyance level was visibly rising as he responded, “I think my riding days are in the past. Are you gonna show me how it’s done today?”
“Nah,” Dusty replied, his eyes distracted by Courtney lighting up a cigarette next to Wade. “I’m just a spectator today.”
“That’s what I figured,” Wade responded, rather effortlessly exposing Dusty for failing to live up to his big talk.
Dusty stood there making continued awkward eye contact, attempting to intimidate him with a smarmy smirk before Wade had finally had enough.
“So Dusty, do you suppose you could let me have a few minutes to catch up with my cousin before he has to ride?” Wade asked, pointedly requesting him to go away.
“Yeah, yeah, sure. Sorry to get in the way of your family reunion,” Dusty responded. “Maybe I’ll see y’all again later.” As he began to walk off, Dusty tipped his hat once again at the cigarette-wielding Courtney and Lauren, sustaining eye contact with Lauren for a couple of seconds to make sure she knew he was into her before walking away.
A reflexive smirk remained on Lauren’s face from the male attention, but she tried to hide it when she realized Trevor was looking. She took a deep drag from her cigarette before reassuring him by putting her arm around his waist and saying, “Isn’t this exciting??! Can’t wait to see how Shane does today!”
The group continued to chatter for the next few minutes, with Wade formally introducing Shane to everybody else he rode up with. Trevor definitely found Shane more humble and approachable than the cowboy he was unofficially introduced to moments earlier, and the group mingled until Courtney and Lauren finished their cigarettes and Shane needed to prepare for the competition, which was now only 15 minutes away.
Wade, Courtney, Trevor, and Lauren picked up concessions from the various food vendors surrounding the track and then settled onto the rows of aluminum bleachers surrounding the track. They weaved through the crowds until they found a row of bleachers that supported multiple people, taking a seat on a nearly empty row, and settling in to eat and watch the rodeo.
A couple of minutes passed before an unpleasantly familiar face approached from the right. Trevor could feel his heart sink as Dusty Beaudry sat right next to him on the empty bleacher space, immediately laying on his pseudo-charm as he announced, “Well it looks like I was spot-on about seeing you later. Mind if I take a seat there, shooter?” Dusty asked of Trevor, sitting down next to him before Trevor had any chance to respond.
Even with Courtney, Lauren, and Trevor as a buffer sitting between him and Dusty, Wade grunted and rolled his eyes at the thought of Dusty annoying them for the entire duration of the rodeo.
As the group put the finishing touches on the respective burgers, hot dogs, and pulled pork sandwiches they’d purchased moments earlier, Dusty held out his platter for all to sample. “You guys gotta try these cheese fries. They’re the best I’ve found in five years of rodeo riding.”
Courtney and Lauren didn’t hesitate to take hold of a couple on his platter to taste them, while Wade and Trevor more reluctantly took a couple, treating Dusty’s offering like a bite from the serpent’s apple.
“Wow, these are delicious!” Lauren exclaimed with her usual exuberance.
“You like huh?” Dusty quickly responded, looking right over Trevor to make eyes with his girlfriend. “Well you just go right ahead and have another if you want to little lady.”
Lauren smiled at him and accepted the offer, thanking him and taking a couple more cheese fries off the platter and then eating them, nodding again about how tasty they were. Her lunchtime meal complete, Lauren instinctively opened her purse and plucked out a Marlboro Light 100 from the pack, placing it between her lips and handing Trevor her lighter.
Courtney spotted Lauren beckoning a light from Trevor before he had the chance to light her up and then gave Lauren the bad news. “Oh no…you can’t smoke here,” Courtney warned.
“Really?!??!” Lauren responded with legitimate surprise that the open-air venue full of country boys and girls didn’t allow smoking.
“If you want to smoke you gotta stand over there,” Courtney corrected her, pointing to a designated smoking area about 50 yards away that didn’t have a good vantage point of the track.
“Damn!” Lauren responded in annoyance, removing the cigarette from her mouth and putting it back in the pack, her enthusiasm for this two-hour rodeo suddenly plummeting.
Trevor had spotted the designated smoking area signs when they got there, but he’d hoped Courtney and Lauren would ignore it or be oblivious to it, so his already diminished enthusiasm for this day at the rodeo had really taken a nosedive.
“Nobody gonna bust your chops for some redneck caviar though,” Dusty commented, pulling open a can of Grizzly Wintergreen dip from his pocket and putting a plug under his lip. He then made eye contact with Lauren and said, “If you need some nicotine sitting at the rodeo, girl, this is the way to do it.”
Lauren giggled, not taking the offer seriously until Dusty extended the can of dip over Trevor’s lap to within reach of Lauren, “Take a plug if you like.”
Lauren wrinkled her nose, skeptical at first but then realizing it couldn’t possibly be worse than two hours of fidgeting through a rodeo on aluminum bleachers with no nicotine. She flashed a sweet smile, breaking the suspense of everybody awaiting her decision and saying, “What the hell! I’ll try anything once!”
“Wait a second!” Courtney requested gleefully. “I gotta record this!” readying her phone to capture Lauren’s reaction to tasting her first plug of chew.
Trevor’s tobacco fetish did not extend to dip, but he was nonetheless just as elated as everyone else at the novelty of seeing his sweet girlfriend dabble in this foreign product, and he watched as she reached into the can of Grizzly Wintergreen that Dusty continued holding in front of her, plucking out a pinch between her thumb and forefinger, and then slowly and apprehensively approached it to her mouth.
“Stick it under your lower lip like this,” Dusty instructed, pointing to the plug under his own lower lip.
Lauren did as instructed, stuffing the plug of moist, minty tobacco awkwardly between her lower lip and teeth, trying hard to suppress her giggle with everyone watching her and Courtney’s recording phone trained on her. A few quiet seconds passed as Lauren decided what she thought of the smokeless tobacco sample in her mouth.
“Like it?” Trevor finally asked anticipating it would be a no.
Lauren’s eyes lit up as the juices began to fully filter through her mouth and she responded, “Kind of!”
“Ughhhh!” Courtney responded, keeping her camera on her and continuing, “Well sorry Lauren, but I’m afraid I’ll just have to fight through my cigarette cravings for the next couple hours rather than join you on this one.”
Lauren giggled and responded, “No I totally get it.”
Trevor was experiencing an odd mix of arousal and repulsion at Lauren’s inaugural dipping experiment, and Lauren was all too familiar with Trevor’s body language when he was getting a little turned on. She decided to run with it, puckering up her lips and approaching her mouth to his, saying “How ’bout a kiss, baby?” making smooching noises as her face got within a few inches of his, enough for him to smell her minty tobacco breath.
The group collectively laughed at Trevor’s awkward response to Lauren’s kissing tease, with Wade responding, “You’re okay with her smoking, but do you think you’ll be good with this too, Trevor?”
An embarrassed Trevor could feel his face turn red, hating being on the spot as he responded, “Definitely hoping the habit doesn’t stick.”
Dusty sensed weakness and decided to pounce, looking past Trevor and directly at Lauren again as he said, “Actually, you know, I think if you want to find out if you have a real man, you need to see if he can handle a little tobacco juice in his kisses,” aggressively nodding and successfully whipping up the momentum in the group.
Sensing consent in his eyes, partly with the hope of making the moment end, Lauren gave in to the peer pressure and leaned over to Trevor, who cupped his hand over his crotch to hide his erection as Lauren planted a big, juicy kiss on his lips. He was repulsed by her breath and the taste of chew passing from her saliva to his, but just as he found it sexy when she overpowered him with her smoking, he couldn’t help but feeling some sexual stimulation from this dynamic as well. Lauren pulled away, her swollen lower lip full of tobacco looking oddly out of place amidst her sweet smile and body language that read “sorry” and “you’re welcome” at the same time.
The crowd cheered at the kiss and took one final look at Trevor’s response before letting the moment pass. Dusty picked up an empty bottle of Mountain Dew and spit into it, passing it over Trevor’s lap yet again to beckon Lauren.
“When you need to spit, just reach over and you can use this,” Dusty advised, watching Lauren’s nose wrinkle again at the sight of a disgusting spittoon, and then adding “I suppose you can spit on the ground in front of you but you might mess up these pretty little shoes here,” in emasculating reference to the tennis shoes Trevor wore to the rodeo.
Lauren giggled and took hold of the empty bottle. Trevor couldn’t help but watch in fascination as she let loose a juicy black dribble into the bottle, eliciting another complex bodily response of disgust and attraction for him. His eyes then followed as Lauren handed the Mountain Dew bottle back to Dusty, flashing him a quick but harmless smile that was met with a much more intense and lustful smile on Dusty’s part. As the announcer took the mic to draw the crowd’s attention for the rodeo’s opening bell beginning momentarily, Trevor was now fully aware that this was going to be a long and excruciatingly awkward sit.
Haylee McPherson sat with her legs folded up on her family’s living room couch looking at her phone. She was decked out in a casual pink tanktop and white shorts with a matching half-smoked pink and white Camel Pink No. 9 dangling from her lips, a long granny ash barely hanging on with jets of smoke blasting from her nose. The excited chant from six-year-old Jarrod Wagner sitting on the floor with a video game controller in his hand briefly directed Haylee’s attention toward Jarrod and his three-year-old brother Joshua sitting next to him.
“I conquered Level 6, Haylee!” Jarrod breathlessly exclaimed in reference to the Super Mario Galaxy game he regularly played in the past few weeks while staying at Haylee’s place.
“Good job,” Haylee half-heartedly congratulated through her talking dangle, continuing to direct her attention to her phone, unaware that Jarrod was staring up at her in admiration at another round of nasal jets streaming out of her nostrils following her latest dangling drag.
Jarrod was so distracted that he allowed Mario from his video game to get hit by one of the Goombas, followed by a familiar note of music alerting him the game was over. “Noooo!” Jarrod loudly groaned with the agony of defeat brought upon by his own lack of concentration.
“My turn!” his patient younger brother Joshua cried in immediate response to Jarrod’s game ending.
“Not yet. I want to play one more time!” Jarrod insisted, restarting the game.
“No!!!” Joshua whined, immediately triggering an intervention from their 15-year-old babysitter.
