“Act Your Age,” Dylan Davis

by MP

     “I got em’,” Bailey said, sitting down on the swing next to me. Its chains rattled, and tightened. “I couldn’t find a lighter, so we have to use these.” Reaching into the pocket of her sweater, she pulled out a box of nine inch matches. They were the type of matches my mom used to light her candles, the ones with wicks so low that her hand couldn’t fit far enough down to reach it.
      “Seriously?” I laughed, but not loud enough to make her think I was making fun of her.
      “Shut up. Which one do you want?” In her grip, being held like a hand of playing cards, were a cigarette and a cigar. The look on Bailey’s face was hard to read, she was good at card games. Go fish, Poker, Blackjack. I couldn’t tell if she wanted me to take one or the other.
      “Cigar,” I said, putting it in my mouth. The taste made me salivate, so I rolled it across my bottom lip, one corner to the other. I chose the cigar because it reminded me of the men in overcoats solving murders on TV. They wore stylish pointed hats that cast their face in black, and sticking out of their glossy chiseled smile was a cigar. It was always burning, the thick smoke rising and stirring and flexing in the air, drops of colored dye in water.
      “My Dad would kill us if he knew we were doing this.” With the cigarette pursed between her lips, she took a match out.
      “Do you need help?” She scratched it against the sand paper on the side of the box.
      “No.” The bulb broke off. I took the box and slid it open. Gently, I glided a new match against the coarse surface.
      “See, you have to be smoother with it.” The match burnt slowly, the flame dancing and flickering across the wooden handle, a gymnast performing her routine on a beam. I lit my cigar, Bailey lit her cigarette. We coughed and choked. Our throats itched and burnt like bare feet on hot pavement.
      “Not that bad,” I said, holding the cigar, puffing on the end and blowing out quickly. We found a rhythm. Smoking, but not really smoking. “I kind of like it.”
      “Don’t lie. It tastes really bad.” She crossed her legs, her calves shaven and tan below her skirt. In her hand, between fingers, a cigarette slowly burned with ash collecting at the tip.
      “It makes you look older,” I puffed again, “the smoking.”
      “I wish my dad looked at me that way, he still treats me like I’m ten.” She threw her hair behind her ear to reveal a plastic flower.
     Her dad treated me like I was eighteen. I had dinner at their house since I was old enough to remember. When I was little, I used to sit by Bailey on the long side of the table, and conversation was light—how’s soccer going? Do you like the food? I bet you’re a pretty smart kid. Now I sit at the head of the table, something her mom and dad concocted a year ago. The questions vary now, each with their own weight—how’s your mom? Have you found a job? Bailey is only into guys with good grades.
      “Parents do that,” I said, pushing my toes into the ground, making myself sway back and forth. She was almost halfway done with her cigarette.
      “They shouldn’t.”
      “They just care.” I sucked air from the cigar, hoping to keep it an even race between me and Bailey.
      “What are you doing?”
      “I bet I could finish mine first.”
      “It’s not about who finishes first,” the cigarette glowed amber, ash falling off and landing on her thigh. It scattered like bread crumbs. “It’s about savoring the taste.” Her elbow rested on her knee and she struck a seductive pose with the cigarette poised and burning between her fingers. The smile she gave while saying that made me want to rip and crumple her laminated face.
      “Hey kids,” Ashby shouted. He was walking his Yorkshire terrier on the bike path. It yelped and snarled at us from the end of its short leash. “What do you two think you’re doing?”
      “Shit.” I threw the cigar on the ground and crushed it. The dog pulled Ashby off the sidewalk and onto the playground. “Bailey, get rid of yours!”
      “Are you two eighteen?” It was too late. He was already resting his head on the support beam of the swing, the thick lenses of his glasses reflecting two young delinquents. The dog wrapped itself around the beam and bit at its leash, struggling to understand why it had become shorter.
      “Do we look like it?” Bailey said, heaving the cigarette, taking the smoke all the way into her lungs. Her lips were sealed as it blew out of her nose like steam blowing from the tops of kettles. She grinned at me, her smile thinning to lace. I smiled back, bluffing.

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