The Smokers

Chapter One: The Coping Mechanism

Waking up on the first day of term after a holiday, is never a joyous occasion. It's not like Christmas where you jump up out of bed and run downstairs, because all you can think of is presents and food, and you feel like you're five years old again. However, Christmas had just been and it had been the first year where I had not done so. It turns out that being sixteen means you find everything that isn't sleeping very tedious and mundane. I could see little difference between now and Christmas morning, only now I am being harassed by my mother to get up for school at seven in the morning, whereas on Christmas morning I'd been woken up by my niece jumping on my bed at five thirty and every half an hour after that until I did actually get up.

On Christmas morning, I'd gotten out of bed because if I didn't, Maddie would have eventually jumped on me so hard that I would have been paralysed for life. If I didn't get up now, I would lose a maximum of two hours of education, which when you're two terms away from leaving school, does not feel particularly important. In the end, it was the thought of what everyone else would most likely be doing right now that got me up.

Megan would be the only one of us up at this point. It took her a good hour and a half to get her three younger siblings ready for school and then drop them off at their primary school, in time for her to get to her own school. The guilt of knowing she was up and frantically brushing her nine year old sister's hair, whilst I am sort of still asleep and in bed does not make me want to get up. Guilt does not work on me. If it did, with the friends I have, I would be in constant hysterics.

Rick, I like to think is struggling to get up due to an almost all-nighter in order to at least scrape a pass on the upcoming mocks. I can easily picture him lying in bed and clutching a maths book to his chest. I don't have to wonder where Rhia is, I know very well that she is either lying on a mutual friend's living room, or in the bed with the said mutual friend. She is going to be hungover when she wakes and will come into school at break at the earliest, wearing no make up. Chris will have gone to the same party and will most likely be lying in another bed in the house, having gotten laid. That was the whole reason he went out with Rhia. She's the matchmaker in the group. In fact, she's the one who got together the couple that constantly serves as a reminder to the group that sexual attraction is very important in a relationship.

Marcia and Jay will be in bed together at Jay's, squashed up on his single bed with what I expect to be very few clothes on. We've come to the conclusion that the only time Marcia and Jay are not arguing is when they smoking, having sex or ferociously making out, or when they are sleeping. As such, they will want to stay asleep, in bed as long as possible.

It is then that it occurs to me that if I, who went to bed at ten o'clock having drunk no alcohol since New Years, can not get up, then there is no hope for them whatsoever. And that is what gets me up at seven-o-three.


As I watch the bus turn the left corner an hour and fifteen minutes later, I see Megan come sprinting around the opposing corner. Her black rucksack trails behind her as it hangs off her right shoulder, and the adjustable strap flaps in the breeze created by her speed, showing just how fast she's running in an attempt to catch the bus. The congestion caused by the cars along the road at rush hour means that she'll get to the bus stop just in time- even if it's only by a second. I smile slightly. One, because this happens at least three mornings a week, and two, because Megan has made it and Chris has not. Rhia really does know how to get people laid.

Once the bus has stopped, I step back to let the younger years and an elderly lady onto the bus first. Just as I'm about to show my pass, Megan grabs the pole that the bus stop sign is attached to in order to stop herself from running into it. She's breathing so heavily, I'm surprised she doesn't fall on the floor and suffer a heart attack. I roll my eyes at her and then make my way onto the bus, and she follows. It occurs to me that if I had already gotten on the bus, or hadn't even been there in the first place, Megan probably would have stayed where she was, leaning against the pole and out of breath, instead of getting on the bus. It then occurs to me that this may not be true, and I just like to think that I know them too well, or I like to think they need me to function properly.

I am about eighty percent sure that both are true.

Once we've gotten (or in Megan's case, stumbled) onto the bus and sat down opposite each other as there are no two adjacent seats left, Megan let's out a frustrated sigh and drops her bag onto her feet.

"I had a shit night," Megan says. The old lady who'd gotten on the bus before us is sitting next to her, and she glares at Megan. I, however, give her an understanding nod. Megan doesn't particularly have good days. "Mum's nurse came around and whilst I was making her tea, we got talking. I mean, we always do and stuff, but this time she started properly asking me questions."

