For the people who know us better than we know ourselves

"I need to find someone that likes you and tell them everything about you so you can finally hook up with someone," he says thoughtfully, plucking the cigarette from between his lips. His comment is followed by a ring of smoke, and I don't know what to say to him, because the truth is that we have these conversations all too often. It's like we're on the verge of something incredible, something wonderfully frightening and yet right, but we never step off the edge so we can arrive there.

"And why the hell do I need to hook up with someone?" I ask.

"You need to get laid." And then he takes another long drag from the cigarette, his eyes scanning the horizon and everything underneath it but me.

The answer is something I expect from him. He is younger than me and yet he is so much older, because he's seen things that I close my eyes at and he's done things that I would never do. Technicalities tell me that I shouldn't feel so much like a kid around him, so much younger and vulnerable than he seems. But I do feel young. Young and stupid. Stupid and contagious.*

Somehow, he never catches my stupidity. Somehow, even though I know he cries, he always manages to do it when I'm not around. He sees the majority of me, and I see next to nothing of him. He vanishes all too quickly for me to know him.

"Why do I need to get laid?"

He shrugs. "You need to relax. You need to live a little, do things that make your parents crazy, maybe frazzle someone's nerves a bit. You're too cookie-cutter, too by the book. I know you, and I know how you make these huge mountains out of mole hills so you can avoid losing control." He exhales slowly, and the smoke billows up into the evening air. "You need to lose control every once in awhile."

I arch an eyebrow, knowing that I have lost control so many times that I question whether or not I was ever in control. And I feel a tiny ounce of triumph knowing that I've hid it from him, because he always seems to see through me.

"Do I really?"

He sighs. "Sure, everyone does." A pause, and then, "No. No, you don't, because then you wouldn't be you."

Well, shit, that clears everything up, doesn't it?

"Shit, Age, you say that like me being me is a bad thing."

"I never said it was bad. You're just different from other people. You're too much like the innocent younger sister to survive in the world you live in."

I can feel myself getting angry at his judgment, feel my fists clenching at my sides. He knows me so well, knows so much about me that no one else has ever bothered to learn, and yet he knows nothing at all.

"I'm surviving now," I point out, and he sighs again before inhaling deeply.

"Sure, but for how much longer? You should be totally corrupted by now."

I stare expectantly at him, wondering what goes on in his head when I should probably be wondering what doesn't. "Like you are."

He turns to give me a twisted smile. "Well, hell, no one ever said that I was corrupted. But, now that you mention it, sure. You should be like me."

"God forbid that anyone ever be like you." I roll my eyes and take the cigarette from his fingers, studying it closely. "So, what's to say that I'm not corrupted?"

He does not answer my question. "You don't even know how the hell to smoke that thing. Give it back."

I feel a surge of power at his childish words, and a smirk forms. "Give it back?"

"No, throw the fucker on the concrete and stub it out. I love it when I can only smoke half of one." He rolls his eyes, mimicking my earlier movements. "Yes. Give it back."

I smile wickedly and lift the cigarette to my face. I place my lips exactly where his were, and I can almost taste him there as I inhale deeply. I exhale slowly to increase his awe and my own entertainment. "No."

When I glance over at him, his face is expressionless, and I'm disappointed. He is not impressed just because I feel like he should be. Instead, I feel like a kid again while he fires his next question. "Why not?"

I shrug carelessly, trying to emulate his earlier movements, the same indifference and frigid detachment. "Maybe I want to smoke the rest of it."

He rolls his eyes again and snatches the cigarette from between my fingers, and he does not sigh again until it is secured between his lips. "You don't know what the fuck you want."

I raise my head indignantly. He still thinks he knows me. "Maybe I do."

He groans a pillow of smoke into the sky. "And maybe I don't buy your bullshit. If you knew what you wanted, you wouldn't be sitting here and trying to steal cigarettes from me."

I am being coquettish, something I am not. Something he knows I am not, but I don't want him to know me anymore. "Aren't women supposed to bum cigarettes?"

He looks me up and down and laughs, a horrible, bitter laugh of tobacco and loneliness. "You're not a woman. Besides, even if you were a woman, you wouldn't be the type that bums cigarettes from pieces of shit men like me."

"You're not a man."

He nods slowly as though contemplating the idea. "True," he concludes.

"Besides, how do you know I won't grow up to bum cigarettes?"

"I know you."

"Maybe you don't."

He laughs again. "Maybe you say that because it pisses you off that I do know you."

I groan, because he is right, and there is nothing more wrong than when he is right. "Fuck you."

His laughter dies, and he turns to look at me. "Don't say shit like that. It sounds wrong coming from you. You're not supposed to be corrupted."

I cock my head to one side. "And you are?"

"Of course."

My eyes roll skyward. "And how the hell does that figure?"

He takes a long drag of the cigarette before exhaling another ring of smoke and offering a crooked grin in my direction. "You're supposed to uncorrupt me."

Instead of answering him, feeding the fire that burns the end of his cigarette, I pluck the offending object from his fingers and stub it out in the dirt like I should have done moments before. When I look up, his eyes are dancing with amusement, and I frown.

"I really wish you'd stop smoking."

"This from the girl who was trying to bum cigarettes a few minutes ago." And he shakes his head. "Girl, you ought to know better than to waste your wishes on me."

I lean back against the fence he is sitting on and sigh. "Maybe I want to waste my wishes on you."

I am too engrossed in proving my own point to see that he is behind me, but I can smell him. He is a mixture of smoke and aftershave and something else inexplicably AJ as he brings me around to face him. His chin is rough and unshaven as he lowers his lips to mine, and the fire between us glows even more brightly than the red embers of the end of his dying cigarette. He pulls away too quickly, and I am left breathless and clinging to his shirt like the smoke that still lingers.

When I look up, he smiles. "Yeah, maybe you do."

And I cannot help but think that maybe he does know me after all.

*line from "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
lyrics and music by Nirvana