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"Anne's Choice" / Chapter 1
Anne picked up the cigarette which was smouldering on the ashtray on her dressing table and placed it gently between her lips. She inhaled and blew a plume of smoke towards her reflection in the mirror. Replacing her cigarette, she returned to the task of putting on her make up in preparation for the evening ahead. As always, she took great care over making herself up; she had recently been promoted to the post of cosmetics editor for a women’s magazine (not a bad job at the age of 29) and she felt that she ought to look the part. Blusher, eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara were all meticulously applied. Before starting to put on her lipstick she returned to her cigarette, which had now burned almost to the filter. After one last drag she crushed it out and glanced up at the clock. Martin’s taxi would be arriving in a few minutes. She took another cigarette from the red and white pack which lay open on her dressing table, lit it, and inhaled before placing it on the ashtray. As she applied her lipstick, her thoughts wandered back to their first date, already more than three weeks ago.
* * *
They had met at a health and fitness club near where Anne lived in southwest London, and where she attended dance classes on two evenings each week. After her classes she sometimes stopped off in the club café for a cold drink. On one of these occasions she chatted for a while to a tall, good looking man, perhaps a couple of years older than herself, whom she had noticed doing weight training in the gym. She was pleased to discover on her next visit that the man, whose name was Martin, was again in the café, and they had another drink together.
It was no coincidence that Martin was there again. He had noticed the slim, attractive woman with beautiful eyes and long dark hair in the dance class. Martin was immediately struck by how hot she looked in comparison to the other women who frequented the health club, and he did his best to ensure that he was around the café each evening when her classes finished. He looked forward to their meetings but, to his disappointment, Anne always excused herself and left after only a few minutes. Martin wondered why she seemed in such a hurry to leave, and hoped that it did not betray a lack of interest in him.
The truth was that after an hour and a half in the club, Anne was in urgent need of a cigarette. As soon as she had driven her car out of the club car park, Anne would retrieve her Marlboros from the glove compartment and light up her post-exercise cigarette: always one of the most enjoyable of the day. It didn’t seem right, somehow, to admit to Martin that, however pleasant his company might be, her need for nicotine was a much more compelling attraction.
After two or three more brief chats in the health club café, Martin asked Anne for a date, and she readily accepted. They arranged to meet for a drink and a meal in a nearby inn with low ceilings and wooden beams, before going on to the cinema. When Anne arrived, Martin was waiting for her at the bar. She looked strikingly beautiful in a short red and black dress and black stiletto heels, her dark hair tied back and her make-up professionally applied, as always. Having ordered a drink, she sat down beside him at the bar and, opening her bag, she said in as casual a manner as she could manage:
“Oh, by the way, you don’t mind if I smoke, do you?”
Martin’s reaction was worse than she had feared.
“What!” he said, astonished, “You smoke?”
“Well, yes,” Anne hesitated, an unlit cigarette in her hand. “I do. I’m sorry – does it annoy you?”
“Well, I… I mean, no, not really,” Martin replied, confused. “That’s to say, I’m not bothered by the smell, or anything like that. It’s just that, well, I didn’t expect… I mean, you don’t look like… No, go ahead, if you want to.”
Anne lit her cigarette and turned away to exhale a long plume of smoke. Martin watched her, transfixed.
“Have you… err… smoked for a long time?”
Anne laughed and blew out another cloud of smoke. “Oh, yes,” she said. “I started when I was fourteen. All the girls smoked. You had to, to be one of the crowd. I’d been smoking for more than four years before I left school.”
Martin was still looking at her as if she had just confessed to eating her last boyfriend’s liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
“And do you… um… smoke a lot?”
Anne reached along the bar counter for an ashtray and tapped the ash from the tip of her cigarette. This was not going well. She decided that, in the circumstances, something less than the truth was called for.
“No, not really,” she lied. “I suppose I’m what you would call a social smoker. I have a cigarette now and then when I’m out for an evening. And occasionally at home,” she added, not wanting to stray any further from the truth than was necessary.
“But it’s so bad for your health,” protested Martin. “Why on earth do you do it?”
Anne was getting fed up with this topic of conversation. Most of her previous relationships had been with smokers and she had not had to undertake the tiresome task of justifying her habit to them.
“Because I enjoy it,” she said, shortly. She found that she was not, however, enjoying this cigarette and, after taking another drag, she stubbed it out half-smoked in the ashtray on the counter. Martin’s expression brightened visibly and he changed the subject.
After this shaky start, their evening out together had gone well. They discovered that they had a lot of interests in common and that they enjoyed each other’s company. Anne resisted the urge to light up in Martin’s presence again. When they had finished eating, she excused herself to go to the ladies’ room and walked away through the restaurant, her bag over her shoulder. Martin poured himself a glass of wine and tried to come to terms with his discovery that the beautiful Anne was a smoker. Physical fitness and well-being had always been of enormous importance to him and he had never understood why other people were willing to put their health at risk by smoking. Ever since he was a boy he had been resolutely anti-smoking. The warnings, which he received at school and read in magazines, seemed to be amply confirmed by the sight of the old, unattractive men and women smokers with coughs and throaty voices whom he met around town. The one curious exception to this rule was his aunt, his mother’s younger sister, who smoked and yet was neither old nor unattractive. Late one night many years ago, during a visit by her, he had been unable to sleep and had come downstairs, to find his mother and his aunt chatting together in the kitchen. His aunt was smoking a cigarette and there was another cigarette burning in the ashtray on the table. Young Martin was puzzled. He had never before heard of anyone smoking two cigarettes at once. Could it be that his aunt was an especially heavy smoker? An alternative explanation, which occurred to him later, was too shocking to contemplate.
Martin was beginning to wonder what had happened to Anne when she reappeared, smiling contentedly, her make-up freshly applied. He called for the bill and they got ready to leave.
In the cinema, Anne had excused herself again during the previews, so she was able to keep her nicotine level sufficiently topped up to see her through to the end of the film in relative comfort. By the time they arrived back at her apartment, though, she was beginning to need another cigarette, and she did not invite Martin in. They kissed goodnight, agreeing to meet again soon.
* * *
Recalling that first night out now, Anne picked up her cigarette from the ashtray, reflecting, not for the first time, on how her smoking habits had changed in the last month since she had started dating Martin. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a taxi arriving outside her apartment. She hurriedly took several deep drags in quick succession. With smoke streaming from her mouth and nose, she closed the door and made her way downstairs, where Martin was waiting impatiently for her.
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