“How do you do that?” She brought a din of 80′s dance music and boisterous shrieks when she opened the door, stepping out of her graduation party and onto the back porch.

“It’s all in the tongue.” He raised a suggestive eyebrow and inhaled to demonstrate.

She closed the door behind her, leaning against the house and watching his mouth form a string of hazy circles. He waited for her standard gripe about the morning-after stench of stale pot in her hair, but it never came – not even after the breeze caught the smoke and sent it wafting through her curls. She was staring at him through the smoke rings, but her eyes were blank.

When his joint started burning low, he crushed it on the railing and let it fall to his feet.  He pulled another from his pocket.

“Let me see that.” Her voice broke the silence.

He stared without comprehension at her outstretched hand until it finally dawned on him that she was asking for the joint.

He turned to eye her warily. “You don’t smoke.”

“First time for everything.”

“Says the virgin.” He gave her half a leer, but held the joint out of her reach. “Look, you know I’m more than happy to assist in the popping of any of your many cherries, but –”

“But what?” She demanded, a confrontational edge entering her voice.

“But … you seem a little –”

“I’m fine.” She snipped with a smile.

She looked up in a silent dare and he almost wondered if she wanted him to call her bluff.  If so, she would be disappointed.  Something was very clearly wrong, but he couldn’t see that asking what would make any difference.  And besides, it wasn’t his place.  He wasn’t her boyfriend – not really.  He was just the boy who took the things she offered freely and gave a wide berth to the things she didn’t.  He was convinced he would only damage them anyway if he ever got his hands around them, those pieces of herself she didn’t wear on her sleeve. Maybe lighting up was her equivalent of sending up an SOS flare, but he still slipped the joint between her waiting fingers. There was no point in pretending he had anything else to offer.

She struggled to work the lighter. He watched her exhale, emptying her lungs before bringing the joint to her mouth with something like determination. She inhaled with an impossibly long, deep breath.


Almost on cue, she dissolved in a predictable coughing fit.

When she was still hacking up smoke a few second later, his brought his hand lightly to her back. “Breathe.”

But she was coughing too hard to obey. Afraid she was about to be sick (all over his shoes), he led her to a nearby lawn chair.

“Alright …” He took the joint from her hand while she was still doubled over. “That’s enough lung damage for you.”

“… disgusting …” She managed between coughs, eyes watering, tears running down her cheeks. “… and I don’t feel anything.”

“That’s precious.” He stuck the joint between his lips and tucked his lighter away. “You thought you were gonna to get high off your first hit?”

“First and last.” She muttered as her coughing subsided.

She dropped into the chair he had steered her to. She wiped her eyes, but the tears hadn’t quite stopped yet. She brushed them off her cheeks with an aggravated sigh, but they continued to stream. As it became unavoidably obvious that this was about much more than a cough-inducing inhalation, she groaned and covered her face with her hands.

“Hey.” Vaguely alarmed, he took a step closer. “I’m sorry.”

For what, he wasn’t exactly sure.

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s nothing. I’m fine.” She sniffled and made a strangled sound that might have been an attempted laugh. “I’ll be fine.”

Neither of them spoke while her breathing returned to normal and smoke rings once again floated from his lips into the night.


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