One Damn Cigarette

By Emma Woodhead

***


”Dominic, who is this?”


The Rockefeller instantly scolded his son, who wasn’t paying attention, and beckoned the boy to come over to him. “Florence, this is my son Jensen. Jensen, this is Mr. Lorelei.”


The older man looked the boy up and down for a moment, pushing his glasses farther onto his face before placing his walking stick next to him (which was used solely for aesthetic) and reached his hand out to shake the young man’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jensen,” the British male said with a smile.


Jensen shook his hand and returned the compliment.


"Jensen, just got into Brown University for next year.” Dominic praised. It was his alma matta, and Jensen was going to attend that school whether he wanted to or not. Jensen wanted to go to Edinburgh and study at the castles and fields that the country possessed, but he found himself going to Brown...and his excitement was relatively nonexistent.


”I thought you were already in college,” Florence replied, cocking his head to the side to create the façade of confusion. In reality, he knew almost everything there was to know about the young Rockefeller. There were no secrets when it came to Florence’s world. He knew everything about everyone, and he loved it. From crushes to nuclear codes, he could break apart the Royal Dutch family due to scandals and blow up the world’s countries in reverse alphabetical order all in an afternoon if he pleased.


”I’m only sixteen,” Jensen replied, and his youth did show. He didn’t sport suits yet like his father, even though they had argued about it multiple times. Just this morning, they had a big blowout because of it. Jensen still wore sweaters, and his oxfords never stayed tied no matter how tight and often he bound them, and his hair was always parted down the middle because he had yet to learn about the beauty of hair gel, and in his mind, he was still going to college to study literature and be an author. That is what he wanted, but his hawking parents would rather die than see Jensen stop the linage of powerful Rockefellers over something stupid like dead trees that were tattooed with fictional meaning.


”Sixteen, dear lord, you are so mature for that age. I can see where you got your good looks from.”


”From me-”


"You have your grandmother’s face.” Florence continued, ignoring Dominic’s self-praise about his own looks. “You’re going to be a fine bachelor one day. I would get ready for it now.”


***


Florence walked outside on the back patio to find Jensen sitting in the grass. “Jensen,” he called, and the young man turned his head to peaked over the small wall he was leaning on. “What are you doing?”


Jensen held up the book he was reading as Florence approached him, sitting on the ledge so that his legs were next to Jensen.


The Secret History.


”I haven’t heard of it.”


"It just came out.”


[C]”Any good.”


Very.”


Florence nodded his head to show he was listening. “I heard you wanted to go to Edinburgh for school.”


”I’m going to Brown.”


”You don’t have to go to Brown.”


”I want to,” Jensen replied quickly. Almost two, and it showed his evident dissatisfaction with his final school destination.


Florence nodded his head again. He glanced over at a few doors down where Dominic and many of his friends were smoking cigars and chatting. The party was rather dull, and the Rockefellers were not people that Florence took pleasure in seeing, but the one thing Florence couldn’t deny the man and his wife was their connections to people and their son, who was the future heir to the entire Rockefeller Kingdom.


Jensen’s eyes left his father before turning back to Florence. “You can go spend time with them if you want. I don’t want to keep you here and bore you.”


Florence shook his head. “No, no. I want to hear about this book. I have to find something to read on my plane ride back to England anyways tomorrow. I might as well get a copy if it is any good.”


"I am almost done. You can take mine.”


Florence smiled, and there was a moment of silence between the two of them as Jensen looked back at his book, fiddling with the corner of the page as he didn’t know what to do at this very moment. It would be rude to keep reading but sitting here in silence was awkward for him.


”Do you smoke?” Florence then asked. “Like your father?”


”No, I don’t. He told me I’m not old enough to join his get-together,” he replied, motioning his head to the circle of men. “He always tells me I’m not ready to take over the company, yet he does nothing to let me get to know anyone. I stay home all the time and can’t go out unless he or my mother is there. It’s fucking pathetic-” Jensen quickly stopped when he realized his curse, he is not supposed to do that in front of guests, and he apologized for doing so.


Florence chuckled and told the young man not to apologize.


”I think you are the only person your age that talks to me. Everyone is so shallow.”


