Cigarettes & Love

A coming of age story about friendship, love, and loss.

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2. 2. C’mon Sam

 

 

 

    Tina owned a little diner on the corner, aptly named Tina’s diner and Soda Shop. Tina was a firecracker of lady who was known for lying about her age- claiming she was 39 when everyone knew she was closer to 60. The second she saw the group enter the diner, she swooped over to Pete. News traveled fast in a small town. 

    “You poor boy,” she embraced him fiercely. 

    “I’m ok, Tina,” he mumbled. She pulled back, examining his face.

    “Always with the brave face, kid. What can I get for y’all?” 

    “Sodas all around,” Jack said, “On me.” 

    “If I find out you’re takin’ from the church box again, so help me God-“

    “Oh, c’mon Tina, like you didn’t do anything like that when you were our age. That couldn’t have been all that long ago either,” Jack grinned, adding the compliment in at the end just for good measure. 

    “Flattery will get you far, Jack, but it won’t make up for what you get up to,” 

    “Four cokes,” 

    “Not until you tell me you earned that money fare and square,”

    “Four cokes, and I’ll do clean up the tables tonight before closing,” Jack put down his money. Tina glared at him for maybe ten seconds before chuckling and swiping the money into her open palm. Jack could get away with anything. Markus said it was his smile. He had a show-biz kinda smile, like Bob Hope or something like that. Everyone knew Jack wanted to be a comedian. 

    “You boys got anything planned for today?”

    “Not really, gonna maybe go see a movie later on,” said Markus. 

    “Can’t,” Pete took a sip from his straw, “I gotta study for the math exam tomorrow,” 

    “This kid,” Markus poked Pete, “Thinks he’s gonna be a doctor or some shit,” 

    “Nah, nothing like that,” 

    “What’re you talking like that for? You’re smart, kid,” Tina said.

    “Not like that I’m not. I’d never get into college or anything,” 

    “Shoot, sure you would,” Franky said, spinning around on the bar stool. 

    “Not for medicine. But I don’t want that anyway. If I could take anything it’d be english,” Pete said, smiling in spite of himself. 

    “Jesus,” Markus chuckled, “Of all the things,” Franky gave Markus a look but didn’t go any further. Markus could be full of great advice but sometimes he lacked respect. He thought respect just went one way. 

    “Ain’t nothing wrong with that honey,” Tina put a bowl of ice cream in front of Pete. “Here, it’s on the house,” 

    “Thanks Tina. I’ll pay you-“

    “You’ll do no such thing. Tell me you did good on the exam tomorrow and that’s enough for me,” 

    “Thanks,” Pete repeated, watching Tina shuffle away to tend to a table full of high school boys. In a lot of ways, Tina acted like a mother to the group. Pete’s mom was a great lady but she worked long hours waitressing at this dive of a pool hall. 

    “Gee, you’re awful quite today kid,” Jack looked over Markus’ head at Franky. 

    “Couldn’t get a word in edge wise with your loud mouth gabbin’ all over the place,” the girl answered swiftly. She was right, Jack loved the sound of his own voice.

    “Hey I think I liked you better when you weren’t talkin’,” 

    “Both y’all, shut up,” Markus stood up. “The hell was that?” 

    “Someone dropped somethin’ in the kitchen, who cares,” 

    “Someone shouted,” he went over to the kitchen doors and looked through the window. “Sam?”

    “What the hell is he doing here?” Jack practically jumped off his stool. The four of them stormed into the kitchen after Markus, bewildered. 

    “Oh hey y’all,” Sam looked down at the smashed plate.

    “The fuck are you doing here?” Markus took the broom from Sam. “We’ve been worried sick,” 

    “Thought I’d take an extra shift cause I got two free periods Wednesdays. You know that,”

    “Of course I know that but I didn’t know you went and got a job cleaning fucking dishes,”

    “Oh come off it Markus, what would I be doing otherwise? Bumming around with you guys,” it wasn’t often that Sam spoke without thinking. He looked down again, regretting his choice of words. 