“Jarrod!” Haylee scolded through a talking dangle. “Let Joshua play. It’s his turn.”
Jarrod looked up at her again, knowing that if he only misbehaved a little longer it would bring about a more forceful punishment, which he welcomed. With a smug smirk, Jarrod insisted, “Just let me play one more time, okay?”
The loud sound of Joshua’s cries began to fill the living room, springing Haylee off the couch to discipline Jarrod just as Jarrod hoped she would. With the stub of her cigarette still dangling from her mouth, Haylee hovered right over Jarrod and began to aggressively scold him.
“Your brother has been waiting for you to finish!” Haylee asserted, the cigarette doing a dance in front of Jarrod’s captivated eyes as smoke spilled from her face and drifted into his with every syllable. “He gets to play just like you do!”
Pushing his luck to coax Haylee even further, Jarrod whined, “But he’s terrible at this game!”
On cue, Haylee fired back through a continued scolding dangle, “I don’t care! It’s his turn! If he’s that bad, you won’t have to wait long and it’ll be your turn to play again!” Haylee concluded, the long granny ash finally detaching from the rest of the cigarette as Jarrod hoped it would, going airborne briefly from the movement of Haylee’s speaking. Jarrod’s eyes followed as gravity brought the ash to the floor in front of him, a final blast of Haylee’s exhaled smoke invading his airspace a second before Haylee pulled away and sat back on the couch.
“Here you go, Joshua! It’s your turn,” Jarrod responded, feigning sadness as he handed his younger brother the Nintendo controller to have his turn with the game. A split second later, a smile reflexively spread across Jarrod’s face as he got the response he wanted from his teenage babysitter, and now he was enjoying the fruits of his labors as his nose still burned from the smoke Haylee had inadvertently blown into his face. Seconds later, he got a nice little dessert as Haylee leaned forward and crushed out her Camel Pink No. 9 into a butt can overflowing with a pack’s worth of pink and white butts she’d already smoked.
A ding on her phone redirected Haylee’s attention and she smiled as she saw the text was from Carly, reading “Whatcha doing?”
Haylee texted back, “Babysitting.”
Haylee awaited Carly’s response and got one a moment later reading, “That sucks. Want some company? I’m in your neighborhood.”
A bored Haylee smiled at the thought of Carly visiting and immediately texted back, “Sounds great. Hope you like Mario Galaxy because that’s been my world for the last three hours!”
Carly texted back, “LOL love it! See you in a few minutes.”
An excited Haylee stood up off the couch and looked down to Jarrod. “My friend Carly’s coming over and I gotta pee before she gets here. You better not mess with your brother’s game while I’m away, okay?” she said in a scolding tone.
“I won’t Haylee. I promise,” Jarrod said reassuringly, eliciting a disarming smile from her as she hustled to the bathroom that filled his heart with joy. With Haylee briefly out of the room and Joshua distracted playing the game, Jarrod eyeballed Haylee’s ash can. As he’d done many times in the past year, he took the opportunity to seize some souvenirs, standing up and keeping his back to his brother so Joshua wouldn’t notice Jarrod plucking a half dozen of Haylee’s Camel Pink butts from the ashtray. He briefly held them to his nose, struck by the offensive smell but nonetheless full of respect for Haylee for smoking them so routinely. He then opened his jeans pocket and put the cigarette butts inside, confident that the stench of cigarettes that filled the house already would keep the odor of what was in his pocket from standing out until he got to his own bedroom at home and stored them with the dozens of other Haylee’s butts he’d collected in the past year. Jarrod sat down next to his brother with a guilty look on his face and resumed watching Joshua play the game.
Moments later, Haylee emerged from the bathroom and immediately reached for her pack of Camel Pinks and her lighter as she returned to the couch, placing a fresh cigarette in her lips and firing up. After taking a deep drag off of the light-up, her respiratory system was overloaded and a fierce smoker’s cough was forthcoming. In the aftermath of the cough, she lifted the butt can from the coffee table and let a lugie drip from her mouth into the ashtray. Jarrod was watching from the corner of his eye and he could tell Haylee sensed there were fewer cigarette butts in it than before she left.
Haylee only had a split second to speculate on the missing butts in her ashtray, however, before her attention was redirected to the ringing doorbell. “Come in!” Haylee shouted through her freshly lit dangling cigarette.
As expected, Carly walked in and headed toward her and the boys, a bit struck upon first sight seeing Haylee smoking in front of the young boys but quickly rolling with, her acceptance threshold for smoking having grown since her cousin Lauren’s habit had escalated and especially since she became friends with Haylee. Decked out in a sweatshirt and a frumpy pair of jeans with her dark blond hair disheveled, Carly crashed on the couch next to Haylee and made small talk with her for a moment while eyeballing the pack of Camel Pinks on the table.
“Mind if I have one?” Carly asked.
“Sure…knock yourself out,” Haylee responded.
Jarrod looked up in Carly’s direction to size her up as she removed a cigarette from the pack and used Haylee’s lighter to spark herself up. Jarrod always welcomed the opportunity to see a girl smoking a cigarette, but Carly’s lack of glamour wasn’t doing much for him and her pedestrian smoking style paled in comparison to the theatrics he was used to with Haylee, so he quickly lost interest.
But having already noticed the boy looking up at her, Carly asked Haylee why she’s babysitting on a Saturday morning when she usually does evenings when the boys’ parents work, to which Haylee responded that one Saturday a month this time of year she babysits while the Wagners run a stand at the farmer’s market. Carly nodded, and then nudged Haylee to introduce her to the boys.
Haylee formally introduced Carly to the bashful Jarrod and the even more bashful Joshua just in time for Joshua’s game to end. Carly seized the moment to bond with the boys as she said, “That looks like Super Mario Galaxy. I have that at home and I’ve conquered all the levels,” she said to the boys, smoke spewing from her face as she spoke.
“Really??!?!” Jarrod exclaimed, his inhibitions quickly vanishing thanks to the mutual interest and Carly’s inviting tone. “That’s awesome! How did you do it?!”
Carly smiled as Jarrod seized control of the controller from Joshua and leaned forward. “I bet I can show you a few tricks,” she responded reassuringly as Jarrod excitedly started the game.
Carly looked to Haylee and smiled, pleased she was able to hang with her friend and help pass the time with the boys for a while. Carly took a modest drag from the Camel Pink as Haylee upstaged her with a much more intense dangling drag, the disparity of their tobacco consumption obvious based on the considerably larger volume of smoke spilling out of Haylee’s face compared to Carly’s set to the musical backdrop of Super Mario Galaxy resetting.
The crowd was beginning to disperse at the completion of the rodeo just after 2 p.m. Wade was heading to the edge of the track to congratulate his cousin Shane who had finished second place, but Courtney and Lauren were walking toward the smoking area with even more determination. Trevor was just happy to be getting off of the highly uncomfortable bleachers and away from Dusty Beaudry, but also had plenty of motivation to follow his sister and girlfriend to the smoking area.
Wade spotted Shane near the track and waved to Courtney, assuring her that he’d catch up to them in a bit after talking rodeo with Shane. Courtney and Lauren determinedly proceeded to their smoking-permitted destination to fight their fierce cravings, plucking their respective packs of cigarettes out of their purses.
Lauren placed her cigarette between her lips and passionately announced to both Trevor and Courtney through an unlit talking dangle, “I’m DYING for a cigarette!”
Courtney smiled in agreement placing her own cigarette between her lips with only a few yards to go till they reached the smoking area. Courtney readied her lighter and Lauren handed Trevor her lighter. Trevor braced himself for a visual reward he expected to be just as gratifying as Courtney and Lauren’s physical reward, and got it as Courtney lit herself up a split second before Trevor applied the flame to the end of Lauren’s cigarette, watching as both girls’ cheeks went concave ingesting as much tobacco as they could into their nicotine-deprived bloodstreams. The relief on Lauren’s face was especially irresistible to behold as she smiled and exhaled the first giant stream of smoke from her lungs, even though her exhale still managed to be overshadowed distance and volume-wise by Courtney’s typically monstrous smoke deposit.
Trevor stood back and enjoyed the show as the girls bantered about the rodeo for the next few moments, consuming their cigarettes at a faster pace than usual trying to make up for two hours of nicotine deprivation. The ringing of Lauren’s cell phone broke up the casual conversation and Lauren smiled upon hearing the ring, adding “This has to be my dad. He always calls rather than texts,” as she picked up the phone and responded to it.
With Lauren conversing with her dad in the background, Courtney chatted with Trevor a bit until Wade and Shane started approaching, and it was clear by the look on his face that Wade had news of his own, looking at Courtney as if preparing her to brace herself.
“Well I didn’t figure this was gonna happen today but apparently my folks are over at the horse barn over there…” Wade said pointing to the adjacent shed on the other side of the fence from the rodeo, “…and they’d like to meet you.”
A look of trepidation filled Courtney’s face in mid-drag, her eyes lighting up for reasons that didn’t include the nicotine hit. “Like right now?!??!” Courtney responded, a split second before the smoke streamed from her mouth and nose.
Wade nodded with a smile with which he attempted to project calm despite his intimidating words, “And knowing my folks I’m guessing they’ll want us all over for dinner afterwards.”
“Oh wow!” Courtney responded with residual smoke still flowing from her face, unprepared for this finally being the day she was introduced to Wade’s dairy farmer parents, a meeting she figured she had a couple more weeks to mentally prepare herself for based on what Wade had told her up until now. “This shit’s about to get real I guess!”
Wade and Shane seemed to be steering the crowd in the direction of Wade’s family, and Courtney was triple-pumping smoke into her lungs knowing her cigarette would have to be expired early as she began to exit the smoking area to follow the cowboys. She cut loose an intense smoker’s cough after expelling the contents of the heavy dragging from her lungs and was feeling particularly insecure about meeting Wade’s parents reeking of fresh cigarette smoke and hacking up a lung from the heavy smoking, dropping the two-thirds-smoked cigarette to the grass.
Trevor looked up with annoyance at the three of them walking away given that Lauren was still on the phone with her father, and spoke on both his and Lauren’s behalf. “You guys go on ahead. We’ll catch up with you after Lauren gets off the phone.”