”Did you just call me old?” Florence joked, which caused Jensen to panic slightly in fear of insulting the man, but Florence told him it was a joke and not to take it seriously.


He knew he was older. He was almost thirty years older than Jensen, yet here they were because he was the only one that gave the young man any attention at this dinner party.


Florence reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold cigarette case. He opened it before pulling one out. “It’s not a cigar like your father,’s but I can teach you how to smoke if you would like.”


”Isn’t it harmful.”


”Not if you keep yourself under control. You determine how much you smoke and when to stop,” Florence said and watched the hesitation on the boy’s face as he held his hand out to take the cigarette but had yet to grasp it. “I won’t let you hurt yourself. They are safe,” he said, and that was enough to convince Jensen to take the cigarette. “In Britain, we call them fags,” Florence then said, which caused Jensen to laugh.


Florence lit the end of the cigarette, and while Jensen continued to laugh. Florence while holding the boy's wrist, brought the cigarette to Jensen’s lips, instructing him how to breath in the smoke and nicotine.


Jensen didn’t realize how quickly his destructive spiral would be.


And all because of a damn cigarette.


***


There was a knock on Jensen’s dorm door, and when he answered it, seeing Florence caused his mouth to drop open. He didn’t expect to see the man standing here at Brown in his dorm room. He didn’t even tell Florence what room he was residing in.


”I came to return your book,” he said and held out the copy for Jensen.


The young man had forgotten that he lent his copy of The Secret History to Florence. It had been nearly a year since he had given it to him. The duo had spoken on the phone often, but they haven’t seen each other in person. They were both so busy now.


Jensen welcomed Florence into his room, and he flipped through the book to see that all his annotations were still in the margins. Jensen always annotated his books. At the front of each book was the key to his color-coded highlights and the notes in the margin showed his most profound thoughts as he read. He never let anyone see his annotation, but Florence...Florence was different. Jensen trusted him to read the annotations.


After a moment of silence, Florence turned to Jensen. “I heard you are dating Tiffany Chester.”


Jensen nodded. “Our parents arranged for us to be together. They want us to get married.”


"I heard she’s a bitch.”


”You heard correctly,” Jensen sheepishly replied. He didn’t like Tiffany at all. They fought often, and she caused him to be in a constant state of stress and tension. It wasn’t healthy, but he saw no way out of it. There was another moment of silence. “Do you still have those cigarettes?”


”Have you not smoked since the last time I saw you?” Florence asked as he pulled out the gold case and handed one to Jensen.


"I just turned eighteen.”


”You did? Oh, happy late birthday," Florence cheered and hugged the man. He had heard it was the Rockefeller's birthday a few days ago and he knew he had to pay him a visit.


”Thank you. I couldn’t buy any until a few days ago, and when my parents found out, I went to get a pack, they scolded me about my image. Apparently, getting cigarettes from the gas station down the street is not a good look,” he said, rolling his eyes as he lit the end of the cigarette. Jensen sat down in the chair and looked up at Florence.


”You should have told me. I would have sent you some. If it helps you to relax, I don’t see why not.”


”I didn’t want to bother you.”


”We are friends, Jensen,” Florence said as he sat down on the desk next to Jensen, looking down at him slightly with a smile. “I can see right now you are unhappy with Tiffany.”


"Is it that obvious?”


Florence gently placed his hand on Jensen’s cheek, cupping the man’s face and having the man look up at him. He leaned forward ever so slightly, and Jensen pulled away.


”I can’t do that,” he whispered. “It would be wrong.”


”As long as you don’t get caught, it’s okay,” Florence replied, gently brushing his thumb on Jensen’s cheekbone, soothing the man. “You want to relax, don’t you?”


Jensen nodded, looking away as he took another drag of his cigarette, his mind racing as he tried to think of what to say next.


"I can help you relax and forget about Tiffany.”


”Promise?” Jensen whispered. The desperation to get away from Tiffany evident in his voice. He hated her. He begged his parents to set him up with someone else. Anyone but her. He hated Tiffany more than anyone else.


”I promise,” Florence assured him with a smile before kissing the young man.


Jensen couldn’t stop what happened next, and he spiraled into an uncontrollable pit of self-destructive chaos.


All because of one damn cigarette.






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