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Prudence struggled with the lock on the back door of the abandoned Trinity Middle School for Unfortunate Cases. The place had been closed after a public slaughter in a series of angry articles surfaced in the local newspaper. I read them, but I can’t quite recall exactly what they had said. I vaguely remember one of the last articles stating Trinity being “an institution promising nothing but failure for an already hopeless set of children.” Prudence had been one of those hopeless children, while I attended a “public, but prosperous school thank you very much.” I listened in on my mother explaining the school to one of her well-to-do colleagues. They had met after sharing a bad joke about gardening and their husbands’ fishing trips over the copy machine at their work. Prudence hated office conversation, office attire, and as I’ve concluded office lifestyle as a whole. So, naturally, I hated it too.

“Fuck.” Prudence made one last frustrated tug at the chains binding the back entrance of the school before it finally fell to the cement below. I watched as she flashed a championed smirk back at me and slid through the door as if a welcome mat with her own name plastered across it lay at our feet. I, more on the edge about fucking with the authorities and sneaking into a school, panned around the empty parking lot and football field behind us before slipping in myself.

I slammed into Prudence as she stopped before a staircase in front of us. She nudged me in the side. “One sec,” I said feeling around in my messenger bag. I pulled out a cupcake scented candle to light our way. We slowly started for the four flights of stairs up to the library.

“What is that?” Prudence asked disgustedly, sniffing at the artificial cupcake-scented air.

“Cupcake. It was the only scent Big Joe’s had.” I said in defense. I was actually enjoying the smell.

“Goddammit, Charlie Reynolds, can you do anything right?” I was so used to Prudence’s curtness with me that I hardly flinched at this. Still, I followed her around St. Garbes High School like it was some top notch job at some fancy headquarters or something. Like it was my business.

It never clearly occurred to me why I constantly put up with Prudence’s shit, but for some unknown reason, it just felt right to be around her. She wasn’t the coolest girl in school. In fact, she was the complete opposite from the girls of the popular group. She wore dark eyeliner and a nose ring in her left nostril. She had green streaks in her hair… at least for this week and a half. Tonight she wore a pair of studded motorcycle boots, torn fishnets, a pleather jacket with a bedazzled cross on its back, and a floral skirt that reminded me of one of my grandmother’s in the fifties. Since I was the only grandson Grandpop had in a sea of Reynolds women, he would sit me down at holiday dinners and weekend visits to plop a mammoth, leather photo album on my lap and tell the same anecdote of how he and Nana met. He always lit up when he got to the part about the first time he saw her. He said her skirt, like the one Prudence had on, billowed in the moon and fluorescent lamp-lit gas station where he’d worked at the time. “She came in complainin’ about how she had to drive four miles to get to the gas station with a flat tire,” he’d always say laughing. To me, this look made Prudence cool because it was different; different from the plastic, bleach blond, Lacoste wearing, coin slot sporting girls who usually got most of the attention at our high school.

I pushed open the doors leading us to the ancient library. Before the school shut down a year ago, the district had called for renovations to be made on the sixty year old facility, but the library was left out of that plan. Prudence slid into a little nook between Dewey Decimal classes 180.01- 201.01. I carefully sat the candle on the space between us on the floor, away from her skirt. I fumbled through my bag again, this time searching between old gum wrappers and potato chip bags for my carton of smokes. Cream flavored Black & Mild cigars were Prudence’s new obsession, making them my newest buy. I actually hate smoking, but I guess I’m willing to try almost anything with her. Even if it means filling my lungs with harsh awfully flavored smoke that could within a single puff cause cancerous cells to implode throughout my respiratory organs.

“Fire me up,” Prudence said behind dust that filled the library, veiling her green eyes before the dying flame that sat between us. I picked up the candle, wincing at the hot wax spilling onto my thumbs and forefingers, and held it under the cigar hanging from Prudence’s rosy lips. She took a slow puff from the cigar and handed it over to me. I know I had hesitated; Prudence smacked her lips and nudged the cigar even closer toward me. I snatched the thing out of her hand and inhaled lightly. The smoke quickly filled my chest, making everything from the back of my tongue to what felt like the tip of my heart warm with the tingeing fumes. I couldn’t help but cough, making Prudence laugh. I handed the cigar back to her, tasting the cream after taste of the tobacco. It was disgusting.

Prudence was still laughing, falling over even, convulsing her middle and kicking her legs. She came up for breath. “You don’t like smoking, do you, Charlie?” Her eyes were glossed with tears from her laughter.

I shook my head.

“Well why do you do it?” Her glare was all of a sudden serious. She was waiting for my answer intently.

I felt my palms getting clammy as I ransacked my brain for an ounce of a good reason that might as well not even be the truth. I gazed at the cigar still perched between Prudence’s fingers, smoke ribboning from its end in a silver line of haze. I rested my head back on a dusty shelf. “I don’t know,” I said finally mid sigh. “I just do it.”

“You like me, right?” She was blunt.

I looked back at her, my head still reclined on the shelf behind us. I stammered what I thought was going to be a cool “It’s whatever,” but Prudence’s expression told me that she had discovered the answer ages before tonight.

She shifted toward me, lifting the candle and placing it onto a patch of cleared steel shelf she had dusted with the sleeve of shirt. I felt the warmth coming from her pale flesh under her pleather jacket and floral skirt as she leaned against me. She lay her head on my shoulder and put the cigar out on the linoleum floor beneath us.

“I mean,” I searched for more words. “This is nice.” Prudence looked up at me. I searched even more. “Whatever this is.”

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