Wade nodded that that sounded fine, pointing in the direction of the horse barn to assure Trevor knew where they’d be as he, Shane, and Courtney walked away. Trevor happily turned back to his girlfriend, admiring how cute she looked chatting with her father about her day while intermittently dragging from her cigarette. He stood there admiring her for a few moments and Lauren eventually picked up on it, a bit bashful about Trevor overhearing the conversation and playfully blowing a stream of smoke into his face as her father was speaking.
The conversation quickly ended as Lauren sweetly said, “Love you too, daddy,” before putting away the phone and dragging from her mostly smoked cigarette and smiled back at Trevor, knowing that Trevor enjoyed Lauren’s banter with her father as much as Lauren enjoyed Trevor’s banter with his mother Becky.
Trevor explained where the rest of their group went and Lauren nodded distractedly while placing the stub of her cigarette in her mouth and dangling it, rummaging through her purse with a look of escalating concern emerging on her face. The concerned look quickly morphed into panic which Lauren verbalized with a loud and emphatic, “Shit!” that drew the looks of several in the general area who were already a little unsettled to see a girl Lauren’s age smoking.
“What’s wrong?” Trevor replied, having a feeling he knew what the issue was.
“I thought I brought another pack of cigarettes but I must have forgotten them!” she asserted, taking a peek in her open pack and then adding in a panic, “And I only have one left!”
“Well I’m sure Wade can give you a ride to the nearest store and pick up a pack for you,” Trevor responded, trying to cool Lauren’s fire as she took the final drag from the cigarette stub in her mouth, and then removed it and flicked the butt several feet into the dirt.
“I don’t want to take him away from his family on the day they’re meeting Courtney!” Lauren replied through a final talking exhale, her level of concern remaining elevated.
Trevor was thinking of what he could say next but the words came to an abrupt stop as he looked up to see the worst possible person he could think of had heard their conversation and was approaching.
A smirking Dusty Beaudry briefly lifted his cowboy hat to wipe away the sweat on his forehead just as Lauren looked up, the sun shining on his shortly cropped light brown hair and rugged face that cut an image of a hero descending upon this damsel in distress at the exact moment she needed one. His words echoed the visual as he smiled at Lauren and asked in his synthetic cowboy accent, “Did I hear you say you’re out of cigarettes?”
“Yes! You heard right!” Lauren responded vigorously, hoping an offer was forthcoming.
Dusty gave her a no-big-deal shrug and then followed through on his offer. “I can give you a ride to the store only a few minutes up the road and buy you a pack,” he offered, pointing first in the direction of the store and then to his nearby truck, adding. “That’s my truck right there.”
“Omigod, thanks!” Lauren exclaimed. “I hope it’s not too much trouble.”
“No trouble at all,” Dusty responded, motioning Lauren to follow him.
Trevor’s annoyance at not being able to get rid of this guy was causing his blood pressure to soar as he began following Dusty and Lauren to Dusty’s truck, but his annoyance turned to genuine terror as Lauren held him off.
“Oh Trevor, you don’t have to come with,” Lauren offered. “Wade and Courtney will be waiting for us. You should head up there and let ’em know I went for cigarettes and will be back in a bit.”
Trevor froze in terror, realizing this made sense generally but was tremendously uneasy about seeing his girlfriend get in this truck with this unsavory cowboy.
“I’ll have her back in 10 minutes tops, friend,” Dusty insisted with a smirking flourish that fell far short of convincing Trevor. “You just head up there and let the others know and I’ll get your girl back as fast as you can walk up to that barn.”
Trevor made eye contact with Lauren, who didn’t seem to fully pick up on the depth of Trevor’s apprehension, but nodded affirmatively so as not to make a scene. Lauren waved sweetly as she followed Dusty to his truck near the front of the parking lot. He could feel the pit of his stomach drop as he watched Lauren walk away and eventually climb into the passenger seat of Dusty’s truck. He tried to shake it off and began slow-walking his way to the barn where Wade and Courtney went. As he watched Dusty begin to drive off en route to the gas station, the unsettled feeling only grew deeper and he just knew this couldn’t possibly end well.
Dusty turned onto the highway en route to the convenience store as Lauren beamed from the passenger seat, saying “Thank you so much for this. You saved my life!”
Dusty smirked at the irony of her characterization of buying her cigarettes being a “lifesaving” gesture as he watched her open up her purse and extract the last cigarette from the pack of Marlboro Lights 100s.
Lauren looked his direction, sweetly asking, “Mind if I smoke?” while placing her unlit cigarette into her mouth, presuming consent before it was officially granted.
“I better not mind if you smoke if I’m going to buy you cigarettes,” Dusty responded charmingly as Lauren giggled, flicking her lighter and igniting her cigarette. She drug hard off of the light-up, still deeply craving nicotine after going two hours without a cigarette during the rodeo.
Dusty watched with escalating lust upon seeing how much pleasure Lauren was getting from the cigarette and as she exhaled the first blast of smoke he spoke up about it in his cowboy drawl. “I have NEVER seen a girl your age smoke like you do! What are you, like, 16?”
Lauren giggled and nodded affirmatively in response. “Yeah my habit’s gotten a little out of control in the past few months…” giggling again and trying to keep Dusty’s flirtation in check, adding, “….but I think my boyfriend likes it when I smoke.”
Dusty maintained his aggressive charm but began shaking his head with exasperation. “You sure must not have much to pick from up in the Cities if a girl like you is willing to settle for that fella.”
Lauren gave him an unamused side-eye as she took another intense drag from her cigarette.
Dusty resumed, “I mean don’t get me wrong….I’m sure he’s a good chap and all, but I have never seen a guy come to a rodeo in an Under Armour T-shirt and tennis shoes before today!”
Lauren couldn’t help but giggle, expelling extra bursts of smoke from her mouth and nose as she did, and responded, “Fashion is definitely not his strong suit!!” pausing and then adding, “But we’re good for each other in other ways.”
Dusty shook his head again and said, “I think the problem is you’ve never been with a real cowboy so you don’t know how much better you can have it.”
Lauren wasn’t liking the direction this conversation was going and was beginning to understand the apprehension she saw in Trevor’s eyes just before she climbed into Dusty’s truck. She sat silent and began dragging from her cigarette.
Dusty pressed on but realized he might have overshot the runway. “Don’t mean to disrespect your boyfriend though. It takes all kinds to make a world,” he said reaching in to his jeans pocket and pulling out the can of Grizzly Wintergreen and extending it Lauren’s way, “…but if you ever want to try some redneck caviar again, it’s probably now or never.”
Lauren feigned a halfhearted smile, with cigarette smoke flowing from her mouth and nose, responding. “Nah, I’m good. I did like it though.”
“Aw c’mon,” Dusty pressed. “Surprise that loverboy of yours with a mouthful of dip again the next time you kiss him!”
Maintaining her strained smile, Lauren decided to give in, taking a small pinch and placing it under her lip as Dusty watched in continued lustful fascination. As the aggressive compliments and flirting continued, she was becoming very eager for this ride to the store for cigarettes to be over.
After a couple of minutes of walking to get there, Trevor entered the large horse shed and stopped at a gate blocking off the small riding area in the middle of the barn. He may have missed the formal introductions of Courtney and Wade’s parents, but it clearly didn’t take them long to connect as Wade and his parents were already guiding Courtney onto the top of a horse. With one foot in a stirrup, Wade guided her onto the saddle, getting his hands on her thighs in those tight leather pants that Trevor was pretty sure Wade was enjoying. Courtney looked like a fish out of water but was clearly having a good time as Wade’s father climbed onto the horse next to Courtney’s, grabbing the reins of Courtney’s horse and clearly preparing to give Courtney her first lesson in horseback riding.
Trevor smiled as he watched this playing out a few yards in front of him, but was unable to enjoy the moment as much as he otherwise would have as he couldn’t get Lauren out of his mind. He looked at his phone to see it had been nine minutes, and all he could do was say a silent prayer that Dusty would bring Lauren back to him any moment now as promised.
Dusty exited the store after purchasing Lauren’s cigarettes, returning to the truck and holding up the gold and white pack of Marlboro Lights 100s she requested. He opened the truck door and verbally confirmed. “So I got Marlboro….in the gold pack…..100s,” he charmed, tossing Lauren the pack and continuing, “Will that suit ya?”
“Perfect!” Lauren said with a giggle, grabbing her cigarettes and immediately starting to pack the fresh pack against her wrist. “Again, thank you soooo much!”
“My pleasure, young lady!” Dusty replied.
Before Lauren ripped the cellophane off the unopened back, she began to dig into her purse, asking, “Will ten cover it?”
Dusty shook his head in the negative. “Not necessary. This pack’s on me!”
“Awww…you’re so sweet. Thanks again,” Lauren responded, opening the box top and beginning to fish out her first cigarette from the pack.
“Oh you are absolutely right about that, miss. I am very, very sweet,” Dusty responded, pulling out of the gas station lot.
Lauren giggled, still not liking Dusty’s tone but starting to figure he was harmless as she placed the cigarette in her mouth and lit it, but she became unsettled again as Dusty turned right instead of left out of the parking lot. She looked at him with concern in her eyes as she asked, “Aren’t you going the wrong way?” with smoke spilling out of her mouth and nose.
“Nah, I know a shortcut back,” Dusty responded unconvincingly. “Plus I wanna show ya a nice little spot I like to come and visit sometimes.”
Lauren was officially becoming terrified as Dusty sped down the highway in the wrong direction for a minute or so and then turned down an obscure dirt trail leading to a small park along the banks of the Cannon River. “Where are we going?” Lauren asked, with fear in her voice.
“I already told ya, darlin,” Dusty responded, looking over and admiring her adorable face, big hair, and sexy cowgirl outfit, licking his lips and adding, “You sure are a sexy little thing, you know that?”
“I think I want to go back to my boyfriend now,” Lauren asserted with genuine alarm in her voice for the first time.
Dusty slammed on the brakes in response, stopping the truck in complete isolation out of view from the highway, an insatiable lust in his eyes as he rhetorically asked Lauren in a sinister voice, “Now why would you want to go back to that little pussy when you’re in the company of a real deal cowboy who wants down those Wranglers of yours so bad that he’s about to burst?”
