"Anne's Choice 2" / Chapter 2
Anne was a few minutes late in arriving for lunch, so Martin was already seated and studying the menu when she walked in and sat down at his table. They ordered their meal and began to catch up on the last ten years.
“So, how’s your family life? Are you married?” Martin asked.
“Was,” Anne replied. “Divorced last year. No children. My husband left me for someone he met at work. He complained that I cared more about my career than I did about him and that I was never at home. Ironic, don’t you think? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round?”
Their first course came, and they continued to chat about friends with whom one or other had lost touch. But Martin found himself thinking more and more about the question which he most wanted to ask: the issue which had divided them before and which was looming large in his mind now. There was a pause in the conversation and Anne looked up at him, as if challenging him to ask it. He decided that he couldn’t wait any longer.
“And do you still smoke?” he inquired, as casually as he could manage.
She continued to look at him coolly. “Yes,” she said, “I still smoke. Does it still matter to you?”
If you only knew, Martin thought to himself, how much it matters to me. But he said: “Well, obviously I still care about how you’re treating yourself. So, er… no ill effects?”
“You mean apart from the five minutes I spend coughing after I’ve smoked my first cigarette of the morning? Or the fact that I can’t pull on a pair of jeans without getting out of breath?” Her tone sharpened. “Smoking’s bad for me, Martin. It’s screwed up my health. You were right. Is that what you were wanting to hear me say?”
“No, not at all,” Martin replied, hurriedly. “In fact, quite the opposite. I was just thinking that you look terrific – same as ever, really.”
Mollified, Anne gave a smile. “You forget that I’m a professional in the art of camouflage. The signs of the damage are there, if you know what to look for.” She lifted her bag and stood up. “And now, since you’ve brought the subject up, if you’ll excuse me I’ll just step out for a cigarette before they bring the next course.”
“No problem,” said Martin, “I’ll come and keep you company.”
“There’s no need for that,” Anne replied, surprised. But Martin had already instructed the waiter to delay their food, and was walking with her towards the door of the restaurant.
Outside, it was a cold, blustery October day. Martin watched as Anne took a pack of Marlboros from her bag, selected a cigarette and, with some difficulty, succeeded in getting it lit. He pretended to look in a neighbouring shop window to conceal the effect on him of watching Anne smoke, having fantasised about it for so many years. She smoked her cigarette quickly, taking deep drags with short pauses between, exhaling clouds of smoke as she complained about the inconveniences of the smoking ban. Eventually she crushed the cigarette out with half an inch remaining unsmoked.
“That’s enough to keep the cravings satisfied for now,” she observed, and they returned inside to continue their lunch.
As he called for the bill, Martin had a plan in mind. “There’s a café just off Covent Garden which has a terrace with these patio heaters which destroy the ozone layer. Why don’t we go there for coffee and you can have a cigarette in comfort?”
Once again, Anne was surprised by Martin’s apparent keenness to accommodate her nicotine habit. Was he trying to make up for having caused their break-up by his attitude to it in the past? Whatever the reason might be, she was wanting a cigarette and had no objection to his proposal. They walked round the corner to the café, where they found a warm seat on the terrace and Anne brought out her pack and lighter. Martin was able to observe her a little more closely this time. Her smoking style was much as he remembered. As she placed the cigarette in her mouth, she would make a pout, smothering the brown filter with the dark red oval of her lips. Her cheeks caved in as the cigarette tip glowed red. Then her chest expanded as she drew in the smoke before turning her head to the side to exhale a large plume.
They drank their coffee and Anne finished her cigarette. “I suppose I should get back to the office,” she said unenthusiastically.
“Do you have to rush?” Martin asked. “I haven’t finished my coffee yet. You’ve time for another cigarette before we go, if you want.”
This time Anne’s curiosity was thoroughly aroused. As she took a cigarette from her pack, she looked at Martin quizzically. “Anyone who didn’t know better would think you were encouraging me to smoke. You’re not… are you?”
Martin hesitated. This was a crucial moment. For the one and only time in his life, he could confess his fetish and take a chance on what Anne might think of him when he told her about it. Or he could play safe and keep his dark secret to himself, probably for ever, if he didn’t mention it now. But he had already waited too long before answering and he realised that his mind was made up.
“It’s a long story. Too long to tell here.” He thought for a moment. “You’re not free on Saturday night, by any chance? Carol’s taking the kids to her parents for the weekend.”
“I think I have a gap in my busy social calendar this weekend,” Anne said, dryly, as she lit her cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke. “Where do you want to go?”
“Well, is there somewhere we can have dinner where you can smoke without having to leave me to go outside every time?
“Not unless you’re thinking of taking me to Belgium,” Anne smiled. “It’s too late in the year now to eat out of doors. You’d better just come round to my place – I’ll cook us something for supper.” She dictated the address, a house in an attractive and sought-after Surrey village. Martin was impressed.
“Bit of a step up from the old apartment in Putney, isn’t it?”
“Like Zsa Zsa Gabor, I’m a good housekeeper,” Anne replied, with a grin. “When I got divorced, I kept the house.”
She stood up and, leaning over, kissed him on the cheek. He caught the familiar heady scent of her perfume mixed with tobacco smoke. “I have to go – see you on Saturday,” she said and, cigarette in hand, walked off along the street.
Responses are not allowed!