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"Anne's Choice" / Chapter 8
Martin and Anne saw very little of each other during the next month. Martin was working away from home through the week and Anne spent the weekends visiting her parents. Her father was out of hospital and making a good recovery. Late one Sunday evening, Anne was driving back to London when she called Martin from her car.
“Hi,” he said. “How are things?”
“Fine,” said Anne. “I thought I might call in to see you on my way home.”
“Sure,” replied Martin. “I was about to go to bed, though.”
Anne grinned. “That’s just what I had in mind.”
She let herself into Martin’s apartment, undressed quietly and slipped into bed beside him. Half-asleep and half-aroused, he turned over and began to kiss her. At once he seemed to grow tense, though he said nothing. Anne knew without having to ask that he was smelling and tasting the many cigarettes which she had smoked in her car during the long journey home. Oh, well, she thought, he had to find out sooner or later. I’m not playing games again this time.
To Anne’s relief, Martin’s discovery had not diminished his desire for her. Almost the reverse, it seemed: Martin was plainly as hungry for her as ever. They made love energetically, if rather silently. Afterwards, Martin propped himself up on one elbow and looked at her reproachfully.
“You promised,” he complained.
Anne shrugged, but said nothing. She was wishing she hadn’t left her cigarettes in the car.
“So what next?” Martin persisted. “Are you going to try to stop again?”
Anne shook her head. “No,” she said, firmly. “At least, not any time soon. I don’t even want to think about it. You’ve never smoked. You just can’t imagine how much I hated not smoking.” She sat up in bed. “There wasn’t a day went past when I didn’t want a cigarette so badly. Sometimes I woke up in the morning crying at the thought of yet another day ahead without smoking. I tried to hide it from you, but you must have realised that I was unhappy most of the time, didn’t you? I don’t want to go back to feeling as bad as that again.”
“Perhaps you just went about it the wrong way,” Martin suggested. “You could try using some help next time – you know, like nicotine patches, or hypnosis, or something.”
“No, you’re missing the point,” Anne replied. “I’m not just talking about the struggle I’d have if I tried to stop again. What I’m saying is that I don’t actually want to stop at all. I tried being a non-smoker and I didn’t like it. That morning after my dad’s heart attack I made a conscious decision. I wasn’t drunk or stressed out. I had a choice to make and I chose to smoke.” She looked at Martin steadily. “And I haven’t regretted it for a moment.”
“But you enjoyed being healthier,” Martin protested, despairingly. “You liked having more stamina for your dance class. And you were glad to be rid of your cough. You said so.”
“Yes, that’s all true.” Anne agreed. “It was nice to feel fitter, and to be able to walk upstairs without getting a pain in my chest. I liked not having this cough all the time. The extra money was useful, too. But… well, all I can say is that it just wasn’t enough to be worth it. I’m sorry, Martin, I enjoy smoking too much to want to stop again. In the end I’d rather be happy and breathless than fit and miserable.”
Anne got out of bed and began to dress. “And now,” she said, “ I’ve got to go. I have an early start tomorrow.”
Also, she thought to herself, but did not say aloud, I’m dying for a cigarette.
* * *
It was Anne’s turn to be busy working away from home, pursuing a promotion deal for her magazine with a temperamental supermodel. Another three weeks went past, during which she did not see Martin at all. She tried to phone him whenever she had time, but always reached his voicemail. Eventually when she was at home one evening she succeeded in catching him on his cell phone.
“Hi, stranger,” she said. “I’m back, and I was wondering if you were doing anything on Friday night?”
“Sorry,” he said, “I can’t make it on Friday.”
“Oh, well, what about Saturday, then?”
“Umm…no,” Martin replied. “I can’t do Saturday either, I’m afraid.”
“You’re very busy, all of a sudden,” Anne said, teasingly, “Not seeing someone else, are you?”
“Well, I… As a matter of fact, I …err... yes, I am.”
Anne’s heart was pounding. She reached automatically for her cigarettes. “Who is she, Martin? Do I know her?”
“Her name’s Carol,” Martin said, reluctantly. “You might have seen her at the health club. Tall, with short blonde hair. Always on the running machines. She’s very fit…” His voice tailed off.
“So it’s all over between us?” Anne demanded. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
Martin did not reply. Anne’s hand shook as she lit a cigarette. From the other end of the phone, Martin could hear the click of her lighter followed by an intake of breath as she took a deep drag. Still he said nothing.
“But why, Martin? It’s because I started smoking again, isn’t it?”
Martin spoke at last. “It’s like I said before. I love you, Anne; I really do, but I can’t live with the thought of you hurting yourself forty times a day. For a while I believed we had got it beaten. I was so happy to see you getting fitter and healthier, and I thought you were enjoying it too. Now I don’t think you’ll ever be free from smoking. You’re hopelessly addicted. I’m very sorry, Anne. I just can’t bear the thought of spending the rest of my life watching you killing yourself with cigarettes.”
They talked for a little while longer and then rang off, promising vaguely to meet up soon for a drink. Anne sat smoking and thinking about what Martin had said. It hadn’t come as a complete surprise to her: ever since the night of her father’s heart attack she had sensed that he was distancing himself from her, preparing the ground for a tactical retreat. So why had she let it happen? Why hadn’t she been willing to do what she had to do to save her relationship with the man she loved? Even as she asked herself these questions, she knew that the experience of the past year provided the answer: she was a smoker, and there was no more to be said about it. Smoking was a part of her, as natural as eating or sleeping or breathing. Her cigarettes were her best friends and she had been lost without them. They helped her to think; they made good times better; they comforted her when she was unhappy. She knew that she would miss Martin, but she also knew that she would not wake up in the morning crying and craving his company.
Anne put her cigarette down in the ashtray and went to the kitchen to pour herself a drink, still thinking about Martin. He had made his choice, just as Anne had made hers. Maybe in future she should restrict herself to dating smokers: experience had shown that they were less likely to bother about her own habit. She coughed, and reflected ruefully that her chest felt as heavy as ever before. Perhaps Martin was right: perhaps her best friends had already begun slowly to kill her. One day she would definitely have to think about quitting for good. But not today.
Wiping away a tear, she walked back to the lounge with her glass of wine. She picked up the cigarette which was smouldering in the ashtray and placed it gently between her lips.
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