Lauren’s alarm shifted to terror as it became clear what she feared could happen was about to. “Nooooo!” she whined with an innocence that briefly gave Dusty pause, reminding her she was indeed a 16-year-old girl. But as Lauren swung around to open the passenger side door, Dusty’s primal instincts again won him over, sliding across his seat and chasing Lauren out the truck door in the way he would typically chase a steer with a lasso rope.
Lauren fumbled out the truck door and fell backward on the ground, her cigarette going airborne and her purse slung off of her shoulder just out of her reach as an out-of-control Dusty bore down on her. “Please stop!” she screamed, watching the unbridled sexual lust on his face completely getting the better of him as he hunkered down over her.
“I think you know you want it!” he exclaimed before Lauren launched a lugie full of tobacco juice into his face. But as he felt the remnants of the Grizzly Wintergreen he gave her touch his skin coupled with the aroma of tobacco on her breath both from the dip and the cigarettes, it only served to escalate his passion level higher.
Lauren’s desperate and repeated screams for him to stop fell on deaf ears and he used his right arm to hold her down by her shoulders while pinning her lower body to the ground with his own body, using his free hand to unbutton the second button of her plaid blouse, exposing another couple inches of cleavage as well as the top of her bra. Dusty lowered his face onto her left breast and began aggressively devouring it with his lips and pressing his teeth into it.
Lauren briefly took a mental note that her attacker was the only guy besides Trevor to ever touch her breast, and she decided then and there she wasn’t gonna take any more of it. With Dusty’s face buried in her cleavage, she stretched her free arm out in desperate attempt to grab hold of her purse. It was a real stretch but she managed to get a couple of fingers on the purse strap, enough to pull it slightly toward her and reach inside.
Dusty mistook her sudden silence and discontinued attempts to fight him off as consent and pulled himself off of her to say, “If you liked that, baby, let me assure you…we’re just getting started!” He slid his body down to expose her waist at which point he began to unbutton the half dozen buttons on the fly of her Wranglers. The time it took for him to unlatch each button gave Lauren a few extra seconds to get her hands on what she needed from her purse.
She could feel Dusty yanking down on her jeans and exposing her lower body, and as she felt his fingertips begin to tuck under her panty line, a split second before pulling them down and fully violating her, Lauren knew it was now or never to make her move. She held up her cigarette lighter about halfway between her own face and Dusty’s.
“What the hell are you doing?” Dusty asked with sudden concern as Lauren flicked the flint on the lighter and ignited a flame. He looked down to see the Drybar logo on the bottle of hair spray held in her other hand and had a split second to experience terror similar to what he had subjected Lauren to before she squeezed the trigger on the hair spray bottle and send a squirt of it right into the flame from her lighter, emitting a fireball straight up into Dusty’s face. She continued to depress the button on the hair spray bottle and feed the flame until Dusty climbed entirely off of her.
“You bitch!” he screamed as the fireball was mostly absorbed by his cowboy hat, but some of it sticking to his forehead. “You fucking bitch!” he shouted again, rolling around on the ground to put the fire out that was singing his hair, the front of his cowboy hat still burning.
Lauren stood up and picked up her purse, knowing her phone was in it and that she’d need it to call 9-1-1. She slung it over her shoulder and attempted to pull up her jeans and run toward the highway. But the button fly on her jeans that served her well in delaying Dusty’s access was now working to her disadvantage as she couldn’t run away with them pulled down and would have to stop to button them. As she worked her way toward a park pavilion about 100 yards from Dusty’s truck, she decided she had to stop and button up the jeans. With terror visible all over her face, she hid behind the pavilion wall and began buttoning her pants, reaching into her purse and pulling out her phone to call 9-1-1.
But before Lauren could punch the digits in, Dusty emerged from around the corner, a horrifically sinister intensity about him even more terrifying to Lauren than when he pinned her to the ground. “No…..no….no!” Lauren pleaded as her approached her with ferocity in his eyes, the tips of his hair scalded and his forehead burned raw from the fireball Lauren sprayed at him.
“Drop the phone!” Dusty demanded with maximal intimidation.
Lauren obeyed but continued to plead for herself as Dusty backed her into the pavilion wall, preparing to grab her by the throat but realizing that would make an obvious mark on her neck, instead using his arm to pin her by the chest into the pavilion.
“Let me tell ya how this is gonna go….” Dusty asserted authoritatively, “….you’re gonna get in that truck and ride back to the rodeo with me. You’re gonna go back to your little boyfriend and the rest of the group with a smile on your face and enjoy the rest of this beautiful day…..never to mention anything that happened with me ever again.” He paused to let that sink in before inquiring. “That sound okay to you?”
A terrified Lauren nodded affirmatively, desperate for this moment to end.
“That’s really good to hear, little girl,” Dusty responded, following it up with a threat. “Now should you decide that as soon as I drive off into the sunset you’re gonna make that phone call you were just about to make, I think you should remember this here is MY TOWN!” He paused again for dramatic effect before adding, “Who do you think they’ll believe if you cry rape? Some little slut from the city who comes down here shaking her ass and climbing into a cowboy’s truck? Or the good ol’ boy they all grew up with?” He paused again and then pointed to his forehead and added, “The good ol’ boy who the city girl so viciously assaulted?”
Dusty continued to pin her to the wall as Lauren stood there hoping her silence would effectively convey that she wasn’t gonna say anything.
“So how ’bout it? Are we good here?” Dusty inquired.
Lauren nodded yes, trying her best not to break down.
A smug smirk re-emerged on Dusty’s face as he removed his arm from Lauren’s chest. She sighed in relief until she saw his hands approaching her blouse again and she bristled in terror.
“No worries, darlin’….” Dusty said as he buttoned the second button on her blouse which he had unbuttoned earlier, and then moving up to the top button which hadn’t been fastened yet today, making sure to cover up whatever bruises and hickeys he had left behind on her chest. “Just making sure you’re all covered up in that slutty little blouse of yours. I mean, we wouldn’t any guys getting the wrong idea, would we?”
Lauren looked to the ground with equal parts relief that the worst of it was over, and continued terror as she only began to wrap her mind around the implications of this violent encounter.
“Let’s go then…” Dusty beckoned her, waving her back to his truck as she bent down to pick her phone off the ground. “I’m sure you got some people missin’ the devil out of you back at the track.” They walked back to the truck and Dusty opened his driver’s side door, stuffing his half-burned cowboy hat under the seat out of sight, then looked up to Lauren as she climbed into the passenger seat, holding her head down and avoiding eye contact before he got one last dig in at her. “Oh, and to answer your question from before, I actually do mind if you smoke in my truck.”
Dusty slammed the door and started his truck. It would be a five-minute drive back to the rodeo track and horse barn, but for Lauren it was poised to be the most uncomfortable five minutes of her life directly following the most menacing five minutes of her life.
Trevor stood at the gate inside the horse barn continuing to watch his older sister joyously encircle the track riding horseback, Courtney’s positive energy dramatically contrasting with his own growing fears. He looked down to his phone to see it had now been more than 20 minutes since Lauren left with Dusty. He put his game face on as he saw Wade waving at him, smiling widely as he approached him.
“You been seeing this? I think your sister’s a natural,” Wade mused, electric about Courtney’s successful immersion into the world he grew up in.
“Yeah she looks like she’s having fun,” Trevor said, trying to hide that he was definitely not having fun.
“Where’s Lauren?” Wade inquired.
Trevor gulped before responding, “She ran out of cigarettes so she went with that Dusty guy to the store to pick up more.”
The smile was quickly wiped off of Wade’s face, replaced by imminent concern as he clarified, “Lauren went with Dusty Beaudry?”
Trevor didn’t like Wade’s tone at all but kept his cool as he responded, “Yeah, they should be back by now. I’m gonna text her to see what the hold-up is.”
Wade nodded in agreement, “Good idea.”
Trevor could feel his hand shaking as he lifted his phone, texting “Everything okay?” and patiently waiting for Lauren’s response.
Trevor stood waiting for about a minute, and could tell Wade was waiting with baited breath for Trevor’s phone to ding as well, before it finally did. Trevor opened the message delivered from Lauren’s phone reading, “Of course. Why wouldn’t it be? We’re on the way back and should be there in like two minutes. Missed ya, baby!”
Trevor exhaled with relief upon reading the message, looking up to Wade to pass the good news along. Wade nodded with relief in his own eyes after hearing they were almost back. Wade’s body language nonetheless sent a chill through Trevor as it was blatantly obvious that Wade’s misgivings for Dusty Beaudry went far beyond his being an obnoxious blowhard.
Trevor and Wade both watched as Dusty’s truck approached and came to a stop at a parking spot about 10 yards away. Trevor still waited with anticipation to see Lauren hoping she was no worse for wear, but as she climbed out of the passenger seat of the truck, it was painfully obvious to Trevor that something was off. Lauren reached into purse and pulled out a cigarette, her hands trembling as she approached the flame of her lighter to the cigarette’s tip, a pleasureless blast of smoke erupting from her mouth and nose off of the first exhale.
From there, Lauren approached and the anguished look on her face quickly morphed into a compelling put-on smile. Dusty began following her, as if to intimidate her into keeping their deal, wearing a baseball cap that covered up his burned forehead. Lauren hustled on up to Trevor and took hold of her boyfriend’s hand, taking safety being in the company of the boy she loved even though she didn’t want to convey the full story behind it.
Trevor looked up to Dusty with anger in his eyes as he walked closer. “What took you so long??!?” Trevor snapped.
Dusty was caught a little off-guard by Trevor’s aggressiveness and paused a moment before he responded, “Cool off there, tough guy! The rodeo just got out so there was a long line at the gas station. Your old lady wasn’t the only one picking up cigarettes after the rodeo.”
Trevor stared at him with skepticism even though the story was believable on the surface.
Dusty looked at Lauren to back him up, asking “With as many gas stations as you have up in the city I’m sure you’re not used to a crowd like we have at our little station after a rodeo, huh?”
