Nicotine

The cardboard shape of the pack makes a soft noise as it hits the kitchen counter, and then scrapes along the surface as she rotates it idly with the fingers of her left hand. She doesn’t look at it, keeping her eyes trained on the sink in front of her. She takes a bite of the slice of toast hovering near her mouth and watches the crumbs collect on the metal bottom of the sink. When she’s done eating, she’ll be able to turn on the tap and all those little toasted bread crumbs will be washed away. It will be neat, and tidy.

Tiffany sighs. She’s sick of neat and tidy, and she had gotten out of the habit of eating her toast over the sink a long time ago, but when she’s toying with a pack of cigarettes in her other hand she feels the need to compensate.

The way she was raised is what prevents her from feeling any sense of ease, despite the fact that she is standing in her own kitchen in her own house and hasn’t seen a single member of her family in almost ten years. Maybe it’s the weather; outside it is cold and cloudy and it seems to be seeping into her safe haven. The guilt that rides along the smell of cigarette smoke on her clothes ignites something in the back of her mind, and her mother’s voice is slowly dredged up from her memories.

Why don’t you quit that filthy habit, already? It’s disgusting. It makes you smell bad and it’ll make you look bad, too. No man would want to give you a moment of his time.

Her fingers tighten around the pack of cigarettes, and she takes another bite of her toast, carefully making sure the crumbs fall in the sink.

And stop making such a mess everywhere. It just clutters everything up, and then you never clean it. Do you think any man would want a girl that can’t clean up after herself; that makes a mess that clutters up his life, too? Get yourself together.

Tiffany finishes her toast with a heavy swallow, and removes her grip on the cigarettes so she can brush her hands together over the sink. She washes away all the crumbs, grabs a dishcloth to wipe the counter just in case, and then she covers her face with her hands and tries not to cry.

It’s been a difficult month. She reassures herself that it’s the stresses of her new job combining with her attempt to quit smoking. Her mother’s voice has faded away again, slinking back to whatever pile of dirt she usually keeps it buried in, and she takes a deep breath. One of her hands smells strongly of cigarette smoke.

That damned nicotine. Before today, she managed to go six months without even looking at a pack of cigarettes. She reached the point of feeling little to no temptation when she passed smokers on the street. Six months without a smoke, and then today on this cloudy afternoon, at home alone, she had to dig up the pack she never threw out. She’s not sure if it’s because the nicotine is really so addictive, or if it’s because she hasn’t seen her other addiction in almost a week; Taeyeon.

It was stupid to start anything with Taeyeon and it’s stupid to miss her so much, just like it was stupid to start smoking and it was stupid to smoke today.

She wonders if the two addictions are connected. She’s proven herself weak against smoking, and she can’t resist Taeyeon; maybe she’s always been destined to make these mistakes. When she can’t have Taeyeon, she goes to the cigarettes.

Her phone is ringing. She removes her hands from her face and frowns, because she can’t remember where her phone is. Judging by the sound of the ringing, it’s not in here, so she scoops the pack of cigarettes into her jacket pocket and goes in search of the call.

By the time she finds it buried beneath a bunch of clothes on her bed, it has stopped ringing. The screen shows a notification and the name makes her breath catch in her throat. Taeyeon.

Tiffany had met Taeyeon at the start of winter, which was a time when they were both only half-alive. Taeyeon is funny, she is shy, she is bright, and she is quiet, all in one person. Everything she does and doesn’t do makes Tiffany feel – sometimes happy, sometimes confused, sometimes irritated, sometimes totally in love. And the fact that she makes Tiffany feel anything at all is what leads to the addiction.

It’s something that always comes up when an addict is asked why they’re addicted. It’s the way it makes them feel. Not the thoughts they think, because there’s a lot of negativity there, or the actions they take, because there’s a lot of badness there. It’s how they feel when they have that addiction. Taeyeon creates feelings in Tiffany that she had no idea could exist because Taeyeon is filling a space with those feelings, where it’s been empty for such a long time.

Maybe it was inevitable that Tiffany would become addicted to Taeyeon.

She didn’t realize it was happening until the day she lost count. They’ve been meeting on and off for two months, and for the first while she knew it was the fifth time, the tenth time, the fifteenth, and then she completely lost count because they were meeting every day, sometimes more than once a day. Taeyeon became everything. That’s when she realizes how addicted she is, because she still wants more and more and more.

Tiffany remembers the time of her life when she was a smoker. She had started off small, a little pack of menthols, and it grew quite easily until she became just another pack-a-day cigarette mule. Her friends convinced her to stop then and helped her through it.

She can feel in the marrow of her bones that her addiction to Taeyeon would need something a lot bigger than the motivation of loved ones to shake. Taeyeon is more than cigarettes, more than a drag at lunchtime and a puff with a cup of coffee, and she is so much better than the sting of nicotine; so much better, and so much worse.

And just like the cigarettes, she can always taste Taeyeon in her mouth, and she is haunted by the knowledge that what they are doing is deliciously wrong.

Her finger is tapping absently on the screen of her phone, and she wonders why Taeyeon called. They aren’t supposed to be calling each other. They’re meant to go one week without speaking to each other, because Taeyeon’s fiancé is visiting for a week and during that time it’s supposed to look as if she is not cheating on him with Tiffany. So why is she calling?

Most importantly, should Tiffany call back?

Well, she knows she probably shouldn’t. But she knows that in the same way that she knows she probably will.

Her finger taps a few more times on the screen and then she’s holding the phone to her ear, listening to the pause and then the ringing on the line.

Taeyeon sounds out of breath when she answers, “Hello? Tiffany?”

“Hey,” Tiffany says back, feeling a little lame, “what’s up? Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” There’s some rustling and Tiffany pictures the action clearly in her mind’s eye as Taeyeon shifts her phone from one hand to the other. “I have good news, baby.”

Tiffany’s eyebrows rise at the endearment. “Oh yeah? How good?”

On a scale of one to ten, she thinks in her head. One being well hey, we’re not dead and ten being I broke up with him and I have two tickets to Cancun, now you ditch your boyfriend.

“He went home early.”

Nothing follows this statement although Tiffany waits.

“Why?”

Taeyeon clears her throat. Tiffany hears the ignition of a car engine. “We, uh, may have had a pretty bad fight.”

“Like,” Tiffany hesitates, “catastrophically bad?”

“Depends on what you’d call a catastrophe,” Taeyeon says lightly. “Upon my recommendation, we’re on a break to rethink our commitment to each other.”

Tiffany frowns. It sounds like not quite a break-up, but perhaps a break-up in progress. She’s not sure if she’s truly satisfied with it but maybe she will be later.

“Can I come over?” Meaning: are you alone?

Tiffany lets herself smile a little. “Yeah. I’ll be right here waiting.”

The pack of cigarettes goes back into the bottom drawer of her bedside table beneath a bunch of other junk she only sets eyes on once or twice a year, and she tidies up her bedroom. She’s fixing herself up in the mirror when she notices the feeling building up in her chest, expanding her lungs and floating along the line of her throat. It’s the feeling Taeyeon gives her, growing like the feeling she gets from cigarettes She knows it’s going to get even better when Taeyeon gets here, so she knows she can’t even fight it.

Taeyeon really is worse than nicotine.

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