    “And what about the past two nights when we’ve been calling after you? Your folks probably don’t even know where the hell you are,” 

    “Like they care,”

    “We care,” Franky spoke up. There were a few seconds of silence as Markus swept up some of the smashed plate. 

    “So, what? You’re cleaning dishes in the evenings till when? Midnight? Whenever Tina closes for the night? That’s why you’re so god damn tired all the time and look like a truck hit you every morning when we go to school. How many hours of sleep do you usually get a night?” 

    “It doesn’t matter,” Sam mumbled. 

    “Shoot, course it matters. How’re you supposed to function if you don’t fall asleep till 2am and are up the next day at 7? How long were you planning on living like this?” 

    “Till my ol’ man decides to get another job,” 

    “What?” Markus spat, “Ok, get you’re bag, we’re goin’,” 

 

 

                        ***

 

 

    There was an old abandoned cabin in the woods outside of town where the five of them would go whenever they wanted to be alone. Whenever one of them needed a place to crash. There was an old bed and mattress, a seldom used kitchen, and a fireplace where they’d boil water for hot chocolate. There were a few chairs around a rickety old table where they’d play poker and a collection of spread out blankets around the fireplace. To some, it seemed like a dingy, candle-lit mess, but to them it was a haven. It was where Pete kept his books and where he spent hours reading, sometimes well into the night. It was where Markus went when he couldn’t deal with his brother’s bulling, and where Franky went when she had to escape her father. It was where Jack explained that his mother had killed herself and where Sam felt he could talk. Sam was shy but when he felt the warmth of the fireplace and the laughter of his friends around him, he talked freely. It was a safe place for a bunch of kids who very rarely felt safe anywhere else.  

    It was in the cabin that their personalities came alive. Pete, the inteligent one at fourteen who loved to read and write analysis essays for kicks and who wanted to write a novel one day about his friends. He was sensitive and caring— traits that he feared made him seem weak in comparison to his friends. Pete had sandy blonde hair like his brother Finch and skin that tanned and freckled in the sun. Pete hated his appearance.  He thought he was too scrawny and baby-faced to be considered tough. The only thing he was proud about was his hair, which he put hair grease in to make himself look more like Elvis.

    Sam, was the youngest in the gang at thirteen, but acted like the oldest due to the fact that he had to grow up the fastest. Pete always thought Sam had burdens that the rest of them couldn’t even fathem. Sam was an incredibly proud boy who was deemed “slow” in school because he had trouble writing and reading. He had strawberry blonde hair, like the rest of his siblings, and shocking green eyes. Sam was terribly shy and refused to ask for help from anybody.

    Then there was Markus, who at fifteen was the sort of unoffical leader of their gang. He was held back a year in school and Pete was sure that he’d drop out as soon as he turned sixiteen. Markus had no use for school or learning. He hated rules and people of authority. He was famous for his loyalty, bad temper, and his long scar that went along his already defined jaw line. Markus had jet black hair that he kept slicked back with grease like James Dean. Pete always thought Markus looked the toughest of their group. Maybe it was the scar and the way he put his hands in his blue jeans pockets. Or maybe it was the fact that he very rarely showed any emotions. 

    Jack was the other fifteen-year-old in the gang, only he wasn’t held back a year. He was clever and bright but never applied himself. Jack loved listening to Bob Hope on the radio and watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. He was the jester of the gang, the practical joker who kept them all laughing. Jack wanted to be a comedian. He had blonde hair that he greased and clomed into a swirl. He was a shameless flirt and, despite being the gang’s best fighter, was hopelessly reckless. Jack was loud, bordering on obnocious at times, and girl crazy; a trait that suited him well since he was incredibly good looking. Jack had a smile that could light up a room. 

    Lastly, there was Franky. The only girl in the gang at fourteen and was the only person who had a temper to rival Markus’. She was a tomboy who hated being with other girls. She wanted to train as an amature boxer and wore her hair shorter than any of the other girls. It was brown and short in the back but fell long in the front. She was petite with light blue eyes and wore boys’ blue jeans and over-sized men’s t-shirts. Franky liked school well enough but found herself bored too easily. She had a short attention span and, like Markus, had a problem with authority figures. Her father was abusive, a thing that she very rarely spoke of, but something that Pete found himself worrying about daly. 