Lauren paused to take a deep drag from her cigarette before nodding, validating Dusty’s story and trying to stay in her normal character as she verbalized, “Yeah it was definitely a lot of people,” with her hand inadvertently tightening with tension which Trevor could feel as he held it.
Wade stared at Dusty with just as much hostility as Trevor was, thinking the story was a bit too perfect before asking, “What happened to your hat, Dusty? You don’t ever take that damn thing off.”
Once again, Dusty had a prepared response he thought up on the drive back, shaking his head and replying, “Craziest thing…..I sat on the damn thing in my truck. I’ll have to work on punching the dents out of him at home tonight,” wrapping up his response with another put-on laugh.
Dusty could tell he had pushed his luck but felt secure in his alibi and that he had intimidated Lauren enough to keep her quiet to bid the crowd adieu amidst the frosty reception he was getting from Wade and Trevor. “Anyway,” Dusty offered, “It was a pleasure to spend the afternoon with you fine people, but I better take off.” He then looked at Wade to twist the knife one last time, adding “Those of us who stay on the farm still got our chores to do,” pausing for dramatic effect. “Sure was nice meeting y’all though…especially you, Lauren,” he said with a final intimidating smile as Lauren made sure to avoid him with the exhale from her cigarette.
Trevor could finally feel the tension in Lauren’s grip start to dissipate as Dusty walked away and climbed into his truck. Trevor looked at her to try to measure her body language, but she was soldiering through, smiling and keeping what resembled her usual energy level enough to convince Wade everything was normal. Trevor could still tell something was off, but now was not time or place to confront her about it. As soon as Wade turned away, she flirtatiously took a drag from her cigarette and exhaled into Trevor’s face with a feigned mischievous smile, selling normalcy as best she could. But Trevor hadn’t failed to notice that the top button of her low-cut plaid blouse was now fastened in a way it wasn’t before she left, and he didn’t figure that was a coincidence.
The awkwardness and tension of the moment were broken up as Courtney emerged from the stable, beaming after her first ride on horseback. The excited look on her face was quite a contrast to the dour looks coming from her traveling buddies, but they all put on their game faces so as not to rain on Courtney’s moment.
“So how awesome was your girlfriend on that horse?” Courtney asked Wade, fishing into her purse for her cigarette pack as Wade smiled to affirm his enjoyment of seeing her riding the horse.
Wade’s parents soon followed Courtney, and tried to keep their poker face as they saw underage Lauren smoking first, and then noticed Courtney pulling out her cigarette and lighting it. Wade had warned them that Courtney was a heavy smoker and they didn’t make a fuss about it, but he could still see some doubt in their eyes watching her light up in the aftermath of an otherwise impressive introduction teaching her how to ride horse.
Wade formally introduced his parents Glen and Louise Rosenquist to Trevor and Lauren. His parents sensed nervousness in the young couple but had no idea of the context. Glen broke the ice asking them if they wanted to ride horses as well.
Trevor simply shook her head, but Lauren was in mid-drag of her two-thirds-smoked cigarette and verbally responded through a talking exhale, “I don’t think today but maybe the next time I come visit I’ll take you up on it,” her sweet tone throwing Glen and Louise given the cigarette between her fingers. Lauren nonetheless was quite certain she would never be coming to Cannon City again for the rest of her life.
“Nothing wrong with that,” Louise warmly replied. “But I am gonna have to insist on you guys all coming back to the farm with us. I got a beef roast cooking in the crock pot and there should be more than enough for everybody.”
Courtney spoke on behalf of everyone, responding, “That sounds great!” through a talking exhale, with genuine positive energy about Wade’s parents despite just meeting them. She looked back at Trevor and Lauren, not identifying anything amiss as she rhetorically asked them, “You guys don’t mind staying for supper, do you?”
Lauren enthusiastically replied, taking a final drag from her cigarette and flicking the butt to the ground as she let loose a mild smoker’s cough. She could tell Trevor knew something had happened, and she began avoiding eye contact as a result, despite continuing to hold his hand. The tension in Lauren’s grip was gone ever since Dusty left, but Trevor still noticed that same tremble in her hand he identified the second she got out of Dusty’s truck and lit her cigarette. Trevor had felt a tremble in Lauren’s hand before, but usually it was a result of an unfulfilled cigarette craving. He was pretty sure the source of her tremble was something more ominous this time.
Haylee was really getting into the Super Mario Galaxy video game, despite her general indifference toward video games, as she worked the control to move the Mario character, a half-smoked cigarette dangling from her mouth with smoke expelling from her mouth and nose after every breath. Carly cheered her on sitting next to her on the couch, the boys picked up by their parents nearly an hour earlier.
“You’re gonna want to jump here!” Carly warned. “There will be like 10 Goombas coming at you from out of nowhere.”
Haylee did as Carly suggested, punching the button on the controller to make Mario jump and barely dodging the villains swarming toward her. “Yes!” Haylee exclaimed with uncharacteristic competitiveness. “Thanks for warning me!” she added, her cigarette bouncing up and down from her lips as she spoke while keeping her eyes trained on the screen until she reached the flagpole that marked her destination for this level of the game.
“And just like that….” Carly congratulated, “…you conquered level 1.”
“Oh wow I’m good!” Haylee said sarcastically and adding “It only took me a half hour!” before using the level break in the game as an opportunity to remove the cigarette from her mouth and tap her long ash into the butt can on the coffee table.
“You’re doing fine!” Carly responded with matching enthusiasm, patting Haylee on the upper arm in a way that compelled Haylee to make eye contact with her, detecting an odd energy in Carly that briefly made her feel off-balance. Haylee put the cigarette back in her mouth, which triggered another craving in Carly.
“Mind if I have another one?” Carly asked, pointing to Haylee’s pack on the table just as Haylee was starting the next level of the game.
“Go for it!” Haylee responded as Carly leaned forward to mooch another of Haylee’s Camel Pinks.
After taking a nervous glance at Haylee, Carly reached into her pocket for her lighter, lifting it toward the dangling cigarette between her lips. Just as was the case three days earlier outside the western store, Carly’s empty lighter was failing to light again, as she expected. “Damn broken lighter!!” Carly exclaimed theatrically.
Haylee gave her a quick side-eye, puckering up her lips for another dangling drag from her mostly expired cigarette and then responding, “Sucks for you. Just use mine on the table.”
Carly paused as if trying to muster up the courage before responding, “I got a better idea. Why don’t we monkey fuck again.”
Haylee was briefly annoyed as she paused her game to play along with Carly’s request, but as she looked Carly’s way, it was immediately obvious that Carly was after more than just a light from her cigarette. Haylee was drawn to the continued electric energy in Carly’s eyes that she’d never seen before, and pulled forward to touch the stub of her smoldering cigarette to the end of Carly’s unlit cigarette. A simmering passion filled Carly’s face as her cigarette slowly came to life, locking eyes with Haylee as both girls pumped tobacco smoke into their lungs. It was a moment Haylee never saw coming, but that she could tell Carly had probably been fantasizing about for quite some time.
Haylee finally pulled away, at which point Carly removed the cigarette from her mouth and exhaled, but with neither taking their eyes off of the other. Haylee had never really noticed tangible beauty in Carly’s rather plain appearance, but had to concede she looked very pretty at this moment with that beaming smile radiating electric energy right at her from only a few inches away. Haylee knew something big was probably about to happen unless she stopped it, and even though her brain was telling her that she absolutely needed to put a stop to it, she couldn’t resist going with her gut at this moment as Carly’s hand approached Haylee’s face to gently touch it.
“You’re so pretty, Haylee!” Carly muttered softly while taking a second drag from her cigarette.
Haylee responded with a warm and accepting smile that Carly correctly accepted as consent, leaning forward with smoke flowing out of her face to lock lips with her friend. Haylee had never given a moment’s thought to a romantic encounter with another girl before, but as Carly’s soft lips pressed onto hers, she found herself completely at peace in a way she hadn’t felt since the last time she was making out with her ex-boyfriend Jacob. Being on the receiving end of a kissing partner’s smoky breath was also a new experience for Haylee, and one that she was really enjoying.
Carly began kissing Haylee more aggressively, slipping some tongue into Haylee’s mouth and feeling the passion escalate. The normally shy Carly was at this point so taken in the moment she had created that she pushed the envelope further, slipping her hand on Haylee’s stomach underneath her tanktop and sliding it up her belly toward her bra. Haylee continued to accept the advances, the soft caress of Carly’s fingertips on her breasts filling a void in Haylee’s empty soul that had been vacant for two months now.
The kissing and breast-stroking continued for several moments, with Carly feeling empowered and fulfilled for taking this huge risk, and Haylee shocked that she had yet to feel out of her comfort zone even in this most unlikely situation…right up until the point where she did feel outside her comfort zone. As Carly began lowering her hand from Haylee’s chest down her stomach toward her shorts, Haylee began to freeze up as the encounter was becoming a bit too real. And when Carly unfastened the top button on Haylee’s white shorts, Haylee decided it was time to put a stop to it.
Pulling away from the kiss, Haylee didn’t know quite what to say or how to say it, but a startled Carly asked breathlessly, with disappointment smeared across her face, “What’s the matter?!”
Haylee paused and then gulped before speaking, trying to find the words that wouldn’t offend. “It’s just….I’m not into girls,” Haylee responded with anguish knowing she was probably gonna break Carly’s heart.
The light that had been beaming in Carly’s eyes quickly flickered out as Carly fully pulled away from Haylee, lowering her eyes to the ground to avoid eye contact and taking a nervous drag from her neglected cigarette. She shook her head in humiliation before exasperatedly responding “Oh my God….I’m so sorry, Haylee!” standing up from the couch and beginning to pace the floor as though she wanted to crawl out of her skin.
“No, no! It’s okay!” Haylee forcefully retorted, desperately trying to comfort her.
Continuing to pace the floor and nervously drag from her cigarette, Carly put her hand in her face and bellowed, “You’re like my only real friend and now I’ve gone and fucked everything up!”
“No you haven’t!” Haylee responded, not knowing quite what to say but trying her best to calm Carly down as she seemed on the cusp of a breakdown.
“I think I’m gonna go!” Carly exclaimed, walking toward the door.