"What sort of questions?" I ask, because if I don't, she will not say. If she doesn't say, then she will get angry and will throw a chair in session three and end up with a detention, which she can not do because she has to pick her sister and brother up from school at four. She has a brother in year seven, but he has a morbid fear of public transport and so gets a lift to and from school with friends. Besides, he's too young to be left with a nine year old and a five year old.

Megan is certain that nobody actually cares about what happens to her, and this is not true. The other Smokers would care if they knew that Megan's mother is dying, but they don't. None of them ever ask each other if something is wrong, even when it's obvious. Hence, when Megan did throw a chair in session three earlier this school year, no one said anything more than "Good throw. Have a fag". The reason for this is because they all think if Megan wants them to know, she will say. As a result, I am the only person who knows that Megan's mother's bloodstream is riddled with cancer, because I am the only person who asked why she threw that chair. After that, I learnt that if I do not ask, I will not to be told, and chairs will be thrown in session three. Simple, really.

"Just stuff like how I'm feeling and if I have any coping mechanisms, and how I'm managing to do school work and look after my mum and siblings," Megan goes on, because I have asked.

"Yeah, how exactly are you doing that?"

"I'm not, that's the whole fucking point," Megan replies, she's looking straight ahead instead of at me, but her facial expression suggests that I just asked a stupid question. "So, then she said she thinks I'm depressed and I have to go to this counsellor woman for a mental health assessment."

"That's good, isn't it?"


I'm confused for a second, before I realise that the human mind is complex, and that Megan's mind is even more screwed up than the mind of a regular person.

"Megs, just last week you were telling me how you think you're depressed," I point out. As I'm the only friend Megan has that is aware of her mother's condition, I'm the only one she turns to when she really needs to speak to someone. On New Years Eve, she rang me saying how she was looking up methods of how to take better care of her mum on the internet, and had read that depression is very common in people with terminal illnesses, and so she'd read the symptoms of depression, only to find out that she, herself, had all but three of the fifteen listed symptoms. It had never crossed my mind until she pointed it out, but it was more than obvious and more than understandable, that Megan was depressed.

"Yeah, but now other people think I am," she emphasises. "Like, if other people think I am than I must be, right? And I can't deal with something else like this right now."

I don't bother pointing it out to her that her doing nothing but struggling to deal with things is probably one of the main reasons she has depression. I've figured that the closest I can get Megan to happiness occurs after I've let her rant at me, and having done nothing but listened myself. I am the closest she has to a coping mechanism.

"Yeah, I see what you mean. It's like a second opinion," I change her words and say them back to her, to show that I am listening.

"Like, I don't even know if I'm gonna like this therapist and like, I have other stuff to do. Mum's not too bad at the moment, but I don't know if she can make dinner. The heat from the cooker might make her dizzy and she might faint. Benny won't know what to do, he probably won't even think to call an ambulance. You know what he's like."

I let Megan ramble on, because it's the only thing I can do. I really do feel sorry for her and I find it hard not to worry about her. Megan and me are the only ones in the same tutor group and one time, our tutor tried to talk to her about her mum. She refused, saying that she had me to talk to. The next day, after registration, our tutor called on me as we were about to leave for session one. He told me that though I was "being a very good friend, I shouldn't let her life effect mine and that I shouldn't worry". I thought this to be pretty good advise at the time, until I realised that you can't exactly not worry about someone who deserves someone to worry about them.

Really, what Megan does is admirable. Once, I went with her to pick her siblings up from school, because she was struggling not to cry. It was hard to tell that they were related, because looking at Megan, you see greasy dirt blonde hair; a crumpled school shirt; old trainers that the school let her get away with because of her home life. Just by looking at her, you know she has a rough home. On her sister, you see plaited, clean hair with pink and fluffy bands. On her brother, you see hair that's been spiked with gel to make him feel cool. Their uniforms are clean and ironed, their shoes shiny, because they've been wiped clean. I'm not sure how much of their mother's illness they're able to understand, because they're both young, but they are two of the smiliest and energetic kids I have ever seen. I'm not sure if she puts the smiles on her faces, or if they make her smile, because she only smiles properly when she's with them.

