Cigarettes & Love

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

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1. He's a Good Man

 

 

    Pete’s dad hadn’t always been a dead weight alcoholic. He was a teacher at the middle school— one of the best actually. He was caught downing a flask of whisky in the teachers lounge and was dragged out in front of the school for everyone to see. All the students piled up behind the windows to get a look. Pete stayed at his desk, using all his will power to not throw it at the wall in a fit of rage. Franky had been in class with him at the time and saw what the incident was doing to him. Pete fundamentally admired his dad. Loved him despite his incapability to bring his money home or to raise a family with any measure of normality. None of the other guys understood that. Jack even laughed when it happened. Said the shit-head got what he deserved. Jack laughed at nearly everything though- he had no filter and very little self control. That was why Pete hadn’t clocked him one at the time. He knew Jack hadn’t meant any harm. 

    “Do ya wanna get outta here? I’m sure you’re gonna get the day off after this,” Franky looked around nervously as Pete stared straight ahead. “You’re gonna drive yourself nuts just sittin’ here,” 

    “Sure, not like there’s gonna be english next,” Pete gathered up him books. His father had been, up until that point, the eighth grade english teacher. 

    “Your mom workin’?” 

    “Yeah,” Pete lived with his Mom ever since his parents split up. Everyone knew it was because of his father’s drinking. Pete’s mom had to work full time waitressing in order to make ends meet. 

    The halls were quiet as they walked, everyone being either outside or by the windows. Pete tried pretending nothing was wrong and that they were just skipping a school fitness test (something they did often) to go smoke and drink cokes in the park. The pretending wasn’t working all that well, but at least it kept him from crying. Franky looked over at Pete every few seconds, not quite sure what to say to him. 

    “You know, Mrs. Smith called me Francesca again today. As if I haven’t told her enough times,” Franky huffed. She hated being called by her given name. 

    “Her clothes match too much,” Pete noted, chuckling to himself. 

    “It’s the name your mother gave you!” Franky mimicked in a high-pitched voice.

    “Have you even gone to any of her classes?” 

    “Five,” she paused, Pete eying her suspiciously. “Okay, four. Today we were supposed to sew bows onto our skirts. Wanna see what I made?” 

    “Sure,” 

    “Like I’m ever going to wear a skirt,” Franky dove into her blue jeans pocket. “But I thought this turned out alright,” she held up a faded green bow tie. 

    “Snazzy,” 

    “Ya want it?” 

    “Sure, why not. Dunno if green’s my colour though,” the pair laughed as Pete held the bow up to his face. It felt good to laugh. It got Pete to thinking about Jack and how maybe his tendency to laugh at everything made him a happier person. 

    “Hey Pete! Franky! Wait up!” The pair turned around to see Markus and Jack running down the hall. 

    “Hey y’all!” Franky ran half way back to meet them and slung an arm around Markus’ shoulder. “Where’s Sam?”

    “Fucked if I know,” Markus replied, smiling down at her.  

    “Hey I’m serious! He didn’t walk with us this morning and yesterday he wasn’t lookin’ all that hot. Something’s not adding up man,” 

    “Yeah, your math,” Jack laughed, messing up her hair from behind.

    “Eh, shut up shit-head,” she swatted him away and ran her hands through her hair, trying to move it back into place. She wore it shorter than any of the other girls, but had long bangs in the front, so it kind of hung over her eyes in places. Pete smiled as the group approached him. So maybe they were just a bunch of delinquents to some people, but to him they were life itself. 

    “Sorry ‘bout your ol’ man,” Markus came up behind Pete and put a hand on his shoulder. “He gave me a B+ last week on the test, so that’s gotta count for something,” 

    “Sure, that he felt sorry for you,” Jack snorted. 

    “Eh, shut up shit-head,” said Markus. “Like you’ve ever studied,” 

    “I did. That one time last year when Julia Webber said she’d only go steady with me if I got smart. Course I only got an A on one test, but hey, it got me a kiss,” 

    “And what does that say about her?” Franky rolled her eyes. 

    “That she’s got good taste,” that made them all laugh. They headed out into the sunlight, laughing and joking as if nothing had happened. It wasn’t until they got to the front of the school, that the seriousness of the situation came flooding back. From where they stood, they could see Mr. Miller being held back by police officers. It later came out that he had tried to attack their principal in a fit of almost uncontrollable rage. Rage that he let out on Pete too. He had the scars to prove it. There were times when Franky didn’t understand why Pete would defend or stick up for a man like that, but she kept her mouth shut. They all had their baggage. It wasn’t like Franky’s home life was any better. They could hear Mr. Miller yelling a string of profanities while kids shouted and jeered. 

    “Did I ever tell you about the time Paul Crawley got pantsed in the gym? That kid’s all talk man. You’d need a magnifying class to see his junk!” Jack laughed, trying to distract Pete. “He’s always going on about doing it with Vanessa Simpson and she was standing right there and laughed. Obviously that was the first time she’d seen his platter on display. What a goon,”  

    “He’s a good man,” Pete said quietly, unable to look away from where his father stood, “It’s just- it’s just nobody knows him like I do. He taught me to read you know? He taught me to read and how to put a pen to paper and how to imagine yourself out of a place and- and- and he’s a fucking good man ok?”

    “Okay man,” Markus was quick respond, “Nobody here thinks any less of your ol’ man than you do,” 

    “But their laughing. They’re fucking laughing at him, Markus. They don’t even know him!” 

    “I know they are man, but they’re dolts. Look at ‘em. They’re God damn troglodytes,”

    “Yeah man, they don’t know your ol’ man like you do, so who gives a shit what they think and do?” Franky added, giving Pete’s hand a tight squeeze. 

    “I do. Nobody’s ever respected him. They just think he’s some nut job. Some wash-up, alcoholic writer who could never publish anything and never cares for his family,” Pete took a deep breath trying, unsuccessfully, to control his anger. “But he cares for me. I know he does cause he taught me how to read god damn it! I know he loves me and he’s a good man!” 

    “C’mon Pete,” Frankly pulled on his arm, “Let’s go for a soda or something ok?”

    “HE’S A GOOD MAN!” Pete yanked his arm back and made off to run towards the scene. 

    “PETE! God damn it, Pete!” Markus ran after him, soon grabbing hold of the back of his t-shirt. “Pete listen,” 

    “He’s a good man,” the teenaged boy panted, crying freely into his hands.

    “I know. We know. Look,” he put his hand on Pete’s shoulder, forcing him to make eye-contact. “Remember that time your ol’ man wrote that journal entry? That one everyone in the school had to read and it won all kinds of awards?”

    “Yeah,”

    “Yeah, well, nobody laughed at him then. Remember how they even brought cameras in so that they could get him on the news? How cool was that?”

    “The coolest,”

    “Sure was man! So remember that,” They were silent for a moment, Pete wiping away the last of his tears. 

    “You know he was writing about himself. That guy he was writing about- the one who could hear people that weren’t there- he was writing about himself. He has schizophrenia,” he sniffed. “Nobody knew that though. My mom didn’t even know it until they made him go to a hospital,” 

    “See, they don’t know him like you do. So fuck them,” 

    “He’s a good man,” Pete’s breathing became even again.

    “There you go,” Markus handed Pete a cigarette. “Now let’s go find Sam.”

 

    

 

 

 

    

 

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