“Please don’t go!” Haylee pleaded, even as Carly began walking toward the door in agony.
“No, no….I really need to leave!” Carly replied, taking another nervous drag from her cigarette, but feeling Haylee grab her by the wrist before she could walk away.
“Carly….” Haylee opened authoritatively, demanding and getting Carly’s undivided attention. “….there’s no reason anything has to change between us. But I need you to settle down and have a seat here.”
Carly paused and then nodded in agreement, returning to the couch with tears welling up in her eyes. Haylee plucked out another cigarette from the pack of Camel Pinks on the table and lit up. Haylee took an intense dangling drag off of the light-up as Carly took a shallower and more calming drag of her own. Through a messy talking exhale that drifted into Carly’s airspace, Haylee helped Carly calm down a little more as she softly said, “Now let’s just sit here and talk this out.”
Carly smiled, grateful that she hadn’t scared Haylee away from a continued friendship and welcoming the opportunity to bare her soul about the long-held secret life she’d been hiding from everybody.
Standing next to Wade and his parents inside his parents’ dairy barn, Trevor watched the surreal spectacle unfolding in front of his eyes as his girlfriend and older sister crouched down in front of a dairy cow. With cigarettes dangling from their lips and obvious trepidation on their faces, city girls Lauren and Courtney anxiously reached forward to grab hold of one of the cow’s udders. Both girls clearly felt far outside their comfort zones as they placed their hands on the cow’s teat and squeezed. Neither girl drew any milk upon their first squeeze, dragging from their dangling cigarettes and cringing not at the smoke clouds their own respiratory systems produced but at the awkwardness of touching the cow’s mammary.
“Pull down,” Glen advised the girls with a familiar smirk, recognizing the usual rookie mistake of novices trying to milk dairy cows.
The girls took his advice and Lauren was having some success, a trickle of milk squirting out of the cow’s udder into a bucket. Courtney was still struggling, however, and jokingly asked, “Wade, will your parents even let me back here if I’m not any more useful on the farm than this?”
Glen, Louise, and Wade all laughed, with Wade joking back, “I think she smells those pants of yours and is a little intimidated about what comes next” in reference to Courtney’s leather pants which seemed all the more out of place crouched down in a dairy barn that reeked of manure.
Lauren giggled at Wade’s joke and Trevor got a chuckle too, but Courtney was too frustrated to play along. Finally, Glen crouched down next to her, right into the haze of her freshly exhaled cigarette smoke, and showed her the downward wrist pressure necessary to generate the milk stream. Courtney finally succeeded and quietly celebrated as she did.
With as straight of a face as possible, Glen looked at Courtney and said, “And after this one, just 239 more cows and then we can go eat some supper.”
Courtney and Lauren both hoped he was joking but couldn’t tell as they looked at him, cigarettes still dangling from their mouths.
“Really?” Lauren finally asked through a talking exhale of the three-quarters-smoked cigarette she’d been dangling for the last two or three minutes while milking the cow.
Glen couldn’t keep a straight face any longer and let loose a chuckle. Louise laughed in the background but then placed her hand affectionately on Lauren’s shoulder and said, “Ignore him, dear. No dairy farm has done it by hand for over 50 years. We use milking machines now.”
Lauren giggled and Courtney sighed in relief, with Trevor smirking in the background unsurprised that the girls fell for it having never set foot on a farm in their lives. But as they finished off their cigarettes and crushed them out on the dirt floor of the barn, Glen got more serious as he explained, “Even with the machines though, it’s hard work. Two milkings of 240 cows every day…up before the sun every morning and out in the barn again every afternoon…seven days a week, 365 days a year. Just Louise and I, our one hired hand, and Wade’s brother Kevin now that he’s back.”
Trevor, Lauren, and especially Courtney listened intently to Glen’s description, with Courtney thinking it sounded intimidating but not closing her mind to the lifestyle.
Louise picked up where her husband left off, adding, “It’s not an easy life but it’s what we know, what we love, and what we’re good at,” making eye contact with Courtney, a hint of skepticism about Courtney visible on her face but a willingness to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Wade helped Courtney up from her crouched position in front of the cow and added, “Speaking of Kevin, when is he gonna be here?”
Glen looked at his watch to see it was now 4:40, then added, “He’s supposed to be here by 5:00 and we’ll be eating by 5:30. I suppose we should get back to the house so Louise can have the roast ready.”
The group began to exit the barn with Courtney continuing to chat with Wade and his parents. Hovering behind them were Trevor and Lauren, as Lauren fought through a smile, pinching her nose playfully as if grossed out the manure odor in the dairy barn while fishing around in her purse for her cigarettes. Just as they stepped outside, Lauren had a new cigarette in her mouth and beckoned a light from Trevor. Trevor was impressed how well she was masking her pain, but he still knew his girlfriend enough to know something was very wrong as she took her first exhale from the cigarette, a slightly aggrieved release of smoke spilling from her face as they walked in the direction of the Rosenquists’ country home.
Carly and Haylee were nearly in tears laughing, sitting on the couch in the McPherson living room as Carly relayed the details of her epiphanous seventh-grade phys. ed. soccer game, with Haylee hanging on her every word with a cigarette dangling from her lips.
“So here I am, trying to be the goalie, and I got Bella Reese plowing right into me and falling on top of me!” Carly elaborated. “I’m laying there looking up at her and feeling her boobs pressing into me, and it was at that moment that it was TOTALLY clear I preferred girls!”
Haylee could barely contain herself listening to the animation in Carly’s voice as she told her story, struggling to keep from laughing the dangling cigarette right out of her mouth, and Carly fed off of Haylee’s energy, laughing at Haylee’s response. When Haylee got her composure in a few seconds, she inquired, “So only girls? You’re not into guys at all?” with a swirl of exhaled smoke surrounding her face.
Carly’s demeanor got a bit more serious and perplexed again as she shrugged and then responded, “Some I guess,” pausing before adding, “I mean those cowboys Lauren was pointing out the other day got me a little excited….”
Haylee laughed again, puckering up her lips for another dangling drag as she continued listening as Carly continued, “I’m still trying to figure things out I guess. Guys are way more intimidating,” and then added with a hint of sadness, “I don’t exactly have guys or girls standing in line for me so I should have all the time I need.”
With smoke jets rocketing out of her nose, Haylee replied “Do any of your family or friends know? Does Lauren know?”
Carly shook her head. “You’re the first person I’ve ever told….and I’d appreciate it if you kept this conversation between us.”
“Oh definitely! I won’t say anything to anybody!” Haylee reassured.
“You hadn’t figured it out though, huh?” Carly asked, adding “I thought you had me pegged when I was standing there drooling over you at your birthday party last spring,” fluttering her eyebrows as she jokingly added, “Bella Reese took an immediate backseat in my fantasies when you bummed me that first Camel Pink!”
Haylee laughed again, seeing a vibrant and unfiltered side of the usually insecure Carly who had recovered so well after the initial humiliation and was already able to joke with Haylee about it. Haylee finally removed her cigarette from her mouth and tapped her long granny ash into the butt can, giving Carly another visual of the pose that so excited her back in April at the birthday party. Haylee interrupted her laughter with a hearty cough and then responded, “Well you did a good job of not tipping me off that you were into me as more than a potential friend,” bringing her cigarette back to her lips for another extended dangle.
Carly couldn’t help but once again admire Haylee’s gorgeous face as she sat there and how the white and pink cigarette hanging from her lips was such a badass complement to the pretty face. Carly teasingly and animatedly responded, “So just to clarify, are you totally sure you’re not gay?”
Haylee almost laughed the cigarette out of her mouth again and responded, “Yeah pretty sure.”
Carly shrugged with passive defeat and added, “Can’t blame a girl for trying! I figured my chances were about 50-50 when I pulled in for the kiss.”
Haylee laughed but quickly became more serious as she added through a haze of smoke, “But I’d definitely have been better off if I’d kept hanging out with you at my birthday party rather than ditch it and meet up with Jacob.”
Carly nodded, seeing in Haylee’s eyes that she still wasn’t over Jacob and was still hurting deeply about the breakup. “I’ve never been in a relationship so I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you.”
Haylee took a final dangling drag from her cigarette, paused to get a minor cough out, and then leaned forward to crush the cigarette out in the butt can, giving her time to gather her thoughts and then respond. “I was kind of looking forward to going back to school….thought it might help distract me from thinking about him all the time. It hasn’t worked….” she shook her head in sadness, smoke still trickling out of her mouth and nose several moments after her final drag. “Everything reminds me of him. You know the vent area in the janitor’s closet where I told you I go to smoke during lunch?”
Carly nodded affirmatively.
“Jacob used to meet me there most days last spring after we started seeing each other,” Haylee continued. “Now when I go there to smoke at lunch, it just feels so empty.”
Carly could see Haylee was getting more emotional and leaned forward to give her a platonic hug, both of them realizing they were sharing things with one another they’d never shared with anyone else, and Carly was really pleased that Haylee held her back when she wanted to leave earlier so they could talk things out. Carly pulled away from the hug and put things in perspective. “Sounds like we both have different things to figure out, but more than ever we’ll have each other to talk to as we do.”
Haylee nodded, liking the sound of that and appreciating that her own struggles to find herself after the Jacob breakup paled in comparison to Carly’s struggles with her identity and the social isolation that’s emerged from it. And Haylee genuinely wanted to help in any way that she could. Haylee reached to the coffee table to pluck out another Camel Pink No. 9 from the pack when Carly’s eyes lit up with a familiar request. “Can I have another one?”
Haylee lit up her cigarette and dangled off the drag, filling Carly’s airspace up with a tempting explosion of secondhand smoke and then teasingly responding, “I got a whole carton in the fridge. Why don’t you just go up there and grab a full pack?”
“Really?!?” Carly asked with enthusiasm.
“Better than draining my pack!” Haylee teased, smoke still spraying from her face before she took her second dangling drag.
Carly headed into the kitchen as Haylee dug out her phone, scanning through her photos and feeling her heart melt as she admired a few of them of her and Jacob that she’d saved on a secret folder. Thumbing through the photos one by one, a nostalgic smile returned to her face, ultimately distracted as Carly shouted out from the kitchen. “How much do I owe you?”