    The cabin was their safe place to go when Pete’s house was full. Pete’s house was like a drop-in centre for all the boys in the naighbourhood, including his brother’s gang. When the gang wanted to be alone, they went to the cabin in the woods. 

    “My ol’ man,” Sam murmured, “He lost his job. And since my mom’s knocked up again, she ain’t workin’. I gotta work so we can pay some of the bills. You know if we get the house taken away, I’m done for. They’ll separate us and put us into foster homes. Y’all know that’s what they’ll do,” 

    “We know,” Pete said. Sam had five siblings, all younger. 

    “So you understand why I had to take the job when Tina posted it. If I can keep our family goin’ until my ol’ man finds work again, I don’t have to worry about foster homes,” 

    “You’re not 30, Sam, you’re thirteen—“

    “Gonna be fourteen in January,” Sam cut Markus off. 

    “It’s September.” Markus sighed, “Look, what I’m tryin’ to say is, it’s not your job to support your family. You’re his son not his substitute daddy. And what the hell is wrong with him that he can’t hold a job?” 

    “Same thing that’s wrong with your ol’ man.” That hit home with Markus. 

    “Fucking hell,” he hissed, “you’re walkin’ on thin ice. My ol’ man’s a son of a bitch. Everyone here knows that. I ain’t seen him in near on five years cause he’s been locked up. He killed a man. Your ol’ man jus’ sits around cussin’ an’ gamblin’. He’s a lazy fuck, not a murderer. So don’t you go sayin’ your ol’ man an’ my ol’ man are the same,” 

    “I didn’t mean that,” Sam muttered, looking down. Pete could see him retreating into himself, becoming shy again. “I just meant that they’re both a waste of space,”

    “Sam,” Pete started, passing him a cigarette, “My ol’ man’s no better either. You know he got fired today right? The whole school saw and everything,” 

    “I know, I heard.” Sam whispered. “He’s a good man though, right? And you know he loves you,”

    “Shoot, I don’t give a shit if my ol’ man likes me or not. It’s a good day if he decides not to give me a hidin’. Everyone’s family is a nightmare around here. There’s not too much we can about it but laugh it off,”  Jack’s voice danced along with the Buddy Holly song playing on the radio.“And you working yourself to death off like this, covering your ol’ man’s ass, what do you think that’s doing to him? What kinda incentive does he have to get another job? You’re doing that thing, I dunno, what do you call it when you’re letting someone—“

    “You’re being an enabler,” Pete interjected.

    “Yeah, that. You’re letting him get away with it. Make him sweat a bit. Maybe if he sees how bad it is, he’ll find another job,” 

    “I dunno,” Sam replied, “We still gotta eat, an’ I’m the oldest,” 

    “Look, if you need me to do your homework, I’ll do it, no sweat,” said Pete. “Jus’ don’t kill yourself working like this. You’ll burn out for sure,” 

    “Yeah ok,” 

    “Yeah ok ain’t good enough man,” Markus spoke again. He’d cooled off. Markus was known for having a bad temper. “I don’t want to have to visit you in the hospital cause you had a nervous breakdown. Your mom’s had her fare share of those an’ I don’t aim on you joinin’ her on that. Look, I didn’t mean to freak out on you like that. Jack’s right, everyone’s family’s a nightmare. You just don’t work so late alright?” Sam nodded in response. 

    “I only work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday evenings. I just thought I’d come in today cause Tina was understaffed. She’s got the older kids workin’ weekends. I just skipped school today to sleep.” 

    “Ok, just tell Tina you’ve got school the next morning. You didn’t tell her that did you?” Markus eyed Sam suspiciously. 

    “I only got the job cause I told her I had a free period every morning and don’t have to be in class till 9:30,” 

    “Sneaky bugger,” Markus threw his bubble gum rapper at Sam. 

    “So you don’t work weekends?” Franky asked. 

    “Nope,”

    “Good, then you can bum around with us then.” She leaned forward and gave her friend a hug. 

    

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