What worries me most about Megan, is not how she'll react to when her mother inevitably passes away, but how she'll cope when her siblings go and live with their dad, and she goes to live with her nan. That is when she'll need a proper coping mechanism. That is when my listening will not be enough.

As the bus approaches the next stop, I see Chris waiting anxiously. His appearance confirms that he's been out last night. He's not wearing uniform. The teacher's will kick up a fuss about it when he walks in the school gates and they spot him, but he will most likely respond with "at least I came today" and laugh at the double meaning. It's not that I know him too well. In this case, it's that it has happened before. I'm impressed he made it to a bus stop, in all honesty. I really thought I wouldn't be seeing him until later.

He flashes the driver his pass, but he flashes us a much more interesting dark pink love bite on his neck. I doubt he had time this morning to bother finding anything to cover it up with, but he's always pretty proud of the evidence of his sexual triumphs. The only thing is, I know when he goes home after session six, his Dad will point it out and he will tell him he brutally fucked a girl and made her scream like one, too. Because Chris' Dad is one of those people.

"Someone got lucky last night, then," Megan smirks, because she tries to act normal around everyone who isn't me- and by normal, I mean totally fake. She's spotted his hickey, too. It's hard not to.

"Rhia did, too," Chris announces, with a voice so loud that the entire bus hears it. I feel sorry for the now corrupted year sevens. He sits on the seat in front of me, his legs in the aisle so he can look across at Megan, and up at me. "Only not as lucky as me, I found her on the kitchen floor, half-lying on top of some guy."

I think back to my assumption that she'd be waking up on the living room of some guy's house. Kitchen. So close.

"She still there?" I ask. I ask the other's more questions than I answer. Their lives are much more eventful than mine.

"Yep," Chris nodded.

"Why do you go out on a school night when you've just had two weeks of no school?" Megan asks.

Her home life prevents her from going out, and as a result, she doesn't really get the whole party, live wild, die young thing. I don't fully either, but I have somewhat of an idea of what goes on in their heads. Particularly Rhia's.

"Because one night is never too many," Chris grins.

I find his behaviour interesting nearly all the time. Ever since he realised that he was, as he says "a hardcore dick fan", he learnt that the only way to get any sexual action with members of the opposite sex was through the group's main party girl, Rhia. She has more friends than any of us. And by friends, I mean college kids who throw house parties whenever they can, drink a lot, do acid in fields, and have a lot more sex in a year than most people do in their life time. Chris is not one of them. He does not drink, nor does he do drugs, which is surprising for someone who smokes as much as he does. It's only the sex that he's interested in. In order to get laid, he started going with Rhia to parties, but he's nothing like her. He doesn't party hard.

You can tell from his lack of a hangover.

"I sleep," Megan replies, with slight amusement, because she's thinking exactly what I am. "That is also good. Now, Jess, you got any 'bacco?"

I'm almost impressed by how long it's taken her to ask.

"Yeah," I answer and rummage through my bag, but the tobacco is always the last thing I pack. I pick it up from my brother on the way out, so it's always at the top of my bag. I hand Megan the packet, and the old woman gives her another glare, just as I tell her "Roll your own."

"Yeah, I will thanks," Megan teases. "You can't roll. They look like tampons."

This is not a new joke. Like me, Megan only smokes in school, however she has an actual habit. I could stop if I wanted to. Over Christmas, I only smoked when I met up one of the Smokers. Megan's been smoking much longer than me, and as I never have more than four a day, I haven't gotten the hang of rolling fags yet.

I have many suspicions about the group's smoking habits. For example, I'm certain Megan is the only one who smokes because she has a proper addiction, that if she gave up, she would suffer crankiness, cold turkey and misery. She gave up smoking in her room (with the window open, of course) when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, in case the smoke worsened her condition, I suppose. But she didn't stop altogether, despite the many studies showing that smoking increases your chance of cancer by, you know, a lot. You'd think that seeing her mother in the condition she's in would put her off. But no. Unless that's what Megan's hoping for. Unless she wants to end up like her mother.

There are some things that I don't wonder, because it would kill me if I did.

I'm really enjoying writing this! I haven't been this hooked on writing a fic for such a long time!

Reviews make my day! :)