A startled Haylee looked over her shoulder and asked “For what?”
“For the Pinks, silly,” Carly responded as she held up the Camel Pink pack she just took out of the refrigerator.
“Oh…just leave a couple of bucks on the counter. My mom will pick it up,” Haylee replied, belching out a blast of exhaled smoke and putting her phone back into her white shorts to hide the evidence of her retro photo gallery with the guy she couldn’t forget.
Carly returned to the couch, packing the Camel Pink pack against her wrist and opening it up, extracting the first cigarette. She looked at Haylee’s lighter on the table and asked, “Mind if I use that?” Haylee gave her the affirmative consent and Carly reached over jokingly adding, “Good…because I’m guessing you don’t want to test what happens if we monkey fuck again. You got in for quite a bit more than you bargained for last time!”
Haylee laughed again, once again admiring how pretty Carly was when she smiled and lit her cigarette. It was a look that she knew would win over whatever lucky girl–or guy–that Carly chose to pursue if only she could up that confidence level to go with the personality, and doing everything she could to boost Carly’s confidence was gonna be Haylee’s pet project moving forward, and she began by inquiring, “So Bella Reese fell for you in 7th grade class. Tell me about the next hot girl you got to feel up.”
Carly laughed, bending her elbow on the top of the couch and holding the cigarette close to her face between drags. It was the most confident pose she’d ever seen Carly take while smoking, and as Carly began relaying more stories from her personal archives, Haylee couldn’t help but feel the first corner on Carly’s journey had already been turned this afternoon.
The front porch of the Rosenquist farm house was bustling with activity with two tables of patio furniture pressed together and seven people seated in chairs encircling the table.
“…..it was the steamiest July night you can imagine and this older lady just collapses. It was so scary to see!” Courtney recalled aloud, describing a scene to Glen, Louise, and Kevin from one of her early dates with Wade at the fair, her elbow resting on the table with her freshly lit Marlboro Menthol 100 held inches from her face “And then Wade comes swooping in like a hero from a Western movie to help her out, even taking off his hat to let her rest on it.”
Wade’s brother grinned listening to Courtney’s description while his parents beamed with pride listening to Courtney rhapsodize about their son’s heroics at the county fair.
“It only took him about two minutes and the woman was coming around. The medics arrived but if Wade hadn’t been there, I don’t know what would have happened to her,” Courtney continued, pausing to give an affectionate smile to a humbled Wade and then took a deep drag from her cigarette, wrapping up her story through a talking exhale as she added, “And that was when I knew I couldn’t let this cowboy slip away!”
The Rosenquists laughed, simultaneously annoyed at the incessant waves of cigarette smoke coming from Courtney and moved by the crackling chemistry they were seeing between Courtney and their son. They knew he’d found someone special and were enjoying her company.
Seated behind them and listening to their interactions were Trevor and Lauren, who had never heard Courtney tell this story before and both began to connect the dots that it happened the same night they were at the fair, right around the time Haylee’s boyfriend Jacob was arrested. Lauren was smoking a cigarette of her own, using an empty Coke can for an ashtray as Courtney was at the table in front of her, laughing along but with a decidedly more subdued presence than usual.
“I better make sure that roast isn’t burning,” Louise announced, getting up from her chair to tend to the meal she was preparing. “It should be ready in the next 10 minutes. As beautiful of a night as it is, I think we should all just eat out here if that sounds okay,” she added looking to her guests to see if they’d concur.
“That sounds great!” Lauren responded warmly through a talking exhale.
“I’d love that!” Courtney responded with even more energy, mentally checking herself to tilt her head skyward to exhale her big stream of cigarette smoke, doing her best to be mindful of her manners in front of Wade’s parents despite the culture of the McPherson home where ill-mannered smoking had been the backdrop of her upbringing.
Louise smiled warmly back before turning to head into the house, and both Trevor and Courtney could tell by Louise’s body language and eye movement that despite the very positive energy she was feeling toward Courtney and how good she seemed to be for Wade, the incessant smoking was a red flag that would be no small challenge for her to get past.
Minutes later, Louise brought her roast out to the patio tables along with the side dishes she’d prepared, and Courtney had to check herself to keep from lighting up during the meal as she usually did at home. During and after the meal, as the laughs and easygoing banter flowed generously with minimal awkwardness, Courtney was struck that her chemistry with Wade’s parents and brother was just as solid as her chemistry with Wade, her nervous anticipation of the first impression drifting away as effortlessly as the continued exhales from her litany of post-meal cigarettes as the night went on. She looked affectionately at Wade every few minutes, conveying without words how ecstatic she was that everybody seemed to like each other so much.
Yet while the Rosenquists attempted to include Trevor and Lauren in their conversation, the young couple was largely spectators for the hour and a half after dinner, drawing the attention of Wade’s brother and parents primarily when Lauren beckoned Trevor to light one of her seemingly endless chain of Marlboro Light 100s, or when they heard one of her intermittent coughs. Trevor knew that this was Courtney and Wade’s moment and was content to be a spectator, but as Lauren got increasingly quiet as the night went on, he became increasingly impatient to find a moment to get to the bottom of whatever was going on that was making Lauren so introverted and detached this evening. He increasingly felt like he knew the answer, but couldn’t bring himself to accept what his imagination kept returning him to.
“You guys have fun today? You’re awfully quiet back there,” Courtney asked from the passenger seat of Wade’s truck as they made the long drive back to the Minneapolis suburbs after dark.
Trevor paused for a moment to let Lauren respond first as she usually did, but decided to avert the awkwardness of Lauren’s atypical silence when he responded, “Yeah it was a good time. Might not want to go to a rodeo every weekend but it was something new.”
Wade looked up to the rearview mirror, still sensing something wasn’t right with Lauren but barely able to see her face in the darkness of the backseat of his truck, adding, “Sorry if you got in for more than you bargained for going to my family’s place for supper. Hope you didn’t have any big Saturday night plans that fell apart.”
Lauren giggled and responded, “Not at all. This was a really fun day, Wade. Thanks for inviting us and introducing us to your family!” still doing her best to convey her usual level of bubbliness. She handed Trevor her lighter and beckoned him to light yet another cigarette for her, and Wade tried to use the brief gleam of light to study Lauren’s face, still feeling a nagging suspicion of the same thing Trevor feared but unable to get the clarity he needed from studying her expressions.
“Your family is so great!” Courtney exclaimed, beckoning Wade’s attention as she lit another cigarette of her own. “You guys are like out of a storybook of what I always imagined a farm family would be like. It’s so sweet!”
Wade beamed a brighter-than-usual smile and then responded, “Glad you had a good time,” pausing as a cloud of her exhaled smoke nailed him in the face and then continued playfully, “Since you liked them so much, now might be a good time to make a little confession.”
Courtney furrowed her brow and responded, “What??!” with wisps of smoke still pouring out of her mouth and nose in Wade’s direction.
“I’d set it all up with my parents and brother to meet you today as soon as I invited you to come to the rodeo. I didn’t want you to stress about meeting them so I kept it on the down-low until the rodeo ended,” Wade confessed.
“Oh you asshole!” Courtney replied whimsically, shaking her head in faux frustration and taking another fierce drag from her cigarette. “Honestly though, it was a good idea….because you’re right I’d have been freaking if you’d told me.”
Wade nodded in agreement, “And I knew you’d have nothing to worry about.”
Courtney was turned on looking and listening to her boyfriend, especially with the context of the successful meeting of his parents, and decided to unbuckle her seat belt and sidle on up to him, loving that his truck didn’t have bucket seats and allowed her to do this. Putting her chin on his shoulder, her minty tobacco breath aggressively invading his space as she rhetorically inquired, “Bet you never figured last year at this time you’d be bringing a leather-wearing, chain-smoking bad bitch from the city home to meet your parents huh?”
Wade laughed and deadpanned, “Well you’re actually the fourth girl fitting that description I’ve brought home to mom and dad.”
Courtney took a fresh drag from her cigarette, her laughter felt on his shoulder that she continued to rest her chin on as she kept on bantering with him in an extended foreplay that both knew would soon enough come to a head at his apartment when they got back to Eden Prairie.
Watching from the cramped backseat, Trevor felt a contagious energy from his sister and Wade as he observed them flirt, and then turned to his increasingly quiet girlfriend who stared blankly out the window dragging from her cigarette. He reached his hand to her thigh and began to lovingly touch her, unprepared as Lauren jolted back in abject terror from the touch of Trevor’s hand, pulling away with a petrified and maximally traumatized response. Trevor’s mouth hung open helplessly as Lauren, after her initial reaction, feigned a smile at him and took hold of his hand. She leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek, the intense flavor of tobacco on her breath being the only thing familiar about Lauren’s energy tonight, her hand still trembling as she held Trevor’s hand. There was no longer any mystery in Trevor’s mind that something terrible happened to Lauren in Dusty Beaudry’s truck. It was just a matter of how and when he’d have the opportunity to address the issue with her.
For the next 45 minutes, Wade continued driving home, with both couples eager to get back to their home addresses for entirely different reasons. As Wade was finally heading down the block en route to the McPherson home, he was hoping Trevor would be willing to agree to the terms of his pending request.
“So Trevor,” Wade opened, “Lauren rode up with us and she needs a ride home to Maple Grove. I’d kind of like to get your sister home as fast as possible so would you mind taking care of that?”
“Sure, that’ll work,” Trevor replied immediately, eager for the opportunity to finally be alone with Lauren.
“Thanks Trevor!” Courtney responded, looking into the backseat with a fiery libido raging in her eyes that left no doubt she and Wade were gonna be having white-hot sex when they got back to his place.
Wade looked into the rearview mirror as he pulled into the driveway of the McPherson home. “Thanks a lot for spending the day with us, guys. Lauren, you want me to pick up a can of Grizzly Wintergreen for you the next time we hang out?”
Lauren giggled, trying to mask the viscerally negative connotation she now had to that after the Dusty encounter, but responded, “Thanks but I think I’ll stick to my cigarettes. It was my pleasure to meet your nice family, Wade!”
