My Last Cigarette

It was last call at the bar up the street from my shitty apartment, and I had just decided to quit smoking cigarettes.

"Quit kidding yourself, man," Paul said, shaping the cherry of his non-filtered cigarette on the side of the black plastic ashtray between us. "How many times have you tried to quit? A million?" He fit the cigarette into one of the ashtray's slots, flashed an all-knowing grin, and took several gulps from the pint glass in front of him. "Don't get me wrong," he said, wiping foam from his beard. "If you weren't always bringing these goddamn delicious Lucky Strikes around, I wouldn't smoke either. I just hate to see you put yourself through all the fucking stress, you know?" He took a long, deep drag from the cigarette, then let the smoke slowly escape from his lungs as he asked, "How the hell do you plan on quitting, anyway?"

"New Year's resolution," I said.

"No shit." He downed the rest of his beer, then slammed the glass onto the wooden bar. "Well, if we're quitting, we ought to go out with a bang. Vegas?"

"If I'm quitting, I'm going to need some solitude and peace in those first few pivotal hours. I'd never last in Vegas." I glanced around the bar to make sure no one was close enough to overhear us, then said, "There won't be anyone at my parents' cabin."

"Hot tub. Warm alcoholic beverages. Can I bring Gina?"

I'd known Paul since our freshman year of high school. We'd spent nearly every Friday evening together since then: playing pool, drinking malt liquor in parking lots, sneaking into swimming pools and smoking, usually my cigarettes. For the previous two years, Paul had been dating a nearly invisible girl named Gina. Some nights, when Paul was horny and I was too drunk to care, we'd end the night at her apartment. I was pretty sure that she didn't like me. How could she? The only times I interacted with her, I was either wasted or waking up, hung over, on her couch.

So I was shocked when Paul asked me if he could include Gina. But I was even more shocked when he followed it with: "What would you think about moving in with us next semester?"

"Have you talked this over with Gina?" I yelled over the chorus of drunken bar conversation.

"You're the only friend I have that she can stand," he yelled back. "And we need someone to help us swing the rent."

We left for the cabin after breakfast, New Year's Eve, singing along to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band while we passed around a thermos filled with coffee and Kahlua. As Lennon broke into "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," I pulled out a couple of cigarettes. "I'm going to love living with you guys," Paul said as he took the cigarette.

"Um, you're not going to smoke those, are you?" Gina yelled from the back seat.

"Um, yeah," I responded, looking to Paul for an explanation. He stuck the cigarette behind his ear and turned to look out the window.

"But...I don't smoke," she said.

"I know," I said as I pushed the car lighter in.

"So why should I have to suffer the consequences?"

"This is my last day of smoking, Gina. We're driving for most of it."

"It's cool," Paul piped in, turning down the stereo and smiling back at Gina. "We're quitting tomorrow anyway, dude."

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I scowled at Paul inquisitively.

"Thank God you two are quitting," Gina answered, "I could never live with smokers. It's filthy."

"Filthy?" I looked at Paul in disbelief.

New Year's Eve in the middle of Nowhere, Colorado, seemed the perfect place to start anew as a non-smoker. Fresh air. Relaxation. Quiet. I couldn't ask for more. Yet upon arriving at the cabin, I began to second-guess myself.

"What do you mean, we can't use the hot tub?" Paul asked, terrified. "What am I going to tell Gina?"

"It's been drained, man. By the time we actually fill it up and get the water heated, it'll be time for us to go." I poured three glasses of wine and motioned for him to come drink this new trouble away. "Sorry."

"The TV isn't getting any reception, Kyle," Gina yelled. I walked into the living room as she threw the remote control on the floor in frustration.

"Great!" She turned and stared at me for an answer.

I handed her a glass of wine. "They must have canceled the satellite service for the winter. Sorry."

"What are we supposed to do now?" she responded.

"I don't know. We'll party down, listen to music, talk..."

"I don't really feel like drinking anymore," Gina interrupted.

"But it's New Year's Eve," Paul countered.

"God, Paul," Gina got up from her chair and began walking out of the room. "Sorry I'm not an alcoholic like some people."

"There's a ton of board games up here," I said before Paul had a chance to give Gina the response he had cooking beneath his furrowed brow. "Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Uno, you name it."

By the time we opened the third bottle of wine, my interest in our game of Scrabble was waning. I ached for the endlessly rotating cigarette break continued outside after each turn.

"That's not a word," Gina said, laughing at Paul as he laid down his tiles on the board. "You idiot, you can't use abbreviations," she told him another time. But my personal favorite was: "Oh, Paul, good word! Or at least it would have been, if you knew how to spell."

When I heard the Scrabble board crash against the floor, tiles scattering everywhere, I didn't hold it against Paul. When he came outside and shamefully said, "Dude, I think I broke the board," I only handed him a cigarette in empathy.

"There's always gin rummy," I said sarcastically as Gina came outside.

Small snowflakes had begun to fall.

"Come on, guys. It's beautiful." I opened my arms to the enormous mountains surrounding us in the dim glow of the falling snow.

"It's fucking freezing," Gina responded. "I'll play gin rummy, as long as Paul doesn't freak out." She turned and left before either of us could empty our lungs of smoke and properly object.

When we came back inside, a half-inch of snow had already stuck to the ground. Gina had helped herself to some soup and crackers from the pantry. She was shuffling the cards as she ate, cracker crumbs falling from her mouth onto the table in front of her.

"Clean up your mess so we can play," Paul told Gina.

She pushed her empty bowl toward him, then brushed the crumbs off the table with her open hand. The crumbs seemed to sparkle on the linoleum, like the snow on the ground outside.

I poured myself another glass of wine and drank the entire thing."I'm going to smoke another cigarette while you deal," I said as I got up from the table.

"There is no way you, of all people, could ever quit smoking," Gina commented condescendingly.

We made it through one hand of gin rummy. Paul won, then demanded a high five from me. Gina threw her cards down and let out an exaggerated moan. I finished off another glass of wine.

"Jesus Christ, you are so fucking competitive!" Paul said teasingly.

"Oh, I'm competitive?!" Gina leaned over the table at Paul and violently slapped her chest. "You're the one that broke the fucking Scrabble board because you couldn't handle losing to me!" Her voice rose to a scream. She threw the deck of cards at Paul, which I took as my cue to leave. The grandfather clock next to the table read 10:25 p.m.

I'll just smoke a few cigarettes while they work it out, I thought, as I bundled myself up and ambled out into the snowy night.

I awoke in a plastic lawn chair feeling like I had just gone swimming beneath the ice of a frozen lake. I brushed a good inch of snow off myself and stood to gain my bearings. I fell to one knee and steadied myself, then reached into my jacket pocket for a cigarette and walked over to the window on the porch. Gina and Paul were standing in nearly the exact same spots they were when I left them. Although I couldn't hear anything, I could tell Gina was yelling at Paul. She jabbed an extended finger in his direction as she spoke. The grandfather clock behind them read just past 12:15 a.m.

I took the pack of cigarettes from my jacket pocket and threw it onto the ground at my feet, then sat back down in the lawn chair and watched it slowly disappear in the falling snow.