The two couples soon parted ways as Trevor and Lauren climbed out of the back of Wade’s truck, both happy for and a bit jealous of Wade and Courtney as they admired their electric chemistry which would soon be consummated with a passionate physical display of their love for one another. As Wade’s truck pulled out of the driveway en route to his place and Lauren and Trevor headed for Trevor’s car, they both knew it would be a much different drive for the two of them.
Lauren fished out a cigarette from her pack as soon as she sat down, avoiding eye contact with Trevor as she handed her lighter to him and invited his flame to the end of her cigarette. She finally looked up, smoke spewing from her face, and feigned another smile for the umptieth time since mid-afternoon, saying “Aren’t they just the cutest?!? I’m so happy for them.”
Trevor started his car and backed it out of the driveway, eager to broach the difficult topic but willing to buy some time for himself as he tried to find a good opportunity to pivot the conversation, playing along with the topic at hand for the time being saying, “Yep….kind of reminded me of when I brought you home to meet the family for the first time last fall.”
Lauren smirked as she exhaled after a second deep drag, “I hadn’t thought of that but you’re right. It would have been a lot less nerve-wracking for me if I’d only found out I was meeting them two minutes ahead of time like Courtney did.”
The conversation continued as they got onto the freeway for the 15-minute drive to Maple Grove, with Lauren keeping the small talk up at all costs in an attempt to filibuster the drive home away. She was determined not to allow a moment of silence to creep in for Trevor to address the topic she so desperately wanted to avoid.
As they got off the freeway and had only a few minutes of drive time before getting to Lauren’s place, Trevor knew he needed to force this pivot by whatever means necessary. Lauren fished another cigarette out of the pack in her purse and kept jabbering as Trevor stopped for a red light, guiding his hand toward her for a light.
Trevor took the moment of silence when Lauren was taking her first drag off the light-up to awkwardly interject with a solemn, “What happened today, Lauren?”
As the smoke emptied out of Lauren’s face, a moment’s silence filled the car as Lauren realized the gig was up, yet still feigned ignorance as she eventually responded, “What do you mean?”
Trevor made direct eye contact to confirm she wasn’t fooling him and then assertively responded, “You know what I mean….with Dusty! In his truck! On the cigarette run!”
Lauren looked straight forward out the windshield, taking a deep drag from her cigarette and continuing to stall as she replied emphatically, “Nothing happened, Trevor!”
Trevor was growing increasingly frustrated knowing he only had a couple of minutes drive time left to get to the bottom of this, cutting to the chase and asking directly, “Did that bastard rape you?”
Lauren began to look his way but avoided direct eye contact, nonetheless responding with a forceful “Noo!” with smoke spraying from her face.
Trevor could feel the rage build as he could tell she wasn’t being honest. “If he raped you I swear to you I’ll kill him!”
“Noooo!” Lauren whined in a voice similar what Dusty heard moments before he forced himself upon her. This time she made direct eye contact and her words were slightly more convincing as she added, “He didn’t rape me, Trevor. I promise!” technically speaking the truth given that she set him on fire before he penetrated her.
Trevor nodded, his worst fears slightly assuaged, but he was unconvinced, “Something happened though, didn’t it?”
A few moments of silence that seemed like agonizing hours filled the car as Lauren filled her lungs with a deep drag and slowly let the smoke empty out of her lungs and mouth, coughing and then matter-of-factly responding. “Something did happen. But I don’t want to talk about it. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”
Trevor pulled onto Lauren’s street and the clock was working against him for getting any kind of satisfactory confirmation, “You expect me to just forget about the fact that that son of a bitch came after my girl?”
“Yes!” Lauren exclaimed, residual smoke continuing to trickle out of her mouth and nose several breaths after her last drag. “I do expect you to forget it Trevor! And I expect you to let me forget it too!”
Trevor stewed in silence till he reached the driveway of Lauren’s parents’ place. As he pulled in, Lauren tried to calm things down by affectionately grabbing his arm and saying, “I’ll be fine, baby. I promise you I wasn’t raped. But now I need you to make a promise too.”
Trevor sat silently awaiting her next words as she took a drag from her cigarette while collecting her thoughts.
“I need you to promise me that you won’t ever talk about this again….and that you won’t say or do anything to Dusty…or tell anyone else. Okay baby?” Lauren requested.
Trevor sat there in silence, the volcanic rage in his face tipping off Lauren that this promise wouldn’t come easily for him.
“Promise me!!” Lauren exclaimed, continuing to fight back the tears she’d been suppressing all afternoon and evening.
“Okay,” Trevor muttered softly.
“I mean it, Trevor!” Lauren continued, her tone more aggressive than Trevor could ever remember seeing from her. “Neither of us will ever speak of this day again! I want to hear you promise me!”
Trevor nodded, his love for her leading him to agree to terms that he knew he shouldn’t agree to. “I promise,” he said with as much conviction as he could muster.
Lauren’s stern face broke a halfhearted smile as she slid on up to him behind the steering wheel and hugged him aggressively. “I love you so much, Trevor!” she passionately asserted.
The tone of Lauren’s voice along with the length and tightness of her hug spooked Trevor as it felt a bit like a hug goodbye. He savored the feel of her touch and the dense aroma of cigarettes clinging to her hair and blouse over the duration of this hug, finally responding “I love you too. More than you’ll ever know.”
When Lauren finally pulled away, Trevor took a close look at her beautiful face and admired the sexy cowgirl outfit she’d prepared for him that day even though it would be forever etched in his memory as the outfit that represented by far the most difficult day of their relationship, that top button on her blouse still buttoned up tight and undoubtedly concealing some evidence of what happened to her. He kept waiting for the typically emotional Lauren to break down, but was instead met with a loving smile as she said, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay, baby,” helping to ease Trevor’s mind if only for a moment as she took another drag from her cigarette and blew it into his face before climbing out of the car en route to her parents’ home at the other end of the driveway.
A tidal wave of negative emotions rushed into Trevor’s heart as he watched Lauren walk away. He lamented again as he had for hours the decision to let Lauren get in Dusty’s truck in the first place, and knew that Lauren had undoubtedly been playing the day back in her mind wishing she’d made different choices every step of the way as well, any one of which would have allowed her to avoid the moment of reckoning and every awkward and unpleasant moment since.
Trevor continued to watch her progress toward her front door, dragging from her cigarette as always, and expecting her to break down, but she never did. Instead, the tears started rolling down Trevor’s cheeks, particularly as he pondered the typically sweet father-daughter moment Lauren shared on the phone with her father just before she got into the truck with Dusty….and now she had to walk into her home and face her father carrying the burden of a likely sexual assault on her shoulders. It broke Trevor’s heart, but as he watched her cigarette glow one last time as she dragged before walking in the door, he realized that was why she’d been able to avoid an emotional breakdown. Just as she put on a show of herculean strength for him in the face of such a dark secret, she had to keep that game face for everybody else. He knew that maintaining this facade of normalcy would be the most difficult thing she’d ever done, and he suspected she might never be the same because of it.
As Lauren stepped inside her home, completely out of Trevor’s view and undoubtedly giving a sugar-coated account of her day to her parents, Trevor backed out of her driveway to head back home. There was nothing more he could do tonight, and if he was to hold to the promise he made Lauren, there was nothing more he could do period.
Becky McPherson poured a glass of iced tea from a jug in the refrigerator and noticed three $1 bills sitting on the counter next to the refrigerator. She furrowed her brow and took a deep drag from her Marlboro Red, shouting into the living room to her daughter Haylee sitting on the couch.
“Haylee, did you have company today?” Becky asked.
Cigarette dangling from her lips and a flash of paranoia on her face, Haylee abruptly responded, “No”, the cigarette bouncing up and down in her lips as she added, “Just the boys,” in reference to Jarrod and Joshua.
“Well who left these three dollars next to the fridge?” Becky inquired with suspicion. “I know it wasn’t you!”
Haylee panicked for a split second before responding in a talking dangle with messy bursts of smoke spilling from her face, “Oh I forgot. Carly came by for a bit and she took a pack of cigarettes. She said she left some money behind to pay for them.”
Becky was confused by Haylee’s evasiveness, knowing there was more to the story but simply answering, “Oh…okay,” while taking a deep and introspective drag from her cigarette.
But Becky’s attention was quickly diverted to the front door when Trevor walked in. She smiled upon seeing him, but could tell by his red and swollen eyes that there was trouble in paradise. She nonetheless tried to remain chipper as she said, “Hi honey. How was your day at the rodeo?”
Trevor tried to bulldoze his way to the stairs en route to his bedroom without his mother seeing that he’d been crying, but knew it was already too late for that. “It was good,” he answered unpersuasively.
“Well tell me about it!” Becky exclaimed in her husky voice, wisps of smoke still coming out of her mouth and nose.
Trevor was in no mood for story time and had no problem telling his mom that, responding “I’ll tell you more tomorrow. Right now I just want to get to bed. It was a long day in the sun.”
Becky watched Trevor head upstairs and softly responded, “Tomorrow it is.” She watched Trevor disappear upstairs and then looked over to Haylee in front of the TV, a swirl of smoke around her face as always, and correctly deduced that both of her children had far more going on today than they were willing to share. That was nothing new, but her maternal instinct told her today had been a particularly eventful day of secrets for both Trevor and Haylee.
Meanwhile, Trevor walked into his bedroom and then closed and locked his door behind him. He sat on his bed and briefly buried his face in his hands after an emotionally exhausting day. After a few seconds, he looked up and his eyes landed on his desk, and in particular the notebook he’d used to write poems and short stories in the final days of summer after his storybook day at the Minnesota State Fair with Lauren. For several days, Trevor had been full of inspiration and filled up a couple dozen pages of notebook paper with his creative writing, but after school started on Labor Day, he’d drifted from that creative spurt of late summer and let the notebook sit idle.
Trevor stood up and walked toward the desk, opening the notebook and thumbing through the pages of inspired, upbeat writing that transferred so effortlessly from his imagination to the page only a few short weeks ago. He sat down at the desk and flipped the notebook to the first blank page, his mind suddenly brimming with a new spurt of creativity that he once again felt emotionally obligated to put in writing. Only this time, the words coming off of his pen were coming from a much darker place than anything he’d written on those earlier pages.